Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On style rut and the need to update

Carolyn's recent post got me thinking about the concept of style rut. Carolyn asked her readers whether replacing one's old indispensables with the "same old, same old" is smart - or if we might be better off trying to break out of our comfort zone. Certainly there might be some value in encouraging our personal styles to evolve. I've thought of this a lot recently: I am becoming comfortable with my wardrobe to the extent where I am not sure if it's healthy, but I still feel like I shouldn't settle. Let me explain.

You know how certain people kind of look like they've escaped from a particular decade? How some 50-year-olds, for example, still wear their shoulder-padded blazers from the 1980s? How your mother, perhaps, might still wear the styles she wore 20 years ago, thinking that they were the epitome of cool? I am wondering whether I might be the type of person who is vulnerable to that phenomenon. When I love a piece of clothing, I don't care if it's old-fashioned. If I like a particular cut, I don't mind at all if it looks a little dated, as long as I like it. Rationally speaking, this is a good thing. Personal style is supposed to be personal and comfortable for the person who wears it. But I also don't want to become a walking example of time machine non-cool. (Or do I? Actually, a part of me probably does.)

I used to have a pretty good hunch as to what trends would surface next, and what looks appear "timeless" in a given time frame (and no, there is no such thing as timeless "timeless"). This might have been at least in part because I worked in fashion retail - it was my job to know what would sell a year in advance. These days I look at catwalk shots and "cool" street style pictures and often just shake my head. I still buy into certain trends - maxi dresses this summer - but the hunch is mostly gone. I have no idea what skirt length looks timeless right now. I don't even know if skinny jeans are still considered trendy. I feel like I have fallen off the wagon. And yes, for the most part, this is a good thing. It helps me feel more comfortable about my own personal style choices. But for how long will it take before I start resembling those who got stuck in a rut at some point in their lives? Once I get there, will I even see it? Does it matter?

A part of me still feels the urge to appear modern in my clothing choices. As much as I talk about the need to wear clothes I love, as much as I criticize throw-away fashion, I still occasionally feel like I should be doing something to update my style. Since I don't want to buy new fast-fashion stuff, I could always just add a pair of trendy shoes or a handbag to update my look. But I look at the current shoe fashions and I just can't see myself wearing any of it. I don't see the point of buying a new handbag when I like the ones I have now. I am torn between wanting to appear almost anti-fashion, and feeling the need to still look somewhat current. I have no idea why I feel like that. Shouldn't I be able to turn by back on the commercial nature of fashion and its conspiracies that make us think we need more clothes when we actually need fewer? Why is it so hard? ("That's what she said." I am so sorry. I've been watching repeats of The Office.)

I wonder if personal style is supposed to evolve, and if yes, to what extent? What do you think? What is the crux behind our need to appear "modern"? Why do we feel the need to update our wardrobes, even if we are happy with the clothes we have?

I am wearing all second hand, except for the H&M tank top.

P.S. I wrote a guest post for the lovely Madeline Quaint, a fairly new blogger from Budapest, Hungary. She's awesome!


Cynthia said...

On the other hand, sometimes what you're doing just works, and why force it to change? Your style will probably gradually drift here and there, settling around where it naturally wants to be. I think I'm starting to get in to that mindset where I'm over 40, my professional ducks are pretty much in a row, I'm both invincible (in that I'm 90% sure I'm not going to be jobless and homeless anytime soon) and invisible (in that I'm no longer expected to be playing the hot 20something boy-getting game), and so I can wear whatever the heck I want.

The Waves said...

I wanted to clarify something, just in case someone thinks I am being an ageist: I used 50-year-olds and their 1980s shoulder pads as an example just because that age group got soaked in the 80s trends at the time. I could have just as well used myself and my fascination with some trends from the late 90s. :)

PaweĊ‚ Zegarow said...

:) very nice outfit, vintage and old style i like it :) search my blog

poet said...

