Messing with your Image

Posted by Jill Chivers in Attitudes and Habits, Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shopping, Clothes and Emotions

Welcome to another blog post in our 2011 series!  I am doing the 30 Day “Trust” Challenge which is a month-long writing/reflection challenge.  The trust bit is self-referential – it’s about trusting yourself.

Every day, we receive a new prompt.  It’s a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson followed by a question to write and reflect on.  Most days I read, I reflect, I may write (and I may not). I file the prompt away (that tidy gene is very hard to overcome).  And I get on with my day.

Not the day that this prompt arrived.  The post is called “Image”   and in it the author, Matthew Stillman encourages us to muss up our hair, smudge our make up and put on clothes that don’t fit and don’t match.  WHAT?  Is he kidding with that? 

I mean I could maybe live with the mussed up hair – maybe.  But the ill-fitting clothes and non-matching outfits – nah-ah.  The house would need to be on fire before I’d leave it dressed that way.  Not even celebs (just out of rehab or otherwise) can get away with that look.

Then I stopped and thought about it for a moment longer.  Isn’t conscious choices what I’m all about?  I believe in the power of clothing to not only express, but to inform something important and meaningful about who we are.  That’s why clothing can be used, as one tool among many, to help you feel good about yourself on a more consistent basis. 

Let me say more about that for a moment. If the only thing you feel about the items in your wardrobe is that you look and feel great about them, then you have a better chance of feeling good about yourself, on one level, every day.  And since we know that there is an endless feedback loop between how we look and how we feel, why wouldn’t we set ourselves up to succeed by using clothing consciously?  By deliberately choosing our look for the day?

This approach is in direct contrast to how many women feel about their closet contents.  Which is some version of “look at all this stuff – why do I feel I have nothing to wear?!  Everything either looks bad, fits bad, doesn’t coordinate, is too dressy/casual, takes too much effort to make it work, isn’t “me” anymore – how come I have a closet full of stuff I hate?!” 

When you feel that way about your clothing, it’s easy to see how much more difficult it is to feel good about yourself on a consistent basis.  There’s so much energy going into getting dressed for the day.  Energy that you could have spent in better ways – on people and things that you choose to spend it on. You’ve spent a precious portion of your daily energy quota just getting out the bedroom.

So, I believe all that about the power of clothing to impact and inform how we feel about ourselves.  And I also believe in conscious choices.  So why would it bother me that someone might consciously choose to muss their hair and wear an uncoordinated ensemble?  Riddle me that!

And here was the insight that came and rested upon my shoulder:  My assumption has been that only a person in the grip of unconsciousness would dress badly.  There would be no mindfulness about it – no deliberate decision to mess with their image that way.  Because if they were awake and aware, they’d make a different choice. 

But what if that assumption was wrong?

When we look to the world of extreme fashion and those who create and display it (I’m think of the Gaultier‘s and GaGa’s of the world here), there is a deliberateness about it.  It’s designed to provoke.  You don’t stage the kinds of exhibitions that those people do without some awareness of what you’re about.

I’m still pondering what Stillman says, and I’m taking a leaf out of my friend Tammy’s book and am not trying or pretending to have all the answers.  The question is enough for now and I’m sure intrigued.  I’m intrigued by this idea of conscious choices and uncoordinated outfits (well, that’s what’s on the surface – the tendrils dip deep into the water).

And no, I haven’t yet left the house in a deliberately uncoordinated ensemble.

If you’re fascinated by the power of clothes to impact how you feel, and want to create a wardrobe that works harder than you do – join us.  Check out how the Shop Your Wardrobe program works and what’s in it, have your questions answered, then join us.  We’d love to share the journey back to conscious consumption with you!

See you next week.

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    6 Responses to “Messing with your Image”

    1. Hi Jill – thanks for the shout out! This is such a fun post. I use clothes as costumes all the time: today I am dragon killer (that would be white shirt and navy blue skirted suit…just ask husband); today I am artist (that can be anything from paint covered whatever I can find to long skirt, sparkly top, coordinated jacket and LOTS of jewelry); today I am going out with husband who prefers unpainted cords to painted jeans so cords, a sleeveless shirt and a short or long sleever shirt (sleeves rolled up) over it since my body thermostat is broken and I never know what temperature it’s going to be set at. Until today I had sneakers and slides (1 each) to wear with whatever I have on (much to Daugher’s, the shoe queen, horror). Now I have 2 pair of sneakers and 2 pair of slides to wear (they just came in the mail). Then there’s color! a whole nother thing. I could write a whole blog on the way I dress!

