Style: A Balancing Act

boyfriend jeans and ankle-strap red pumps. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Style Balance Points

I often find myself thinking of personal style as finding our optimal balance between elements that reside on opposite ends of their aesthetic continuums.

For example…

  • structured / soft
  • classic / trendy
  • formal / casual
  • bright / subdued
  • polished / rugged
  • ornate / simple
  • bold / delicate
  • dark / light
  • fitted / voluminous
  • feminine / masculine

You could probably name dozens more.

When I was growing up and even well into my adult years, there were very clear proscriptions about what went with what. Structured with structured, classic with classic, etc. Mixing styles or levels of refinement was a no-no. Today, that same exacting level of consistency can feel limiting and a bit staid. We have a lot more freedom today to find our own Sweet Spot balance, and create unique personal style. And personally, I think mixing it up a bit looks and feels more modern.

Regaining My Style Balance

In addition to visual balance in an outfit, there’s also emotional balance. Does this overall look express the image of myself I want to project? I find that when an outfit just doesn’t feel right, it’s often because something is out of balance. Not just the visual or proportional balance, but the less tangible and more personal aspects of expression.

For the past year or so, I feel as though I’ve been struggling more to get that balance just right, especially the feminine/masculine elements. I’m not a Girly Girl, but I can’t do straight up “Gentlewoman” either. Looking back over some of the outfits I’ve liked the most from the last few years, I’ve realized that what’s been throwing me off isn’t clothing or accessories. It’s my hair. While the short pixie cut has been fun, it’s also started to feel a bit too severe.

So I’ve begun letting my hair grow out a bit, aiming for a bit more softness. I’m not sure where it will end up, but with my very fine, very straight hair, my options are somewhat limited. I also don’t want something that’s going to require a lot of daily maintenance and styling.

When it comes to your personal style, how do you create balance?

Top image: I love the look of boyfriend jeans paired with a classic pointy-toed pump. I’m still kicking myself for getting rid of those shoes a couple of years ago during a closet purge. jeans | shoes (similar)

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  1. Susan—I’ve always liked your haircut. I’ve never thought of the style as severe but soft and wispy. I’m anxious to see what you come up with and of course if you don’t like it, you can always cut it.

  2. Susan. I have fine hair, too. I wear mine long(ish). I swear by a styling mousse to give it a bit more body. A root lift just doesn’t do it. As your hair grows out, experiment with new products to give it more texture and body. They are out there. I use Paul Mitchell Flexible Style Sculpting Foam (old school) but it can get a bit drying. I don’t switch hair care products too often but am trying MoroccanOil Volumizing Mousse to see if it is a bit more conditioning for my hair.

  3. Yes, great point about finding balance! I have retired in the last year, and have also gone through losing most of my hair and growing it back after cancer treatment. I have had very short hair for years. I find that I want something fun, but I also have fine hair, I am growing mine a bit longer, too. I’ll look forward to seeing pictures of your new hairstyle. Thanks so much, I love your posts, lots of great ideas!

    1. Lisa,
      I’m dealing with the wimpy come-back, too. Mine went out very curly and came back in limp and fine. Right now, I’m wearing it somewhat like Susan’s. I’m trying to grow it but it still comes in spotty. How long before you had a full head of hair? It’s been two years for me.

      And Susan, I love the pixie cut on you but I get the need for change. Anxious to see what you come up with.

      1. Connie – it took two years for my hair to come back completely after chemo – and it isn’t anywhere near as thick as it was before. I’ve worn it quite short and layered for the past year, but am growing it out so I can have a single layer chin length bob. I’m still missing the hair on my arms and legs (yeah! no shaving!), as well as my eyebrows. Thank goodness for microblading.

      2. Hi Connie,
        I’m sorry it has been over 2 years for you! My last IV chemo was in April of 2018, and my hair was really starting to fill in by the end of June. It was weird for me that it came back curly, which often happens. Strangely, that was harder for me than having almost no hair! Now I would say that I have a full head of hair. I hope that your continues to fill in, and bless all of us with the challenges of cancer!

  4. For my fine and gray hair I try to keep it well conditioned and keep it trimmed alot…..I wear just a straight across cut long “bob” Any layering/razoring/feathering just accentuates the fineness and turns into two dog puffs in humid weather. I cannot stress that enough- cut it solid and straight across, rather severe sounding but it helps fine hair alot!!

  5. I am in the same camp as everyone else with fine hair getting softer as I get older. Shoulder length with layers help. I love your shoes but can’t imagine they’re comfortable which is my main objective. As always you look great!

