#Phoenixing: A Guide to Style Reinvention

Rising through the fashion ashes.
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Woman in front of a fire

Burn the old (figuratively) and embrace the new.

Of all the fashion myths out there – the ones about eternal youth, narcissistic indulgence, and soul-stealing beauty – I prefer the legend of a phoenix. Gone are the days when we accepted with bitter realism that “people change, but they don’t really change.” 

In an age where seeming is being, every sunrise is a chance for change, rebirth, or reinvention. Some points in our lifelines especially invite a project “Self 2.0” – looming summer breaks, high school or college graduations, new jobs or new cities. And style reinvention is a great way to feel different or even just to signal to your old world that you’re brave and new. 

Here are some steps to change how the world sees you, by reinventing yourself. In marketing they call it “brand repositioning." It starts with…

1. Assessment

One of my friends said the other day: “You know, with time you stop noticing when people wear new clothes, because they are always true to a certain style.” She couldn't be more right. You go shopping and pick something out and your friends say it’s “very you.” 

Sometimes you don’t even notice the patterns you fall into or the insecurities you perpetuate, which is why you should ask around and find out what exactly people mean when they say something is “you.” Then take a look at your wardrobe and ask yourself why you have so many patterned dresses or so many pastels or so many bizarre boas in neon colors. 


                   Hmm, I wonder what sort of coats Kate is into... (x)

For example, when I did this I found out that I cannot stand for any one item of clothing to be bland or basic, so my outfits always end up having too much stuff going on. Another revelation: I like loose-fitting clothes because I cherish my comfort and don’t like having a physical form that much. To be honest, I would love to be a stylish floating orb, but I don’t think that’s a possibility. 

In any case, the key is to find out the elusive reasons behind your purchases: do you have a thousand long skirts, because you wish your legs were more toned? Do you prefer masculine clothing because you don’t want to be seen as trying for “conventionally attractive”? Do you buy headbands because you secretly want to be Blair Waldorf? Whatever it is, write it down. 

Next, objectively assess what your current image is like. Is it artsy? Preppy and put-together? Extravagant and elegant? Sporty? Casual? Write this down. Finally, write down the five fashion brands you frequent most and spot the trends.

2. Research

There’s nothing wrong with your old style, except everything. If you’ve come to the point of reinvention, the phoenix must crush and burn. But, as with every change we make in life, the “don’ts” don’t matter as much as the “do’s” that come to replace them. 

So, it’s time to go seeking and dissecting the styles that speak to you, from your new favorite fashion bloggers to your favorite fictional heroines. At this point it’s just about finding whatever strikes your fancy, that is also not something you would normally wear. You want clothes that go against your insecurities and current self-concept, but that you could see a different version of you wearing. 


 Marina invents an alter ego every time she comes up with an album. (x)

Create in your mind a new alter ego with all the qualities you want your reinvention to mean and even give her a name. You need to be as detailed in your image of this character as authors are when writing protagonists. What is this alter ego’s walk like and where is she going? What are the new adjectives people describe her style with? What are the new adjectives she herself describes herself with? Be creative, but meticulous. 

Next, ground the ideas in concrete outfits. In fact, create a Weheartit album or a collage. Steal inspiration wherever you stumble upon it. (I recommend going through the College Fashion “Inspiration” tag to start.) Make this new version of yourself feel so real in your mind she almost jumps into reality.


Where do you find your style inspo? (x)

3. Transformation

Then comes the time to be bold and go against the convictions that made you choose your old style. Time to battle the insecurities and change the way you think about yourself. 

This does not have to be gradual. Where I’m from, they say if the caterpillar realizes its caterpillar-ness, it will never get to the butterfly stage. Yes, there is a long way of development to go until you actually become your new version of you, but once you’ve plotted everything this alter ego does and is, you can jump right in and try to be her immediately. 

Sometimes you will fail and return to your old style or old habits, but you can always snap back into butterfly mode. With time, those returns will become rarer and rarer, until this new version of yourself becomes just yourself – yet another caterpillar (and then you may have to stage another reinvention). 

If you go with a brief transformation, people will notice and say: “You’ve changed.” Then you should quote the wise philosopher Jay-Z and reply: “Like I work that hard to stay the same.”


                   You can't rule over Genova unless you straighten your hair, apparently. (x)

4. Evolution

Now, we all know that nothing good in life is truly democratic – love and change and pleasure tend to accumulate around funds that college students rarely possess. If that’s the case, you may need to evolve your wardrobe gradually – make purchases in your planned reinvented style whenever you were planning to go shopping anyway and give it time. (Thrift stores are also your friend.)

It's fine to do this gradually if you have to. Doing it all at once (if you can swing it, or if you can manage one really big change, like a new hair cut or color) just makes your transformation more drastic and fun for the onlookers, who love difference. For example, I thought people preferred my hair curly. Then I thought they preferred it straight. Then short, then red, then blonde, then wavy…But actually, people just like style evolutions and makeovers. And so should you. They’re fun!


                         People like Miley-transformations more than Taylor-evolutions. But it's up to you. (x)

5. Self 2.0

Now that you're here, keep going. Donate old clothes that are just outdated versions of your new clothes. Buy that dark plum lipstick. Follow a trend no one likes yet. Seem what you aren’t till you believe it yourself. Do as many one-eighties as possible. Set the patterns to break the patterns. 

The Greeks distinguished between two types of time: Chronos, the usual quantitative time that flows day to day and Kairos, “the supreme moment.” When you get the restless feeling, formulate it into a “Kairos,” forget all yesterday’s clothes, and reemerge from your project as someone you never you thought you’d get to become.


Have you ever staged a complete reinvention of style? How has your style evolved gradually? Tell me in the comments. 

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