Friday, August 26, 2011

Tips On Style Exploration

I assure you i have a point to this post - but i can't promise i'll be able to state it clearly and cleanly. I hope that i'll circle around it closely enough that you'll hone in on it yourselves.

Chances are, you're like me - you got into reading style blogs, and style blogging yourself, because you were interested in discovering your own personal style. This can range from wanting a subtle spruce-up to hardcore starting from ground zero: "I feel like i'm walking around in a costume, nothing fits, i hate everything in my closet, etc.". You go online and you are bombarded with images of cozens of fashionable, incredibly stylish and gorgeous women wearing impeccably styled, and endlessly varied, outfits. You discover new ways to tie a scarf, incredible places to shop at amazing prices, the thrills of thrifting, arm parties, and more. The answer to your style dilemma starts to form, automatically, in your fevered noggin.....push it to the limit. More is truly More. Never wear the same outfit, don't rely on black, vintage is queen, there's a way for every woman to wear every trend and color and silhouette......

Ravina mixes her newts to rave reviews - photographer, model, stylist: Ravina Sniper
 Allie of Wardrobe Oxygen touched on this topic in her article "Getting Literal". She begins with an Oscar Wilde quote: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." Allie starts off: "The other day a woman walked into my office building as I was walking out. As soon as I saw her I knew...

I encourage you to take a look at Allie's article and the pretty lively discussion in the comments.  What i took away from Allie's post is that the personal style journey is a long one, and it takes place in your own personal life.  Especially with the easy access to hundreds of style blogs on the net, inspiration is rampant and even overwhelming. What's a lot scarcer is good, practical advice on how to use this inspiration to come up with a wardrobe that expresses your own personal style and works with your practical and lifestyle parameters. Frankly, that takes a lot more serious thinking on the part of the reader as well as the writer - it's hard getting across new, abstract concepts. And there are so many different parameters and variations to deal with in even one woman's wardrobe. Ideas that bring everything together for one woman will be useless for another. 
 The idea i'd like to get across in this post goes something like this - try to keep your style explorations wide and open, especially in the beginning. For me, and for many others, the temptation and obvious idea is to focus on 'your pure style essence', nail that down, and try to force it full strength on every aspect of your life.  I wore dressy, multi-layered looks for years. I lived in an area where 'everything went', so i didn't have to dress up or down for different occasions. Then i moved to a very hot climate, became a stay at home spouse, and hit 'the big M'.  And nothing worked. Even my good old standby lipstick did nothing for me. I had to start completely from scratch.  
 Partly this was bad luck and a lot of big changes at once. But it was also my own durn fault. I hadn't had a lot of reasons to focus on expressing my personal style in the different aspects of my life, and on the different ends of my style spectrum. So i didn't. Most people i knew would've said i had a great style. But when circumstances forced me to change, i had no practice in 'flexing' my style. Trust me, it was painful.

Fortunately, flexing your style is easy and cheap to do. You just have to remember to do it  :)  If you tend to be dressy, make outfits out of your 'workaday', more casual clothing. I ended up doing a month-long 'workaday challenge' at the instigation of Cynthia of Be Fabulous Daily last year and learned a LOT. Read all the posts here. To get 'the drift', here's the intro post, and here's the wrap up

Ravina goes retro business casual - & is model, stylist, and photographer
Ravina took the plunge and dressed out of the newtral side of her closet a weekend ago. The outfits she came up with show the more classic, grown up side of her personal style - good to have experience with when you are invited to a professional function, for example. Neither of our experiments required any new purchases - we just used neglected parts of our wardrobes, or combined pieces in non-usual ways.

Setting yourself these type of challenges is a staple of the style blogger world. But you can also look for the areas of your life that could use more style expression/exploration - running errands, the gym, sleepwear, etc. How can you dress as yourself in these areas? Again, most of these areas can be explored very inexpensively at Target, H & M, and so on.
However you choose to explore and expand the limits of your personal style, i can't encourage you enough to do so. It's valuable in so many ways, one of which i've yet to mention. You may very well find that what you thought you knew about yourself isn't so.  A year ago i would never have described my style as anything approaching minimalist - but it turns out it is (even Angie says so!).  I had to find my own way to do minimalist, and stretching my wings in unexpected areas was what helped me to do exactly that. 

Blouse: Butterick 4985
Skirt: own design
Jacket: thrifted
Sandals: Aerosoles


  1. I've been reading right along through the series of articles and thought I should say so. :) I followed the link to Allie's post about copying trends that only a blogger would wear.
    For me, fashion is ideas but I always remember to check the body type of the blogger, fashion pic or website sales catalog photo. When I first see something I get excited but then I cool off when I realize that the person may have used her short-waistedness exactly to create something extraordinary looking for herself - but I'm not built like that!

    I love your outfit with the large neutral plaid jacket from your summation post about the fashion challenge. I'm always drawn to those jackets but if I acquire one I end up purging it because on me it just looks like
    a hearty games mistress at the boarding school in an English novel. At best. I want to look like Amelia Earhardt. :D

    Which brings me to costume/role-playing. I can't help but think of it all as costuming.
    Earlier today I walked to the convenience store to withdraw the max amount of cash in case the hurricane caused the ATM's to go down. The neighborhood is not so safe. I wore medium fade legging jeans, thick soled clompy black loafers with a bit, a dappled looking top and a white jean jacket. The jacket had the pockets and I slung a black casual bag crossbody. It was empty and I planned to put all the money in various pockets of the jacket. (I was robbed a block from my house last year and they took my purse). In a way, this outfit was pure costume because it was supposed to say that I lived here and was not lost or here from the suburbs to buy drugs. That I was reasonably fit and energetic.

