Do you care about how you look?

posted in: Inspiration, Style advice | 42

How we look is such an important aspect of who and what we are. Just as we have a character and personality, so too, we have an appearance – a body, a shape, a way of talking and walking. We have colour. Our appearance matters very much to others – they judge us on how we look before they know anything else about us. Our appearance will affect everything in life – from how we attract sexual partners, to our ability to get chosen for the netball team, to how much we earn throughout our career.

Yet we feel so ambiguous about our appearance, reflecting our own love/hate relationship with ourselves.

At any one time I can feel both beautiful and ugly – I appreciate aspects of my appearance, but in other respects I am unhappy. I find it hard to accept the whole person of who I am (with all my attributes and imperfections).

Perhaps we all have an unbalanced opinion of ourselves. True self-knowledge is very rare. Many are needlessly self-critical; some of us are conceited and egotistical. And although we may worry about how we are on the inside – am I kind, self-satisfied, lazy or greedy? – somehow it is a debate we can have with ourselves alone.  But how we look on the outside, is evident for all to see. How we look is how we meet the world, and make an impression on society.

It is odd that concern over appearance can be seen as vain and ridiculous. Vanity, or too much interest in our appearance, is widely condemned. It seems superficial and skin deep missing the real me.  They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” – but we do! We don’t have time to get to know every book, so we check out the covers and very quickly make a decision on what genre, publisher or writer appeals most. And what we don’t want.

Think of the effort that goes into designing a book cover, or a box of biscuits or a car. Those designers and marketeers know what they are doing. In a busy, noisy world they want to convey information fast to screen out those who won’t want the book or item, and focus on those who might bite. Your appearance is the same. It is how people perceive you and this makes it worth some serious attention surely? How you look, if you care about it or not, helps people work you out fast and decide how they feel about you.

Whether you like it or not your appearance conveys your values, your personality, your hangups, anxieties and history. I suggest it makes sense to spend some time considering how you want to look – in terms of dress, make up and hair – if only to make the world more beautiful and pleasant for others.

When I see someone who has thought about how they present themselves (I reckon about one in twenty people make much of an effort with their appearance) I feel a sense of pleasure. A vintage scarf, exceptional spectacles, more than two colours, well-chosen patterns – these details convey that you care about yourself and others. When I see someone with a sense of style, I feel happy. But when ten girls with long hair, skinny jeans, ballet flats – all in shades of grey and khaki – jump on the tube I feel a bit depressed.  I particularly respond to originality and creativity. I have a little cheer when someone dresses vividly – puts colour and pattern together boldly. Although I am a sucker for cool neutrals too. My favourite looks include Art Student (we have lots around Kings Cross), Eccentric Ellder and Too Cool for School.

Kit dresses for dinner

Personally I always applaud individuality and creativity over convention and co-ordination, even when it is a bit off.  I hate the “occasion outfits” sold by department stories where the whole outfit matches. I don’t want my colleagues to wear cardboard cut out corporate outfits that someone has decreed is “office lady” wear.  I love it when people, even little kids, express their feeling about themselves through their wardrobe choices.

What do you think?





42 Responses

  1. eimear

    when I was about 19/20 I got rather sad about a few things and I went through an anti-fashion phase as I was rather overwhelmed how everyone was judged on appearance – I think I spent 3 months in the same long grey shirt. I had also dropped out of fashion college at the same time… own teen years were a mix of 50s and 60s vintage, now I tend to dress rather conservatively but I do like the time it takes to plan what to wear and after a number of years having to wear black working in retail, I now prefer to wear colours.
    On others/out and about -I love to see diversity and find f/fashion rather depressing in that everything is getting so bland because of it.

    • SJ Kurtz

      This answers a question I’ve had and didn’t know how to ask: does fashion/apparel college burn you out or ignite your own personal presentation/manner of dress?

