How you dress says a lot about who you are. It’s the way you present yourself to the world, and you likely have a standard way you typically dress and a style you’re comfortable with. So why is it that you sometimes feel uncomfortable in new or nice clothing?
These “new-outfit nerves” are common when you’re wearing something unfamiliar for the first time. They can turn an otherwise positive social situation into a negative loop of “Do I look out of place?” It’s easy to get stuck in your head, repeating that question as your confidence plummets.
Fortunately, you can get over the new-outfit nerves with a few simple strategies. Let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon and how to manage it. We’ll use formal wear as an example.
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Consider how an investment banker feels in a black-tie setting. For him, dressing up is nothing out of the ordinary. As someone in a high-profile, lucrative career, his confidence level probably complements the clothes he wears both at work and in social settings.
What if you’re not someone who’s regularly exposed to that kind of attention? A substantial number of careers don’t involve public-facing roles or don’t reward you for wearing fine clothes.
If you’re someone in one of these roles, how might you think of the people who dress up every day? What might that make you do when suddenly, you’re asked to don the uniform of the white-collar crowd?
Confidence Is Everything
If you wear a T-shirt and jeans every day, your perspective on what it means to put on a suit and tie might be different. Even dressing up in a shirt and slacks in a business-casual setting could bring up thoughts about how you’re perceived, especially if you’re uncertain about that dress code.
To shed the nervous feeling this might cause, you’ll need to put aside the idea that how you see yourself is the way others also see you. Chances are, people aren’t critical of you in the way you assume.
Practice is one of the best ways to resolve feelings of awkwardness in social situations, but there are other steps you can take. Most of them involve your confidence. If you feel that you’re not out of place wearing a certain outfit, the nerves will go away.
You can start by adjusting your internal dialogue. Instead of using words and thoughts like “these clothes are too good for me,” shift your thinking to “this new outfit is appropriate for the setting.” It’s a happy medium to settle in until you can come to accept the way you look.
Try sharing the way you feel with people you can trust. It’s not awkward to admit to a friend that you think you’re overdressed or even pretentious, but it might be a weight off your chest to hear them commiserate. This process can validate that what you’re feeling is normal and has nothing to do with how others are perceiving you.
You can have this same interaction with a journal if you’re not comfortable speaking to a friend. Journaling can also be a good exercise to observe what works and what doesn’t so you can continue your progress toward feeling more confident in formal settings.
Wear It Well
Just owning a piece of clothing doesn’t mean that you necessarily wear it well. To help with your confidence, do a little homework about how to pair a suit jacket and slacks, or what types of shoes are appropriate for a semi-formal setting.
You might be surprised how many people don’t do this. Even though you may feel silly at first, you’ll feel much better if the tips you picked up earn you a compliment about your outfit.
Define Your Style
Over time, those style pointers will start to add up. You might even notice your taste in clothes beginning to evolve and change. Many people grow into different styles as they mature, and a great outcome from the work you’ve done to feel more confident in nice clothes would be for you to begin incorporating them in your own wardrobe.
Slowly phase out some of the older clothes you have and replace them with new clothes that are not only nice but that you feel comfortable in.
Ditching the Stigma
Now you’ve turned the situation on its head. Not only have you changed the way you feel about wearing certain clothes, but you’ve also come to understand when and how to wear them and eliminated the stigma you once carried with you.
Does that mean you can never again wear a T-shirt and jeans?
Absolutely not — it’s important to be comfortable in an appropriate setting. The same is true when it’s time to put on the suit, except that now, you’ll feel far different about wearing it.
Dylan Bartlett, aka, “The Regular Guide,” writes about fashion and similar topics on his blog. Check out Just a Regular Guide for more, or follow Dylan on Twitter @theregularguide for frequent updates!