How to break out of a style rut: 6 strategies

Meg wears rust Arthur Pants and a pink Bedrock Tee tied in the front.
Meg shows how to style blue Cosecha pants and a Bedrock Tank.

I’m sure you know the feeling of walking in your closet and not feeling excited to get dressed. It’s ok, it’s not a fault – it happens to all of us – even when we’ve made our own clothes, or when we used to love what was in our closet. Sometimes, our outfits fall flat.

That’s because our brains are hardwired to seek out novelty. Research has shown that novelty boosts our brain’s plasticity – its ability to make new connections between neurons – as well as memory. 

Think about the last time you visited a new city. I remember our first day at a little boutique eco hotel in Mexico City like it was yesterday. The lobby, the layout of the room, the toilet that flushed with a pulley instead of a lever. With enthusiasm, I took in my new surroundings.

After not too long, however, I adapted. To the breakfast routine, to the walk to the bakery, to the pillow, to the different toilet.

A new environment, a new item, a new bit of information (is this why gossip is so gripping?): all of these cause our brain to connect neurons in new ways, and encourage our minds to explore and learn about the new situation.

There is no shame in seeking out novelty. It is a learning tool and a memory-maker.

The problem comes when we feel like we need to buy new things all of the time to fuel the brain’s need for novelty. 

How, then, can we both love our clothes and stop feeling like we need new ones all the time?

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

The Zen Buddhist concept of Beginner’s Mind, as I understand it, is a way of looking at the world without judgment or pre-conceived notions, tapping into what I like to think of as a child’s tendency to approach life with amazement and curiosity. 

It’s a pretty powerful state, Beginner’s Mind; at once peaceful and full of possibility.

It is also the seed from which creative ideas spring forth.

In the closet, it can sound like this: “I wonder what would happen if I wore this dress unbuttoned as a duster?” or “What would this cardigan look like if I dyed it bright blue?” 

To reinvigorate your relationship with your clothes without having to purchase a thing, approach your closet with a mindset of curiosity and try these suggestions:

  1. Identify your foundation pieces. Pull out your 5 or 10 items of clothing that you feel very comfortable wearing, and that you reach for all of the time. Each piece should also be something you love. These items are the foundation of your wardrobe, and will provide the jumping-off point for your wardrobe experiments.
Meg wears rust Arthur Pants and a pink Bedrock Tee tied in the front.
  1. Take time to play in your closet.  Effortless style is a myth. Those with a defined sense of style are actually artists who have taken time to hone their method for putting together looks. They have taken the time to play, to imagine (and test!) new possible combinations. So much of creativity is about connecting dots in new ways. What if you thought about the items in your closet as dots to be connected in various novel ways? 
  1. As your first experiment, put on the simplest, most comfortable outfit you can come up with from your foundation pieces. (Think your favorite jeans and a trustworthy basic tee.) Now, throw something unexpected into the mix to add some novelty: a colorful crossbody bag, a chunky heel, or even a bold eye or fun nail polish. 
  1. As your next experiment, take in the different textures in your closet. Texture is such a powerful force in our relationship with clothes. Not only does it enliven our visual sense by juxtaposing different textures – think mohair and rugged denim, or silk and linen – it speaks directly to our skin, awakening our bodies to the pleasure of the fibers. Try putting together outfits with divergent textures and see how it makes you feel. 
  1. Pick a color you’ve been wanting to experiment with and add it to one of your foundational outfits. This can be as easy as using a remnant of fabric to make an easy bandanna or throwing an older piece in a dye pot. Perhaps you have an item of clothing that is a silhouette you enjoy, but the color falls flat for you – or you have a lot of that color already and you’re ready for a change.  Dye it! I’ve been wondering how I might enjoy adding an occasional pop of cobalt blue to my wardrobe, so I plan to take an older white piece and give it new life with a bold color.

Your biggest asset in creating a wardrobe you love is not a particular item of clothing – it’s your own curiosity, and your willingness to work with your brain’s tendency to seek out novelty. Take the time to play in your closet and get curious about pairing “new” items with your foundational pieces. 

Which brings me to tip #6: 

  1. Take time to regularly play in your closet. A single session of playful curiosity in your closet won’t solve your desire for novelty forever. Whenever you experience a sense of inevitable closet doldrums, you’ll know it’s time to return to play.

What I’m wearing in this post: 1st photo: wool crepe Cosecha Pants, checkerboard Bedrock tank, + a thrifted lace buttondown. 2nd photo: linen Arthur Pants, Bedrock Tee sleeveless view B tied in the front, secondhand Ace & Jig jacket, + a hand knit Oslo Hat in the Pomegranate colorway from Knitting for Olive.

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Meg McElwee, creator of the Mindful Wardrobe Project

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  1. Oh thank you so much for this!! This is just the kind of inspiration I was looking for. I have way too many clothes and generally wear only my makes, so I need to purge. I did an experiment a couple of years ago where I wore the same dress for 100 days and just styled it differently every day, and I realized although my clothing is one of my primary forms of expression, I could also live with less.