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 Consultant
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 Consulting 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!
I enjoyed reading this, and I can’t help wondering if there is not a little bit of each of those three styles represented in you. And I do understand the square peg in a round whole ever so well. Being shy and very introverted, I really annoys me more often that I care to admit, that those people on the other side of the personality spectrum seem to think that ‘ I would have a good time’ even though I always have to fake it. I’m with Garbo on this one: I want to be alone :))
And here is a question for the psychologist: Why are we women so wrapped up in having clothes define us. Making us feel on top of the world ready to kick butt, or wanting to go home at lunch because the scarf that looked right this morning now looks all wrong? Men just getted dressed.
I’m glad you liked this post, Cornelia! You’re right in that there is some of me in all three of the styles I showed, but it didn’t work for me to try to live as the middle style exclusively. I was trying to be something I wasn’t and I’m glad I’ve seen the light and am now being more true to myself in how I dress. I can identify with Garbo, too. Although I like to be in one on one situations or small groups, I am not much for large group settings. I do them when I have to, but I’m always glad to get home!
Your question is a complex one and would be a great topic for a future post (or maybe even more than one…)! I’m adding it to the (long) list of topic ideas I have. I don’t know why I ever worried about running out of things to write about! You’re right that it’s easier for men. My husband packs in 5 minutes and it takes me FOREVER. Women’s wardrobes are more complex (we have skirts and dresses, different heel heights, more accessory options, etc.), but there is more to it than that. We have more “at stake” when it comes to our appearance – for many reasons: gender differences, culture, societal expectations, etc. I will write more on this in a future post. Thanks for the idea!
Debbie you look so radiant in your photos – this post’s and previous posts’. It is your mega-watt smile and shiny hair that I notice before anything else. Having said that I do notice what people are wearing and always appreciate a well put together outfit even if it is not my style.
Your self titled “wardrobe and image consultant” appeals to me much more than “stylist” because, as you say, “stylist” has the connotation of latest, trendy fashion involving buying lots of new pieces – even if that is not exactly correct.
From all you have written here on your blog I believe you could very well publish a book and have a very successful business as a “wardrobe and image consultant” (real-life and online). Also from your experiences as an adolescent you could offer much advice and encouragement to teenage girls who are struggling with similar issues.
Although I realise you may not feel comfortable in it on a daily basis I think you look fabulous in the floral shift dress and black pumps 🙂
Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Megan! I definitely like the connotation of “wardrobe and image consultant” or other similar terms better than that of “stylist.” I am definitely not about trendy fashion and buying lots of new pieces! That is even more the case after doing Project 333! I’m reformulating my business at present and will update my website soon to reflect the changes. I love the input I’m getting from you and other readers! Regarding my stylist photo outfit, I liked how I looked in it, too, but I didn’t feel like “me” in it. I’m currently doing a lot of work on refining my personal style and that will be the topic of some upcoming posts. Stay tuned…
Yes, Debbie I will definitely stay tuned! What you said is very interesting because it is possible to look good in an outfit yet feel uncomfortable at the same time. Often this is when we are required to follow the clothing dictates of a profession or when we are attracted to clothing that represents a “fantasy” lifestyle. However you are on track with refining your personal style and remembering to stay true to yourself is the key.
Debbie – What about calling yourself a Personal Wardrobe Coach? I think many women would love to have someone help them get to know themselves and find a personal style that expresses their true selves. To me, this could combine your understanding of people, both from your own life experiences and your education. You could help people find out what they love about themselves and then figure out what that looks like in clothes and accessories. So many stylists are trying to help people create an image. Most people just want to know how to put together comfortable, visually pleasing outfits. So maybe that could be your niche.
I think you being yourself would be the most important thing. I probably wouldn’t go to an “image consultant” because I would feel like I didn’t measure up. But I would go to someone who helped me find me and taught me how to express that in how I dress.
I am excited to see how quickly you have figured so much out about yourself. I think you have a lot of valuable lessons to share with the world. Best wishes as you go forward!