I don't think the up-to-date-ness of clothing should matter, except in the case where you're professionally interacting with people who might judge you for your style choices such that aspects of your career development depend on their judgment (which sucks). Luckily there are some dress codes for such situations... Friends should not mind, and strangers should not matter. But I do find your style relatively timeless, yet individualistic in the best way - maybe I'm fooled because I was a kid in the 1990s, so any 90s trends you're incorporating will seem familiar and timeless to me :) If one feels comfortable with one's clothing, not just in the "cozy" but also in the "attractive" sense, why change anything? On the other hand, changes can be very enlightening, so one should probably challenge oneself from time to time. Also, there's a whole in-group of their own out there who feel entirely comfortable and even cool being stuck in the 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s... in a few decades, maybe the 70s-80s-90s timespan will rise to a similar level of near-timeless stylishness? I don't know, and looking at 1980s style I personally don't wish for it.

Northmoon said...

I find it interesting that you are exploring the idea of being stuck in a style rut, while other style blogs are promoting the idea that one should develope a personal style 'uniform' that is minimalist and easy. Like the 'core wardrobe' concept - a pair of black dress pants, a black pencil skirt, white tshirts, a jacket, a vneck cardigan and some scarves for colour! Oh and the ubiquitous little black dress. Supposedly some french women do live this way!

While I see the advantages of a simpler wardrobe that suits my lifestyle, I don't want to be that limited. It's a matter of balance to me. I go with Cynthia's idea of gradual drift, with room for the odd item to push my style boundary. For example a maxi skirt!

Someone said...

This nearly-50-year-old thinks it's all about balance. You build a core of items that are very you, and then you mix and match from there, adding fresh trends as a garnish. Chasing trends top to toe isn't a good idea for anyone, really, unless you happen to be so young you're really starting from scratch! If you have a "basic" that you really love and wear out, I think it makes a lot of sense to get an updated version of it.

Yes, there are some people who just stop updating and look stuck. They probably also don't listen to music that was made after 1985 and pay big bucks to see lots of old men on stage. :P (I have *never* been a music nostalgia type, but then, I don't listen to anything mainstream anyway.) But there are lots of us who continue to look around as well as forward.

Carolyn said...

Thank you for taking the time to explore this further! I know what you mean about seeking and maintaining your own style without regard for trends... and sometimes I still see slightly older ladies than myself sporting those floral tapestry blazers, remember those? Or maybe you don't, there was a bit of a fad or them amongst middle aged ladies here in Australia during the nineties... Part of me feels that if they love their blazers they should wear them and happily and proudly and it is not for me to judge, and another mean part of me thinks I would never ever wear one of those things! but then feels mean for sitting in judgement of their (to my narrow views) out-dated look. And I would hate for a younger woman to likewise look at me and think I look like some old fuddy-duddy, but that is the nature of youth I guess, to judge our elders harshly and wish to look different from them.
So I think the challenge is to move forward fashion wise and not be boring, but especially to oneself.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, dear!!! ("That's what she said!" hah!!! :)
oxox, CR

Katarzyna said...

There must be some truth in the fact that you like to wear what you were used to in your teens. Normally I go around dressed "smart", God forbid, as I need for my work, but when I have some time off, I just slip into shortish mom jeans, oversized black band t-shirts and Dr. Martens - exactly the set I would wear during my high school days (don't judge, please).

So the question remains, what's wrong with that? If you feel comfy in something, do wear it. However, something in me wants to add: ...but not publicly, please. There are some standards of looks to which we should apply. There are some, as you well spotted, "timeless" classics which are considered elegant and which are accepted in a formal situation at a time - in such moments I think we all should succumb to the society and wear what they want not what feels comfy for us.

Our style evolves and not necessarily in tune with the cirles of fashion. It depends on our age, our social status, our body image - all sorts of things. I used to run around in Dr. Martens when I was at school. Then I started running around in chunky heels during studies when I began to feel like a woman and when I started working. Now I run around in stilettos because of my "high profile" job at the university. The shoes change, the style changes, but what doesn't change, is my running around. Deep inside I'm still the same person; it is the outside things that change and style of clothing defines that superficial side of me. At least I think so now.

And by the way, gorgeous skirt, Waves. I'm nearly envious.

lin said...

One reason I still "keep up" with what's happening in fashion is that I feel like I want to celebrate good ideas and concepts when I see them, and if I connect with it, I may even incorporate it in my wardrobe. I'm quite a classic, simple dresser by nature so this is rare, but this season for instance, I really liked seeing colours bloom in shops, and I don't even care if this was something dictated by trend forecasts or some cynical marketing concept - it was just great to see so much vibrancy. I didn't buy anything brightly coloured but I did happy wear one orange top I've had for a while and it felt like I was part of a dialogue.

