Posts Tagged: fashion

Reader Request: Describing Your Personal Style

Hi all – Disqus randomly closed comments on this post, so I’m reposting. No idea what happened – apologies!

Describing Your Style

Susan e-mailed me after reading this post about Boho at the office:

I was reading that you don’t consider yourself Boho, and it got me wondering how you describe your style? I’m fascinated with how people describe themselves, and I wonder if you don’t describe it, if you find that limiting, or if you do with some number of adjectives, pictures or metaphors. I’ve read somewhere to come up with two adjectives to describe your style. I think that sounds like an interesting exercise.

Many, MANY moons ago, I did some noodling and landed on “arty eclectic with a broad streak of retro influence.” I must now admit that I’m not entirely sure how I came up with this phrase. I put “eclectic” in there because I’m a total style dabbler and wanted that expressed in a succinct and positive way, and “retro influence” because I don’t do full-on vintage all the time but instead hint at styles from decades past. “Arty” probably arose because I like asymmetry and funky pieces, but it might’ve also gotten shoved in there because I don’t feel like I comfortably fit into any of the typical style categories. And because I view style not necessarily as an art form, but a means of self-expression.

At this point, I’d probably revise my little phrase to “eclectic retro rocker.” I’ve always dabbled in rocker looks, but with the messy hair I’m letting those leanings seep through more often. Retro and eclectic still definitely apply, though, so they can stay. I’m both a word person and someone who works in a style-related field, so I may have an easier time attaching descriptors to my own style and the styles of others. But I’d be happy to share a few tips for those of you interested in describing your own styles, especially since doing so is something I ask you to do as a client, in my book, and in the mini makeover guide!

The big buckets

It can help to start with broad strokes, so ask yourself if your style seems to fall into one of the most-used categories: Preppy, minimalist, classic, edgy, Bohemian. Other less-used but potentially helpful buckets include romantic, androgynous/tomboy, sporty, retro, and bombshell. Do any of these fit, even partially?

Style icons

Even if you struggle to pin a broad term to your own style, you may still be able to identify a few other people whose style you admire and seek to emulate. Style icons needn’t be famous; They can be people in your own life, fictional characters, anyone. Can you think of a style icon? What do you love about her/his style? How would you describe her/his style? Do those terms apply to you, too?

Adjective brainstorming

Making a nice, long list of terms that describe aspects of your style and dressing preferences can give you some clarity. Are you dressy, casual, colorful, neutral, textural? Are your clothes sparkly, soft, sculptural, flowy, or embellished? Try a stream-of-consciousness brain dump and see what happens. A few key descriptors may rise to the top.

Patterns and signatures

Take a peek in your closet and look for items that appear in multiples: Do you have gobs of moto jackets? (I know I do.) Tons of ballet flats? Is your closet overflowing with maxi dresses and billowy blouses? How about cowboy boots? More than one pair? If you have a couple of styles or items that get bought and worn often, they may be contributing to your signature style. What patterns can you identify in your wardrobe? Do they describe a specific style?

Photographic evidence

Still photos offer startlingly different perspective from mirrors, so consult a few snapshots. If you do this, you’ll need multiple images for reference. What common threads do you see? Any signatures or patterns? Do your outfits remind you of any potential style icons? Can you put your style into one of the big buckets?

Ask around

Talk to someone in your life who sees you frequently and knows you in a variety of settings from casual to personal. How does this person see your style? How does she/he describe your dressing choices? Don’t think this is a last resort option, either, friends! The people who know you well can offer insight and clarity even if you’ve already got some pretty solid descriptors.

This is not an exact science and these steps may still leave you drawing a blank. But hopefully getting the ball rolling will help. The vast majority of us never take the time and energy to understand our personal styles well enough to describe them, but it can be a really valuable exercise. Once you know how to describe your style, you can begin to refine it. As you shop, you can pass over items that don’t fit within your ideals. As you purge, you can jettison items that aren’t harmonious with your personal style. Putting some words around your style can be subtly but powerfully beneficial.

Can you describe your style in a few words or a short phrase? Do you wish you could? Think any of these exercises might help?

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Models as Walking Clothes Hangers


OK. So. I really do get that fashion shows are meant, on some level, to be viewed as pageantry, pure art, theater. High-end designer clothes get worn by very few actual people – the haute couture stuff by even fewer – because very few actual people can afford them. Many clothing designers consider themselves to be visual artists, and clothing is simply their chosen medium.

And I try really, really hard to remember this when I hear the argument for extremely tall, extremely slim models as the ONLY choice for runway shows. When I hear the argument that these women are basically just “walking clothes hangers,” that their bodies shouldn’t interfere with how the clothing appears.

But I can’t. The more I hear that refrain, the angrier I become. And here’s why.

THEY ARE STILL CLOTHES even if they’re meant to be arty, sculptural, outlandish clothes. Clothes are meant to be worn on bodies, not look great on hangers. If they were just meant to look amazing on their own, they’d be fiber art, textiles, sculpture. Clothing is meant to clothe. Period.

