Hi everyone! Judging from the post on How to Suck at Finding a Sartorial-Self Part 1 & 2 success, I decided to expand with a series of thought gathering centering around defining a personal style that is authentic through various experiences. Let it be travel, a change of lifestyle such as graduating from college to go onto a professional life or becoming a stay home mom or even retiring. Personal style may also be influenced by family patterns, cultural, social as well as peer pressures, financial stressors, and evidently the self-concept. I see personal style as a life long work in progress that evaluates internal motivators (how we feel, what we value, but also what we are experiencing and our confidence level) with external feedback (how others perceive us but also how much we care about what others think of us) and as one of the most important tools to confidence building.
It’s hard to overlook personal style as a way we speak to the world.– Women in Clothes
The birth of a sartorial-self
What if you could understand your appearance as a representation of your inner unresolved conflicts (the balance between our self-representation with that of others’ perception of our image) and then assemble a wardrobe to match the way you wish to be perceived? Your thoughts and feelings may be somewhere laying in your closet; you just have to look for garments to coordinate an ensemble that makes you look and feel fantastic.
Should be easy right?! It isn’t as mundane as you may think after all; this mere action of getting dressed every morning. It may even take some courage to gather around the thoughts of not feeling like to get dressed (a protective armor) to face the outside world (including your own mirror), and just wanting to give up would be easier. Have you too ever felt this way? Alternatively when your closet is full of clothes but yet feel that there is nothing to wear. This lack of inspiration may signal to the outside world that you are experiencing a style rut and unknowingly hint to yourself a lack of motivation.
The goal I wish to accomplish with my notes presented in this series of posts labeled Sartorial-Self Edits, isn’t to further populate the over-well saturated navel grazing indulgent blog post on the internet. But I hope to bring a critical perspective with my first person narrative. The kind I wish to find for myself as an avid intelligently ambitious reader who could care less about superficiality and the circus around social media approved recipe for success but I honestly wished there was more opinions and earthy curated blogs with an actual mind and voice I personally could relate to and feel inspired from. And my eternal search must go on but meanwhile here is what I can say…
But it can sometimes feel as though there’s a serious surplus of first-person writing by women who assert, often indirectly, that materialism is all right so long as its object is archival, or foreign, or handed down along the maternal line—that clothes-related joy is admissible only if it’s a symptom of something more substantial: an appreciation of history, an ambition to travel, family pride. The biggest fans of fashion are, like the biggest fans of pop music, prone to overcompensate for their visceral appreciation…There are many types of self-expression that are more efficient, more precise—not to mention cheaper—than trying to telegraph your soul via a pair of pants, but while it’s tempting to balk at the cliché that clothing is a conduit for personality, I can’t deny that what I choose to wear reflects my values, if not my “mood.” Many of the qualities I want to signal to the world—self-respect, discernment, attentiveness to subtlety—always risk being rendered illegible at a glance if I didn’t put great care into what I look like. And as far as I can tell, there’s been no evidence that caring about my clothes jeopardizes the many things I care about more than my clothes. – Alice Gregory for Elle, If You Buy One Book About Personal Style, Make It This One.
The mind of a sartorial-self
To begin this exciting series, there are a few key notes worth mentioning which regards my background; for some of you who haven’t met me yet or just recently started to hop into my world and reading my blog, I would describe myself more as a tomboy. I didn’t grow up as a typical gal with innate interests in clothes or makeup, let alone finding a personal style.
My mind has never been bothered with looking pretty, being agreeable, or being a follower. What I concerned myself with was having fun adventures with new discoveries and learning something along the way. My goals have been to become a well accomplished individual who speaks more of experience and knowledge not so of appearance. So you can easily imagine that it never crossed my mind before that I could ever talk and write about anything related to sartorial style. Never would I imagine someday writing an English blog like this one.
