How does one develop refined taste, particularly in clothing?
May 16, 2015 5:51 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to solve a situation which involves me regularly throwing every nice looking garment into a basket then becoming so frustrated that I put everything back then leave the store with nothing.

When I was younger I had a very certain sense of what was attractive in terms of clothing. There were things I definitely didn't like and things I loved. Something changed and since then I seem to see the potential in almost every garment of clothing (perhaps Pinterest, Tumblr etc. are to blame). I have not 'loved' anything for a very long time nor is anything completely repulsive to me. I cannot create any sort of distinction between what is attractive and unattractive. Very few things are without 'potential' - I could add an accessory to make it look nice or team it with another garment. Granted, this isn't a tragedy but its frustrating. I have asked friends which colours suit me most to try to narrow my options but I am told that most colours do. So how do I get my taste back? How do I limit my imagination? How do you develop taste (which for me now means 'rejecting things')?
posted by ihaveyourfoot to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
First step:

Stay out of stores which have "baskets" into which you put articles of clothing. Baskets are for motor oil and potato chips.

Step Two: Since you're just starting out, visit the L. L. Bean website; not to buy, but to look. Many of their offerings are classics.

Step Three: When you're ready to buy, keep this mantra in mind:
"Fewer things and better things." Well-made clothes trump fast fashion. There are whole websites devoted to examining clothes for quality workmanship.

Step Four: Read Overdressed by Elizabeth Kine. It's an eye opener.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:58 AM on May 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am allergic to synthetic fibers which has made me a very selective shopper. Avoiding anything that requires a chemically soaked dryer sheet to make it usable narrows your selection in a really good way. Items made with natural fabrics tend to be made better and they do seem to last longer. Try only buying natural fabrics for awhile.
posted by myselfasme at 6:11 AM on May 16, 2015

Try going through the Wardrobe Architect exercises. It's very well done and free.

into mind's workbook has also gotten good reviews, but it's not free.

You're in a transition time now, it sounds like, in your life. For me, this happens every five to ten years, where I reevaluate what I wear and get tired of everything and what is out there. Things like Pinterest actually make my life harder, because it sells a perfect look which isn't really achievable. So maybe step away from pinterst etc and spend a few days or weeks or months with wardrobe architect or something similar.
posted by umwhat at 6:20 AM on May 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Pick a style icon and see all clothes through their eyes. Would a French woman wear this, would George Clooney wear that, etc. Reject anything that they would reject.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:21 AM on May 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

What about making a capsule wardrobe challenge? Put your wardrobe through the capsule test and box up everything that doesn't fit the 33-item limit and identify what's missing and then shop specifically for that item in your budget. I don't actually have enough clothes to make the 33-item limit but it's become a nice way to plan towards slowly building up the ultimate wardrobe - I have spent the past two months browsing and thinking slowly through exactly what kind of jeans I want and looking for a grey tweed pencil skirt like the Alexander McQueen one I want. It makes shopping much more enjoyable to have constraints of budget and specific items.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:24 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

First of all, while it's surely frustrating, you deserve credit for leaving the store with nothing. Seriously. Most people -- myself included (and I'm very big on the buy good/buy less philosophy described by Boston Terrier) -- will tend to buy something, if only out of a sense of desperation. That thing will then become a further disappointment.

I went through a major getting-my-life-together phase a while back, and found myself flailing a bit when it came to clothes. I didn't know what looked good on me, tried emulating what various people around me were doing, and made some valuable (expensive) learning-errors in the process. (Granted, as a dude, I had fewer options to wade through, as men's clothing does not churn through trends like women's does, and what a specific style of clothing "means" is possibly easier to read.) Eventually, I hit on a process that allowed me to build a cohesive and satisfying wardrobe:

1) Does the item look like it's made to a good degree of quality for the price? How often -- realistically -- would I ever wear it? As a rule of thumb, for instance, shiny fabrics are less likely to age well, will have fewer situations where they'll be appropriate, and will be less likely to play well with other types of fabrics. So they are generally eliminated (for me).

2) Who am I? (Or, who do I want to appear to be?) Am I a high-powered business person, or a laid-back beach bum? Am I a professorial type, a fitness guru, or what? If you can't "see" that vibe when you look at clothes, try watching movies or TV shows with the sort of character you want to project. Costume designers aren't perfect, but they do put a lot of work into using clothes to signify a character's essence. For the record, I'm a Professorial-Preppy-Adventure Dirigible Pilot-Poet. ;-) (Meaning I generally wear classic tailored or outdoor clothing, with a bit of creativity and a slight scruffiness.)