      I worked at both of the local opera and symphony development offices for over ten years, and getting dressed for work was expensive. There were class appearance expectations (you dress like your clients) that involved a lot of dry cleaning and hosiery. Eventually I worked out a uniform set of clothes (all self made) that fit the requirements and could be cleaned at home.
      Now I like to clash. Eventually I’ll get back to neutrals 😉

      • eimear

        I don’t know the answer to that question. I think at the time because foundation course I did had a strong fine art leaning rather than design, when I transferred to a different art college to do fashion, I had to work in a linear design way and I didnt ‘get’ it. I was unable to articulate my ideas that well as it seemed it was all about explaining why…. I ended up going back and doing fine art print some years later.

        As a by the way – I bought a whirlpool cabinet steamer thing about 14 years ago, and its like a home dry clean – I spot clean and then put it in this-they are discontinued now but if you ever find one second hand they are a so useful (and great for finishing off any me-makes.

      • fabrickated

        I love your approach to life SJ, and have been mulling this over. Often the hairdresser, dressmaker and cook stand back, wear inconspicuous outfits (black or white stuff) so their creation does the talking.

  2. Ruth

    I love seeing people wearing colour and having put effort into their clothes, which definitely expresses their personality. It’s sad to see women who just wear black or a conformist uniform. That’s what is great about making your own clothes. We sewists/dressmakers are all shapes, sizes and colouring but can create unique and individual clothes that fit us well. My observation of teenage children is that those interested in science and maths, especially boys are less interested in how they present themselves, almost as though the physical world doesn’t matter as much as what is going on in their heads. My fourteen year boy hates shopping, I do encourage him to wear colours, and hope that he will develop his own style as he gets older.

  3. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    100% in agreement- even ‘not bothering’ is a definite choice. I love to see other people well-dressed, or even ‘badly’ dressed, but in some distinctive demonstration of their personality. I think that IT nerds personify this non-choice, with their grungy eccentric looks! Most teenagers seem to wear very dull clothes, something I first noticed when I went to uni as a mature student 25 years ago- I was quite surprised at the time.
    I always refused to put my kids into uniform at primary school, encouraging them to wear bright colours, especially on photograph days…time enough for greyness at secondary school, where of course everyone tries to get round the rules.
    I’m generally anti-uniform, although I do think that older kids should be encouraged to understand that some kinds of clothing are inappropriate simply BECAUSE of the fact they will be judged by others. College students often don’t get this, and we see a lot of girls shivering around in midriff-baring clothes in midwinter. A rather desperate attempt to flaunt their new sexuality I suppose. The boys with their arses hanging over their droopy trousers are as bad. Always so grubby too…
    I get most compliments and smiles when I wear red dresses, or quirky tops and T shirts, and it’s really clear that there’s a cheering effect [not least on myself]. On days when I grab more sober colours, I feel more conservative and formal of course. I rarely wear jeans any more, even on days off, mainly because I can’t buy any to fit, and don’t particularly enjoy making them [boring], and also feel a bit like mutton dressed as lamb, and more self-conscious in them. Odd that, I don’t give a toss how many people stare when I’m in steampunk gear, or otherwise showily dressed.
    Lots to think about, I’m sure this discussion will run for a while!

  4. Hila

    What a wonderfully thought-provoking post Kate. My personal opinion is that how we present ourselves matter. I apply the do unto others as they would unto you principle here – it starts with me and how I perceive people. I do judge a book by its cover – I am drawn to talking with someone who looks interesting and has an easy conversation starter like ” I love that vintage look you have going”. For myself, just coming out of a depression relapse, my colourful wardrobe and accessories were the first things to go and I have been for the past few months clad in a daily uniform of grey/black pants and similar colour t shirt. Because I retreat I retreat from colour and any expression of myself when I am depressed I have associations that dressing like that is a form of hiding. I have children and I had to do the school run and all the other stuff which forced me to get up and get dressed but I also didnt want to be seen – I wanted to disappear. I guess that’s what I was presenting to the world and I wasn’t seen for the most part. Now though since I have come off medication and am beginning to feel like myself again I am excited about wearing colour, dresses, skirts, belts, accessories… again. I am ready to be seen and to participate in the world. How we dress is an indicator of how we want to the world to perceive us and also how we want to interact with the world.

