Identity and style

On the heels of divorce, I hadn’t been feeling great, awkward in everything I wore, not sure whether to look available or aloof. My empty handed shopping expeditions left me frustrated and feeling old. When your identity changes, so does style, but what was my identity now?

Trying to achieve one’s style is linked to identity and how we see, portray, and feel about ourselves. Yet, the pressure to follow trendy styles made me feel foolish and out of place. Who I am/was/would be and what I was wearing did not reflect my current state. I was surprised to discover the role clothes played in how I saw myself and hesitated writing this blog, Seriously? Fashion, style, and positive psychology?!

How our look affects us

I’m not talking about spending thousands on clothes or hours in a spa, nor a narrow focus on appearance to the exclusion of intellect, or personality, rather, playing up physical strengths that make us unique and beautiful to bring out the best in ourselves. In fact, Mausch and Hefferon (2014) are on the case; how we look affects us. Consider a haircut; it’s not major, but enough to refresh you for a time. Changing our look can disrupt the habitual ruts in which we find ourselves, transform identity and be a source of positive emotion.

While standards vary, we easily spot beautiful people. Not the usual runway models, they are individuals who confidently express their identity through a carefully developed sense of style that suits them well (cut, color, size), demonstrates self-respect for the body (no gratuitous cleavage, purposeful thong lines, or cracks!), and highlights natural strengths (height, grey hair, strong shoulders, personality quirks, gap teeth, cowlicks, etc.).

Cue the predictable:

“I’m comfortable in jogging pants. It’s easy.” “I live in a free world; I wear what I want.” “I’m too old for that!”

In the language of strengths, these statements sound like:

“I’m comfortable using my strengths in one place, why should I bother for more?” “I am free; I can not use strengths at all.” “I’m too old to use strengths.”

Strengths and your image

Like strengths, paying attention to style takes work in considering the image we wish to project that brings out the best version of ourselves and responds to the challenge or setting. Using strengths beyond the usual facilitates the presentation of the best you in many places. Age is irrelevant; people continually form images of who we are, reflect this to us, helping us develop an identity, and treat us accordingly. You don’t escape this being 57. In fact, continuing to attend to image keeps us feeling vital, connected to the broader society and extends to taking greater care of ourselves physically. And while we are free to express ourselves, surely there are better ways of using freedom than by overt sexuality, shock value, or relying on degrading standards of sloppiness merely because we can?

The image you want to project

Rather, think about the image you want to project by considering you are at your best. What style portrays your strengths the most? If this is tough, take a tour of Pinterest and see whose style you are drawn to. It’s not copying others but sometimes we see glimpses of our best selves in others more readily. Once you’ve got it, note the pieces and look for similar ones in the store. Opt for around 4 pieces (4 tops, 4 jackets, 4 pants) (no logos, designs, sparkles, etc.) and mix them to create several outfits.

Find a store that fits your age, style, and budget. I was shopping in the wrong stores trying to look young and hip and only succeeding in looking foolish. Now, I’ve found stores that carry clothes that are a bit more expensive, but can be worn over time as they are not trendy and don’t require seasonal changing. I leave feeling more like me and look better too.

What to avoid

Avoid trends. These are for 20-year olds. Unless you’re 20 of course, then go for it.

Dress for the body you have and not the one you want. Bringing a friend to shop helps me as I routinely buy clothes 1-2 sizes too big because I can’t see myself clearly! I see others trying to look young in a hyper-sexualized manner, or wearing too-tight clothes trying to look thin. Repeat after me: No. There are clothes for all body types and whatever you are is fine, but dress to accentuate your body, not expose or cheapen it.

How you feel about yourself is reflected by how you look and how others see you. Accentuating physical strengths can help generate a mindset for excellence, celebrate natural beauty, and be at our best. Suit up, shall we?

About the author: Dr Louise Lambert.


Masuch, C. – S., & Hefferon, K. (2014). Understanding the links between positive psychology and fashion: A grounded theory analysis. International Journal of Fashion Studies, 1(2), 227-246.

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