Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fashion & Style 101

For me, personal style is a creative, visceral process- less about trendiness and 'what's in' and more about an outward expression of what I like, what I represent, and what I think is inspiring, interesting, or beautiful.

Working at Anthropologie for less than a year- beginning in the creative department then moving to the sales floor- has made me very observant and aware of color, texture, prints, style, and how to pull it all together in a personalized, genuine, and artistic way. I was talking to a co-worker the other day, and when she told me she admired my style, we got to talking more about it: how we both think when we match (or mismatch) color, how we incorporate different textures into outfits, what accessories we each favor.  I also informed her that up until a few years ago, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing in terms of dressing, and I didn't have a personal style at all.

She was very surprised, saying that the way I dressed seemed intuitive, like I had a knack for it all my life.  That got me thinking: much like I wasn't an artist until a few years ago either, I've been a late (late, late, late) bloomer all my life.  But then when I finally apply myself, it turns out I know what I'm doing and I'm actually good at things.

Perhaps a lot of us are like that- maybe especially with fashion, which can seem all too confusing sometimes. We think inside the box, listening to everyone's opinion but our own, until we start thinking for ourselves, and something 'clicks,' and we undergo a growth spurt of sorts, where we figure things out and we get comfortable with what once made us scared.  That, in fashion and in life, is liberating.  

For me, since my creativity blossomed, so did my sense of style: the two have gone hand-in-hand, and in both areas, I love experimenting, stepping outside the box, being aware of convention and trends and choosing instead to do whatever seems good for me.  It's incredibly, incredibly freeing- and, even though it's only clothes we're talking about here- incredibly important.  How you look affects how you feel.  Not on a superficial level, but on a very real one.  And that's okay.  Embrace it.  Style doesn't have to be complicated, intimidating, or overwhelming.  It's as simple as putting on what you want- which means that all you have to do for a great sense of personal style is to know what you want.

Flatteringly, I was recently recruited as a personal stylist for J. Crew, everyone's favorite preppy-yet-edgy, classic-yet-bold retailer.  Anthropologie and J. Crew are stylistically different on the whole, but, as with most things in life, there's a giant grey area of lots and lots of similarity and overlap.  Each is innovative in their own way; each is a re-interpretation of what's going on in the world.  It was Coco Chanel who mused, "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only.  Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."  This is true.  Ideas, the way we live, what is happening.  

That established, there five frequent, recurring myths and statements I hear and experience all the time at work- and I think they should be universally dispelled- about fashion, trends, and style as applied to everyday living.  People believing certain ideas that they get from, as far as I can tell, advertisements, TV shows, People Magazine, the internet; ideas that are supposed to be helping us shop, that are really just limiting our perspective- and our wardrobes.  

Read them for what they are, and please: excuse the blunt enthusiasm.

Black is the most flattering color anyone can wear.

Wrong.  Black is usually the most slimming color you can wear, but do not confuse 'slimming' with 'flattering'- they're not the same thing.  I have noticed a horrible trend working in and around fashion- and with women- my whole life: women like to wear whatever it is that makes them look the thinnest, not the best.  That, to me, is wrong on several levels.

Of the 24 years I've been alive, I have spent nearly half of them severely, depressingly, and dangerously overly-concerned (that's an understatement, by the way) about my weight.  Don't do it.  Don't bother.  Eventually, if you ever want to obtain a shred of genuine happiness in your life, you'll have to let go of the fact that you're not shaped like a model and your body is supposed to weigh ten pounds more than you would like.  You'll have to put on clothes and accept that just because something makes you look thinner doesn't mean it makes you look as good as you could possibly look.  One of the things I love about Anthropologie is that you rarely see an all-black item of clothing in the store, save a few basic tops or tanks.  

It sounds like the cheesiest thing in the world, but what actually makes you look good is how confident and happy you appear in what you're wearing.  I've never walked into a wedding where half the guests in the room are wearing black dresses and thought, 'that one in the black dress is the most stunning woman here.'  No- it's always the one who owns her outfit, her look, who is most elegant and beautiful.  Likewise, I've never walked into any environment and thought, 'the one in the black is definitely the thinnest one here.'  We don't- unless we're competitive and insecure- assess people's thinness.  And there's a good reason for that: it's not important.