3) As you refine who you are/who you want to project (and these should be true to each other, of course), the selections made via step #2 will increasingly eliminate options in step #1. I can now get just a brief glimpse of something, and tell that its color or texture (or social meaning) will never, ever, work with what I already own.
posted by credible hulk at 6:51 AM on May 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

To limit your choices when shipping, find a look or two you want to copy and only buy clots top match that look. Shop with a purpose. I need three shirts, I want them to match these criteria. Shopping with a purpose will help. I am the same at the supermarket, without a list I will buy all the food, then come home and realise while I could make something with cauliflower that doesn't taste bad, I don't actually like it. Keep a list of clothes you need and stick to it. Limiting your choices will also up your taste level. If you want day a green sorry, you now have to decide amongst an selection of green shirts and can pick the one that best suits your tastes, instead of trying to make a random item suit your tastes, so you get the best options
posted by wwax at 7:42 AM on May 16, 2015

You're thinking of clothes as "attractive" vs "unattractive". But that is only step one in figuring out a personal style. There are TONS of clothes out there that I like the look of, but which I choose not to wear, because even though an item may be attractive it doesn't fit the image of myself I am trying to convey.

This is where you're getting tripped up: you don't have an image in mind that you want to project. You're just thinking of clothes as mute aesthetic objects without considering what they say, and what you might want them to say.

So take a big step back and think about what you want people to see when they look at you. What assumptions would you prefer people to make about you before they get a chance to speak to you? What aspects of your personality bring you pride? And what image do you definitely NOT want to convey?

So take, for example, me. I am: Artsy. Loud. With a sense of humor. More feminine than masculine, but with an edge of machoness that I often try to play up. So I put those things together in my mind, and I wind up choosing an item like this pair of shoes. I might also like the appearance of, say, these, but they are too sweet and femme for the look I am going for, or these, which are more conservative/preppy than artsy/loud.

It's like writing. You have to find your voice.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:07 AM on May 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Is it already wrinkled on the shelf?
Does it require dry cleaning?
Will it require alteration?
Will it still fit me after two trips to the all you can eat buffet?
Is the zipper sticky/twisty?
Is it poorly made? (this disqualifies like 90% of stores like F21 & H&M)
Will it cling to parts of my body I'm less confident about, or be unflattering on the parts I like to show off?
Does the clothing stop and start in places I like (for example, cropped pants & mid-to-long skirts make my legs look stumpy, too-long cardigan sleeves drag in cash I count at work)

Yes, you can iron, and dry clean, and steam and replace buttons and shorten straps. But humans are lazy, and all those things mean a clothing item isn't ready right out of the dryer. There are plenty of clothing items that will be. Unless it's like, your dream vintage wedding dress, don't buy anything that won't work on you as is.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:08 AM on May 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Its simply possible nothing currently on the market matches your personal aesthetics.

Right now women's clothing are awash in coral and mint, with the only colour commonly available that I can wear being the blues. I'm not particularly sold on the Aztec prints and boxy drape, nor 90s neon. These trends will change. So if the entirety of most stores make you go yuck, just wait it out.
posted by Phalene at 8:14 AM on May 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think maybe you're just not in touch with the moment, and you've lost confidence in your instincts. It happens to everyone with time. Things have changed in the past 5-10 years enough that some of the rules of rejection/taste/fashion I know I grew up with are just not so relevant anymore. (Sorry, that's brutal, I know.) Patterns, for example, are treated really differently now, and silhouettes have changed a fair bit, matching is no longer always a virtue, etc. I'm not saying you (or anyone) should jump knee-deep into every trend, but it will help to pay attention to fashion blogs/magazines, and to what the age-peers you'd call "stylish" are wearing (celebrities too, yeah, St Peepsburg's suggestion of choosing a fashion icon is a great idea). The new rules will sink in after a while, your tastes will shift, you'll start liking things you wouldn't have expected, and you can then take what you want from it all. And/or, you could go to a department store and ask for the help of a stylist.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:37 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Stay away from young and trendy clothing shops (e.g. Forever 21). They're designed to be "fast fashion," edgy, experimental, made cheaply, and thrown away readily. Increasingly they look as if they were designed by computer programs to be worn by mannequins. We're going through a phase, as in the 1980s, when much clothing doesn't fit very well.
posted by bad grammar at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't go out and buy clothes. Look at other people, magazines, pick 1 outfit that appeals to you, go out and try to replicate it. It doesn't have to be identical, but can be 'knit top, flowy skirt, leggings, cute sandals.' Definitely follow the quality and fit rules outlined above. You may not have a capsule wardrobe, but having 1 or 2 great outfits is a start. When you shop, wear nice underwear; if you don't have nice underwear, fix that 1st. Try on a lot of clothing. Then try on some more.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would it help you to join Stitch Fix? I haven't signed on but many of my friends are very happy a having someone else curate their looks for them.
posted by semacd at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2015

Shop in vintage clothing shops, or if you have any near you, good thift shops. Places where everything in the shop is unique and therefore not trying to make you dress like this season's shop mannequin. If something stands out to you, likely it will stand out to everyone else too, AND you'll probably get it cheaper.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 9:58 AM on May 18, 2015

wow - thanks for the responses. I am definitely inspired by the idea of going for a 'look' rather than buying random bits of clothing. I guess I will choose a fashion icon although I don't know where to start with that! If anyone can think of any names or related Tumblr sites, I would be more than grateful but I will look around anyway.

