It’s okay to break your own style rules

When it comes to an approach to personal style, I’ve learned that people generally fall into one of two categories: rule followers or rule haters.

Obviously, I am a rule follower. I basically don’t even know how to dress myself if I don’t have some sort of elaborate system of conditions to guide me (you may recall that last month I dedicated an entire post to my 5 Rules for Getting Dressed). I live and die by my spreadsheets and my neatly organized closet. My rules are a game, a hobby, and most importantly, a tool.

But although I have evangelized to my friends and family over and over again about the benefits of dressing by rules, many of them continue to insist that such rigidity is not fun for them (what do you mean my rules aren’t fun???) and that they prefer a more relaxed approach to buying and wearing clothes.

This is honestly flabbergasting to me, as I cannot envision a time in my life, prior to rule implementation, when getting dressed in the morning did not fill me with a sense of dread and crippling self-doubt. Apparently, there are people for whom this is not the case, and who wake up each morning and feel neutral or even happy when they approach their closets without a plan (honestly, the horror), and select an outfit that they (so I’m told) do not over-analyze, take off and put back on three times, or continue to doubt for the rest of the day. I like to think that one day I can be that kind of person, but I still have a long road ahead of me of recovering from wardrobe trauma, and that road requires a map.

For me, rules were the obvious answer to a serious problem. My obsession with my wardrobe inadequacy was taking over my life. Stress about the simple act of putting on clothes every day completely consumed me. After years of letting my anxiety rob me of the joy of getting dressed, it was time to implement some serious structure and build a real foundation to even give myself the chance of being happy in my clothes.

I started strict. I got rid of 75% of my clothing and created a true capsule wardrobe of 40 of my favorite items of clothing that I felt would mix and match well together.

That first experiment changed everything.

I didn’t feel limited like I worried I might. What I felt was free. Free of my old clothes that were so unsatisfying. Free of the pressure to stop by H&M on my way home from work every day to buy yet another cheap top. Free to learn what it was that I actually liked about my clothes and what I wanted from them. I wasn’t blogging or researching ethical fashion or anything like that at the time, and I wasn’t even any more stylish than I was before, but I was totally rejuvenated by the creative exercise of doing more with less, and for once in my life, I felt contentment with respect to my closet. If you’ve never had it, you can’t know how soothing it is to finally get it.

I did the capsule wardrobe thing for another season, but then I started to feel like I needed some wiggle room. I bought some new stuff and gave myself some breathing room on the numbers. I designed some other, more short term experiments to try. I let my intuition tell me when I needed more rules or fewer, and to this day, I let my rules flow in and out freely. The spreadsheet works until it doesn’t, and I move on to something else. I set my color palette for the season and then buy something completely outside of it just because that particular item really spoke to me. With every little experiment, whether I see it through or not, I learn more about my personal style and I become more comfortable with myself.

I’m writing this post about rules today because I think that it’s important to realize that rules can be both freeing and limiting, and that even if you are using rules to guide you in getting dressed like I do, you should be constantly assessing whether or not those rules are actually serving you. For example, I know that my general anxiety often manifests itself in obsession, so I need to be careful when I’m creating wardrobe rules that I’m not setting myself up for an obsessive episode, that I’m always being gentle with myself and that I give myself the permission to let go of a rule if it turns a corner from helpful to toxic. And in that same vein, sometimes I find that if I’m spiraling out of control with a particular obsession, implementing a rule can help set my feet back on the ground (as the capsule wardrobe did at the very beginning of this journey for me).

I’m comfortable with the rules I have now, but I’m also comfortable with breaking them. How do you feel about rules in your closet? Do you use them? Have you ditched some and adopted others? Have you sworn off all rules forever? Let’s get chatting in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “It’s okay to break your own style rules

  1. I’m totally the same way! I love me a good wardrobe challenge, spreadsheet, and set of rules. But I also need to be careful not to let it lead to unhealthy obsession, as it often does. And just like you said, in that same vein sometimes it’s the rules that bring me back in from obsessing about my wardrobe for every waking minute. I think it’s my obsessive brain that has, in some ways, made this process so hard for me – I’ve been thinking about sustainable fashion for almost 3 and a half years now, and still don’t feel even remotely close to the wardrobe of my dreams. But I’m trying to flip that narrative now, learning what works and doesn’t work for me, to use it to my advantage.


    1. Oh man, I’m so with you! I’m beginning to think the wardrobe of my dreams is just a fantasy, and I should try to be content with my actual wardrobe without freaking out too much about what it’s missing.


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