1. Very trendy. Not a hair out of place. Great picture. Everything is perfectly panned out.
2. Those shoes. You must love them don’t you ? What are your favourite books ? What do you do for a living ? Can I see your closet ?
3. Yes, another French Chic formula. You must have all the correct basics and would be popular on Tumblr.
– a fashion outsider and an anti-fashion-blogger’s perspective.
This is not a post on ‘how to be stylish’ or ‘build a wardrobe’ or ‘owning the least amount of clothing’ or ‘capsule wardrobe’. This is not a traditional ‘find your personal style’ post either. This is me, vexed with the boxes that you are supposed to fall into, to be stylish. And all the personal style advice asking you to pick a box and buy certain items henceforth. Or rampantly copy a style muse. Somehow, looking like the mythical french woman is the conclusion to all the advice that supposedly helps you find your personal style. I find that unfair and narrow viewed. Women who like feminine clothing, color, pattern, maximalist style, … are being left out of the equation all together and being prescribed striped tops. I have an alternate take on it all. Some philosophy first and clothes later. I do suggest a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
Wear the shit out of what you like. What you like and wear too often becomes your personal style. Dressing by a formula is medieval. Wear what you truly love. Even if it’s not what people around you wear. Don’t be afraid of color or to experiment a little or be a slave to the basics. Don’t worry about everything looking perfect according to the current standard of elegance or chic. The opposite of good style is not bad style. But the lack of it. —-> Shouldn’t that be all the information a blog post titled ‘finding your personal style’ contain ? Don’t you think the words “finding personal style” have become this packaged and marketed entity ? Mostly by bloggers who have an affiliate link account and will not hesitate to tell you what you should buy to find yours. There is another end of the spectrum where ‘good style’ is defined by ‘minimalist’ bloggers who all dress like a Jane Birkin copy cats – a striped top, loafers and tapered trousers. Preferably from A.P.C.( Love that look but it’s not salvation for all.)
A.P.C staff from around the world dressed head-to-toe in the brand.
” Make a pinterest board. Purge. Record what you wear often. Buy classics.” …
… is the summary of popular blogger advice on finding personal style. It immediately equates personal style with what you can buy. I am really vexed with seeing this formula repeated in many many words and blog posts all over the internet. The more perfect they are in accordance to the current formula for chic or elegance or good taste, the better ? Lin made this collage of A.P.C shopgirls and they all look like clones to me. Everyone is styled just like the models on the APC runway. (Ofcourse, stores use this sort of tactic to help customers buy more.) A whole army dressed similar is hardy ‘personal’ is it ? They all look good and stylish. But can you see the lack of personalization? This is a phenomenon I am observing with capsule wardrobes. There are too many people dressing exactly like their style muse.
Also, is style just about clothes ? If Patti Smith started a fashion blog with collages of her clothes and posted outfits, she wouldn’t have made the cut. She lived a fantastic life doing interesting things and dressed herself the way she liked. Do you develop that from Pinterest and by looking at clothes ? I know plenty of well dressed people with closets consisting of highest quality fabrics that money can buy, who look exactly like their style muse. Somehow, finding style in 2015 became synonymous with dressing like the mythical French woman or Caroline from Unfancy. The striped t-shirt, chambray shirt, black pants, ankle boots, … ( I have them all, am I stylish yet? )
“They” ask you to define your style. Usually from a range of stereotypes – classic, French, tomboy, bohemian, trendy, minimal, Gucci, …. And all these words are very loaded. Why should someone’s personal style even fall into a popular category ? When you buy everything from one store, you are copying the aesthetic of that designer. When you dress exactly like a stereotype, you are copying a look defined by the popular culture. That’s hardly personal !
I was once asked why I wear dresses because I was such a tomboy. A definition of tomboy style – dungarees, vintage jeans and droopy shoulder stripe tops exist in the media. I apparently deviated from this formula and I was questioned about it. Its my own style and I cant dress like the mythical tomboy. What is tomboy anyways ? In todays day and age, its not clothing that is stopping the woman from climbing a tree or hiking a mountain or chasing a dog. Women did farm work and dug wells wearing long skirts for centuries. In many countries in Africa, men and women wear very similar outfits. In India, men used to dress in dhotis. A tomboy from India should wear a dhoti ? What is a tomboy in the 21st century ? An opposite of the ‘girly girl’? I am that, in a blue shift dress too.
The happiest closet I have had, is when I distanced myself from all of this advice and wore whatever I loved. I want to write the alternate view on this subject.
Let your travels teach you.
You will learn a lot about durability of shoes when you walk a 1000 miles in them. When you pack a tiny backpack, you will learn a lot about versatility of clothes. When you make friends from different countries, prejudices die. And boundaries expand. That navajo turquoise bracelet you picked up when you visited their village and danced with them will hold a special meaning. Don’t you find Nat Geo explores in boots and khakis really stylish ? Jane Goodall in her safari suit is my icon !
Let it develop from life. Have a great life, and style will follow.
Read, learn, exercise, eat well, do your work, shop a little, educate yourself constantly, admire art – and you are a way more interesting person whose outfits will be copied.
Let your principles and ethics teach you lessons on how to get through life.
If you are a staunch environmentalist, shop secondhand, hate sweatshops, love craftsmanship, don’t think of anything as disposables, … you just stand out.
Let your goals for yourself teach you how to dress.
Do you know that the samurai used to dress in rich embroidered silks. And eventually gave it all up to live a simpler life and developed a uniform as time progressed. They saw it as strength of mind to be able to resist luxuries. They embraced wabi sabi, discipline, simplicity and the romance of hard work. I want that for myself.