    I don't know how to approach dressing from any other philosophy than cinematically.

  2. Vildy, i love to read your writing about clothes!@! a book of your collected essays about style and dressing would be my dream book ( ahhhhh..... :)

    your comments on costume could not be more timely. i'm planning to get into a presentation of Emily Cho's ideas on style 'archetypes' and how you can use them to think about dressing for your 'audience'. i will be very interested in hearing your take on Ms. Cho's ideas.

    well, i don't have to tell you to take care (obviously!). But know that you are in my's just by chance that Mr. E is not in NY visiting family this weekend, fortunately! feel free to leave an 'i'm alive' comment when the worst is over.....

    and Thank you!!! steph

  3. So very well said, TJ. It is a journey worth taking, and sometimes repeating -- trying to find one's style. Becoming a blogger has made me *so* much more aware of clothing and how it makes me feel. I do borrow from other bloggers but I have a "zap" when something is just right for me.

    Love your black + denim look.

  4. oh Vildy, please forgive me for not addressing your being robbed - it's a rotten thing and only that much more rotten when it's where you live. but i can't thank you enough for keeping on with your walking and conducting your life in your neighborhood. so often in this society the 'answer' to violence, esp. against women, is for the attacked person to hide away. that type of thinking blames the wrong person and leads to cramped lives. i really respect you for sticking it out!!! it helps all of us.

    Hello Patti!! thank you - i suspected i wasn't the only one who started style blogging around this type of issue.

    'Go for the *zap*!" our new motto!!

    take care, steph

  5. Since I started this style journey, I find that I'm continually surprised by what works for me. Interestingly, I'm finding myself returning to styles that I'd previously rejected because I considered them unflattering. It's true, you have to keep an open mind and allow yourself to make mistakes. And also realize that in a few years you may change your mind about what looks good!

    Oh, and I can totally relate to your lipstick comment. I've always worn bright lipsticks. Then all a sudden, it seemed like all my lipsticks looked wrong. Maybe it had to do with recent changes in my wardrobe or my eye makeup? Maybe even slight changes in my skin tone/texture or hair color? I don't know, but I'm currently going with a much more understated and neutral lip.

  6. Steph, I hadn't thought I was doing anything for all women! The woman police detective said *she* - a tiny thing like me - would not let it change her behavior one bit. I said, "You, have a gun."

    The robbery does still affect me, of course, but I brought it up as an extreme - though everyday - example of someone whose desired style is in conflict with their reality. :D

    I'm so eager to hear your ideas about Emily Cho. At one time I had all of her books. Are you getting your ideas from the books or are there other writings I don't know about?

    I thought there were some profound ideas - especially about hiding behind your clothing - in one of them but in those years one of her prime solves was to put everyone in a style of jumpsuit! I'm the only woman in the universe who loves jumpsuits. Met my husband wearing a black stretch velour one. Had them in denim, hopsack, you name it. Do not currently own one, alas. Must be that Amelia Erhardt thing again.

  7. I know you're busy with your presentation, but when you get a chance look up Sophie Woodward. She's a cultural anthropologist who worked with Daniel Miller - who's just brilliant about shopping and displaying. If you google scholar her and her book, Why Women Wear What They Wear, you'll find some good stuff.

  8. It can be so tempting to go out there and recreate exact looks from fashion blogs and store mannequins using the most current styles and trends, but it is not ultimately satisfying. I get the most pleasure out of my clothes when I find a new way to style an old favorite or when I throw together an outfit that just clicks in every occasion.
    Thanks for featuring my photos, you're a doll!

  9. Hullo Ms. M!! i'd be fascinated to hear what types of styles you thought unflattering but towards which you find yourself IS surprising! and i think that women's coloring changes during menopause....just a theory.

    Vildy, thank you so much for all your 'info download'! & what a treat to find another fan of Ms. Cho! as a ... hmm.... 'strong believer in adequate hydration' i never went for the jumpsuit aspect. she sure was into it! black velour sounds swank and cozy at once!

    i've never heard of Sophie Woodward OR Daniel Miller - very very excited!!!!

    Hi Ravina! very well put. and no, thank You - i wanted to get photos that put across certain ideas and you posted pictures that were 'bang on'!!! basically, you saved me a lot of work :)

    Happy Sunday!! steph

  10. This post touches on some of the issues I've been thinking about recently - i haven't blogged for 5 months, and my last post was a slightly low-spirited one on body image. I kept reading blogs and reading mags and buying beautiful, fashionable items...and then didn't wear them. I felt 'guilty' - guilty! - for wearing black, and kept buying and buying in the hope I would feel better in the right clothes. I finally bought the book 'Nothing to Wear' by Joe Lupo, and I'm feeling excited about getting dressed again. The reason I'm mentioning this (and pouring my heart out, apparently!) is that I realised during the 5 step procedure that the items I was buying didn't fit in with my lifestyle, my age or the image I wanted to project. I would never have called myself a 'classic' dresser, for example, but I've realised that my silhouette IS quite a classic one -and this, even though you pointed it out months ago! Anyway, should stop writing at some point, but lovely to read your posts again, and I hope you are well and happy!