Diana Vreeland famously said, “It’s not about the dress you wear, but the life you lead in the dress.” While one’s personhood trumps their casing, there is a connection between our clothes and how we orient ourselves to the world. As I have pursued both a life of great meaning and of great fashion, here are some lessons I’ve learned from dressing that have helped fashion the way I live my life.
1. Several pieces working together are more significant than each piece alone. A great outfit is worth more than the sum of its individual parts, and the way pieces play off of one another is a key to great style. This interrelationship is also true in accomplishing most things in life — we can have much greater impact working with others than alone. Or, as I’ve grown fond of saying, the power of “we” achieves infinitely more than the power of “me.”
2. A few “exceptional” pieces give you more than a closet full of “okay” pieces. Growing up, we didn’t have much money to spend on clothes, but every year, the day after Christmas, my mom would take my sister and me to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy a few nice items we would wear all year and beyond. Although I now have more resources, I do not have a closet bursting with clothes. I have a few nice things — all pieces I really love and can wear a long time. This offers me simplicity, focus and easy organization, and when I apply this same methodology to my time and my thought life, I am freed up to live a life of much greater purpose. Rather than a jumble of activities of marginal value, I believe it is best to choose a few high-value pursuits, and let go of the rest.
3. If a trend doesn’t work for you, skip it. Bright yellow-lime is on trend right now, but yellow just doesn’t feel good to me, no matter what shade it is. When a trend surfaces, whether in fashion or culture, we need to stop and determine, “Is this for me? Does this align with who I am?” And sometimes, we may even need to ask, “Is this something I want to identify with?” Blindly following cultural waves can cause us to lose our surety about what we are about. Whether it’s 50 shades of yellow or 50 Shades of Grey, it’s good to know what trends you will not follow. Know who you are, what works for you and what doesn’t, and where you won’t be tempted to go solely because it’s the trend.
4. Befriend a tailor. We can accept the way something looks when it comes off the rack, or we could get someone’s help to take it from good to great. Just as I know many of my clothing pieces will need a little custom work to look their best, I need people in my life to help me be my best self. Whether its my husband, daughter or an earnest friend or mentor, the times when I am able to make the greatest leaps toward betterment is when I am open to the unique refinement, feedback and alteration that comes through deep relationships. Both in clothing and personal growth, custom tailoring can be costly — but well worth it.
5. Have valuable items repaired. When a zipper breaks, a heel gets worn, or a watch battery dies, those items can easily sit in my closet, unworn and useless, for months on end. When something needs fixing, it takes us out of our way, and perhaps to a space where we wonder if it is really worth the time and energy to fix. I contend that if something in your life breaks but is valuable, fix it. There is a unique grace and redemption that comes from restoration. Just like I will get my favorite Prada’s resoled as many times as they need it, I will work to repair anything that may have gone awry in my treatment of those I love.
6. Look to others for inspiration, not duplication. There is a delightful escapism that comes through looking at fashion magazines and blogs, seeing the bold choices of those on The Sartorialist, or the fresh looks on Le Fashion, or the CAbi blog. And as much as I sometimes want to replicate someone else’s look exactly, I want to live my life not as an echo of other people’s lives but rather with my own strong voice. Gather ideas from others, but make all your own thoughtful choices.
7. You can tell a garment’s quality by how it is finished. The true quality of a garment is always on the inside. If you question whether an item is worth a high-ticket price, see if it has been finished well with sewn-down seams, a special lining, and finishing details. Not only is this evidence of fine craftsmanship, I find it full of integrity. When a designer cares as much about what is visible to the wearer as to the outside world, the piece invariably will withstand the test of time. Humans, of course are much the same way. Our quality comes from the place deep within, and though not always immediately apparent to the world around us, the durability, trustworthiness, and true character is made known over time.