In a perfect world, nothing about our appearances would matter. We’d all be able to shut off the part of our primal brain that makes judgments about people until we’d talked to them for at least half an hour, and we could appreciate clothing solely for its ability to keep us warm and safe from the elements. We could all begin relationships and base our levels of confidence entirely on our intrinsic abilities and qualities without looking at people’s outsides at all.
I hope I’m not informing you for the first time that this is not a perfect world. Like it or not, what you wear actually matters… sometimes. There are occasions when comfort definitely needs to trump style. If you’ve got three exams in one day (or even one), the last thing you need to worry about is your skinny jeans cutting off your circulation. Take that day to wear sweatpants and wear them with pride, knowing that behind the cotton, lycra and polyester lies a highly successful person who’s got their entire life together. The rest of the time, though, that highly successful person needs to show through on the outside.
Is appearance everything? Absolutely not. It is something, though. Yes, it’s what’s inside that really matters, but most people don’t have x-ray vision. (If you do, comment below. I’ve got some Star Wars toys to look for in the cereal aisle at Walmart.) Your professors, employers, and potential romantic interests aren’t going to know you’re a confident, awesome, put-together badass unless you present yourself that way, and dress is a big part of your self-presentation. More importantly, there’s a good chance that you won’t really know what a confident, awesome, put-together badass you can be until you start dressing like it.
Fashion magazines? Feh. You don’t need ‘em. Just print out this post (or bookmark it on your phone—c’mon, this is the 21st century) and take it with you to the mall. Below find 6 simple, widely-applicable suggestions to guide you toward dressing yourself adequately; that way, you can focus your attention on the stuff you really do care about. (Like developing X-ray vision.)
What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of personal wardrobe as being able to dress appropriately for a number of different occasions while still expressing your own personality.
- Consider three things. Before you leave the house in an outfit, think about whether it’s appropriate for the occasion for which you’re dressing, whether it’s comfortable, and whether it’s something you actually like. If the answer is a definite, unequivocal “no” to any of those questions, go back to your closet. Examples: Jeans are really comfortable and lots of people love them the world over, but they aren’t appropriate for a formal situation like a wedding or a ceremony honoring the men who destroyed the Death Star. Six-inch turquoise heels are appropriate for a party, but no matter how much you love them, there’s absolutely no way you can spend an entire night in them without wishing you could just take your feet off like a Bratz doll.* Leggings and Nike shorts are really ridiculously comfortable and they’re appropriate for going to the gym, but if you have a borderline irrational hatred for them like I do, you shouldn’t put them on your body. Get it? Good. Moving on.
- Make it interesting. Stacey London and Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear (may it rest in peace) advocate for representing at least one of four things in each outfit you wear: color, texture, pattern and/or shine. Caution: these things can be easy to overdo. You don’t want different pieces of your outfit competing with each other, not least because shoes fight dirty. Start by consciously including one piece that’s either colorful, textured, patterned or shiny every time you get dressed; be very wary of including all four.
- Learn what fits. This is entirely an exercise in trial and error, because sizing systems (especially women’s, but men’s to a certain extent as well) are insane. A medium shirt in one store could be the same size as a small in another and could even be an extra-large in a different shop (hello, Abercrombie & Fitch). Even if we throw out sizing as a measure of fit altogether, figuring out what clothing cuts and fabrics flatter your body can be difficult. A couple of rules of thumb: If you’re pulling and tugging at it uncomfortably or you’re swimming in it, it doesn’t fit. When in doubt, ask a friend who is honest enough to tell you when something doesn’t do you justice but kind and well-adjusted enough to place blame for any unflattering looks where it belongs: on the clothes, not your body.
- Invest. You don’t have to be able to feed a small country with your wardrobe or have big-name designers on every label to have quality clothing; just make sure you’re buying fabrics that will last you a while. In the long run, a $30 shirt from Maurice’s or Express is less expensive than buying one $20 shirt from Forever 21 or Walmart (delicate shudder) and having to replace it three months later when it falls apart.
- Accessorize. Jewelry, shoes, hats and other accoutrements can be a really easy way to inject your personality into your wardrobe. Also, belts are magic. They make baggy things fit. Try one. Seriously.
- Listen to yourself. If you really hate something, it’s not for you. If you really love something, it is. For any given piece of clothing, there’s a 99% chance that there’s a way to style it so you can wear it in public without drawing ridicule or losing credibility. Mostly, that depends on confidence—and, like the Grinch learned about Christmas, that doesn’t come from a store.
*I tried and failed to come up with an appropriate and love-inducing, but wholly uncomfortable, article of clothing that was also gender-neutral (or even traditionally for men). If you have an idea of what that might look like, leave a comment below or like this page on Facebook and continue the conversation there.