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Five tips to break out of a clothing rut.

Find out how to thoughtfully integrate new styles or clothing types into your wardrobe.

Words Dr Alice Boyes. Illustration Elin Matilda Andersson, Makers MGMT.

Most adults settle into a reasonably monotonous pattern with their clothing selections. This is efficient because it cuts down on decision overload. If you know you only wear black, or only shop for clothing at three stores, you save yourself needing to look at the infinite options beyond those.

However, the downside of this approach is that people sometimes have a sense they’ve boxed themselves in. You might feel inhibited about making different choices even though, at least occasionally, you’d like to. If you want to break out of a clothing rut, try these ideas.

Understand your self-limiting beliefs

What do you tell yourself about what you like and don’t like when it comes to your clothing? For example, you might generally think “I don’t like to wear bright colours” or “I don’t like to wear form-fitting pieces.” Sometimes your beliefs might be anxiety-based, or perhaps whatever basis they once had has now just become a habit.

Understand these common cognitive biases

A very common general cognitive error is when people think “What’s good advice for others isn’t good advice for me.” For example, you might think fitting clothing looks good on other people regardless of size, but that you look better in a sack. Or you think that most people look best in minimal make-up but you cake it on because you’re sensitive about your acne scars.

Another common error is mistaking your strengths for weaknesses. For many years my spouse always thought she should wear large tops that cover her big butt, but she eventually realised that having a round bottom was an asset, compared to having a flat one, and embraced it.

Try a self-experiment

There’s no need to commit to a big change in your appearance choices when you can try small self-experiments. For example, perhaps you try ordering one T-shirt in a bright colour and see how you like it. Or, perhaps you commit to the next five clothing items you buy being in colours you wouldn’t normally wear or from stores/brands you’ve never purchased from before.

If you’re adventurous and have friends who are a similar size, consider doing a joint experiment in which you wear clothing from each other’s closets to work for a week. For inspiration, the YouTube series “Try Living with Lucie” by Refinery29 includes several examples of appearance-related five-day experiments.

If you have hang-ups, where do they come from?

Many times small comments made about someone’s appearance can become emotional baggage the person carries with them for years or decades. Has anyone ever told you that you shouldn’t wear a particular colour or style because it doesn’t suit you?

What did you learn about how you “should/shouldn’t” dress from watching your mum or other significant people in your life? Try understanding the genesis of any hang-ups you have, without necessarily blaming the people involved. When you do this you can decide if you want to keep carrying that baggage.

If you have kids, what example do you want to set?

It’s sometimes easier to make changes if you think of yourself as, at least in part, doing so to provide a good role model for your kids.

When I had a daughter, I started wearing a larger range of colours and including more brightly coloured items because I wanted to set that example. Try making little changes rather than huge ones, and do it as and when the mood strikes.


Dr Alice Boyes is author of the books The Healthy Mind Toolkit (2018) and The Anxiety Toolkit (2015). aliceboyes.com

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