I Don’t Have Style or Fashion Sense. What is Wrong With Me?

I Don't Have StyleWhen I was a freshman in high school I flunked Algebra and had to spend the time between my freshman and sophomore year taking it again in summer school.   I barely eked by that summer and then finished the first quarter of my sophomore year failing Algebra II.   Sadly, being a match flunky was nothing new for me.   In the third grade my parents kept change on the kitchen table and would quiz me every morning over breakfast because my brain just couldn’t grasp the concept of counting money and, because I had a horrible struggle with telling time, they would also pull the kitchen clock off the wall every night after dinner in an attempt to teach me this simple lesson that my brain just couldn’t grasp.

I’ve never been officially diagnosed but I believe I have dyscalculia, which is the mathematical equivalent of Dyslexia and difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as challenges in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, and learning math facts.  Seriously, if you want to torture me start a sentence with “A train leaves Chicago at 12pm and…”.   As an adult, I’ve learned to cope with my mathematical shortcomings, including using a calculator, triple checking anything I do involving math and making my husband make the change when the food delivery guy arrives.

I don't have style I tell you this story not to embarrass myself but to make a point because I’ve been asked on many occasions if I believe that some people are born with style and others aren’t.  Expecting me to say that I don’t believe that everyone is born with style (because one trip to a Walmart would definitely back up this belief), people are often surprised to hear that I actually believe that everyone is born with style.  Yes, you heard me, I believe that everyone has style.

Now, if you are reading this because you think you don’t have a style or that you too have been in enough Walmarts in the fly over states to think my belief about style is ridiculous, let me explain further.  Saying that someone can be born without style is the equivalent of saying that someone can be born without a personality.  It’s impossible.  However, while I believe that everyone is born with style, I also believe that the difference between a person who has a natural ability to be stylish and someone doesn’t is simply that some people have an easier time with it and others don’t.  Just like I am challenged with math someone can be challenged with style.  But to say that the stylishly challenged person doesn’t have style is not true.

Going back to the end of the first quarter of Algebra II my sophomore year, when I was failing yet another math class, I remember making the decision that I would not fail again.  As luck would have it, my Algebra II teacher was an extremely committed educator.  Everyday after school she stayed an hour for anyone who wanted to stop by for extra help. I decided to start going and did so every single day.    With all the extra work I did I managed to get a B in Algebra II when report cards came out and never had to take it in summer school.  Yet, even with the extra help I struggled tremendously to get what some of my classmates aced with no extra effort.

I believe that there is a lot of pressure put on women to just get fashion and style, as if it is supposed to be coded somewhere in our DNA to like and be fashionable.  When a woman notices that she isn’t naturally predisposed towards being stylish it’s easy to think there is something wrong.  Let me assure you, if you struggle, there is nothing wrong with you.  It’s just not something you aren’t as naturally predisposed to, that’s all, and that’s okay.  In fact, if it is any consolation, given how many women I’ve worked with over the years, I’d say you’re more the norm than the exception.

If I don’t have style how do I get it?

#1 Accept it

If you have identified yourself as stylishly challenged there are a few things you can do to help yourself.  The first is to stop beating yourself up over the fact that this is hard for you.  So style doesn’t come naturally to you, so what?  Math doesn’t come easily to me.  Accept this and move on.

#2 Create ways that work for how you work

I have some clients who have been with me for years.  One in particular stands out in my mind as I write this.  This client cannot put an outfit together to save her life and she knows it.  One of the services I offer, and she takes great advantage of, is a session where I style looks using the items in a client’s closet and photograph those looks as a reference tool for the client to use after I am gone.  Usually, once a client has worked with me long enough they start to become more independent and, over time, develop the ability to style themselves relatively well without my help.  But not this client.  Even after nine years of working with her client lacks the ability to put an outfit together one her own.  She just can’t do it and has years of photo albums recording every single outfit I have styled with her.  Yes, my client may struggle but she is smart enough to know that she does and to figured out how to cope and create strategies to help her.

What you need to do is figure out your method for developing your own style.  I have some more analytical clients create spreadsheets and charts to figure out their outfits, others who take copious notes that hang in their closets, and one who looks at creating an outfit like cooking and adding ingredients because she has a nutrition background.

