Snow is melting, sun is shining, temperature rising. Spring is in the air...and in the fashion world. Each season, as the runway shows end in New York, London, Milan and Paris, the fashion world turns its focus back; from the future and onto the current season. Suddenly, there is a cascade of information about what's new and exciting, what's 'now', what you 'must have'; and you know you want it. That cornucopia of beauty; lush fabrics, kaleidoscopic color, gorgeous models, fabulous bags, shoes, scarves, jewelry.... Fashion is pleasure; sensual pleasure, guilty pleasure..
But in the chorus of "This! This! You must buy this!", how do we choose? How do we make sense of it all? Its all good fun to read fashion magazines, surf the internet or watch the parade of starlets and fashion icons. There is a lot of information and inspiration out there. Go ahead; type "Spring Fashion Trend 2015" into your browser and take a dive into the 'rabbit hole'. There, you will find literally hundreds of pages of magazines alongs with bloggers who have combed through the hundreds of offerings and come up with lists of the most important trends. And their comparative lists will look something like this:
It seems a bit random and contradictory. That's because this early in the season the idea of trend is really just a forecast of what might happen; like the weather; and how often are they right about the weather? Fashion professionals talking about trend are synthesizing the designers' ideas and guessing which ones will actually appear on the street. Its not really that contradictory. Some trend forecasts are very consistent; gingham, lightweight suede and layered 'apron' skirts are ideas that made it into many of the collections this spring:
And some of the lists are merely using two different labels to describe the same look; something everyone is loving this season:
There's so much information and its interesting and fun; but how do we go from there to the practical practice of fashion? Fashion is an eye-popping, $1.7 trillion business. With so much depth and variety, such richness of choice, how do we decide what to buy? Random shopping -- while fun -- may not be our best decision. As a style consultant I can attest to this truth; in the closet of every client I have worked with there are hundreds of dollars worth of clothing purchased at random or on a whim, and never, ever worn...
And at the end of the day, most people aren't really interested in trend. What we are interested in is style...
"Fashion fades. Style is eternal." Yves St. Laurent
So I have decided to begin a series of articles to help de-mystify fashion vs. style and simplify the process of choosing and working with your wardrobe beginning with this question:
What's Your Style?
What defines style? Out of the myriad definitions of and thoughts about style one thing stands true; we know it when we see it.
But what is it and how do we define our own style? The reason it's so difficult to define is because there are so many factors, so many facets that make up that ineffable thing we call 'style'. It's lifestyle, aesthetic, action, ideas, opinion, speech; everything we do every day is an expression of style. So the question; "what's your style" is very close to asking the more fundamental question, "who are we". But if we try to answer that question before getting dressed it will probably be Fall, 2098 and I promised that I would try to simplify...
So here are two questions and one practical exercise that will help you to determine your own personal style as it applies to fashion and wardrobe choices:
How do you want to feel?
A couple of years ago I ran across a wonderful book entitled "The Desire Map" by Danielle LaPorte -- which I recommend that everyone read. In her book, Danielle asserts that the most important life question is not "What goals do you wish to accomplish?", but "How do you want to feel?". Her point is that, because we are usually focused on goals instead of feelings, we can spend our lives trying to achieve a goal without having clarity about why we want it and how we will actually feel once we have achieved it. It's a brilliant and important distinction which has radically shifted the way I -- and many others -- live life.
Without going too far down the road, narrowing or trivializing the idea, I will simply say I have found that its also a very important and useful concept in defining personal style. Defining how we want to feel when we're dressed and moving through our lives, helps us define our personal style and what type of clothing will work for us.
Who is the character I play in my life?
At first glance this question makes us think about our roles and titles: artist, executive, entrepreneur, soccer mom, student, athlete, budget, climate, season, etc.. These are categories; a useful starting point for determining our choices, but to define our style we must embroider; add layers. Clothing -- no matter how casually one approaches it -- is a costume. And we are dressing each day "for the theater of our lives"; dressing as the character we play. If we are random in our clothing choices, selecting this-or-that based on whim, trend, or what works for others, we are telling the world that we don't know who we are. Telling the world who we are; through dress, action and speech are key ingredients of achieving life goals, so its very important to be clear and consistent. Just as a screenwriter will create a complete characterization for a role before approaching the costume designer, we need depth and consistency to develop style in our wardrobes.
Begin by asking yourself the questions; riff on concepts, words and ideas. Make a list of your answers:
How do you want to feel? Sleek? Edgy? Elegant? Casual? Subtle? Flamboyant? Contemporary? Old-Fashioned? Graceful?
Who is your character? Corporate Executive? Entrepreneur? Mom? Dad? Preppie? Hipster? Artist? Fashionista? Bohemian? Dancer?
Take your time building your lists. Then, spend some time combining and layering your feelings and roles into phrases using them to build style pictures: Edgy entrepreneur. Preppie corporate executive. Graceful soccer mom. Hipster telecom executive. Find colorful and descriptive words to make phrases that are deeply evocative for you: Adventurous, bohemian-elegant, entrepreneur, artist, story-teller is the way I like to roll. What about you?
Here is a helpful exercise that can help to deepen and clarify your thoughts. With those two style questions in your mind, make a Pinterest board. If you don't have one already, create a Pinterest account for yourself. Pinterest is the most helpful tool I have ever found for vision-questing and finding visual inspiration. It's free and easy to use. You can search within Pinterest for ideas by searching any descriptive keywords that appeal to you: fashion, contemporary, bohemian, elegant, hip, preppie, and you can even search concepts like "curvy fashion", office wear, "older woman fashion", "hipster dude" etc. You may keep your board secret or share it. You can also pin pages from the internet so go ahead and spend some real time researching and collecting a variety of things that appeal to you.
Put your two key questions at the top of your board to keep yourself focused. There will be many things you like, but pin only those that feel deeply, like an answer to the questions on your style board. Spend a little time each day for a week or two, adding to your board or perhaps removing things that don't feel deeply resonant. We all feel differently on different days, and in different moods so it is important to do this at various times if you want an answer that really speaks to your true style.
Although there are many facets to style, the visual component is key, and a good starting point. By the time you have 50-100 pins, you will be able to begin, by looking at your board, seeing what emerges for you. Notice the similarities. Notice details; mood, color, fabrication, fit, hair, accessories, shoes. As you notice these things, write them down, make lists, revise your list. The more you do this, the more you will define and clarify your own unique visual style. Knowing your original, personal and unique style is the best first step to navigating the thickets of the fashion forest.
Next time we will talk about body image as it relates to personal style. Stay tuned...
I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and discoveries on the subject of personal style. Please feel free to share your comments and ideas in the comments below. And thanks for joining the conversation!