If It Ain’t Broke…

Emmanuelle Alt Style
Emmanuelle Alt…she knows what she likes and sticks to it. Source

…Don’t Fix It.

An upcoming project in conjunction with another blogger (no spoilers, that’s all I’m telling for now 😉 ) has me thinking about how we create, define and adhere to style aesthetics. Some women can play with shapes, colors and personas, and rarely look the same way twice. And that experimentation and novelty becomes their own style groove. Others find that simplicity, sticking to a single silhouette or a limited palette (or both) and rarely veering from that path feels good and right.

Even for those who have developed a signature style and are comfortable with it, boredom can set in or perhaps a life change (retirement, a geographical move, marriage or divorce, new career or vocation) requires a shift. But sometimes we can be made to feel we should want change, when really we’re quite happy with our style. First, there are advertising, media, retailers of course, all telling us that we Must Have™ the next new thing, that we’ll look hopelessly outdated unless we “refresh” our wardrobes seasonally….we’ve heard this drumbeat forever. The internet has brought to our screens an almost unlimited number of style images, many of which are lovely and inspirational and it can be hard not to feel the pull to want to imitate many of them. I think we humans have innate urges toward both familiarity and novelty, and finding the balance between the two can be challenging.

But sometimes style ruts are real…we keep buying and wearing the same things over and over even though looking at our closet fills us with despair. Fear of change, years of being told “you can’t wear abc if you have body xyz,” a dislike of shopping, lack of funds, old beliefs about what’s appropriate in your family/culture, adherence to fashion rules that no longer have any relevance…any of these can keep us stuck in that well-worn track when we’d love to explore other paths.

How do you know if you’re in a style rut? It isn’t just a matter of gravitating toward specific clothes or looks. It isn’t about what the media or your friends or family say. It really boils down to this: how does what you wear make you feel? If you’ve stopped existing for yourself below the neck, you may be in a style rut. If you have a closet full of pieces but no cohesion between them, you may be in a style rut. If you only wear certain colors or cuts because someone told you they are “right” for you, you may be in a style rut.

Anna-Wintour signature style
Anna Wintour’s signature dress and necklace. Source

Consistency does not a style rut make. Look at Anna Wintour and her dresses, or Emmanuelle Alt and her jackets-and-jeans. Creating a signature style will help you simplify your wardrobe, reduce costly wardrobe mistakes, make getting dressed in the morning a breeze and a pleasure rather than an ordeal. And it will help you project your best self to the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t change things up now and then, or evolve our style as our bodies, tastes or life circumstances change. It can be fun to experiment with new looks, and sometimes we add a new dimension to our signature style that way.

Have you ever felt caught in a style rut? How did you get yourself out of it? Or are you comfortable with your own style, but feel pressured to change?

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  1. For most of my adult life, I have tried to look appropriate without being a wasteful spender. I hate making costly mistakes. As a result, I probably have not been enough of an explorer to find my best style. I’ve never worried about being in a rut.

  2. I am also more if a style ‘tweaker’ as I know what looks good on me and what colors are most flattering as well. (And let’s face it, when you’re Lilliputian but chesty, the options are more limited.)

    I have at times taken a different route for fun, and been pleasantly surprised! (Besides, sometimes I allow my shoes to do the talking, and keep everything else monotone and simple…)

  3. Although I do agree that EA’s and Anna W’s styles work for them, I wish they would change things up a little or maybe even a lot. EA hasn’t been seen wearing a dress in many years and with her legs that is just a shame!
    I don’t think I get in style ruts very often. I am one to try new things and I embrace them if they work for me. My only ruts have to do with hair and makeup. I like my hair long – always have – and there is only so much you can do with that. And my makeup application is pretty boring.

  4. I do feel like I’m in a rut! For the past several years I’ve been more aware of what my own style is (fairly classic , for sure). Been focusing on good basics, fit, function,accessories…..been inspired by your blog for sure. Also now feel that I “collect” pieces that appeal to me rather than mindlessly shop. This all sounds great, but I am uninspired and actually often bored with what I have….definitely “nothing to wear” syndrome here! 🙂 As you said in the blog, “how does it make you feel”? … the creative inspiration, the je ne sais quois is missing for sure…..I often wonder if I’m expecting to much? but it “feels” less than exciting. Maybe I need a couple of new spring things, with just a touch of the trends….might give a boost out of the rut….but when it comes to creativity and great personal style, don’t you think it comes from inside the head and heart as much as from inside the closet???

