Building Self-Love Through Style: What Clothing Says About How I Show Up for Others and for God

The author (right) with family members on the day of her father’s funeral.

Eleven years ago, my beloved dad died after a yearlong battle with cancer. I remember packing for his funeral thinking that I did not want to wear black. From a young age, I associated wearing black to funerals with feeling sad, afraid, and “shut-off” from the experience — kind of like a dark scary corner that you don’t want to peer around. Quite simply, I needed to feel different — safe, softened, and brave. My choice of clothing communicated a message about how I would show up for this incredibly difficult moment in my life. I selected a short-sleeve cream silk wrap dress with a grey pattern and purple hem accented by a three-strand pearl necklace. 

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It wasn’t long after his funeral that I understood that my wardrobe choice that day helped me through this impossible loss. Not only did my choice of clothing become a tool for support (I did feel safe, softened, and brave), it also helped me see myself with more compassionate, loving eyes as I faced life without my dad. I remember looking in the mirror that day wondering how I would maintain composure and yet also feel beautiful and strong. My self-presentation was an expression of my self-love, and that helped me do a really hard thing.

When we are confronted with difficult times or heartbreak, we also may feel broken about who we are. As a wardrobe consultant, I have had men and women disclose many vulnerable thoughts about themselves as they cope with various life challenges. I often hear many painful and self-loathing messages. For example, I have had many clients during the pandemic confront weight gain and body transformations. I’ve listened to people express shame and guilt about using food or substances to cope with extenuating circumstances. When their bodies began to shift and change, so did the belief of their own self-worth and value. It came as no surprise to me that these same thoughts influence their clothing choices and how they “show up” for life, and likewise communicate to the world the beliefs they hold about themselves. Showing little love for your outside presentation also shows how little love you have for yourself. 

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If we are trying to live a Christ-centered life, practicing self-love deepens our relationship with God. As we are created in the image and likeness of God, learning to love ourselves as a creation of God also reflects our “one-ness” with the Creator. And when we more authentically share that image and likeness with others, they in turn “recognize” the God in us. 

I discovered that style is inextricably linked to how we think and speak to ourselves, and how we present ourselves to the world. Making an intentional choice about putting on clothes that celebrate and communicate loving beliefs is likewise celebrating the image and likeness of God within us. We then have the opportunity to inspire and share that loving image with others. This makes me think about the tradition of Church-goers wearing more formal attire. Many of us might already associate “dressing up” for this important experience as a way to communicate our devotion to God and respect for the Mass. This same intention should apply to our daily lives. By reflecting that self-love “God in us” belief, we show up for life (and arguably “get dressed” for life) in a way that empowers us to do the hard things, like burying a parent, facing treatment, or sometimes just making it through a challenging day at work. 

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I have utilized these three strategies through my own experience and practice, and you might consider how you can celebrate the image and likeness of God within you through wardrobe choices:

  1. Every morning as you get dressed, stand in front of the mirror and practice saying out loud “Good Morning, [name], I love you.” It may sound ridiculous, but reinforcing a loving message creates an emotional and neurobiological connection between what you say to yourself and what you believe about yourself. Ideally, this reinforces that who you are and what you have is worthy and sufficient without seeking external validation from others or defaulting to buying more clothes. 
  2. Choose color intentionally. Selecting the right color can help you create a specific mood or feeling. Learning to leverage specific color choices is a powerful tool for communicating self-love messages. For example, purple represents creativity, knowledge, spirituality, worthiness, royalty, and originality. I am not surprised that my dress from my dad’s funeral was accented with purple!
  3. Accept compliments. Don’t shrug off a positive comment about your wardrobe choices. Absorb the love that is being directed at you, and likewise be thankful for the opportunity to reflect self-love to someone else. Instead, practice saying to yourself, “Thank you, God, more please.” 

These strategies can be important first steps, much like the ways a baby learns to walk, to build the muscles, strength, and courage to embrace a Christ-centered practice like building self-love through style.