Permission to Opt-Out: Fashion and Make Up

Let me give you a visual of my current look:

I’m wearing a floral wrap dress that I’ve worn at least once a week since I bought it. I’m also wearing my black Aldo booties I bought 2 years ago when I realized I needed some “grown up” professional shoes for my office job.

My hair has finally grown out enough to force it into a tiny bun, which has lovingly been compared to a brussel sprout in size and shape. My bangs are in desperate need of a trim.

My makeup routine consists of the same brand of foundation I’ve used for 4 years now, with a drugstore eyebrow gel and mascara.

This is the most effort I’ve put into my appearance for over a week, at least since I attempted to take a quintessential fall selfie on the first of October, like everyone else on the internet.

I hate all of those photos I took of myself that day, even though I had on my favorite hat and dress, plus I threw on my heretofore unchristened vintage leather jacket.

Frankly, my lack of selfies in the past few months has me feeling panicky.

I know that probably sounds silly to some people, but I have gone through phases in my life where I felt so good about how I looked, so confident and hot, that I wanted to show off regularly.

Lately, that’s not been the case. But it’s not that I think I’m ugly, not really. I don’t think I’ve let myself go or anything.

I feel detached from the majority of my makeup and fashion habits in a way that’s really baffled me into avoiding selfies, getting “dressed up” and attending any kind of even that might require me to get dolled up.

Below the Surface

I have been shedding layers of what was my personal style faster than ever over the summer.

As I looked at my shoestring freelancer-between-invoices budget and sorted through my clothes after an unexpected move, I started to wonder what the point of all of this stuff was.

I had multiple types of liquid eyeliner in my makeup case, I had piles of vintage clothes and dresses that I had only worn once, I was following multiple lingerie companies on Instagram.

Am I really this susceptible to consumerism? Have I internalized a bunch of stories about my body type and face shape that I regularly augment my natural state with “flattering” clothes and makeup?

Well, yes, but I also have had to admit to myself that it goes a lot deeper than just social media and the fashion industry.

Wardrobes of Past Lives

As I was moving, I ended up with piles and piles of business casual clothes I bought when I was working at my corporate PR job.

I’m not naive enough to think we can all break free of the status quo of business casual in a traditional sense, but the particular office culture of where I worked was in total contrast with my natural inclinations.

Bold colors, structured skirts and dresses, heels, full makeup, “statement” jewelry.

All of these things were supposed to make us unique in our field and create a positive impact on clients and media contacts. It was an extension of the agency’s branding.

But that brand wasn’t me. I never fully bought into it and I knew that dressing according to someone else’s ideal of a powerful woman was not helping me succeed in my role.

Towards the end of my time there, I began to default to “unflattering” shift dresses that I could hide away in, wearing my hair in buns and clips, skipping makeup altogether. The look was more harried church mouse than PR rockstar.

Meanwhile, the other half of my discarded wardrobe consisted of worn out Goodwill finds and eccentric pieces that fluctuated from fairy princess to wannabe punk rocker.

Lots of those pieces were too small, worn with too much eyeliner and eternally smelled like a bar at closing time.

These were the things I would wear to bars and dates and house shows. They represented many variations of my Tallahassee social life that allowed me to blend in with the crowds or appeal to whatever man I was chasing after that season.

I would adjust and course correct based on the reactions of my friends and dates, but nothing I ever wore or no makeup trick I tried made much of a difference in my love or social life.

Then there were a few aspirational vintage pieces I bought, with great zeal, from female vintage shop owners.

Inspired by both an obsession with pinup girls and burlesque culture plus an earnest desire to support women in my community, I–quite literally–racked up a sizable collection of vintage pieces that I would wear once, maybe and then allow to languish in my closet.

This stuff was supposed to be “the look” for a girl like me. Hourglass shape, pale, dark hair–that’s the easiest shortcut to a pin-up look you can be born with.

But I never got the hang of curling my hair, I never figured out how to use concealer or lip liner and I certainly never was going to learn how to wear heels on the regular.

Simplifying (but not because minimalism is trendy)

I recently did a journaling exercise from Gala Darling that got me thinking more about what my Best Self™ actually looks like.

Here are some character notes I made:

  • Sunscreen, always
  • Healthy skin (like the kind you get by drinking tea and stay hydrated and using a modest night cream)
  • Cruelty-free brow gel, mascara, foundation. (I’m tired of crying over mismatched cat eye angles.)
  • Ethically, sustainably made OR vintage/secondhand everything
  • Linen, denim, leather, suede
  • Blacks, neutrals, jewel tones and floral prints
  • Boots. Always boots. Chacos, when needed. (No heels, I just really don’t care for them.)

This sounds like the beginning of a minimalism sermon, I know. I promise not to preach about a capsule wardrobe (at least not yet.)

I want to pivot my approach to style and personal adornment to something that supports and amplifies my personality and creative work, instead of trying to express myself through it directly.

Because when I try to project something through my style, I end up feeling disguised or costumed.

If I want to actually be something, I want to work to actual embody that in my life through actions and work.

Powerful, respectable, graceful, tough, elegant, sensual.

I don’t need a pencil skirt or red lipstick or high heels to convey any of that. I am not personally getting anything out of time spent in front of the mirror or my closet.

This is, of course, not to say that anyone who enjoys these things is somehow not actually being what their style is portraying. I’m actually wildly impressed by and in awe of other people’s creativity and dedication when it comes to style and fashion.

This is simply a note to self that I am allowed to opt out of prioritizing makeup and clothes, without letting myself go completely.

If I whittle my wardrobe down to a handful of truly beloved pieces and have no daytime/nighttime/special occasion shifts for my makeup and hair routines, it really won’t do affect anything but my time and decision fatigue.

I know I will eventually dig deeper into the phases of my style and how working in a place with such a rigorous “dress code” affected me, but for now I wanted to articulate this shift.

Has this happened to anyone else? Have you ever looked in your mirror or closet and suddenly realized you only like about 10% of what you own?