      • Jill says:

        yes it’s so much fun to use clothing to create an identity for the day! I love how you do that Tammy!

    2. Jill – this is such a fun question to ponder!!
      I wonder if Helena Bonham Carter dresses this way on purpose, or because she simply doesn’t care about her appearance?


      I used to purposefully wear mismatched socks that didn’t match each other, but coordinated with different components of my overall outfit. Oh la la the scandal in my fifth-grade classroom when my appearance didn’t fit the mold of “normal!”

      I am also of similar mind to Tammy – I have different personas and often use my clothes to express who I “am” that day.

      I’ll have to ponder on this prompt as well and live with the question for a while.

      • Jill says:

        hey Emelie – great to see your comment here. And it IS an interesting question to ponder, isn’t it? How clothes can be used to mask, to reveal, to express, to deny, to inform, to disguise, to distort, to experiment…. there are so many ways we can use this amazing tool called clothes!

        I would loved to have seen you your fifth grade class with your mismatched socks. I dyed a pair of cotton mocassin type shoes when I was a teenager – one bright orange and one bright yellow (it frightened the heeebie geebies out of my dad when he came home and opened the pot on the stove, to see it simmering with bright yellow and a shoe suspended in it. A very strange “soup”!!). It gave me inappropriate amounts of joy to wear those rather ugly mismatched shoes to school. I now see that as part of an extended period of rebellion that my poor parents (and other responsible adults) had to endure….. but how interesting that clothing is used as one of the most effective ways to thumb our noses at the “heirarchy” or the “establishment” (whatever we perceive that to be).

        Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your views!

    3. Julia says:

      I have 3 modes of selecting an outfit:

      1) Making sure everything works very well with the rest of the outfit. (This is why I have as many purses as I do – different colors go with different colors of dress.) I ask the opinion of someone else in the house on jewelry. If I’m wearing a strapless dress, this is probably the mode I’m in.

      2) Grab & go with different things I know for sure go reasonably well together. This is what I do most of the time, and I don’t worry about a purse because I’m wearing something with pockets big enough that I don’t have to carry a purse. (I may still carry a bag with water, books, etc. but it’s not anything that looks like a purse.)

      3) Just whimsically decide I’m going to try this combination of things, OR dress up to a ridiculous degree for what I’m attending, and either people like it or they don’t. I’ve worn a strapless dress to a very casual gathering, just because I felt like it that day (and I found the choker that would be perfect with the dress that afternoon, going through a box that had been packed for the move 8 years previously!). I’ve worn colors I didn’t think went well together, but I got compliments all the same.

      If I walk out of the house in something that doesn’t look terribly coordinated and it can’t be blamed by “I got up too early to be able to think about it before taking the kids to school”, it’s deliberate, and someone may very well find something admirable in it and let me know.

      (Mostly I have bottoms that go with a wide variety of colors of tops, so while I might not have the ideal color shorts on for the top I’m wearing, it’s likely not hideous.)

      Of all things now, my everyday tennis shoes are red, which doesn’t match very much in my wardrobe, but doesn’t clash with any of the bottoms, clashes with only 3 dresses (and I don’t wear tennis shoes with dresses most of the time), and is far enough from any top I might be wearing that a clash isn’t as bad as it might be. And it’s a lot better than having tennis shoes that match some things and very much don’t match others.

      Of course, the image I try to project is more ‘pragmatic eccentric’ than anything else, which means mismatches are more easily forgiven than for someone who is projecting a more focused image. I don’t expect my approach to work for everyone, or even most people, I just expect my approach to be respected, and any criticism about it given in a civil manner. (I have not had that expectation disappointed very much at all, so something’s working.)

      • Jill says:

        Julia – thanks so much for your comment. I love that approach and style: “pragmatic eccentric”! I have a mental image of these exciting ensembles that wouldn’t traditionally be considered coordinated, but they work for you… and isn’t that what getting dressed for the day is all about? I’m also impressed by what you say about others respecting your decisions or at least being civil in the way they might critique it. Clothing conveys a message so quickly to others and we often stick by the impressions gleaned in that 2 – 11 seconds… it can be easy to jump to a quick judgement when others dress in a way that is different to us, or that we don’t immediately understand or appreciate. I’m delighted you’ve had such a positive experience to a more experimental way of dressing… I think the world is slowly moving in that direction of greater flexibility. I personally am intrigued when I see someone who is dressing in an individual and expressive way – to me it signals confidence and an attitude of experimentation. Both wonderful qualities in a person (and an outfit)!

        Thank you so much for your comment here!

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