  5. jay

    I’m on board with huge chunks of this article, but not sure that having an interesting appearance equates with caring about others. It takes time and usually a certain amount of resources to look as good as you can, and sometimes the time and resources are all used up in caring for someone else, or more than one. New mums with low income? Harassed carers? Typically, as Elaine and Ruth touch on in their replies, individuals who use all their energy following a different drumbeat really don’t think about appearance, and for them someone who turns up looking fashionable could be off-putting, we are all just a little bit tribal. Those are the reservations. It’s great to see unusual colour combinations, creatively accessorised outfits and well fitting clothes, why do we have uniforms for school and work in an age which worships individualism? And why are those uniforms based on traditional male attire and neutral colour?

  6. Ro

    Sewing and aging helps – I’m reasonably fit but have VERY wide hips, so traditional career wear is pretty unflattering on me. Fortunately, I am at a career stage where I can choose to wear A-line skirts and dresses that are better on my shape, even though they don’t read as “high power”. Gray in my hair definitely helped with that!

  7. KW

    What you wear may impact on other people without you realising it. Standing waiting for a lift recently I was amazed when a youngish man walked past and said over his shoulder ‘that’s a good colour’. With my jeans I was wearing a handmade spotty top in a lively olive green – and it was a good colour! It obviously impacted enough on him to comment and the surprise of his comment certainly made me feel pleased about my top. Interestingly I had been stopped by a woman a few months previously asking where I had bought the top. So an assumption that our appearance or colour choices have little or no impact on others may not necessarily be accurate. I make and wear the clothes I choose for my own pleasure and interest but you would have to be made of stone not to be pleased when someone else notices your efforts!

    • fabrickated

      KW – I have had this experience too – and always with items I have made myself, especially when I printed or painted the fabric too. Maybe I looked pleased with myself, but somehow the uniqueness of the style, colours and the fact that (I hope) the outfit enhanced me led others to feel happy and to communicate that back. When it happens it is really nice.

  8. KS Sews

    Without fail, when I wear my bright and colorful V1395 dress, people pretty much fall over themselves to compliment it. I get compliments on other things, or agape stares (like with my bright red-orange coat!), but when I wear THAT dress?! It cracks me up! 🙂

    I was just commenting on a similar topic in the PR forums. I’ll never be a tee + black leggings kind of person. 1) I don’t WANT to look like everyone else. I like to stand out. 2) I like clothes. I like color and texture. I like the dimensionality of choosing an OUTFIT…a LOOK.

    Almost 3 years in at my current company, people have stopped commenting on me being “dressed up” most days. It both perplexes and annoys me. One day I had on a heathered blue t-shirt (a woman’s tee so it was a fitted, scoop neck) and a shorter a-line skirt with a colorful horizontal print. I was slightly annoyed. DRESSED UP HOWWWW?!

    Another time I was wearing a knit top, ponte pants and a cardigan with flats. The person who said it to me had on a tshirt (oversized), hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants with flip flops. I was perplexed. We have on the same basic pieces–knits and flat shoes. I only made a slightly different choice than you, but I’m doing something “weird” or “out of the ordinary”??

    As I mentioned on that PR thread, everyone else can have the athleisure trend. It isn’t for me! Every day is like a mini adventure as I put together clothes, shoes, jewelry. And it does NOT take a lot of time! 🙂

    • Elaine Sabin-Simpson

      That just shows how little effort or thought most people put into their clothes doesn’t it? Just like buying the whole mitchy matchy room at The Range lol. I have noticed that people use ‘dressed up’ as a description, rather than just saying ‘that’s a nice outfit’, which indicates that their general expectation of everyday clothing is tat it looks crap!

