Discover more from XO, MU by Melissa Urban
I don't know how to dress any more
Post-pandemic, approaching 50, and most of my "going outs" are related to my child... what IS my style?
This issue is sponsored by American Giant, who makes nothing but classics and offers way more than hoodies. Save 20% on your first order with the code MU20.
I’m a huge fan of TikTok. I watch far more than I post, and the algorithm is delightful. I’ve been dumped into content I’d never otherwise watch (Appliance Repair ’tok, Cruising to Antarctica ’tok), and have exposure to a broader swath of influencers than I ever see on Instagram.
The algorithm is also very good at noticing content I’m interested in and immediately serving me more. Which is how I found myself going down a “five ways to style ballet flats” rabbit hole in August—and why three different pairs of said flats showed up at my house a week later.
I love fashion and style, but not in a “designer brands, what’s trending” kind of way. I like the lines of it, in the same way I’ve been a graphic design fan for decades. (Did you know I created the Whole30 logo? I did!) I like looking at silhouettes, proportions, contrast, and color, and I know very well what I like the best on my own body.
All of this to say, I am not a ballet flat person. I’ve tried off an on for the course of a decade, and have decided time and time again that I liked them on other people, but never on me. But this summer, it seemed like I knew my own style less than ever—and I think I know why.
The only hoodie you’ll ever need
I met my first American Giant hoodie at my sister’s house; she had a gray one that she wore constantly. It looked so comfortable, and I was waiting just for an excuse to borrow it. When she left for work, I crept into her room and zipped it over my t-shirt. A half-hour later, I was on the American Giant website ordering one for myself.
This was years ago, and I’ve been a huge brand fan ever since. American Giant makes incredibly constructed activewear, casual wear, and sweats right here in the US. Their Classic Full Zip hoodie is the stuff of dreams; heavy enough to keep you cozy, but melts like butter into your body. (You have to experience it for yourself.) And their clothes were meant to last—my first hoodie is now more than three years old, and looks better the more I wear it.
My favorite American Giant picks include their Classic Full Zip sweatshirt, Premium Slub Tee (I have many colors), Roughneck Chore Jacket, and new Vintage Flannel shirt, but they have so many essentials perfect for fall and cooler temps.
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A sweatpant timeline
The pandemic kicked off this uncertainty. Pre-pandemic, I had a firm grasp on my style, but then we all stayed home for months on end. There was no reason to get “dressed,” so I lived in yoga tights and sweats. Gone were the dress-up date nights, museum strolls, and birthday parties that would find me pulling on Hard Pants a few times a week.
I also spent the longest period of time ever not traveling for work, media, and book tours. My dresses, jumpsuits, skirts, and blazers sat in my closet getting dusty and slowly going out of style—not because a fitted classic sheath dress is ever “out of style,” but because I was changing, and what I wanted to wear when I showed up again in the world wasn’t the same as it used to be.
When I started traveling, going out, and dressing up again, it felt much harder to put on Spanx, bras, or anything that wasn’t comfortable enough for a movie, dinner, or plane ride. My jeans all felt constrictive, my 3” stilettos felt like a toe prison, and my blazers desperately wanted to be hoodies.
I’m not a big shopper; I’ll head out twice a year to refresh my closet for a new season. I don’t buy many trendy clothes, preferring pieces that are simple and classic. But this summer while scrolling through TikTok looking for “fall fashion,” I felt lost. I know what’s “in style.” I know what I feel good in. I could easily combine those two and find pieces that will work for me.
So how did I end up back on Ballet Flat Boulevard?
The endless scroll
While TikTok, YouTube, and other social media platforms can be a wealth of inspiration, they can also easily lead you astray. Like taking fashion advice from a 20-year-old. Or feeling compelled to buy more stuff than you actually need. Or trying to take a style you like on that person and applying it to yourself, a person decidedly not comfortable in that style. Or being made to think that what you like for your own body needs to be fixed, updated, or tossed.
I’ll admit, I got lost there for a little while. But after returning the ballet flats and taking a few conscientious actions, I found my way back to my style, and feel confident in the “going out clothes” I’ve been wearing. Here are the steps I took:
Curate your content. There are a lot of fashion influencers on TikTok, but I’m only following those of a similar age, with a similar body (especially height), having similar taste, and living a similar lifestyle. I have far more use for boots I can walk in, I have no need for “business casual” attire, and I don’t need any more Going Out Tops. I can appreciate those styles, but they’re not what I’m looking for.
Trust myself. I know ballet flats are in, but I don’t like them on me, and they still don’t feel like my style. Move on.
Pause your purchasing. Yes, the enthusiasm for which this person shared her new sweater/perfect pants/white sneakers is contagious, but if I still like it tomorrow, it’ll be there. Write down the brand and style and come back to it. (99% of the time, I do not.)
Inventory your own closet. If I am still thinking about that sweater, it’s time to go through my own sweaters to see if I have something similar, or something I could style in a similar fashion. No, I don’t have that fisherman knit, but I have this one, and I can easily tuck it in instead of leaving it untucked. Done.
This fall, I’ve picked up a few new pieces from brands I trust (like American Giant), and I’ll be working with what I’ve got for the rest. I’ll still spend most days in sweats and tights, but I’ve now got jeans I can wear all day, a new pair of loafers that are cute and comfortable, and date night outfits that work for our dates.
Also, I think it’s time to get me off Fall Fashion ‘tok. Which leaves me more room for Svalbard ’tok, Book ’tok, and Tom Trotter ’tok, because everyone needs this gem of a human in their lives. (Look him up, you’re welcome.)