Recently, as I was shopping with a client, she turned to me and shared, “My mother always said that in order to look beautiful I had to put up with a certain amount of pain.” We laughed about it, but there was a ring of familiarity to it. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that there was widespread acceptance (or maybe just resignation) that in order to look great you had to suffer and be uncomfortable — whether it was bustles, bone corsets and multiple petticoats or simply pantyhose and high heels. The sad fact is that many women still accept this as absolute truth and worse, they feel like they have to sacrifice who they are and how they want to dress in order to be comfortable, and when faced with a choice between the two, comfort almost always prevails. There seems to be little room for allowing that beauty and comfort can co-exist.
I hear you! With each passing year, I have less and less tolerance for things that bind, scratch, squeeze or restrict me in some way. It might also come as a surprise to learn that not everyone has the same ideas about what is beautiful, painful or comfortable. This one took me a long time to understand and accept. Over the years, I have learned that we are all different. Our bodies vary. Our histories are diverse and our beauty monitors are very personal. Helping hundreds and hundreds of women shop for clothes has created an important awareness for me that what one person perceives of as beautiful another might see as downright hideous. I don’t judge. I just listen and help them integrate their preferences with beauty, style and grace.
This idea that beauty varies from person to person was driven home for me many years ago while buying a wedding present for friends. At the time, I thought that buying something from someone’s registry felt impersonal. I wanted to choose something special and unexpected. After looking in a number of beautiful artisan showrooms, I thought, hmmm, perhaps I should take a look at their registry just to see what they like and need and to get some ideas of what might fit well in their home. Well, lo and behold, I personally was not attracted to anything they had chosen on their list. Not one thing. I immediately realized that chances were good that if I didn’t like anything they had selected that they would probably dislike anything I chose and thought was beautiful. So, I purchased something off their registry to be sure they were happy and made a mental note that this was not an isolated experience.
The same thing translates to painful vs. comfortable when it comes to clothing. I know women (more than you might expect) who are perfectly comfortable wearing pantyhose. In fact, they prefer it. I, on the other hand, will occasionally wear pantyhose (although I ALWAYS cut the waistband so they don’t squish my tummy), but whenever possible (assuming I have to wear stockings at all) I opt for thigh highs. I have also found that some women enjoy wearing layers to keep them warm and cozy while others think layers feel bunchy and restrictive. Some women sing the praises of ballet flats as combining comfort and beauty, while others, like me, cannot find a pair that feels good on their feet. Thankfully, we have options — in fact, more than any other time in history.
It’s not that we need to get rid of certain styles, it’s more that we each have to explore and discover what makes us happy within the parameters of what we personally perceive as beautiful and comfortable. In my book, That’s So You!, I talk about “What’s on Your Never-Wear-Again List.”‘ The thing I have learned is that that list will be different for each person and the list will change as time goes by. I also know we have to honor it without restricting our options so severely that we feel lost. I can speak to that from personal experience.
It is so easy to get set in our ways and our beliefs about what is comfortable and what is not. For years, I could not understand the appeal of wearing jeans. I found them to be stiff, binding at the waist and I thought they looked messy on me. I always felt mildly perplexed by the idea that someone would want to run home from work to put on her jeans. Jump ahead twenty years to when manufacturers started adding elastane (the miracle fabric, in my estimation) to the denim. While I still resisted trying jeans on at first because I “believed” jeans were inherently uncomfortable, I finally did and now I’m sold on them. The elasticity makes them comfortable and helps them hold their shape so they do not look and feel messy.
Do you feel stuck in a fashion rut? Do you worry that in order to feel better about how you look you will have to be uncomfortable in what you wear? If so, ask yourself these five questions:
- How do I not want to feel in my clothes?
- How do I want to feel in my clothes?
- How has my belief that beauty comes at a painful price kept me stuck? What has it kept me from wearing because I believe I will be uncomfortable wearing it? (Include everything even if you still think it will feel uncomfortable.)
- What would I add to my wardrobe this minute if I thought I could be comfortable wearing it (be as outlandish and seemingly unbelievable as you want to)? For instance, maybe you would like to wear heels instead of flats but feel sure that because of your orthotics, bunions, flat feet, painful joints, etc. you can’t.
- What step can I take to add more beauty to my wardrobe and personal style without sacrificing comfort? (Remember, it never “hurts” to try something again to see if there is a way to wear it comfortably or to see if it feels better than you remember.) Perhaps you find a new store (online or brick and mortar) that makes comfy stacked heels that give you a little lift. Even if you don’t find exactly what you were looking for, allow yourself to have fun exploring. While bearing in mind how you do not want to feel in your clothes, use the information about how you do want to feel (provided your list gets beyond comfort) — remember, it’s just a list — to inspire you.
Lastly, if you see your personal beauty requirements as strict limitations they will be, whereas if you see them as an adventure in dressing, you will open up so many new possibilities — things you cannot imagine now. This is always true. Beauty does not have to hurt, but sacrificing beauty can feel painful on a soul level.