Know Thy Self: Banish Fashion Traps

  [quote]I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time… [/quote]

-Rainer Maria Rilke

The fact that Brene Brown’s plea for authenticity has made it into the 10-most-watched Ted Talks, with over 7 million hits, suggests that we want to know, and live out of, our best selves. If knowing ourselves takes as much time and rehearsal as Rilke suggests, then dressing our best selves will require both experimentation and reinvention. We’ll have to take some risks, and when we do, here are three fashion traps to avoid, along with some self-actualizing antidotes:

1. Trap: Overly Trendy

satc-2-desert-sceneBecoming a trend-victim is never stylish.  Not every popular look is right for you.  Just because you admire its aesthetic, does not mean you must – or should – embrace it.

Antidote: Conscious Moderation

Adopt a current trend that complements your existing or desired look.  Find a subtle way to weave it into your wardrobe (i.e. adding an accessory or shifting the silhouette). When in doubt, limit each outfit to one bold trend, to avoid trend-saturation.

2. Trap: Age or Body Inappropriate

Big Suit

Sometimes our internal vision of ourselves doesn’t match up with what’s reflected back to us in the mirror. Dressing for your age and body is always the most attractive, powerful, and appealing choice.

Antidote: Trust the Numbers

Be realistic about where you’re at in your life.  Age is just a number – but it is also a helpful guide when deciding how to effectively self-present.  Many brands have irregular sizing, so don’t worry if you aren’t always the same size.  Body measurements and BMI are more trust-worthy. Regardless of your particular numbers, identify your best asset and play it up – your waist, your legs, your shoulders.  Choose clothes that work in service to those attributes.

3. Trap: Audience Disconnect


Meredith misinterpreted “casual Friday” – but chances are you’ve missed the sartorial mark at some point, as well.  Knowing your audience is an art form, and part of understanding them involves a familiarity with their particular aesthetic.  The visual is a portal into a more substantive connection.

Antidote: Power/Knowledge

Foucault uses “power/knowledge” to express the role that knowledge plays in constituting power.  While it’s important to know yourself, it’s equally important to know your audience.  Take the time to research the people and context in which you’ll be operating.  Knowing the social norms and (unofficial) visual rules that govern a people and place can give you a powerful edge.

Lastly, know that the route to your best self is not a one time assessment – it’s a challenge we face continuously. Despite your best diligence, you will, inevitably, fall into one of these fashion traps at some point.  And when you do, simply revisit these style emergency antidotes to dig yourself back out.