Just like I struggle with math, the only way to overcome something is to accept that it’s a challenge and then find shortcuts, coping strategies and ways to make it make sense to you.

#3- Style has nothing to do with fashion

I don't have style  If you struggle with style and have been pressuring yourself to create an interest in fashion, even though you you’d rather not, I want you to stop.  This is probably the most important tip I can give you: Style has nothing to do with fashion.   Fashion and style are two totally different things.  Style is a distinctive form of expression and fashion is simply the tool you use to express it.

Think about the most recognizable style icons that you would identify as stylish.  In most cases, what makes these people stylish is not so much in what they wear but in the seamless alignment created between their inner and outer selves.  Take someone like Steve Jobs, for example.  The man basically wore a black turtleneck and jeans every single day.  There was nothing overly fashionable or trendy about this look but it is something that will always be seen as iconic and memorable.  In fact, check out all these iconic fashion designers who are also in good company with Steve Jobs with singular looks that aren’t exactly trendy but are very memorable.  In addition, for even more thoughts on style having nothing to do with fashion you can read my thoughts here.

#4- Educate yourself

As frustrating and unfair as it seems, image is important.  In fact, it is one  of the biggest ways we’re perceived by others.  This is why most women come to me in transition, particularly career transition.  They’re smart enough to know that in order to get where they want to go their style need to be in alignment with that goal.  My job is to not only help them create a style that will get them there but do it in a way that encapsulates their inner selves outwardly.

Not everyone has the budget for a personal style consultation which is why I started this blog.  My goal has always been to give down -to-earth and sound advice about how to get dressed.  While I hope you consider me a valued resource, here are additional things you can do.

I don't have style Finding your personal style is a very visceral and instinctual experience.  Style is found beneath the chatter of the mind, the worry if something is trendy and the panic of whether the style is right for the body.  Style is a reaction, it can’t be thought about. This is why I created the magazine exercise.  Go through catalogs and magazines and to pull out images that you respond to.  The important part about this exercise is that you need to respond quickly to an image.  If you spend more than five seconds looking at something pull it out save it.  The images don’t necessarily have to be fashion and they can be anything from products to architecture to a landscape.  After you done pulling out images lay them out in front of you and just look a them.  You may start to notice themes, connections in all the images or repetition.  This is what you want to pay attention to because this is your style trying to talk to you.  If you don’t trust yourself enough, ask a friend to look at all the images you pulled and give their opinion on what they see.

Another way to do this is to use Pinterest.  Go through fashion images on Pinterest and repin anything and everything that draws your eye (side note: you can follow me on Pinterest here).  If you stop, pin it and when you’re through go through the same exercise you would with the magazine exercise.  If you wonder if this works, I will tell you that after years of doing this my clients I’ve never had a client not pull exactly what their style is.  It’s quite remarkable, actually.  They’ll hand me a stack of magazine images and feel like the failed and when I look at them I am able to see their style staring me right in the face.

Lastly, talk to other women who you find stylish and ask them for help.  Recently a woman hired me after asking a stylishly dressed colleague how she always managed to look so pulled together.  Turns out this stylish woman was a client of mine years ago and was happy to share my info as a resource.  Fashionable and stylish women aren’t nearly as smug and snooty as the media tends to portray them.  In fact I think any woman would be flattered if another woman asked them their style secrets.

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
– Martha Graham

Now go get your style.  It’s waiting for you.

 

 

  • A.P.

    Bridgette: Thanks so much for this piece! It really speaks to me, and I’m going to try the magazine exercise for sure. One thing I wonder, though — when you mention the style icons (including Steve Jobs) and say “There was nothing overly fashionable or trendy about this look but it is
    something that will always be seen as iconic and memorable”, do you think it’s something inherent in their style, or is it more because they are photographed much more than the average person and viewed again and again? If they become familiar to us visually, is that what makes them iconic and memorable? Just a thought that popped this morning; wondered what your thoughts are. Thanks!

    • HI! Thanks so much for the comment! You know, that is a really great question about Steve Jobs and whether he was iconic or just photographed a lot. I think it is a little of both and even if he wasn’t Steve Jobs, and just a guy who wore a turtleneck and jeans everyday, it would still be his look. He certainly wouldn’t be iconic because in order to be an icon you have to be well known, but, either way, it seems like he found his groove and stuck with it. I think many of do that or go through phases that really work for us. I remember going through this slim turtleneck and jeans phase, myself. I think style has a lot more to do with finding what works for you, makes you feel like who you are comes through clearly and gives you the comfort to feel like you can express yourself.