To give you some perspective: every, single woman out there- from a size 0 to a size 14- complains about 'having fat days.'  When a woman is a size two, trying on clothes in the fitting room and complaining that she has fat on her stomach, I'll be honest with you: I want to punch her in the face.  Just because you have fat doesn't mean you are fat.  No one but you notices when you've put on ten pounds.  If you 'won't wear that dress until you're at least ten pounds lighter' or you 'can't buy that top because it's too fitted,' you need to re-prioritize more than your wardrobe. 

Bottom line: black isn't always best. It may be always thinnest, but it isn't always best. 

"You have to be a stick to wear that." 

See above.  Usually, if you are heavier, loosely-fitting clothing actually accentuates your size.  Think about it really logically: if your torso, say, is 16 inches across, why would you want to wear a shirt that is baggy, blousy, or 26 inches across?  If 'being a stick' was necessary, clothing and people wouldn't come in size 12.

Some people just can't wear certain colors.

This idea is silly, and you can wear any color you damn well please.  Figure out which ones you wear best, but don't not wear the ones which maybe you like but that are not the most flattering.  Again, you're not a runway model here.  If you look just-okay in orange and fabulous in red, no one but you is going to know that.  No one is going to see you walking down the street in orange and remark, 'oh, I bet she looks much better in bright red.'  I know I look good in green- it brings our my eye color.  I know I look good in neutrals: brown, moss, earth tones- they bring out my skin color.  I know I look good in red- it works with my hair color and fits my personality.  Colors like sky blue, light grey, and light orange don't do much for me- they don't enhance- physically, anyway- any of my pre-existing features.

Trends are about physical enhancement; style isn't.  If you want to be trendy, pick up a magazine or go on the internet and copy what you see.  If you want to be stylish, start thinking about your clothes as a reflection of what you want and who you are.  I look good in red, but I'm not crazy about it in most clothing, unless it's integrated with other, softer colors.  I do, however, like tones of light, summery orange- in which I don't look as good.  But, I feel more confident and comfortable wearing them, so I do.  Even more than I wear red. And I have never once been told- by myself or anyone else- that I should really consider wearing red more than light orange.  If you wear what makes you look good to you, and not what makes you look good to the outside world, then it's simple: you look good

This is where style is a matter of knowing yourself.  It's a liberating thing.

Colors need to match exactly. 

I work at Anthropologie, so obviously I strongly disagree with this idea.  Nothing at Anthropologie matches exactly, and everything works.  Don't think that if you have a cobalt blue top on you can't wear a necklace with a little-lighter-than-cobalt blue beads in it.  Don't think that if you have blue pants on, you can't wear an orange top.  Color is fabulous.  Color looks good.  Color says 'I know what I'm doing and I like it.'  Do not be overwhelmed by mismatched color!  

Statements like 'that red is a little too much for me' or 'I can't wear this teal with that blue' sort of weird me out.  No it's not, and yes you can.  When have you ever walked into a space and been overwhelmed by all the different colors?  Step outside and look at your world: write down every color you see, from the green of the grass to the blue of the sky to the red (and pink, and white, rose, yellow, pale yellow) of the flowers, to the black of your car's tires, to the off-black of the asphalt, to the beige-grey of the sidewalk.  You will notice infinite colors, all fitting nicely, effectively, and seamlessly into one single glance.  That's how color works: our eyes perceive it as the whole, not as parts of the whole.  It's the same with your wardrobe. The individual colors are just a part of the look, and the uniformity of that look is more important than the singularity of the colors. 

"That's so not me."

I hear this a lot- I always have- working retail.  The truth is that if something- anything, be it an item of clothing or a political ideology- is 'not you,' the reason is probably because you haven't entertained it, really entertained it, long enough.  In shopping and in life, we stick to what we are sure works for us.  But there might be other things we just don't know about that might work for us equally as well- we've just never tried them.  In fact, we might even pleasantly surprise ourselves.  

When you're in a store, try things.  You might as well see.  Get the opinion of someone you're with or a sales associate.  Get your opinion: examine why and what about the style or garment that you like and don't like.  When you look in the mirror, find something you like- tell yourself that there is something  about this outfit or garment that does work for you.  If you look for it, you will find it.

If your style is conservative, try something Bohemian- maybe grab a necklace or accessory (something small) to try if to see if you are at least comfortable integrating something new into your style.  You don't have to abandon one style to also enjoy one that may seem non-compatable or 'not you.'

You are who you are.  Learn to really accept that, and you're a lot closer than you think to pulling it off- no matter what it is.


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