The important thing about hobby is that it allows you to relate to people you wouldn’t normally relate to. It gives you something important to say to anyone you might encounter in the world. I had never before thought about an interest in clothes as a “hobby” or that this was one of the important functions of a hobby. – Women in Clothes
My interests have always been lying in science and technology. At the age of 5, I thought I would grow to become a great scientist unearthing the mysteries of the world. I still recall vividly how I’d document my research on dinosaurs and their trademarks on their claws, their teeth, their size and eating habits as well as their natural habitat. I’d lay my posters and hand made replicas of their claws to open my own museums. I then happily invited all my friends over at the comfort of nowhere else that my own bedroom.
I love watching my dad fix stuff and was always curious to learn how to take appliances or cars apart for repair or just to see how stuff were made. It’s fun! Later when I was about 11, I discovered that engineering was my path. I enjoyed designing and innovating still to these days. Engineering uses a great source of creativity, day-to-day life observations, a dose of intuition, but also the joy that comes from creating something of your own. I started leading teams at school to design and fabricate mechanical devices and was unknowingly put at a spotlight. That felt glamorous (but unfortunately not so much today).
I felt that my field of interest came to me organically. When I was 15, I was selected into a highly specialized program that trained future engineers. There, I learned programming and electo-mechanical designs. I loved the simulations I ran to purposefully blow things up while my professor was looking away. Yeah I love experimenting in general and pushing the limits. The sacrifice was more than I was willing to take at the time (spending my saturdays at the school lab was far less fun and glamorous than hanging out with the cool kids) but I only see now that it paid off and served me well in my career.
So as you can deduce, there wasn’t much room, time nor effort I was willing to take for dressing well or being a popular sought after girl for my appearance. I myself thought I was so cool in fact with my hobby in astronomy for instance. I was about 13 and we had opened a new club at school. I still recall how I would go out in pitch dark nights freezing for a few hours trying to catch and photograph a glimpse of the planets and stars. I started for the first time in my life the activity of blogging; certainly not about Isabel Marant or APC haha but about Cassiopeia for instance and laid out my photos accompanying with a short story. I then tried to convince all my classmates to join the club as it was the coolest things to be part of. So you see that my environment was way far off from fashion and style.
Fashion and sartorial-self
All I knew from a sweet recollection of these care-free times is, I didn’t have any interest in fashion and clothes for I didn’t think it was important then. I also didn’t have to amass designer stuff, stuff that owns me today as it seems. Next is that if I was going to look for aspirations, where do I begin? Fashion magazines, social media, fashion blogs?
A problem I’ve always had with fashion magazines is that women are encouraged to copy other women.
The most compelling women are the ones who are distinctive, who are most like themselves and least like other women.
It’s as if fashion magazines don’t understand what a woman wants. I think she wants to be unique among women, a creature unlike any other.
It’s “offness” that is key in fashion, I think. On a more specific note, I find the “It Bag” repulsive. Often I’ll see one swinging in the arm of a wealthy woman in a tracksuit–it’s a charmless staple of female wealth. And think about what a purse really is an externalized pussy or womb. So to have the “right” one and the most expensive one–that sends a chill up my body. Taste is a wink, not a thud.
I learned that style isn’t what you wear, it’s how you wear it… But style, I also learned, is not about strictly copying others, because style is not transferable. There are too many variables.– Women in Clothes
Today as an grown up adult working professional, I realize how important the power of dressing has with my role in societal engagement that I carry a message to be addressed for what I must accomplish beyond myself. So to have a personal style to me is evidently not found in fashion magazines that fail to identify and highlight the core values of modern women; women who are distinctive, who have the freedom to make their own choices, and who don’t need to be pressured upon to resemble each other.
As a young teenager to these days, I cannot relate to and don’t feel aspire to any figures displayed in those known magazines. This sought “offness” isn’t necessarily found on what type of designer’s bag I must carry or any vintage finds I must wear to become the messiah of environmental friendly goddess, or worst yet how to buy clothing items from the all time favorite Parisiennes Jeanne Damas, Adenorah, and Camille Charrière and try to emulate the “It girl” so to be part of the world class Parisian Chic!
Not my sartorial-self style reference and the least my aspiration! Style cannot be copied simply because every one of us has a different body and self-concept. There is no way for instance I’ll break my head to think my hips will ever fit into a 501-less-than-flattering-moms-jeans! Non merci! C’est pas pour moi! No way on earth I could flâne around Paris wearing those deep-V-cut-barely-covering-my-boobs-tops inspired from summer laying around the beaches of the south of France or Bardot unless I don’t mind unsafe situations of unwanted attentions in the metro by some creeps.
