Do you have a friend that seems to be able to pull off whatever crazy style comes along? I think we all have that friend – the one who always looks amazing, whether she’s wearing a cute dress or a shaggy thrift store sweater with overalls. It is really easy to look at that friend, despair of your own style, and think, “Man, if I was wearing that sweater, I’d look like a poodle that just rolled in a pile of bark chips. And don’t even get me started on how that overall situation would look on me. HOW DOES IT LOOK GOOD ON HER?” It’s usually a matter of confidence and comfort – if somebody is comfortable, you can tell. That’s usually what we mean when we think of somebody pulling off a look. They make the clothes look good and they don’t look uncomfortable in their clothes. This has to do with ease.
But is ease the same thing as comfort? I think there’s a difference, because comfort out of place can make other people uncomfortable. (I was in an airport recently and I can tell you this – pajamas worn as daywear make me uncomfortable. Yes, sir. I know your onesie is comfy. Why don’t you go home and be comfy there?) Ease is special – it means that the person wearing the clothes feels comfortable and everybody around them feels comfortable as well. Comfort is physical (i.e. I can breathe, nothing is poking me, I have a free range of movement). Ease is physical and mental – it’s that happy feeling when you can forget about your clothes and just enjoy who you are with and where you are. Whether you’re underdressed or overdressed for an occasion, it can ruin your evening. Have you ever walked into a room and thought “I’m the only woman wearing jeans? Great. Now everybody is staring at me like I’m a slob who can’t read a dress code. Can the earth swallow me up now?” or “Oh, no. I’m the only one wearing a dress. Now everyone thinks that I’m trying too hard.” That uneasy feeling won’t go away, no matter how comfortable your clothes are.
There are two cultures that make ease the highest clothing ideal – effortless French style and cool California style. You know that cool friend that makes everything look amazing? In France and California, it seems like every woman looks effortlessly gorgeous. When I went to school in California, I felt like every other girl in my high school got the clothes memo (and the hair memo and the makeup memo) and I was the only ugly duckling wandering around wondering what was going on. No matter what I wore, I didn’t fit in.
Now that I’m in my late twenties, I’m kind of fond of awkward high school me, but it was hard to be that me. Looking back, I can see how it shaped me and what that experience taught me. I learned that you don’t have to dress the same as everybody else and not to take fads too seriously (that seems simple enough to learn, but it’s harder than you think). Outsiders get to observe people and fashion from a unique perspective. I’ve also come to realize that most people care what others think. If somebody seems like they do not care about what other people’s opinions, they are either good at hiding it or nobody has hit a nerve yet. Probably every girl in my high school felt uncomfortable in her skin and felt like she didn’t fit in. It just didn’t occur to me at the time, because I assumed I was the only person who felt that way. The biggest problem with being uncomfortable and uneasy is when we use it as an excuse to be self-absorbed and consumed by our thoughts. It is easy to focus on how we think other people perceive us and forget to be kind to other people.
Some thoughts to take away from this – it takes effort to look effortless. It doesn’t just happen. So don’t feel sorry for yourself when it seems like other people have it easy in the hair/makeup/clothing department. Even the cool beautiful people sometimes feel excluded or fat or ugly or uncomfortable in some way. For the most part, it isn’t about your clothes or your hair or your makeup. Ease is mostly about where your heart is. Make sure you are comfortable in your clothes, but respect the people around you. Don’t make them uncomfortable for the sake of your own comfort.
Instead of worrying, focus on putting other people at ease. It is such a worthwhile skill to develop. Be kind to the self-conscious girl who shows up to a formal occasion in jeans – we can all sympathize with that moment. Be kind to the overdressed girl at a picnic – make sure she doesn’t leave early. Make them feel at ease. Show them the kindness that you wanted somebody to show you when you were a left-out sophomore, when you missed the memo on every single current style, when you wondered what other people must think of you. Beauty comes from inside. There is nothing more lovely than a kind woman dressed beautifully. But if you have to choose between being kind and dressing beautifully, choose the kindness.