Privilege Blog

You Sturdy Huh, Or Saturday Morning at 8:04am

The way we look in the world is a matter of belief and intent. We can, if we want, determine our style. But we’ve got to take command. Otherwise the world looks us over, sees our disarray, makes an assessment, and hands us a card. Which we’re stuck with, for much longer than makes any sense at all.

Here’s how I know.

This week on Privilege I posted a picture of myself in a Prada dress, in part because several readers asked me to, in part because it’s a beautiful dress and I liked the way I looked, in part because it seemed only fair. At a certain point, when one writes about personal style, one offers a self-photo as a token of good faith.

As we might suspect of the well-mannered Privilege readers, you were very generous in your comments. Thank you so much. However, there were several people remarking that I didn’t seem like the Sturdy Gal I make myself out to be. It’s true, I felt both Artsy and Grande as I posed. And that’s the crux of the matter.

Let us follow the logical argument. I offer my personal history only as affirmative anecdotal data.

You see, I had no real personal style as a young woman, despite owning beautiful, expensive clothes. I veered from Rei Kawakubo to J. Peterman to Sonia Rykiel. The clothes wore me. I won’t even make the obvious excuse about 80s fashion. Despite financial resources and long blond hair I was never glamorous or stylish. Only Sturdy. Why?

  1. Low confidence. Combined with high levels of raw emotion, all the more problematic because High WASPs Aren’t Supposed To. But the cause really doesn’t matter. Everyone’s got their own particular perceived constraints to self.
  2. In the absence of confidence, I felt I had to do An Excellent Job at all times to have value. So Many Excellent Jobs. Hence the birth of Sturdy Gal, rising from a shell she cleaned and opened herself. We’re generally the ones carrying tables, not dancing atop. And we don’t generally get to pose for pictures.

I was a pretty young woman who derived little benefit from her looks.

  1. When one struggles at the core, the periphery is a source of annoyance only. Pretty is not power. Pretty is not style. Pretty is just where ever your nose happens to sit in relation to your eyes, and how close your weight hews to the cultural norm.
  2. What one does not own, one cannot profit from.

So if:

An executive career finally brought both confidence, and the ability to dress in a way that conveyed exactly what I wanted. (Mind you, after much study. I paid an enormous amount of attention to the cultural and career implications of clothing choices.)

And if:

When I was pretty, I could not progress beyond Sturdy, but now even though I am a lot less pretty I occasionally get all the way to Grande Artsy,

It is therefore proven that:

Style is mutable. Style can reflect whatever you choose. Style will portray how you feel about yourself more than anything else. And you will only benefit from your own talents if you stake a claim. Ipso facto we can all have a lot of fun with clothing. If we choose. This is probably not news to you. Just another moment of proving what we hear is true but don’t always trust.

Of course, style isn’t heroism. Aesthetics are not ethics*. Taste is not morality. Nobody has to participate in this project of how we look, not if they don’t want to. But if you do want to engage, remember, you’ve got far more authority than you may know.

Style is a trail of choices. Many limits, illusory. Although I’m still not expecting to dance on tables. Sturdy Gals, even those in pretty dresses, realize they’d just wind up having to clean the heel marks. I like Sturdy, as long as I’m lifting my own tables, and as long as I get to twirl, now and again.

Post title with all due credit to Drake. Go Cinderella, go Cinderella.
*This phrase will forever belong to the achingly intelligent Accordions and Lace.

32 Responses

  1. This so resonates, right to the core of the matter. It’s amazing the impact a lack of confidence has on one’s wardrobe, and the changes that ensue when one is more comfortable in one’s own skin, so to speak.

    Perfect pitch dear Miss Privilege, spot-on.

  2. How come a link about your Prada dress takes me to Stockholm?

    I wasn’t one who thought the dress was out of character. It’s plaid and you had a sweater to wear with it. It has a stitched down bodice and there was no hat. It’s quite nice and anyone who follows such things (or reads fall fashion mags) would know what it is and where it hales from.

    To me, the arty cousin is much flowier, hardly ever a waist band, (all that floatyness is hard on waists), and not squared off with plaids. Her attire is hard to categorize because she’s arty – one of a kind. The grand dame has a big cowl neckline, and a cape, and likely no waist either – the result of all that sherry in the library.

    I don’t argue that style is changable, but to me the dress was in character.

  3. I so agree. We tell the world who we are by that first impression.Of course there can be several sides to us, especially depending on the occasion. Then our core shows the values, the spirit of generosity and love. Looking beautiful does affect our confidence and self esteem.

    Art by Karena

  4. “…what we hear is true but don’t always trust.”

    Absolutely. Hear, hear. Fun is what fashion is all about after all. Allowing ourselves to relax and have a good time with our clothing does take a bit of confidence. I know I didn’t have this when I was younger either. Just the other day I bought a silk caftan. My girlfriend thought I was mad when I told her…but I love it and I feel like a different person when I wear it…Sometimes that is part of the fun too!

    If “style is a trail of choices” then I’m glad you chose the Prada. I thought you looked divine in it!


