Learning Fashion – Part 2

December 4th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

Shopping at John Varvatos in Caesar's Palace

This week I assimilated a tremendous amount of fashion knowledge from my fashionisto friend, who hopped on a plane this morning to return to Philly. He’s my best friend from high school and was also my best man at my wedding, and we always have a good time hanging out together. I’ve known about his fashion expertise for many years, but until this week it remained an area where we never chose to connect.

I jokingly told him that teaching me about fashion was payback for all those evenings I helped him with his calculus homework during our senior year in high school. After 20 years I think we can call it even now. :)

My head is still swirling with the different concepts I learned this week — low rise, slim fit, boot cut, spread collar, etc. It’s going to take me many more weeks to apply these ideas to upgrade my wardrobe to something that fits my self-expression.

Instead of picking out clothes for me, he took the time to teach me basic principles of fashion. Then it was up to me to apply these ideas, first with his guidance, and now on my own. That worked out great because now I feel competent enough to put together a whole new wardrobe based on what I learned. There are still some areas where I need extra help, such as figuring out what to do with my hair, but I think I can handle most of the basic clothing decisions on my own now.

He also didn’t have time to teach me about accessories or shoes, so I’ll have to work on that too at some point. As he explained it, I’m still in the first inning when it comes to application.

Part of what made the experience so fun was watching him do what he obviously loves. His current career has nothing to do with fashion, but he’s clearly passionate about this. At one point while we were trying on jackets at Macy’s, I said to him, “You’re really in the zone here, aren’t you?” He had to agree that he was.

We even got to talking about having him start a fashion blog to teach other people what he knows, something I’d definitely encourage him to do. He’s a great teacher, and I know he’d be successful with it in the long run.

Learning Through Immersion

On Wednesday we shopped at the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip, and last night we spent several hours at Caesar’s Forum Shops. We went to many different stores, and I spent a lot of time trying on clothes.

On the first day, I was introduced to the basic ideas, which I already covered in a previous article, so these last couple days were mainly about application. By the time we finished up last night, I really felt like I was getting it. Finding the right clothes was time consuming and required trying on lots of different items, but I was able to quickly identify what worked and what didn’t.

By the end I’d say that my friend and I had 95% agreement on our accept/reject decisions, but the 5% of items where we might disagree were close calls, and we were able to grasp each other’s reasoning. For example, he gave a big thumbs up to one black shirt I tried on, which looked great and fit perfectly, but I had to reject it because the fabric was too stiff and a little itchy for my tastes.

One thing that made this process particularly easy is that my friend and I have a very similar body structure. In fact, the first shirt I bought was the exact same shirt he was wearing at the time — a soft white button-down shirt from J. Crew ($70). I jokingly told him that it looked better on me than it did on him. Just between you and me, I wasn’t really joking though — it really did look better on me. ;)

Diagnosing Problems

The vast majority of items I tried on had to be rejected for one reason or another. When I rejected something, my friend challenged me to be specific about the reasons why.

At first I would look in the mirror and say, “No, that doesn’t work for me.”

Then my friend would challenge me to explain why it didn’t work. His challenges proved extremely helpful because they made me pay attention to the details. My overall perception would be that something was off, but I had to look at the details to diagnose exactly why it wasn’t working.

Within a matter of hours, I was learning to diagnose problems with statements like:

“This shirt doesn’t have enough structure. It hangs too loosely on me like a limp drape.”

“The fit of this shirt isn’t right — It’s a little too baggy in the midsection and tight across the chest. It might work though if we could find a slim fit but in the next larger size.”

“These jeans are a little too tight in the thighs and too tapered at the bottom. They make my legs look unbalanced.”

“This color is too light for my skin tone. It makes me look washed out.”

“This shirt is too stiff and structured for the self-expression I’m looking for. The fabric isn’t soft enough. It exudes a message of rigidity and inflexibility.”

“This item would be good for a 20-something, but it doesn’t match my maturity level.”

“This item broadcasts that it’s for the masses. There’s nothing unique or special about it. It’s a boring, me-too wannabe.”

Sometimes items had to be rejected for specific design features that simply didn’t suit my body type. Other items were rejected for emotional reasons or because they didn’t mesh with the message I wish to communicate.

Over time I found that diagnosing problems was a significant part of the process. By getting clear about precisely why I had to reject each inappropriate item, I got better at recognizing what was likely to work. This helped me get better at pre-filtering certain items without always having to try them on.

I also got better at recognizing which stores were likely to carry items that worked for me and which weren’t.

