Don’t think I’m just boasting. Cast your mind back to when you were 18, 20, even 23; unless you’re Suri Cruise chances are your fashion choices were questionable at the very best. For me, any improvement on a fluoro pink Hypercolor shirt, black pork pie hat and black-and-white bike shorts – my go-to outfit of my teens – is a step in the right direction.
Now that I’m feeling confident and comfortable in my style, here are the 30 things I think every woman should know.
1. It’s okay to experiment with your style.
A frenemy once said this about me: “Carla never used to dress in crazy, colourful clothes. When she started uni, she used to wear boring outfits. She’s so fake now.”
Sadly for that frenemy, they had a narrow view of life and fashion. According to them, I should never change, evolve, or have fun with my clothes. (Watch: Fashion editor Paula Joye explains how to wear a white shirt. Post continues after video.)
Too often, I hear women say, “I’d love to wear that dress/colour/style, but I’m too scared of what people will say.” The truth is that the people who say negative things or have a problem with your clothes aren’t your true friends and most likely aren’t that happy themselves. Ignore the haters and wear whatever you want.
2. The grown-ups who you thought wore “weird” clothes are now the coolest people you know.
As a child, I knew two adults who wore the strangest clothes and accessories and I thought of them as “weird”. One of them was a medical specialist and at each of my appointments her hair was a different wild colour with bits shaved out of it.
Her clothes were so baggy and colourful that she looked like a clown. The other person who I thought dressed strangely was a relative of mine who always wore flowing scarves, layers and jewel colours. Now I realise they had the best style of anyone I know.
Desperately trying to look like my arty, cultured, bespectacled and scarf-obsessed aunt. Image: Supplied
3. If you’re still in your 20s, show skin while you still can.
One thing I will never regret is wearing miniskirts constantly throughout my 20s. It was my signature style, and oh, I miss my minis so much. A brief career as a high school art teacher and my life now as a mum have forced me to say goodbye to my favourite item of clothing.
I mean, would YOU want to bend over and reveal your undies to a classroom of teen boys and/or judgey mums at playgroup? No, thanks. So if your life is free, easy and youthful, wear all the skimpy clothes while your lifestyle still suits them.
4. Investment clothes are overrated.
Pick up any high-fashion magazine and they’ll tell you that you must invest in that designer trench coat because you’ll wear it for the rest of your life. But in your lifetime, several things can change: your lifestyle, your weight, your city and your personal style.
After spending a grand on a trench coat, you may suddenly have the horrifying realisation that you hate it. But now you’re stuck with it. Don’t feel pressured to drop a tonne of money on “staple” items of clothes just because a rich fashion magazine editor tells you to.
5. Investment jewellery and accessories, however…
Look, I’m yet to say ‘no’ to anything from Tiffany’s & Co or Musson and don’t intend to start. A gorgeous, expensive item of jewellery or designer glasses look right at home with any outfit, whether you bought your dress at Kmart or David Jones.
Tiffany necklace and Ray-Ban glasses with a Kmart dress? Guilty as charged. Image: Supplied
6. Sorry, there’s no single item of clothing that will make a person fall in love with you.
So you can stop shopping obsessively before hitting the clubs on Saturday night. And if a person is shallow enough to love you only because of your clothes, then they are obviously idiots for not recognising your amazing personality.
7. You don’t need to shop all the time if you don’t want to.
When I was younger, I felt that I always needed to wear the latest fashions. Then I realised I was wasting all of my money. You don’t have to wear a new dress or outfit all the time, especially if there’s other things you’d rather do than trudge up and down the local mall.
8. When in doubt, go vintage.
Have you ever been invited to an event where the appropriate outfit just eludes you? Perhaps it’s with people you don’t really know that well, or maybe it’s for a wedding in a strange location. When I’m in doubt, I find that a vintage dress will always do the trick, as it’s unusual yet still elegant. Keep an eye out at op shops for some vintage finds.
9. About op shops; they’re great but so is the mall.
There’s something addictive about op-shopping. I used to do it all the time and I developed a sort of snobbery in which I thought that anything bought from a mall was so mass-produced and rubbishy, whereas my op shop finds were original and sustainable.
Yes, that is true, but sometimes you just really need to find pants that fit properly that haven’t been owned by a dead person, you know? Both are good ways to shop.
All op shop finds (except for the bangle).Image: Supplied
10. When you can, give away your clothes.
If it doesn’t fit any more, give it away. Make new memories with new clothes.
11. Care about your wedding dress – but not too much.
Here’s the trick to finding a great wedding dress. Buy the first one that you love, preferably off the rack. That’s what I did and guess what? A couple years later, Kate Moss wore one that was very similar and I felt like a total style maven. I got there first, Kate!
12. Sometimes you need to suck it up and just wear the dress code.
Scenario: Carla goes to a golf club with a strict dress code.
Carla in her 20s: “F*ck the establishment and the man, I’m going to wear whatever I want so that everyone knows I’m a punk rocker! So, they want closed-toe shoes? Let’s see how they like my badass Doc Martens!”
