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Failure: A necessary ingredient of great style

Normalize failure as a key to success.

Last weekend, I was out shopping to pick up a few last-minute holiday gifts on my list, and decided to stop into a store to do a little shopping of my own. Except this time, I had zero intent of buying anything. My only goal was to try things on and test out new fits, styles and brands. Now, it's not uncommon for me to go to a store just for the sake of research, as it helps me to get my eyes and hands on things that I am seeing online to be a better stylist for my clients and offer better recommendations. Things just translate differently in person. But this day I had a second goal, which was to put a bunch of clothes on my body and test things out. Dare I say for the fun of it!

It's amazing how having the goal of "testing things out" changes your mindset while shopping. It takes the pressure off, and allows you to put zero expectations into the experience. If you come out of the dressing room with nothing in hand, you've actually succeeded - because you tried lots of things and gathered data. In fact, that is exactly what you want your end game to look like: Leave with nothing in hand, but with a greater knowledge of styles, fits, brands, fabrics and what you liked, or didn't like on your body.

I share this experience with you because I see so many women getting frustrated by shopping. When they walk out of a dressing room with nothing in hand, they actually feel like there is a problem.

I think there are 2 reasons we feel it's a problem to leave a dressing room empty-handed:

#1 We blame our bodies.

It's common for women to automatically assume their body must be the problem when they leave a dressing room empty-handed. "Why does nothing ever fit? What's wrong with me? This process is so frustrating I'm just going to give up. What's the point, it's a waste of time?"

This would be a good time for me to remind you that it's rare for clothes to fit you perfectly off the rack. Just think about the challenge of a clothing manufacturer to create pieces that are going to fit millions of unique body shapes and sizes. It's impossible, really, when you think about it in this way. In fact, most women I know - myself included - have to alter or adjust clothing off the rack by a tailor to have it fit their body correctly. (And no, I'm not just talking about petite women, who are the ones who already know they need to be friends with a tailor!) So instead of walking out of a dressing room thinking YOUR BODY is the problem, wouldn't it make more sense to say THE CLOTHING is the problem?

Try repeating this phrase to yourself the next time you "fail" when trying things on:

My body isn't the problem. The clothes are the problem.

#2 We have an urgent need.

We've all been there: Not thinking much about our wardrobe or style until something pops up in our life - a work or social event that we need to get dressed for. When we go into our closet, we find exactly zero options and start to panic! "I'd better find something quick!" (aka, in 48 hours) I call this the panicked style cycle, and it goes something like this...

When we shop with this urgent and frantic mindset, nothing ever works out. Have you noticed this, too? I find that when I am not looking and in no rush, I always find things I love. But the opposite is true when I feel an urgent need: I always fall short.

So in this scenario, when you walk out empty-handed, you truly DO have a problem! "What the heck am I going to wear to said event!?"

The truth is that more often than not, you are going to fail when trying things on. So, first of all, why don't we just normalize and accept this fact? Failure is part of the process! AND, secondly, let's UP our reps when it comes to trying things out. Remind yourself that every failure is proof that you opened yourself to something new, and is getting you one step closer to your ideal, authentic style.

I've learned that finding your personal style doesn't happen overnight - and taking risks is a necessary ingredient.

My own style has evolved over the years, and I've found that one of the best ways to figure out what you love - and what you don't love - is to allow yourself to play and test things out. This goes for my clients, as well. When we start working together, I let them know that trial and error is a necessary part of the process, especially when shopping online. Of course, I can guide them towards fits and styles and brands that I believe will work best for their body and their personal style, but there are still going to be misses involved, even with the best laid plans.

As weird as it sounds, I'm thankful for all the fails I endured to help me get to the things I really loved, and felt like me. (I even made a reel about my many style failures. Watch it here.)

Here's some ideas of how you can play around and take a risk with your style on a regular basis:

  • Try on lots of styles, even if you think it isn't for you.

  • Play around with different fits or shapes you haven't experimented with before. (Read the “What's my body type" blog to get you started!)

  • Take a risk with your outfit, even if it's small, like adding a belt when you normally don't, or wearing an item in a new way. (See this IG post for inspiration!)

  • Test out a new color that you've never worn. (Don't know your best colors? Take this quick color test to find out if you have a cool or warm skin tone. Or, contact me to get your colors done professionally.)

  • Try on different styles of jeans in a department store one day that offers lots of brands and styles!

Remember, in this new way of thinking, the goal IS to FAIL and leave your expectations behind. Failure is actually succeeding (and hopefully you'll find is kind of fun, too, once you learn to embrace the process.)

As the fashion icon, Iris Apfel, says…

"If you put something together and it doesn't look good, the fashion police are not going to come take you away. And if they do, you might have some fun in jail." - Iris Apfel

I bet you're curious to know what I learned in this particular shopping trip, right? I'm happy to report, I learned lots of things...

#1 I experimented with a brand and found my size.

I experimented with the Good American brand, as I already own one of their jumpsuits (it's killer, shop it here) and wanted to explore other fits and styles. Many of my clients have purchased and loved their denim, so I wanted to deepen my experience with the brand, as well. In the photo below, I am wearing their Good Legs Straight in denim (shop it here or here) and their Good American Good Straight in Faux leather (shop it here, or here) I'm wearing a size 2/26 in both pairs.

PRO TIP for DENIM: I always recommend to take denim home and walk around it in the house for a few hours before you take the tags off. This will tell you if they are going to stretch out to the point where they are too loose and baggy. If this happens, it means you need to go down a size. Trust me, nobody wants saggy bottom and knees!

#2 I tried a style I had been eyeing.

I also learned that I'm still on the fence about velvet shirts. I love them on other women, and this one was in a beautiful color for my skin, but I'm still not sure it's my style. Shop the exact top here. (Warning, very limited sizes. may need to find it at your local store. I'm wearing a size S.)

#3 Some styles don't translate from the rack to your body the way you expect.

I learned that some sweaters look cute on the rack, but do nothing for your body once on. This yellow sweater was a great example! Plus, the yellow was a bit too bright for my skin tone.

#4 Spanx isn't kidding about finding the perfect fit!

I learned that Spanx's claim to have created the perfect pant is actually true! My clients have purchased and adored their high rise flare perfect pants and their kick flare cropped perfect pant, and this wide leg version I'm wearing was no exception. Run for this one! It's TTS, and I'm wearing a size XS. (Bonus - comes in petite, regular and tall for each of these pants)

#5 This dress was a home run for my straight body!

And finally, I learned that this beautiful aubergine dress is a great compliment to my already very straight figure, giving me curves that I don't normally have. (Remember, straight-bodied ladies, having a defined waist is key for balancing out your shape, as well as adding "volume" on the top and bottom.) The color warms my skin up so beautifully! I'm a warm skin tone by the way. (This one will be coming home with me soon, but I promised to make no purchases that day.) Wearing size XS. Shop it here.

Are you ready to incorporate play into your style journey? Which idea do you want to try this week to encourage more trial and error? Tell me in the comments below; I'd love to hear from you! Or, just simply give this post a like to let me know you're out there. ;)

About Me

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 client service is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.

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