At one point as we walked by a clothing store with a lot of youthful fashions, my friend asked, “Wanna try this place?”

I looked through the store windows at the mannequins and took a quick visual survey of the styles being presented. Then I said, “Nope, not right for me. These clothes say…”

“Haven’t graduated college yet?”

“Exactly!”

“Very good! You’re learning.”

When I found a good match, I was able to explain why it worked for me:

“This fit of this shirt is almost perfect. It hugs the contours of my body without being too tight or loose.”

“This fabric is soft and touchable. It matches my desire to express that I’m open, approachable, and huggable.”

“This pattern is subtle and intricate but not glaring or needy. It rewards people who move in for a closer look by offering them a richer sensory experience.”

Raising Standards

One of the most important lessons I learned is that if I really want to buy clothes that look good on me, I have to raise my standards regarding what I’m willing to buy. I need to be a lot more selective, particularly when it comes to fit.

In the past, I’d buy a lot of clothes that seemed halfway decent to me. I would ask myself, “Does this look and feel okay to me?” Sometimes I’d buy T-shirts without even trying them on first.

I’d buy a lot of items that were in the range of 5-8 on a scale of 1-10. Probably the area where I made the most mistakes was in the area of fit. I learned this week that I need to favor slim-fit shirts because my shoulders and chest are much broader than my midsection. Most normal shirts look too baggy on me and simply don’t hang right.

I also learned that sometimes I need to test different sizes. My normal shirt size is a medium, but the best shirt I bought this week was a large. The medium-sized version of that shirt was a little too tight in the chest, but the large one fit almost perfectly. For most other shirts, a large would be too big.

Now my standards are much, much higher. Instead of asking myself whether or not an item is okay for me, I ask, “Do I love this item? Does it look great on me? Do I feel great when I wear it? Does it fit the message I want to communicate?”

If something is off for any reason, I don’t buy it. There were a number of items I rejected because they looked good, but I didn’t feel anything special when I wore them.

I may relax my standards as I continue to experiment, but at this point I’m erring on the side of being very picky. I’ll need to hit more stores and try on more items to achieve the right calibration.

It’s a whole different experience when I wear clothes that look great and feel great at the same time. I feel much more congruent when I wear them.

This morning I actually felt good about getting dressed. That was a whole new experience for me. I like it!

Compensating for Colorblindness

As it turned out, my colorblindness wasn’t nearly as crippling as I thought it might be.

My friend pointed out that the colors that work best for my complexion are white, black, navy, vibrant light gray, non-pastels, and sharps/bolds. At least that’s what he texted me yesterday — I’m not quite sure what sharps/bolds are yet. :)

With some trial and error, I got a better feel for colors that worked well for me. Pastels clearly don’t work because they make me look washed out. Black and white both work extremely well, but I already knew that. At one point I bought a blue shirt that closely matched my eyes, and that looked very nice as well.

Instead of struggling with my colorblindness, I decided to look for ways to turn it to my advantage. Maybe it could actually become part of my creative self-expression.

Colorblind people actually have a visual advantage in one area. We’re supposedly better at discerning slight variations in brightness, enabling us to notice subtle details that people with normal color vision overlook. As I currently understand it, since a colorblind person’s eyes have some defective or missing cones (which detect color), the brain’s visual circuitry compensates by paying more attention to the details provided by the rods (which detect brightness).

As I gave this some thought, I realized that I could actually pick clothes that express my colorblindness. For example, the black shirt that I’m wearing in the photo above has a very subtle raised pattern. From a distance or in dim light, the shirt looks solid black, but as you move in for a closer look, you get an almost subconscious impression that there’s more complexity to it. You have to stare at it for a while to see exactly what the patterns are, and even then the details are a bit elusive. I liked the shirt, so I bought it ($175 from John Varvatos).

(Incidentally, if you harbor the limiting belief that $175 is too much to pay for a shirt — I got some comments to that effect on Facebook — you’re still stuck in a scarcity vibe. If money flows abundantly through your life, then $175 is nothing. Don’t give your power away to any amount of money. You don’t fret over spending a dime vs. a penny, do you? If you need help shifting to an abundance vibe, watch the video on Creating Abundance and read the article on Expanding Abundance.)

I think it’s really cool that I was able to transform my fear that colorblindness would make it impossible for me to buy clothes, into an excitement about finding creative ways to express my colorblindness artistically through what I wear.

Fashion and the 7 Principles of Growth

Here’s a quick rundown of how I’ve been applying the 7 fundamental principles (which we explore interactively at the Conscious Growth Workshop) to accelerate my growth in the area of fashion.

