Unsolicited fashion advice from me and everyone else you know (and everyone you don't know, too)

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If you’re a woman, chances are, someone has offered you advice on what to wear. Or, more specifically, what not to wear. Hell, there’s an entire show dedicated to it.

Often, I suspect, this advice is unsolicited.

Sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not. Perhaps the person cares enough to tell you your bra is hanging out of the back of your dress so you don’t look like a fool in the buffet line at a wedding.

Or, perhaps the sales clerk wants to make herself feel skinnier by telling you you look fat in the dress you’re trying on at Macy’s (clearly not working on commission).

A friend of mind asked me to go shopping with her the other day to offer solicited advice on what and what not to wear.

Another friend had a woman walk up to her in a professional setting and tell her she looked really cute in what she was wearing, but that if she wanted to be taken seriously, she shouldn’t wear shorts.

This got me thinking: As women, we receive an overwhelming amount of advice in our lifetimes about what’s appropriate, what isn’t, what looks good, what looks bad, what we’re supposed to wear in this setting or that setting, when to wear white, when to wear black, when to put your hair up, when to leave it down, what it means when you paint your fingernails red (slut!) and black (emo!), when to wear strappy sandals, when to wear close-toed shoes, and on and on.

I can only imagine that for people like my mother, who could give a crap about most of the fashion rules, this is completely overwhelming and not worth thinking about.

But, in this day of stiff competition for jobs, it would be silly for a woman to disregard the message her clothes are sending. At the same time, if I took all the advice I’d received in my life, I’d have given up long ago.

I’ve been told black makes me look dead, don’t wear brown and black together, men can get away with jeans at work but women can’t, no velvet in the summer, no white in the winter, no white jeans ever, tie your hair up to look in control, green brings out my eyes, blue brings out my eyes, brown is a good color for me, pink is a good color for me, I should never wear beige, horizontal stripes make you look thinner, horizontal stripes make you look fatter, capri pants make me look short … I could go on.

I once was invited to an afternoon classical chamber music performance in Kennebunk by an older woman who immediately emailed me after the show to offer me “auntly advice” that jeans were not “classical” enough, and that my shirt was too tight. I didn’t even know this woman.

My general response to people’s unsolicited fashion advice is “piss off,” although I typically keep that comment to myself (although not always).

But it does beg the question: Is it OK to offer someone friendly fashion advice if you mean well?

I have such a powerful reaction to unsolicited fashion advice because fashion is such a profoundly personal thing. I decide what clothes I wear and generally, I only choose things I think I look good in. When someone says, “hey, that shirt makes you look like you’ve contracted the plague,” it’s an affront to my self image and yes, to my ego.

That, and I like to think I make good fashion decisions.

So I’m usually pretty confident whoever’s offering me the advice is an idiot. I firmly believe fashion is all about confidence.

But what about the women out there who are unsure of the fashion decisions they make? Or the young women trying to figure out what flatters them? Who do you trust?

It’s hard. Impossible even. And it takes time.

My advice: Wear what makes you comfortable, wear what makes you feel confident. And don’t let anyone’s fashion advice trump your own sense of what looks good on you and makes you feel good about yourself.

Sorry. That was totally unsolicited.

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