The Stories Our Clothes Tell

Stylist is viewing a burnt orange shirt with a young woman who is her client. They are standing in front of a clothes rack in a retail store.
Our wardrobes are the storybook of our lives.


Think about it; all of our wardrobe choices are perfect reflections of where we were at the time of purchasing. The start of a relationship, a job interview, an event, starting over. Yet many of us aren’t proud of the wardrobe choices we make. Many of them feel they are not quite exact representations of how we would like to see ourselves. There can often be a disconnect between what we would like to be wearing and what we are wearing.

Some of the choices feel like “this will do”, or are made under duress, or out of panic. Sometimes we buy something based on a shop assistants’ recommendation as we desperately search for encouragement that we are on the right track. The shop assistant may not have been present and connected to what we needed, or we may not have been clear with the shop assistant what we needed or wanted; probably because we honestly didn’t know.

What underlies these ‘not quite right’ decisions is a lack of confidence how to buy clothes that are right for us. This is a common issue. We wander around stores hoping for the pieces to jump out at us. When it doesn’t, we feel frustrated, overwhelmed by the current trends on repeat, which are often exclusive to a small percentage of the population. Shopping is considered to be something that everyone should be able to execute well because it is accessible and necessary for us all to manage. How many of us feel we shop ‘well’? In the same way that eating is a necessary and daily requirement, it doesn’t automatically grant access to being a great cook.  Shopping is a necessary thing but just because it is necessary does NOT mean that it is automatically something we figure out.

The point that is missed, is that shopping is a skill. A legitimate, tangible and certifiable skill. I know it is certifiable because I am certified in it. I have a Masters Certificate in Professional Styling from the Australian Institute of Style in Melbourne.

Yet many of us loathe shopping and feel punished by the experience. We have money to spend yet can’t seem to get exactly the piece that makes us zing. So how do we come to be skilled at shopping? Like any skill acquisition process, we need to invest a concentrated amount of time, focus and money to learn, usually from someone who already has said skills.

My top 3 tip to help you shop like a pro.


Step 1. Go through your existing wardrobe.

As difficult and benign as it may seem; go through your wardrobe and identify what is already there. You will likely notice that you have some repeating items that you are comfortable wearing, and you continue to buy similar versions of them.

Make a note not to buy a variation of the same thing again unless all the other ones need replacing.

Step 2. Consider your current lifestyle needs.

Are you working the same amount of hours you used to? Are you participating in different activities? Has your body changed? Have you moved? Have you recently had a milestone birthday? All of these are reasons to check in with what we are actually doing with our time and the clothes we are needing to be prepared and well dressed for these situations.

Step 3. Identify the gaps between your current lifestyle and what’s wearable in your wardrobe.

Today. The one constant in life is change; no doubt your life has changed at least some in the last 12 months. Different job, new partner, another child, different mindset, different shape, new hobby OR the desire for all of these things. The desire alone can put you in a transitional state which required us to leave behind old versions and embrace new visions or actualities of ourselves. Our clothes distinctly tell these stories.

So, with your current lifestyle in mind and your wardrobe before you; write a list of the things you need. Perhaps you are going to the gym regularly and need the right kind of activewear. Perhaps the culture and style of your new workplace is more casual, and you need to find the space between corporate wear and pub clothes. Maybe you lack basics, a plain t-shirt, a neutral well-tailored blazer, underwear with no holes, neutral well-fitting pants, a versatile pair of shoes.

Or perhaps there are just some pieces you’ve always wanted to buy and have never allowed yourself. Write them down.

By this point, you might have a list of 5-7 items that fill the gaps in your wardrobe, provide wearable options and give you a focus when you go shopping.

For example;
  1. Tailored black pants
  2. Neutral basic short and long sleeve tees
  3. Quality pair of jeans
  4. Ankle socks
  5. New underwear
  6. Basic business shirt

The magic of a written list, either digital or virtual (I keep one on my Notes app) has a physiological affect. It opens the eyes to see what we are looking for in the shop. I’ve mentioned the reticular activating system we all have. Essentially, what we focus on, we see. If you are only focused on (either subconsciously or consciously) that which you’ve already seen (i.e. your existing wardrobe), that is all you will see. If, however, you have interrupt these images with a list of new items and start picturing in your mind what those items look like, you will be much more likely to see these items amongst the ocean of clothes available to you when you are shopping.

A friend of mine was complaining bitterly on the weekend to me on the weekend about how she had an unlimited budget and could not find anything that she wanted. I would have shared with her the above useful information but honestly, at the time she was just too frustrated. And the frustration is real. We need clothes and it’s a debilitating paradox when we can be standing in a store and see nothing we want or like.

Try the above tips and you will hopefully be inching toward feeling more empowered when you are shopping.

The idea is that, as we acknowledge that we need to learn the skill of shopping and begin to refine our skills, we can more easily connect who we see ourselves with what we see in the mirror. This hopefully equates to the stories our clothes tell to be current, interesting, relevant and an expressive narrative for where we are and want to be.


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