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Dress to Express
Seven Secrets to Overcoming Closet Trauma and Revealing Your Inner Beauty
By Tracy McWilliams
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Tracy McWilliams
All rights reserved.
Define Your Image — and Create One
I have lived in this body all my life and know it better than any fashion designer; I am only willing to purchase the item which becomes me and to wear that which enhances my image of myself to myself.
— Maya Angelou
How you feel and how comfortable you are in the clothes you wear comes from your own self-image. That image is molded by your thoughts as well as your deepest vision of who you are. Confidence is vital to defining that image and creating that vision. Confidence enables you to be comfortable with who you are and how you look. Your confidence level will either support you in selecting the right clothes to wear or create havoc: low self-esteem makes you feel like you can never look good enough. Chapter 3, Claim Your Confidence and Be Lifted Up, explores the importance of confidence to expressing your inner beauty through the way you dress.
The image we create for ourselves directs what is possible for us. Who do you want to be? How do you want to look? How do you want to dress? What do you want people to see when they look at you? Using clothing as a prop, you can give people an immediate sense of you and let your personality shine forth to say, "This is who I am — aren't I great?"
The key to looking great in clothes is understanding that you are the best judge of how you want to look. This is what defining your image is all about. Other people may offer you useful tools for dressing, as this book does, but ultimately, dressing to let your inner self shine forth is what makes you dynamic and beautiful as a woman. Connecting your outer image to your inner beauty is the first step on the journey to clothing bliss.
Clothing bliss is the feeling of calm that is achieved when you are confident that your clothing choices really do reflect your best self. Have you ever noticed someone who is beautifully dressed yet you can sense that she is not comfortable in her clothes or with the image she has created? Perhaps she would like nothing more than to throw off her clothes and put on something else that is more aligned with who she really is inside. On one occasion, I was at dinner with a group of friends and I noticed a woman in the group that I didn't know very well. She was wearing a fitted gold pantsuit with a low-cut burgundy silk top. She spent the whole evening fidgeting in her clothes, pulling her top up because she obviously felt it was too low cut and adjusting her jacket. The outfit was beautiful and she looked great in it, but she did not feel comfortable and it showed.
If you can dress to express your own personal image, your self-confidence will shine through. In addition, if you can match your clothing image to who you want to be on the inside and carry it off with confidence, you can take yourself further along the path to being the woman you aspire to be. Once you are dressed and out, regardless of where you are going, be confident even if you are not comfortable with your clothing choices because it will show. Dressing your best is about matching your inner beauty with your outer self and vice versa. When the match is complete, looking fabulous is the byproduct and clothing bliss is the result.
There are three factors that have influenced how we see ourselves and the way we dress today. Some or all of these factors will have played a part in determining our clothing choices up until now:
1. EXPERIENCES: Our past experiences have shaped how we dress and the way see ourselves today. These experiences may be related to family, friends, or strangers. One influence could be something as simple as watching a movie star, seeing the way the movie star looks, and wanting to follow suit.
Many of us observe movie stars or celebrities and try to copy how they look. We need to remember that they have personal shoppers, image-makers, makeup artists, and personal trainers showering them with attention, and they are usually photographed looking their best.
2. INFLUENCES OF PARENTS, SIBLINGS, AND FRIENDS: Influences related to clothing and image started for most women as children. We learned how to dress from watching our mothers, sisters, or other family members, and later our friends.
If we had strong influences from family and friends growing up, we may have been limited in the development of our own clothing likes and dislikes. For instance, while Sarah was growing up, her mother was a strong force in her life. Sarah was very shy and felt overwhelmed by her mother's strong opinions, especially those related to image and clothing. She would tell Sarah what to wear and what not to wear, according to her own personal likes and dislikes. Yet Sarah and her mother have very different body types: Sarah has a petite frame and her mother is more rounded with a larger bust size. Sarah would end up wearing clothing that would have looked better on her mother, such as long tops or jackets that did not show off her waist. To this day, Sarah still wears baggy sweatshirts and tops in styles that do not highlight her best physical features or true personality. What should she wear? Given her petite frame and small bust, she would be better off wearing fitted tops that show off her small frame. A gathered neckline, a halter top, or a V-neck top are all styles that would work well for Sarah given her small bust. Tops with pockets at the breast line would also be flattering. All of Sarah's clothes should be fitted not too tight or too large; this alone would help to highlight her best physical features.
With their own strong influences such as those Sarah experienced, many women did not learn how to dress based on who they are. Instead they learned to dress based on the preferences and dictates of the people around them. They weren't permitted to tap into their inner vision of who they are. As adults, many of us continue to make clothing choices based on conditioning and expectations from our childhood.
