top of page

Adorn Yourself: Why It's Not Frivolous to Care About Self-Presentation

Frida Kahlo was made fun of for the way she dressed in her day. She had a serious leg deformation, which may have been part of the reason she wore long skirts in the style of her Oaxacan ancestors. Her distinctive fashion sense was decidedly not modern, even in her time. Yet it's part of her legacy.

Like Frida, I care about clothes, unapologetically. I consider it a gift to myself and others to add a little aesthetic appeal to any environment. It's also a creative outlet to put together a good outfit (whatever a good outfit means to YOU).

Women are under a crippling amount of pressure to look and dress certain ways. Far from encouraging you to step it up and try harder, I'm inviting you to relax into what truly makes you feel good.

Here's why I don't think it's frivolous to care about the way you dress:

1) Self-adornment reflects our dignity as human beings.

In many ways it's an ugly world. City-dwellers especially are surrounded by pavement and garish billboards as well as ill-considered, squat office buildings devoid of any charm. Massive sports arenas bring us together, but they definitely weren't designed to rival the Sistine Chapel. Any way we can bring a little care back into the way we construct things is a balm to the system.

Women in ancient cultures long adorned themselves with gemstones, silks, and other highly prized materials. It's a tribute to the precious gift of our humanity to take care when it comes to how we present ourselves.

Sociologists argue the plight of those in under-served communities is worsened by their surroundings. Low-income neighborhoods often lack trees, parks, gardens. Their dwellers are robbed of aesthetic pleasure.

We know, through our own experience, access to nature, pleasing architecture, the right outfit--they all raise our moods. And a better mood equals more energy to come up with new solutions to problems (like why we can live on a planet so rich in resources and still create systems in which certain people are forced to live in harsh surroundings). Visually pleasing environments and ornamentation matter.

2) Taking care to select the right outfit makes us more confident.

There's a reason we want a new outfit for exciting events in our lives. But the ordinariness of the times in between is made even more ordinary by our neglect around our self-presentation.

This is not about running out to buy a bunch of new clothes. It's about taking care. There are clothes in your closet right now that can feel like adornment. Maybe taking more care means slowing down to hang and fold clothes properly, or to steam them. Or just to take a second to appreciate them. Maybe it means pulling out some of the old jewelry you never touch rather than just throwing on the earrings you wear every day.

We often think looking "professional" means conforming to someone else's ideas. I once interviewed the General Counsel of a major global telecommunications company. She stood out because she had long, un-styled hair and a baggier dress. Though as recruiters, we were paid to evaluate the executive presence and polish of a person, we did not think twice about this in her case. Why?

This woman was comfortable and it came through. She wasn't trying to be what she was not. Did she conform earlier in her career, to climb the ladder, and then relax once she made it to the top? I don't know, but her comfort in her own skin was working for her by the time she made it to our office. I'm all for "professionalism" in the workplace, and I understand there have to be certain guidelines, but there may be room for you to experiment and wear what actually works for you.

Kundalini Yogis have long known the colors we wear affect our projection. They wear white to expand the aura and have a bigger impact. (You can learn more about this here). Blue is said to align to the throat chakra, and improve verbal communication. You've seen the studies about men finding women in red more attractive (information you are free to take or leave). But don't take any one else's word for it. See how different colors affect your experience.

3) Showcasing our personal style is an act of taking our power back.

At various times I've been told my clothes are too tight, or too baggy. There is so much pressure to dress a certain way. If you work in a business formal environment, you're likely even encouraged to cut and style your hair to conform to rigid ideas. Magazines tell us which trends are in and out, or even how we're supposed to dress for our age. Many of us find this so exhausting we give up entirely.

No one can tell you what works for you. You may feel glamorous in a Gap t-shirt. Or better, you may not care to feel glamorous at all. Maybe you want to feel unburdened and ready to work. The point is to be aware of how the way you dress affects you.

We seem to have two options when it comes to personal style: keep up feverishly with the trends, or opt out entirely as a way to keep our sanity and wallets intact.

I'm arguing for a third. Tune out all the advice that tells you how you have to look. Listen only to your intuition when it tells you what feels good. Wear that. Take a few extra minutes every morning to carefully consider what you want to put on. Notice if that gives you any more energy throughout the day.

Relax into how you get dressed. Wear something you haven't in a while, or something you've been saving for a special occasion. Wear the same thing five times in a week, if it brings you joy. Dress only in denim cutoffs, if it makes you feel more you and more alive. Wear bright colors if you think you can only wear black. Allow your clothes not to be so tailored. Or invest in tailoring if it will make you feel more pulled together!

Of all the cities I lived in, San Francisco was the toughest when it came to sartorial expression. One reason is because it was not okay to "try hard" when it came to dressing. There was a uniform: army jackets and jeans. There is nothing wrong with this look, but there was little room for range or self-expression. (Or rather, I let it quash my own self-expression. Of course, I could have done whatever I wanted, had I had the confidence).

Clothes and Over-Consumption

Any discussion around consumption is fraught. I know this well. Three years ago, my friend and I started a sustainable fashion subscription box called Weve. We watched the documentary True Cost, which outlines the terrible cost of fast fashion, and were moved to act.

However, we quickly found that ethically made clothing is prohibitively expensive, and and looking down on those who want to adorn themselves but can't always buy premium materials (so, most of us) is not the answer.

I'm intrigued by the clothes renting trend as a method to reduce waste. If you're evolved enough to NOT need to wear new clothes all the time (I'm admittedly not there yet), you can of course invest in pieces from sustainable brands and hold onto them forever, or shop at thrift stores.

What do you think? Would you be happier in a normcore capsule wardrobe you never have to think about? Or do you enjoy dressing creatively? Maybe a mix of both? I'd love to hear from you.

To receive my writing directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

bottom of page