I love your suggestions, Anne, and I have been thinking along similar lines in regards to my future business direction. I do feel I have a lot to offer to potential clients and I DID help the clients I had quite a bit, but the title “wardrobe stylist” and some of my marketing messages didn’t adequately represent me and what I did/do. Perhaps I just need to “tweak” things a bit instead of doing a completely overhaul. It’s a work in progress at present, but I will definitely keep you all posted on what I do. Thanks so much for your support!
I think that you have more to offer than just picking stylish clothing. I see that as a very good thing. When I first moved here I went through a similar experience. Most of the other wives of the people that were transferred with my husband were very big into looking “put together” . I had a punk rock look in high school and after until I was about 30 wore very hippie, boho type of clothes. That didn’t fit very well with my new crowd. I bought a lot of clothes that weren’t really my style and cut my very long hair. I ended up with a closet full of clothes that weren’t really me and a haircut that I had to battle with for 45 minutes a day. Thank goodness I wised up. These days I still wear the boho look, but the fit is much better than before and it’s toned down. I also grew my hair back. I feel like me, I am age appropriate, and I am wearing what I like. (Of course being a good shopaholic I got rid of the clothes I didn’t care for and bought way too much of things I like, but hey we’re working on that.) You are so right about being true to yourself! Starting there, everything else seems more obtainable.
I continue to be amazed at how much we have in common with our experiences, Tonya! Thanks for sharing your experience with me and my readers. I’m glad that you’re now being more true to yourself in what you wear and how you wear your hair. You’re right in that everything else seems more obtainable when you start from a place of being true to yourself. Even though I’m in a bit of “limbo” right now professionally, I don’t regret the changes I’ve made. I know it’s all part of the journey and I’m optimistic that I’m moving to a much better place!
Hi Debbie. I just want to tell you how much your website has really inspired me. I am now in the process of doing my “wardrobe inventory”. My numbers are going to be extremely shocking but hopefully seeing them in a spreadsheet will give me the shock I need to change things. Shopping has made me very happy for the last 30 years but it’s time to find a new hobby.
Keep up the great work!
Welcome, scrappytable! I’m glad my blog has helped to inspire you to make changes with your wardrobe and shopping. I feel the wardrobe inventory will be helpful, even though you may be shocked at the initial numbers. I was definitely shocked with mine, but I tried to forgive myself and just focus on the future. I’m in a better place now and I believe you will be soon as well! Please write again and let me know how you’re doing.
I loved this post and can strongly relate to the issues you have dealt with. Thank you for this post!
Thanks, Sue! I’m glad you liked the post and could relate to my experience. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know!
I also love this post Debbie. Thank you for writing and sharing with us. I’ve mentioned this before and I want to tell you again how much your posts have helped me peel back the layers, examine and understand my clothing habits so that I can make lasting changes. Project 333 got me started last year and it was a good first step, but I needed more, and your posts keep me feeling connected. Oftentimes I wonder if I’m the only one struggling with many of the topics you write about and I’m always delighted to find that you and your readers are dealing with the same things I am.
Thanks, Terra. I’m glad my blog has helped you to feel less alone. It’s done the same for me! When I started writing, I had no idea if anyone would even want to read what I wrote! I’m very happy to have built a community of dedicated readers and commenters. My readers encourage me to carry on and I often think of you when I am tempted to shop or if I feel discouraged about my progress. Then I get to writing and it always helps me to feel better!
