3 Style Truths I’ve Embraced

On our family’s trip around the world a few years ago, I remember pausing one afternoon as I repacked my backpack for the billionth time. We were checking out of our Venice, Italy guesthouse, and I suddenly realized that I’d worn one of my shirts only once, way back in China (the first country we visited). I’d been lugging it around for six months by then.

Not a huge deal to not have worn a shirt once out of six months when I’m at home with a closet, but when every square inch in my pack mattered? And when every article of clothing should be a powerhouse staple (because I’ve only got 3-4 shirts to begin with)? It was categorically ridiculous I was still lugging this shirt around the world.

I realized I wasn’t wearing it because: one, the color wasn’t right for me, and two, it was way too big. It made me feel frumpy and sloppy. And all things being equal, I’d choose the other three shirts every time.

So, I left it at the guesthouse, fingers crossed the owner would either want it for herself, could leave it in the guesthouse for a future renter to claim, or would know where to donate it in Venice. And I never looked back in regret, wishing I’d kept that shirt.


before our trip, me trying to narrow down what to pack…

I was already fairly decent at decluttering and not having too much stuff in general. But that shirt was a reminder that I still hadn’t yet embraced who I was, what I really liked, and what sort of style made me feel most like myself.

This was almost four years ago. I’m still a work in progress in this department, of course (this is lifelong, not an I’ve-arrived thing), but I’ve gotten much, much better at knowing what works on me, and, more important — what style I actually like.

Most of my life, I’ve been fairly low-maintenance when it comes to beauty, style, and fashion. I care about those things, just not enough to invest a lot of time and money, you know?

But a few years ago, I finally admitted to myself that not only do I care about this type of self-care, but it also doesn’t make me shallow or silly that I do. And in fact, caring about things like wearing stuff that actually fits, knowing what colors work on me, and enjoying something as otherwise benign like shoes? They can actually contribute to my betterment as a human.

Here are a few things I’ve embraced since then (and especially since I turned 40 a little over a year ago):

1. No one thinks about me as much as I think about me.

Really and truly. And this is true for you, too. I can wonder and fret whether these jeans make my butt look weird, or if everyone’s wondering why my hair is doing that thing, but the truth is, most everyone is obsessing over the same things about themselves.

Sure, it’s good to care about what colors and shapes work well on my body type, but do it because it makes me feel good and comfortable, not because I think everyone around me will have to shield themselves from blindness if I don’t do it right.

No one cares that much how you look — in a good way, of course. If they like you as a human, they probably already think you look lovely.

2. Study myself (without critiquing, if I can help it).

A few years ago I went through Stasia’s Style School as a 40th birthday present to myself, and the most important thing I learned was how to understand my body type. By then, I already had a grasp on what style I liked, but it was still a challenge to know how to apply it to my short, somewhat-curvy body.

It was such a good experience to learn the cuts, curves, and silhouette of my body without judgement or shame. Stasia’s well-known for saying, “Your body is not the problem — it’s the clothes.” When I learned that I’m a slightly-inverted triangle, and that meant certain things about what shapes work well on me — well, it became so much easier to pick clothes that worked for me. (It actually helped explain the why behind certain clothes I already knew looked weird on my body.)

My point is that it’s helpful to understand your body and its nuances without assigning a moral equivalent to things as arbitrary as waistline, the shape of your jaw, or skin tone. Heck, you might even start to embrace these things as gifts, even if they’re not classically “ideal” in our very specific time and place in world history.

3. Just try things. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t work out.

On a date with Kyle last week, I asked him if he still liked my short hair (as a reminder, I also got a pixie cut as part of my turning-forty celebration; before then I had fairly long hair).

He smiled and said, “Yes, mostly because I love how it makes you feel. …But if I’m honest, I feel like this last cut wasn’t the best, and I feel horrible for even thinking that.” He then hid his face in mock-shame.

I laughed and said, “Oh my gosh, I’ve felt the same way. This last haircut was just off, and I’ve been messing with my hair constantly, trying to figure out what’s wrong with it.” I was so glad he felt the same way. (I officially plan to head to my stylist this week to get it trimmed and straightened out.)

I’d wanted to try a pixie cut for years before finally going to the salon and asking for one. It was mildly terrifying because I had no idea how it would look on me. Would my ears stick out funny? Would I discover my head was oddly-shaped? Basically, would I regret the cut as soon as the stylist spun the chair around to face the mirror?

Turns out, all was fine. Even better than fine, actually — I felt like I found a side of myself that had wanted to come out and play for decades. I loved the cut, and still do.

