Climbing Out Of A Style Rut

Detail: style blogger Susan B. wears Halogen leopard print mules. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

When A Style Groove Becomes A Style Rut

Above: I’ve been relying heavily on accessories like these leopard mules to add interest to my summer outfits.

As I admitted in Monday’s post, I’ve been feeling a bit stagnant with regard to my style. This frustration has been building for the last few months, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve really hit the wall.

Part of my style malaise is seasonal. I’ve never had a particular affinity for summer clothing. Layering, scarves and footwear are where the fun happens for me. And part of it, I think, is where so much of Fashion is at this point in time: a big, splashy, Instagram-able Look-At-Me aesthetic. So many of the styles I see now feel a little contrived. Ruffles, flounces, shower curtain prints, one-shoulder, cold-shoulder, off-the-shoulder, sleeves that render use of one’s hands almost impossible. Or else just plain, big and boxy. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground between maximalist and minimalist fashion currently.

I call it the "Instagram effect" on fashion. Bright, splashy clothing that will stand out on a smartphone screen. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

It isn’t that most of my wardrobe doesn’t work for me; it does. But there’s a certain energy, a bit of “zing” that’s often missing. In the past when hit with wardrobe ennui, I’ve experimented with adding bright colors, bold patterns, and styles well outside of my comfort zone. Even when I received compliments and positive feedback, I often couldn’t escape the feeling of trying too hard. Or that I was wearing Someone Else’s Clothes.

Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued

When I wrote earlier this year about my Wardrobe Wake-Up Call, I knew I didn’t want change my style completely. I’ve worked hard over the years to figure out the silhouettes and types of clothes that work for me and that I feel good in. I still believe in a foundation of simple, basic pieces. But I’m craving a little more variety, a little more color, a little more…glamour, for lack of a better word. I’m looking for those pieces that make my heart beat a little faster, and that make me happy when I wear them.

My shopping mistakes, the ones that sit unworn in my closet month after month, are almost always a result of trying too hard to add something “different” or “interesting” to the mix. So this season I’m trying a more strategic and focused approach. The plan:

Add more variety to my neutrals. As I replenish or update my wardrobe basics, I’m going to be replacing some of the black with navy, camel and grey.

Stick with what’s working. A long-over-lean silhouette, softly structured pieces, fabrics with movement, lightweight layers. Simple shapes with subtle but interesting details.

Don’t force it. I’m still mostly print-averse, and feel silly in anything too flouncy or complicated. If I have to talk myself into an item, I’m not going to wear it.

Trust the “Click.” The Click is what I call it when you put something on and it just feels right. I’m going to worry less about “where would I wear it?”. What I’ve found is that those “love at first try” pieces are the ones I wear the most, and hold onto the longest.

How about you? Do you get into style ruts occasionally? How do you get out of them?

Zhush It Up…

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  1. I really dislike these new season styles of frills and flounces and the col-shoulder look was already out of date in 2013. Being only 5’2″ and 50kgs I look ridiculous in frills, so stick to slim, sleek styles in soft fabrics. Bought my favourite clothes in Rome last year and will continue to wear them despite the latest styles.

  2. Great post! I have found myself recently having to convince myself that my style is MY style as I see so much (flounces, frills etc ) that are trying to convince me that I’m just not ‘with it’ 🙂 I definitely believe in the ‘click’ and am going to trust that more often.

  3. Hi Susan, After years of wearing black suits and separates for work, and black or white with denim for the weekend, I moved to a warmer climate and now work mainly from home. Suddenly my wardrobe just didn’t work. But, the beachy, floaty colourful look just isn’t me. After a couple of years of considered rebuilding, and introducing navy, blush and camel to my black, I’m happy with my core wardrobe, but still have blah days, especially in the heat. I’ve found that adding some funkier, colourful accessories keeps me interested, and if they’re likely to be one season wonders I don’t overspend. I’m also slowly building a collection of edgier forever pieces such as French Kande medallions. I’m not looking to add any more winter items, but found that remixing existing items (with a little Pinterest inspiration) worked for me. Surprisingly one of my favourite combinations was a red cashmere sweater, cropped frayed jeans and tan ankle boots. Previously I’d only ever worn the sweater with black jeans or trousers.
    My focus as we move into spring is to do the same with my warmer weather wardrobe, and be more adventurous with how I combine individual pieces I’m actually pretty happy with. I won’t be buying orange trousers/ruffles/frills/loud prints any time soon, but a stack of tassled, bright bracelets – maybe!