Feminism and sartorial-self
These styles are a reference for so many women worldwide sadly don’t reflect my reality. Not so Parisian Chic after all! Everyone has different background and experiences let alone the mindset and life priorities. Today, the flaw I see in the rise of modern feminism is the lack of (diverse) female role models. These feminists talk a lot about marching (nothing wrong or against it) and putting up nice hipster posters while wearing super cool graphic tees then listing a bunch of hashtag for the world to acknowledge how much feminist they are. In fact the #metoo caused more harm in workplaces like mine. (Read Sheryl Sandberg account here). It doesn’t do much in my mind in my world when it comes to concrete execution plans and creating a positive change small or big (read my story here).
I am a very pragmatic person. (Not to the point of the Dutch lol but almost for most situations though). All my mentors, coach, and sponsors are men. Should I consider this a problem? Throughout my working experiences in tech, I have sadly not once encounter a woman with aspiring leadership skills even when they were in managing roles. I don’t respect them much and certainly don’t want to emulate their characters and ways of leading in any ways. Now, do you read my growing frustrations as being one of the very few still standing woman in tech working in a male-dominated environment who lacks of a relatable woman to aspire to both in the media and at work. I sometimes feel so lonely to tell you the truth about this sad fact.
Fortunately, I have created a space like this to network with other women and grow from this thoughtful and very supportive community. I feel blessed that I am able to document while searching for my sartorial-self. For a while I felt utterly embarrass to be honest about the existence of my blog and some of the style related posts on my Instagram account when mentioning my hobby to my non female friends. Talking about clothes was perceived as superficial and frivolous as well as a great time and resource waste. I still recall a great friend of mine, someone who had coached and mentored me previously to become a leader and successfully managing teams of more than 30 guys, exclaiming abruptly to me “but you are better than this!!!”
Twenty-first-century women who are especially “successful” in the self-presentation department—fit figures, stylish clothing, deceptively natural-looking makeup, hair that behaves—are liable to be underestimated. In certain circles, knowing how to do your hair is, if anything, a peril—the result of a noxious myth that says working hard to look your best is somehow irreconcilable with having intellectual ambition. To be taken seriously as a woman can require an almost impossibly well-calibrated sensitivity to nuances in dress and makeup: Appear to care too much and you’re a ditz; don’t care enough and your ideas remain invisible to the people who are in a position to promote them. – Women in Clothes
I didn’t know how to feel or respond at the time. It seemed that it was disapproved by someone I respect the most and was irreconcilable to be a successful leading engineer while talking about clothes and style. I was a bit tormented about whether it was possible to bridge the gap. So I felt compelled by this anecdote and thought to myself that I ought to continue writing with my unique point of view with the hope that maybe along the way I could inspire others who were in the same position of lacking a female role model. And so that I can now explain it is reasonable to enjoy both tech and a sartorial-self styling and that by the way I am also a French woman living in California who also became minimalist. Voilà that’s me and it’s ok to be me! Speaking of minimalism…
The minimalist sartorial-self
Since the transition to the minimalist mindset (read here and here), I have been relying on the bare essentials. Having a curated wardrobe foundation streamlines my daily dressing and takes off the guess work to look adequate, the stress, the pressure, and uncertainty away from my morning routine. I became more and more comfortable in my skin for I know more about my sartorial-self. I am not certain if this realization came with age but I am more leaning towards the acceptance of my body and how to dress it. What works for me I keep and what doesn’t make me feel confident with my current asset (no more projecting myself into a future hot me. Jamais de la vie!) out it goes!
Learning to detach my sartorial-self from stuff gave me so much freedom and awareness. As I recently got into a car accident, I realized what was more important for me to worry about. It isn’t certainly about the damage on my car and the repair it needs. After getting off the phone with my parents to inform them of the event, they reminded me of how life was a priority over materials like my car. It’s only when our body and mind are damaged that we realize more seriously about taking care of our health. And that is so hard for me.
