“The woman who is chic is always a little bit different. Not different in being behind fashion, but always slightly apart from it.”
It might not sound like it, but picking a signature style is probably the most useful of all style tips. In addition to joining the ranks of style icons like the Hepburns (Audrey and Katharine), Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, or Jane Birkin – all of whom had definite, if different, signature looks – you will be able to shop smarter, dress faster and never have another “bad clothes day” again … all thanks to having a signature style.
A signature style is not a uniform – think of it as the theme song of your closet. There will be familiar notes that might pop up in other friends’ wardrobes (a certain silhouette, colour, or vibe), but the way they come together will be a reflection of your own personality and lifestyle. Your style may evolve over time, and have any number of remixes, but it will always be recognizably you. One should never underestimate the power of the message sent through the things one wears. One of my favourite quotes on style comes from Jean Cocteau, who said, “Style is a very simple way of saying complicated things.”
Chasing trends is a young woman’s game. At 20, trends are all about reinvention, experimenting with different personas until you figure out which one fits best. After a certain age, trends shouldn’t dictate what you’re wearing, they should simply inform your editing choices – a move away from literal translation into creative interpretation. In fact, style icons are memorable because their signature looks are the opposite of trendy – instead, they are, as the name suggests, iconoclastic.
A signature style, in any of its variations, should fit you like a second skin – figuratively as well as literally. An introverted personality, for example, will rarely if ever feel comfortable in clothes that scream “look at me”. Everyone has preferences – some premised on personal taste, some on lifestyle or body type. A signature style will take all of these into account.
A signature style can be a prototype – the “gamine”, the “bombshell”, the “sophisticate”, the “girl next door” and so on. It can also be something as simple as a recurring theme – pearls, or florals, or belts, or head-to-toe black. There is no magic formula for figuring out your signature style, although an inspiration board (as advocated by Isaac Mizrahi) is a helpful tool. Pick a dozen or so photos that you find particularly inspiring or cool, and then analyze the commonalities between them; you will generally find that there is a common thread – that recurring theme. It can also help sometimes to write down words that reflect the feelings inspired or evoked by the photos, as that can make it easier to identify the theme.
Of course, a signature style can sometimes evolve quite haphazardly. My own style is the product of many years of trial-and-error, and countless hours spent poring over fashion magazines. I’ve test driven, as it were, many looks over the years – some more successfully than others. It was only within the last couple of years, when I started actually giving some thought to the clothing choices I was making every day, that I began to see a signature style coalescing. I realized that the looks to which I found myself gravitating were variations on the same style – a little bit retro, and ladylike in spades. Sure, I might play around with pieces that don’t necessarily fit that aesthetic, but I always end up coming back to what feels, and fits, best.
How has my signature style helped to simplify my life? Let me count the ways. It’s taught me to shop strategically, focusing on pieces that work with my style, rather than any random pretty thing that catches my eye. There is nothing more frustrating that having a closet full of individually cute clothes that don’t work together. It’s made me more comfortable with the idea of spending larger amounts on clothes, because I know they will be things I’ll be wearing for a long time, and not just a season. It’s also made my mornings so much easier; most things in my closet work together, so I can almost pick my outfit with my eyes closed. Rather than having “set” outfits (this skirt only goes with that top, these pants only with that jacket, and so on), I can put together any number of looks – a good thing considering how quickly I become bored of wearing the same things over and over. Having a signature style really pays off!