Who are you dressing for? Although you might immediately answer this question with “myself” and that may be a spot-on response for you, it’s not the case for all of us. Many people dress more to please or impress others than to make themselves happy. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I will share some of my thoughts in today’s post.
On Fashion Forums and Lemming Behavior
A few years ago, I used to spend a lot of time on fashion forums. Some of the participants on these forums post outfit photos and are given feedback on their looks from people all around the world. The feedback usually centers on whether or not the ensemble is in line with current trends and fits the accepted definition of what is “fashionable.”
After a while, I started to notice a lot of lemming-like behavior among participants. They buy a lot of the same items and style their outfits in very similar ways. If you look at such a forum today, you’ll see a lot of rolled pants hems and half-tucked tops, as those are some of the things to do these days. I’m personally not a big fan of either look and sometimes wonder if those who are adopting such styles are, either. I wonder if they are dressing for themselves or to gain approval from people whom they’ve probably never met and likely never will meet.
Of course, I don’t know the fashion forum participants and am not aware of their motivations. For all I know, many of them are thrilled to wear the current styles and feel they look damn good in them. But I do have to question if some of them have fallen prey to tendencies that I myself have struggled with. There have been many times that I have dressed for other people more than for myself and I’m not necessarily proud of it. In fact, I continue to engage in this behavior, which is part of why I want to “out” myself here today.
Buying Clothes to Shop In
One example is when I dress to go to the mall. I’ve often mentioned that I live in an ultra-casual town, and I do. But even in a place where shorts and flip-flops reign supreme, many people dress up to go shopping. Whereas I feel overdressed in almost every other place that I go, I often feel underdressed at the mall. When I used to shop pretty much all the time, I came to realize that I was mostly buying clothes to go shopping in!
The irony of that was pretty much lost on me at the time, but I get it now. All I really had to do was stop shopping so much and then I wouldn’t have had to shop so much. If your head is about to explode at my logic there, you’re not alone! My mind boggles at my past behavior, too, but I know I’m not the only person who does it. In fact, when I asked my local shopaholic friend if she wears certain clothes for activities other than shopping, her answer was “no.”
Now that I’m shopping less, I have a lot of clothes in my closet that don’t really fit the activities of my life. When I was dressing for the mall audience, I had a whole separate wardrobe for that purpose. I actually still like a lot of those clothes, but I don’t really need them anymore. Now when I consider buying something, I have to stop and ask myself if it’s something to wear shopping or for my real life!
Dressing for an Online Audience
I think that many of the fashion forum participants were dressing for an online audience, and the same is true for a lot of style bloggers. I often wonder if some of them buy clothes simply to photograph for their blogs, only to promptly return those items shortly thereafter. When I see a lot of their ensembles juxtaposed against what I know about their lives, I seriously question if any of those looks are worn for more than the thirty minutes or so it takes to capture photographs. Sure, there are some bloggers who have more down-to-earth and accessible styles, but they seem to be more the exception than the norm.
Although I am not really a style blogger, I still sometimes feel like I’m dressing for an online audience. I don’t post outfit photos all that often and when I do, it’s usually more to illustrate a particular point than to showcase my personal style. In fact, the past few times I posted outfit photos was mostly to share the advice I received from Bridgette Raes on looks that I didn’t like all that much. My hope was that some of you would be able to translate Bridgette’s advice for me and apply it to your own ensembles. In these instances, however, I still worried what readers would think of my outfits – and of me, even though I didn’t really like the looks I posted!
Worrying about what other people think has long been one of my Achilles’ Heels and is something I’ve written about more than once on this blog (like here and here, for example). Not only do I worry about what the people in my day-to-day life think, I worry about what all of you think, too. In fact, sometimes I censor what I write for fear of the comments I may receive. I’d really like to stop doing that, which is part of the reason for this post today (although I’m also writing about this because I’m sure some of you also struggle with the issues I’m discussing here).
Wearing the Trends vs. Wearing What We Love
I remember a while back when I did my latest purchase analysis for 2014. One of the items I was questioning was a pair of slim-fitting jeans I had bought earlier in the year. I have to be honest and admit that I bought those jeans because they were more “in style” than the looser-fitting jeans I was used to wearing. I bought them more to please other people, including the readers of this blog, than because I really loved them. When I posted photos of myself in those jeans in the purchase analysis post, I was virtually flooded with comments and emails from readers, who told me how great the jeans looked on me. Some of them even told me I should only wear those types of jeans from now on.
