Following Our Instincts

“Look at me, they said. And I did.”

This quote from Linda Grant’s blog, The Thoughtful Dresser (which has become one of my daily reads), really gets down to the bones of what this style thing is all about.
To stand out or to blend in? It’s the sartorial equivalent of the Fight or Flight response. That might sound a bit extreme, but being on display has rarely felt safe to me, and fear has informed much of my style. I stood out in ways I never intended, first as a chubby child whose appearance was constantly critiqued by family and then as a young woman without sufficient means to wear anything other than what I could find in my size in our smallish town’s thrift stores. The Greek chorus in my head most frequently when browsing through the racks was chanting “you can’t wear that” and (sometimes simultaneously) “you can’t afford that.” So my overarching desire, if not to hide, was to blend in, to wear what the other thinner, wealthier girls were wearing.

There were my defiant times, when I wore neon lime green hi-top sneakers and gold lamé cat-eye sunglasses, and being different was a big fuckyou to those who were never going to accept me anyway. It felt good, but it was still about rebellion, about reacting against the dominant style paradigm, rather than expressing something truly my own.

My “sweet spot” outfit from a couple days ago had an element of hiding about it. It was generic, neutral, nothing about it in particular inviting anyone to look. (But the ankle boots…there is something about boots that feels very cool and powerful that I like, and have always liked about wearing boots.) Dressing this way is following my instincts, but instincts tend to be about preservation, not about expression or fulfillment. I’m not satisfied with just preservation anymore.

To be able to go out into the world saying, “look at me,” and not from a standpoint of seeking approval or fearing judgment, that’s a mighty powerful stance. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.
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5 Comments

  1. November 9, 2007 / 3:44 pm

    Well, you certainly do it very powerfully in your writing — I suspect your dress expresses you perhaps more than you credit. Rather than hiding, perhaps your expression has evolved with the confidence of maturity into dignified, powerful restraint. I suspect that your minimalism of the other day was manifest in beautiful fabrics and well-cut, if subtle, lines, and I also suspect that the boots (yes, for me, too, boots are automatic attitude somehow) faintly echo that long-ago fuckyou, now wielded only when necessary, and much more effectively. And from what you’ve written, I’m guessing there was perfect punctuation to that minimalism in a well-chosen handbag that gave the attentive onlooker a hint of your personality but was primarily for your enjoyment, talismanic somehow.
    Course, what do I know, maybe you were wearing grey sweats!

  2. November 9, 2007 / 5:03 pm

    Well, you’re awfully kind. No, I was not wearing grey sweats. 🙂
    (For the record: black bootleg jeans, black silk turtleneck, black Stewart Weitzman ankle boots, the ones I lauded in the latest Shoe post, a grey tweed 3/4 sleeve jacket from Travelsmith and my black Furla Freida handbag. Big but delicate gold hoop earrings.)

    I’m sorting through how much of what feels most comfortable to me is truly choice vs. reaction, so I’ll probably do some more public muddling about this. I really appreciate the feedback.

  3. November 9, 2007 / 8:07 pm

    Good thoughts, good writing. Thank you so much for introducing me to Linda Grant’s blog too!

  4. Meg the Florida Bargain Queen
    November 11, 2007 / 12:57 am

    Interesting…

    I tried for the longest time to hide under baggy clothes. That’s hard to do at 5’10, though. But when I did dress in flattering clothes, I got so much unwanted attention like guys taking pictures of me from their vehicles (let me put it this way, back then I was also just 143 lbs and was busting out of a 38DDD bra).

    Post breast-reduction, people now look at something other than my breasts, so I finally feel comfortable dressing nicely. I still get noticed, but I’ve stopped hiding since the attention is nicer now.

  5. February 26, 2017 / 9:00 am

    You have put words to what many of us are probably secretly feeling, or at least what I feel currently. What you wrote here is so helpful in its honesty. I am a full time graduate student (In my second year and loving it!), nearing 50, and struggling with a style choice between quietly blending in or boldly standing out. I love clothes and personal expression and never hesitated to express myself with style when I was younger. Now, I find it much harder. I second-guess my desire to be bold, which is at odds with my desire to be age-appropriate and not to call undue attention to myself. Do I buy the leopard coat, or just wear my same old black parka? Do I keep accessories small and conservative, or do I go big and sparkly? Is my small minimal wardrobe of neutrals really expressing a desire to simplify and streamline, or am I hiding my style to make others more comfortable around me? I think the answer is probably “yes.” Its good to know that others are considering some of the same challenges.

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