I have no idea if I’ll keep a pixie long-term (lately I’ve been daydreaming about a fun bob a la F. Scott Fitzgerald era), but that’s not the point here. My point is that I’d never know if I could even pull off a pixie until I tried one.

The same is true, of course, about wearing lemon yellow, or high-waist pants, or strappy clogs, or buttoning that top button of your shirt. Or dying your hair pink.

Yes, don’t be reckless with your budget, or needlessly buy fast fashion or unhealthy beauty products. But in all this — it’s just fashion. It’s just beauty. It’s meant to be experimented with, played around with.

Why not try something new? At worst, you’ll learn you don’t like the thing you tried. At best, you’ll discover a new side of yourself that might have been wanting to come out and play.

This Friday, I’m chatting on the podcast with my friend, Christine, who’s also sharing wisdom she’s gleaned from recently turning 40. I’m talking about hair and skincare routines I’ve recently embraced that make me feel more like myself.

Because that’s my ultimate goal in all of this …I care more about feeling good in my body than impressing people that are wondering simultaneously if I’m impressed with them.

Your turn: What style for yourself have you come to embrace lately?

p.s. Here’s our Ethical Shopping Guide — you might find it useful.

• Listen to the podcast episode about this post

top photo: Katherine Hepburn wearing jeans on set, like the fashion-forward icon she was

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30 Comments

  1. Anna

    I love #1. It really is the most freeing truth in multiple areas of life.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Same! And beyond style/fashion as well.. How I spend my time, parenting choices, etc. No one’s really paying that much attention to me — hallelujah! ?

  2. Emily

    I have recently switched to wearing maxi length, empire waist dresses. I’ve had issues with pants and finding styles that I liked on me (and then finding the right shirts, etc). I slowly started wearing simple long dresses on days besides Sundays this winter and I don’t think I’ll turn back. I can do most housework (there’s yoga pants for everything else), run errands, sit on the floor or play at the park with my kids, in a dress, so why not? I feel comfortable and feel like I look good, have fewer decisions to make, and it’s been wonderful.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Love it!

    • Carol

      Emily,

      Any brands you would recommend? I’ve been searching for a dress like that for a while, but have yet to find any that work well for me. Thanks!

  3. Crystal

    This past summer I was pregnant and couldn’t figure out why I didn’t feel content with any of my clothes. They all fit and we’re technically my style, but everyday I just felt like something was missing. Finally I had an epiphany-I had run out of pink toned clothes that fit. Just a touch of Fuscia, pink or purple tones give me a ping of happiness. So now every outfit gets a little pink ping Even if it’s just a pair of earrings or my nails painted or my lipstick. And now I easily narrow down my shopping online by pink and purple tones shirts and I’ve never been happier with my wardrobe!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      What a fun revelation, Crystal! (I’ve actually heard that every skin tone looks good in eggplant purple… not sure if that’s true! ?‍♀️)

      • Crystal

        What a fun thing to know especially if you’re trying to gift someone clothes. That’s one of the colts I like to get for my mom.

  4. Renee

    Love this! I have been working at decluttering my closet for a long time now-mostly getting rid of the things that I want to like, but are the ones that I end up changing into something else every time I try them on. I’m trying to find a daily “uniform” of sorts of well made clothes that fit well, but I’m also having to embrace the body changed by 5 babies.

  5. Kristen

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. I am way to hard on myself, my looks, my body. I went thru a closet with old clothes the other day and found dresses that were size two’s and four’s……I am no longer that size…….I made me so depressed.

    I am 48 and feel like I haven’t really found my style yet. I struggle every day. I’m back into a consistent exercise routine and I love it so I hope I can reap more of those benefits rather soon.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  6. Lisa

    Oh no!!! I went to little footprints from the link and it was XXX.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Not sure which link you’re referring to, Lisa… Is it in the post?

      • KC

        If it’s XXX, I don’t want to see it, but there’s a Little Footprints link under the Toys section of the ethical shopping guide (and there’s no comment space on the guide), so that may be what this commenter is referring to?

        • Tsh Oxenreider

          Ah! Thank you so much — we’ll take care of this asap.

  7. Kimberly

    I’ve arrived at my style formula:
    50% J. Jill pieces that are classic/modest/feminine/comfortable + 50% anything Lorelai Gilmore = me at 33

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! Love it.

  8. Marissa

    Thanks for sharing!! I had wanted to hear about your experience with Stacia’s Style School, and I am also trying to embrace my style and beauty care as a means to feel good and feel more like myself! It’s encouraging to feel like we are all in his together!

