do this don’t? or don’t this do?


while lazing about on my couch in a moody, pregnant haze several weeks back, i happened to spot a show in the comcast line-up called glamour’s 50 biggest fashion do’s and don’ts. though such programs aren’t my favored fare (i usually end of watching odd science or medical shows actually!), i gave into my morbid curiosity (and laziness, yes!) and tuned in to see what the “experts” therein would choose to bash or bolster.

it all seemed pretty ridiculous…it was mostly a show made for the express purpose of slaying the sartorial choices of celebs, or trashing the clothing choices of us commoners…fashion was the target du jour for a litany of comedy and quips, really.

OF COURSE, many of the ‘don’ts’ they offered up had me disagreeing, and defiantly and audibly talking back to the TV (which of course just wasn’t listening or responding! hah!). i couldn’t help myself!

what really got me going was that i noticed 90% of the segments on the show were ‘don’ts’. it was as if barely anything was proper and right style-wise to the folks participating and making the show…about the only “allowable” fashion do’s included things like owning and wearing a prissy set of pearls and a ‘smart suit’. boring, staid stuff was about the only thing that seemed to be tolerable enough to score a coveted ‘do’. anything experimental was a comedic target, a joke…thinking outside the box with your self-expression = not allowed, says glamour. unless you wanna be laughed at.


see, i don’t think much can be written-off wholesale, fashion-wise…because inevitably, there will be that one person (or many people!) to whom that piece or look will be completely natural, perfect, and just work. a person or many might wear that piece in a new, experimental, innovative way…and that’s the kind of thing that i love about fashion. i adore those people who persevere, pushing-forward with fashion fearlessly…they are the ones who help to define new paradigms that will change the minds and eventually effect the wallets of thousands if not millions. otherwise, how would anything change??

mistakes are inevitably going to be made along the way with such experimentation. and…so what? it’s part of the game of style! it’s supposed to be FUN, not so freaking regimented and serious. “messing up” or going out on a limb can be delicious. such experimentation rarely hurts anyone.


of course people have opinions. they love certain things. and conversely, they have things that they find aesthetically distasteful. it’s totally okay to not be into something, and to be really into other things. that’s great! it’s part of finding one’s personal style, tapping into one’s design sense. it’s what makes us all different, makes the world an interesting, varied place…that inherent diversity of perspective and taste. if everyone or every person was the same, in their style, or otherwise, the world would be a really boring place.


so yeah, the show was mostly garbage. but the whole premise of the program got me thinking…and going off on a critical little fashion tangent. and i started brewing a bunch of questions in my brain.

(some sensical, some not, i admit! such is the nature of my brain lately!)

-why is there so much fear involved with fashion/style? why is there so much fear surrounding the possibility of being seen as a don’t? what’s going to REALLY happen to you if someone dislikes what you choose to wear? why is it a big deal to “screw up” with fashion or style? does it really matter in the BIG scheme of things?

-if everything even remotely edgy is a ‘don’t’, then what exactly is a ‘do’ anymore? are there actual, factual rules one should follow with fashion? is it better or easier somehow if we all look exactly the same?

-who makes these do and don’t lists?
where does the authority of these individuals REALLY come from?
what kind of background does one require to be an expert in this arena?
and also, can there really be any ‘experts’ when fashion and style are such subjective subjects?
AND, why should we take these alleged arbiters of style seriously if their ‘don’t’ list this season completely contradicts their ‘do’ list from last season?
what is the agenda of these list-makers?

-better yet, who HEEDS these do and don’t lists?
do people appreciate the ability to not have to think for themselves?
is it easier to just sit back and do what one is told to do?
do people realize these lists are as subjective as the style of the person creating them?

-is there anything in fashion or style that is unequivocally a ‘don’t’, that absolutely no one should attempt? is anything absolutely a ‘do’ that applies to every single person? (this one is similar to one of the above questions, i know…)

– what is all this ‘don’t-ing’ and ‘do-ing’ really all about? is it just about getting us to buy new stuff? is it merely cultural? do we just eventually tire of things aesthetically, collectively? is that fatigue to be expected, perhaps? does the fatigue of some alleged arbiters really make it ‘wrong’ for the rest of us?


if you feel like it, pipe up! i’d love to hear your thoughts (as usual).