I may look good in the skinnier jeans, although a flat photo doesn’t tell the whole story, but I don’t feel all that comfortable in them. I feel “acceptable” to others but very self-conscious about showcasing my lower half so much. Of course, if I continually push myself to wear the jeans anyway, I may eventually get over those feelings. But I have to wonder if I should really do that, especially if I have other jeans that I feel happy and attractive in right now. While it’s true that I may not look as good in those other options, at least in terms of the current trends, whose opinion is more important than my own?
Changing Based Upon the Opinions of Others
I will likely never meet most of the people who comment on my blog. They aren’t the audience for my real life, but I find myself wanting to dress for them anyway. I care about what they think and I have taken a lot of their input to heart. Over the course of this year, I have shortened a number of my skirts in response to readers’ comments. I also tried narrowing a few of my skirts, to mostly disastrous results. I won’t be trying that again!
Sadly, my skirts still aren’t short enough for some readers, as I received the same sorts of comments about skirt length a couple of weeks ago. That was frustrating to me, as it reinforced my insecurity and my fear that I will never be good enough. However, those who made such comments may well be right. After all, Bridgette Raes also recommended that I get some shorter skirts, particularly if I want to wear flatter shoes and not look frumpy or “churchy.”
Our Feelings and the Views of Our “Audiences”
I don’t really think there’s an absolute right or wrong way to dress, but there are ways of dressing that are more in line with one’s personal preferences and goals. There are many bloggers who post outfits that I don’t really like, but they often rave about how much they love their ensembles.
One blogger in particular loves to wear really quirky and “out there” outfits. She often wears very bright colors, lots of large accessories, and eye-catching footwear. I wouldn’t wear most of her looks, but she loves them and that’s what’s most important. She moderates all of her comments, so I don’t know how many negative responses she receives, but my guess is that she takes all of them with a grain of salt. Because she truly loves her crazy get-ups, she likely doesn’t care a whit if others share her views. I really respect her confidence and resolve even if I don’t necessarily share her style aesthetic most of the time. I think I continue to follow her blog because I admire how much of an individual she is and how much she seems to dress for herself.
I think if we’re not totally happy and satisfied with the way we’re dressing, we’re far more susceptible to the opinions of others. In such cases, the feedback we receive may help us to hone our style such that it will feel more in line with how we want to look. In the case of my skirt outfits, I wasn’t really happy with a lot of them, which is why I spent so much time discussing these looks with Bridgette. I think I will ultimately be happier wearing shorter and narrower skirts (as well as maxi-skirts, which I’ve embraced this year), as my style aesthetic has shifted and I no longer love the midi-length, fuller silhouettes that I had worn for a number of years.
Learning to Dress for Ourselves
I’m still learning to dress for myself and I feel a bit like a baby bird that is learning to fly for the first time. Years ago, I dressed almost as quirky and individual as the blogger I mentioned above. Deep down, however, I wanted to look more acceptable and mainstream but just wasn’t sure how. Over the past 8-10 years, I’ve read tons of books and watched countless makeover shows, all the while searching for clues for how I could be more stylish. In some respects, I achieved my goals, but I also lost myself a bit in the process.
At this point, I’m trying to rediscover my own personal style, which lies somewhere in between the quirky ensembles of yesteryear and the mainstream looks I frequently wear to please others. I want to be able to unequivocally say that I dress for myself, but I’m still trying to find my own voice amidst all of the other voices out there in the world and in my various audiences. Perhaps I will learn to love skinny jeans, shorter skirts, and other such styles, or maybe I’ll discover that I really do prefer wider-leg pants and fuller skirts.
I’m not really sure what my style preferences will be, and I’m sure they’ll continue to evolve as the months and years go by. I’m also not sure how often I’ll continue to feature my outfits on the blog (although I do plan to finish the Bridgette Raes series). I know that virtually all who comment mean well, but I sometimes find all of the input both confusing and overwhelming. Perhaps when I have a firmer sense of how I want to dress, it will be easier to assimilate a multitude of feedback. Until then, I’m going to continue with my outfit journal and style discovery process and leave the outfit blogging to those who do it far better than I.
How about you? Who do you dress for? Do you dress solely for yourself or do the opinions of others influence what you wear? If you feel like you dress for other people at least some of the time, who are those people and why do they influence you so much? I’d love to get your input on this important topic, as I’m sure I’m not alone in being confused and swayed by others’ points of view.
If you’ve learned to dress mostly for yourself and have words of wisdom that might help the rest of us, please share your thoughts. How have you been able to hear and heed your own voice in the midst of so many opinions? What do you recommend for those of us who are still struggling to find our way?