A co-worker has just told me she really likes the outfit I’m wearing today.* Given that I seem to receive a similar comment at least once every time I wear this particular ensemble, it would seem that this style and colour suit me very well. Which is nice, right? I have external, objective confirmation that I look good and can feel confident about my appearance – at least on this particular occasion.
There’s just one thing. I don’t really care for this outfit or like how I look in it. I tend to wear it when I’m out of other ideas or clothes, and I always go through the day feeling a bit … well … schlumphf-y. Which makes the positive reactions I’ve received from quite a few people around the office all the more confusing.
You have to understand that my own approach to clothes is … quirky. I have never been able to keep track of what’s in or out in any given year, and I loathe buying something for a season and tossing it. I also grew up on a steady diet of movies from the 1930s and 40s, so what looks good to me tends to reflect the styles of a (much!) earlier era.
As a result, I gravitate to classic, tailored garments that can be worn without too much effort until they actually wear out. (For the record, my oldest item is a full black calf-length skirt with white pin-dots that my Mum bought me when I was fourteen or fifteen. After 20+ years, it still looks like new – I swear, the fabric must be made of Teflon! – and I still get compliments when I wear it.)
At the same time, this approach has left me disconnected from – and, consequently, a bit disoriented about – what looks good to other people. When I encounter a situation like today, I wonder whether my fashion sense (such as it is) is hopelessly out of whack. Do I need to be taken gently (or not so gently) by the hand, like those poor souls on those makeover shows, and shown what “really” looks good on me?
[Note – I’ve only watched a few of these shows, but my favourite so far is one in which the two British hosts try and make over a flamboyant hairdresser with long, curly brass-red hair who, having been given her “style rules,” promptly goes out and blows the entire bundle on the colourful (and, yes, trashy) clothes she wants to wear. I hated one I saw in which the two American hosts ambushed a rather bewildered 40+ year-old mother of two and promptly threw out every one of her much-loved “theme sweaters” (you know – the ones with pumpkins and black cats, or reindeer, or happy flowers and bumblebees on them). Ok, they were not the most stylish of garments, but they made her happy and reflected her rather sweet, gentle nature. By the end of the show she was tweaked and teased into a hip mamma, but the poor woman looked so uncomfortable in her new personality I wanted to knit her a nice new pumpkin sweater myself.]
Part of me – the remnants of that gawky, sweatshirt-and-unfashionable-jeans-wearing teen that was – is convinced I am, and will always be, a fashion illiterate and need all the help I can get. The other part – the cool, collected Katherine Hepburn wannabe – says that I know exactly what looks good on me and the real problem is that it’s nearly impossible to find clothes that are truly stylish rather than just “trendy.” The reality, like most things, is probably a bit of both.
Under the circumstances, I will be seriously considering the compliments I’ve received about this unloved (by me) outfit. Who knows, I may choose to broaden my internal style guide. Or maybe I’ll just decide that some of my co-workers are the ones who are really in need of a makeover ….
[* Editors Note – For those of you who are wondering, Ink’s outfit consists of a pair of loose-fitting grey/beige trousers and oversized shirt-jacket in a soft “brushed-cotton” type fabric, and a sleeveless butter-coloured rib-knit mock turtleneck. The ensemble is completed by a pair of beige pumps, large gold leaf-shaped earrings and a gold rope necklace.]