  4. Great post. No ruts for me…..I only purchase what I like the moment it hits my body. When I’m home and I put something on, if it feels “muh”, off it comes and to a good cause it goes! I don’t let the fashion industry dictate to me, I never have and I get lots of compliments on my style. Some days I feel a bit Bohemian and other days, Classic, some days casual, and most of the time, what ever hits me when I open up my closet……Once in awhile I will change a couple of times before I walk out the door, if I’m to hot or too cold….but most of the time I just roll with whatever…..

  5. Susan, years ago I found my true style when I read What You Wear Can Change Your Life by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine. I discovered what looks best on me and what I feel great in. I discarded half the clothes in my closet and never regretted one thing. I recommend this book every time I hear people struggling to define their style or find something to wear. The title says it all!

  6. I think we all get into style ruts this time of year. We are all tired of wearing the same summer clothes. Like you, I don’t like warm weather dressing and much prefer cold weather dressing. This is the time of year when I start replenishing my fall wardrobe and it makes me feel better.

    Like you I hate the off the shoulder, cold shoulder, ruffle looks that are out there. But there are other clothes out there luckily so I just ignore them.

    Something that may help with the style rut is to choose your colors seasonally. Don’t change the type or silhouettes of the clothes you buy, but rather the colors. If you are wearing neutrals, like black, all year round, then you are going to get sick of them. For example, I love the Uniqlo 3/4 sleeve length t-shirts for wearing on weekends or under blazers to work. This spring I bought three in spring colors (two pinks and a blue). This fall I am going to buy the same shirt in a deep purple. I do the same thing with cardigans. They are the same tops, but the color change makes the difference. It refreshs my wardrobe. Once September 21 arrives, I will put away my pastels and summery colors and take out my fall colors – the maroons, hunter greens, etc. I won’t wear the pastels and summery colors until next spring. So when I take out my spring clothes next year, it will feel like a whole new wardrobe.

    I also don’t wear black in the summer. In the summer I switch to blues, like navy, which are less harsh.

  7. I’m short and chubby and can’t wear any of the current styles nor do I want to. I’m still struggling with body positivity at 65, which is so dumb. I retired this spring and am having to rebuild and struggling. Now I need to figure out a wardrobe for Germany in November!
    I loved your hot pink t shirt you had this spring.

  8. I hear you! I have broad shoulders and just look silly in on the shoulder, one shoulder, frills, and ruffles. Just do not suit me at all. Now I live in hot Florida so ditching summer clothes is not an option. I tend to live in capris, shorts, and t shirts. I have a lot of long-sleeve tops that I NEVER get to wear unless we travel. I wore a sweater last winter just once! And I have problems with my feet, so gorgeous shoes are not an option. So, I have learned to use jewelry and bags to add interest. Like you, I hate patterns and stay away from them. I do wear bright colors since I am a “winter” coloring. I think you need to add some color, girlfriend. I go with a basic black/navy pant or capri, and then a bright top. Then you can add the velvet jacket, or a camel jacket, and the bright color will be balanced out. Love your blog!

  9. Like many others who have commented here, I am not a fan of the boho trends that we see everywhere. I call it, “The Revenge of Resort Wear.” Especially off the shoulder and the ruffles upon ruffles. In the last nine months I have bought 2 t-shirts, a pair of white jeans and a pair of black jeans. Again, like others here, I have focused on accessories; jewelry and scarves. I really haven’t found anything to love in shoes because I try to play up my legs whenever possible, but I see a pair of booties in my future. My big splurge this year has been to get regular manicures. I now count pretty nails as my favorite accessory.

  10. Hi,,
    My ruts occur when I get bored dressing for my actual body (rectangular) instead of my fantasy body (curvy). I don’t really have style ruts, probably because I am not a classic dresser but tend toward romanticism (lace and ditsy florals, vintage jewelry), “badass” (labels such as Zadig & Voltaire), arty (Eileen Fisher). Lately I’ve been obsessed with tracking down Liberty of London blouses and tops on eBay, where I sometimes stumble upon another British label I’ve not heard of before (e.g., Marilyn Moore) . I guess I keep trying to express aspects of my personality and interests, which are literary/intellectual/rocker. I also try to add a couple of young elements (white sneaks, Isabel Marant jewelry, ) to my approaching-70 look without looking stupid. Classic looks make me feel frumpy and don’t seem to flatter me.
    You are more of a classicist – I suggest breaking out a bit on your jewelry to change things up. I think of French Kande and gold hoop earrings when I think of you. How about a mass of little chains, a big metal earring etc.
    Always enjoy reading your blog and your thoughtfulness.

