Even when I am not at the sewing machine I’m thinking about sewing, or refining my wardrobe, or minimizing clutter and possessions. I’m analyzing my coworker’s side pant-leg pocket for ways to add them to a costume. I’m cataloging what I like and dislike about certain garments I wear to inform future sewing projects or alterations.
And I’m thinking a lot about personal style and how I want to express my authentic self.
Looking inward to dress my outsides
In 2016 I made more time to sew for myself. Not just for me as opposed to for someone else; I was sewing for my personality, my job, my everyday clothing needs. I was sewing for ME.
Is it surprising that my personal style epiphany came at a time when I was grappling with my identity and learning to distinguish “who I want to be” from “who I think others’ expect me to be” and “who I always have been”? If my love for cosplay was waning, what kind of a seamstress was I? If I wasn’t working in a museum or as an archaeologist, what career path was I on? How do I even introduce myself anymore?
an aside: I think this is why Moana calls to me.
“I could be satisfied if I played along/
but the voice inside sings a different song/
what’s wrong with me?!”
Clarifying my personal style served as a proxy for my other identity crises.
I suspect my first attempt at defining my style in 2014 was too rooted in the clothes I already owned (which were bought and made on impulses). There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but in my initial Wardrobe Architect exercises I was trying to parse my style based on what I wore. Yes I identified styles, but they felt like categories one would pull from a teen magazine quiz.
Simple. Casual. Classy. Fresh. Creative.
All fine and good, but what did that MEAN? What was classy vs…not classy? How do simple and creative actually work together in my wardrobe? Those words were more about how I wanted to be perceived by others, in very vanilla terminology. Also, these style terms were all adjectives…and that descriptive element subconsciously made me insecure about choosing words that came off as conceited or arrogant. Moreover these adjectives were subjective. What I consider “simple” may differ from someone else’s definite – not that this subjectivity matters when only I would be using these terms to guide my wardrobe planning.
These descriptions describe the clothes. Not necessarily me.
I look at the outfits above, and those silhouettes are still very much a part of my style. But the way I describe them, the explanation of “my style” is changing.
Knowing that clothes are a form of communication, I looked back at my Pinterest boards in late 2016. Scrolling through the pins, I asked:
- What garments do I feel represent me?
- What would I feel comfortable in (physically and emotionally)?
- Does this outfit feel authentic to me?
- What stories do I want to tell about myself through my attire?
I deleted a bunch of pins and added many new ones. Then I started mulling over a new set of questions.
- What do I want others to know about me?
- How do my interests and beliefs from other areas of life influence my wardrobe choices?
- What colors do I gravitate toward?
- How do those colors make me feel?
- What body parts do I want to highlight and which do I want to conceal?
If you have participated in the Wardrobe Architect project, you know that these are very similar to the questions we asked ourselves in week 1. I don’t think I fully understood what those questions were getting at in 2014. What has changed? Mostly, I think it was therapy and a really cool workshop called Dependable Strengths. I have greater self awareness of my emotions, greater confidence in my capabilities, and most importantly I have a newfound trust in myself. For so many years I have hidden my feelings even from myself, out of shame, insecurity, and fear. I had spent years putting forth a version of myself that was focused on trying to please others or not disappoint others, a Meris who didn’t trust her own judgement (despite being really smart). That strategy came crashing down on me in 2015 and in 2016 I started to claw my way out with therapy, anti-anxiety/anti-depressants, and self-kindness.
Now, I think I’m starting to understand myself. To paraphrase Mulan – my reflection is starting to show who I am inside.
Now, I’d like to tell you my personal “Style Stories”.
The Romantic Historian
The Romantic Historian is a nerdy academic, with a thirst for knowledge and adventure. She can be found in libraries with vaulted gothic ceilings and wooden bookshelves, just as often as you can find her wandering through a town’s historic district or archaeological ruins. This style honors my career path as an archaeologist and museum professional. History as a subject has been crucial to my development as a person. I majored in Classics where I really dug into the studying gender, race, and class relations through Greco-Roman literature and the archaeological record.
The romantic is less kissy-kissy romance, and more the fictional and idealized depiction of something. I know not all historians are library-dwelling nerds that ALSO fight Nazis and paranormal monsters…but that combination of academic learning and rugged adventure really jives with me and explains my love of practical garments and fabrics paired with alluring vintage-inspired details.
The styles that I lump into this category remind me of the 1930s and 1940s, not-so-subtly betraying the influence of fictional archaeologists Indiana Jones, Marian Ravenwood, and Evie O’Connell. There is a streak of utility and rugged practicality mixed with delicate and sensual lace, silks and draped satin. I prefer natural fabrics and subtle hues (mostly).
The Casual Cosmopolitan
“Casual Cosmopolitan” is my Pacific Northwest urban self. She’s a city-dweller with a long distance to walk, opting for comfortable fabrics and garments. Part professional, part sass. Slim jeans are a staple. Heels are optional. Weather can be unpredictable, so layers are the norm. She works full time and aims to make a name for herself. She gets giddy when Downtown is decorated with holiday lights on all the trees. She drinks black coffee in independent cafes, and French 75s in artisan bars. She likes the idea of a night on the town, but honestly it sounds a little exhausting and cozy night at home with the pets and husband are just as nice.
The cosmopolitan style has modern style lines – a bit more sleek and angular than the romantic historian silhouettes, but everything is still comfortable, not too tight (read: not constricting). If I feel sensual in the romantic historian story, I feel sexy and confident here.
There is some overlap between these two style categories – I mean there has to be if I want my wardrobe to be cohesive – I think the main difference is there is more drape in the romantic historian and more tailoring in the casual cosmopolitan. Unique knitwear appears to be one of those venn diagram overlaps. Same with menswear inspired trousers, jackets, and pencil skirts.
I did not divide these clothes into @Home and @Work. This wasn’t a conscious decision, I only noticed it when I saw someone else who had a board for work style. I think my feeling is that I want my style to be fluid from home to work to play. That doesn’t mean that every single one of my garments will be appropriate for lounging at home, going to work, or hiking, but that a majority will be transitional. I don’t stop being me when I leave the house and enter the office. I’m just a variation of myself. And I feel most confident in clothes that flatter and reflect who I am as a person.
Style Stories, Final Thoughts
This strategy works for me because I am story-based. I have learned that simply looking at color palettes or silhouettes is not enough to help me choose clothes to fit my style. I have to give that style a name and a story. If you are familiar with personas developed for user experience testing or marketing campaigns, you probably understand what I am doing here.
All together, I’m looking forward to using these Style Stories for my wardrobe planning. I’ve already successfully used it to thrift shop. As I looked through the racks, I asked myself if each item was something a Romantic Historian would wear or if it fit the feel of Casual Cosmopolitan. I bought fewer things and loved the two sweaters I did try on (and then purchased) immensely.
2 thoughts on “Personal Style Stories”
Ah, I find this so interesting! Try as I might, I can’t think of a story for my wardrobe that is in the third person – i can only think “I wear this because I’m me, and I like ____, and my life is _____.” I can see how your stories would guide you, and both personas suit you well. I would love to see a challenge where you take one pattern, and sew it up with tweaks to make it fit the two styles?
And both of these stories are a bit idealized. More like a fashion editorial shoot, where you can cobble together a story about the models, more than straight up reality. I like your challenge. I am sorting out my 2017 sewing plans now and I am definitely trying to choose projects that make everything more cohesive and modular.