Tuesday, November 23, 2010
An Editorial (warning: this is a long one)
A couple of posts ago i mentioned the book The triumph of Individual Style by Carla Mason Mathis and Helen Villa Connor. The basic concept laid out in this book is that each individual person has a unique aesthetic. Certain colors, textures, shapes, lines, and proportions will flatter the inherent aesthetic of that individual's physical form, while most other colors, textures, etc. will not. The authors truly focus on bringing out each individual's particular beauty - this isn't How To Not Look Old by any stretch. The authors draw upon all of art history to find hundreds of portraits which they use to illustrate these principles of shape, form, and color. As i recall, they don't address typical 'style' or personality concepts at all (ie. 'romantic' vs. 'professional' vs.'rocker' style).
The artistic and graphic design concepts which the Carla Mason Mathis and Helen Villa Connor teach the reader of this book are invaluable. I cannot recommend it highly enough as the one resource which you can use to learn any concept of art, color, proportion, line, form, etc. that you will ever need to dress your form exquisitely. But i was never convinced that their focus on an individual physical aesthetic got to the heart of personal style. Flattery is fine, beauty is even better. But what about the psychological, personality, historical, hobby, lifestyle, and other factors that come into and express themselves through people with amazing style? What does a person do when their body looks good in pale pinks and baby blue frothy lace, but they lead a rock band? Or, worse yet, a law firm?
Style blogging, particularly blogs which feature one person's outfits several times a week, is a radically new form of fashion/style media. It provides the opportunity for your average jane to see what incredibly stylish people wear, on a day to day basis, for months or years on end. Prior to style blogs, you either had the blessed good fortune to live near one of these stellar individuals, or you saw highlights culled from photo shoots or paparazzi by Anna Wintour. It was just a taste, and the people featured were so many times starlets who are styled by the really interesting style mavens behind the scenes, like the Beckerman family. Now we can see what Calli and Sam are wearing, not just *lithe blonde of moment*.
I started to notice that color, texture, line, etc. really did make a huge difference in how people looked. Cynthia of Be Fabulous Daily just glows in berries, red, and blues. Erin at Work With What You Got uses every trick in the book to make her long long legs somehow look even longer. Sal of Already Pretty - she loves her newts and wears them well. But put her in a cobwebby-violet or a rusted out forest green with a medium grained pattern and her face and hair suddenly incandesc on up to 11. So i became convinced that there are certain elements which flatter people, which best frame and bring out their own unique features and coloring and shape, and others which do not. But this still seemed to only address part of the style picture. What about the person inside the body?
All this thinking and mulling around came to a head during Style Underdog's recent Color Explosion Birthday Week Extravaganza! Of course Bev looked gorgeous and chic and perfect and the color combinations were so on the edge it made my teeth hurt, like strawberry gelato. But it also let me see the wisdom in her love of neutrals.
I had no idea that Bev's facial features and complexion were so delicate, even though i've looked at her face hundreds of times over many months now. Her choice of neutral colors and fine-grained textures allows space for her features and complexion to shine - i felt like those amazing colors shouted down her face a bit. The neutrals also provide space for her to direct our attention to her elegant curation of accessories. Her accessory choices often appear quite bold, but put them next to a purple and black zebra print and you'd take a week to find them. Her precise color and texture palette also seems very in keeping with her dry, spare wit, her writing style of 'just enough. It's all of a piece - the physical, the personality, the creative choices.
And it's not just because i'm on 'Team Newt' that i love the 'Neutral Underdog'. Sheila of Ephemera rocks the newts, but her masterful use of color knocks your socks off and really makes her face and skin and hair glow. Her eclectic and agile use of color, texture and pattern also tips you off to her incredibly wide ranging interests - nature, hiking, reading, travel, art and painting, even Weight Watchers! Not to mention her off-beat sense of humor. She uses tons of color, but the colors themselves are very unusual and the pairings extraordinarily sophisticated. And it's always grounded in classic fit and traditionally feminine shapes - pencil skirts, fitted jackets, well-cut denim. Just by looking at how she presents yourself you can tell she's a very creative lady with interests all over the place - and she's got it all together.
Then it hit me - the graphic elements which flatter an individual's physical form will be limited. But they still are pretty numerous. It's the melding of a particular set of flattering elements with the 'style signifiers' of a person's choice that create true style - from the inside on out. Here's an example. One person's rocker chick could be all shiny black vinyl and red patent leather with one huge shiny stainless steel buckle on each platform boot.You can just picture this on an amazonian lady with straight black hair and strong facial features which stand up to all the stark textures and contrast.
A smaller lady with curly medium brown hair and soft grey eyes could choose to project a rocker vibe in ripped gauzy tees, spiderweb grey-violet lace, bleached and torn denim belted in silver chain, and a cluster of brushed-steel buckles on her delicate wrists. These elements would let the world know who she is without overpowering her physical form. The high-contrast look of the first outfit would blast out her low-contrast coloring, the same way too much light destroys the detail in a photograph. And the Amazon would look like she's trying to disguise herself in lace and little chains, as if she's wearing her baby sister's clothes. But when each lady chooses the elements from the 'rocker library of style' that flatter her particular form, she makes that style her own.
Finding which graphic elements flatter your particular form is half the work. The other is finding out how to weave these graphic elements in with the style elements that express who you are. Frankly, it's a lot to handle - no wonder true style seems rare! But it can be learnt, with time and persistence. And this learning is a very interesting, creative, and rewarding process. We all need to get dressed every day, so the knowledge we gain will always be useful to us.
I find that teasing this process apart and getting at some of the underlying concepts helps me to refine and make conscious my own style choices and ideas, which really streamlines shopping, designing, making outfits, etc. I hope that some of my ideas help you, the way all of your ideas and outfits and photographs have helped me.
Jacket: Issey Miyake for Vogue Patterns made by me
Pants, Scarf, Hat: gifts
Shoes: Clark's Passion
Poses: inspired by Beckerman Bite Plate
Petti: own design, inspired by Alisa Burke
Shoes: Maine Woods