Detach from your stuff
Zen Buddhism teaches that in order to be happy, we must let go of our worldly attachments.
We’d do well to cultivate a similar sense of nonattachment. Developing such an attitude will make it significantly easier to declutter our homes-not to mention ease the pain when things are taken from us by other means (such as theft, flood, fire, or a natural disaster).
Do mental exercise to loosen the grip our stuff has on us.
No matter that we couldn’t afford designer clothes, fancy watches, or electronic gadgets. All our possessions fit in a few crates, and we didn’t have to worry about car repairs, home maintenance, or even going to the dry cleaners.
Many of us get the chance to relive our “stuff-free” lives once or twice a year- when we go on vacation. The word “vacation,” in fact, comes from the Latin vacare, meaning “to be empty.” No wonder we love to get away from it all! –The Joy of Less
Its time to see our stuff for what it is… Generally speaking, our stuff can be divided into three categories: useful stuff, beautiful stuff, and emotional stuff.
Anything you use often. And that truly adds value to your life, is a welcome part of a minimalist household. Aesthetic appreciation is an important part of our identities, and should not be denied. –The Joy of Less
My sartorial-self styling has recently been influenced by the minimalist life; something useful and sometimes multifunctional, something beautiful aesthetically pleasing, something emotional.
With my current lifestyle with a 9-5 Engineering day job, I like to mix smart casual, comfort, and functions (that explains the extra layers I often carry more than most people living in San Diego). My favorite workdrobe is made of simple uniforms that shouldn’t distract what I must convey to the world for I care: a well fitted black or navy trousers (preferably cropped), a lose top or an oversized sweater (cashmere are so soft and beautiful), and a jacket (I love jackets, they make probably 60% of my wardrobe).
I favor and appreciate simplicity with natural elements: a straw tote and a plain white linen tee. No excess jewelry other than my golden necklace which is aesthetically nice but I use it as a stress relief as well. A fidget sort of device by spinning the disk around the spindle whenever I feel unwell. No unnecessary excess! No It-bag! No extra makeup either. Just simple clothes and style for a simpler and happier life!
I find my happy sartorial-self in tailored clothing. An ode to my mom’s gris blazer I wear so frequently that it’s seriously falling apart. I love the story it carries about how my mom shopped it in a tiny boutique in Paris where people used to get their clothes custom made to order. I feel delighted whenever I reach to grab this jacket and put it on myself. So this piece can be put under emotional stuff category. Although my mom’s body is surely different than mine (she has a petite frame), the blazer hangs nicely fitted on my shoulders and the sleeves fall right above my wrists. I could say that we style/ wear the same blazer very differently and that’s what makes it so fun in dressing.
I also recently “invested” in a new suiting jacket in navy from the Swedish label Filippa K. The word “invested” in the world of capsule wardrobe is used all over without care that I am actually lost in translation. To me, it doesn’t have to do with cost per wear or some other mathematical formulas. I simply see this piece of clothes as something useful and beautiful in a way that I will wear it often to work. I need it to advance my career for job interviews. When wearing it, I’d like to feel good in my skin and confident. So the fit and fabric must be of good standards. And if it could be versatile that’s also nice such as suiting up a casual outfit (tee + jeans). It doesn’t have to be so complicated whenever building a functional and beautiful wardrobe!
Many otherwise self-assured women seem constitutionally incapable of allowing a pretty dress to be just a pretty dress. We enjoy the cultural luxury of “overthinking it.” – Alice Gregory for Elle, If You Buy One Book About Personal Style, Make It This One.
I also like that “offness” mentioned earlier, something quirky. I love my ramen tee (read here) as my favorite thing to wear. And Taler (@nomadicfille) thinks it’s so meee!!! This shall be categorized as my beautiful fun stuff. I ramen tour with it internationally guys!! Follow this account @ramencraycray to see more.
My sartorial-self style has some androgynous elements by paring my outfits with the borrowed from the boys loafers from Gucci (read here). I like them even more now that they are well worn in adored useful and beautiful stuff. They make my féminin/masculin sartorial-self style effortlessly easy and chic.
