Many of my clients tell me they can't figure out their style, or say they don't have one. Neither are true. We all have a style - we just have to be brave enough find it. Finding your unique personal style is more than just vision boards, channeling your favorite style blogger, fashion influencer, or powerful female icon. Yes, getting into vision about the woman you want to become and be in this world is an essential step. but I believe that the second step is even more crucial. And that second step is to name what's holding you back from realizing that style.
And here's a sampling of things I hear my clients say, and other women I talk to, that are working against them when it comes to their style (without even realizing it):
"As a mom, I should look like... "
"I can't be stylish at my size."
"Everyone in my company dresses like this, so I should too."
"I’m 40 now, so I should wear…"
"Shorts are for 20 year olds."
"I can't show my legs."
"I can’t be beautiful or have a style at my size."
"My mom told me that a proper lady wears..."
"Women should be feminine."
Notice all the "shoulds" and "can'ts" in those statements? And this is exactly what keeps us stuck. Keeps us stuck in believing that professional women, or moms, or women of a certain age or size should look a certain way. In reality, none of those things are true.
My life and leadership coach, Kelli Thompson, refers to these self-deprecating thoughts as "expensive thoughts." And these expensive thoughts limit our potential significantly, leading to self-sabotage and poor behaviors, such as:
Dressing for the purpose of fitting in or being liked.
Hiding behind “appropriate” clothes for fear of standing out, showing your true colors.
Lack of confidence… not owning who you are, or your body.
Conforming to what you think other people want, and losing yourself.
UGH. If you feel called out right now, that's ok. I can't think of a single woman who hasn't self-sabotaged in some shape or form as it relates to their body and style. The good news is: There is a way out. The sooner we can throw those old expectations, rules and cultural norms about our style out the window, the better off we will be.
So let's talk about the 3 common things I see that hold women back from claiming their true style...
#1 Your Inner Critic
This is the #1 way I see women sabotaging themselves when it comes to their style - and specifically, your inner critic about your body. We have been programmed from such a young age to believe that beauty is a certain size that it is hard to break free from those old images, and see a new point of view. I am not shy to admit I struggle with it - and every woman I've ever met struggles with it at some level. We all hate (maybe even loathe) parts of our body, and they become such a loud voice in our head that we can't even connect to the good parts of our bodies. and accept that all bodies are different, and all bodies are beautiful.
I wrote a blog last year about all the awful ways that our harsh inner critic holds us back from our style potential, and want to revisit this topic again because it's still a thing. I hear my clients say, "I can't wear that!" or "I love her style, but she's a size 2 and I'm a size 14, so that's not possible." or "They don't make stylish things in my size." The problem is, after repeating these harsh, awful statements to ourselves over and over again, over the course of many many years (sometimes even back to childhood), we begin to believe it as truth. And we stop trying to see a new point of view; we simply accept that we won't ever be the woman we want to be, won't have the body we always wanted, and can't have the style we desire. "It's just not possible," you may find yourself thinking.
I'm here to tell you, it IS possible to have the style you so deeply desire! So how do you actually go about busting down these barriers and beliefs we create for ourselves? I have a few ideas....
Practice loving your body. Yes, it's a practice, and it's a daily habit. My favorite exercise to do is to name 5 things you love about your body, and write it down. (I learned this from my client, an educational neuroscientist who knows a thing or two about how to reprogram your brain!) Your five things can be that you love your smile, or our beautiful brown eyes, or that you love your strong legs. Whatever comes to mind, write it down. Put those 5 things onto a sticky note, and post it somewhere prominent that you'll see daily. I like to put it in my bathroom mirror, or you could also put it in a closet, or on your computer. Then, get in the habit of repeating those five things to yourself every single day. I find it most helpful when I am getting ready in the morning or looking at myself in the mirror and start to pick myself apart. Repeating these 5 things trains my brain to remember all the good I have right in front of me.