The idea of conveying an image had never been something to think about, perhaps because work is very casual. I'm also sort of fighting against the fact that people judge a book by its cover. It sort of makes me angry but I can't do anything about it (I want to see it as human nature rather than 'shit you have to deal with because you're female').

It is tricky going into a store for 'a white blazer' when they don't have one and I see something else that is 'pretty' and I can imagine another 'look' I hadn't considered. What if you like several looks? Do you combine them or just choose 1 and reject everything else? This is going to take a certain amount of restraint and I am going to write down the questions-to-ask-before-you-purchase-something that some of you have written. All food for thought and I will follow your links.

Thanks again. Much appreciated.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:40 AM on May 19, 2015

I guess I will choose a fashion icon although I don't know where to start with that!

Ooo! If you post what sort of image you want to go for, we can totally help with that. Personally, after doing some research I decided that my style was most in line with the tomboy femme look, which Kristen Stewart frequently employs. I don't copy the style slavishly though, I tend to use more colors and prints.

KStew has a pretty specific look, but there are so many others - for example Taylor Swift is an icon for sweet and quirky, and Kate Middleton is an icon for classic and understated.

Almost all of my knowledge of this stuff comes just from following Tom & Lorenzo's blog. You might start with their top 20 street style looks of 2014 and see if anyone catches your eye (1, 2, 3, 4).
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:34 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm also sort of fighting against the fact that people judge a book by its cover. It sort of makes me angry but I can't do anything about it (I want to see it as human nature rather than 'shit you have to deal with because you're female').

I also TOTALLY get this, but I will say that men actually face it too. Just look at all the threads we get from guys who don't want to give up their old sneakers or fedoras or style their hair, or whatever.

And hey, there's always normcore!
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:38 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think just flip through fashion magazines and check out blogs, until you find a look you respond to that has some relationship to shapes or pieces you already own and feel your best in, that make sense given your lifestyle. Great if the person has a body type similar to yours, that makes things easier. (Some of it's just automatic and irrational liking, I think. I am pretty sure a nightgown I had when I was five has influenced at least a few outfits. I guess probably a few movies have done the same.)

But if you want a more structured approach to building a wardrobe and learning about contemporary styles, I am now more convinced that you might benefit from the help of a good stylist. I haven't used one myself, but had the experience just recently of intending to just browse but lucking into a genius salesperson, who clocked me in about three seconds. (It was something else to be evaluated in this way, to see his eyes and mind going.) He pulled out four outfits he thought would work based on what I was wearing, and I guess my attitude, etc. He was bang on with three of them, and challenged me a bit with the fourth, in a good way. (That also demonstrates that we use clothing to communicate things. Even though what I was wearing that day was kind of haphazard, this guy worked out that I like relaxed, simple, feminine things.)

This was at a small boutique, though; 9/10 salespeople, e.g. at mall stores, aren't this great (turned out he had several degrees in fashion). So would go either to small boutiques like that or to a bigger department store that offers this kind of service. You could just tell them that you're looking to build a wardrobe, tell them about your lifestyle and preferences, and ask them to explain their suggestions.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:08 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some of it's just automatic and irrational liking, I think. I am pretty sure a nightgown I had when I was five has influenced at least a few outfits.

A dress I got for Christmas when I was like 7 is the reason I love polka dots.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:30 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hope this isn't considered threadsitting but I have to respond:

Things I like: cute patterns, co-ordinated masculine but less formal, this (not sure what the style is called), skirt/t-shirt combos, blazer and jeans, casual with heels, baggy trousers and this aspect of Taylor Swift's style. I think I mainly like a mix of masculine/colour co-ordinated conservative sort of Robinson Crusoe adventurer if that makes any sense whatsoever - (baggy trousers/fitted blouse or vice versa) like this and cutesy Taylor Swift/50s pin-up girl look. I pretty much loved most of the Taylor Swift Pinterest stuff you posted... but I'm in my 30s, I don't like my thighs (size wise they're ok but I have cellulite so I'd need to wear tights) and I live in a cold climate (UK)!!!

I would like to visit a stylist but I fear they might try to coerce me to buy everything in the store. If there are independent outside stylists who I can pay for their service, that could be possible but something tells me they might get some sort of commission from any store they get me to spend money in. I will investigate.

Thanks again for everyone's help. This is awesome/exciting :)
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 6:28 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Please give me a different pop song, please.   |   I can't be the only one who enjoys this.. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.