Wearing clothes to express yourself

Why Clothes Matter:

Although there are far more serious issues in the world, how we look and dress does have an affect on us. There is scientific evidence which says how we dress affects our personality, mood, confidence, and even the way we interact with others.

First Impressions

A commonly held view is that what we wear, sends a message to others about the sort of person we are. Superficial and unfair though it might be, first appearances have a big impact on most people. Within a few moments assumptions will be made based on our clothes, our grooming, the way we carry ourselves and then the way we speak.

Some people will deduce certain facts from our appearance related to class, education, money and age. And it’s not just other people — we ourselves will at times make similar judgement, often unconsciously — about others. We stereotype people because of age, the way they are dressed or have their hair, or even the way they move. And, sometimes we all get it wrong!

Not all businessmen/women dress in expensive suits or semi-formal outfits, a prime example being Virgin boss, Richard Branson. Not all celebrities dress in carefyuhigh-fashion or designer clothes, think of the beautifully individual Helena Bonham Carter, or the quirky Olsen Twins.

In business now, the suit is no longer de rigeur, lots of the tech and more creative companies allow and encourage their staff to dress casually and in what they are comfortable wearing, the idea behind this being that when staff feel comfortable in their own clothes, they are likely to feel more creative, be more productive etc.

Even in the more traditional companies, Business Casual has become the norm over the years, e.g. shirt/slacks for men rather than the traditional suit, collar and tie. Business casual is still not as easily defined for women, but suffice to say that the traditional skirt suit or trouser suit is no longer appropriate in many setting, other than perhaps the traditional professions e.g. legal profession etc.

The most important issue is how our clothes make us feel about ourselves. It all depends on whether we feel happier in mainstream clothes that the average person from our age group and background favour — or whether we prefer to go our own way regardless of what others are currently wearing. Sometimes we move from one way of dressing to another to suit certain occasions.

What matters is that the clothes are our own choice and make us happy.

If we are wearing clothes we feel ‘right’ in — and reflect how we want to see ourselves — we can head out into the world, and almost forget about them for the rest of the day. The ‘right clothes’ means different things to different people. For some it might be a conservative suit, jeans or chinos and a top or shirt, a fashion-forward colour combination or a dramatic, unstructured, flowing ensemble. For others, clothes are a way to show that they are members of a certain group or part.

Work has a huge influence on us, and if our company is dress-conscious with bosses opting for a shirt and tie or a high-end fashion pieces, we’re likely to adapt our own style to ensure our work clothes fit in and make us look like a team player. Some places might decide a uniform is the best option for staff. In certain workplaces there are also practical issues to consider when dressing, if we are in physical work which involves bending, stretching etc.

(More about dressing for work in another blog post from Anne)

Dressing for relaxation at home and weekends is a different ballgame, and we should be absolutely free to wear the clothes that make us feel comfortable and (more importantly!) confident in our own skin.

Clothes that ‘Spark Joy’ for the wearer!

We should also feel free to express ourselves in our clothes without the need to conform to what others think. Many people have views on how we should dress according to our age, our body shape and our social class. Whatever other people or general convention thinks, it is one of our basic rights and privileges to dress as we so wish.

Regardless of what our family, friends or colleagues say we look good in, our gut instinct is usually best to guide us as to what looks and feels right for us. This is where the lovely Marie Kondo’s catch-phrase hits the nail on the head — only wear and buy things which ‘Spark Joy’, whether it is an outfit, jewellery, shoes, ties, bags and scarves.

If you look in the mirror and get a great lift from what you see, that’s the best sign that you are dressing authentically and expressing yourself. If you get a flat or ‘not sure’ feeling it is probably a sign that it is not for you. Your style reflects you as an individual and can be toned down to basics if needed for work or practicalities, and then embellished with more pieces for special events.

Anne and I have similar tastes in clothes and often go for the same brands, but whilst we have a few identical pieces, we often buy totally different items from the same shop. Firstly, we are very different shapes and secondly that basic individuality that we have, makes certain clothes ‘spark joy’ for one and not the other.

