Everyone has a favorite wardrobe staple, whether it is a classic blazer, a trusty tote, or a well-worn pair of jeans. For me, it was an old fuchsia pullover that brought me through my early twenties. Like Linus’ ubiquitous blanket, it traveled with me everywhere: to study at the library, to the grocery store, to the gym, and even to church.
That is, until a friend casually commented: “Isn’t it a little, well, young?”
Initially, her observation stung a bit. But upon further thought, I realized that this comment was not the first of its kind—it was just the most direct. After all, even though I was more than two years into my career as a lawyer, people constantly asked me when I would graduate from college. It dawned on me that people thought I was in college because I was dressing like a college student, instead of like the young professional that I was. And not only did the way I dressed affect the way others saw me, it affected how I saw myself, too.
In just a few words, my friend told me what I’d needed to hear: As I approached my late twenties, I’d outgrown my beloved pullover’s style—and maybe it was time I stop wearing it so much.
I began to consider the image I projected to the world, the image I wanted to project, and whether the two were consistent. My friend’s comment sent me on a mission to reinvent my style in a way that was commensurate with my season in life as a young professional.
I didn’t spend excessive amounts of money. I didn’t throw away my whole wardrobe. I didn’t go on a Pinterest bender trying to find looks I liked. It only took a few small tweaks to notice an immediate difference. Not only did people stop mistaking me for a student, but I also felt more confident. This renewed confidence flowed into every area of my life, from my performance at work to my personal relationships. The best part, however, was that I felt free to be truly myself.
Here are five simple steps I took to make this simple but powerful transformation in my personal style.
01. Evaluate the consistency of your image.
Take an honest look at your wardrobe and consider what message it is sending. In other words, what are your clothes saying about you? What image do they project? Then, think about the image that you would like to project and how you want to be perceived. My jacket screamed “college student,” yet I was offended when people failed to take me seriously as a professional. Ask yourself, honestly, whether there is consistency between the image you want to project and the one you are actually presenting.
02. Marie-Kondo your wardrobe.
Start with the obvious: If it’s stained, torn, visibly worn, or ill-fitting, ditch it. I’ll be the first to admit that I hung onto pilly cardigans and scuffed shoes far longer than I should have—and I still do. It’s hard to part with things we love, that are known and comfortable, but give yourself permission (or a swift kick in the pants!) to do so.
Next, clear out the excess, starting with items that are still in good shape, but that you don’t love or that you have not touched in years. The concept of a capsule wardrobe can help you accomplish this. As you slowly strip away the excess in your wardrobe, you will eventually be left with only pieces that you love.
This may mean you wear the same pieces over and over again, but so be it! Gone are the middle school days of people scorning each other for repeating outfits. Repetition is the key to simplicity when it comes to your clothes.
03. Wear what you like, not what you think you should like.
Take time to consider what you actually like, not what other people are wearing or what’s in style. I love the off-the-shoulder look that is popular now, but that style does not look right on me, so I’ve decided not to force it.
Instead, I stick to things I like and that make me feel comfortable. Most of them involve some combination of white and navy stripes with clean, straight lines and classic cuts. To help me nail down my style, I look to fashion icons to get an idea of a basic go-to repertoire. For example, Audrey Hepburn famously sported a black palette, and Kate Middleton is renowned for her iconic pairing of patterns and textures. Look for inspiration, figure out your “recipe,” and stick to it.
04. Wear what makes sense for your season in life, and don’t fight it.
Your style will change along with seasons in your life. For instance, I used to spend my weeks in an office or a courtroom, but now I work from home. This career change has brought substantial changes in my wardrobe, and I find that my traditional suits feel out of place in my more relaxed one-on-one client meetings. I’ve had fun taking my work wardrobe down a notch. Often, all it takes is ditching a blazer and wearing a shift dress with cute flats and a statement necklace instead.
05. Eliminate temptation by purging things you’ll turn to out of laziness or habit.
Sometimes we reach for certain outfits out of sheer habit, not necessarily because we like them. It is comforting to keep soft, worn, tried-and-true items on hand for lazy days, and I love my old t-shirts more than anything else. But keep them in their place, and resist the temptation to make them a critical part of your wardrobe.
I admit I still have my old jacket, but it’s in the back of the closet where it’s hard to reach, and I am proud to say that it no longer makes an appearance at work-related events, church, or parties. Its paint-stained sleeves only appear when I am doing yard work or working out, much to the appreciation of all those who spend time with me.
Making a few small tweaks to my wardrobe does not mean that I now place my identity in what I wear. Rather, dressing in a way that promotes harmony between the image I project to the world and the one I want to project has increased my confidence tremendously. In doing so, I’ve captured a style that not only reflects who I am, but also who I aspire to be.