Thanks to everyone who entered the Already Pretty giveaway! I went numerically-chronologically, starting with the-beheld.com, then e-mail entries from readers understandably frustrated by the Blogger comment system, then The New Inquiry, for a total of 33 entries. Using this random number generator, comment #3 is the winner: Congratulations, Monique!
And, as it happens, the entries yield some good style advice that, like Already Pretty, goes beyond the “here’s how to color-block”-type stuff that leaves me cold. Allow me to commandeer your words for a post, s’il vous plaît?
• If you're not comfortable in it, don't wear it. If you're not confident in the prettiest outfit, it will show.
• (1) Can I feel good in this at 2 p.m. after lunch and sitting at my desk? (2) Can I really walk in these shoes—I mean, for more than an hour?
• Always keep a backup pair of comfortable shoes around. I keep pairs in both my car and office. There's nothing worse than thinking you'll be comfortable all day in a pair of heels, then realize by 10 a.m. that your entire day is going to be ruined by them!
• My favorite piece of fashion advice actually came from a drag queen, of all people: "Heels are meant to be seen, not walked in. If no one can see them, like in a car, take them off! If you have to walk farther than the distance between the valet and the door to the club, you're with the wrong man."
• Err on the side of dressing "up." If I go somewhere and I'm not certain how to dress for the occasion, I have found that I sometimes feel uncomfortable if I'm under-dressed, but I never feel bad about being slightly over-dressed.
• Move all around and try sitting in the clothing in the dressing room at the store. If there is anything uncomfortable about the clothing or you don't love it, don't buy it.
• Find your "uniform," the combination of pieces that makes you feel most comfortable and attractive. Mine involves cardigans, tights, boots, and dresses/skirts.
• Wear color, lots of it, all over.
• Don’t be afraid to pick unusual colors together, like blue and orange.
• The first piece of fashion advice I ever remember was my mom telling my very young self to not combine more than three colors in an outfit, but she didn't explain the idea of neutrals. I'm still uncomfortable breaking this "rule"
• When I was a little girl I was always an eclectic dresser. I loved to wear red and orange together (they were next to each other in the rainbow so it was totally legit). Whenever my Mom got on my case about what I chose to wear to school my Dad would chime and say, "Let her wear what she wants. She'll be fine." And I was and still am today. Thanks, Dad.
• Look good to feel good. I've gone through cyclical phases over the last several years where I dress up, then slowly get lazier, and dress dowwwwn. Way down. When I start dressing up again, I'm always amazed at how peppy and positive I feel!
• If you want to look a certain way, do it. You don't have to follow the norm of what looks good. If you have big boobs and don't want to hide them, don't! If you have a big butt and want to show it off, do it! Make your own definition of gorgeous.
• Wear a smile.
• Too often, people think there is a RULE we must follow. I reject that attitude. Real style is individualized creativity and taste, not rigid conformity. For example, I'm not going to put a cardi and belt on my favorite dress just 'cause everyone else does that.
• "You don't have to be trendy to look fabulous." Nice for me because I'm not a fan of modern on-trend fashion.
• If you don't feel gorgeous in it, get rid of it. It's not you, it's the clothes—but why hang on to 'em if they make you feel less than perfect?
• Just wear what makes you feel good!
• Don't be afraid to try something new and creative.
• Dress joyfully.
• Invest in a great, high-quality coat. A great coat will always be great and will always make you feel great.
• Dresses let me look polished even though I feel like I'm wearing pajamas!
• I usually feel as if I'm wearing too much, or not enough clothing. They just feel like one of those philosophical issues I can't *really* wrap my head around. And the way they change within themselves—the same piece can feel and look wonderful one day, and be the worst items you could ever have chosen the next. Except for petticoats. Petticoats always make me feel jaunty.
• Clothing is the most versatile accessory.
• The very best advice—when you find something you just love, buy several (even in the same color, if that's part of what you love). Your first instinct is correct—you will never find anything to match it, and when it wears out, you will continue to wear it because you still love it. It's such a luxurious and virtuous feeling to throw out a worn out whatever and start using the identical new whatever.
