Does fashion help you refine your personal style? Or does it get in the way?
As someone who frequently feels let down by fashion designers and clothing manufacturers, I’m inclined to think that when it comes to creative expression, personal style (as seen in style blogs for instance) is far more interesting than Fashion Week. For starters, personal style is always a mix of compromise and ingenuity: very few of us have perfect bodies (whatever that means) or limitless funds; we may have other projects requiring our time and energy; and whatever we choose to wear must pass the ultimate test of real life.
In fact, I’m tempted to say that many fashion designers are a bit clueless about what is required of the elements that should be the building blocks of personal style. Why? Judging by what they send down the catwalk, they have no idea what a real woman actually looks like and needs in her daily life… And should a real woman try on one of their designs, she would probably burst out in uncontrollable laughter (if she is blessed with some sense of humour) or cry her eyes out…
Of course, fashion is not the same thing as style, and following trends too closely can actually be detrimental to developing your personal sense of style. If you start thinking that you – your lifestyle, personality and your body – have to fit the style of the outfit and not the other way around, you’re in deep shit. Cue all sorts of haphazard outfits that make you look more like Edina from Absolutely Fabulous than the vision of elegance you had in your mind…
So, when it comes to balancing fashion and style,
I rely on my late mother’s unerring instincts on the matter and trust that the lessons I learned observing her will help me refine my own unique sense of aesthetics and style.
You see, my mother was not a particularly fashionable woman, but she was always a very stylish one. She didn’t really read fashion magazines, yet she was quick to point out anything that looked outdated. And in her book, looking out-of-date was just as bad as looking age-inappropriate. So, she spent a lot of time tweaking and polishing her outfits to get the balance just right, and she always nailed it. To this day, the first thing anyone who ever met her says about her is “she was always so elegant”…
The pictures you see here (the late 60’s and the late 70’s) show my mother both at her most fashion-forward and at her most classic. And looking at these examples, it is evident that she adapted the trends of the moment to suit her personal style. Always more ladylike than hippie, she would never go for the counterculture poster girl look, but she had some fun with the late 60’s styles, certainly enough to give Megan Draper a run for her money…
I think the key to her impeccable elegance was that she knew the difference between fashion and style. A little nod to trends was enough to make her look up-to-date; no need to go on trend overload. And yes, she would roll her eyes at some of my wildest fashion victim moments (a 1980s pink faux fur coat and a lime green chiffon top come to mind… and no, there are no pictures…) She didn’t need to experiment with looks she knew would not work for her, as the essence of her style was always understated, classic and chic.
Even more importantly, she knew that she didn’t need a whole new wardrobe every year to be the best-dressed woman in the room: her old summer dress would do just fine, especially if she paired it with an even older straw hat she had at the back of the closet. Add an understated handbag and some wedge heels, and she would look like one of the Charlie’s Angels, without spending a penny.
She made it work because she knew what suited her personality and her body type, and stuck with that. Instead of chasing the latest trends, she cherry-picked a few elements that she could adapt to update her personal style.
And that is the skill that I hope to master one day: to reinvent my existing pieces, to trust that simplicity works better for me than contrived and gimmicky, and to say no to trends that won’t make me the most elegant woman in the room.
Where do you stand on the style vs fashion debate?
PS: for more posts on my mother’s style, go to Style Icon