4 Questions That Will Help You Use Clothing Like A Tool

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location Hillhurst Hardware


I often get asked,” What’s the trend I need to get this season?” or, “What’s the one thing I should buy this year.” To which I often respond, likely somewhat disappointedly to their eager ears, “It all depends. May I ask you more questions first?”

In my experience, people are looking for a fashion silver bullet. As with most things, that unicorn doesn’t really exist. (Please don’t let me be the one to break the dream to the young ones in your life about those majestic beasts). If they are game, I will follow up with a series of questions that seem to stun – or at the very least delay - most people. They include:

“What are you trying to say with your clothes?”

“What do you already have in your closet that could work or could be built upon?”

“If you’re ready to shop, what’s your budget?”

And, “When it comes to shopping, what else is important to you?”

This tends to overwhelm people. I can sympathize in other instances. For example, if I compliment a meal and the cook shares how they did it, after three ingredients I am at a total loss. The same thing happens when people talk about wellness. Things like nutrition tips and working out suggestions must be excessively simplistic if I have any shot at retaining the gems. When I am green at something, I tend to seek help, listen to those in the know, and try to learn. I find comforting relief in knowing not all people are all things. I truly believe that we could all use the help of others in areas we suck at.

When trying to explain why I care so much about fashion - and how it can illustrate your personal style - I have found a few analogies that can help. One such analogy is using tools. Say I walk onto a construction work site, go to the toolbox, and pick the same one as the person in front of me. Note that I haven’t considered what I’ll use the tool for or what I’m trying to accomplish. I just pick up and go to the first area I see. Say, for instance, I end up using a Philips Head screwdriver to try and bang out an old wall woodpecker-style in a demolition. After ten minutes of jamming that tiny head into drywall you’d bet that I’d be lusting for a sledgehammer. It’s a case of the wrong tool for the job. Understanding that old saying is true: you don’t know what you don’t know; one should ask someone who does to get there faster.

It’s the same idea with clothing. If you want to appear chic and put together, athletic leggings and a T shirt are not going to work as hard for you and a well-tailored suit. The reverse is true, too. If you were trying to communicate that you are easy going and free-spirited, a corporate suit may not be the first thing I would choose.

It’s not just about work settings. Say you’re about to meet your significant other’s loved one and you’re keen to make a good impression. The key here is taking a minute beforehand and asking yourself, “How do I want them to see me that’s both genuine and flattering?” Your style should come from an honest place that expresses who you are (and bonus points if it includes a “best self” expression). Wearing schluppy clothes and wanting to appear “together” is a style disconnect. Alas, it’s totally up to you: if you want to both look and appear schluppy, do you, Boo Boo.

Getting back to those four questions, the next time you say for the millionth time, “I have nothing to wear,” go back and consider these four elements.

“What are you trying to say with your clothes?”

Translation: If someone could look at you and make an impression solely from what you are wearing, is what they might say close to what you were trying to communicate? If that’s mystifying to you, call me.

“What do you already have in your closet that could work or could be built upon?”

Translation: Shopping may not be the answer just yet. Is there something you’d like to wear that you already have? Try building from what you have first. If you’re stuck for ideas, call me.

“If you’re ready to shop, what’s your budget?”

Translation: If you’ve got at least twenty bucks there is no budget too big or too small. Also consider how long you have time to find it. If you’re personally taking ten hours away from your life to find that one thing, an expert could likely cut that down to under two. What’s your time and money worth?

And, “When it comes to shopping, what else is important to you?”

Translation: Consider that your budget can be just one factor of many. Also defining a few other parameters will help narrow things down. What’s your stance on environmental concerns? Does where or how it is made matter to you? Do you hate or love certain fabrics and/or colours? What brands do you like or try to avoid? These are all questions I would suggest you ask beforehand.

Impressions are made within seconds of seeing a person. It’s a bit alarming, as you’ve likely not opened your mouth yet. I urge you to accept that clothing is a tool. Personal style is powerful. Taking full advantage will help you and your self-confidence exponentially.

Do you know if the clothing tools you’re using are working hard enough for you?