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The First Secret of Dressing Well

In 1819, Mary Brooks Picken wrote The Secrets of Distinctive Dress and one of her secrets was that “To know happiness we must appreciate beauty, and to appreciate beauty we must develop it within us.” I found this quote resonated with much of my own thinking about how-to dress. I think what is so appealing to me about clothes is that they are one of the ways we can physically embody beauty in our everyday lives. And when I’m wearing something I like, I can’t help but feel a little happier.

About the time I was reading The Secrets of Distinctive Dress, I was looking at one of my favorite blogs, Garance Dore, which tends to focus on what women are wearing today. Garance had an interview with the fashion stylist, Laura Ferrara. When Laura was asked, “Any secrets that you take from the shoot and use in your everyday life??” She says, “Shoots are a beautiful fantasy; it’s not real life – there is lighting, hair, makeup and everyone working as a team to produce a great picture. I think the secret is to know how to be happy in your everyday life and not live like you’re in a fashion shoot.”

I thought it was really intriguing that two women, almost 100 years apart, were discussing the same themes of beauty and happiness. Which made me realize that there is something universal about the female desire to find happiness and create beauty in our everyday lives, yet very few of us know how to do this today. When it comes to clothes, I think there are two barriers to this. The first is that there is a dearth of modern resources that really explain how to dress in a straight-forward and practical way, and second is the unattainable expectations set by the media. While I hope to eventually remove the first barrier, it’s the second I’d like to focus on today. I think the media often produces two kinds of women – women who try to dress like they live in a fashion shoot and then end up looking out of place in their own lives, and women who don’t even try because they think they could never live up to the ideal they see in the media. So we end up with two extremes – women who wear heels to their son’s soccer game and women who wear sweatpants to the very same game. However, I think there is beauty and happiness to be found in appreciating the kinds of things you do in your everyday life and dressing in a way that is appropriate for those activities.

Thus the first “secret” of dressing well is to consult your own life. What kinds of activities do you do on a normal basis? It is not until you know the answer to this question that you can even begin to answer the question of how to dress well.