  6. Susan, I also have very fine, straight hair, and also recently decided that I’m going to let it grow a bit from my short, layered bob (like a long pixie, I guess) to a somewhat longer layered bob.. but how it will end up–I have no idea! It will have to be a style unique to me! I’ll be watching what you end up with. I use a volumizing foam, too, and then something called Rough Paste after I style it, to keep the volume in all day. I admit it’s getting to be more of a chore! As always–I love your style quest. Thanks for sharing You with us! I hope you can find similar red shoes again–love the ones in the picture!

  7. I like your hair and think it’s very flattering on you. On the other hand, what’s the harm of change? If you don’t like it longer you can cut it!
    Like Vicki, I have a bob more or less like Anna Wintour’s. My hair no longer is as thick as it once was, but it isn’t yet a problem.
    My gripe when I have tried other styles is not the first cut, which almost always is great, but the later trims/maintenance. Once the stylist has done the layering, especially with razors, it’s hard to recreate when it grows a bit. I would get more and more dissatisfied with each trim and eventually grow it all to one length. Also, I’m hopeless with a blow-dryer, so I need something simple.

  8. Good for you, experimenting with a different look. My hair is also fine, but with a lot of natural curl that I’ve fought against with blow-outs for years. After leaving a 9-to-5 job and getting used to a simpler, more unstructured life, I’ve decided to simplify my hair too and let it do its curly thing. I think it’s better for my hair — less yanking and extended drying to get it straight— and requires less fuss in the morning. Plus, it looks better with my more casual wardrobe.

  9. I like this. It’s educational and true. I’ve only studied style for the past decade and, being new to it, find your observations to be accurate. It’s a creative journey we take when we develop our personal style.

  10. Style dialectic. I love it. I like using casual pieces to make dressy ones less… fussy. Or adding ladylike pieces to a really masculine jacket. Or wearing red ladylike shoes with a pair of faded jeans. Love those shoes, by the way:) And your hair. xo

  11. Growing up I was always complaining about my bone straight hair (my hairdresser once said said other than east asian girls I had the straightest hair she had ever seen, Wouldn’t even take a perm,) but after menopause it became extremely wavy and to be honest, I don’t like it at all. Much harder to style and I’m not used to straightening it out. Its not so much wavy as “bumpy” if that makes sense. I’m having it straightened next month as it just takes too much time to get it to do what I want. I’m 63 and have hair past my shoulders with a side bang but I’m cutting it a couple of inches into a bob. I;ve got a longish face and it’s making me look older. It’s very thick so I’m lucky for that I guess. So much has changed with getting older that I’ve been holding onto this hairstyle for too long. I don’t want to be one of those women who look youngish from the back but when they turn around you give a silent, “YIKES!”

  12. I loved the way you wore your hair in 2015, it looked perfect and, to me.
    I felt that it was that little bit of glamour that kicked up your look. – glamour/casual – and it’s what I found unique about your style.
    My previously super thick hair is now fine and thinning but aging will do that to you – I still keep it shoulder length with layers for body and go for a finger dried soft aka messy look.
    I’m looking forward to your next phase.

  13. I’ve printed that little list of opposites to hang in my closet and keep my creative self open to experiment with my wardrobe. Isn’t it wonderful to live in an age when we can do just that? I remember the years last century when I wouldn’t dare wear “white after labor day*…as it stands today – this weekend’s temps will be in the 90’s where I live and white will be in the mix!

    As far as hair – I consider it an accessory! Try something new and if you don’t like – switch it up! My mother cut my hair into a pixie in the 60’s…5 brothers had “crew cuts” and I got the pixie…I still cannot go back, but at least I know it’s a cute style I can “work”…

      1. Or leopard print for that matter. They both look dynamite with jeans. I’ve recently retired and trying to find my casual self without trying too hard. Thanks for putting a twinkle in my eye for French Kande. I’d never seen it. I love the dressy casual feel. Of course I’m the woman at the museum with my tee shirt and pearls. Do what makes you feel good.

      2. It’s tricky decided what to store and what to get rid of. Some people have no tolerance for wardrobe storage, and it’s less of a decision, but the rest of us have to make decisions and sometimes we regret them. I think it’s harder with accessories because they can live renewed lives. I have 3 drawers of scarves. I go through them, and I will get rid of ones that aren’t of the highest quality but if I have something that’s well made and I liked to well enough to buy it I usually will hold onto it.

  14. I love change! And with your hair, as previously mentioned, you can cut it or it it always grows back. I’ve been growing mine out again, too! Not sure where it’s headed, but if it ends up in a ponytail off it goes
    I love your list, too. The rules we had in the past have stayed with me and I try hard to banish it. A work in progress. Thank you for your inspiration.