I am continually encouraged by your posts. Thank you for your willingness to put your thoughts, feelings and experiences out here. It is obvious that many of us have experienced similar struggles. Your experiences as a teenager are similar to mine. My family did not have much money for clothes and most of my clothing came from thrift shops and outlet stores. My mom was a pretty savvy shopper, so I always looked like my clothing was brand new. I also struggled with self-esteem and body issues, as I gained the womanly curves before most of my classmates. I was very aware of the things the boys said about other girls and I didn’t want the same to be said of me. As a result, I chose a lot of baggy t-shirts and jeans to hide my figure. Though I am past those particular issues, I still find myself influenced by others with regard to clothing and style. I cut my long hair into a shag two years ago because someone suggested that long hair wasn’t professional. (Thank heavens all of those layers have finally grown out and it is getting long again.) I have been dressing the way I think I am supposed to dress for work (Business Casual), choosing to put more emphasis on Business than Casual, which is much more formal than I would prefer to be. I am a casual, relaxed person; that is the type of life I lead, and if left to my own preferences and devices, I would spend my time in jeans, boots, and knit tops and sweaters or cardigans. As I type that, I realize that it does not sound very glamourous, but maybe that IS the truth. As much as I like the look of Hollywood glamour, it just doesn’ really suit me. I like classic, timeless clothing that is comfortable. Lately, I have been doing a lot of soul-searching on who I am and what clothing best suits my personality. The project 333 I am doing is interesting. The most notable thing is that I have cheated quite a bit on it, so that tells me I am avoiding wearing some of the pieces. Also, I am not sure I really like the concept of doing a lot of mixing and matching. I feel like I am unnaturally forcing pieces into outfits that just don’t look that good together. This post by Angie really spoke to me. I am thinking that having designated outfits instead of doing a huge amount of remixing may be more suitable to my desire to stop thinking so hard about my wardrobe.
Thanks for your comment, Grasshopper, and for sharing some of your experiences. I can definitely relate to what you shared. I think many women go through phases of dressing to impress others or fit in and end up feeling inauthentic in their style. It can be fun to experiment from time to time, but it should be on our own terms, not as a result of peer pressure. I’m glad that Project 333 is helpful to you as you work to refine your wardrobe and your style. As you know, it was very beneficial to me, even with the “cheating” I did. As long as we’re learning and moving in the right direction, the project is doing its job!
Thanks for sharing Angie’s post here. I’m a longtime reader of Angie’s blog and liked the post you referenced. It shows that people do things in different ways and not everyone wants to mix and match. Although I AM a mixer and matcher, I can appreciate that some people just want to have a selection of “go-to” outfits to wear. Different strokes for different folks, and both ways are perfectly “right” and acceptable. We just need to know ourselves and do what works best for us.
Great post. You look happier in the authentic self photos. Do what what makes you happy.
Thanks, Paige! I AM happier when I’m dressing and being true to my authentic self. My goal is to do that most (if not all) of the time moving forward!
Hi, I don’t have the time right now to reply at length (my small child just woke from a nap!) but just wanted to say how stunning you are. You have such a pretty face, and your hair is gorgeous. Really, you’re super beautiful!
Well done you, for discovering yourself and deciding to be true to you! x
I really think you have a lot to give in this area. I’ve grown tired of ‘on trend’ cookie-cutter style and fast fashion. In Italy, where I spend most of my time, women over 30 are generally better dressed than younger women. They have the maturity and discernment to choose what really suits them, and their style tends to be subtly more individual because they have learned to listen to their body and lifestyle. Personal style is a way of self-expression and I enjoy your quirky choices much more (you look radiant in them!) than some bland consensus choices. So please keep exploring and listening to your instincts! I’m sure the results will be rewarding.
I spent years exploring my personal style and right now I think I’m happy with where I am. I like bright, dramatic clothes for certain occasions. But for most of the time, quiet, reserved, well-made and slightly luxurious fuss-free basics serve me best. For example, my favorites this summer have been an off-white silk and cotton mix sweatshirt and a capacious slate blue leather holdall worn with simple jeans and loafers. When each item is well-made and beautiful on its own, I feel I need much less.
Reading about zen and wabi-sabi esthetics has been a revelation too. Fashion is always after the ‘perfect’ piece and ‘perfect’ fit. I’ve really enjoyed learning to become more accepting of less than perfect items.
I appreciate your insights, FrugalFashionista. I was actually surprised when you wrote that you liked my quirky choices! I think that when I started watching makeover shows and reading style books, I took things too literally. I tried to copy the looks instead of put my own spin on them. Interestingly, when I worked with clients, I always tried to keep their individuality in the looks we created. But with my own style, I got kind of lost. But fortunately I’m starting to find my way again. Your mention of zen and wabi-sabi aethetics piqued my curiousity. I think I will check out these concepts to see what they have to offer.
Eloise, Thank you so much for your very kind words! I think I’m blushing now as I type this 🙂 I appreciate your taking the time to comment and say such nice things. Your comment made my day!