I don't care about trends in the sense that I want to look "now" but I think I can't live in a vacuum and not something have a connection with the flow of ideas and styles happening around me - I like to participate, even if it's merely to say I don't like it, lol.

see you there! said...

Came over from Mette's blog because I enjoyed your comment there. I think fashion and style are too different things. Fashion is what's "in", style is about what you choose from what is available.

For instance (and I'm 73) looking back through old photo's I see that no matter the era I'm drawn to certain things. The black/beige color combo, turtleneck tops in cold weather, flowing unstructured garments, soft fabrics, clothes a bit on the arty side.

As new fashions come out, if I need something new, I find the new version of some of the above. For instance, in the early 60's "Beat Era" black tights were in fashion, when they went out I often wore sheer black stockings, and now often wear black tights again. The "peddle pushers" of my youth became the cropped pants I like today.

I enjoy reading fashion blogs to find out what real people are wearing although many if not most fashion bloggers are decades younger than I am.


Anonymous said...

I like your look today and it has never once occurred to me that you are in any sort of style rut.

I tend to agree with Cynthia, but I must timidly ask--do you think I'm one of those 50 year olds who is stuck in a rut?

The Waves said...

Thanks guys, for your comments! I have the best readers I could ever have - you always make me dig deeper.

Cynthia, I think you are definitely right about the gradual drift; that's how things go naturally.

Poet: yes, I agree that certain professional settings may require style updates. You raise an interesting point about the timeless cool of 20s-30s-40s-50s-60s... I think we are already starting to see people whose personal style is straight from the 70s. And I completely agree about the 80s. I don't wish those shoulder pads on anyone! :)

Northmoon: great point! I don't think I'll ever be a capsule wardrobe person, even if I sometimes wish I was. I think I am just too fickle!

Someone: I do need to pay more attention to my basics; they are very important. And indeed, I think some people who get stuck in their style choices also stop reaching out of their comfort zone otherwise, and that is not a good thing. I think we all need to reach out and experience new things once in a while.

Carolyn: oh dear, the tapestry jackets... :D I try very hard to get rid of those "mean" thoughts about style-rut-people, but sometimes it is difficult. I do think that everyone has the right to wear whatever makes them happy, and that's the way it should be, no matter how un-stylish their choices might be.

Katya: I think I agree with everything else you wrote, except that "we all should succumb to the society and wear what they want not what feels comfy for us" in certain situations. Well, if you are talking about funerals and weddings, then yes, there is a particular dress code... but I do think that all dress codes are essentially oppressive. People should be able to wear whatever they want, as often as possible. I guess we've already come a long way though - it wasn't such a long time ago when it was considered horrendous for women to wear trousers!

lin: I couldn't agree with you more; I especially like your usage of terms like connecting and participation. The most important thing is to pick and choose what works for you, and it is always a work in progress. I really like the idea of the individual tapping into the world for influences, and in return, the individual influences the world and the way others might see it.

Darla: welcome to No Signposts in the Sea! I loved this part of your comment: "Fashion is what's "in", style is about what you choose from what is available." Well said!

Terri: I don't *really* think that I am in a style rut; I guess I am just wondering where I'll be in the future if I keep feeling so comfortable in the clothes I have now. :) And oh my gosh, you are superbly stylish, Terri, and I LOVE how you always try new things and challenge yourself to wear different styles!!!

Charlotte Holmes said...

You've raised a good question, as usual, Waves. No one wants to be petrified in amber, and yet some things feel "right" even if they're a bit--or a lot--outdated. I think it's much harder to see the passe quality of decades you've actually lived through. My first jolt of this came when reading a student's short story, where a room was described as being "quintessentially 90s decor." I thought...what's that? Whereas if she'd said "50s decor," or even 60s, I'd have known.

In other words, the retro quality of your skirt didn't immediately hit me....

Shopping for eyeglasses the other day, I noticed that the huge 80s frames are back. On a young woman, I'm sure they'll look hip. On me, they'll look just like the frames I wore in the 80s, as if I'm in a time warp.