Last note, since I got the perfecto which I wear as often as I can between my travels and weekends, my style evolved with an additional touch of cool edge I didn’t have before. I like it for its tough character. Read more on its story here. This jacket keeps me warm enough with a knit under or cool enough with just a tee under. I have the feeling that I will keep wearing this leather piece for a long time. Useful stuff!
What shall not be a sartorial-self
With an increased awareness combined with an appreciation for minimalism, I recently begin to understand what my sartorial-self cannot be. That is to believe that stuff will make me what I’m not. To add to this thought, I shall be defined by who as a person and not letting objects define me.
You are not what you own
Contrary to what marketers would have you believe, you are not what you own. You are you , and things are things; no physical or mathematical alchemy can alter these boundaries, despite what that full-page magazine ad or clever commercial tries to tell you.
Nevertheless, we occasionally fall prey to the advertiser’s pitch. Therefore, we must account for another sub-category of items we own: “aspirational stuff.” There are the things we buy to impress others, or to indulge our “fantasy selves”- you know, the one who’s twenty pounds thinner, travels the world, attends cocktail parties, or play in a rock band. We may be reluctant to admit it, but we likely acquired many of our possessions to project a certain image.
Ads also encourage us to define ourselves through our clothing-ideally, with brand name apparel. These designer labels don’t make our clothes any warmer, our handbags any sturdier, or our lives any more glamorous. Furthermore, such trend-setting items seem to go out of style mere minutes after their purchase-leaving our closets packed with outdated attire we hope someday returns to fashion. In reality, the majority of us have no need for celebrity-sized wardrobes, as our clothes and accessories will never garner widespread comment or attention. Nevertheless, marketers try to convince us that we live in the spotlight, and would do well to dress accordingly.
It’s not easy to be a minimalist in a mass-media world. Advertisers constantly bombard us with the message that material accumulation is the measure of success. They exploit the fact that it’s a lot easier to buy status than to earn it…
They tell us more stuff means more happiness, when in fact, more stuff often means more headaches and more debt. The purchase of all this stuff is certainly benefiting someone… but it’s not us.
Truth be told, products will never make us into something we’re not. Pricey cosmetics won’t make us supermodels… Yet we feel compelled to buy, and keep, stuff that holds a promise- to make us happier, prettier, smarter, more loved, more organized, or more capable…–The Joy of Less
I feel that it’s not easy to deflect from external pressure and resist the urge to buy something new every time to fill in some voids either in me or in my closet. The same way I used to buy things to project myself in an alternate reality of me. How many times I bought things mindlessly because there was a festival or a fancy party coming up and felt the pressure to dress a certain way or a trip I was anticipating and needed a big wishlist to be check marked?!
But I am determined to overcome this challenge by using this blog series as my antidote to prevent myself from buying more regrettable unnecessary excessive and alas aspirational stuff. I am however grateful of the luxury I already own such as my Céline trio bag who is a useful and beautiful stuff. But I see it as just stuff! I never fuss or stress over when this bag got splashed all over with champagne and beers and scratches all over, losing its shape because I must have overpacked it with essentials during my flights. Since I don’t carry a bag typically, this item served a purpose and I like to make as much use as possible and not to treat it as aspirational stuff with some special attention given with neat care taking or to avoid using it such that it stays in pristine condition so I could Instragram it for aspiring others. Euuh non! Pas moi!!
To me success isn’t within the line of owing a bunch of designer bags, luxurious cosmetics, a big house or even an expensive fast car. It has to do with freedom and the ability to take risks. It has to be living with less fuss and be more fun and passionate. It’s the ability to connect either others and not aspire others with things!
And lastly it has to be more intentional living with a purpose beyond ourselves. That is what my sartorial-self aspire to be. This sartorial-self is certainly different for everyone based on his or her lifestyle, passions, background, body, and self-concept, and how much importance he or she gives to the view of others. A gentle note from me personally is that don’t let others or society dictate what choices you have and what you must do to create your sartorial-self. It’s within you to concquer this external pressure and create the life that makes you happier. And I know it’s not as easy as it seems but it’s worth trying!