cracking my personal dress code

This week’s Food for Thought Friday questions are about everyday clothing.

Are there specific things I always tend to wear? Yes. My winter style uniform is leggings, and a cashmere sweater over a long-sleeved T, and I’m happy to wear basically the same thing almost every day. Why? You might want to get comfortable while I explain.

For a long time I had the vague sense (that would occasionally percolate through to my conscious awareness) that my clothes didn’t really reflect me – almost like I was wearing someone else’s clothes that happened to fit me – but I had no idea what would be more me, so I just continued to wear what I had.*

Then a number of years ago, I was trying to do more sewing and I hoped to start making my own clothes and if I was going to put that much effort into my wardrobe, I thought it wise to be more deliberate with my style so as not to waste my time, enthusiasm, materials and money. I’d found a good style website and started my research.

The first thing I analysed was my colouring. Since this has to do with skin colour (and to a lesser extent hair and eye colour), it’s very objective, and I worked through the resources and reached a conclusion fairly quickly. (My favourite range of colours to wear is deep red, burgundy, and reddish berry tones. In my wardrobe, burgundy is a basic.)

Next up was body shape. This was a little more challenging because I didn’t obviously match any single category. I had a bit of this and a bit of that, and sometimes the advice for the two categories was contradictory. With a bit of trial and error, however, I was able to reach some conclusions about garment types that were likely to work and those that weren’t. Between colour and shape, I was now able to filter out 90% or more of the clothes in any given store, and home in on the most promising stuff. It was a good start.

The last area for analysis was personal style, which is based on one’s personality – think classic, boho, sporty, dramatic/creative, etc. I had a lot of trouble with this because I didn’t really know what I liked and none of the standard styles spoke to me. I needed to get to know myself better. And though it took a while, I eventually got there.

What did I learn? First, comfort is really important to me; I’m sensitive to small irritations and I’ll be miserable if my clothes bind or pinch. (Binding and pinching is only OK if my partner does it, with consent ;)) So I now choose a lot of knits and other fabrics with at least a little stretch; the t-shirts, sweaters and leggings all meet this criterion. And cashmere is warm and cuddly.

I generally prefer subtlety and blending in, but that doesn’t mean that I aim to look like everyone else, and I don’t give two shits about trends. I’ve found I like ease, simplicity and practicality: clean lines, simple design, solids rather than prints, minimal or no jewelry, generally no makeup, and I rely on a good haircut because I don’t enjoy fussing over my hair. I don’t mind wearing basically the same thing over and over, which means uniform dressing work well for me.

I’m not afraid of revealing my shape, which is unmistakably female, but I don’t like most clothing details that are coded as “feminine”, such as lace or eyelet, tulle, frills and ruffles, bows, florals, pink (any shade), pastels and blush tones, most skirts, Peter Pan collars, and the list goes on. Most of these tend to be fussy, frivolous, impractical and/or uncomfortable. The ease, simplicity, practicality and comfort that I favour happen to be coded as “masculine”. I am very not femme.

What about under my clothes? My day-to-day underwear comprises a soft bra, and panties with a bit of coverage (underwire bras and thongs for special occasions only). Underwear needs to be comfortable enough that I can forget about it. Panties are usually black so I can wear them any time, period or no, and not worry about staining. Bras are black because I mostly wear darker colours. So yes, they match, after a fashion.

Is there anything I wouldn’t be caught dead in? Yellow or orange look terrible on me. I have always hated the shape of platform heels. Frills, ruffles and bows. Loud prints. Clashing colours. Most synthetic fibres, because I hate the feel and properties of them, and the fact that they’re plastic.

As for what I like to see men wearing, I don’t have strong preferences about specific garments. Sure, suits can look good, but so can jeans. Mostly I like to see an overall sense of style and personality.

* It has taken me a long time to learn to ask myself “What do I like? What do I want?” and this is an issue I’m currently exploring but I’m pretty sure it has to do with my parents’ lack of emotional intelligence when I was a kid.

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