Imani Smith


  Thanks for joining me for this installment of Elements of Style. In the past I have discussed the important role that confidence plays in personal style. Confidence, which is probably the mother of all Elements of Style, is completely mental, you can’t download it on an app or beg for it on the street. The power of the mind can be difficult to harness if your external circumstances are consuming you. If you’re struggling to maintain your confidence, it will undoubtedly show in your personal style choices.

  When I was a junior in high school, I realized how important fashion was to me. I was always interested in psychology, but I remember there being a time when I wanted to merge both of my interests into one career path. Ten years ago, I was told that it was impossible to be a fashion psychologist but I couldn’t understand why. So many psychological factors play into the choices that we make when it comes to how we dress ourselves. I knew that I couldn’t have possibly been the only person in the world who made the connection. Fortunately, today I have seen a number of articles highlighting growth in the industry of fashion psychology.

  The term ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ is much more than a figure of speech. When working with a stylist, you are doing so much more than opening up your home and your closet, you’re also exposing your insecurities. Ultimately, it is you who is in charge of all of the style choices that you make from day to day. Sometimes, we don’t even understand the root causes of the style choices that we’re making.

  During the years I spent working in retail, I got to share some of the most vulnerable and intimate moments with people from all walks of life in fitting rooms. No matter how differently everyone looked, spoke or portrayed themselves, I was always brought to the same conclusion: everyone struggles with something. This particular segment of EOS is very near and dear to my heart because I will be highlighting some common connections that I have found between mental health and personal style.


  Have you ever found yourself wearing the same exact things repeatedly- even when you weren’t required to do so for work, school or some other obligation? You may find comfort in the fact that you ‘don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing’ or maybe you’ve allowed your personal style to take a back seat to all of the other things you may have going on in your life. Regardless of the reasoning behind your choice to wear a uniform, you are projecting a bit of fear. You may have valid concerns about leaving your beloved comfort zone, or you may not know where to start. Habits that make us feel safe, comfortable and that are not necessarily life threatening can be particularly hard to break. Surely, it’s not a crime to wear a uniform, but you are definitely depriving yourself of a healthy creative outlet that has the power to enrich your life: personal style.

  Just because I have worked as a stylist for many years does not make me exempt from the same issues that my clients encounter. I have been guilty of uniform dressing in various situations that include, but are not limited to:

Moments of Haste- There have been countless times that I have found myself running late due to poor time management. It’s a lifelong battle that I’ve been fighting, and my style has often been a casualty of this behavior. If I don’t allow myself the time or resources to compose a look that is to my liking, I turn to my uniform. Fortunately, once you’ve built a solid wardrobe of basics, the terms of your uniform don’t have to be so rigid or noticeable. When I’m in a uniform I feel safe and confident in the fact that my look, at the very least, fits and is flattering. Unfortunately, this look it is probably not the most fascinating. As I outlined in EOS Part III, the strongest looks contain equal parts of fit, flattery AND fascination. When you choose to wear a uniform, you rob yourself of the power of fascination.

Bouts of Depression- I’m no medical professional but I know for a fact that if you struggle with depression, it shows itself in a variety of different ways, sometimes unbeknownst to you. Personally speaking, there have been many times when I felt a general lack of energy to challenge myself to create an original look. In my epic battle against depression, I have to continue to fight for the things that bring me joy, and looking my best is one of those things for me. Maintaining your personal style is a bold act of self-care, and I encourage anyone suffering from any symptoms of depression to make small steps toward taking control of your outward appearance. Regardless of how trivial or vapid it may seem to some, there is immense importance in the way that you present yourself to yourself. If you look good, you feel good and it’s just that simple. By no means is there anything easy about suffering through a depressive episode, but making the choice to do something small to make yourself feel a little bit better can go a longer way than you may think.

