Something I’ve been working on in my personal and professional life is to be better about accepting criticism. For me, it’s hard not to take it personally, or think that the person giving the criticism is attacking my character. I usually either become really fiery and defensive, or turn into a self-loathing, wallowing blob. This has been a sore spot in one too many arguments with Brandon. I know that deep down, this all stems from my weak (but now growing) amount of self-love and acceptance. But what does this look like now after I’ve gained confidence since beginning my minimalism journey? I soon had the (not-so) pleasure of finding out.
I was feeling good: Our home had everything we needed (and not too much more). I was stressing way less about what I wore each day. We had a good rhythm going in our tiny apartment where we each felt like we had more than enough space–personally and physically. Everything was good….until it wasn’t. I was on Instagram this morning and I received this comment: “I don’t mean this to sound mean but you literally post the same dress / look every single day. Do you ever change?” At first, these words stung. I wanted to cry. I instantly wanted to delete it and block that user forever. For a split second, I wanted to quit Instagram. But I decided to sit with her comment for a while.
My thought process went something like this: THIS is why I tell my students that beginning a “put-down” (our school’s language for saying something mean) with the phrase, “no offense” or “not to be mean or anything, but…,” doesn’t make what follows those words any less hurtful…How dare she? Who is she to tell me how to dress or how to live my life?…Of course, her profile is private. That coward. I wonder what she wears.…Maybe she’s going through something in her life…I actually don’t wear the same dress or look everyday…Or do I?…Even if I did, what’s wrong with that? A lot of successful people swear by uniform dressing…WHY IS THIS BOTHERING ME SO MUCH?!
That last question didn’t take long for me to answer. Being seen as “boring” and looking the same was a huge fear for me, especially for how it would affect my engagement. I was also afraid people would look at me differently: Would I be seen as poor or lazy or uncreative? I’ve shared these fears with a couple of friends. One of my friends, Kayley, told me that what she liked most about my Instagram was not what I wore, but what I wrote and how relatable I was. Another friend, Tiff, said that my focus has shifted towards slow-fashion and slow-living, so naturally my blog and my Instagram will make that shift too, and along with it, my followers. Both of them were right.
In all the years I’ve been blogging (almost 10 now, phew!), it never sat well with me calling myself a “style blogger” because while I do enjoy shopping (or used to), fashion and style never came naturally to me. My style was not inspiring in the slightest. I always did gravitate towards simple and classic (aka basic) clothes, but used to always feel the need to dress differently or more interestingly for Instagram or my blog. In all honesty, I used to bring a change of clothes: one to shoot in, and one to wear afterwards. Looking back, it all seemed so silly, and not to mention, a HUGE waste of time and money (and now that I’ve seen “The True Cost,” a huge waste of human and natural resources). Now, what you see on Instagram or here on the blog is what I actually wear and what I actually think. Authenticity is something I value and strive for on my corner of the Internet. (This summer, I also took the time to declutter my social media–making sure to only follow people who were authentic and who I admired, rather than people who made me envious.)
Another habit I have when I am given criticism is I start to blame the system: the education system, social norms, gender roles, capitalism, etc. My instructional coach made me aware of this habit of mind when I would start to question my teaching philosophy after a failed lesson or when state testing time comes around and I see my kids struggle. This time around was no different: I started getting angry about how we’ve been conditioned to think that we need to have a different look everyday; that every event warrants a new outfit; that outfit repeating is shameful; that we have to “dress to impress” (whatever that meant); that men don’t ever get criticized for wearing a uniform of jeans and a tee, but women can get scrutinized for wearing the wrong thing; and that something is only worth posting if it’s new and different. I poured through articles on the benefits of uniform dressing, and even googled: “when did outfit repeating become shameful?” I also read articles calling uniform dressing bullshit and elitist. But without fail, like clockwork, after I sat and stewed in my down-with-the-man thinking for a while, I came out of it more resolved and more assured in my beliefs.
I am so much happier that I’ve found a uniform that works for me, my body, and my lifestyle. Mornings are less stressful. My closet is full of clothes that I love. Every day I get to wear something that’s my favorite because they’re all my favorite. I am a proud outfit repeater. I’m more punctual. And I’m more sure of myself. I used to think that my dad who had his own uniform of a polo-shirt (or a flannel button down in the colder months) tucked into a pair of straight-legged jeans with a pair of sneakers was just lazy and uncreative and unfashionable. But now, I’m starting to think that people like Karl Lagerfeld, Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, and even my dad were just more sure of themselves and didn’t want to waste precious time and energy on thinking about what to wear each morning.
This article by Man Repeller theorizes that finding a uniform is like reaching a nirvana state in personal style, because it means that you now have a firm grasp of who you are and have an outfit that expresses it. Your identity isn’t dictated by or shifting with passing trends, but rather only changing as you grow as a person. I could be wrong here, but isn’t having a signature look that is your own something that we all strive for? Isn’t that what personal style is all about? It is meant to be personal and customized for you. When it comes to shopping, aren’t we always looking for the perfect dress that makes you feel a million bucks; the coziest and oversized in just the right way sweater; the perfect thrown on t-shirt; the jeans that hug your butt just right? Imagine a closet full of those. That’s what my closet is becoming. I have found what works for me, so why should I try and wear things that don’t?
I’d like to think that in adopting a uniform (or a few), I have reached a nirvana state of some kind. Black dresses make me feel the just right amount of girly, but also mysterious and chic. Wide-legged pants and a crop top allow me to sit in as many odd positions as I fancy. In the Fall and Winter, loose and boxy sweaters, skinny jeans, and ankle boots make me want to stomp around and take over the world (or at least a coffee shop or two). The best part about all of these uniforms is that something so simple as the shoes you choose to wear with them; or putting on a denim or leather jacket; or adding a hat or a scarf can change the look and feel significantly, but not too significantly.
Ultimately, you should dress for you. Your clothes should empower you, not bully you into think you need to be something other than your beautiful self (the same could be said about people). My Instagram and blog are meant to be documentation of my evolution–both personally and stylistically. If you’ve followed me since the beginning (2009), then you will know how far I’ve come. From not owning any pairs of jeans to owning only jeans, and now to having a good mix of both, I finally feel like I have a signature look. I finally feel confident in what I wear, and going into stores or shopping online. Uniform dressing always seemed to be my goal, but always just out of reach. Until now.
Putting myself out there on Instagram and having a blog means that I am leaving myself open to critics and that there will be people who will not always agree with my style or lifestyle. What’s simple and chic to me may be boring and mundane to someone else. Something I tell my students is that when someone challenges your ideas (and someone almost always will), it is either an opportunity to have a discussion–to consider another perspective or it’s an opportunity for you to strengthen your argument and beliefs.
So thank you to that person for giving me the opportunity to consider your perspective, and also the opportunity to strengthen my own beliefs.
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