how to get out of a wardrobe rut

My wardrobe is full of clothes, but I have absolutely nothing to wear

Nothing to wear? Come sit next to me…

Over the course of the last five years or so, I’ve been on a dedicated mission to purge, declutter, and rebuild my wardrobe.

I got rid of everything that didn’t fit, or that I didn’t feel good in. I got rid of everything I hadn’t worn in years, or suspected I’d never wear again. I stopped shopping for my fantasy life, and started buying only the clothes I knew I’d be able to wear to a soft play coffee date, a trip to the play park, or any of the other toddler-centric activities my life revolves around these days. 

I even bought sweatpants. 

I mean, SWEATPANTS. Seriously. 

As a result of all of this industry, however, I can now announce that my wardrobe is transformed. TRANSFORMED.

Yes, instead of a vast collection of beautiful clothes that I never, ever had the opportunity to wear, I am now the proud owner of a much smaller collection of really quite mediocre clothes that I wear AAAALLL the damn time, but never actually WANT to wear, on account of the fact that it all looks pretty horrific on me, to be honest. 

Er, yeah. 

Not quite the ending you were expecting from that little story, is it? 

The fact is, this particular narrative is supposed to turn out differently: or so all of the fashion articles I’ve read  and even some of the ones I’ve written – would encourage us to believe, anyway. 

You see, after the closet clear-out, and the careful style analysis, and the re-purchasing of classic items that can be worn for every occasion, I was supposed to be a brand new woman. I was supposed to emerge, like a butterfly from its chrysalis, with a new appreciation for what I like, what suits me, and what I should be wearing. 

Instead, I no longer have a single outfit that I feel excited to wear, and not one that actually looks good on me. 

I… feel a bit cheated, to be perfectly honest.

But how did this happen, I wonder? How did it all go so wrong? Well, let’s see: 

I got pregnant. 

Then I had the baby.

My lifestyle completely changed as a result of this. 

So did my body. 

I got older. 

Then there was a pandemic, and my lifestyle changed even MORE. 

I gained a few pounds,

I got EVEN OLDER, OMG, SERIOUSLY.

And now, here I am, five years later, emerging blinking into the sunlight of a world that’s completely different from the one I last felt truly “myself” in. Styles have completely changed in the space of those five years, but particularly in the last two, when things like skinny jeans and heels – both of which I’d worn as part of my uniform – have been almost completely replaced by looser, much more casual styles.

And I have absolutely no idea how to dress for it. 

what to do when you have nothing to wearIn my mind, it’s 2015: I’m six years younger, childfree, and I feel like skinnies + stilettos is a look that will never get old. Instead, though, it’s 2021, we’re still slowly emerging from a pandemic, and when I took Max to soft play a couple of weeks ago, all the other mums were in joggers and leggings, while I sat there looking like I could be one of THEIR mums in my unfashionably skinny jeans (They’re actually girlfriend jeans, but they still somehow manage to look skinny on me. It’s like my body somehow takes things that are “fashionable” and renders them instantly frumpy, instead. It’s a real talent.) and “classic” loafers. 

GAH.

It’s not that I don’t know what I like – or, indeed, what suits me. Hell, it’s not even that those two things are radically different from each other, because they’re not.

I know I look best in tailored, slightly formal styles; that anything “‘oversized” will basically swamp me, and that mom jeans are not my friend, no matter how hard I try to suck up to them. I know that I’m 5’4″ but with the legs of someone who’s only 5’1″, and that heels are the only thing that make those proportions look vaguely “normal”- as opposed to flats, which just make me look like I’ve been badly Photoshopped.

I KNOW how to dress to flatter my figure, in other words – and, yes, I am old enough to still want to do that, even though I know it’s desperately uncool now to want to wear clothes that are flattering, and that suit you, as opposed to ones that are “edgy” and which clearly convey the message that you are too cool to care what anyone thinks. 

But I DO care: and, as I say, my problem isn’t that I don’t know what suits me any more. 

No, my problem is that the clothes I like, and know suit me, are no longer even remotely appropriate for the lifestyle I find myself living.

And, in this particular situation, absolutely none of the fashion tips I know so well actually work.

