Posts Tagged: fashion

Reader Request: Rut vs. Signature

 

signature style or rut 2

Reader Brenda sent me this fantastic question:

I’ve been considering the difference between a style rut vs. developing a signature look. I’ve read, for example, that Anna Wintor routinely wears a variation on a sheath dress. She’s found what works and sticks with it. Is that a signature or a rut?

I sew a lot of my clothes and have a standard fit & flare dress pattern that I use. I vary the fabric, color, sleeve length and details, and neckline shape, and I get compliments from people. Now there’s a niggling in the back of my head that I’m in a rut, but the competing thought is that this is working for me. I’d love your thoughts on this!

Seriously, isn’t that a good one? As a person who loves being eclectic, I hadn’t given it a ton of thought before Brenda posted the question, but here are my initial thoughts:

How do you feel about it?

This is the main point of differentiation, if you ask me. A rut feels bad, boring, frustrating, and difficult to get out of. You’re in a rut if you’re wearing the same things over and over again and cannot think of anything else you’d rather wear. A signature feels natural, aligned with your inner vision of yourself, freeing, serene. You’ve developed a signature if you’re wearing the same things over and over again and feel pulled-together and perfectly like yourself.

Does it suit you?

Many of us get stuck in ruts wearing garments or outfits that are more easy than appealing: Jeans and a tee, trousers and a cardigan, the same style of dress. They’re on-hand, they fit, they’re comfortable, they’re washable. We may wear them constantly even though they don’t make us feel good about ourselves. Part of the rut is identifying that your routines aren’t necessarily working for your figure or style, and feeling helpless to change. A signature, on the other hand, is a style or garment that you gravitate toward or even collect specifically because you love how it works for you. You’ve actively chosen it because it suits you and made it central to your personal style.

Do you employ variations on your theme?

Our girl A.W. is definitely a fan of the sheath, but she mixes up her choices. We see cap sleeves, half sleeves, no sleeves. Colors and neutrals. She definitely gravitates toward prints, but there are a few solids in her closet, too. And she varies her accessories: Sometimes there’s a belt or necklace, she switches out her watch occasionally, and gorgeous and varied shoes. If she were in a rut, she would probably stick to a single sleeve style and palette, and style her sheaths the same way every time.

Do you mix in other options?

Naturally, if you wear the exact same thing every day, you’re in uniform territory. And nothing wrong with that, especially if you FEEL great in your uniform. If you wear extremely slight variations on the same combinations every day and never introduce other outfits or styles – and especially if doing this makes you feel trapped, bored, or stuck, as mentioned above – that is more of a rut situation. But if you have a style of pant, shoe, dress, or necklace that is your sartorial touchstone but still occasionally wear and enjoy wearing other styles of pant, shoe, dress, or necklace, you’ve likely developed a signature.

That’s my take, anyway. What are your thoughts? What do YOU see as differentiating a style rut from a style signature?

Images courtesy E Online, Style Bistro, Upscale Hype

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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

models

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

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