More than 20 years ago, my daughter came home from the fourth grade and recounted a story at the dinner table that we’d never forget. During recess, she and her friend had decided to share their New Year’s resolutions. After my daughter disclosed her intensely personal goal, her friend took a deep breath and divulged that she resolved “to be more fashionable.”
We howled. It seemed so ridiculous to us, so superficial, even, to consider one’s fashion sense a critical flaw that needed to be legitimately addressed. To this day, whenever our family is confronting a particularly perplexing problem, someone is bound to come out with “Well, let’s just resolve to be more fashionable!” and the phrase makes us laugh, jolting everything back into its proper perspective. Fashion, after all, has no real effect on a person’s value or performance.
Or does it?
A few years ago, after years of Anusara yoga classes, I decided to try my first Bikram (hot) yoga class in Hampden. I showed up in my usual worn-out stretch capris and a paint-stained tee shirt advertising a resort I’d been to in 1992. The experience was kind of like taking a regular yoga class in a central Florida parking lot at high noon in July, and I struggled to finish. Afterward, I bought a pair of hot-yoga shorts and a top that was colorful and light, and the next time I took class, I felt better—more energized and more capable. I was definitely a perkier perspirer.
The fact is, even if we like to think of ourselves as thoughtful, practical, don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-type people, we have to admit that what we wear can affect how we feel, and how we feel affects how we behave.
First day of school, first day of work, graduations, weddings, job interviews—these are the times when we are likely to be at our most fashionable, or, in my case, presentable. I’ve always admired those who are fashion forward, sartorially courageous individuals who can pick up something from the runway and actually run with it—be it a dramatic hemline, a nosebleed-generating heel height, or an eccentric pattern mix.
But that’s just not me.
I sport what I like to think of as a “classic” style, but it’s really more of a demure, quasi-military, stuck-in-the-1950s look. I thank my father for this, because he always complimented my sisters and me as children when we dressed in outfits that featured elements of a nautical lifestyle—crisp navy and white, pressed collars, trim lines, functional details. We Fricke girls were the American Von Trapps!
St. Christopher’s School on Long Island also had a hand in my dismissiveness of trends, for it was there I discovered the ease and freedom of wearing a uniform, receiving positive reinforcement daily with points for the neatness of my knee socks and pleated plaid skirt.
Combined, these early experiences with both Dad and Sister Ann Richard provided a simple, formulaic way of dressing, and it suited me well. (Except in Manhattan, when a stranger in the subway once took a look at my navy skirt and red blazer and asked which airline I worked for.)
Today, I suppose I’d need a fashion intervention to break free from my automatic dash to the tailored white shirt in the department store. And I’m always going to be a candidate for a makeover, just to bring me into the current decade. But I do understand and appreciate the power generated by a killer outfit.
Well-wielded, a punch of fashion can drop many a jaw. Self-administered, it can snap you out of a bad mood, or let you wallow in one—it’s your choice. And whether you stick with safe or venture boldly on the wild side, make no mistake that your fashion choices, or lack thereof, say something about you.
Do you have a submission about the intersection of fashion and life? Send your fashioned post to Jessica Gregg, STYLE’s managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.