Let your idea of femininity shape your style.
I refuse to be lumped into a stereotype coz I am female. I am not a dainty thing that needs someone to carry my bags because I can’t be bothered to carry or lift. I can’t be in shoes I can’t walk because there are places I need to get to and time is limited. My body is mine. I don’t need to put it on display in bodycon dresses to make a point. I don’t see legs as this sexual thing on display when I wear a dress. Legs are just legs. We all have them. I am far more concerned with making them strong and abled.
Let your ideas of modesty define your style.
When I lived in India, I was constantly asked to cover up. Sleeveless and showing knees were frowned upon. I don’t feel that way about my body really. I don’t see shorts or strappy tops or tailored clothing as a sexual thing. But I do draw a line at yoga pants – just no. Camel toes are still vulgar, to my eyes.
Let your ideas on color and shape guide you.
Yohji-saan could probably write a book on the color black. You can make black from blue/green/purple/etc and he has his preferences. Kenya Hara (creative director of Muji) wrote a book on white. For me, it’s the color blue. Yohji considers the space between a garment and the body, the most important aspect of design. It reflects in what he wears and makes. If you have strong opinions, they show.
Let the wisdom acquired with age guide you.
Experiences are more important than things. Don’t waste money on disposable items. Buy and use durable things. Don’t save at the expense of someone else (by supporting sweatshops). Dont over shop since this planet is precious.
Let the people whose work you admire influence you.
If you are a groupie of Hemingway and Maugham, won’t you let it show ? My list has authors, scientists, athletes, designers and engineers.
If you are an engineer, won’t you let it show ?
Engineers like practical and well designed things. We are trained to optimize. And build. And analyze. It reflects in my closet too.
If you love the grace of the warrior class (samurai, men in uniforms, my karate lessons), won’t you let it influence you ? …
Military fabrics are a favorite of mine. Durability and movement friendliness is my primary indicator of quality. Gabardine, canvas cloth, rugged shoes, trench coats, wool hats, helmets, belts, leather satchels, rucksacks,… I have them all. I have a friend who is a dancer who put rubber soles on her old ballet flats and wears them with panache. The way she moves even when not dancing, is poetry to my eyes. The poise, the gait, the elegance – stays with her. We all have our inspirations.
How much attention are you trying to ‘catch’?
Love to be noticed where ever you go ? Easy. Dress in yellow from head to toe. Add some sparkle. Or wear a body con dress or yoga pants with lot of spandex in it. Want to blend into the background, there is a way to do that too. Clothes do have an effect.
All these folks from the quotes re-defined style for their generation. Without talking about a single item of clothing. Then, why are we so held up on what to buy when we try to ‘find our style’? If I were to give advice on finding personal style, I would say nobody needs this sort of advice. We don’t need to be told what we need to desire. But I would like to share my journey.
Stage 1: The rules
Everyone needs to find their staples that become the basic building blocks. And an understanding of the basic rules of proportion and color. Just for a starting point. I followed them to the dot when I was younger because I liked the austerity of my basics worn like how the experts recommend. Master the basics. Blue dresses. Black and brown shoes. Low waist, slim fit and ankle cropped pants. Blue, green, red, gray and black.
Sofia Coppola wears her basics well.
Stage 2: Learn the combinations
Basics worn like in the online catalog shots do look generic and sterile. Make them your own. Learn some tweaks while looking like yourself. Try some bolder combinations that will shake it up a little. Learn to include some accessories. Red shoes with an all gray outfit. Pink loafers with all black outfit or all navy outfit. Blue jeans with a blue shirt with an interesting brown belt. Polka dot neck tie scarf with gray tank top and black jeans. A beige hat with light blue shirt dress. Oxfords and loafers with dresses. Still in the comfort zone and in adherence to the rules, but expanding the borders.
Clemence Posey does this stage (basics with a twist) well.
Stage 3 : Wear on Repeat
To be comfortable with the clothing, they need to be worn a lot. They become yours after a few dozen wears. Stop shopping and wear the shit out of what you own. Let things patina, wear in and become your own. Personalize your basics and wear them often
Mimi Thorisson does this well.
Stage 4 : Effortlessness
Over time, style becomes the outer skin. Some of the more complex pairings get discarded. Some get adopted into everyday wear. The basics get worn with a nonchalance. It all becomes really easy and effortless. Some rules get broken. You start to venture out with messy hair or refuse to stop wearing your oldest beaten brown boots. They all become a part of you and you are at ease with yourself.
Kate Moss and Johnny Depp do it well.
Stage 5 : Peace
You stop searching for the next ‘thing’ because you are very content. From time to time, you push yourself to get creative and bold with what you own. As life goes on, you change but slowly. It feels organic and no magazine/runway show/blogger dictates the insides of your closet.
“I am no longer concerned with sensation and innovation, but with the perfection of my style.” – Yves Saint Laurent
My personal style journey has been a very rewarding. I learnt quite a bit about myself through the process of experimenting, culling and choosing. I used to be a head to toe simple blue clothing wearer from the days I was allowed to pick my own clothes. And I got lost along the way. Skin tone flattering colors, the idea of heels, figure flattering clothes, sequins – all of it was distraction. And I am back to my roots again. I believe you have found your personal style when you no longer have the itch to cull, enjoy what you have immensely and would be happy to bump into your idol dressed the way you are. I am there.
P.S : But this is my story. We all have different philosophies and ways to get through life.