Does where you live say something about your style? But what happens when your style doesn’t match where you live? It’s kind of like the “nature vs. nurture” argument — but with fashion!
I have always been sartorially influenced by places I’ve lived, and welcomed it: when I lived in Wisconsin, I fell in love with boots and wool coats; when we moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE, I welcomed scarves and shawls into my wardrobe and have never looked back; and after moving to Portland, Oregon, I couldn’t imagine my life now without skinny jeans and flat boots.
I have been thinking a lot lately about personal style — in particular, my personal style — and how that has sometimes felt at odds with where I live. While my personal style has evolved and expanded to embrace bits of style from every place I’ve been lucky to live in, I know that my style has always felt a little “different” from where I’ve lived, including where I live now.
Here’s how a recent conversation between me and my husband went, that helps sum this feeling up:
Sam: You’re becoming a Portlander after all!
Me: I will NEVER be a Portlander. I color-coordinate.
I didn’t mean it to be funny, but we both cracked up. Because it’s true. I color-coordinate with pride. As I’ve joked before on my blog, my mother taught me well. Color-coordination comes naturally to me. It just feels right. (And by the way, color-coordination is not the same thing as “matchy-matchy” to me. I don’t have to have things necessarily “match,” they just need to “go.”) Here are some examples of how I have color-coordinated:
I know my style has always been rooted in my upbringing in Texas. I don’t deny it; rather, I embrace it. I do not choose to live anymore in Texas or the South, but I know I carry those style roots with me, wherever I go. Just as I choose to continue to say “y’all” — and try to influence others to say it, too! — it’s because it just feels natural (and practical).
I recently read, or rather reread, two separate articles in magazines that also played on this theme, about personal style and one’s roots.
In the March 2015 issue of Lucky magazine, a cover headline promises to explore “What Your City Says About Your Style,” which turns out to be an essay entitled “Location, Location, Location” by Portlander Carrie Brownstein (she of Portlandia fame and the Sleater-Kinney band).
In this essay, Carrie Brownstein writes about how she dresses differently when she’s in Portland versus when she’s in New York. Here’s how she describes Pacific Northwest style:
“Any hint of elevated style speaks to a professionalism that Portlanders often find a little perplexing. Embodying casualness is a sign of success, because what’s more important than being comfortable enough to say “Who cares?!” Formality hints at struggle, ambition or trying too hard.”
I nodded my head vigorously in agreement while reading this statement, because I’ve come across this attitude myself, numerous times. And it is at fundamental odds about how I feel about my own style. I’m sure others around me, native Northwesterners, glance at my happily color-coordinated self and think to themselves that I’m trying too hard. I’ve encountered questions from co-workers like, “Does your headband match your belt?” asked in incredulous tones. (Yes, my headband did match my belt, as seen here.) “Are you wearing red pants?” (Yep.)
But where I grew up, putting in an effort to how you look is important. Especially as a woman. Dressing up is a way to demonstrate to others that you care. It is part of being social and showing respect. Where I come from, it’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed for an occasion. To NOT put in the effort is to say you don’t care about the event, the occasion, and/or the hosts. So when I put in the effort to look put-together for, say, an important meeting or presenting at a conference or even teaching, I am saying — through what I am wearing — that “This is important to me, and you are important to me, and I want you to know that.” This will never change for me. This goes bone deep; it is a part of who I am. It is part of how I think, and it is reflected in how I dress.
This fundamental principle of my style perspective is also reflected in an interview with Reese Witherspoon in the August 10, 2015, issue of People, all about her new clothing line, Draper James.
“My grandmother was a quintessential southern lady who didn’t leave the house without being somewhat put-together. [She taught me] it doesn’t matter what’s going on with your life, you’ve got to show your best self to the world. When you look good, you feel good.“
Again, I found myself nodding my head at this quote. Present your best self to the world, yes. Even if you feel awful inside, you can pick yourself up by wearing something you feel good in. I said that myself in this post this past spring.
At first glance, this quote from Reese Witherspoon feels so at odds with Carrie Brownstein’s essay. But then I reread the very last line of Brownstein’s essay:
“It’s about knowing what looks good on you and what makes you feel good about yourself, no matter where you are.”
So even though these two ladies, stylish in their own individual ways, come from totally different style outlooks, and totally different geographical upbringings, they end up at the same place. Wear what makes you feel good. And that’s what I do. When I dress up a bit, when I color-coordinate, when I feel both comfortable AND put-together, I feel good.
In the end, it doesn’t feel like it has to be an either/or style perspective for me. Why not be a little of both? Mix Portland layering and fleece with a bit of Southern color-coordination! Why not?! For example, I love to wear my cognac flat boots — so very Pacific Northwestern — and why not also then add a cognac belt to tie in with it, like I did here?
And there are points of commonality between Northwest style and my own Southern style roots. Where they meet for me is at the point of comfort. I go for comfort first — and it comes first in my oft-repeated style sum-up: comfy and classic with a bit of quirk. If I’m not comfortable, I don’t feel good. (And one sure way to make me feel uncomfortable? To feel under-dressed for an occasion! 😉 )
So I will continue to stay true to my style roots, and I am proud to carry that bit of Southern upbringing with me. I am proud be a color-coordinated soul in the Pacific Northwest, y’all.
What’s your own style perspective? Does it reflect where you live, as well, or no? Please leave a comment and let me know!