  5. I know what I like and what feels comfortable. I have not felt in a rut with my wardrobe because I am always exploring new and different accessories.
    Having fewer pieces, a new lifestyle means a leaner wardrobe, so things will get worn and mixed and matched more often. So far I am having fun with this concept!
    Ines de la Fressange has a signature look and yet she always look fresh and chic…

  6. I still can’t quite peg what my style is although I have begun gathering looks on my Pinterest page to help me sort it out. I have curtailed my shopping binges and am using my current wardrobe to figure out what I continue to gravitate toward and what works. Flowy, open sweaters, soft tee’s and slim (not skinny) jeans seem to be my daily fare. But when I dress up, I am stumped. I am also developing a wardrobe that leans heavily on greys and beige, but think I need a few pops of color, especially since Mr. K asked me why I dress in grey all the time. That lovely new blush and a few tender green shades might be nice. Picking a look is quite a project!

  7. I’m all in for sticking to what works. But even Emmanuelle updates her white and black jeans to get the current lengths and cuts. Updating within your own style works great and that becomes the “refresher”.

  8. I so appreciate your sentence “It really boils down to this: how does what you wear make you feel?” This reminded me that sometimes feeling blue or down on ones’ self comes from elsewhere, but •spills over• into clothing. Years ago, when reeling from a family issue, I absolutely hated all my clothes; fortunately a visiting, wise friend talked me out of getting rid of most things. Once I regained some inner peace, the clothes looked pretty good again.

  9. I think it’s important to pay attention and refine your wardrobe. Sometimes that means adding classic pieces and sometimes it’s punctuating with a trend or two. The constant should always how well it fits your body and your lifestyle.


  10. Great post, une femme. I know my signature style, love feminine dresses and keep up with it although I always incorporate new, trendy elements. Agree with Hostess, you can have a signature look and still look fresh.
    Also agree with Adrienne on my hair and make-up (but find her hair amazing!!)

    Annette | Lady of Style

  11. This is so timely! Today is the day I start working through my closet and filter out what does not work. Very excited about narrowing down my look without staying in a rut. Thanks for this.

  12. I probably have more black trousers than I truthfully need. I am generally happy with my “look” however recently I have been venturing into dresses and more colour. The colour definitely cheers me up.

  13. Loved your post! Since retiring it has been a challenge for me, what my style is now in tnis new phase of my life. I seem to be gravitating towards black, white and navy with occasional stripe, geometric and polkadot. I adore simple 3/4 sleeve whites shirts. My many shoes/sandals are black. Where I really have fun is with jewelry. Rings, watches, bangles, pins, colorful scarves and hand bags. I wear make-up everyday. And I do play with the length of my hair, letting it grow below chin length in the fall/winter and keeping it at chin length spring/summer (in a simple bobcut).

  14. Duchesse commented what I’ve been thinking. I’m definitely stuck in a style rut. I walk into my closet FULL of clothes and have nothing to wear! That feeling is directly related to how I feel about myself. Hopefully I will get right with myself before I get rid of everything!

  15. I’m probably in a style rut but I don’t care. It allows me to dress and pack with little fuss. I know what I’ll look like going out the door….
    I love Anna Wintour’s signature dress and necklace. I noticed her dress choices a while ago. Nice style for women over 50 I think!
    Loving your posts!

  16. I feel somewhat liberated after reading your post Susan! I do know what I like and in the last couple of years I’ve gone for it without giving in to fashion whims. I don’t think I’m in a style rut but I am a lot happier with my clothes. I’ve always admired Emmanuelle, now I see why, she took sticks to a style.

  17. You’re so right, it’s how you feel about the clothes. I’m a colour person so using neutrals is a struggle, tried grey but it just depresses me so much. Even though it would be a great basic I just can’t wear it. Am now much happier with navy and dark brown.

    As for ruts, post retirement I decided to move towards a slightly different look so I’m building a new wardrobe and doing some experimentation. Simple designs, better fabrics, solid colours and patterned scarves are now key as I’ll need these clothes to last, both style-wise and wear-wise. I recently bought a dress for the first time in many many years because it fits into my new approach. A fun experiment while staying within my parameters.

  18. I have really liked honing in my style. That said, taking a true style adventure now and again can be really refreshing, and can teach you a lot about yourself:).