When we do not develop a strong sense of our own personal image to counteract the clothing and image influences of family and friends, we are likely to find ourselves subject to closet trauma, that out-of-control feeling that comes from not knowing what to wear or how to dress to reflect who we are.
3. OUR INNATE SENSE OF SELF: This is the part of our personality that we cannot easily define; it is our core being. This is the underlying personality we were born with, and through it we develop our likes and dislikes. When this factor is stronger than the two factors above, you experience less closet trauma because you are dressing from your own sense of self relative to image. Our sense of self can become dominant at any point in our lives just through the development and refinement of our own likes and dislikes. When this happens, the two factors above become secondary. In many cases a woman's sense of self may be strong in other areas of her life — in regard to career or relationships — but weak relative to image, clothing, or appearance.
By understanding the factors that have influenced our self-images and the clothing we choose to wear today, we can make choices about our image and appearance that are conscious instead of reactive or unconscious. We can define how we want to look instead of letting the past do that for us. We all have different emotional issues that affect how we feel about ourselves and our appearance; these will be fully explored in chapter 6, Tame Your Clothing Emotions. By dressing today as you would like to be now and in the future, you can develop and improve your image along with your self-esteem.
What if you consciously decided who you wanted to be and then dressed only in accordance with that image? This is how the entertainment business molds its stars. But for most of us, getting dressed has become an unconscious act. We wear the same types and styles of clothing that we have worn for years. Possibly the image we have of ourselves is outdated. Most of us are not even aware of our true preferences and the kind of clothing choices that would make us look the way we have always secretly dreamed of.
We live in a society where other people define us, consciously or unconsciously, by how we appear — and how we dress. Just look at all the advertisers that spend millions of dollars a year telling us how to be beautiful and youthful. Making it possible for others to see us for who we are or want to be helps us build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Do you know what image you are creating? Again, most of us never even think about how we dress. We learn how to dress and unknowingly create a self-image by watching our mother or sister and, as we get older, our friends. Some of us are lucky enough to create our own personal style, but most of us still dress based on what we observed growing up and the influences that surround us every day.
The fastest way to change your image and clothing life is to:
* figure out who you want to be (through thought);
* define the image that will match who you want to be (create a vision of the clothing you);
* step into that role by matching the outer image to your inner vision (take the action to implement your vision).
I call these three steps The Image Circle.
1. Defining your image comes from your thoughts about who you are.
2. These thoughts create the vision of how you want to look and dress.
3. This vision will direct you to take action, choosing what to wear.
When we dress based on the influences of other people, we bypass thought and vision in defining our image to go directly to action. This creates closet trauma because we have not thought about what to wear based on the vision of who we are inside.
By defining your image, you create a feeling of wholeness because you complete the image circle: you think about how you want to look, you create a vision of your clothing self, and finally you take action to make yourself clothing beautiful.
The true image of who you are comes from within. When you bring your attention inward and decide who you are or want to be, you can change anything. You can craft and then implement a new image by matching the outside with who you are on the inside through the way you dress and present yourself. Whatever thoughts you think about yourself are outwardly reflected whether they are negative or positive — this is why controlling your selfcommunication style, as described in chapter 7, is so important. The clothing image you have created to this point comes from the vision you have of yourself — your inner vision.
In this chapter and throughout the book there are exercises that serve as guides to help you learn how to dress to express who you are, and how to connect to your inner vision. Take a lined pad of paper or notebook and create for yourself a clothing journal. Use it to complete the exercises and for any additional notes you might want to make about styles or types of clothing you have found that look good on you, or ideas for outfit pairings.
YOUR MAGIC IMAGE WORDS
Here's a way to find out what image you are currently projecting and what image you would like to create. Write down five magic image words that reflect or describe your current image, then think of five magic image words that reflect the image you would like to create. I call these magic image words because they will magically help you transform your current image into a new image with which you'll be happier.
Most people never think about what sort of image they are creating — they just know that they want to look good. We all can look good in the right clothes on a specific day, but how do you want to look visualized from the inside out? What image do you want to create for yourself?
I was surprised by the outcome of this exercise the first time I tried it. I had not realized that I was creating an image of myself based on who I was ten years ago, and reflecting that image in the way I was dressing and the clothing I was choosing to wear in the present. Back then, I would throw on individual clothing items such as black pants and a T-shirt but never bother to create complete clothing outfits. I did not add accessory items such as jewelry or a scarf. My shirts were more fitted than they needed to be, as in my teenage days, and less tailored than they should have been if I wanted to create a look of casual elegance. I needed to update my image and my clothing look to reflect the woman I had become. Do you need to update your image and clothing look? By doing so, you will increase your self-esteem and change what you think is possible in your life.
