Are You Standing Out for the Right Reasons?

May 4, 2016

As Rachel stood in front of the mirror looking casually elegant in a beautiful blue sweater and jeans with high-heeled boots that showed off her long legs, I could sense her discomfort. This was an outfit a friend helped her buy and, while she acknowledged that she looked good, she said it without conviction. When I probed a little more, we got to the heart of the matter. She felt conspicuous, like the entire world would be staring at her in this outfit. This was a foreign experience for her, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it.

Can you relate to Rachel’s experience?

How do you feel about standing out from the crowd? Does the idea excite you and make you smile, or does the very thought strike terror in your heart and make you cringe? If the latter is truer for you, then what has been your alternative to standing out? Many women describe their style as “beige,” “predictable,” “decent” or “downright boring.” Rarely does a woman purposely choose that look. It is usually a response to her deeply rooted fear of standing out for the wrong reasons, i.e., she would rather fade into the woodwork than risk looking silly or inappropriate. And, without understanding ‘how’ to find a look that allows her to stand out in a positive way, she settles for a look that is okay or good enough.

The result? Each time she gets dressed, her self-esteem and confidence take a direct hit.

Some women equate standing out with looking flamboyant, outrageous or ostentatious. But that doesn’t have to be true (although those looks certainly do produce a few stares!). Standing out means owning who you are and celebrating that. And if flamboyant, outrageous or ostentatious is who you are, then celebrate it, and if it isn’t who you are then try a different approach!

You can stand out whether your look is subtle and elegant or dramatic and bold or something else entirely. As long as you display your personality and inner essence, then no matter how you express it, it just looks and feels right.

At that point, ‘standing out’ feels like a natural extension of who you are.

Recently, I met with Fiona, who was about to re-enter the dating scene and felt apprehensive. Her most pressing question was, “When should I show cleavage?” Together we did some work and determined that her personality was primarily gentle, heartfelt and radiant. I could tell just by looking at her that the idea of showing a lot of cleavage felt foreign and uncomfortable. Fiona had a predetermined belief, however, that she was supposed to expose cleavage at some point in her dating experience, so it came as a great relief to her to learn that she never had to if she didn’t want to, especially if it wasn’t true to her essence.

What she really wanted to explore was how to look and feel sexy in a way that was authentic for her. Now, that’s a different story!

What about you? What is your look saying about you? What motivation is driving you to choose the outfits you do? Are you trying to blend in and hide (this never really works) or stand out in a way that gives you confidence and feels good?

As with Rachel, women are hesitant about standing out, but this is usually because they don’t know how to do so in a positive way. If you could use a little support in this area, here’s an exercise to help.

The next time you get dressed, rate the outfit you choose to wear on a scale of one to ten. A ten would mean that you are totally celebrating yourself and dressing authentically with no apologies, and a one would mean that you are hiding as much as is humanly possible. Obviously, the goal is to get to ten!

Next, analyze your look. What aspect of your style feels like you are trying really hard not to be noticed? Is it the:

  • color (too beige, black or neutral)?
  • cut of the outfit (too big, boxy or shapeless)?
  • fabric (sweatshirt, or head-to-toe polar fleece or shapeless cotton)?
  • overall style (it looks like your mother, sister or best friend so you can fit in)?
  • accessories (or lack thereof)?
  • lack of textures or patterns (all smooth solid colors)?

Once you have analyzed your current look, make a concerted effort to tweak just one component at a time. Add texture, a touch of color or some accessories. Keep trying until it feels good and fun.

Remember, you aren’t trying to stand out just to stand out.

This is about feeling empowered to express your inner beauty and authenticity. As with Fiona above who worried about showing cleavage on her dates, you have to determine what feels right for you in your life right now.

To give you an example, Jan is someone who is open-hearted and creatively snazzy. Plus, her coloring is gentle and warm so too much of anything (color, pattern or texture) is going to overpower her.

As you can see in this before picture:

  • The pattern in the top is too big and bright on Jan. Instead of feeling open-hearted, it feels overpowering.
  • The colors are too cool whereas her coloring is warm.
  • The cut of the top is closed up (again, not open-hearted) with the high neckline and cap sleeves.
  • What you see is the top standing out, not Jan.

In the after picture of Jan,

  • The floral pattern is about half the size of the giant flowers in the before top AND instead of the colors being sharply contrasting the blues and greens feel softer and more blending.
  • The neckline is more open and beautifully frames and balances her neck and face.
  • The necklace blends nicely with the top adding a touch of creativity.

To give you another example, Alexandra describes herself as refreshingly graceful. She wears delicate colors and soft styles. When she wears a jacket, it is not made of bulky, heavy fabric and does not have a lot of hardware. The accessories she chooses are always expressive in a lovely, gentle way. Meanwhile, Jane is quirky and colorful. She can wear deep, bold colors and often wears two chunky necklaces at once without it seeming like too much.

The delicious part of all of this is that both Alexandra and Jane stand out in their own individual way. If Jane toned everything down and tried to be refreshingly graceful and Alexandra wore brightly colored, quirky clothes, they would each feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. They would stand out in a way that felt disingenuous.

Remember Rachel? That’s exactly what she was worried about. As soon as we swapped the high-heeled boots for flat ones, she relaxed and smiled. Her legs still looked long, and the blue sweater still showed off her eyes. But she felt more grounded and at ease. Her internal peace shined through, and this is something others cannot help but notice. She now stood out in a way that reflected her inner beauty.

The same can be true for you. When you stand out for the right reasons it feels less like standing out and more like being willing to be seen authentically. As you build your personal style step by step and begin to make positive changes, you will find the styles and garments that genuinely reflect who you are. That is the sweet point where standing out as you has a whole new, delightful meaning!

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