  11. I’ve tried to get out of my style rut by adding different colored shoes and bags but have ended up regretting some of my purchases. Those bright pink Gucci Marmont shoes would’ve seen more wear had they been black. It really is a struggle to not purchase all that BLACK! When I bought them I thought this will liven up the wardrobe but I still find myself reaching for the black Eileen Fisher wedges instead. It’s almost that I WANT TO FADE INTO THE BACKGROUND at 62. Not a good feeling. Working on that… My nephew is getting married in New Orleans in November and I did opt for outfits from Anthropologie that have a pattern and hopefully I’ll feel comfortable wearing them. I bought the Lenka printed jumpsuit for the rehearsal dinner and the Sheena Maxi dress for the outdoor wedding. When they arrive (had to order petite sizing) I’ll try them on and if not immediately comfortable back they’ll go,

  12. I think it’s mostly emotional. Wearing a trusted set of comfortable, appropriate clothes can be a blessing–I have classics! I have a look!–or it can be a rut–I’m always wearing the same thing!
    As we get to the end of a season, we get a hankering for change. That’s OK. At the moment, my budget is dedicated to other things than clothes, so when I feel I’m in a wardrobe rut, I just try to change my mind rather than my clothes.

  13. I think the Missoni you bought in the summer is a look that really suits you and it exemplifies some of the ideas you have been talking about recently like soft jackets and navy as a base. This jacket is really striking but not shouty with its navy and white pattern. I have jacket envy!

  14. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, the weather dictates my choices…whilst “autumn” is in the stores and on the calendar, it’s still 85 degrees and humid…and 90 often happens after labor day. I love all your posts, Sue, and the reader’s comments and get inspiration everywhere…at 52, I am pretty comfortable in my skin, know how to highlight my attributes, don’t follow “trends” but do appreciate seeing them on others. I dress everyday to “lift” myself up and even my “lounge wear” is specific and beautiful. I have found a lot of encouragement from YOU and also the “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”…if it doesn’t * spark joy * I’m not going to have it in my life…shoes that hurt, bras that pinch, colors that make me feel *meh* I love to learn new things, keep it fresh and have on my armor to take on the day, whatever life throws at me…

    1. pieces that make my heart beat a little faster, “…….YOU NEED TO SHOP VINTAGE!!!!!!Have you ever been to a VINTAGE SHOW in the L.A. area…….?I think they come three times a year………there is one in SAN FRANCISCO in SEPTEMBER!My guess is you will find ACCESSORIES and jackets that make your HEART BEAT!!!!!!!!
      Give it a try and let me know…………I sent SANDRA to a JEWELRY VINTAGE SHOW………she came HOME WITH GOODS!!!!!!!

  15. I have found my way out of style doldrums by doubling down on what works, not by trying new things. So, if what I liked were tees and jeans, I bought better tees and more interesting jeans;) Currently looking for, wait for it, a black jeans jacket.of

    I can imagine you simply upping the detail or the texture of your long cardigan jackets, for example, or doing as you did with those split hem jeans.

    Or the Gucci pumps. xox. Also I’m just now thinking, where should we go next summer?

  16. I was in a decades-long style rut with business clothes, but am now retired and busy trying to reinvent my wardrobe. The solution for me so far has included fully understanding what colors look best on me (finally!!!), buying pieces that fit well and are flattering, and buying clothing with a certain level of quality. No more H&M or Zara… they do not make me feel special and never will. I’ve realized that having far fewer flattering items of fine quality works much better than having a closet full of trendy junk. If I love and feel that I look good in what I’m wearing, I don’t care how often I have to wear the same thing.

    My new challenge is learning how to combine pieces in different ways to create different looks. This is not always so easy, but I’m finding it’s well worth the effort. This approach is much more effective than adding a flashy statement piece from an expensive designer, wearing the item once or twice, and then having it sit in the back of the closet.