      • fabrickated

        Yes! Everyone knows when you are going for an interview because you don’t normally dress smartly! And I think this is why people often get it completely wrong for weddings etc – they just don’t get enough practice in working out what works for them. So they become victims of the “occasion dressing” trend which I loath. Demented Fairy and KS both make everyday an occasion and hurrah to that.

    • fabrickated

      Yes, yes, yes KS – everyday is like a mini-adventure. Your zest for life is evident in that orange coat and how you put your outfits together. You look great, feel great and I think you are a role model in your confident use of colour and stylish approach to life. Bravo!

  9. Helen

    Great post!
    I love to see people who have made an effort, a pair of bright shoes is a real mood lifter. I had a job interview this week. I had a good think about how to project myself. I chose a pair of well fitting trousers I had made, a plain light grey jumper which I accessoried with an oversized bright multicoloured necklace. I don’t wear much make up but a black line along my top lids and blusher make a big difference. I felt confident in how I looked.
    I really need to take a good look though my wardrobe and turf out the deadwood for when I start a new job next year . It’s not necessarily a new image that I want but it’s having enough of the good pieces so I don’t fall into the lazy jeans and stripy top unimaginative look for work.

    • fabrickated

      Yes stripy top and jeans works for me too Helen, but it is so ubiquitous I see it everyday as a sort of middle class uniform. I like the sound of your interview outfit and I really hope you got it, or another role that you can love. I really enjoy dressing for work these days! It is very casual where I am, with lots of young people and hyper diversity. So I do want to stand out a bit (as the boss) but I am close to my teams and I don’t want too many barriers. Also I always cold and thick woolies, puffer gilets (I know it sounds disgusting but I think I have nailed it), textured tights, long skirts or trousers, scarves indoors, and trainers – I think I look pretty unique at the moment. Good luck with the next stage in your career and do let us know how you get on.

  10. Karen

    Such a thought-provoking post. As a retiree from a conservative, corporate job I now enjoy the freedom to dress as I feel. I choose a color scheme twice a year and have fun sewing garments I can mix and match into whatever I wish to express that particular day. My shape is heavier than I wish but I camouflage my flaws by sewing flattering silhouettes using a few key TnT patterns. I’ve always loved fashion and sewing enables me to express it. I feel that people do judge us by our appearance (it’s only natural) and I do care but also enjoy expressing myself in my dress and whatever one thinks is okay with me.

  11. gill

    I veer from one day putting a lot of thought into deciding what to wear, to the next just bunging on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt – but I have to say that making my own clothes makes me think much more about what I wear. I’d love to be stylish, but frankly I’m more quirky. If I’m not sure what to wear or what the dress code is I wear one of my 50’s style dresses in a mad fabric – like my sewing machine or Minnie Mouse dresses. I usually get compliments (but maybe that’s people trying the pacify the mad lady!) Gill (still loving Norfolk)

    • fabrickated

      I find myself making eccentric choices Gill, especially at the weekend, just because I can. In the country this seems to be unremarkable and older women are somehow “excused” from style. I am glad you are happy and quirky (sending my love)

  12. Karen Kayes

    I really enjoyed your post and have given some thought to what you said about making an effort with your clothing, and how we judge based on appearance. I mostly take care in what I wear and enjoy using colour. I never wear black and love to co-ordinate my outfits, which are mostly handmade, but that’s because I feel confident in my tastes and don’t mind the attention it draws, however minor it might be. I guess others just don’t feel the same. They don’t want to stand out and that’s why they dress the way they do and I’ve been guilty of that for a few periods in my life too. It’s also true that once you get to know someone their appearance and clothing become less important, unless your relationship is based on those things. I do love it when someone’s made an effort and appreciate others’ style, however quirky.

