Growing up, I was always insecure about my appearance. I wanted to fit in, but never really felt I did, especially during the difficult high school years. Back to school shopping was a stressful ordeal, as my family didn’t have a large budget for school clothes and I wasn’t sure what to buy. I liked clothes, but I definitely did not have an innate sense of style. I also struggled with weight issues and carried excess weight on my frame throughout much of my adolescence. My height only made things more difficult, as I always stood out even when I wanted to blend in.
“Quirky and Fun” Style Statement
Over the years, I cultivated a “quirky and fun” style statement. Since I didn’t know how to dress stylishly in the conventional sense, I basically decided to opt out and form my own style. The body image issues I struggled with regardless of the number on the scale led me to dress in baggy bohemian style clothing. I draped my figure in fun colors and prints and wore loads of unique jewelry. And so it went for many years.
Yearning for More Sophistication
As I edged closer to forty, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the way I dressed. I yearned for a more sophisticated and mature look. Enter the television show “What Not to Wear” and a plethora of style books. I dedicated myself to the study of style and figure flattery and gradually changed the way I dressed.
During the process, I enlisted the help of two professional stylists to help clean out my closet and put outfits together using the garments in my wardrobe. I never shopped with these stylists, as I was always “behind the eight-ball” in terms of my clothing budget. While I was able to cobble together the funds for their consulting fees, I never had the money for a shopping excursion with a professional. So I did my best to apply the advice from the stylists and my books when I shopped alone.
Becoming a Wardrobe Stylist
As I transformed my own style, I also assisted some friends and family members with closet audits, outfit styling, and personal shopping. Although I toyed for years with the idea of offering these services as a business, I didn’t take the leap until the fall of 2011, when I participated in an entrepreneurship seminar. Inspired by what I learned, I designed a website, ordered business cards, and started to promote myself as a “wardrobe and image consultant.” I wasn’t sure what to call myself, but that term felt comfortable to me at the time.
On a friend’s suggestion, I decided to join a nationwide group of professional stylists. As sales and marketing are not my strong suits, it was my hope that my association with this group (which wasn’t cheap by any means!) would help to fill in the gaps in those areas. Sadly, that didn’t end up being the case, but that’s not the subject of this post… Rather, I want to focus on a powerful lesson I learned about myself in the process.
Putting Together a Professional Bio and Photos
Upon joining the group (which shall remain nameless – it’s not my intent to bash them here), it was suggested that I start referring to myself as a “wardrobe stylist” in my professional interactions and marketing materials. I was also asked to write a professional bio for their website and submit both a headshot and full body photo to appear on my page.
I was lucky to have a fairly recent professional headshot that still looked like me, but I wasn’t sure what to do about the full body shot. I didn’t feel I had the money to hire a professional photographer, so I asked my husband to take some photos of me in an outdoor setting. But my main concern was, “What should I wear?”
Trying to “Look the Part”…
I reviewed my entire wardrobe and finally settled upon a dress I’d never worn and a pair of pumps I’d only worn once. Neither item accurately represented my style aesthetic. The real Debbie dressed much more casually, but I wanted to appear “stylish” and look as good as the other stylists on the site. Once again, I worried about measuring up and fitting in.
After lots of photos and wrestling with a decision of which one to choose, I finally submitted my photo and bio for the stylist group website. Interestingly, the bio was relatively easy for me to write. I was much more true to myself in my words than in my visual representation. I wrote from the heart and shared my approach to working with clients and how my primary goal was to help them improve their confidence and body image. For me, clothing and style are more tools to achieve those ends than a means to an end in and of themselves.
Not Your Average Wardrobe Stylist
During my association with the stylist group, I was asked to write blog articles for their site. The main focus of their articles was on the latest style trends. While I was never excited to write about such topics (my passion lies more in writing about wardrobe management, closet remixing, figure flattery, and how to shop smarter), I managed to churn out some of these posts in the interest of being a “team player” and raising my profile on their site. On my own website, I continued to write about the topics I enjoyed.
I was never really comfortable with calling myself a “wardrobe stylist.” After all, my educational background is in psychology, not fashion. Anything I know about style is entirely self-taught and I’m definitely not a “style expert” by any means.
I’ve never been overly concerned about trends and neither were most of the clients who have hired me. I always considered myself more of a style coach, closet organizer, and shopping consultant than a stylist. My focus lies more in helping people better use what they have than in pushing them to run out and buy the latest trends simply because the fashion industry tells us we must have them.
Wardrobe Styling and Compulsive Shopping
To make a long story short, I left the wardrobe stylists group with about a month left in my year-long contract. I had begun to feel a widening gulf between their focus and what I was about. I didn’t get much business from my work with them and I felt like I never quite fit into their niche. I was always a different type of stylist and I increasingly felt like the “square peg” trying to fit into a round hole. It just didn’t work and was never going to work.
While I was with the stylist group, my shopping problem intensified. I became more and more concerned with looking stylish and trendy. I worried that my clothes were too conservative and not current enough. I increased my shopping and bought a number of items I thought I should be wearing but that didn’t really fit my lifestyle or personal style preferences.
Since I was calling myself a “stylist,” the bar had been raised in terms of my appearance, and my resulting anxiety had me spending more time at the mall and trolling the online stores. The result was more “wardrobe benchwarmers,” a smaller bank account, and less happiness and peace of mind.
At a Crossroads…
Since I left the stylist group in December, I’ve been at a crossroads in terms of my business. I’m not sure what to call myself and what types of services I want to offer. Since I’ve turned my focus away from shopping and more toward using what I have, I find myself not wanting to offer personal shopping services anymore. My business has stagnated, as I haven’t been doing much to promote myself and my services.
While my business has suffered, my psyche is in a much better place. I’m shopping less, learning to better appreciate what I have, and dressing in a way that’s more true to who I am. In truth, I am modest and conservative and like to wear comfortable clothes that aren’t too tight or fussy. I’m much happier being “Debbie the person” instead of “Debbie the stylist.”
Debbie the person doesn’t need to shop as much or try so hard to impress everyone around her through what she wears. Debbie the person feels freer to be herself and wear what makes her happy. Of course, my style is still evolving (and more rapidly so since taking on Project 333!) and shopping less is giving me the space to evaluate how I really want to dress moving forward. Like most people, I’m a “work in progress.”
One Thing I Know for Sure
I’m not sure what’s in store for me in terms of my business. I’ve taken a few steps back and have been hoping the answers will come to me. I still feel unclear, but I am clear about one very important thing. I have to be true to myself. I have to march to the beat of my own drummer instead of marching in someone else’s parade.
I need to be true to myself and so do you! Happiness cannot be found in living by other people’s standards. We have to live in accordance with our own values. This is a very important step toward cultivating a “full life.” In order to trade our full closets for full lives, we must stay true to ourselves, first and foremost!
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