  17. I know exactly how you feel, lots of the styles are way too flouncy for me too. A few years ago I had my colours done, Colour Me Beautiful I think it was. That highlighted some colours I’d not thought of wearing before and in particular the turquoise/aqua tones which I find are great with my silver hair. Perhaps give that a try?

  18. I think you always look fabulous and are just tired of summer! I know I am. And I also understand the doldrums you’re going through… once a person finds what looks best and sticks with it, boredom does occasionally descend.

    But could you just adapt what you have? That navy Scapa jacket is so adorable on you, and I’m wondering if you couldn’t get a garter and cinch some of your other jackets at the back to get a similar silhouette? It would be a temporary fix, so you’re not ruining anything, and it might be fun to play with. Or perhaps do the same thing with some of your tops, and play with the slightly fitted look while still keeping your outer layer loose?

    I can also see you in some of the short dresses that are popular now, but wearing them as tops, with skinny jeans or other slim fitting pants.

    And I would like to see you rock some shorter, bolder necklaces. You’re amazing in your long French Kandee, but you have such a beautiful face that you can also carry off something to frame it! Her shorter pearl necklaces are divine. You might even see if she could customize one to add two connectors and use it as the cinch for your jackets!

  19. I was just looking at your profile picture in the sidebar and noting those lovely glasses, another accessory (though one of necessity!) which changes your presentation. Sounds like you know what “fixes” do not work for you: too much bold color or pattern, for example, and you are not going down that path again. Perhaps jewelry other than the very beautiful and striking FK? Of course, simply waiting for the season to change might be the most natural shift in mood and preference!

  20. I have found the following advise from Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” to be helpful: ” . . . the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” I use this criteria more when I have clothing on (rather than in my hand) and when shopping for new clothing

  21. So many insightful comments. In NZ we are coming into Spring which has always been my favourite season in both northern & southern hemispheres. After losing a significant amount of weight and thus able to wear new shapes, I’ve found a new perspective on my clothing style. I now have at least two dozen excess hangers and very happy op shops (thrift/goodwill stores)! At last a ‘middle years’ designer has finally produced more navy than black items and I could not be happier. My inbox is flooded with frills, flounces and pleats which I quickly delete and wonder if I should unsubscribe, but at 65 I know with all certainty that it’s just another fad fashion, AGAIN, and with a little extra effort when shopping I’ll find something right for me. My love of colour manifests itself in lightweight coats and jackets to brighten a neutral as well as scarves. Accessories have always been my friend although even some of those have lately been donated as just too bland. I love the idea of French Kande pieces but their cost frightens me off. I think that the cheaper costume jewellery stores will give me the seasonal fix which I can bin when they start to wear. Sometimes, for me, it’s just a change of attitude that gets me out of my style rut. In other words believe we’re “rocking it” in our classic clothes.

  22. I got out of my summer rut this year by investing in a few short knit dresses (one is a midi) in interesting neutrals. Also one in chambray. I bought them for a May trip to Cuba, since I swore off shorts years ago and knew it would be way too warm for white jeans or maxi dresses. Haven’t stopped wearing them since. I work from home in a beach community (when I am not traveling) and am always looking for that casual beach vibe without falling over the boho cliff. Can mix it up with jewelry, a scarf, a sweater, a jean jacket, a cargo vest, leggings, sandals, booties, whatever. Great for airplane travel too. I plan to wear them well into the fall, since warm summer weather will still be here for several more months in SoCal.

  23. Any way you can get to Dallas? There is a couturier there who makes the most marvelous clothes- all with a relaxed silhouette. From the tiniest of petites to plus sizes, her clothes are tailored to her clients’ bodies. There are many designs to buy “off the floor”, but all the bodies are available in many, many gorgeous fabrics. I wear JJill for my yoga/grocery store clothes, Eileen Fisher for everyday and slightly dressy, and Allie Coosh for any thing fancier, although much of her clothing is everyday – I just don’t dress up that much. You have to visit in person, as I don’t think her online pictures do these fabulous clothes justice. Price points are like higher-end Eileen Fisher and up depending on fabric. I have pieces I still wear that are 10+ years old.