Put aside the fact that models are human beings too, and are often told to their faces that they aren’t thin enough to get work, dehumanized, disrespected, and sometimes just plain abused. Put aside the fact that designers and mags claim they’re creating an aspirational fantasy from these luxury goods, ignoring the fact that the women shown wearing these clothes become part of that fantasy for many viewers. Put aside the fact that every designer who has taken the tiniest baby step toward model diversity of any kind has been buried under an avalanche of praise, only to return to the stable of tall, thin, predominantly white girls in the next season. PUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, and you still have this:

Clothing is meant to be worn by humans. If you design items that only look amazing when no one is wearing them, why call them clothing? Why send them down the runway on living, breathing bodies when you could just hang them up on the wall and let people ogle them? It would be so much cheaper,

I am aware of the factors that make drastic change difficult – including the questionable-but-lauded sample size argument – and I don’t have a solution to the lack of diversity on the runways (or in ads, on TV and in the movies, etc.), much as I wish I did. I also have many more bones to pick than this one with the fashion industry, as you all know. But the walking clothes hanger issue is one that has been stuck in my craw for ages because it seems like one of the flimsiest excuses ever for maintaining an exclusionary, damaging status quo. Bodies interfere with how great your clothes look? Are you sure they’re clothes?

What do you think of the argument that models are meant to be walking clothes hangers? Do you think something can still be considered a garment if it looks awful on a range of human body types, but great on its own?

Images courtesy (Calvin Klein SS14 RTW) // This is an archived post that I wanted to refresh and revive for any new readers.

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Reader Request: Long Over Lean for Petites

Fabulous reader Emily – who I was lucky enough to meet and chat with when I was in New York last summer – e-mailed me a while back asking about making the long-over-lean formula work on a petite frame.

Lately, all I want to wear are leggings and longer things on top – which I realized is: Sally’s Long-Over-Lean formula. Thing is: I own 1 pair of ponte pants, 1 pair of cheap leggings, and 1 pair of sort-of-skinny jeans. I’m 4′ 11″ as you might remember. I carry my weight in the belly. Literally in the belly, as in, could be 5 months pregnant all the time (I ain’t). Clearly if I want to make this happen as My Look, I need more leggings. And more long swinging / pooch-hiding sweaters. BUT!!!!! (Here’s my question): DO I want to make this happen as My Look? I’m short. If I wear a long sweater on top, I think I go 50%-50% in terms of body division. Not the Golden Mean by any stretch.

Emily was kind enough to let me use some of the photos she sent along to me in hopes of helping others struggling with the same questions. So here’s what I told her:

The thing about the Rule of Thirds is that you can totally forget about it absolutely whenever you want to. If this is what you want to wear – tunics and leggings in various combinations – and you feel comfy and fabulous and like yourself wearing those items, then you absolutely should. Rules be damned! Now if you’d like some middle ground – if you want to make the long-over-lean look work and incorporate a couple of traditional figure flattery maxims – here are a few things you can try:


Visually elongate your legs

Try wearing like-colored leggings and boots. I say boots because even a little peek of ankle breaks up the leg line. Boots that are the same or close to the color of your leggings – even like-colored ankle boots – would be super. And they can be flat! Visually elongating your leg line by wearing similarly colored leggings and shoes will help this look feel more balanced.

Be strategic about focus

Take charge of where the observing eye lands. In the gray tunic/black leggings outfit, Emily is divided just about in half and where those two pieces meet is a high contrast break. The eye goes right there. She could draw the eye upward and break up her figure a bit by wearing a scarf or necklace. This will achieve two goals: It will create another segment of her figure, and it will keep focus away from her midsection, which she’s self-conscious about. For a different tactic, she could draw the eye up and down her figure by wearing a long necklace. I know that may seem counterintuitive, but it will help elongate the figure a bit.

Do low contrast layers

The gray tunic and black leggings are totally cute and I told Emily she should absolutely wear them. But a charcoal gray, dark brown, or other darker colored tunic would help her create a column of color – an unbroken line of color from shoulders to feet – which helps unify the look and create a taller-seeming silhouette.


This yellowish tunic is probably too tight. Since it’s a cardigan, it could be worn open over another tunic-length layer instead of buttoned and belted. Another way to do the column of color with this formula is to wear a like-colored long cardigan and leggings, but a different color on the inside. Of course, to do this Emily would need yellowish leggings, so I told her not to pursue this option with this specific piece … but maybe give it a shot with others.


Don’t worry about it

Emily sent me a photo of herself in clothes that she says create a more traditionally “flattering” silhouette on her – the top and skirt on the left. And she looks dynamite in that outfit, it’s true. But she looks cool and funky in her tunics and leggings, too. As I said above, some of the things you want to wear won’t “work” with your figure in ways that Tim Gunn would embrace. But Tim Gunn isn’t here. When it’s important to you to create a visually balanced, tall, slender silhouette, do that. When it isn’t important to you to hit those marks, don’t worry about them. Figure flattery is limiting, but personal style is unlimited. You’re the boss.

Any other petite women out there wondering about the long-over-lean formula? Are you doing any of the things I suggested? Other recommendations for Emily and other petites who love leggings and tunics?

PLEASE NOTE: Emily is not a blogger herself and has very generously offered to let me post these photos to illustrate how she’s attempted to tackle this specific dressing formula. If you chose to comment on this post, express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published. I’m happy to participate in a discussion that includes contrary opinions, but will not tolerate cruelty. Also be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

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