Look at these women in their beautiful saris. (At the left is a nice compromise between seamed and unseamed–a salwar kameez.) Saris honor the natural body shape because they are fluid and will naturally fall into curves or straight lines, as the body dictates. It seems an easy choice for those who wear them. All they need do is choose good colors and prints. Photo credit: Christian Haugen on / CC BY

Have you ever wondered why people wear certain things in China but not in Europe? Or toyed with the idea of dressing in a chiton like the ancient Greeks? I have.

When we have so many choices, the inevitable question is: What is my style? If regional cultures are anything to go by, there must be lots of different places you could have been born in and somehow still been “you.” How would you have done that? Is one kind of clothing more “you” than another? Or maybe there are multiple ways you could dress and be who you feel you truly are. Or maybe you’re just supposed to dress according to the roles you play, or maybe to make yourself as attractive as possible.

If only we could go to an image consultant and solve the whole conundrum. I don’t believe we can. We can only look at the choices available to us and realize that our personalities and preferences are subject to the times we live in–and always have been. (If we’d lived in places with no choices, maybe we wouldn’t have even thought to ask the questions.)

Whatever you prefer out of all these choices, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will automatically love what you come up with. Or that it will represent the same thing to them that it does to you. All you can do is learn the universal design principles and then decide what is most important to you.

When Fashion was Non-Negotiable

Let me take you back to a time not so long ago when there was no “my” style or “your” style, but “the” fashion. Every woman had to have an oval face like the Mona Lisa, and you had to shorten a long face with bangs or soften a sharp one with curves. Dress silhouettes were all the same, and you had to make yourself fit the current fashion. If the dress was long and full, it had to be six inches from hem to ground. That would dictate the height of your heels.

If you ever look at all those movies made in the nifty fifties, you’ll see that Doris Day had fitted clothes the same as did Gracy Kelly, even though Doris Day was a girl-next-door type and Kelly was a glamour girl. The adjustments were always made with “the” fashion in mind. Now the trend is reversed. The personal style winks a little at fashion, but individuality leads (in theory, at least).

Our Times and Circumstances Play into Our Possibilities and Choices

Parisian woman, 19th century, dressed for winter. Note the smart cut of her clothing. She does not have to shovel snow or have time constraints because of working outside the home, believe me. Also, most French women didn’t dress like this back then–just the well-to-do ones. Jean Beraud. {{PD-US}}
Me in a Northwest residential neighborhood during a blizzard. I am wearing my husband’s coat over my hooded jacket.

Even so, the fact that we ask about such things indicates that we are products of the post-industrial bubble of Western Europe or North America. So our circumstances still dictate some things about us!

Like most people in the hyper-developed world, I have no servants, work part-time outside the home, have other independent jobs, and therefore only a little time to shop or sew. Ready-made clothing is cranked out like shucked corn these days and nobody has time to put those loving touches on clothing at the factories. We yearn for beauty yet can scarcely produce it anymore. Beautiful things take contemplative time. You have to decide whether it’s worth your time to find a way to bring beauty back into your life, your clothes, your environment.

My goal is to inspire you to think in new ways about this and about your contribution to beauty on this earth in general. Beauty in dressing and in living. It boils down to curating what comes into our lives, our minds, our homes, and what we let eat up our time. It comes down to you to develop a workable philosophy. No image consultant can do that for you.

Featured photo credit top: manhhai on Visualhunt / CC BY