  5. You are not now a “lot less pretty,” you are simply a lot less young. My dear, you are lovely, and Sturdy.

    What @RoseAG said about waistlines is so spot-on, she deserves a prize.

  6. I wish the photos you posted of yourself in the Prada dress would show up a bit better on my monitor. That said, it is clear that you were stunningly beautiful and having a wonderful evening. The confidence shines through. The exhilaration of having NAILED the right clothes at the right time. True to type? Who cares! True to self? Always!

  7. As someone for whom Style was for Other People for a majority of my life, I can relate. There’s always been a certain style I’ve aspired to, but never had the physique nor the bank account for it.

    Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Sturdy Gal style. It’s classic, it’s functional and frees up the attention toward other things. Glamour has it’s time and place, sure, and it’s fun to play with. We can drift in and out of style personae, and no harm done.

    I’ve quit trying to define my own style, as it hasn’t settled yet, and foolish consistencies, hobgoblins, etc. etc.

  8. Lisa,

    You looked lovely,
    I thought how slim and well turned out you looked in your Prada.
    I would never have suspected that you in your younger days had any self confidence issues.
    And for the record you are pretty.
    Sturdy, artsy or grande dame…you probably have been influenced by them all.

    You had me laughing at table dancing heel smudges…imagine the dents if 4 inch Manolo’s were involved!

  9. Isn’t it just a matter of how many years you are here on the earth, ~the longer you are here, the better you know yourself, and what you like? The sad thing is…(for me anyway) that I didn’t appreciate the “cuteness” of youth with little self esteem. That reflection is surprising to me now as I look back on old photos and think, “Gee if I were able to have THAT face and body now with THIS style…wow!” -sigh-

  10. I am a 46 yr.old blogger who is a thrift-store junkie! It’s nice to meet you. Maybe we can learn from each other :)

  11. I have not followed the saga of this dress, but it looks perfect for the occasion and you are having a good time. It shows.

    As for “sturdy gal”, that is what I continue to prefer to be, even as I recognize the dynamics of it. My failure to be a fashionista at a younger age reflects many life choices, not all of them professional. It probably cost me several promotions. And, yet, I prefer to be known for my skills and talent.

  12. Style is also about feeling /comfortable in your skin’ as the French say and when you have that you can wear anything with confidence. Great post LPC x

  13. Dear Ms Lisa, What you call Sturdy, I know as Competent. It is if we have had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to feel truly at ease with ourselves and then as you say with the confidence this brings we can choose to be anything including beautiful. While it is the journey which makes us truly interesting, I wonder how I can make my girls feel that they have a right to be where ever they are (without developing an inflated sense of themselves). I would appreciate your thoughts on this and as always admire how precisely you aimed your pen in this post.

  14. Well now. This is one of those posts I feel I want to bookmark so that I can return to it at a time when I can sit an contemplate how this applies to me. I look at 20 year old pictures of myself and think I was almost pretty then, why did I not feel pretty and enjoy the confidence it could have brought? I want to sit and think about the words ‘mutable’ and ‘authority’ in relation to style and me. I must confess that I sometimes don’t ‘get’ your references, having no common experience of wealth and background, or current lifestyle for that matter; this one hit me between the eyes. Thank you!

  15. A good post. I still don´t quite understand the different sides of you, the Sturdy, Artsy.. Do you separate them, and choose which one fits when? Seems like I am totally lost with this one.
    I would like to be only one of these above mentioned, and stretch the character when needed.
    Your Prada dress is lovely ( you showed it earlier ), but I can´t see you at all from my monitor! Sigh!

  16. Always wondered about your Sturdy tag, as you look willowy in your pics and some of your choices are from designers who do not cut above a US 10 (Prada, Rodriguez). But sturdy is a state of mind. What you call sturdy, I’d call competent. When you were not looking, you floated into High-Arty, aka chic. You are chic in that dress.

  17. The way you decorate your very solid reasoning here (love the armature of logic) with a soupç of whimsy and some very elegant, creative prose demonstrates quite clearly that your range — in writing style as much as sartorial — easily embraces Sturdy and Artistic, some Grande Dame thrown in for good measure.
    I’m essentially quite Sturdy Gal myself although you might not often know it from how I dress — we all exist across quite a wide spectrum of possibilities, I think, although our circs tend to demand we play up one set more, often allowing others to languish. I love seeing you bring out the other girls to play . . .

  18. hi lisa,

    i don’t know where i fall in this discussion. but i will say that i thought you looked great in the pictures. i wish they would have enlarged when i clicked them so i could see better.

    i grew up wearing uniforms and i don’t think i’ve ever left that aesthetic. it works for me and my lifestyle and so it feels/fits good. as much as our beloved faux fuchsia would love to put me in pink frocks it will never happen. whenever i waiver from my ‘look’ i feel uncomfortable and always come back to me.

    thanks for always writing thought provoking posts such as this.


  19. TPP – Thank you. It’s possible that I prize confidence even more now, having launched sans. Maybe you know what I mean.

