Style ruts are real: why they happen and how to break free
It happens to the best of us. One day, maybe it’s a Thursday, we wake up and realize we’ve worn the same sweater 2 of the 4 days of the past week. While it may be acceptable, even common practice in other countries, unless you have the clout to eschew the creative act of dressing in favor of a uniform a la Steve Jobs, in America you probably don’t commit the offense of repeating outfits.
Inattention is a likely culprit for the style ruts into which we inadvertently slip. Putting together an outfit requires thought and energy and as such I can see the appeal of renting clothes or ordering a box of prepackaged ensembles. But in addition, smart style inspiration seems to be rapidly disappearing. In the absence of varied and artful editorials provided by fashion magazines, we rely heavily if not entirely on Instagram and its denizens to fill our sartorial void. With this reliance comes the inevitable algorithm. If I like this thing, Instagram will serve up something else in close proximity until we find minutes wasted, tumbling down a rabbit hole of maddening sameness. And not just maddening sameness, but unstudied and impulsive ubiquity.
The ease and efficiency of an algorithm could be a godsend to some. Without much effort at all, one can copy a look verbatim, so-to-speak. This also alleviates the burden of having to dress in the first place. After all, negotiating reality requires an expenditure of energy so that dressing could be taken care of is arguably one of the comforts and convenience afforded to us by technology.
But what seems to be more detrimental is the way in which our reliance on such algorithms sequesters us into sub cultures without much consideration for that which exists beyond the bounds of our algorithmically curated news feeds. President Obama cautioned that this kind of insularity has the potential to close the American mind. If we involve ourselves with information and ideas that reinforce our preexisting beliefs and what we think we know to be true, we inversely do not expend the mental energy and acuity required to grapple with the ambiguities that color our democracy. Who wants to remain strictly defined by the consumer category in which one finds themselves, in the stolid intellectual safety net of one’s present condition?
For breaking out of cooking rut, Mark Bittman suggested in one of his recent newsletters to use an unfamiliar ingredient. By succeeding with it and failing with it, learning its best pairings and methods to extract its flavors, one begins to not only master cooking, but to define one’s taste. In some ways, style is no different. If we are curious, and intentional our style will be a product of that effort, come what may. For a certain amount of time, I devoured long dresses, raiding No.6’s basement sale for at least three consecutive seasons until my thirst for it waned and was replaced by something else—which happens to be the exact inverse of a maxi dress.
What seems to be essential in overcoming complacency, and ruts in general is the ability to loosen the bindings of the mental straight jacket that inadvertently develops as a result from being unchallenged. To delight in some new thing doesn’t require mimicking and latching on to some predictable thing. Style should be fun. It should be yours—unique as you are.