How to Dress Outside Your Comfort Zone

Suzanne Delahunty Personal Stylist London

I recently had the pleasure of spending the morning with the creator of Nevenka, a fashion house from my home town of Melbourne. Every Nevenka piece is a work of art, each piece more dreamy than the last. I tried on dream dress after dream dress, wishing I was the kind of woman who would wear a bright pink, transparent, tiered, embroidered gown with a leather jacket and trainers on a daily basis.

So what's holding me back? It's my fashion comfort zone. Granted, my fashion comfort zone stretches pretty far and wide these days. I wear sequins during the day. I mix prints that theoretically shouldn't really go together. But day gowns is just that step too far for me... for now.

This is a dilemma that almost all of my clients encounter - they love fashion, and they love clothes, but there's some invisible force that is holding them back from wearing the pieces, the colours, the fabrics, the prints that deep in their heart of hearts they want to wear. So I've put together my tips: first, on whether you should consider dressing outside your fashion comfort zone; and second, how to do it.

1. When should you dress outside your fashion comfort zone?

Not everyone needs to think about dressing outside of their fashion comfort zone. Everyone's  fashion comfort zone is different. Some people are perfectly happy to splash around within the confines of the wading pool of their personal limits of jeans and t-shirts. And that's fine. While others are bored and constantly look longingly at outfits online or on others, wishing they could get away with the same look.

So why are they in this state of dissatisfaction and longing? For many of my clients, it's a fear of what their friends or family will say if they rock up to a get-together in head to toe sequins. Or how their colleagues will react if I turn up to the office in a sharp, tailored, pink suit instead of their usual monochrome co-ordinates.

If your comfort zone is holding you back from dressing true to what's really in your heart, then read on. Because you, my friend, need to start expanding your sartorial comfort zone and start dressing in the way that truly reflects who you are.

2. Identify the Look You Aspire to

Before you start changing your look, get focussed on which direction you want to take it in. Without focus and strategy you could end up with a mish-mash of new items or combinations that don't quite work and will discourage you from going any further.

I've written a full post about how to find your style and you can read it here. And the same principles apply when you want to expand your fashion comfort zone. To summarise them:

  • create an inspiration board of all the looks you love and wish you could wear, but something is holding you back from;
  • analyse it - what is the overall vibe of the look you like? Is it a particular styling trick? Is it a specific piece or is it a feeling or vibe that you get from the look? Are there certain prints or colours being combined masterfully?
  • get specific - identify the key/signature pieces, accessories, styling tricks, prints, fabrics, silhouettes, colours. Distil it all down to its essence. Name what it is and write it down.

This will then give you focus in your quest to extend your comfort zone.

3. Introduce Subtly, or One Piece at a Time

If you're not feeling entirely confident in taking steps in the direction of your new sartorial style, introduce it one piece at a time. Start with an accessory. If you covet a flamboyant leopard print dress but would feel self-conscious in it, start with a leopard print shoe or scarf or bag.

If you wish you could wear every colour of the rainbow, start with one colourful piece, whether it's a blouse or a jacket. Or if you want to mix prints like a Danish fashion influencer, take your guide from the style icons who do it best and start introducing the prints on their own before combining them.

If sequins or luxe fabrics are your thing, try dressing them down with more casual every-day pieces so you don't feel quite so self-conscious. You're effectively smuggling them in, disguised as something more casual than they are. Never underestimate the power of white fashion trainers to neutralise the most extravagant pieces.

4. Wear it Anonymously

For so many of my clients, the thing holding them back is the fear of what their friends and family will say about their new aesthetic. So what about testing it out on days where you won't be seeing anyone you know? It might be a solo shopping afternoon, or a day when you're running errands on your own. There's power that comes from not caring what people think, and  when you're in that power, you get comfy in what you're wearing. And that's how your comfort zone starts to expand.

5. Reassess How You See Yourself

Fashion really is a way of expressing who you are, or who you're becoming. It's something to be enjoyed and have fun with. So if you're denying yourself this freedom of expression, then think about why you're telling yourself you can't wear certain things.

If you don't feel confident in your body, then consider whether it is coming from other issues and look for ways you can work on this. Read up on it. Listen to podcasts. Or even  get professional help to talk through the issues.

If it's because you, your family or friends have pigeon-holed you into a specific role (e.g. you're the quiet one, the conservative one, the casual one) then you've got to change your mindset.

Your personality is constantly evolving. Think about it. You are not the same person as you were ten years ago, are you? So you don't have to dress the same way as you always have. And yes, people might comment on your changing style. You just need to keep reminding yourself that this is who you are. You won't be held back by other people's (and your own) limiting thoughts. Have conviction with your new style and wear it with purpose and confidence.

A personal stylist can help with this. But if you can't afford a personal stylist, a good trick is to always think to yourself, "If I moved to a new city and new job where I knew no one, what would I wear? What side of my personality would I feel free to express without fear of judgment from those who've known me forever?" You'd be surprised at your answers. Go with them.

The benefits of expanding your fashion comfort zone are not to be underestimated. Shopping and getting dressed becomes more fun. Your shopping habits will become more focussed once you know what look you're going for, and as a result you spend less on impulse purchases. And most of all, once you've expanded that comfort zone and you're playing around in it, you feel more confident, at ease in your own skin and you'll look fabulous.

If you want to find out more about how I can help you define your style and start evolving into it: 

Suzanne Delahunty Personal Stylist London
Suzanne Delahunty Stylist London



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