Friday, September 08, 2006


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.]


At 8:43 AM, September 09, 2006, Blogger tornwordo said...

I love that you are still wearing a garment from your teens. I dress based on comfort and price, so I'm never fashionable, lol.

At 10:37 AM, September 09, 2006, Blogger CoffeeDog said...

Mrs Coffeedog is like you, she prefers to go against the fashion grain and wear tailored suits that look retro. She too has one outfit that she wears that garners all sorts of compliments from co-workers.

I think you need wear what you like and the rest be damned!

At 1:31 AM, September 10, 2006, Blogger EarthMother said...

Oh dear ... I don't know you, but somehow your description of your outfit just sounded so NOT you.
I'm jealous of the fact that can still wear something you got when you were fourteen!!!
I think I dress fairly uniquely. I believe that it's all an extension of your personality and you have to be comfortable in what you're wearing in order to look good. Having said that, there are still some things I'd rather not see -- like a 400 lb man in spandex, but hey, if he's happy, who am I to judge?

At 8:36 AM, September 11, 2006, Blogger Snooze said...

I wouldn't worry too much. I used to have people rave about when I wore beige pants (barf, barf, barf)and a shirt to work because I'd run out of clothes. I think that was just what people in that particular office associated with 'office' clothes. It sounds like you have a classy, timeless style.

However, are you updating your shoes? You should always have up to date footwear.

At 11:44 AM, September 11, 2006, Blogger St. Dickeybird said...

I had the same thing happen recently. I bought a bland white w/grey+black striped shirt, thought absolutely nothing of it (i bought it because it was very cheap). I get loads of compliments on it. No idea why...

So enjoy the positive attention - it means that you must look great!

At 2:51 PM, September 11, 2006, Blogger Sister Staceypatrick said...

I think you should wear what we got you in Kingston. Okay, so it's not really office wear and a little summery for this weather - but man it looks awsome on you!

At 3:40 PM, September 12, 2006, Blogger ink said...

Wordo - I have a couple of "teen-years" items still in rotation ... just shows the difference quality makes ...

CD - Hmmm. I've never thought about calling my style "retro." That sounds so much more chic. Thanks!

EM - That particular outfit doesn't much feel like me either, which is why I'm so surprised when I get complimented on it. So, apparently you don't have to like what you're wearing in order to look good ...

Snooze - You definitely don't strike me as a beige pants kind of girl. Sadly, I am extremely picky about buying shoes, since I (i) refuse to wear ones that make my feet hurt, and (ii) love wearing heels. The combination is, to say the least, tricky, so I usually have about 3 or 4 pairs that I rotate through the season. ... Which isn't to say you don't have a point! :)

St. D. - People are weird, eh? I'd feel more comfortable with the positive attention if I knew why it was coming my way.

Sister - Tempting! But since my office is freezing I'd have to wear a parka - and that would rather ruin the look. That having been said, you're right, it DOES look awesome on me! :)

At 12:15 PM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Susan as herself said...

I understand what you mean. Sometimes when I dress outside my normal way, people compliment me and I think it may be just because I look "different" from normal, and they find that uplifting.

I also tend to dress for comfort, and I LOVE vintage clothes. But good ones are hard to find, especially if you are not a size 2. And interestingly, I have never once owned a suit. Imagine!!! I'm a seperates kind of person, I guess.

At 10:17 AM, September 14, 2006, Blogger Dantallion said...

Post pictures. I'm sure you'll get a ton of comments just to confuse the situation even more...

At 1:24 PM, September 14, 2006, Blogger ink said...

Susan - You might have a point about a change in style being uplifting .. but it makes me wonder what I look like most of the time!

Dan - Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I'm confused quite enough already.


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