Thursday, February 5, 2015

Life Lessons from "What Not to Wear"

I have watched a lot of What Not to Wear. It has taught me a lot of things-how to dress my body type, how to objectively decide if a style is flattering on myself, how to let go of clothes that just aren't working for me, how a bit of effort in the make up and hair department can make a big difference in how you look, and how the right clothes can make any woman confident and beautiful. But it has one other message that is perhaps the most valuable.

What you wear says something about yourself to the world. Whether you think about it or not and whether you mean it or not.

So what do your clothes say about you?

The fact is that people are visual creatures and we judge each other based on appearance, especially initially. It's been that way since the beginning of time and I don't think it's ever going to change. Here's why: In order to make decisions, we need information. And the quickest source of information we can get from another person is their appearance. When that's all you have to work with, that's all you have to work with. And sure, with time and a relationship with another person we can reach beyond that initial judgement and change our opinion of someone but a lot of times, we don't get that far.

What we say with our clothes is important because researchers have found that most communication is nonverbal (though they can't seem to agree on exact percentages). If clothing really says nothing about ourselves, why bother dressing up for things like an interview or meeting your future in-laws for the first time? Why bother with fashion at all?

The business world really understands this principle. They say dress for the job you want not the job you have. Dressing in a professional manner at work says I care about my job, it is important to me and I am willing to put forth the effort. Dressing unprofessionally says quite the opposite.

Unfortunately, the way most women dress today sends quite a negative message to the world about themselves and women in general.

I don't care.

I have no value.

I've given up.

I'm insecure about myself.

I am a sex object.

I don't deserve better.

I'm desperate for attention.

I'm just looking for a "good time".

I am not more than my body.

Are these really the things we want the world to think about us and about women? Yet women are time and time again wondering why they are treated the way they are treated, why they are invisible or only visible from the neck down. In the real world, actions have consequences even unconscious actions. And people are much more apt to believe how you act and what you do rather than what you say.

We can say that people shouldn't judge other people but that doesn't fix the problem. I can't change other people. I can only change myself.

So I ask again, what do your clothes say about you? If you don't like the message you are sending, why not try sending a different one?

I respect myself.

I am important enough to myself to take care of me.

I live life purposefully.

I am a strong confident woman.

I am a human being with feelings.

I am working to improve my life.

I love myself.

I want relationships built on trust and respect.

I have thoughts that have value to the world.

Who knows, maybe if women demanded respect from the world not just with our mouths but with how we dress and how we conduct ourselves, maybe the world will finally listen.

Or maybe I just think way too much about clothes.


  1. I've been an devoted fan to "What Not to Wear" and even like Stacy's "Love, Lust, or Run" if you haven't already seen that as well is on the same basis of WNTW. I definitely agree with that last part the most. I do believe if women demanded respect not just from what we say but how we present ourselves would really would make a ripple effect in the world.

    1. I have seen one episode of Love, Lust or Run and I really liked it.

  2. Bravo Stephanie! I have always shared these thoughts and wishes as well. I take time to think about what my outfit says to the public. I'm not vain and I don't need attention from people. But I do believe that our clothes and manners make a HUGE impression on everyone. You're right we can't control someone else's thoughts or manners, and so often people use that as an excuse or a put down, but we can control ourselves. Our way of dress, our thoughts, our manners, our behavior. I often get a lot of negative opinions when I tell people my reasons and beliefs on clothes. I've been told that I am quite stupid for being a young lady who takes into mind what my clothes say about me. I've been told very nasty and disrespectful things because I choose to dress modestly over most modern trends.
    But nasty comments only make me want to dress the way I do even more! I feel stronger after someone says something nasty, and I feel even stronger when women like you Stephanie, take a stand! You really inspired me today! It's hard to say and give the advice like you have today. Because let's face it, people are cruel when it comes to anything about appearances.
    But I thank you for writing this! It has inspired me to keep going not give in to pressure. I was wondering if it would be fine with you if I can share this post?
    Again thank you!

    ~Best wishes from Kristen

    1. People can be quite mean sometimes. :( But I'm so happy that my post inspired you to stay strong. Please share it anywhere you'd like!

  3. Very very well said Stephanie. I appreciate you writing this post and I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you! xox

  4. I couldn't agree more with every thing you said. I've watched WNTW for years and although the styles of clothes are much different than my own, I agree so much with the principles. What we wear sends such a clear message to other people and we have the power to choose what that message is. Very well put, thank you for writing this.

    She Knits in Pearls

  5. Yes, I tell my students the very same thing, in fact a few month ago there was a similar article in Real Simple Magazine about how you dress to a job interview and why it matters. Thanks for adding your take on this topic.

  6. I would add to your remarks that the most important principles in dressing for respect are be neat, clean, and covered. Of course, in different cultures and subcultures, covered can mean different things, and that is okay. I have great fun with style and fashion, but I recognize that it isn't everybody's cup of tea. In fact many people don't notice fashion much at all, and perversely, that kind of makes me happy, because I like that there are all kinds of people in the world. But, I totally agree with you that we are visual creatures, and take in all kinds of data when looking at people, particularly people we don't know. So, until your inner self has time to command respect, I believe that we as women should earn respect by wearing clothes, new or old, expensive or inexpensive, of the latest fashion or plain, that are neat, clean, and provide coverage. As you stated, this shows that you respect yourself.

  7. Really, really excellent post and series of points. I've been watching WNT since the first season. Granted, I haven't seen every episode, but I've seen tons at this point and while there have been times when I didn't agree 100% with everything they said, I do feel that they're frequently right and that society as a whole really, really needs to rethink the principles of dressing and how to flatter one's body (objectively, let's face, far more people do not look their best in jeans and yoga pants than those who do, for example).

    Both men and woman, IMO, on the whole could use with a solid return to some of the more elegant, well put together ways of dressing that were commonplace until, I'd argue, as recently as the 1980s, but at the very least, the early 60s. Even as a child I rarely felt at home or comfortable in modern styles, whereas I do in vintage ones that are usually more modest and also far more flatting to my figure. I don't foresee the fashion world reverting to the styles we in the vintage realm love and sport, or the principles of style behind them, anytime soon, but I will always keep a wee flame of hope burning that they may.

    ♥ Jessica

  8. Really thought provoking post, thank you. x

  9. This is great! I appreciate that you went for a principle-based conclusions instead of specific, rules-y things that I think people get too caught up on.

    It boggles my mind when people don't tie in the way they're dressed with how they're treated. Of course, there's definitely not always a correlation (meaning dress badly, get treated badly or the opposite), but it does seem to at least help in a lot of situations. I can't help how people treat me, but I can set myself up for the best. I can dress in a way that communicates that I am valuable, confident, strong, and off-limits to any guy but my husband! Even if someone treats me badly, I know that I did everything I could to send the right message about myself and I can write them off as a crazy.

  10. Wonderful post - I am sharing this with my teen daughter!