I was raised in Los Angeles by a designer for Pauline Trigère, but now I live in rural Ohio. I took a long break from fashion after escaping a domestic violence situation; jeans and T-shirts, and no makeup was my “disguise.” I’m tired of this, and would really like to figure out a new style. I go back and forth between eclectic and classic, like the look of thrift shopping (but where I live that’s mostly Walmart castoffs), and don’t want to seem frumpy. Would you be willing to give me some tips? — Sheri, Chillicothe, Ohio
First, it is truly impressive that you had the strength to escape a bad situation, and second, congratulations on rebuilding your life.
I know that in such a situation clothes can seem like the least of the matter, but they are among the most intimate ways we reveal ourselves to those around us (they do, after all, intermediate between our skin and the outside world).
It sounds as if you were raised in an environment of high, possibly didactic, style; have been in something of a chrysalis for a few years, becoming a new, more independent version of yourself; and are now ready to emerge. Dress is a big part of how you signal that to the community around yourself, and wanting to step out of the shadows and celebrate this is brave.
Indeed, celebration, confidence and liberty may be the best ways to think about what you might want to convey. Whatever you end up wearing, the key is that it should be comfortable, both physically and emotionally, and make you feel seen in the way that you want. So how do you find that?
I asked the stylists Kesha McLeod, who works with Serena Williams (among other athletes) and Alexandra Mandelkorn (Janelle Monáe, Jurnee Smollett), what they might advise.
The first thing to realize is: Self-expression through clothing doesn’t have to mean getting gussied up in crazy colors and feathers. One extreme to the other is not the answer. Your current wardrobe of dress-down basics is actually a great starting point, because it means you can experiment with adding an accessory (try sunglasses and scarves) here, a cool print there, for a pretty powerful effect without a lot of commitment.
Ms. Mandelkorn said: “Why choose between classic and eclectic? On days when you’re feeling more low key, go with your vintage jeans, a white button down and loafers — and add a leather jacket. When you’re feeling a bit spicier, trade out that white button down for a colorful printed blouse, paired with those jeans. And when you really want to let loose, pull out some printed pants or a sparkly sweater.”
(It’s hard to go wrong with a simple gray or black sweater with a bit of sparkle, either through beading or sequins; there’s something about the contrast between plain and fancy that makes it impossible to pigeonhole but almost always appropriate.)
According to Ms. McLeod, “another great hack is playing with different shapes and sizes; for example, pairing an oversized jacket or coat with a more relaxed fitted base.”
Vintage stores are a great place to start for just such an item, which is both protective and cool. Just because there aren’t great thrift stores near you doesn’t mean finding such pieces at a realistic budget is impossible. The rise in online resale means you can access options at a variety of price points.
Ms. Mandelkorn suggests exploring Poshmark, Etsy and Depop. “You can even submit offers to the sellers and get things way below the asking price,” she said. “It takes some digging, but that’s kind of the fun of it.” And fun, when it comes to fashion, should be the operative word.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.
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