Here we go… Twirling on in to 37! This past weekend, I celebrated my birthday and took some time to reflect on the ways my life, attitudes, and style have changed over the years. Turns out “older and wiser” couldn’t be more spot-on! I may have a few more wrinkles and my feet firmly planted in middle age, but I’ve never felt more confident in my skin. I know who I am and how I want to be perceived. How did I get here? In truth, it was a journey! I had to break out of a style rut in my early 20s and shake the urge to copy others. It involved taking time to define my personal style and reframing my thinking about femininity.
I’m not talking about shaking pandemic style. If you are in the same pair of joggers for the third day in a row, that’s okay. We are ALL there right now! Rather, I’m talking about a deeper disconnect between who you are, who you aspire to be, and what you are projecting to the world. It’s about aligning your interior self with your exterior façade. When the two mesh, we are happier and act with empowerment. When they don’t, we leave ourselves vulnerable to insecurity.
For me, this disconnect came in my first TV reporting job after college. I remember being told by managers and consultants to cut my hair, lower my voice, look older, and be more aggressive. They said I appeared “too nice” and wouldn’t be taken seriously as a “little girl.” I’m under 5′ tall, so I’m used to “little girl”… but the rest of it? That’s a lot to take in as a new grad! In response, I adopted a wardrobe of pants and boxy blazers. I never cut my hair, but tried to carry myself with more masculine edge. In short, I bought into the lies that showing my femininity means showing weakness. As a result, I felt out of synch with my “real” self.
It took a few years—and some better advice—for me to come full circle. I realized that yes, you can be a serious journalist with long hair. A well-cut dress or pencil skirt exudes just as much professionalism as a blazer. Furthermore, it is possible to “be nice” while aggressively pursuing a story lead and career advancement. Once I leaned back into an image and behaviors that felt natural to me, I performed better at work, landed promotions, and felt the more authentic “me” come alive again.
I recently connected with an expert on this topic, Sarah Bohdanova, a professional ballroom dancer, confidence coach and professional stylist. [You can watch our live Instagram chat here] She has been helping women better connect to their bodies and confidence for the last 20 years through dance. More recently, Bohdanova launched the Femininity Project, an endeavor aimed at helping women cultivate poise, develop a signature style, and honor their unique version of femininity. As she tells it, she hopes to help women “stop playing small and start carving out space for the opportunities, time, respect, and self-love you desire.”
Sarah Bohdanova, Pro Ballroom Dancer/Style Coach
Her project was born from the life lessons she learned in ballroom dance—grace, femininity, and poise—that all translate broadly to general life. And as you might expect, Bohdanova has some excellent advice for getting out of a style rut. In fact, she starts with something I love—heels! Want to jump start your style transformation, break out of a style rut, and feel confident enough to own a room? Bohdanova views this simple shoe choice as having transformative power. The way we walk is a powerful form of nonverbal communication!
A beautiful shoe can be an instant mood booster, particularly if your self-confidence or body image is at a low point. Why? Our size may fluctuate, but footwear is a generally safe place. That shoe will always fit. Furthermore, it can put you in a headspace that allows you to focus on the big picture and say… “Yes, I’m something special” when you look in the mirror.
“When it comes to feeling confident and beautiful—heels, hands down have proven to be one of the most powerful triggers,” Bohdanova explains. “So many women swear off wearing heels entirely, convinced they are simply not the ‘type’ of women who can pull them off.”
She is on a mission to change that. Turns out, walking confidently in heels is a learnable skill and one that is closely tied to the mechanics of how our body moves. That means, like gymnastics or dance, you can practice your way into catwalk-level confidence and develop a beautiful, balanced walk. As a ballroom professional, Bohdanova is always in 4″ heels. In many ways, they have become an extension of her foot. Consequently, she has started teaching women (including non-dancers) how to own them. I thought I knew how to walk in heels like a pro, but her course taught me things too! It’s a fascinating concept and one that is definitely worth your time if you are looking to feel more confident in heels or to move gracefully like a dancer.
Consider this an exercise in inspiration not imitation. Is there a celebrity whose fashion you adore? A TV/movie character? Finding a style muse (e.g. a woman whose aesthetic, dress, and attitude speaks to you) will help you begin to edit your wardrobe to better match your true inclinations. Have you found yourself drawn to certain garments at stores, only to dismiss them as “I can’t pull that off” attire? That’s a clear indication you are suppressing your signature style.
This is where a style muse (particularly one your age) can help. They help you see what’s possible! Flip through magazines and start a folder of photos that speak to you. Search the web for style bloggers with a similar body type. Start a Pinterest board. Don’t overthink your choices… Let your intuition and gut guide you! Bohdanova encourages you to take it a step further.
“Go sit at a coffee shop and women watch,” she says. “Notice how different women move, how they talk, how they dress. What do you like? What don’t you like?”
Thank about what catches your attention and the vibe that style element gives off. Then, begin to think about how you can incorporate it into your own life. Are there items of clothing you need to add to your closet? Is it the manner of walking or posture?
It might sound counter-intuitive. When you’re trying to break out of a style rut, you need more options—right? Nope! Many of the world’s most stylish people have a very streamlined wardrobe. It’s less about attaining and more about editing. During a pandemic, style might feel frivolous and unnecessary. However, if you feel like crap about what you’re wearing, it’s easy to get sluggish and unmotivated! It becomes a vicious cycle.
Taking the time to work your way through your closet, assessing your options and editing mercilessly as you go, will allow you to unearth buried treasures! You will fall in love with old pieces all over again. Additionally, this instructive exercise also helps reveal patterns in what you don’t love. What doesn’t fit your current aesthetic? Why? Is anything important missing? Now, we can fill in the gaps!
Sometimes all you need for a style refresh is an outside opinion! When it comes to personal style, it is far too easy to become close-minded and stuck in a rut. Invite a friend over for wine, conversation, and a little closet edit (ideally with that brutally honest, sister-like friend you know will tell it like it is). Play around. Try things on. Allow them to suggest new pairings… and be open to critique. This session might remind you to bring old pieces back into the limelight. It also might reveal items that no longer fit your lifestyle.
For instance, my closet was filled to the brim with solid-color, 3/4 length sleeve, dresses in every color of the rainbow. They were great for my news anchor days, but don’t quite work for my current, more casual work scenario. Ask yourself… Does this garment fit perfectly? Is it worth tailoring? Does it flatter me? Do I feel great in it? If not, it’s time to eliminate and refresh. Don’t have a friend up to the task, Bohdanova can help!
Side note: If this topic interests you, be sure to join us LIVE on Instagram Friday, Dec. 11 at 1:30 p.m. EST. Sarah and I will be talking through all things “femininity” and taking your questions!
If you feel the need to break out of a style rut, there’s a good chance you are simply feeling bored. One of the quickest ways to channel your inner style goddess is to add a fun swipe of lipstick. Go red if you usually rock neutrals. If you tend to go dark, try something lighter and ethereal. Have you ever rocked a smoky eye? Go ahead and experiment. You might love it; you might hate it. But you’ll definitely feel yourself crawling out of that rut!
Hair accessories are hot this year (hair scarves, bows, headbands). Are there any you might be able to incorporate into your aesthetic? A new shoe, bag, or belt can have the same effect. Accessories are also a smart area to experiment with trends. They allow you to inject something new, without going over the top or spending a lot.
My looks are both Chicwish finds. While floor length floral might not be for everyone, it makes my “girly” heart happy. Both styles are as feminine as they come! If your aesthetic leans toward the vintage-inspired side or uniquely feminine pieces, be sure to give Chicwish a browse. I get so many good ideas there!