Q: What if you’re comfortable with your personal style, but it’s so out of whack with the norms of the area where you live that it makes you uneasy? I wear a lot of colorful and wacky dresses. And when I lived in Austin or Los Angeles, this was fine and normal. In the Midwest, however, it sometimes feels ... odd. I feel as if I’m forced to choose between dressing in a way that makes me comfortable while standing out in a way I don’t want to, or wearing clothes that really don’t feel like me while blending in. Any suggestions?
A: I’d love to shout, “Wear whatever you want! Naysayers be damned!” Some folks are able to happily and wholly prioritize personal style preferences over cultural norms, and kudos to them for their enviable confidence. But it sounds like you’re uncomfortable with people scrutinizing your bright, funky dresses. Balancing personal preferences with environmental pressures is something many of us wish to do. It’s a natural human instinct.
So try examining the individual pieces that people around you are wearing. Which ones resonate with you? Are you drawn to their blazers, cardigans, heels or button-front shirts? Are there ways to mix these items with looks that feel more you, creating a hybrid of sorts? If that tactic falls flat, consider creating a color palette: If you favor brights but the Twin Cities palette seems neutral-heavy, can you experiment with more bright/neutral mixes? Whatever the case, finding your way to a hybrid is probably the best solution.
Q: I’d love some advice for women who are hard on their clothes. I’m a stay-at-home mom who spends a lot of time outdoors with kids and dogs, in the garden, in the kitchen, making art, etc. I have a lot of fun, funky clothes in my wardrobe that have been relegated to “special occasions only” because they end up stained and torn if I wear them on a daily basis. How do you build a wardrobe of clothing that can take a beating? I’d like to wear more than just jeans and T-shirts.
A: My main advice would be this: thrift. Anything you buy that’s used and cheap won’t cause as much sorrow, especially when the family makes mincemeat of it. Search for skinny jeans with stretch or funky colored cords, embellished tees, versatile cargo jackets for layering, durable and washable blouses. Seek out quality fabrics and well-made goods at thrift and consignment shops and you’ll get cute looks for a lot less.
Any woman who does work that is potentially messy and damaging to clothing but is also extremely active needs closefitting tops that allow her to move. Jersey knit garments are your best bets since sweaters are easily snagged by, say, puppy teeth. Or an overzealous tot. So scour your local thrift store for printed long-sleeved tees, tees with subtle embellishments (preferably near the neckline), patterned/striped/polka-dotted tees, and tees in bright, vibrant colors. Try layering to make more interesting outfits — a deep-V long-sleeved tee over a contrasting tank top, a long-sleeved tee under a short-sleeved one, a fun tee peeking out from a crinkly cotton button-down with the sleeves rolled up.
If you’re willing to invest in a few nicer pieces, scope out vendors who cater to athletic women such as Title 9, prAna and Athleta. Sport-specific garments are their bread and butter, but these companies also sell more fashion-forward “lifestyle” clothes made from the same durable, washable fabrics and with the same quality construction.
Finally, check 6pm.com and Amazon.com for funky, inexpensive boots and ankle booties. Closed-toe shoes are a must and I believe that styled correctly, boots can be worn pretty much year-round. Invest in a few pairs of cheap but interesting boots to round out your durable but stylish wardrobe.
Q: I own several long-sleeved dresses, all very work-appropriate and originally purchased with fall and winter in mind. Unfortunately, the dresses become super staticky when worn with tights. And that makes for uncomfortable workdays. I have a similar problem with several of my knee-length professional skirts. Help! Do you have any tips for eliminating static with tights?
A: I do, though none are especially groundbreaking.
Static can be a bear during the winter months, and it becomes especially relentless when the air is dry. Which means that adding moisture of any kind will help: If your skirt is sticking to your tights, simply dampening your hands with water and patting your thighs will — at least temporarily — keep fabrics from clinging. Depending on the delicacy of your tights (and your willingness to carefully hand-launder them), you can also try a bit of hand lotion mixed with a drop or two of water. Again, pat the mixture onto the tights where they’re causing friction and you’ll have a longer-lasting static repellent than water alone.
But honestly? I advise keeping a can of Static Guard on-hand. You can spray the stuff fairly liberally on both tights and clothes, and it tends to keep the cling at bay for a couple of hours in all but the most Sahara-like environments. (Avoid using it on super-delicate fabrics like silk and satin.)
And if either skirt or dress is made from a relatively heavy material, a half-slip works wonders. Layered under slinky jersey knits, it’ll just add to the wad of material nestled near your nether regions. But with wool, twill and most ponte knits, a half-slip creates the perfect slippery barrier between tights and skirt.
Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.