Finding your ‘right’ colours: Wear whatever colour you feel best in whether it is canary yellow, purple or black, black, black! I am a black devotee, although I often mix it with grey and white, and, if I can find the right shade of blue, red, purple and green, I will wear those too. I love seeing other people in pastel colours, but most of them don’t feel right on me. Whilst they look fresh and summery on friends, they have always made me look and feel ‘faded’.

The minute I try a colour on, I know if it works or not. For some people, finding ‘the right clothes in the right colour’ is a never-ending problem, as they are just not sure what works for them. There are also lots of other people who don’t feel clothes or fashion rate high on their list of priorities, and feel happy and confident in whatever they wear. There are others who get a real lift from putting outfits together which are quirky and different.

For anyone interested in clothes but feel they have never found their own personal style, it’s never too late to start. Age is no barrier, there are lots of fashion icons who are in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s — even up to 90’s! Women such as the cool Lyn Slater and the colourful Iris Apfel, and for men, John Malkovich who have shown that age does not dictate personal style. If you are looking for inspiration, there are plenty of fashion websites, blogs, Pinterest and Instagram to find outfits that grab your attention. There are all sorts of labels for various styles such as chic, streetwear, sophisticated, rocker, preppy, grunge, vintage, urban, boho, sporty and somewhere, amongst all of those will be something which will feel right for you.

What you are drawn to is often what will suit you. All you have to do is track the clothes down in the right proportions!

Keep an open mind when shopping:

When you have the time and some money to spend on something special, head for your nearest city and you will have a much bigger choice of department stores, charity shops, vintage or high-street shops.

Take your time to try things on properly in a full-length mirror.

If you are not sure what works for your colouring or shape, or if you just need a change, some stores offer a styling service where the staff are happy to suggest things they think would work for you. If you explain what you want the outfit for, and the sort of thing you like, (you can cut out examples of fashions from magazines or save Pinterest pictures on your phone) they are more than likely to come up with something that suits your shape and personal taste.

If you are shopping in a charity shop, vintage or second-hand designer outlets, not only will it be cheaper, but whatever you buy will usually be a one-off style. You can get some fantastic bargains that have hardly been worn and some brand new with the original tags still on. (We will be covering Sustainable Fashion more thoroughly in a blog post soon)

Regardless of what is suggested, buy nothing unless you really love it and feel that it reflects your own taste and personality. If you are buying separates, check if the piece will work with other things in your wardrobe. A good tip is to actually go through your wardrobe to refresh your mind on what you actually have and decide in advance what pieces you are looking for to complement these, or even bring some pieces with you to try with the new pieces you are buying.

If you are dressing for a wedding or an interview or for some big occasion where you want to feel at your very best — it’s important to wear something that makes you feel absolutely 100%! You can then forget about what you are wearing and relax and enjoy the occasion.

From my own experience, wearing a new outfit I’m not quite sure about (or something that feels tight or uncomfortable, or is not hanging properly) leaves me unsure or self-conscious for the rest of the day. Who needs that? Bad enough that we might like that on an ordinary day — but a special event (with photographs to capture your awkwardness) can be ruined by wearing something that just doesn’t feel or look right.

Always ch mmm hhheck an outfit you have bought for a wedding or dressy event several times at home before the big day. Also make sure the shop will accept a return if you change your mind. Shop mirrors can be deceivingly flattering, and some are deliberately designed to make you look taller and more sylph-like. As someone under 5 feet tall, I’ve been delighted with the illusion that something works perfectly for me in shop mirrors, only to get home and discover that it swamps me or catches me in the ‘wrong places’ in real life!

Try the outfit on when you are back at home with your usual mirror and lighting, and decide then if the new one makes you feel great — and is better than anything else you already have.

On a number of occasions, I have ditched a new outfit, and, at the last minute, turned up in an old favourite I’ve worn on dozens of occasions, because I felt better in it. And never once have I regretted it. If people recognise your outfit from before, just remember Princess Anne who has worn the same outfit to public functions twenty years apart without giving a hoot what anyone else thinks.

Whilst we are aware there are more serious issues in life — it’s good to know that wearing the clothes we feel ‘right’ in can add that little extra lift to our day!

Two takes on the same theme. Joint motivational blog for success at work and home by author Geraldine O’Neill and HR Consultant Anne Scally.