“Buy timeless classics, that will last forever!” doesn’t work, because nothing lasts forever (Anyyyyone can seeeeeeeee…), and even the so-called “classics” can start to look dated or just plain wrong if the circumstances you bought them in change.  Like if there’s a pandemic, say. Or your body shape changes. Or you get older, and realise that something that looked “classic” on your a decade ago just looks ageing on you now.

(Yes, I know I’m not supposed to care about that either, but I don’t honesty believe that most people are just too cool to care if something makes them look 20 years older than they really are. I just don’t.)

“Choose quality over quantity,” doesn’t work, because it assumes that everyone can afford to spend £200, say, on a single pair of jeans, and ignores the fact that, while we’re busy saving up for all of those high-quality “basics”, we still need to get dressed every day. It would take me YEARS to build up a wardrobe of high-quality clothes – and, by the time I was done, it would all be starting to look dated again, anyway.

Hell, even, “Buy only the items that make you feel fantastic,” – which used to be a particular favourite of mine – doesn’t actually work, because sometimes NOTHING makes you feel “fantastic”:  but you still need clothes, right? 

The fashion “rules” don’t work: which shouldn’t actually matter, really, because, as I was saying: my problem isn’t that I need to “find” my style. I KNOW my style. No, my problem is that I need to find myself an entirely NEW style: because the one I had, and that worked for me for years, is no longer even remotely appropriate for the person I am today. 

Heels make my legs look 100X better than flats. I always feel amazing in them. (And yes, I can walk in them, thanks: don’t even get me started on the way no one can ever use the word “heels” without adding the word “tottering” to it. I can assure you I do not “totter” in my heels). But I’m not going to wear them for a walk in the muddy forest, to chase my toddler around the play park, or to soft play, am I? 

“If you love it, you should wear it,” everyone tells you, cheerfully pretending they wouldn’t in any way judge someone doing the nursery run in a cocktail dress, or taking the bins out in Louboutins.

But, of course they would. 

And that’s why so much of the fashion “advice” we’re used to seeing just doesn’t work: because it makes the bold – and totally incorrect – assumption that social norms just don’t exist : or that, if they do, everyone has the necessary amount of confidence to be able to cheerfully subvert those norms and not care what anyone has to say about it.

What’s more, a lot of the fashion advice I’ve seen – particularly on forums, etc, where people are all trying to bolster each other’s confidence at any expense – seeks to convince you that people will deeply admire your decision to wear dungarees to someone’s wedding, instinctively understanding that you’ve done it because you LOVE them, and you’re too cool to follow da rulz. 

Which, again, is bullshit, no?

Essentially, I’ve reached a stage where I literally CAN’T wear the things I love, and feel good in: because they wouldn’t just be impractical in a way that would make me stand out a bit – they’d be impractical in a way that would make me feel utterly ridiculous, and probably physically uncomfortable, too.

You can’t really feel good about yourself when you’re cringing with embarrassment, after all, or having to pull your stilettos out of the mud in the local park, and I’ve always believed that, no matter how aesthetically “good” something looks, context still matters: so, you could be wearing the most beautiful ballgown in the world, but if you’re wearing it to the supermarket, say, well, you’ll still look like a bit of a tit, really, won’t you?

So, I know what I like, and I know what likes me… but, instead, I’ve been having to spend my money and fill my wardrobe with the things I DON’T like, and that DON’T flatter me, purely because, well, I have to wear SOMETHING, don’t I? 

I would, however, quite like that situation to change: to reach a point where I FINALLY have the wardrobe of my dreams, filled with beautiful AND practical clothes, that I actually feel good in for once. How am I going to actually achieve this miracle, though? That, my friends, is another post for another day: in the meantime, though, if you’ve been going through a similar kind of style rut (And I know a lot of people have been lately, thanks to the pandemic, combined with this strange, unflattering shift in fashion which has made mom jeans unaccountably popular…), I’d love to hear how you’ve been dealing with it, so please feel free to drop me a comment: I need all the help I can get!

COMMENTS
  • Rena

    REPLY

    And here I was hoping you’d have the answers!

    I know what makes me look my best – anything that channels an evil Disney Queen is MADE for me.

    Put me in jeans and a t-shirt, and I look absolutely ridiculous!