    • Marissa

      Also, to answer the question, I’ve been embracing my signature color more! I have always loved wearing Navy blue and feel most like myself when I am. People have made comments, but I’ve decided if I wear a different navy blue shirt everyday it’s not a problem, calling it my signature color seems to legitimize it. Ha!

      • Tsh Oxenreider

        It was a big moment for when I realized I look better in navy blue than black, so I get what you mean, Marissa!

      • Crystal

        I love the idea of claiming my favorite color fuscia as my signature color! I’m totally stealing this!

  9. Susan J Berke

    #1 and #3, but really all resonated!

    I turned 50 about 2 years ago and when I turned 49, I challenged myself to try 5 new things each month leading up to my 50th birthday. At first that seemed daunting and expensive, but what I quickly found an attitude shift more than anything. I noticed new-to-me things that I’d never noticed before and a daily sense of wonder, joy and adventure – along with gratitude. I’ve kept the practice, and of course, I journal the new things I notice. (:

    #3 led me to #1, where I cared less about what people thought of me, and more about how I was discovering myself and the world each day. I also have never been very high-maintenance, but I’ve discovered a new gratitude for my body and a level of self-confidence I didn’t have prior.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      What a great perspective, Susan — thank you for sharing your story!

  10. Rachel Nordgren

    Yessss! We recently got back from 13 months of traveling Europe and it taught me so much about my personal style…among other things, ha! Something that I’ve learned is that I am happiest in clothes that are made entirely from natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool, silk, etc.), or at least have a high percentage of natural fibers. In general, I’ve found that this makes it easier to shop for clothes (there are fewer options once you cut out polyester!) and that my clothes look better and last longer. It’s normally a bit more up front, but the cost is worth it in the long run for me!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s a really great lesson to learn, Rachel… And I get what you mean completely. xoxo

  11. Pamela

    I love this! I recently tried jeggings and love them with long shirts/sweaters! And next time I head to my stylist I’m getting bangs cut that I plan to wear curly, just to see…

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Curly bangs are super in right now, Pamela! At least, from what I can tell from my high school students. 😉

  12. KC

    I’m torn, because I wear my favorite things all the way out and at some point they’re pilly/thin/holey enough that they die (sometimes not without patching, but even patches can’t make something last forever), and then I’m sad about it. So, part of me wants to mostly wear clothes that I feel neutral-but-mildly-positive about so that when they rip, eh, fine, whatever, rag bag time, totally replaceable and keep the favorites for those days when favorites are especially needed. If I could have all favorites all the time, with replacements happening magically as/before they’re needed, that would be really really fun – but I’m not adequately devoted to shopping to pull that off (weird body type, weird preferences, very picky = favorites are unicorns both in regular stores and in thrift stores, and I don’t live near a Garment District where you can go good-fabric shopping, so making things myself isn’t an option unless I buy fabric online, and generally you can’t feel fabric online before you buy it).

    I do wear my favorites – but my very favorite shirt (comfortable! soft! flattering in color! cute details!) is now getting pilly and thin, and… sigh.

  13. Cindy Clough

    I realized #1 several years ago when I first experimented with Project 333; it was quite freeing to realize no one – not even my elementary students commented on my wearing the same outfits (and they comment on EVERYTHING). As for #2 – I am starting to realize just what I prefer. I really like wearing dresses – but I prefer them to have pockets…. I don’t carry a purse. I am going to try something different & look at Stasia’s Style School.

  14. Christine Bailey

    LOVING this. I think it’s so healthy to be able to evaluate our bodies without shame or assigning a moral equivalent, like you said, and truly find what works best for the shape and size and features we already have. So freeing! You’re inspiring me to buy something yellow. I always choose it as my favorite color, but I own ZERO yellow clothing. But I have olive skin so it might work? 🙂 Time to try it!

  15. Brittany

    Such a great post! I used to fret about what I was wearing so much but as I’ve gotten older I’ve cared so much less and want what’s comfortable and flattering. After having 3 kids and fluctuating sizes for so long I did a big clean out this past fall and only kept what I really liked and fit well. After that I also found having less to choose from so much easier and kind of funny bc I wear basically the same things all the time anyways. I’ve really been reading about ethical shopping and really am interested in embracing that more. My thing this winter so far as been a puffer vest. I live in Colorado but most of time am just going in and out of places, so a heavy jacket is hot as soon as you are inside. Then you have to carry it or put it in your cart or just burn up. I’ve found it keeps my core warm and is comfortable enough inside that I forget I’m wearing it! I used to think they looked too outdoorsy/mountain woman like on me LOL but it’s come to be staple!

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