what stories do you tell about clothes?
— That looks so good on you! But I could never pull it off.
— I need a new outfit for this event and I only have a few days to get something!
— I don’t know… I’m just not sure if I should spend the money.
— That outfit is tacky/ugly/unflattering.
— I’m not sure if I should buy this.
What is underneath these little phrases? What are we really saying?
That looks so good on you! But I could never pull it off.
Maybe we’re saying… I’m not sure how I will be viewed in this. There’s something wrong with my body and if I wear this you’ll see it. I’m scared to hide my body because I’ve been taught my body is my worth. I’ve never seen anybody that looks like me wearing this.
I need a new outfit for this event and I only have a few days to get something!
Maybe we’re saying… I don’t feel good about what I have already, none of those things feel like me. I love my style but I don’t know if I can show up as myself to this event. I’m nervous about it and buying something new is under my control.
I don’t know… I’m just not sure if I should spend the money.
Maybe we’re saying… I don’t trust myself to make purchases that I won’t regret later. I don’t know my style well enough to confidently say yes (or no) to this. I’m not sure I deserve nice things. I feel pressured into this even though I really can’t afford it.
That outfit is tacky/ugly/unflattering.
Maybe we’re saying… Something about this makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t like the way I or that person looks in it. I see myself in it, or I see something I’m afraid of. I don’t want to be judged so by judging others I distance myself.
I’m not sure if I should buy this.
Maybe we’re saying… I feel guilty for buying clothes right now. I’m scared to make the wrong choice. Will I be a bad person if I buy from a “bad” brand? Is it my style? Can someone give me permission to buy this?
What’s a story you tell about your clothes, style, or shopping… and what are you really saying?
We use clothes to apply meaning. We do it all the time—we judge others (positively or negatively) on what we wear. “You can’t wear that to a job interview,” also means “people will judge you on whether or not you deserve this job based on your clothes”. “That isn’t flattering,” also means, “this doesn’t make you look as skinny as possible.”
…a handful of people remarked how they could never wear sweatpants, because they're already fat, they can't possibly look lazy. One person went so far as to say she hates seeing other fat people wearing athleisure because it reflects badly on us (fat people) all. It was a feeling I recognized in myself as well - not the resentment of what others wear, but the underlying reason I am always overdressed. The fear of looking sloppy, "because my body already implies I am", according to fatphobic rhetoric.
Some of these meanings we can work to change (and should, especially ones around race, gender, and size). We can’t change these ideas if we don’t even see them, though. The goal is to understand that we have learned these meanings, so we can be conscious of them. Other stories simply are—the difference we feel between a black-and-white or colorful look, a cultural association, understanding what feels like our style and why. Even if these ideas aren’t problematic, they can become limiting all the same.
It's time to go beyond the surface level of these stories and unfold all those layers. It’s incredible how much less alone you feel when you connect with someone who feels the same way—or doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a shock to hear someone say, “actually, no, I don't think that's true.” It opens your eyes to the story you’re really telling.
We learn a lot of the same stories, but we absorb them differently. How your parents talked to you, where you lived, your culture or religion, your experience of your body, whether you can find and wear clothes you like—and yes, your style, all impact what you believe deep down about clothes and style. Your stories are your own. I can’t tell you what you think—only you can unpack this.
Once we’re able to see what’s really underneath the stories we tell about clothes and shopping, we can write new ones.
Sign up now for Unfolding, a four-week online workshop and discussion circle designed to help you make value-driven style decisions without relying on willpower.️ 20 spots. Saturdays August 8, 15, 22, and 29. $379.Register Now for Unfolding