  1. Pasha Plum

    I suspect a lot of it goes back to being a teenager and all that implies. I have an 11 yo daughter and am watching her closely to see how she handles this fashion thing. I have always been an independent when it comes to clothes and she has absorbed much of that but those 6th graders are so mean. So each kid has to break away from parents to find self and a lot of the time they group together–I think many people in the fashion industry never made it past this stage. Or they are banking on all the people who didn’t and preying on their fears and pocketbooks.

  2. c

    Either fashion is a personal expression or it isn’t. These types of “directives” try to take away the freedom to express through clothing and color choices. I don’t like that.

  3. Gina

    I would say the only real “don’t” would be wearing clothing that is too tight and too restrictive. Looking like a stuffed sausage is not fashionable or stylish — ever.

  4. karen

    on a somewhat related note, i find it interesting that one of the more popular makeover shows is called what not to wear.

    for me personally, almost all the fears i have about people disliking the way i dress comes down to worrying people will think i “tried too hard.” i actively try to get over that, but it’s there in the back of my mind.

    some of this stuff is very gender-specific, too. women often have baggage about others’ opinions of them and may get flack if they seem too confident or sexual, and men have all kinds of gender-identity BS about homophobia and “jeans & t-shirt” guys and stuff.

  5. pamela


    Look in the mirror critically.

    Be aware of your body, and use fashion to highlight your assets, and downplay the “flawed” bits.

    Be yourself.

    Buy clothes that fit; size is just an arbitrary number.


    Distract others with exhibitionist dressing, and then complain about how “they can’t control their eyes;” if you wear it, own it and the attention that it creates….

    Nasty tattoos: I like tattoos, I have a tattoo, I like to show my tattoo, and I like seeing other peoples’ tatts. But publically visible racist/sexist tattoos are gross.

    For that matter, so are racist/sexist tee shirts unless you’re in your own backyard, or dorm room (or Abercrombie & Fitch corporate offices.)

  6. The Waves

    You raised some good points there. Having worked in a clothing store I have definitely encountered a ton of people who simply don’t know or feel anything about the way they look. No style instinct whatsoever, and I am not talking about knowledge of fashion here. I couldn’t even count the times I have heard “Oh I don’t think I can wear that”, “That colour doesn’t suit me, someone once told me it didn’t”, “Can I wear this and that together? Really? Can I?” The list goes on. There is a huge amount of women out there who don’t have opinions about style. Why, you asked?

    My answer to your last question is: people are just really really insecure and fearful. Not just about the way they look, but about who they are. Women are subjected to an awful lot of pressure by the media, by these “style experts” that probably just stumbled upon an influential job and were loud enough to be able speak their mind about stuff. It is a scary world out there. People are scared of being ridiculed, of looking stupid, of being stupid. In this world where everyone has to be rich, skinny, smart and God knows what else, there is a lot of room for being fearful.

  7. Alison

    In our society there is such a prevailing sense of “unless you’re an expert, how can you really know,” and I think fashion falls into that. People don’t trust themselves to really, truly KNOW what looks okay and what doesn’t, so it’s safer to follow other people’s rules and know you’re at least right by someone’s standards than to go out on a limb and do your own thing. I think people also really start to train their eye to like the things that it sees a lot, so when every fashion magazine features it, when every store mannequin models it, and when every other shopper walks around in it, you start accepting it and even liking it until it seems embarrassing that you don’t have it, too. It’s more about your perception of other people’s perceptions, if that makes sense…in other words, we let “rules” and our lack of expertise translate into what we think other people are thinking, as in, “Oh no, I’m the only person in the mall wearing wide-leg jeans, everybody must think I look stupid.” When really, for all we know, people are looking at us, going, “Wow, I wish I was brave enough try that!” And even if they’re not…well, who cares. But it’s hard to be secure enough to take that chance, so we chicken out and start referring to “experts” and rules again.

