Faced with a job search after her design degree in 2014, Julia Millies couldn’t find solid fashion advice for women over 40. Tackling her look like any design project, she did her own research, and today shares her fashion wisdom with the world at When the Girls Rule.
We chatted with Julia about the fun inspiration for her site’s title and the vibrant, supportive community of women around When the Girls Rule who want to feel confident in their clothing — regardless of their age, shape, and size.
What was the genesis of When The Girls Rule?
Two fashion blogs that deserve your time:
I graduated in 2014 with a design degree hoping to jump-start a new career after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. I’d gained weight since my younger career days, especially around the middle, and had to figure out what looked good on this new body. I took this on like I would any design project and did some research. I headed to the internet, the place that has everything — screeching brakes sound — except fashion advice for “apple-shaped” women over 40 with a round middle and big bust.
Yes, I found advice — some ridiculously bad and some slightly helpful, but not much. The advice seemed almost to mock me, like they couldn’t offer anything helpful and they were really telling me I should just lose weight to find flattering clothes or give up and wear a bag.
I really wanted to find pictures of a woman my age and shape wearing fashionable clothes, and I couldn’t find any. When an “advice” website showed an apple-shaped example, they used an illustration or a celebrity. (Angelina Jolie is apple-shaped? Puh-leeze!) Or I saw very slim women modeling clothes they said would look good on me — but how could I tell?
After six months and research at stores and trial and error in the dressing room, I put on an outfit and had a thrill of excitement at my reflection. I liked how I looked! I felt confident! It was flattering and fit well! I had an electric jolt of confidence go through me and said “you are one foxy lady!” to my reflection — something I hadn’t said, or felt, in decades. I was getting compliments. I was turning heads. I felt better about myself. I knew I had to share my experience with others because I was not alone. So, I started When The Girls Rule.
What’s the backstory behind your site’s title?
Ha ha! First, I love coming up with names and taglines. Second, when I’m looking for clothing, the first thing I have to dress for, or consider, is my boobs — my “girls.” They definitely rule when trying on clothes. If they don’t fit or look good, no matter how it fits everywhere else, that item of clothing is not coming home. So, my girls rule my outfit choices.
Your blog fills an important niche — why is it so rare to find a fashion blog geared toward women over 40 who aren’t rail thin?
Shame. Yes. I said it. Shame. Why do women hide behind the kids in photos? Why do we use pictures of our kids for our Facebook profile picture? Why do we hate looking in mirrors, especially dressing room mirrors? Shame. We’ve been taught to be ashamed of our not-perfect bodies. We were all younger once, and probably thinner, and we remember how we used to look. We’ve “let ourselves go” — a moral failing (we’ve been taught) and we feel ashamed. We are certainly not supposed to take lots of pictures of ourselves in clothing and plaster them all over the internet. We should be ashamed and hide our bodies until we have lost weight.
Why do women hide behind the kids in photos? Why do we use pictures of our kids for our Facebook profile picture? We’ve been taught to be ashamed of our not-perfect bodies.
Now, add to that, many industries banking on that shame and a fashion industry that refuses to make clothes for this very common body type and you feel you are being punished for being this size. There is nothing more humiliating than going to a huge store and trying on almost everything and finding nothing that fits, let alone looks good. Or the only thing that fits is designed like a tent. We’ve been taught that our body is wrong, not the clothes. The clothes look good on the model, so it must be you. That all adds to the shame. Honestly, if there were more clothes out there that looked good on our shape, women would hate their bodies less. It all comes down to bad design of clothing rather than a moral failing.
The younger generation of women refuse to shoulder this shame. They accept their bodies and honor them and show them off. I’m glad. Shame is losing its power. However, I don’t want to give up on my generation. We were taught there was only one body type, and if you don’t have it you better be spending all your days trying to get it. I say the clothes and the designs are stupid. I say the dumb fashion industry is at fault for missing out on this share of the market. I’ve reminded my readers to say, “It’s not me. It’s the clothes,” when they’re in the dressing room. Hopefully, we can shed this shame and see the issue as it truly is: a failure to design for the audience.
What sort of response has your blog received?
Women are so grateful. So, so grateful. They see someone who looks like them who isn’t wearing a bag. They see someone who looks good and feels good in clothing, who isn’t a celebrity. They see an average woman, just like them, who shops at a mall and actually finds clothing that looks good on her and who shares what she has learned and is confident. That’s huge.
My most memorable interaction was when one of my readers asked me how I became so positive about my body. I hadn’t realized that was the vibe coming through the blog. She asked if I’d always felt that way or whether I learned to love my body and if so, how. That started a couple of posts about body gratitude. I didn’t even know I had something to say about it. I had to think a lot about how I had come to accept my body and then explained my thought process to my readers. This made me realize that this blog was more than just clothing advice.
You’re hands-on in your lively comment section. What’s your philosophy of building your community?
How to build a readership? Be real. Be authentic. Be honest. People respond to that. If you’re blogging just to make money off of the ads blinking on the side of your website then people pick up on that.
I love comments and I love responding. It’s so interesting to read what others are thinking, not just my blah blah blah. I’m not an expert, and admit that, so I welcome others’ insight. Plus, since this is a rare place where women my age and shape can share clothing knowledge, I want to encourage the sharing and welcome the insight to get as much knowledge out there as possible.
How to build a readership? Be real. Be authentic. Be honest. People respond to that. If you’re blogging just to make money off of the ads blinking on the side of your website then people pick up on that. I don’t write for search engines to find me. I ignore the search engine optimization (SEO) advice. Though I’d love for more women who are looking for this kind of information to actually find me, writing a blog for those search engines creates the most generic, bland titles and watered-down content that kill your individual voice.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from blogging?
I think I’ve learned the most from the surprising ethical dilemma that comes from a fashion blog. You can go two ways with a blog like this: fake or real. I could easily pick only flattering pictures and make it look like I’m always going somewhere fabulous with my fabulous family, and all we do is exciting things and are always on exotic vacations, and I always look fabulous in my endless wardrobe. Or I could keep it real. Show my real self with my successes and failures, showing items that aren’t expensive and are a couple of years old. Many blogs create a “lifestyle” that is meant to create a fantasy and to have people aspire to that. Another unattainable fashion industry illusion. I think the fashion industry has spent enough time and energy making women feel like they just have to try harder. Maybe seeming like a fantasy person would bring more readers, and maybe readers would like it to be an escapist place, but I don’t think I could sustain that.
I’m real. I’m frank. I tell it like it is. I’m just like everyone else out there. I always keep in mind my mission of helping apple-shaped women dress confidently and that is my compass.