      • A.P.

        Thanks, Bridgette! I confess that prior to a couple months ago, my only sources for style inspiration were the magazines. Then I found style blogs, such as yours, and my life has changed! I can’t believe what an education I’ve gotten in such a short time, and how I’ve really overhauled how I approach my existing wardrobe, shopping habits, and putting outfits together. Got a long way to go, but it feels great to be heading in a more clearly defined direction! Thanks again!

        • I am so glad to hear this!!! I think magazines serve a purpose but rarely educate. I am glad you have found more helpful resources!!

  • Amy H.

    I’m “just” a mom, wanting to look as cute and pulled together as I feel :). Thankful for your tips and strategies to get me started.

    • Absolutely!!!! Anything I can do to help please let me know!!!! You’re in safe and supportive territory here!

    • Meredith Poppler

      Hi Amy. Never ever begin a description of yourself with “just”.

      • Meredith, thanks for the wonderful suggestion, nobody is “just” anything!!!

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  • Ruth Carroll

    Dyscalculia –thank you–there is a word for what I have struggled with all my life!!! Really!!! I can speak four languages but the concepts of time, economics, formulas have always been so alien to me. I always chalked it up to being a Sagitarius….

    • Hi Ruth! You are so welcome! I totally feel your pain. I am an intelligent woman with a pretty high IQ but when it comes to math my brain just can’t grasp it. I don’t know if you can get officially diagnosed with dyscalculia, but even if I am not officially dycalculic, there is definitely some mis-wiring in my brain! Isn’t it funny that you got your math troubles answered on a fashion blog? Who would have thunk it?

  • Ava Stone

    I know 100% what you mean about math! I have struggled my whole life with it. I have had tutors every year I was in school (even college) and still scraped by with Ds. I wanted to do well in math so badly, but it is just so foreign to me. As soon as I start to do a math problem in my head the numbers literally disappear like smoke in my mind and I can’t see them. I am sure I also have dyscalculia as I have all the signs.No matter how well I understood a concept, the next day all the rules would be jumbled in my head, or I would divide instead of multiply and not notice the mistake. I just wish there was more knowledge in schools about it. It still makes me shiver with terror to this day! Great fashion Blog! I need all the help with fashion I can get!

    • It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I can look at a number and be convinced I see it a certain way and it is totally wrong. Thanks for visiting my blog, I hope you stick around!

  • April

    This is an old post, but I hope you still see my comment and can help answer my question.

    What if the styles (fashion?) that you’re drawn to in magazines or on Pinterest don’t suit your body type? If I were lanky and flat chested I would know just how I’d dress myself, because I’ve seen so many great examples and have absorbed those “lessons.” But I’m very hour-glassy and a touch chubby (mostly in my stomach and thighs). Those outfits that make me think “wow!” or “I know how to do that” make me look so fat, like I’m wearing a tent or a muumuu.

    • Hi April, No worries, I still get notifications on any post, even if it is old. Your situation isn’t uncommon as most women are not built like models. Speaking for myself, I am a curvy woman who certainly doesn’t look like a fashion model and my clients often have the same problem. What you want to do is not look at images too literally. Look at the color combinations, look to the silhouette in a more general way. So, for example, if the outfit is a pair of skinny jeans and a crop top, let’s say, figure out what that would be for your body shape. Perhaps that skinny pair of jeans and crop top for you is a pair of boot cut jeans and a great sweater that captures the essence of the feeling in the look you are drawn too. Look at the accessories, the mood of the image and the style. Is the style modern, or classic or boho, for example. You want to look less at the exact outfit if it won’t work for your body and, instead, look at how you can interpret it for your shape, lifestyle, and personal goals. Few can wear what is in a magazine but there is always a way to draw inspiration from it. If you look at everything you pull there is a good chance you can find some workable themes in most images and make them your own. I hope that helps!! Thanks for your question!

      • April

        That makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure if I’m skilled enough to see past the literal, but I’ll try. Thank you!

  • Maneera Saxena Behl

    Bridgette —- You’re a Genius!