The Year of Dressing Dangerously
Forget dieting, organizing, penny-pinching. This year I’m resolving to do something else: I’m resolving to be a fearless dresser.
The cold light of January always causes me to think what I could do better in life. But I hate resolutions that are all about nitpicking where I fall short. I don’t need any more pressure to lose weight or save money, thank you very much. To me the best resolutions are about embracing life: learning French, taking flamenco classes, and hosting monthly movie nights have been resolutions of past years. This year, I’m taking on my closet and daring myself to embrace color, new shapes, and yes, a little ol’ fashioned sex appeal.
My fear of color started back in junior high. At that time, we were still feeling the shockwaves of the eighties. I have truly cringe-inducing photos from that time that show me in an upholstery-like rose print shirt and silk (silk!) coral pink shorts. But if my abuse of fabric was shocking, my abuse of color was downright deplorable. I thought wearing blue with blue was safe—never mind that I’d be wearing teal with navy—or worse, cornflower blue with teal (two colors that are so close together they look like they should match, so it’s jarringly wrong when they don’t). When I got to high school, I developed a rule to solve my psychedelic rainbow wardrobe woes. I’d always wear black on half my body and color on the other. It would be poppy-red capris with a black tank top or a black turtleneck with an apple green skirt. Black was my saving grace because everything went with black. A little while ago, I realized that my rule had become my rut.
To conquer my phobia, I’m back to basics and studying the color wheel. As my old textbooks prove (thanks, Art History 101!), color compositions rely on opposites. The eye craves contrast. The trick is to bring that into outfits. My little red dress has that much more pop with a light blue scarf. My dark purple knit top looks much more grounded with a lemon yellow belt. I admit this requires some forethought and lots of laying pieces out on the bed the night before. But the result—a confident, cheerful, smart outfit—is so worth it. Bonus points: all my old clothes feel new again.
Like most women, the trial and error I’ve gone through to understand what looks good on my body has involved many painful dressing room moments. My A-line skirts and cap sleeve tops are a safe harbor in a world of jodphur pants (really?), trapeze dresses (wha?), and cropped jackets (yikes!). But therein lies the problem—I’m being safe. I’m just not pushing myself anymore. I walk into a store, evaluate an item (color, size, shape) and if it fits my “safe” criteria, I buy it. Trouble is, when I get home, I realize that I already own that same item, more or less, in another safe shade or fabric. I’m constantly having outfit déjà vu.
There’s a whole world I’ve been ignoring for so long: one of skinny belts, juliet sleeves, and those massively intimidating French scarves that can be tied 157 ways. I’ve also been missing out on the discovery of the new. Who could guess that high-waist skirts are so flattering? Or that shrunken vests have a corset-effect on my silhouette? The resolution here is to leave my comfort zone. I’ll hardly abandon those A-line skirts that have served me so well, but with each trip to the dressing room, I’m grabbing something just to dare myself a bit. And no, I don’t regret that paper bag skirt one bit.
This is one rut I blame on work. When it comes to buying new clothes, my budget is limited, so I always try to aim for things that can do double-duty. In other words, I should be able to wear it to a meeting at work and to the movies with my friends afterward. Thing is, somewhere down this practical road, things got mighty conservative. All those buttoned up cardigans were threatening to make me look like someone running for political office—no offense, Hillary. It is clearly time to bring sexy back. And while I don’t think having two inches of cleavage popping out at the office is appropriate, there’s something about remembering the appeal of being a womanly W-O-M-A-N and having that come across in my clothes.
So I staged an intervention. With Aretha Franklin in my ear, and a pair of snakeskin heels on my feet, I faced down my closet. My goal was to find things that are subtly feminine: thick cinching belt, check; ruffled skirt, check; bustier top, um, pass. I slowly worked my way through my closet, evaluating my clothes and breaking down my old fashion formulas, one by one. My “saves” were figure-skimming or had a little sexy detail (beading around the neckline, a dip in the back, a ruffle around the edge of the dress). My “stops” either exposed too much skin, or left nothing to be desired (e.g. my cargo pocket pants). The result? A clean closet and a clean frenzy at all the fluttery and feminine new pieces soon to fill it out.
Remember that old rule—before you leave the house take one thing off? Well, my new rule is, before you leave the house, put one “fearless” thing on!