    So how do you look formal, elegant, dramatic – while at the same time taking out the bins and breastfeeding two kids?! I still have no idea.

    I haven’t given up hope though. Just the other day my sister showed me some pictures of Gillian Anderson’s Sex Education wardrobe and she might – just might – be onto something. . .

    In the meantime, I’ll keep looking enviously at the people who glow in neutrals, and look effortlessly chic in loungewear. Maybe my time will come when I’m finally crowned Queen of the Moors?

    October 11, 2021
  • Maria

    REPLY

    I hear you: I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that skinny jeans are seen as frumpy while mom and wide leg jeans are all the rage now, apparently. These styles are difficult because for the most part they make everyone look frumpier imho, because it’s difficult to find a pair that flatters the body and doesn’t make my legs look like stumps. The high rise is a bit of a saving grace, it kind of elongates my legs a little bit… And now ofc the low rise is on the rise (pardon the pun) once again… 🙃
    Can’t say I have a definitive solution for this… I am on the perpetual hunt for the perfect pair of mom/wide leg jeans, and try to find a way to work around the trends: if I find a brand that makes a mom jean that looks almost flattering on me, I’ll build up a little collection of that brand’s jeans (I wear vintage clothes, but I think this can apply to normal shopping too), and won’t waste any more energies on other brands.
    If wide leg jeans shorten me, I will choose high rise to elongate my legs and maybe a fitted, not-that-cropped sweater to give the illusion of a shorter waist+longer legs. And some block heels with a bit of a pointed toe. This is just an example but if I find a formula that looks well, I will try to work with that.
    So the solutions I’ve found and that mostly work for me are: taming the unflattering trends with a ‘subdued’ version that is more flattering than fashionable (ex. mom jeans that look more like straight ones than fancy diapers)… Or straight out wearing something that I like, is not trendy but still looks good because it’s flattering on *me*. (can’t say I found the ultimate solution with this, but at least I’m slowly building a wardrobe that I actually like right now… Who knows where we’ll be in 5 years… Probably with super low rise jeans, which I will happily skip 😂 )

    October 11, 2021
  • Pip

    REPLY

    I agree and sympathise with everything you’ve written! Just coming out of my least favourite season to dress for and into my favourite (scarves! Jumpers! Coats!) should be a good thing, except I had my second child four months ago and hardly anything fits. I am unreasonably grumpy about going into the second autumn running of not being able to wear my favourite clothes (too sick and nowhere to go last year…), but I also suspect, sadly, that those clothes wouldn’t look as good this year as they do in my mind as the style has changed so much, plus no office to wear my smarter pieces that I love. I now involuntarily have to dress from a capsule wardrobe that is ZERO fun and something I have never been able to get on board with it. So, in conclusion, I have no ideas how to deal with it, but just trying to offer some solidarity! However, I must say I always think you look great in your Instagram posts..

    October 11, 2021
  • KP

    REPLY

    This. Is. My. Life.
    When the pandemic started I was working at a fancy office job in the city and wandering around in dresses and heels every day and I felt AMAZING. That’s what I like – a sort of preppy Gossip Girl type style (see, even my references are outdated now) – and I felt so good in it… flash forward to now and I live in a little house in the countryside and work from home. Great for my nerves and my wallet but BAD BAD BAD for my sense of style. I have so, so many beautiful heels and these days they maybe make it out a couple times a month (and I’m stretching the definition of an occasion for them – heels for the cinema anyone?). I’ve been investing a LOT of time in Pinterest lately trying to find some kind of midpoint between my dream style and the style that actually works for my life.

    October 11, 2021
  • Allegra

    REPLY

    I feel you girl. Somehow over the last year and a half my personal style went from SATC character wannabe to yoga mum (and I am not even a mum, Amber…) So yeah, the pandemic messed with our wardrobe and self-image. Plus, the post-pandemic fashion is a bit… well, let’s go with interesting here. Does anyone else here neon colours are something we are all going to regret soon? Because C’MON people. Neon. Jeez.

    October 11, 2021
  • D.