  13. Jo Anderson

    Working mostly by myself, and from my home studio, I wear mostly my ‘home-office uniform’ or as I call them ‘day pyjamas!’. these are not actual pj’s, just comfy clothes that are about layering. I’m a pattern maker and designer and compared to my ‘going to meetings’ outfits they are very low key. I don’t have to be in ‘power-mode’ in my own space I guess. Today I’m working on carpentry in the shed, there is something empowering about workboots and powertools too!
    I also make a point of telling women (sometimes men) if I love their outfit. even crossing the road or restaurant to do so. I’m still thinking of the 70+ women in a restaurant last week with a great angled bob, silver hair and amazing black jewellery, out with friends her outfit was stunning and a stand out compared to all the others. I do this commenting gig more with women over 50. Our society is good at ignoring older women, I like to compliment them and it’s great to see them light up with joy that someone’s noticed. thanks for the post today.

    • fabrickated

      Let’s all try to compliment each other a little more often. People seem to be scared to say anything, but it can really help the stranger feel special. And I agree there is a role for indoor pyjamas – I do it too. But if someone comes round I run into the bedroom to change – in my ideal world I find outfits for the weekend at home that are also presentable and stylish. But I have noticed that many creatives wear the dullest clothes while they produce stunning work for others.

  14. Kerry

    Another thought provoking post, Kate. In fact I have so many disparate thoughts on this topic that I don’t know how to put them down in a single comment! But here goes….

    Part of what I do is work with women experiencing disadvantage (many are domestic violence survivors) to dress for job interviews and to provide clothes for those lucky enough to have successfully found employment. For many women the opportunity to try on different outfits, colours, styles and sizes is a luxury. They might care about how they look, but don’t have the time or the money. (Why shop or even window shop if you haven’t enough money for rent?) So what I find is that many of my clients embrace the opportunity to try out new looks and to dress for their body shape with pride and confidence. Because they often haven’t had time for ‘me’ they don’t know how to dress themselves. Once we discover the styles and colours that work for THEM and that they love, I then suggest that they work on those principles for new purchases (a bit Trinny and Susanna style) so in effect it’s a ‘uniform’ in terms of colours and shapes.

    I have two daughters who are different sizes and shapes. The older one has a beautiful curvy six foot figure and is very stylish and confident in her choices and has loved clothes since the age of six when she started (for better or worse) choosing her own clothes. My younger daughter certainly has a style that she likes and suits her, but she was bullied at high school into ‘fitting in’ (read grey/black leggings etc) and still struggles to let her true style out. She hates standing out but has model figure and looks so often hides behind ‘beige’ clothes. I do hope so much that she will gain confidence as she matures.

    So what am I trying to say? Given that the above examples are my limited experience of how and why others dress the way they do, many people want to NOT be noticed and go about their day like little brown sparrows while others dress to please themselves and in doing so give others enjoyment and put a smile on our faces. For example, I love seeing our Japanese tourists and students; these young girls dress in classic outfits with beautiful shoes and handbags. Such a joy.

    I care about how I look and I nearly always stick to a few colours (although I do love my brights) and I need a certain level of comfort. I haven’t overly thought about how I present to others because I do it for me. I recently bought a dress (from a charity shop) that is bright and bold and very me. I have only worn it twice but have received so many compliments and I wondered was it the dress or the pleasure I felt in wearing it that got me all those compliments?

    • fabrickated

      I think I should just hand the blog over to you Kerry. This is fantastic and so interesting. I think daring to be a different, and a more confident of our choices, is one of the areas thoughtful women who are a little older, or who have achieved greater confidence, can pass on to the next generation, or women who have had more challenging lives. So I love what you are doing. And the Japanese girls! Yes. We have lots in London too and I especially love the knee socks – it is such an unusual look here, but their interest in presentation is inspirational to me – just look at the food! Many thanks for all your efforts to turn those sparrows into peacocks!

  15. Suzanne

    Lovely post Kate!

