"Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It's not about brands. It's about something else that comes from within you." – Ralph Lauren
Welcome to writing in black and white. For those new here, in my inaugural newsletters, I went beyond resolutions in search of Well Being; spoke about Less is More with beauty, fashion – and life; and addressed how Words Matter in aging and fashion. You can subscribe below and find me on Instagram. Feel free to visit my website featuring my entire portfolio of essays and editorial.
Color Outside the Lines.
There are countless quotes from designers about how – and why – fashion is an art that allows for creative expression. But perfecting fashion exploration genuinely comes down to one thing. No, not income. Fear. Or a lack thereof. Much like opening your mind to new experiences (travel, food, trapeze school), being fearless about what you wear is quintessential in shaping your identity. An open mind to trying on looks, designers, shapes and colors allows you to explore who you are – and who you strive to be.
Trends may feel like an uncomplicated way to broaden horizons, but mirroring the masses, buying looks exactly as styled and so often through a barrage of influencer links is just as stifling as staying with what has felt comfortable for the past decade. That’s not living, it’s hiding. It also entails a lot of disposable/fast fashion. Tibi founder Amy Smilovic agrees that style is “…not about jumping on the latest trend, it’s about finding what makes you feel alive, inspired and empowered.”
Amy’s brilliant tome The Creative Pragmatist embodies one of her many poignant mantras: we can “fit in without blending in.” Her book is absolutely about clothes, but also “…perhaps even more so – about creativity, curiosity and understanding yourself. When you figure out your style, you figure out you.”
Former Man Repeller, Leandra Medine Cohen, concurs. Her witty newsletter Cereal Aisle, recently noted that getting dressed offers a “release… and a harmony…when my outsides match my insides.”
There is science behind this pep talk. Since the 2012 study at Northwestern that coined the term enclothed cognition – and proving that what you wear really makes a difference to how you perform in life – the intersection between fashion and identity has been cinched.
While it’s a win to know yourself better as it influences what you buy (leading to less needless spending!) and how you are perceived in the world, what’s incredibly interesting is that the inverse is also true. How you see yourself is just as important as how you want to be seen. Dress accordingly. You don’t need to have grown up on Oprah to know being seen is a human need. Especially as we age, and (for some) invisibility creeps in. A wardrobe is less about fashion and more about our feelings.
Brene Brown has said body image and appearance are nearly universal shame triggers. One way many protect themselves is through fashion – Everyone from Tracee Ellis Ross (on this awesome episode of “Smartless”) to stylist extraordinaire Sarah Clary to legendary street photographer Bill Cunningham agree. “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life,” Bill infamously said.
For me, it’s less armor and more self-definition through the threads themselves. What I wore – and I wear to this day, even if it’s incredibly repetitive (or especially as it’s repetitive; Motherhood, my primary role, is nothing but a life of repetitiveness) speaks volumes about who I am. I don’t hide behind garments, as I want them to reflect exactly where I am in life. Even when they are well-worn leggings. But it’s the negative talk I – and so many women I know – need to work on. The labels we call ourselves.
A National Science Foundation study found that 80% of our thoughts are negative – and 95% are repetitive. And it greatly impacts what you wear, how you present yourself and, most importantly, how you feel about yourself. Labeling Theory Psychology – assigning positive attributes to give yourself direction — can be a successful tactic to eliminate a tendency to be self-critical.
But entrepreneurs are listening. Former Editor-In-Chief of Women’s Health (and a long-time beauty editor), Amy Keller Laird, launched Club Mental last year to address more lifestyle mental health issues. (Perfectionism may not be a psychological disorder, but it is linked to anxiety and other mental health issues). Robin Williams’ son, Zak, launched PYM (Prepare Your Mind) when he encountered mental health issues following his father’s suicide. Even pseudo-celebs like Christina Grasso (aka The Pouf), who opened the dialogue about the fashion and beauty industry impact on how we view ourselves is inspiring; she also co-founded The Chain, a non-profit to support those in the industry struggling with eating disorders.
Here is where social media – and substack! - has merit. We have one another. Without influencers and their perpetual hawking, there is often empathy, compassion, enthusiasm and friendship behind the screen.
It is here that I have met stylists, designers and creative women of all ages, who showcase what it means to be free, to love what you wear and live a life that you want, by marrying the symbolic meaning of clothes with the experience of wearing them.
In addition to Amy Smilovic’s genius book, enjoy these inspirational stories:
· Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs by Bill Cunningham – The story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original; published posthumously.
· Clothes…and other things that matter by former British Vogue Editor, Alexandra Shulman – Part memoir, part fashion history, part social commentary, Shulman delves into her life to explore the emotions, ambitions, expectations and meanings behind the way we dress.
· What shall I wear: The What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion (with new Foreward by Tory Burch) by Claire McCardell – First published in 1956, the book captures revolutionary fashion designer Claire McCardell’s wisdom and philosophy, and enduring guide to be effortlessly stylish.
· Be-Spoke: Revelations from the World's Most Important Fashion Designers by MaryLou Luther – A collection of witty quotes, inspiring edicts, and philosophies about fashion and style by celebrated fashion designers – from Coco Chanel to Tom Ford