    Anyway, I feel like I could go on and on…what an awesome post! You really got me thinking!

  8. sjw

    i think we try and communicate through our clothes, we try and associate with different people and different kinds of status. the dos and don’t maybe appeal to people who strive to become as close to the demi-god celebrities as possible or people who want to be current without actually risking anything by being inventive. i’m not really sure as i loathe dos and don’ts as much or more than most cruel and unnecessary things.
    perhaps dressing “wrong” would strike fear in some because they might consier it a failure or the worst kind of omission.
    which conversly means that the worst pain i have ever felt, heart break or self hatred or whatever is potentially equal to the pain someone felt at having a silly hat or The Wrong Shoes.
    point being:
    down with seriousness! up the silly!
    no body cares about what you wear or how you look even a fraction as much as you do. our mountains really are molehills to everyone else. so put that perspective in your pipe, and do exactly what you’d like to do.

  9. Casey

    Wow. Great thoughts here, Tricia!! I rather dislike those “style” shows myself; I used to watch them (eons ago!), but stopped when I started realizing that the arbitrary rules imposed didn’t allow for creative self-expression. Personally, I think that these shows are just an excuse for people to be catty and look down on other’s whose style may not be their own cup of tea. :p

    I think it really plays into the societal-preoccupation with “appearances” and “fitting in”. If you think about it, although individuality is touted as desirable, the media certainly does very little to encourage the idea that different *is* okay. Everyone is supposed to wear certain clothes, drive a specific car, live in a house with so many square feet of living space, etc. As usual, my feelings are: why be homogeneous?

    Thanks for another, thought-provoking post! 🙂

  10. Rorosto

    I love these sorts of internal debates. It’s the story of my life! Tuning in out of general interest’s sake, then sort of wondering… is it poison for the mind, hearing all these things? Normally I don’t listen to all of that nonsense and take it to heart, but when it’s all around you all the time, you can’t help but be swayed by it a bit. I always WANT to watch these things, read fashion mags, etc, but it’s hard to find a source that works for ladies who want to get beyond all of that Cosmo “What He Really Wants” kinds of “sources”, if we can call them that.

  11. sarah

    I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday … I wasn’t going to comment because I didn’t feel like I had anything new to add, but seeing as it’s still in my head, I figured I may as well.

    I agree that I think the fear stems from early teen years for women, a time when girls are hitting puberty and bodies start to change and the pressure to not change ( or to ALL change – either way, to be uniform) really hits. People may not say, “oh, she has boobs, she’s a weirdo,” but if you’re the first girl to develop breasts in your class (or the last), you stand out – and it’s not an age where you want to stand out. So I think fashion becomes a way of asserting some control over that which you have no control – your appearance – and a way of “fitting in” even when you don’t feel like you do internally. Of course, this is also a time when teens are really starting to discover and assert their own identities, and there’s a lot of pressures about being (or merely appearing) too different.

    I feel like the media has discovered that these fears can be turned to profitable advantage. Do we blame the artists who churn out new or recycled designs twice a year? Do we blame mags that try to create a digestible statement about them?

    I don’t know. But here’s something I DO know about these pressures and this constantly changing list of fashion: I think it is designed to get us to spend money. I used to work in a women’s chain boutique, and we changed our clothing every month. I paid attention and I started noticing things. Not only did the chain change its base every month from a cool-tone to a warm-tone (ie: January might be black with red and tan accents, but then February would be navy/blue/purple, March was always chocolate brown with bright pinks and peaches), necessitating the purchase of new basic suiting separates in order to pair them with the pretty blouses and print dresses (month-to-month the colours kind of clashed), but there was actually an annual pattern to the colour scheme. Knowing this in advance, I used to hit thrift stores to stay ahead of the curve (since, if we didn’t actually wear “the brand,” we had to look like we were) without purchasing this expensive stuff. I always felt bad for women who bought navy suits in Feb only to find that in March, they couldn’t find very many options for constructing outfits unless they bought a new suit in the right shade of chocolate brown. Granted, the clients had the budget for it and didn’t blink an eye, but I kept wondering, if these clothes hold up for so many years, why do you have to buy so many new pieces every month?

    this is why I couldn’t do retail, long-term. I hated being a part of an industry that played on insecurity like this, and that convinced people to buy things they didn’t need. I think DO and DON’T lists function the same way. I often wonder, is there a connection between what is on the DO list and who advertises in the magazine? Is there a kick-back?