• You should always think about how your new purchase fits into your existing wardrobe—a cheap blouse isn't cheap anymore if you have to buy new stuff as well to match it.
• Don’t compromise on fit. It’s not you, it’s the clothes. This completely shocked me; I wasn't FAILING to fit the clothes?!?! There was nothing wrong with my body?! I’m 5’ 10” and have morphed slowly from a “boyish” figure (high school) to a more hourglassy one. And I struggled with buying clothes every step of the way, due to my height. I used to try on dozens of items, and when they were all too short, too small, bit into my skin in places, weren’t rescaled for height (more leg or sleeve just slapped on), I would wind up crying the change room and buying whatever item I liked the style of best, telling myself it didn't look that bad. Needless to say, I rarely wore them, and felt awkward and oversized when I did. Finally, the advice about fit being foremost sunk in. I purged my wardrobe of everything that didn’t fit properly. Now I try never to buy or wear anything that doesn’t fit properly. I feel comfortable in my clothes. They’re a little bland, because I still have trouble finding things in my size, but they’re a decent foundation, and I can see new possibilities from here.
• When I’m trying stuff on and nothing fits properly, I remember what my guy said, trying to coax me out of the change room after tearfully trying on 49 (yes, 49) pairs of spandex-free jeans (for wearing on my motorcycle) with no luck: “It’s not your fault they don’t know how to make clothes for goddesses!”
• Find the decade whose fashions flattered your particular body type, and look to re-create those silhouettes. I don't do a lot of vintage, but realizing that the shape of, say, the ’50s (small waists, full skirts, boatnecks, slim and tailored shoulders, etc) is a good one for me allows me to isolate items in a store without a lot of trying on, say, ’20s shapes (shifts, drop-waists, bias cuts, extra draping along the bust or collarbone), which require a lot more height and a lot less bust to read the way their designers intended. Now I just appreciate how nice all that draping looks on someone else, instead.
• The biggest fashion revelation I’ve ever made is the discovery that stores design and stock for an incredibly narrow range of body proportions. It's an old, creaky industry based on outdated notions. I've embraced custom, self-sewn dresses as my uniform since stores don't seem at all interested in dressing my body's proportions. Screw 'em.
• Clothes at the store don't fit everyone but me. They're not intended to fit everyone, and especially not me. To get a good fit, I need to alter them, which thankfully I know how to do.
• I don't have to look like an hourglass to look good. I can be okay with my big tummy, not try to squeeze it into something too small, and still look good.
• The fashion advice I try to keep in mind is the same advice I gave, in various forms, every day during my many years in retail: You are just right! If the dress is too tight, if the sweater is too loose, if the hem binds or the neckline gaps, if there are bulges and bumps, then the garment isn't right for you. But YOU are just right! It's disappointing but painless to leave behind a garment that doesn't work for you; it's painful and ultimately damaging to blame your body for that disappointment. Leave the disappointment behind with the garment; don't attach it to your body and take it home with you.
• When I was living and working in the city at a hip workplace, I felt totally paralyzed about fashion and unable to take risks. I pined for a uniform, and basically created one for myself by wearing button up shirts and jeans every day. When I moved to a small town (and a new, less bundled-up climate) I suddenly felt way more free to experiment and I think my fashion has improved massively. I guess the "advice" I'd extrapolate from that is to remember that your style is a response to your environment, its a conversation with your culture. If you don't like your part in the conversation, maybe the relationship needs shaking up.
• Your clothing has to work with what you do, not just how you look.
• I think the best advice I've heard is an interpretation from the great (though defunct) fashion site academichic.com. Inspired by their challenge to readers to create an outfit inspired by a book cover, I've found that it's really helpful to look for inspiration outside of women's fashion magazines/websites. Color palettes can be found in nature, cookbooks, art, book covers, etc; same for textures and even shapes. To really radicalize your perspective on contemporary fashion, look at fashion (men and women's!) from different decades or eras. Broadening your inspiration sources can really invigorate and freshen your wardrobe, and also can help disentangle some of the negative body messages that come from more standard fashion inspiration sources.