Look at my list of magic image words. For me to transform the way I dressed and create clothing bliss, I had to change who I thought I was to who I really was today, or aspired to become. To do this, I had to change my current image into a new image and reflect that in my clothing life.
MY CURRENT IMAGENEW IMAGE
Notice the difference between my current image and my new image. I realized when I looked at my current image that I was not dressing as if I took myself seriously. Until I did this exercise, I hadn't realized how I saw myself and what I was projecting to others. What thoughts have created the vision of you? What image have you created? Who do you really want to be and how do you want to dress to reflect that image?
Take a look at the words you've chosen. How do your current image and the new image of you compare? Are they close or far apart? Are you currently reflecting who you are or not at all? Now just for fun, ask a friend or family member to pick five key words that describe your image. How do these words compare to your current image and your new image? Now that you know the image you want to create for yourself, do you know how to dress to project that image?
MY CURRENT IMAGEOTHER'S VIEWNEW IMAGE
Notice the difference in how I view myself versus how other people viewed me. Too often we have a difficult time seeing ourselves clearly. People that are close to us can provide positive feedback relative to our image. My new magic image words are surprisingly more aligned with how other people already see me. People that are close to you know your personality and the way you are as a person — whether you are dynamic or confident. Those words don't describe a clothing look; they describe an image of you the person that shines forth in your appearance. Image is not just about what you wear, but also about reflecting your inner beauty in the dressing process through your clothing choices. My clothing choices simply need to catch up with who I am now.
Now that you have a better idea of the image you want to create for yourself, do you know how to go about creating that image? How do you begin to know your own personal style? Personal style adds your own unique touch to the image you want to create. How do you make sure you project who you are on the inside and, most importantly, who you want to become?
PICTURE YOUR NEW IMAGE
Look through fashion magazines to identify a photograph that reflects the image, as described by your magic image words above, that you would like to create. Tear out that picture. Would you be comfortable with that image?
For my picture, I selected a photograph of a woman in a long cream coat with a cream turtleneck, brown pants, and camel boots. I believe that the woman in this photograph portrays the same image that I would like to create. Now, obviously I would adapt this look to match my own personal style, body type, and colors. For example, because I am petite, in order to match my body type, I would choose a coat that is shorter, ends at the hips, and is more fitted. (See chapter 11, Know Your Body, for identifying and dressing to suit your body type.) I would also wear different earrings than the woman in the photograph. She has a heart-shaped face and wears gold stud earrings. My face is oval, so I would wear hoop earrings to best accentuate my particular facial features. The colors in the photo are the perfect colors for me as described in chapter 10, Color Coordinate Your Wardrobe. They match my skin tone and warm complexion. Even though I am adjusting the image or look to my body specifically, I like the way the clothing and accessory items have been paired in the photograph to create an overall clothing look. That is the secret to creating the perfect image for you: find a look you like, then tailor it to your body type and personal taste.
Excerpted from Dress to Express by Tracy McWilliams. Copyright © 2004 Tracy McWilliams. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART I Dressing from the Inside Out: Seven Secrets for Expressing the Inner You,
CHAPTER 1 Define Your Image — and Create One,
CHAPTER 2 Choose Your Clothing Personality,
CHAPTER 3 Claim Your Confidence and Be Lifted Up,
CHAPTER 4 Visualize Yourself Beautiful,
CHAPTER 5 Defy the Clothing Myths,
CHAPTER 6 Tame Your Clothing Emotions,
CHAPTER 7 Control Your Communication Style by Connecting Your Inner and Outer Beauty,
PART II Simple Principles for Conscious Dressing,
CHAPTER 8 Accessories Make an Outfit,
CHAPTER 9 Good Quality Never Goes Out of Style,
CHAPTER 10 Color Coordinate Your Wardrobe,
CHAPTER 11 Know Your Body,
CHAPTER 12 Dress for the Occasion,
CHAPTER 13 Dress from the Top Down,
PART III Creating the Perfect Clothing Plan,
CHAPTER 14 Getting Organized Means Finding Clothing Bliss,
CHAPTER 15 Keep It Clothing Simple,
CHAPTER 16 Implement a Clothing Plan,
CONCLUSION Dress with Passion!,
APPENDIX 1 Shopping Tips to Make You Happy,
APPENDIX 2 The Seven Secrets for Expressing the Inner You,
APPENDIX 3 The Six Simple Principles for Conscious Dressing,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,