Tammy Parrish (she/her), Founder of The Clothing Compass
Matching the Outside to the Inside
Since I was young, clothing has had a big influence on how I feel, although not always in a positive way. From the moment I could walk until I started school, I had to wear saddle oxfords — orthopedic shoes — to straighten out my feet. Other kids made fun of me because they stood out in an unwanted way.
When I was young, my clothes were secondhand from a family friend. I used to dread looking inside those brown paper grocery bags full of perfectly good, gifted cowgirl-style corduroy pants and plaid shirts with pearlized buttons. However, I wanted to feel grateful, but I just felt unhappy dressing in a way that didn’t match who I was inside.
Fast forward to university when I visited New York City for the first time, full of confidence in a very bold red suit of my own design. I secured a summer internship that would set the course of my adult life.
The experience of moving to the Netherlands at age 36 led me to, without thinking, retire my big, dangly earrings and lipstick. I chose a more low-key, no-fuss look in order to blend into a community where ‘just acting normal’ is rewarded.
Those are just a few of the stories about the effect that my physical appearance has had on my self-esteem.
Understanding Image Dynamics
Born and raised in the Midwest USA, and having lived in Los Angeles, London, New York City, and now in Amsterdam. I understand both how to stand out and blend in, and the role that one’s image plays in that process.
Recently I started questioning my career choice, as I woke up and noticed that many people around me are rejected, and even killed, based on the way they look, e.g. based on the fact that they do not fit in. Then I realized that ‘fitting in’ is a privilege I have benefited from my entire life.
The Two Sides of Image
Image has two sides — how they make you feel, and how they influence others.
At one end of the spectrum, you have the intuitive dressers who believe it’s only important how what you wear makes you, the wearer, feel. This theory says, to wear whatever the heck you want, in whatever combinations, as long as it makes you happy.
At the other end, you have the circa 1980-2000 school of styling that teaches strict rules for wearing certain colors and silhouettes based on your personal coloring, contrast, and body shape.
I fall somewhere in between. Although I do believe in using contrast, proportion, and color theory, and playing with neuroscience to influence a situation based on how you dress and adorn your body, I believe that how you feel comes first.
Rebelling Against the System
The patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism put extreme, largely unspoken pressure on all of us to dress for the people with the most power — to put them at ease always.
They explicitly and implicitly tell us: to stay in your lane. Keep your head down. Keep working, keep the machine running, and don’t question the system. We are taught this from a young age and it is woven into everything we do, including getting dressed. If we’re going to dress for ourselves, we first have to be aware of what we stand for.
If we don’t permit ourselves to serve the system, where do we stand? What do we want? And how do we express that physically through our dress and grooming? That physical expression is what I work with clients to achieve.
Owning Your Power
Owning your power includes wearing your values — dressing in alignment with what’s important to you and how you want the world to look. Here’s what’s important to me:
A Living Wage
Our clothes are not made by soulless machines. They are sewn by human hands — the hands of women of the global majority — Black and Brown women living in the Global South. We have been trained to shop for bargains — to shop and buy often for very low prices. However, the women who make our clothes are not being paid a living wage. Let’s work together to change that!
The garment industry is one of the most polluting in the world. I am against fast fashion, and show people how to make smarter choices, so they feel authentic in wearing their values. Honestly, I dislike the word “fashion” altogether because it implies something temporary and exclusive. Staying “in fashion” requires continuous consumption.
Style not Fashion
Rather than chasing fashion trends, I show clients how to develop their own personal style — a Signature Style. This allows you to make more out of less — to slow down consumption and be more creative with the pieces you already own.
Secondhand, Renting and Upcycling
When it is necessary to acquire items, borrowing, swapping, and renting are good options if you know where to get items you like in your size. Furthermore, I’m a fan of secondhand and upcycling (creating new items by combining old ones) and prefer to shop this way for clients. Why produce something new when so many items already exist and can be repurposed?
Non-white/cisgender/heterosexual bodies are under attack around the world. In addition, the images of influencers and models we see on social media place increasing pressure on us to meet unrealistic beauty standards. As a result, our mental health suffers.
I believe in body neutrality rather than body positivity. I don’t think we have to LOVE everything about our bodies. So, I believe it’s important to accept our bodies as they are — that’s the difference between positivity and neutrality.
If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll get in touch.