I wasn't really a girly girl growing up. As a kid, I ran around in shorts, and abhorred dresses. In high school, my interests trended toward science and fantasy novels rather than makeup and fashion. I didn't learn what "foundation" was until I was 20 years old, and much of my wardrobe consisted of T-shirts and jeans. Sure, I wore the occasional dress for special occasions, but it was more out of obligation than anything else. Looking like an adult was something grownups did, and I wasn't in a big hurry to grow up.
In my early 20s, however, I started feeling some pressure to look more presentable, especially when interviewing for jobs. So I started paying attention to what other people wore. I studied fashion magazines and TV shows and wandered around mainstream stores like Gap and Banana Republic -- generic enough brands that I felt sure I couldn't go wrong.
I soon found that the clothes I liked in fashion magazines and TV were often wrong for my body type. Not only am I short -- I stand a mere five-foot-three -- but I'm also pretty chubby. So "petite" size clothes were too small, while "normal" sizes were too long and needed to be hemmed or tailored. I grew to loathe off-the-rack shopping, with endless trips to the changing room, only to leave feeling disappointed.
So when online shopping took off in the early aughts, I embraced it wholeheartedly. At last, I could easily find sizes I normally had trouble finding in retail stores. It was a godsend, especially to someone like myself, who abhorred spending hours in malls.
Still, I took relatively few fashion risks, and I kept to the brands I trusted. I had it in my head that I could never really wear clothes that were "sexy" or "feminine" because they didn't make those kinds of clothes in my size. Plus it was a style of clothing that I never thought I could pull off, given my tomboy childhood. It wasn't that I was uncomfortable with it; it's just that I never thought I could wear something like that. It just didn't seem very "me."
A few websites helped me see things differently. The first was Modcloth, which introduced me to the world of vintage-inspired fashion. It struck me as a more affordable alternative to Anthropologie, a brand known for its soft, feminine pieces. But what was particularly intriguing about Modcloth is that even the most flirty of dresses came in my size. On a whim, I thought, hey, why not take a risk? It looks like it might fit. So I ordered a green ruffled dress with a zip that ran up the cleavage. And, to my surprise, it looked pretty good.
That kicked off a Modcloth love affair that lasted for several years. I started experimenting with all manner of looks, from sensible sheath dresses to flirty laced skirts, because these were clothes that actually fit me. It gave me a freedom to try different things; to figure out exactly what my style was. All of a sudden, I was not afraid to wear pretty much anything.
I explored this even further with a personalized styling service called Stitch Fix that launched a few years ago, but which has grown quite a bit since then. Though the company declined to reveal user numbers, Stitch Fix says it's now shipped "millions" of fixes, and brought in $250 million in revenue in 2015 alone. The idea behind the service is that you plug in your measurements, answer a few questions about your style preferences and budget, and it sends you a selection of clothes for a $20 fee. If you don't like them, you can send them back in an enclosed envelope. If you do decide to keep any of the clothing items, the earlier $20 will be applied as a credit toward a purchase. But if you buy the entire package, you get 25 percent off everything.
My first package contained five different items, three of which I didn't like -- one was an oversize cardigan that made me look like a blob, one was a humdrum shirt and another was a dress that didn't fit. But I also received a green chevron tank -- a style and pattern that I never thought would be my thing -- that fit perfectly. I loved it. I also kept a clutch. So I returned the items I didn't like, with a note explaining why.
A month later, I went ahead and gave Stitch Fix another shot. This time, all the items were perfect, in a surprising way. Pink cropped pants? A laser-cut see-through blouse? These are not the kind of clothes I would ever pick out for myself. And yet I really liked them, and they looked flattering on me, too.
These days, there are many other stylist options on the internet. Keaton Row and Tog & Porter are a little more high-end, but also promise a more personalized service. Trunk Club started as a service for men, but has since expanded to women. Similarly, Stitch Fix now has a men's section too. Bombfell is one that serves exclusively men. Seeing how beneficial Stitch Fix was for me, I would certainly recommend giving the online stylist a shot.
Growing up, I never thought of myself as a clothes horse, because I just wasn't comfortable enough with who I was and, importantly, I didn't really figure out how I wanted to present myself to the world. What I've realized -- with the help of the internet -- is that if you take away sizing limitations and preconceived notions, that I have the freedom to dress and look however I want. That, I believe, is truly what it means to dress like an adult.
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