  24. I remember you mentioned Show Ponies and I think a few more of those would help anyone who relies on basics (I do) feel rejuvenated. Living in the Northeast, most of us change over our closets in spring and fall and it is always a joy to unpack the few special pieces that are the spice in our clothing recipe! Some of mine have come from consignment at a bargain price, others were more pricy and a considered decision but well worth it after being key pieces for years. Usually they are a print that I love.For basics,I still stick to black and gray neutrals, silver and bead jewelry, and colors muted purple, blue, green and rose. And denim. Scarves in combos of these colors. Been happy with this for many years now! Trends? Only if it’s something that feels comfortable and fun. I love your style! I am probably a meld of you and Patti.

  25. Your comments today are so spot on. I have too much of everything yet I wear the same items over and over. Summer feels like a snoozefest. I also think entering my late 60s and not having my boffo body anymore makes it hard to be excited about clothes. So time to shake it up. I noted even some of my Eileen Fisher boxy tops really are boring and don’t hide anything but it’s hard to get rid of barely worn semi expensive items. See how confused I am? Great article Susan!

  26. Vintage! I am a retired teacher, midsixties, and I have always dressed ‘up’. I live in a coastal town in the northeast and love all four seasons, changing out much of my closet twice a year for fall/winter and spring/summer. It is difficult to look at summer linen dresses during a nor’easter! I went through a small crisis of weeding out some beautiful but unnecessary classroom clothing. What has been helpful is that about ten years ago I bought several vintage coats at excellent prices. Along with my simple, slim nonvintage classic clothing and my vintage jewelry, I feel that I am making my style transition easier as well as interesting. I have read your enlightening blog for a few years, and have enjoyed your transitions and travel suggestions. You are always thoughtful in your musings and generous with your knowledge. Thank you!

  27. Great post Susan. I feel like a style rut comes when one relies on black too much. I stopped wearing black years ago when I had my colors done and realized that it wasn’t that flattering to me. Ever since I’ve had to work a lot harder to put together outfits (black is ridiculously easy!) but I’ve not felt in a style rut for years. Your points about honoring your basic style even as you look to modify it are great. That way we don’t end up with orphans in the closet. Thanks!

  28. Well, I seem to be the odd duck here but I like the ruffled clothes of the summer. Not the overly ruffled or overly patterned stuff but I purchased a couple of tops with scooped necklines and 3/4 ruffled sleeves and I love them, plus every time I have worn them I get lots of compliments, especially from women around my age (62 … who I think want to wear them but are afraid of clothing …. for some reason I truly can’t fathom). And I don’t get tired of summer clothes because I love summer and I love it when life, and people, lighten up a bit. And stop worrying about their look or bodies and just enjoy life at the moment when the days are long. I don’t look forward to hiding under layers of clothes or anything else.

  29. I’m so done with summer. In protest, today I’m wearing a bright yellow Pikachu sweatshirt and (ironically) camo-print leggings.

    So ready to wear outfits that include a third piece that don’t make me perspire.

  30. I never get into a style rut. Simply because I have no signature style. My style is all over the place. And I do feel comfortable in pieces which are quite attention drawing haha. I also love buying clothes, shoes and bags which are love at first sight. It doesn’t always work out well though. I have a bag which is sooo cute, but it is a liver colour with a signal pink/orange handle. That does not go with a lot of things. Probably would with a more neutral outfit, but that is where I suck haha. So it remains in the closet most of the times. Pity.

  31. I recently purchased a 3/4 bell-sleeved cotton dress for a trip I’m on, it’s Cotton, lined in cotton, from Bloomingdales, and is a bit off the shoulder. Also, another calf-length, cotton, shirt dress from Zara.
    Both blue stripped. Both way out of my comfort zone.
    I wore the calf-length one to a civil wedding in Burgundy, France in the summer heat, 2-nights ago. It was a perfect choice, I felt current, comfortable and cute.
    I’m planning to wear the other soon, and play it down with white tennies.
    I believe, as long as it fits comfortably- pushing yourself can be a good thing.

  32. I am tired of this particular summer. Too hot, the UV index too high, no rain, breathing in forest fire smoke: what’s to love about that?

    Style-wise, I am sick of seeing cold shoulders, off shoulders, pirate shirts, bell sleeves, etc. Much of it reminds me of the Seinfeld episode about poufy shirts.

    This has truly been the summer of too much and too little. I’ve given up on watering, but just a few summers ago we were facing historical floods. So how come the once-in-200-year floods happen twice per decade, interspersed with drought?

    It’s metaphor for style: there’s too much of some things, but it’s really a period of drought inspiration-wise.