Man Repeller Asked 4 Women to Break Their Own Style Rules
10.08.18

Self-enforced style rules can easily become embedded in our psyches by virtue of simple repetition: Red doesn’t complement my skin tone. I can’t pull off that kind of top. I don’t look good in pencil skirts. No matter how legitimate the initial seed of doubt, it acquires power over time, becoming something we avoid and therefore fear. The intrinsic relationship between who we think we are and what we think we should or shouldn’t wear is further evidence of the ways we interpret our identity through style, but when we set down limits — on our selves, or on our clothes — it eliminates the possibility of growth. (Or at least, it slows down the process a whole lot).

The great thing about clothes is that, at the end of the day, you get to take them off. That makes them great material for experimentation. They’re low-risk! With that in mind, I put a callout on Man Repeller’s Instagram asking for community volunteers to participate in a rule-breaking extravaganza. I cast four women with a range of style hangups and dressed them in outfits that challenged their preconceptions. Below, they reflect on how it felt.


Bonnie, Age 22

What’s the one “style rule” you thought you’d never break?

While this isn’t a single specific style rule, I never thought I’d dress more “Man Repeller,” or really stand out because of my fashion.

I have a memory seared into my brain from when I walked into my first-ever advanced computer science class in college wearing a dress with high-heel mules. As I walked into the lecture hall, the heels made a really loud noise against the wooden floors. The room went dead silent and I remember everyone simultaneously turning around to stare at the source of said unfamiliar noise, and then watching me walk to my seat as if in disbelief that someone dressed like me could ever be in that room.

Though it was a seemingly small incident, I was new to this community and a minority in it, and I was loathe to stand out even more than I already did. I didn’t want people to not take me seriously because of my fashion sense, so I started gravitating toward safer clothing choices — pieces I knew would look good but wouldn’t stand out for any particular reason — think basic T-shirts and and skinny jeans, plainly colored shift dresses, etc. Even though I kept wearing the aforementioned mules, I felt as though I had to dress in a way that would let me blend into the community I was desperately trying to be a part of.

How did it feel to finally break it?

It felt SO RELIEVING. After spending two years boxed into a more basics-oriented way of dressing, it felt so good to be able to break out it and be happy about how I looked. I felt so inspired and also surprised by how much I liked the outfit, especially considering my first reaction was, “Florals? On me? O h n o.”

Would you break it again? Why or why not?

I definitely would break it again! After the shoot, my mind was buzzing with ideas about how I could do so based on what I have in my closet. As it turns out, I don’t have much in the pattern department beyond stripes, but my internal brainstorm was super exciting and left me on a high. I was worried that finding “good” ways of attempting this kind of style on my own would be difficult, but I realized that 1) there are no hard and fast rule about how you should or shouldn’t experiment when it comes to style, so all approaches are “good,” and 2) there’s so much inspiration on the internet that ultimately I’ll never be short on ideas.

Do you think this experience will convince you to break more style rules in the future?

I think so! I’m still on the shy side when it comes to patterns, but I’m looking forward to trying to do more in that area, and and also experimenting with volume and size. For me, wearing anything outside of the realm of wardrobe basics means I’m breaking free of my style rules, so I’m feeling optimistic about this journey and going on a style adventure.


Naydeline, Age 19

What’s the one “style rule” you thought you’d never break?

The “style rule” I thought I’d never break was wearing crop tops. I never thought I would be brave enough to rock a crop top in public. I grew up with the idea that there were certain “style rules” for different body types. Crop tops were reserved for thin women, and since I am not thin, I simply couldn’t rock one. Oh how wrong I was…

How did it feel to finally break it?

It felt great! It was like a big fuck you to all the people throughout my life who’ve tried to devalue my body and make me feel less than beautiful. Growing up, my body was constantly being monitored by family members, sending a message that because I was a woman, my greatest asset was how I look. I could attend a top university and have an impressive resume, but I would never be good enough as long as I was “fat.” When I put on the crop top and walked outside, it felt amazing to not hide my body — and my gorgeous curves — but instead celebrate them.

Would you break it again?

Most definitely! I learned that I don’t have to totally expose my midriff in order to wear a crop top if I’m not comfortable doing so. I can rock a crop top with some high-waist jeans or a midi skirt for a more modest look. A crop top can actually look quite chic when paired with the right bottoms and accessories! I do hope to one day feel confident enough to show off my whole midriff in public, though.

Do you think this experience will convince you to break more style rules in the future?

I think so. I would love to break more style rules and continue to step out of my fashion comfort zone. I want to try rocking some mesh or a monochromatic look in a bright color — maybe orange!


Ashley, Age 30

What’s the one “style rule” you thought you’d never break?

I love how fun and streamlined overalls are, but never thought I could pull them off because I’m not a stick. I have tried on a few pairs in the past, but I thought it looked like I was trying too hard (which was the exact opposite of the breezy look I wanted).

How did it feel to finally break it?

Honestly, at first I felt pretty vulnerable, which may sound silly because clothes are just clothes, but I’d put overalls firmly on my no-no list. When I put this particular pair on, though, I felt really comfortable and excited! In general, my test for new clothes is “Does it make me want to twirl when I put it on?,” and these overalls did.

Would you break it again?

Yes. When I got home I put the exact overalls in my shopping cart. If I can’t get them in the store this week, online orders will be placed.

Do you think this experience will convince you to break more style rules in the future?

I think it’s really important to regularly step outside of your comfort zone to build confidence and add to your list of things you can do. This experience was a good reminder that fashion is a low-risk way to flex that muscle. It inspired me to have more fun with my personal style, and breaking fashion rules is certainly a part of that. Up next, maybe I’ll take a risk on those wide-leg cropped pants all the MR editors seem to be wearing.


Mia, Age 31

What’s the one “style rule” you thought you’d never break?

I never thought I would (or could) wear anything pink and feel good about it. I am a cinematographer, which means I try to stay relatively neutral and dark when I am on set so as never to distract the actors from the scene or appear in reflections from behind the camera. A film set also tends to be a very masculine environment, so I dress very gender-neutral to be taken seriously in my work and not be mistaken for the intern (it has happened!). These things have spilled over into the rest of my life and left my wardrobe palette quite devoid of all color.

How did it feel to finally break it?

At first, I felt like I was in a costume. The look was not too far from pieces I own (blousy top, wide leg pants, etc.), but the color had me feeling like walking cotton candy. Ultimately, though, after spending so long literally trying to blend into the background, it did feel good to stand out!

Would you break it again? Why or why not?

I would like to own one pink T-shirt. I’d wear it on gray days to feel a little extra vibrant.

Do you think this experience will convince you to break more style rules in the future?

Don’t expect me in a tube top anytime soon, but sure, I may glance at a floral print someday!


Photos by Edith Young. 

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