  15. I lost my hair after chemo and it’s grown back a greyish white, very fine and thinning on top. It’s styled in a chin length graduated bob with feathery bangs. It is flat, wispy and flyaway and I look so much older than my friends of the same age (64). I used to have thick, dark hair but I’m nervous of dyeing my hair now as I’m on so many meds permanently. Also I’d need to get the roots done every 2 to 3 weeks according to my hairdresser. My son is getting married next year and I’d love to have a younger, stylish hairstyle for the wedding. I’ll watch your emerging new look with interest although I do like your current hairstyle.

    1. There are companies that make hair color with no ammonia. Its understandable that you do not want to put more chemicals on your hair. But maybe discuss with your stylist a product that will be gentler. Plus a color that will not require root touch ups so often. Even if you do not go back to your original color you can find a color that makes you feel as youthful as your friends. You will love the new you!

  16. Susan – I recently started to follow your blog and enjoy your posts very much. As for hair, I have masses of thick wavy long hair so I’m a bit envious of someone who can pull off the very short hair look which you do. That said my hairdresser (who is fabulous) maintains that a person’s hair defines them. Even though I have long hair at 67 he changes it up a bit each year to keep it looking modern and not aging. Part of my style budget goes to him for color and cuts and products. Well worth the investment. I think you could pull off a stylish bob! Will look forward to seeing it.

  17. Mymostly silver hair is fine and wavy. While I was working I kept it in short layer cuts that were were wash and wear. Since retiring, I have been letting it grow longer to balance out my plus size and the looser silhouette of my recent wardrobe additions. It is still pretty easy to care for–a root lift product for some volume and a dab of a cream for shine and to prevent frizzies. The nice thing about fine hair is that it dries in a flash -just a minute or two with a blow drier or a short time when air dried.

  18. For me, the out-of-sync comes from wearing clothes to suit my body shape and size, when my personality is pulling me in a different direction. It can be hard to find the middle ground between reality and aesthetics.

  19. My fine hair appears to have even less body than yours. My sweet spot was the late 60’s when long straight hair was “in.” I could do that without lifting a finger. Since I still want “wash-and-wear”, I’ve more or less settled on a chin-length bob. I simply don’t have enough hair to carry off layers , and a longer length would require a ponytail, which makes me feel too “exposed.”

  20. I never give a thought to the Ying-Yang of style. I know right away what looks good on my body while it’s still on a hanger. It’s always a matter of cut, color, and quality for me. Accessories are a must and mostly rather bold.
    You are right in pursuing a rather softer hairstyle, it’s very becoming and makes you look years younger. Same with avoiding too much black around the face , especially in the day time. Proof: the orange linen jacket, so stylish and so youthful on you. A change of direction so refreshful. Keep going..

  21. I noticed in your last post I think that your was a bit longer and I liked the look. I am currently letting my hair get longer than usual. my hair is fairly thick, though with the years I do see some thinning. I am in my 70’s. about 10 years ago I stopped coloring it. it is all silver towards the front and salt and pepper towards the back. people will sometimes tell me it is beautiful for quite some time I have worn it in a bob. what often happens is that just as i am about to book a cut someone tells me they like the longer length. sometimes I wonder what it might be like to have enough hair to pull back. the texture is coarse and a bit wavy. you think that by now I would know what to do with my hair.. I am also rather petite and always admire how you put yourself together.

  22. And my style reset has been to go back to a pixie! I thought I “needed” to have longer hair, to look more feminine. Nope. Trusting personal style instincts sometimes means trusting your sense of self.

  23. My hair was dark, poker straight, fine but masses of it so a bob of varying lengths over the years was my go to style. Fast forward to age 66 and my now salon coloured dark hair (totally grey in reality) has become wavy and a total pain to style given our summer humid and winter rainy climate here in Auckland, New Zealand. I have several times tried short styles but in looking back over photos realise they are very aging on me. I particularly concur with the not “Gentlewoman” statement of yours. An image consultant wanted to put me in the Classic box but I constantly fight to get out of it. It was the most challenging part of that experience when trying to tick the boxes describing style preferences. I’m pretty sure I ticked most of the boxes!

  24. Susan, this is so interesting! I too have fine and straight hair. For most of my life I’ve tried to wear it chin length, but switched to a pixie about two years ago. My hairdresser told me frankly that I was deceiving myself if I thought any other style would look as good. At first I was upset at her and almost changed hairdressers. Eventually I was able to admit to myself that she was right. Now I love my pixie. I keep it as long as possible for the style, which isn’t very long. I’ve had the same concerns you just raised. Is it too masculine? Like you, the strict “Gentlewoman” style is not for me. This has been a challenge, but I’m finally getting the hang of it with scarves, lipstick and jewelry. You’re right that keeping the right visual balance makes a huge difference. Thanks for another great post!

