Is your style your superpower? How you dress might not change the world, but it can definitely change yours
I woke up one day in early 2017 after recovering from a devastating accident that had shattered my shoulder, realizing I would, miraculously, completely recover. But when awful things happen, we sometimes find, upon recovery, things have changed. You won’t need examples, because you’ve been through it yourself. Yes, yes, change is inevitable. Yes, yes, life is hard. And yes, definitely yes, we’ve all had awful shit happen in our lives.
When you’re told over and over that “you’re lucky” and “things could have been worse”, and you can’t help but agree, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile why you feel awful starting over. The answer, of course, is obvious: It stinks. Maybe you’ve already done this twenty times before. You’re exhausted. You’ve depleted your resources. Things have fallen apart and there’s no guarantee that putting them back together is going to mean it turns out okay.
And, in my case, after three short months of allowing my shoulder to heal I stepped in front of the mirror with a completely new body shape.
If you think I’m crying over one simple incident that happened when I fell down a flight of stairs in December 2016—you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m preaching to all the daily warriors, whether it’s dealing with chronic illness, a sick kid, heartbreak, caregiving, career disasters, and whatever losses you push through to make it happen. You rock. This article salutes you.
The one thing that’s gotten me through all the tough stuff I’m not listing here is my sense of humor and my sense of style. I have always loved clothes. I make no apologies for it. I have a lot of them. I buy and donate clothes literally all the time. I work hard and this is something that’s a part of me.
When you are down, you have to grasp for the power that’s within reach. For me, putting the pieces back together again, I would need a suit of armor. I reached for my wardrobe.
But there was a slight snag. In the three-month process of recovering, my body had changed. I had been incredibly active my whole life, including shortly before, and had worked hard to recover from a very bad car accident in the summer of 2012. My body reacted to all this horror by shifting its shape. This isn’t a shallow observation at all. It’s disorienting to look in the mirror and not know the person who’s standing there.
Ever since I was a kid, I had a very strong sense of personal style. People laugh at the 80s, but in my opinion, it was the best time to challenge, harvest and hone some of fashion’s greatest improbabilities: shoulder pads, neon, huge hair, leg warmers, fedoras, women in men’s clothing, men who wore colorful makeup, anything New Wave, girls with super short hair, and thoroughly un-sexualized if not box-like women’s clothing. Take a look at your photo albums from 1988 and marvel at how you ran around as a Duran-Duran-meets-Miami-Vice-sprinkled-with-Madonna hybrid with reckless abandon. You were hungry like the wolf for trends, and you danced “for inspiration”.
At the beginning of 2017 I had to learn how to dress myself all over again. Even though my pieces changed, my style never did. It made me realize that personal style is something to embrace not just when times are good, but when times are terrible, too.
It’s somewhat cliché to say that a hot pair of stilettos can make you walk into a room differently—except it’s not cliché, it’s truth. There’s a reason Dorothy had her red shoes, Batgirl has her mask and cape, and Catwoman has her pleather bodyglove (meow!). They have their special suit of armor to keep evil in its place. That’s what your personal style can do for you. It can make you feel better when you walk down the street, shake hands with strangers, pitch a business plan, reunite with old friends, or simply harness the inner-warrior in you.
Style power isn’t just a “power suit” anymore. It’s how you harness what’s right for you, what makes you feel good, and therefore makes you feel amazing slaying your personal dragons. It’s the whole reason a charity like Dress for Success exists, so that women who’ve suffered severe setbacks and are starting over from scratch can feel good about themselves. Style matters. In fact, it matters so much that when you need it, it can be your superpower.
What’s your style superpower? Here are a sampling of simplified styles:
1 The Prep. Polos, A-line, fastidious fits and cuts, button this and that, carefully placed tassels, orderly jackets, seersucker, pearls, round toes, hair curled just so, necklines that don’t plunge too far down.
2 The Punk. Dark leather, hard edges, angular metals, tight pants, heavy eyes, message tees, always backstage-ready. If you are able to pull this off, especially through the ages, I am so jealous of you. (I’m talking to you, Joan Jett.)
3 The Stevie. She was just a witch: Big floppy hats, eyelet, fringe scarves, draped florals, the gloves, the boots, the not-afraid-to-stand-out in a crowd. Leather and lace, my friend…leather and lace.
4 The Classic. Blazers, button-downs, DVF wrap dresses, silk neck scarves, tailored pants, jewelry that lasts, solid shoes, booties, you don’t have a midriff—but you always have pockets.
5 The Sophia. You’re always hot as balls: killer heels, butt-grabbing skirts, not afraid of what the gods gave you. Classic, but in the Sophia-sense. You’re a bombshell.
6 The Jock. Sneakers with short shorts, team pride, dresses that show your freaking awesome legs, plunging backlines, sleeveless, off-the-super-sculpted shoulder, caps, beanies, tight pants that show off those thighs.
Do you sample from all of these? Then you’re an Eclecticist. Nope, it’s not a real word, I made it up, and it’s definitely how I’d define my personal style. Within the bounds of thoughtful appropriateness, I dress based on my daily mood, generally with a mix of favorite pieces, a tiny bit of trend, a little vintage, and something, possibly, I made myself. And all of it, no matter what I’m wearing, will have a tiny bit of edge. Growing up, my mother compared my style to Molly Ringwald’s characters in her movies, and I always thought that was the truest statement anyone ever made, especially that freaking awesome bridal outfit in “Betsy’s Wedding”.
“I hate fashion” you say? Excellent. But, newsflash: That’s personal style, too. AND, you all look the same: beat up footwear, oversized well-worn tees and knit tops, stretched out sweaters with or without holes, threadbare jeans, plain knit pants—or just plain everything, for the sake of getting through the workday. Go watch the movie “Singles” or any Nirvana video and get back to me.
Fashion and style have nothing to do with one another. Fashion is what you wear, style is how you wear it. Stevie Nicks really does have a temperature-controlled room devoted to her scarves. Her famous vintage top hat recently went missing, and I felt deep empathy for her. She and that hat had been through a lot together.
In Rob Sheffield’s “The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks” he quotes her as saying that she tried dressing in jeans on stage, but it just didn’t feel right. Her flowing dresses and precious shawls give her the power of performance. It’s her superpower.