    As for me, my only DON’T’s are DON’T buy a colour that makes you look sick, DON’T buy a silhouette that you are uncomfortable with, and DON’T buy it just because it’s on sale unless you’re actually going to enjoy wearing it, too.

  12. laura

    i think you’re right. i’ve always disliked these lists, they just relieve people of thinking for themselves. it’s sad that many people still need others to tell them what to do and that they are SO afraid of making mistakes fashion-wise. i’m always surprised how many people still have these “fashion rules” in their heads. i’m sometimes confronted with sentences such as “that doesn’t go together.” and when i ask people why, they don’t even have an answer – they just think it’s impossible because someone has told them so. it’s terrible. basically, i think what they consider “dos” are normal things, things that have always been seen as “okay” such as suits or those pearls you mentioned. however, these items can never look different when not being combined with unusual pieces. this style can be classy and “nice”, but never outstanding or creative.

  13. Vivian

    Finally someone said it. I really get uncomfortable whenever I see magazines with pages and pages dedicated to the red carpet’s judgment – and, as you noticed, the majority of them exclusively focused on mistakes made by risk taken people. There’s got to be something else more interesting than that about fashion. I am brazilian, and I can tell things here are even worse. We are since childhood educated to be uniformed.

  14. vasiliisa

    Well, I once heard the opinions of a lady who claimed that aesthetics aren’t relative, but to a large extent cultural and shared, and thus should be seen (and followed/respected) much like usage and customs. I don’t agree – but there’s some food for thought re. why people get so worked up when more common aesthetics are challenged.

    As to your question – do people appreciate the ability to not have to think for themselves? – yes, some people do. I have met plenty of people who are terribly insecure about anything that counts as “visual”. I personally think it’s fine and dandy that people who don’t want to think for themselves don’t have to. Just like everyone doesn’t enjoy cooking or whatever. However, I do think negativity isn’t helpful to anyone so this way of putting the “advice” is just bunch of crap.

  15. Beth

    I’ve always thought the only fashion don’t is “don’t write a dos and don’t list”. 🙂 I suspect if one were to read those lists for a bit, one would start seeing the exact same “dos” on the “don’t” list and vice versa. I also love the “in and out lists” which seem so arbitrary like “fruit is OUT and robots are IN” (I’m actually not making that one up…. it was so ridiculous as to stick out).

    On a historical note, do you think these dos and don’t lists are a spin-off from the “Why Don’t You….” lists that Diana Vreeland put together for Harper’s Bazaar? They were usually very positive if sometimes totally impractical but given her persona, would have been more about getting ideas flowing than ensuring conformity.

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  17. kiki

    I always ask myself the same about food. Who actually decides what I´ll mix on my sandwich? If my taste buds tell me I can mix certain things and they taste great to me, then I will mix them and no food expert can convince me that I should mix things differently. Your taste buds are yours alone, and mine are mine alone. Only I know what tastes good in my mouth. No “expert” can tell me that.
    Same with my clothes. I can get inspiration from people and even read books and fashion mags. But I make the call at the end of the day.

  18. tressie

    What is funny is that the Don’ts creep into High Fashion……Um, Punk Couture ??? I just love how Karl Lagerfeld has co-opted anti-fashion…..and that creepy cretin…Marc Jacobs…..doing Grunge as High Fashion….and oh so many more.Oh, ya just gotta laugh….at them without a clue to authenticity…..or the ability to actually say “I Stole This Look From You !!”. But no child should be dressing like a cheap hooker…or an expensive one…that is sick.

  19. Tally

    DO wear what you feel like and express your personal style while doing it
    DON’T follow a dumb program on E! to get your fashion advice, it’s just brainwashing to get you to buy the stuff on the adverts