Truth

Acknowledge that I’m not getting positive results in this area of my life. Accept the inner truth that I don’t feel good about how I dress.

Define what I’d like to experience in this area instead, which means dressing in a way that more accurately reflects how I feel on the inside and what I wish to communicate.

Acknowledge where I’m at. When it comes to fashion, I’m a totally newbie, and it’s perfectly okay to be there.

Drop any pretense of pride. Pride is a falsehood that must be shed in order to create space for growth. It’s perfectly okay to admit you suck at something. You’ll grow much faster when you can do that, and you’ll also receive more encouragement from others.

Love

Move towards what I want via the strategy of immersion. Move away from what I don’t want via the strategy of purging.

I packed up and donated 2/3 of my old clothes. I cut from my life that which I didn’t want, even before I had anything to replace it. This created a void to be filled with what I do want.

Next I immersed myself in this change by spending many hours with my fashionisto friend this week. I didn’t just creep up on this. I dove headfirst into it. I connected with someone who loves fashion so that his passion would rub off on me. Interestingly, this experience also brought us much closer as friends.

Stop pretending that I don’t care about this part of my life. Admit that I do care, and allow myself to care, even though I may initially have no clue how to change.

Power

Instead of whining and complaining about what I don’t want, know that I have the power to create whatever I desire. Stop using my power to reinforce what I don’t want. Withdraw my attention from the clothes I dislike, and start thinking about what I might like instead.

Imagine myself as a fashionable dresser who feels terrific in his clothes. Imagine wearing clothes that accurately reflect how I feel about myself, so my non-verbal communication is congruent with the real me.

Take decisive action. Go outside and hit the stores. And no matter what, don’t give up.

I can empower myself to achieve what I want in this area instead of disempowering myself by tolerating what I don’t want.

Oneness

I can realize that we’re all one and that these challenges aren’t mine alone to deal with. I’m not doing this just for myself. Whatever I learn can benefit others as well.

I can share what I’m learning to create value for others. And I can carry this realization with me as I shop. This encourages me to pay closer attention and stay focused because I know I have to turn around and teach others what I’ve learned. Ask questions if I don’t understand something. I can’t teach what I don’t understand.

Recognize that there are lots of people who are way more advanced than me in this area who’d be happy to help me. I don’t have to go it alone. I can invite help from others. People will be eager to help me because I’m a great student, I’m going to apply what I learn immediately, and I’m going to pass it on and create even more value for others.

I can select clothes that reflect the values I wish to see in the world. I can buy items that support and encourage human creativity instead of going for the cheap mass-market items that favor profits over beauty. I can avoid buying items that include leather or fur because compassion for animals is a more Oneness-aligned message than animal cruelty.

Authority

I am the author of this part of my life.

Through personal experimentation and learning from others, I can improve over time. As I gain experience, my authority in this area will increase.

Initially my actions may prove haphazard and ineffective. I may have to endure some failure experiences. But if I persist, I’ll eventually figure this out. I’ll eventually gain competence and confidence.

There’s no need to fake it till I make it. Faking it is completely unnecessary. I can simply give myself permission to be bad at first, knowing that I’ll eventually get good as I continue to practice. There’s no need to pretend that I know what I’m doing when I clearly don’t. It’s more honest and empowering to admit that I’m clueless and want to improve.

Clueless newbies who are eager to learn are very teachable. They can improve quickly. But those who feign competence will improve more slowly and won’t attract as much willing help.

Courage

If I wish to grow and improve in this area, I must leave my comfort zone behind.

I must do that which I’ve never done before. The natural reaction to that is fear. Instead of running from those fears, I’ll run straight towards them.

I’ll try shopping at stores that intimidate me. I’ll spend more money on clothes than I’m used to. I’ll try out new looks that give rise to unfamiliar feelings. I’ll share what I’m doing publicly and risk rejection and embarrassment.

The more I exercise my courage, the faster I’ll grow. My comfort zone will expand, and soon I’ll feel perfectly comfortable doing that which once scared me. Nothing can stop a person who’s brave enough to face his/her fears head on.

Intelligence

I can handle this part of my life more intelligently than I have in the past.

I can dress in a way that feels authentic to me. I can use clothing as an outlet for my creative self-expression instead of seeing it as a burden or a necessary evil.

I can communicate my message of conscious growth, abundance, and happiness non-verbally as well as verbally.

I can dress in a way that feels elegant and beautiful to me. I can feel good about the way I dress.

I can encourage others to upgrade this part of their lives as well, so that we can collectively enjoy better results in this area.

