Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

How to find your personal style after kids

Most of us have at least attempted kegel exercises since childbirth, but when have postpartum self-care plans ever included wardrobe styling? 

It’s true incontinence is worse than no fashion sense, but surely a new mum’s self-care program should eventually address her damaged self-confidence. 

Studies have shown that women use clothing to formulate positive self-projections, but when you become a mum, you tend to lose hold of those ideals somewhere between post-birth granny knickers and spew-splattered t-shirts. 

Depending on your work situation, it can take a good five years for you to feel even remotely aware of the clothes you throw on. 

And that’s when it hits you: your wardrobe is a random concoction of maternity clothes, novelty print PJs and the Fast Fashion of Five Years Ago, in a dress size that reads like a long-lost manuscript. 

Do you hit the shops and buy the latest styles in your new size? Sounds like the logical next step, but if being a mum has caused you to question your child’s future on this planet, you’ll know that mall-shopping cheap, trend-focussed brands is one of the most unsustainable actions you can take. 

But all is not lost. In fact, the moment your kids stop spewing on you and start schooling you can finally reassess who YOU are; as an individual, as a woman rather than a mum. 

Styling sessions with a personal wardrobe stylist are a wonderful way to do that, but if you don’t have the budget, here are some pointers to get you started on your road to post-mummy style. 

Spend some time with your wardrobe

In my experience as a personal stylist, the number-one problem women have when it comes to their wardrobe is that they’re unfamiliar with its contents.

According to studies, most people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. I would suggest this is because the only time we connect with our wardrobe is during that half-hour before leaving the house for work/cocktails/dog walking. That isn’t enough time to try trickier styles or new combinations, in fact it’s inevitable you’ll end up reaching for the familiar tee and jeans, activewear or worn-to-death summer dress. 

Just looking at your clothes on the hanger is pointless. You need to put them on your body (this applies when you’re shopping too). You cannot know what one piece will look like with another unless you try them on your body together, and if possible when your face and hair are the way you like them (otherwise you’ll only see the bad stuff), and with various shoe options. Don’t try a nice dress on with just your socks – your imagination can’t wipe that sad image from the mirror. 

This week, block out an hour or more for ‘wardrobe time’. Find clothes you’d forgotten about, or have never been brave enough to wear. Note: There’s a good chance you’ll have physically grown out of a few – that’s perfectly healthy and all the more reason to reassess your relationship with your clothes.

Reverse the Marie Kondo!

I know the Marie Kondo tactic is very popular. You know the one, where you hold each item you own and chuck it if it doesn’t bring you ‘joy’. But since I’m an advocate of sustainable style, this just doesn’t sit well with me at all. These pieces aren’t going to bring landfill much joy either!

Of course there will probably be some casualties by the end of your wardrobe evaluation, but I urge you to merely ‘put away’ anything that either doesn’t fit or you’ve fallen out of love with, so that you might come back to it at a later date. In other words, start working with the good stuff and deal with the bad much later. For this to work, you will need to make sure the clothes you put away are completely clean and dry and stored correctly. 

Create a rotating capsule

One reason Marie Kondo’s method became so popular is that many of us worship the ideal of clutter-free living, with all its perfectly folded zen. Unfortunately, it takes more than a mass chuck-out to achieve this, and living off 30 items for the rest of your life will bring with it some challenges, especially if like me you fancy a change now and then.

The solution? A rotating capsule. All the curated sparseness of a capsule but there are many more items in the ‘backroom storage’ (read: under your bed, in the spare room, in boxes above the wardrobe etc) so you can rotate that capsule as often as you want. This is purely psychological; you can see each item’s potential better when it has space to breathe, and you’re less overwhelmed by choice when you open those wardrobe doors. 

Break it down

Sort your wardrobe into general categories on the bed – tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes. The categories will depend on what your wardrobe looks like, but the aim is to decide on around 35 items for the season’s capsule. If you’re a dress person you might choose 7 of those plus 7 bottoms and 14 tops, or you might choose zero dresses and more separates. You may decide that’s not enough and if you have a large wardrobe then go ahead and make it bigger, but I promise; you will be surprised by how many looks you can create with this number. 

Nothing fogs your brain like overwhelm, and the more choice you have, the harder it is to decide (think of it like a restaurant menu). When you’re forced to wear everything hanging in your wardrobe, you will experiment more with combinations and discover more about your own style than you ever could in the shops. 

