When Style Cramps Your Style

I think fashion and makeup are wonderful ways for women to express their creative sides. We all have styles we admire – outfits we see out in the world, on TV, or in the movies that inspire us to look at our wardrobes with new eyes, or inspire us to try something different.

Who, for instance, doesn’t love Charlotte York’s impeccable, classy New York style?

Or how about Carrie Bradshaw’s haute couture days in Paris, with dresses so beautiful they give you the chills?

Or the 1950′s house dresses worn by Vianne Rocher? Deep, mysterious blues, luscious orange caridgans and shirts, a tightly cinched waistline, classically beautiful, full skirts, and my favorite: cherry red pumps.

And my most favorite fashion inspiration of all? Gillian and Sally Owens of Practical Magic. Who wouldn’t love their botanically-inspired skirts and dresses, chunky sweaters that might have been hand-knitted by Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances, and all those beautiful earth tones?

But here’s the funny thing about style: I’ve noticed many women are drawn to a certain look, but trying to achieve that look just doesn’t work for them. It perhaps doesn’t fit their personality, or, more commonly, it doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle. I, for instance, would love to dress like Charlotte York every day, but I don’t like to wear makeup, I don’t like to worry about matching accessories, and I’m not even going to touch the issue of high heels (that’s another post for another time). I’m a green activist – I bike and walk whenever I can, and those outfits just won’t work for me.

I’ve also found that many women feel the pressure to adopt a personalized “look” – something that defines them. When a friend or relative points at something in the store and says, “Oh, that is so you!” it seems as if we have accomplished something – the definition of our personal style.

But I think sometimes we can become trapped by our own style. During my teaching days, in an effort to look professional, I embraced my love for preppy clothing, and ended up with argyle bursting out of my closet. And though I still love argyle, sometimes, I look at those sweaters and feel almost oppressed. Is that me? Do those clothes represent who I am?

I think that’s the problem with trying to define ourselves with our wardrobe. We get overly concerned with what our style says about us. We may even feel trapped by our wardrobes. Yes, it is important to realize that our clothing does say something about us, and to dress in appropriate ways according to where we’re going and what we’re doing.

But I think our clothing style should reflect our creativity while still being functional. Look at the pictures above again. Did you notice that none of those women are real? They are all fictional characters. No one looks that put together all the time, nor can we always pull off the outfits we want to wear doing the things we need to do.

For instance, when I went to France last year, I wanted to look as stylish as possible, but I was not willing to sacrifice comfort since I knew we would be walking and sitting for long periods of time. There were no Carrie Bradshaw dresses for me – no dresses at all, in fact. But with a pair of sleek blue slip-on shoes, two pairs of pants (one brown, one denim), a variety of shirts, two hats, two scarves, and my trench coat, I think I pulled off the perfect French tourist style. It’s what I call “livable style.” You can look good and still walk, run, shop, eat, and ride the Metro!

So what do you want and need from your wardrobe? How can you make it as livable as possible without sacrificing the style you like? Notice what kinds of clothing you are drawn to, but if they don’t work for you, use them to inspire your own style. For instance, I absolutely adore red pumps, but refuse to wear them (another time, another post). My solution? Using red with other accessories. I bought a stunning red scarf in Paris that I adore, and one day, I’d love to buy this red belt made from recycled plastic.

I think one of the best things we can do is to let go of the need to adhere to a “mono-style.” We shouldn’t be afraid to have many different styles, and to express them as the mood arises.

Your body is your canvas, your clothing, jewelry, and makeup your paint. How will you paint your canvas today in a way that expresses and supports who you are in this very moment?