[This is an article I wrote, originally posted in Honey Good in February. I wanted to share it with all of you because it is pertinent now, and always.]
That’s the question that Joan Songer, founder of Personal Style Counselors, always asked her clients, as a starting point. It’s a great question. And it’s one we subconsciously ask ourselves every time we get dressed.
For too long our enthusiasm about dressing up has been seriously curtailed. We just haven’t had places to go that involved being seen. That’s created a pretty broad opportunity for slacking off (hence all the pop-up ads for loungewear.)
When you’re just running quick errands or doing chores around the house, you aren’t always overly concerned about how you appear, especially if you’re wearing a mask! Now, if you are one of those who truly no longer cares, congratulations! Enjoy your freedom!
But since things seem to be opening up a bit in many places, we’re once again faced with a closet of possibilities, and the chance to face the world again. So if you still have an inkling of fashionista left in you, one of the best ways to determine what to wear for any event or occasion is to consider how you want to be seen, now.
I added the word, “now” there because the past two years may have changed how you feel about how you want to be seen. In my own case, for nearly 20 years I’ve had short curly hair. When salons closed down (and now that my stylist is on maternity leave) I just let my hair grow. The weight of my longer hair made it straighter. And, the gray streaks, my war “scars,” became my halo. I now love this look, and it says more about my 74 years of experience than the energetic, high-spirited image I used to embody and embrace.
Why We Should Care
If we’re being entirely honest with ourselves we admit that no matter how much we appreciate someone’s inner value we still tend to judge them, at least somewhat, on how they look. The research actually confirms this. Apparently we human beings appraise each other within the first seven seconds of a meeting. And even if we aren’t being seen by anyone else, we will still catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror from time to time. Self-judgement can be the harshest kind.
That all sounds grim. But it doesn’t have to be. Consider it just a motivator to help you make a little effort. Even if that just means putting on lipstick and wearing something clean and pressed that day, those simple acts can change how you view yourself, and how you feel about the rest of your day. When the image in the mirror is a more uplifting one, you start to feel like you are part of the flow of life and not in a state of perpetual decay or surrender.
What We Express About Ourselves
Ideally, the image that we create through what we wear, our hair, or makeup etc. is congruent with what we feel on the inside. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enhance how we look. It just means that we don’t want to stray too far in style and expression from the core of who we are.
So, again, consider how you want to be seen. Keep in mind that this is a slightly different calculation than worrying about what people think of you. It has more to do with how much your physical image is actually representing who you are and is expressing that in a pleasing way.
Here is an exercise that helps clarify this idea. Pick out an outfit from your closet that you like. Ask yourself what it conveys. Is it just extremely comfortable? Or is it simply something practical that serves a purpose? What does it say about you – your level of taste, self-awareness, and how you feel about yourself? Does it make you feel chic, hip, approachable, beautiful, edgy, or sophisticated? If you wear a perfume, what does that fragrance say about you? If you encountered the person that you see in the mirror wearing that outfit, or if you passed them on the street and caught a whiff of that perfume, what would you think about them?
When you approach the problem of what to wear this way you start to build the muscle of visual taste. You also establish more inner and outer congruence. You can also grow into that person that you want to be.
What Else to People See in Us?
So, yes we can fine tune our wardrobe to express ourselves in the best light. But just as a wardrobe conveys who you are immediately, ultimately what you do and say conveys more.
In one of my favorite books, Forever Chic, Tish Jett describes some of the reasons why French women, especially older women, are considered to be so alluring and downright sexy. She explains that they put a great deal of value on being well-read, well-informed, and knowledgeable about many subjects: current events, history, the art world, philosophy, etc. So they become delightful dinner companions. And although they may have strong opinions, they strive to be kind and thoughtful in how they express themselves.
These days it’s so easy to fall back into gloom and rage. But if we make as much effort in improving how we communicate with others as in how we dress, the “fragrance” we leave behind is a sweet one. And, we are seen as someone that others want to have in their lives.