  19. I retired a couple of years ago, have never been able to pull off the spare minimalist wardrobe I have wanted I was a student in France. Finally I did the draconian closet purge. Eliminated everything that didn’t feel good, look good, fit and flatter. When I was done and surveyed my closet my jaw dropped. It was all my lifetime favorite styles and in-your-face autumnal colors, black or white. Virtually everything that I bought just to add variety didn’t make the cut.

    It was a good and economical lesson. I am open to new things and will try them, but unless something really knocks my socks off and meets my closet purge criteria, it will sit in the closet.

  20. Great post featuring two ladies whose styles I love! I like Anna’s hair just as it is and the bold prints and collet necklaces suit her face and figure perfectly, (she is quite petite in person). I think EA is right to stick with jeans and pants if that’s what she loves and what works for her life right now. I have enough fun pieces in my closet that I never feel in a style rut–I’m with Emmanuelle and Anna, I go with what works! XO, Jill

  21. I’m comfortable with my winter styling but need to think again about my summer styling. I wear a lot of dresses because they are the most comfortable for the season. I do feel more constrained style wise since blogging. I wasn’t so aware of fashion rules, just wore what I liked. Great post, it’s got me thinking.

    blue hue wonderland

  22. I would be bored wearing the same things all the time. I like variety, but of course that means I make boo-boos from time to time!

  23. I really like this blog and don’t think I’ve commented before . Now I am a little worried by 2 confessions I read ; ” I’ve really struggled with neutrals ” & ” I do feel more constrained style wise since blogging . I wasn’t so aware of fashion rules , just wore what I liked ” . Where did these blog rules come from ? And why should we obey them rather than wear what we like ?

    1. I’d also be interested in hearing more from those commenters on the influences on their choices. Speaking for myself, when I first began posting outfit pictures, I felt as though I “needed” to wear more color and patterns, because it seemed that’s what everyone else was doing. I think I’ve gotten past that and have returned to wearing and posting what pleases me.

  24. I think I have a “jeckel and hyde” personality , dress wise ! sometimes I can wear loads of colour and statment jewellery and feel great all day and other days I just want to turn the car around and change clothes instantly, usually into something simple like jeans and a white shirt ! I wish I wasnt so confused and then I wouldnt waste so much money on clothes I dont wear and ultimately end up sent to charity

  25. Beautifully written, as always. I think my hats keep me out of a rut. So many looks to create, now that I have some organization to my closets. Nevertheless, I have my favorites in every category. Another downsizing could happen soon!

  26. first time commenting here (I think). I love having a basic wardrobe, fairly classic and neutral, and having fun with accessories. I’ve never felt good in prints or black or button down shirts. or jackets. It has been quite freeing to be able to say no to black, or to a classic white button down that everyone says you’re “supposed” to have. I try to dress stylishly, but if it doesn’t feel good on my skin or make me feel happy i just say no. No matter what’s “in.” The black was a huge thing for me. On me, it feels cold and hard, so it was quite liberating to get rid of it all. I love soft colors, cotton and silk cardies, dresses.
    Thanks for your great post.

  27. I sometimes wonder if words like “classic, basic, neutral, fundamental,etc.” are synonyms for safe and boring. I don’t want to be critical, and sometimes safe is good, but isn’t style also supposed to be fun, and a bit of an adventure? Do we worry too much about making mistakes, and fail to do anything more exciting than adding a scarf? As I get older (old enough to hold a medicare card), I want to have one thing on every day that gives me a little zing, and keeps me from fading away into the woodwork, and if that means an occasional risk of mistake, so be it. On the other hand, let’s remember that having an edge can mean taking risk with shape or proportion, or truly eye catching accesories, it doesn’t have to mean six prints at once or colors that make you sel fconscious. I think this is, indeed, thought provoking, but it turns my thoughts in a different direction.

    1. Ellen, for me, taking a risk translates as dollars. Sometimes it is not about being able to afford a risk, but not wanting to spend money that way. That’s why I try to not make mistakes. It’s about stewardship of dollars. I think others may see this differently, but I wanted to give my take on risk taking.

  28. This is quite a reality check for me, I constantly strive to move away from my “signature look” but never succeed, so I settled with the idea that we each create own unique look, perhaps contributing towards the concept of “personal style”. I hardly succeed in creating any other look, no matter how hard I try!