  25. Susan, I’m posting this before reading anyone else’s comments. This post is freakin’ brilliant!

    Yes, those contrasts (and others I may try to come up with to entertain myself) are exactly what I love about building ensembles / looks / outfits that please me. And that’s exactly what my style goal is … to entertain myself.

    Of course, it’s not my goal to make others uncomfortable. But it’s unpredictability and complexity, in varying degrees, that entertain me.

    Thank you for this really excellent post!

  26. I noticed your slightly longer hair in your previous post, and I really like it on you! It does look a bit more feminine.. Although I’ve envied your ability to wear your shorter hair so well, your current style is really flattering on you and suits your style.

  27. Hi Susan…I have very fine hair too…combination of genetics and thyroid issues in my 20’s…I have spent a small fortune trying to get more volume, but this month’s Women’s Health had and article on scalp health and mentioned that Classic Head and Sholders can be helpful…I found a small bottle in the travel toiletries at Target and gave it a try. It has really made a difference. I dont have dandruff so I never thought to use H & S…I have started also using the Scalp Treatment as well.

  28. yes, you should kick yourself for getting rid of those shoes. They were very nice. I think I create balance rather the same way as you do. And masculine clothes don’t really work with me. Too tall? Shoulders too broad? I don’t know. Girly girls (with long thick hair) can do masculine/feminine much better.
    I have a few tricks to give my hair more volume and it works. As long as there is no wind blowing….
    Special “foam” to put in my hair when I blow dry it with a round brush. And crude clay plus a sort of white powder at the roots on the top of my head and back combing at the top. There you have my secrets.

  29. If one of the goals of this blog is to educate and help readers think outside of the box then you have done an excellent job with this writing! Growing up in a time when there were more fashion rules makes us who we are. Besides the “no white after Labor Day” rule, we were taught that everything must match. It was hard for me to get over shoes and purses not having to match anymore! Now there are so many freedoms but we are now responsible for our own choices. With fashion freedom comes fashion responsibility! Your chart of balances is great. Fitted vs voluminous is really important for the right silhouette, for example. Thanks for a great post!

  30. I have always loved your haircut. It looks so good on you. But I get it , when you are ready for a new look.
    I was so taken by a recent photo of a Parisian women with white hair cut in a bob style. That I had mine styled the same way as the photo. I had shoulder length , thin, white hair and was always struggeling with it. Now I style it once after washing and go until the next washing without any fuss. So it’s possible. I also found a great styling product from Oribe. Expensive but a little goes a long way and a pump bottle lasts a year.

  31. Those shoes are pretty killer. I hate when I toss something in a closet purge then regret it! I have very similar hair to yours and understand the struggle. My broad shoulders and sturdy frame are why I wear my hair a bit longer. It means I have to spend more time than I like on it, but it’s worth it for the balance.

  32. I look at stylish women and notice that they all stick to pretty much the same classic hair style. A bob that is long enough to be pulled back at the nape with a black bow! I always tell my stylist when he has the scissors in hand “as long as I can pull it back” then he can take a few inches off. A few years ago I cut my hair into a short ‘Anna Wintour’ bob and I HATED it! I felt that it did not suit me. Mme Wintour has a tiny pixi ish face and wears the style well. I have a broad pointed face with high cheekbones and big eyes..I looked like Betty Boop! I grew it out into a lob. That is a shoulder length bob that I have angled slightly at the back. Taking the weight off the hair at the back looks better to my eye. Yes it’s dyed brown with caramel highlights. At 63 I am not yet ready to go gray and my gray is not that pretty silver.
    Susan you look very pretty with your pixie but I looked at older posts with longer hair and you do wear it well so whatever you choose will look wonderful but ahhhh the loss of those red shoes!!!
    I have a pair of Pour La Victoire red leather booties and I want to be buried in them!!

  33. Have you thought about the grown out pixie? I’ve seen this all over Pinterest and think this would be an flattering on you. Also, I had very fair hair as a child and had always hilighted it to a color similar to yours. One day my husband asked me to try more of a golden color because he said so many women look washed out with the very light blonde(including me apparently!) I was afraid it would look to brassy but my stylist worked with me and it was much more flattering to my fair skin. So a new color might be fun to try too! Best of luck!!

    1. Thanks, and yes I may tweak the color just a little bit once it’s longer, going with a very slightly darker base and adding highlights.

  34. I would give the longer hair a try, I sense a soft feminine vibe lurking … if Helen Mirren can be strong yet feminine, so can we. Give it a go!

  35. I had a very short, wash ‘n wear hairstyle for years. As my face aged, the above the ears cut gave me a decidedly more masculine look. I now wear a chin length bob. It takes more effort to blow dry and touch up with a flat iron, but the longer length gives my overall style a lift.