  Lack of Inspiration- As humans we all have a complex hierarchy of needs that have to be met In order to give us that feeling of wholeness. Of course, we all need food, water and shelter but as a creative being I am convinced that I need to be in the presence of creativity just as much. If I am in a stagnant state, having not absorbed or created any art, it takes a major toll on me. This toll shows itself in my personal style choices. Something as unassuming as an interesting combination of colors, a cluster of found objects or a captivating street performer can ignite inspiration in the soul of a creative being. If you don’t fancy yourself as a creative, I would suggest practicing a little mindfulness and thinking more deeply about the small things in your day to day life that captivate you. What was it about that mural that made you do a double take? Why did you like that commercial so much? How did that song make you feel? Art imitates life, and it is all around us. Learning to use the omnipresence of art to your advantage is skill that can be applied to all facets of your life. In this case, it can help you to stay creative and avoid being trapped in a cycle of uniforms when it’s time to get dressed in the morning.


  I believe that we’re all on our own journeys, but sometimes certain events in our lives can leave us at a fork in the road. Particularly, traumatic events may change our perspectives on things that we were once completely confident about, including style choices. The practice of concealing and revealing that I discussed in EOS Part III can often have darker connotations than simply not liking the way your arms look in a particular top. For example, survivors of sexual assault or harassment may feel the need to conceal their bodies entirely in order to avoid being targeted again. Conversely, other survivors may reveal more of their bodies in order to feel more empowered and in control of their narratives. Victims of bullying may want to adhere to the tastes and opinions of others and avoid making bold style choices to draw less attention to themselves. On the opposite end of that spectrum, others may submerge themselves into countercultures that feel more comfortable and accepting of their alternative style choices in order to gain that sense of belonging.

  In my opinion, the only promise in life is that it will be full of obstacles. The way that we handle these obstacles is what plays a huge part in the quality of our lives. The same logic applies to how you decide to build your wardrobe and style yourself. If you have a free moment, clear your mind and ask yourself these questions: Are you being proactive- dressing for the life that you want and choosing pieces that actually intrigue you? Or, are you being reactive- prioritizing the opinions of others above your own and dressing for people other than yourself?

  Understanding the motivations behind the choices that you make may help you to decode the complicated parts of your life. It is also important to consider that you are not what happened to you. You contain so much more than the negativity that may have penetrated your past. YOU are in control of your life and you have the power to tell whatever story you want with your outward appearance. As a stylist, I hope that the story that you choose portrays you in the best possible light.


  As a consumer of contemporary fashion, it is almost impossible to find the level of quality and artisanship that existed in items made in the past. It’s no secret that I have an undying love for vintage and retro clothing, shoes and accessories. I find that there is nothing more satisfying than pairing one of my favorite vintage pieces with something new to create a unique style statement. Cultivating and maintaining a strong personal style involves combining new and old elements of fashion. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the balance between the two.

  Imagine the best time in your life, or even the worst time in your life. What year was it? What were you wearing? Some people are stuck in those moments in their lives and either have no idea that they’re trapped. When I see someone who appears to be stuck in a time capsule, I see a crippling fear. What happened that year that made you decide to hit the pause button on your external appearance? It’s possible that during that time, everything was amazing, and there is fear of wanting to change the formula of what may have gotten you to such a great place in your life. Clinging to a great moment in the past by projecting it through your wardrobe may feel safe and comfortable, but it can also deter newer and greater things from happening in your life in the present. If you keep rewinding your favorite episode of a show, how will you ever know what happens next in the series?

  On the contrary, if a tragic event occurred at a particular time in your past, you may feel paralyzed in your pain. Winston Churchill once said “If you’re going through hell, keep going” and honestly, it really resonated with me. Why would you want to stay in that awful place? The only way to get past those unpleasant moments is to let them pass through you. Feel your feelings! Avoidant behaviors may seem like the easier route to take, but in reality, you’re only creating more detours for yourself. Wouldn’t you rather start feeling better sooner than later?

  Learning to process your pain and trauma in more constructive ways can help you to loosen the hold that it has on you. Only you can decide if this is your life or if it’s your trauma’s life. Whether it was the best or worst time in your life, you are now living in the present. You don’t have to look like what you’ve been through. This installment of EOS was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes connecting the dots between our mental health and personal style. Working with a mental health professional, just like working with a personal stylist isn’t a privilege reserved for the wealthy and elite. Everyone deserves to look AND feel like the best versions of themselves.

Imani Smith