    REPLY

    I’m in the same situation- – sort of. My advice used to be the old standbys of: Modify the Trend and Tailoring! Tailoring! Tailoring! But I haven’t even been able to find clothes that FIT! I feel like a freak! Which, on top of the physical pain and exhaustion I’m suffering through, has left me “Done.” I’m utterly spent! But as you point out ONE NEEDS TO WEAR SOME TYPE OF CLOTHING (especially in Winter!). This truth is written in all caps to reflect the panic I’m feeling as the seasons change and I simply do not have an adequate wardrobe. I guess I’ll be doing laundry twice a week, and feeling ridiculous and gross until I find *THE* jeans! And sweaters/sweatshirts (Does any manufacturer understand the need for thick, warm clothing in Winter?!). Wishing you well, Amber! In Sympathy.

    October 14, 2021
  • Miss Kitty

    REPLY

    You might have already expressed your opinion about leggings somewhere else, but have you tried them instead of your skinny jeans? Seems like people wear them everywhere now, and the tighter the better in some people’s books! If skinny is a look that suits you better, then maybe see if you can find some comfortable leggings?

    I have no solutions for the heels situation though, unless you can find some chunky heeled boots or something that would work for a park or playdate situation. I know exactly where you are coming from though, I am only 5’2″ myself and always look for even a slight heel on my shoes so I’m not having to crane my neck to look up at everyone all the time.

    October 16, 2021
  • Katy

    REPLY

    I’m not much of a commenter, but just had to for this article! I agree with EVERY single word you said Amber. It reflects me perfectly. My older boys were 12 and 8 when our 3rd little miracle made a surprising entrance to the world, just as I was feeling like I was getting a woman’s wardrobe back rather than a “mum in the countryside”wardrobe. I, too, am blessed with short legs at only 5ft 2, and do have a petite size 6/8 frame that easily gets swamped (so much so I normally wear children’s size anything when I can eg sunglasses, hats and even crash helmets when Go Karting!!). Living in the countryside in a village I’ve renamed Mudsville is another headache to my wardrobe.
    Not wanting to sound like I’m moaning about 1st world problems, but I’ve been emerging out of the pandemic sick to my teeth with my wardrobe and the 1 pair of joggers I’ve worn constantly for the last year (a hand me down meant for my 12 year old given by my eldest sons best friend 😱), so when my youngest started school in September, I had a massive clear out of the crap, did a whole load of research of what clothes I liked and suited me and restocked with classic basics and tempered down trends. I can honestly say I’m really happy with it all. Yes most mums at the school were in joggers, but I was comfortable and felt classy wearing summer dresses with summer wedges in September – it didn’t look out of context at all.
    Now the weather is cooler, I’m enjoying skinnies, with wedge mid heeled combat boots when wanting to be edgy, and heeled ankle boots at other times – thankfully these are still in. These boots also go with autumn dresses/skirts and my new collection of denim/utility/trench jackets and coats I have.
    I’ve decided to not care at all about these baggy, ugly jeans and honestly believe skinnies won’t go completely. If they do, I’m sure they will come back pretty swiftly. If nothing else for practical purposes – we live in a country that rains most of winter and need jeans we can tuck into boots for heavens sake!!
    Yes some of the mums at school are in joggers, baggy jeans etc, but half the mums are over 40 like me and completely agree with wearing what suits your figure rather than fashion. The other trick I have when I want to pull out the really nice stuff and proper heels for the school run (let’s face it that is the only place I visit these days!) – I pretend those are the days I’m working from the office 😂. Not out of context then!! I even feel it’s worth getting mud on my heels for!!

    October 18, 2021
  • Juliette

    REPLY

    I feel as though this article was written for me…. I have no idea what to put on my body most days and I keep buying things online and they either look horrendous or look ok at first, then I cut the tags off and only then do I realise they fit poorly. It’s infuriating!

    October 18, 2021
  • Cassie

    REPLY

    What about cigarette pants? I’m almost positive you used to post pictures of those. But if you get some stretchy ones that’s still fine for a play date but you also look pulled together. As far as trends go, I will never go back to low rise jeans and I know mom jeans are not for me lol They just look so frumpy.
    Have you tried Poshmark? Depop I think is the international version, but that’s at least buying second hand. I always ask for measurements and if you don’t like it you can turn around and sell it again. I’ve gotten some high quality basics that way for MUCH less than I would’ve paid retail.

    October 18, 2021
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