Do your research

So many people claim not to care about fashion, but as Meryl Streep points out in The Devil Wears Prada, we’re all indirectly guided by fashion whether we like it or not (remember Anna Hathaway’s Cerulean blue knit?). If you take more notice of what’s happening at the high end of fashion – let’s call it the Vogue view – and proactively look for your own fashion heroes, you can develop a clearer vision of how you would like to dress yourself. ⁠

⁠Rather than follow the ‘latest trends’ – even if they’re Vogue’s latest trends – I suggest you rummage through the archival runway photos in the Vogue Runway mobile app or website, as well as current shows, just as you would flick through a random assortment of interior mags if you were redecorating your home.⁠

Get to know what you like and you can safely rule out what you don’t like. Be aware of trends, sure (I am), but retain the wherewithal to pick and choose. ⁠

⁠Once you find two or three collections and/or designers you like, that’s when Pinterest comes in handy. By saving looks from these collections into Pinterest, your algorithms will adjust and your feed will evolve to reflect your taste.⁠ Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing new items through Pinterest though. I don’t trust most brands that advertise this way because they are the fashion equivalent of clickbait and must be given due diligence. Let’s assume they do not practice ethical and sustainable methods of manufacturing until we do the research, because sadly that’s the standard these days. Instead just use this as your inspiration board while you learn more about your taste and ideal personal style. 

Remember though: ⁠it isn’t only the rich and famous who have style (in fact many don’t), so start becoming more style aware when you’re out and about. Make a mental note of what combinations and styles you like on others.

Write a list 

Do you find your eyes glaze over when you enter a clothes shop, and you either go into auto pilot and buy something safe that you already have a million of, or you panic buy something you will never wear? 

Then you need a master shopping list. 

Your list is to help you curate the perfect long-term wardrobe over an extended period of time, one with all the staples that your rotating capsule requires for it to be versatile, but one that will survive wear and washing and trend shifts. 

It’s a jungle out there; hundreds of items to trawl through in real-life stores and tens of thousands online, even if you use all the search filters. This is why you need to spend more time with your wardrobe. What in your wardrobe makes you feel great about yourself, and why is that? Is it the fit or shape? The way the fabric feels? Is it the colour or print? Does it remind you of a place or a person or a time in your life? Start noticing your go-to brands as well, and consider why these are your favourites. What fabrics and colour palettes do they use? Are they simple or more detailed in design? Are they very feminine or more sporty? Do you know what cuts suit your shape? What hemlines suit your height and legs? (Note: base this on the way you feel in clothes and not on the ‘rules’ as laid down by the fashion media.) 

Get on board with sustainable fashion

Ideally avoid all shopping for at least a month, to give you lots of time with your wardrobe, looking inwards for answers, and ‘browsering’ Pinterest, Vogue Runway, Instagram et al. The break will also allow you to swat up on fast fashion’s impact on the environment, and how you can do your bit. A lot has changed since you were young and carefree, and with a sense of responsibility for your children’s future, it’s time to stop avoiding the elephant in the room.

Cheap mass produced clothes come at a high cost for people down the supply chain, who could only dream of having a tight budget. When you spend $5 on a t-shirt, you have to ask; “so, who’s paying for it?” 

It might turn out that your pre-pregnancy go-to brands don’t align with your newfound values. Good on You is an Australian-based app that does all the research on these brands and provides sustainability and ethical ratings with a full breakdown of what they do well and where they fail. If the brand is not transparent about their supply chain, then we can safely assume it’s because they have something to hide.

The most sustainable fashion of all – apart from the clothes already in your wardrobe (fast fashion or not) – is secondhand. What’s more, secondhand shopping is the best way to develop your own unique style, and if you have your list ready and you’ve done your homework, your specific filtering and keywords will help you find exactly what you want – so long as you have some patience.

According to studies, companies like ThredUp, Poshmark and Depop are set to take the secondhand clothing market beyond fast fashion in terms of billions, so get on the bandwagon if you haven’t already.

Learn your measurements 

Measure your body and also measure your best fitting pieces laid flat on the ground, because when you shop secondhand you have the benefit of communicating with the human seller of the item, and it’s easier to cross-check fits. One of the most unsustainable elements of online fast fashion is that consumers buy cheap items that don’t end up fitting, but they can’t be bothered to return them, and even if they do, the returns never sell. The downside of online secondhand shopping is there are often no returns, but considering the alternative, that’s a small price to pay, and if you’re registered with online resellers as a customer you can easily add your own store for unwanted buys.

One more thing, the size on the label – whether secondhand or new – is not important: the cut and fit are what matters. Write your measurements on a Post-it somewhere handy and don’t dwell on them or compare them to others or your pre-baby stats. Your body is amazing no matter the numbers; you produced a human being. 

Joanne Gambale is a personal wardrobe stylist and through her business Slogue, she helps women of all ages, shapes and sizes find their style mojo sustainably. She sees private clients in their homes, provides online services and hosts in-store workshops on shopping and styling secondhand and vintage. In September she’ll co-host a workshop with Northern Beaches mum and entrepreneur Jessica Zalums  at Sydney’s The Corner Shop, so book your place here.