    My opinion is that how we present ourselves is not only about the self, and all that goes with that, but with how we interact with the community. I see dressing with thought/care as a sign of respect for those around you (which might be why you get pleasure from those who do take the time to do something interesting).

    I moved a couple of years ago to a hot/humid climate, and I’m still learning what a sense of style would be for me. I now love color and clothes that don’t cling. But I don’t want to live in t-shirts and shorts. So, I explore.

    Moreover, I’m a professor, regularly interacting with young men and women more than half my age. How I present myself to them is important – it shows that I care enough about them to make an effort, and not just to prepare an interesting class. So many of professors fall for the frumpy, “I don’t care about fashion” look, in part because we can.

    • fabrickated

      And a lovely reply Suzanne! I think the frumpy point is well made. I know quite a few women, when they get a senior job, start dressing like they think they should. And this often includes choosing something that is too old for them, and unfashionable/dated. Skirts that are too long, plain, dull jackets, not very nice blouses or tops, jumpers and cardigans in boring colours. It’s almost like they are grateful for the job and now feel that have to conform and not draw attention to themselves, like a version of the school prefect.

      Your style challenges are nice to have. I can’t imagine the issues associated with dressing in hot conditions. I guess I would gravitate towards summer dresses as I love them! And investigate what the locals wear and try an adaptation of that.

  16. birdmommy

    I’m trying to transition away from wearing mostly black and grey – but it’s tricky to do unless you are at the point where you can simply chuck (or donate) a bunch of items and start from scratch. Don’t even get me started on finding hosiery suited to a Canadian winter that comes in any colour other than black or grey…

    I have been making an effort to be more daring with my choice of winter wear though. I recently bought a mid-thigh length parka that is a crisp ‘true’ white. I’ve taken to calling it my ‘big sexy yeti’ coat. 🙂
    I didn’t realize how much it stands out in a crowd until someone mentioned how ‘flashy’ it is – and not really as a compliment. I never would have thought of myself as a flashy dresser – but apparently wearing a colour that I look good in, and that most people won’t wear, is somehow showing off… 🙁

    • fabrickated

      Hi Birdmommy – I really like the idea of sexy yeti coat in white. It will really bring your greys and blacks to life. It is so interesting that this has been referred to as “flashy” – there is such a fear of standing out that we worry about a colourful coat. But I have found a great coat in a nice colour just cheers me up. I am thinking of a woman wearing an yellow coat at the bus stop yesterday and I nearly told her that she looked great. I could tell it was not a high quality item, and she was an early morning worker (so I am presuming not well off), and she stood out and looked great. The yellow lifted my spirits and I am sure everyone else’s.

  17. talliswoman

    This is a really interesting question – and, obviously, plays out differently for men and women. I do like to make the effort to dress nicely, and without doubt it influences how people see you. But I also worry that our current preoccupation with appearance (both for men and women, but particularly women) is something that should be resisted, or at least questioned. And I also worry that about the drive to consume – not just clothes, and shoes, and accessories, but cosmetics and waxing and hair dye and botox – that might be either the cause, or the effect, of this.

    • fabrickated

      I agree that over concern about appearance to the exclusion of the content is a sign of the times, as evidence by the explosion of the narcissistic selfie. Clearly there are people around who are simply in love with their looks. And I agree that gluttonous consumption seems to be related to this. I guess my feeling was just that taking care of how we look can be connected to our self esteem, and consideration of others. I think the key difference for me is that I want the way we look to reflect our true selves – the best, or more beautiful version of who we are – rather than a look or style that is laid down for us.

      • talliswoman

        That’s actually an interesting distinction, and worth further thought. I guess thoughtful presentation and mindless consumerism are very different things. I think I’m still trying to find the point along the spectrum where I feel comfortable – both physically and ethically – and I think continually probing these kinds of issues is part of that process. Thanks for a stimulating post (one of many)!

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