Fashion’s Law of Attraction

I could see the Law of Attraction working its magic throughout this week. As my intentions became clearer, I found it easier to sort through clothes to find the gems that worked for me.

Also, I noticed that when we focused on items that may not have been the best match for my creative self-expression, we ran into nothing but roadblocks.

For example, we spent hours trying to find a good pair of jeans for me. But everywhere we went, something was always off — wrong sizes, wrong colors, wrong cut, wrong styles, etc. I must have tried on dozens of pairs of jeans, and something was always wrong, so I didn’t end up buying any.

When I got home, I pondered why that may have happened. Surely there must be a pair of jeans out there with the right cut, color, and style for me. It can’t be that difficult to find a decent pair of jeans, can it?

Then I thought about whether jeans were a good choice for me in general. Jeans have been a staple of my wardrobe for many years, but do they match who I am today?

I’m not so sure anymore. There are lots of different varieties available now, but overall there’s nothing special about jeans in my opinion. They’re commonplace. Everyone wears them.

The qualities that I associate with jeans don’t really mesh with what I wish to communicate. To me jeans convey a desire for social acceptance. They’d be a good idea for someone who wants to fit in and be accepted by others, which is practically the opposite of my message of conscious choice. Jeans express durability and ruggedness, but they can also be tight and inflexible and restrict movement. Jeans don’t do a very good job of expressing qualities like flow, freedom, and openness.

Perhaps we couldn’t find the right pair of jeans for me because jeans are the wrong choice for me in general.

I’m not exactly sure what sort of pants would be a better match for me, but I imagine it would be something with a soft, flowing fabric with a subtle texture or pattern. Maybe something made of linen would work. Khakis are definitely out — too drab and boring for me. This is an area where I’ll have to do more experimenting to discover what works for me.

Balancing Paradoxes

I especially enjoy how clothing can express the seeming paradoxes within us. For example, I value freedom and openness tremendously, but I also value structure and self-discipline.

A shirt that works well for me ideally would express these qualities in a balanced way. For example, the black shirt I’m wearing in the photo above is very soft, flowing, and breathable. It doesn’t restrict my movement. But nor does it hang on me like a drape. It’s a fitted shirt with some inherent structure that follows my body’s contours. Also, there are thin wires sewn into the cuffs and collar, so I can actually bend pose them to create different effects. I really like how the design balances freedom and structure so wonderfully.

Learning and Growing

During our last couple hours together, I had learned so much that I was able to advise my friend on some of his choices.

At one point he tried on a black shirt, a color that would normally look great on him. But I had to give it a thumbs down, telling him, “For whatever reason, that particular black just doesn’t work on you. It doesn’t mesh well with your hair color.” (He has black hair.)

He said, “It’s very strange, but you’re definitely right. This black doesn’t work on me. It’s hard to tell why, but there’s clearly something wrong with it.” He seemed impressed that I was able to pick up on this.

At another store he tried on a jacket he seemed to like, and I liked it on him too initially, but something felt a bit off to me. As I scanned over the jacket’s many details, I soon diagnosed the problem: “This jacket looks good at first glance, but it doesn’t work for you. It provides no structure around your neck. You need a jacket with a strong collar.” Again he agreed.

Then he tried on a hat, and I rejected that too, saying, “Nope. The rim is too small relative to the size of your head. You might try to find a hat with a larger rim, but this one doesn’t work for you.”

A week ago I was totally clueless in this area, but after learning how to evaluate whether or not a particular item works and why or why not, I found these tests to be a lot of fun.

When I finally dropped my friend off at his hotel and we said goodbye, we were both impressed by how much progress we’d made together. He said that I was the fastest learner he ever taught, and he was an awesome teacher for me.

It’s going to take a lot more time for me to go out and apply what I’ve learned this week, but I think I’m going to enjoy it. I’m no longer intimidated by the designer stores. I can waltz right in, chat with the salespeople, and feel confident knowing what to look for.

Overall my favorite store was John Varvatos in Caesar’s Palace. We probably spent an hour there, and I must have tried on at least a dozen items. My friend seemed to enjoy it as well. One of the employees even offered us free beers while we shopped. I declined the free drinks but was impressed by the offer. The employees were knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful without being pushy, and I got the sense they were passionate about fashion and really enjoyed working there. I’d definitely shop there again.

At this point I’m eager to learn even more, partly by applying what I’ve learned on my own and partly by connecting with others who are passionate about fashion. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the process, not just the end result.

Now I have to figure out what to do with my hair…


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