    RoseAG – I fixed the link. But that is naught in comparison to your brilliant comment. Plaid, plus sweater, plus the waistline. I really like waistlines I can feel. Somehow too much floaty cloth makes me nervous. Perhaps the fear that it’d get caught in the gears of heavy machinery. I also agree that Artsy often entails flowy, and I can only laugh at your insight on the Grande Dame. I have seen many a cape and collar on the Grandes Dames of my experience. And had more than one glass of sherry in more than one library. Thank you.

    Karena – Thank you so much. I like having different sides, as long as I am the one choosing when each makes its appearance.

    Hill House – I agree, sometimes being different, when you’re comfortable is part of the fun. We have to guard against narrowing the circle too much. Go you in the silk caftan. And thank you.

    Stephanie – Thank you very much.

  20. Louise – Ah. Yes, it’s about aging and the departure of the Pretty Fairy. But I think you very much. I would give Rose a prize but I have to think what it should be. Perhaps a belt:).

    DocP – I know. I suppose I could post a lightened version. Or one that enlarges. It’s complicated. But this is wonderful: True to type? Who cares! True to self? Always! Thank you.

    Deja – Yes, I agree with you. It’s just a question of stepping in and inhabiting a choice really well.

    Hostess – Thank you. I think revealing my early self-confidence issues makes me feel finally open on the blog, with nothing else that I worry I haven’t disclosed that I owe you all. Thank you for the kind words. And, perhaps you and I ought to both dance on a table or two now and then.

    Donna – Oh I know! Would that our younger selves could have benefited from our older comfort!

  21. Retro – Nice to you meet you!

    Terri – You are choosing for good reason. That’s all that matters.

    Sarah – Merci, as the French also say:).

    Linda – Exactly. “with the confidence this brings we can choose to be anything including beautiful.” And it’s a long, long, topic, how we do this for our children. I think it comes down to seeing them clearly and always articulating their particular beauty truthfully. Meaning no false praise, but no hidden desire for them to change. In other words, superhuman, so we all just do the best we can.

    That said, I will continue to noodle on a post about daughters. And see how my own would feel about such a thing.

    Shelley – I am very happy. I apologize for any obscurity in my references, it’s just that I try to write what I know well. And then when I’m lucky, what I know transcends my background. I think you’ve picked out the words that meant most to me, authority in particular. Thank you.

  22. Mette – The archetypes are culturally derived. If I look at all the women in my extended family, I see patterns. I named the patterns. So among the High WASPs, if you tell them these archetypes, they will completely laugh, and say, “Oh yes, my aunt so-and-so was Artsy.” I discuss the archetypes in my own life and expand them to a more psychological profile. Poetic liberty, I suppose. Does Finland have female types?

    Mater – Our circles do like us to stay put sometimes. I imagine you as Sturdy in the best sense of the word, who has by now allowed herself to engage in creative and playful dressing. The boots and brogues are a dead giveaway:). Thank you for noticing the logic armature – armature is precisely what it is, really, since I was engaging in more personal emotional disclosure than I’m quite comfortable with here on the blog.

    Tabitha – Well, back at you! Thank you.

    Janet – You are very welcome. I actually saw a pink frock I liked today. But it was shaped like a t shirt. Which explained a lot:). I like the uniform your adult self has chosen.

  23. I think you looked wonderful and absolutely appropriate. After all, no matter how Sturdy one may be, one cannot wear one’s duck boots to a nice, proper dinner.

    On another note, sherry in the library sounds like a great idea…though I should probably be grateful that it never was allowed in the stacks of Widener (or, indeed, Firestone), et al.

  24. OK, Lisa, I just love that you referenced Drake. Thank heavens we have young ones who keep up at least partially in the loop.


  25. Sometimes I think of Sturdy as Practical. As in, I’ll buy this lovely dress and my lovely self will look gorgeous in it and feel grand, so it’s totally worth it! Practical, no?

  26. I always enjoy your posts, but this mix of looking back at confidence issues, through career dressing and now into the older but wiser present really resonates for me. Very well thought out, and said – good work here. I could have been so much more confident, and pretty, as a younger woman (if I or someone had the sense to help me out of the frizzy hair, braces, etc.) and now at 40+ am more confident – thanks to rather harsh career training – but also more or less given up on style. So many years of Austen Reed pantsuits and loafers…now I believe I’ve entered a Sturdy territory of my own based on cardigans and scarves, tweed, and more comfortable loafers and clogs. Oh well. Someday I’ll achieve my dream and wear polarfleece and flannel every day…perhaps I’ll run a Christmas Tree farm and only practice law part-time…

  27. Someone – I hope your posts are surviving Blogger:). Agreed, one cannot wear one’s duck boots to dinner in Manhattan at L’Absinthe. If only because the atmosphere they work so hard to create would be diminished. But libraries are made for sherry.

    Stacy – Ha! Yes, they do that.

    EntertainingMom – Yes, I know. Thank you.

    Bumby – Thank you.

    Patsy – I LIKE your thinking!

    MJ – Christmas trees are my favorite place. Evergreen is a wonderful thing. That said, you aren’t required to take style back up. For me it’s been an agent of expression, a way to put into action more diffuse threads of change. But, hey, let me know if you ever want to go shopping:).

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