Carla now: “It’s a few hours of my life. I can wear closed-toe flats and then get over it.”
Maturity is hard-won but worth it. And it’s strangely liberating, too. Sometimes life is easier if you play by the rules…even if it’s just for a few hours.
13. Body parts go in and out of fashion. Just ignore it. These silly trends will eventually go away.
When I was in my 20s, it was very fashionable to have a small, slim bum. These days, it seems that the bigger and more bubble-like your bum is, the better. My advice is that if you’re constantly thinking about your bum – you know, that thing you sit on and poop out of – then maybe you need to reassess your priorities. Your body parts are not accessories.
14. Comfort is key.
Here are some things that I have done in the name of looking “good”: worn contact lenses even though they made my eyes feel like dry deserts. Worn a g-string to avoid a visible panty line. Worn high heels that gave me blisters for weeks on end. Do I regret all of these choices? Yes, because I felt extremely uncomfortable.
Did I look more amazing than I ever had in my entire life? Not really. Chances are that you’ll look better if you’re comfortable and relaxed, rather than wincing in pain.
15. If you can wear sneakers everyday to work, then do it.
16. Don’t ever let anyone shame you for whether or not your clothes are gender-appropriate.
Here’s a few things that men have told me about my fashion choices:
“Carla, why are you wearing clunky school shoes? You should be wearing gorgeous platform shoes, so that you look like a real woman.”
“Carla, I wouldn’t feel comfortable working in the same office as you, because you’re very feminine and my wife would get jealous.”
Um, what? I’ve been criticised for not looking enough like a woman and then criticised for looking too much like a woman? Generally, I’ve found that anyone with a penis is unqualified to give advice on what it’s like to be a woman. So I just ignored all the above advice and clomped away with my giant ugly shoes and short skirt.
17. The best way to achieve a bikini body…
…is to forego the ordeal altogether and buy a chic, black one-piece from Target and then swim happily away into the ocean.
18. Go with the crazy.
About 12 years ago, I was really into cat ears. I would buy them and wear them in public. Of course, everyone thought I was crazy. And now? Cat ears have been in fashion and now everyone wears them, whether to the races or even on a night out.
I was right! If you have a crazy fashion impulse just go with it, because chances are that you’re just ahead of the pack. And if you’re not? Well, at least you had fun trying.
Let cats be your guiding fashion force. Especially this cool guy. Image: Supplied
19. Your body and clothing size may change shape. And that’s okay.
It’s also an excuse to buy more clothes which is always fun, right?
20. Know what flatters your body shape and stick to it.
I look amazing in A-line skirts, but they’re not always in fashion. And you know what? I will keep wearing them because they make me look and feel good. Looking good never goes out of style. Me and calf-length skirts, on the other hand,let’s just say we’re not the best of friends.
21. Just because an international store has opened in Australia doesn’t mean you have to buy everything in it.
Once upon a time, there was a fashion company called ForeverGapTopH&Miqlo, for example. Everyone in the US and Europe shopped there and it made you wanted a bit of that high-fashion action, too. So as soon as ForeverGapTopH&Miqlo opened in Australia, you ran there as fast as your legs would carry you and bought bags and bags of the stuff.
Only to take it home and find that you didn't need any of it.
22. Don’t be afraid of costume jewellery.
A bargain necklace can take an outfit from boring to booming.
23. Black tights can solve many a fashion dilemma.
Denim cut-offs can go from skanky to chic, just by adding black tights. Image: Supplied
24. You need to accept that the perfect T-shirt may not exist. But it doesn’t hurt to try to find it.
25. Style inspiration can come from everywhere.
Ignore the “How To Dress Like Jennifer Aniston” guides in the magazines and instead don’t be shy of being inspired by the strangest things. Some of my style icons are Noel Fielding (the comedian from The Mighty Boosh), my two-year-old daughter and usually the main character of the novel I’m reading at the time. I’m not sure if I look good, but at least getting dressed everyday is fun.
Dear Noel, can I please wear your clothes…and YOU? #crush
26. Being interested in fashion doesn’t make you stupid.
Being narrow-minded and judgmental of people who like fashion does make you stupid, on the other hand. Some of my favourite writers and thinkers have their origins in fashion. Consider this: the great artist Andy Warhol got his start from doing window dressing.
27. If you need to buy special underwear to wear underneath a basic outfit, then it’s probably not worth the effort.
28. Here are some things that have been said to me about my body:
“You’re too skinny. Are you anorexic?”
“I’m not usually friends with fat people, but I’m friends with you.”
Guess what, I don’t talk to those people any more because they made me feel bad about things that didn’t even exist. Few things are more unfashionable than antiquated body ideals.
29. Certain styles, genres and “looks” will always be in fashion.
Bohemian, rock’n’roll, preppy, mod and Audrey Hepburn are just a few. So if anyone tells you that these are “new” fashions, just ignore them and say, “I KNOW, dummy.”
30. In the words of Fleetwood Mac:
Go your own way.
What style lessons have you learnt?