See your beauty. The second thing is to start to see our own beauty. This can come in many forms... wear a color that lights up your eyes, or a top that highlights your collarbone, which you love, or a dress that shows off your sexy legs. I even went to a bra fitter (Truly U Bra Boutique and custom fitter in the Omaha area is simply the best) to give myself a boost of confidence about my small chest, after years of contemplating breast augmentation surgery. (Believe me, this does wonders for your confidence no matter your size!) Whatever it takes, give yourself proof of your beauty. This is my favorite part of working with clients, because when we get them in styles they haven't tried before, or a new color they have avoided, they are surprised and delighted to see how beautiful they are (just as they are.)
#2 Letting Others' Voices Drown Out Our Own
Did you ever have a mom or aunt that gave you style rules? Such as, ladies wear nylons, or your skirt should go to your knees, or you shouldn't show too much cleavage? Growing up in a Christian household, there were definitely rules about what was ok and what was no ok when it came to my attire. Being the good girl that I was, I followed every guideline to a T.
I also see all kinds of rules and expectations show up in our workplaces. Rules like you should only wear a certain color, like I experienced while interning at a local law firm during college, or rules like women should look feminine. Or everyone else in your workplace wears this type of clothing, so I better follow suit. But what if that isn't your style?
Here's another one: If you're a mom, do you feel pressure to dress the same way as other moms? How about women who are over 40? Did you feel like certain articles of clothing became obsolete once you turned that age, or once you became a mom? I can tell you from experience, I noticed all these things coming up for me when I became a mom, and once I turned 40.
Or how about the expectations that men in our society, even our husbands or family members, have of women to dress in a certain way in order to be sexy, or confident, or powerful, or feminine.
Rules, rules, rules... and none of it is doing us any favors! What happened to our own opinions about what we love and want to wear? How we feel good dressing our bodies? The reality is, I think it can feel harder to go against the grain and put a stake in the ground with our style, than just going with the flow. Do you feel this way?
I can tell you with confidence that going with the flow, or following someone else's rules or expectations, is never going to allow you to truly shine. And you will always feel resentful, and a little less joyful, because of it. I also believe there is real power in stepping into your own, in a way that is 100% you, and 100% authentic.
Want an amazing example of stepping boldly into your power and owning your style, against the odds? Listen to this story about a client of mine who had the courage to claim her unique colorful style - even when her speaking gig was at stake.
That story is the perfect example of true freedom from rules, expectations or cultural norms around style, and a shining display of true alignment with who you are. It's the courage to stand up and say: "This is who I am. Take it or leave it."
#3 Believing Great Style Comes with a Price Tag
It's a common misconception that you need a lot of money to have great style. As a woman who grew up with parents who were a farmer and an artist, I can safely tell you that style doesn't require a lot of money. We never struggled with money and I always felt like I had what I needed - but we certainly didn't have money to spend frivolously on clothing. I remember feeling jealous of other girls who had name brands, like Pepe or Guess jeans, (yes, I'm dating myself!). But I didn't let that stop me. At an early age, I learned how to get creative with my style. As I got older and became a young working professional, I was an expert at finding the absolute best things for a small amount of money, that also looked expensive and luxe. It's safe to say that I've bought 95% of my clothes on sale!
Now that I am older and have accumulated more wealth, I still operate in a mindset of "you don't have to spend a lot to look amazing. " Not only do I take amazing care of the things I own, I wear them in multiple ways to get the most use out of them.
Now, if you want to spend money on your wardrobe... great! There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I'm only here to break down those old beliefs that say, if you can't buy designer, you can't be stylish. It just doesn't apply. The sooner you stop believing that owning a Gucci bag or a St. John's dress is going to be the key to your style, the better. You can still dream of owning one, though - and add it to your collection one day. Just don't make it the ONE way to achieving your style. My encouragement is to start today, with what you have, and make the most of it.
I'd love to hear from you! Give this post a like and drop a comment with your thoughts about this topic!
Hi, I'm so glad you're here! I'm a Personal Virtual Stylist and owner of Style Decoded. I'm a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help women show up with more authenticity and alignment at work and in their businesses through their style, and feel 100% confident in their own skin every day. Styling is my passion but it hasn't always been my job. I spent 20 years of my career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social social strategies for my clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brand online. To say I know a thing or two about marketing and branding is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.
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