Be Your Own Costume Designer: Your Style is Your Signature
You already know that good clothes really do open all doors. That’s not to say that your clothes need to be fancy, expensive, or even any particu¬lar style. But they are the first thing people judge you on, and your clothes say a lot about you before you even open your mouth. So it’s important to be the boss lady in charge of what your style is saying about you behind your back. This means you should spend at least a little time acting as your own costume designer, figuring out your “signature style.” I know a handful of people who have their signature style down cold—I could take one glance at them from the back on a crowded street and instantly know, “Oh yeah, that’s her.” But how did they get this style? The answer is that they most likely gave it to themselves. Taking the time to figure out your own signature style is something most people have never considered doing, but it’s a great tool to have at your disposal if you often find yourself in a dressing room, uncertain if something works for you, reduced to texting photos of a dress to all your pals with the question: “Should I buy this? Yes or no?” Because that’s all style really is—a tool. When used wise¬ly, it removes doubt from getting dressed and can make you feel cooler, smarter, sexier, and stronger. Who doesn’t want that?
YOUR STYLE IS YOUR SIGNATURE
Finding your signature style only sounds like something that takes a lifetime to accomplish. It’s actually pretty easy and lots of fun! The end goal is to come up with a few words or a clever, visual phrase that really sums up who you are as a person. You can then lean on that phrase while shopping or getting dressed each morning. It becomes a lens to filter how the world views you—and more importantly, how you view yourself. But why do you need to bother finding your signature style, anyway? It’s obviously not vital to our continued survival as the human race, but there is inherent value and power in knowing what you are projecting to the world every time you get dressed. That’s the main reason I have a job dressing people who are in the public eye—clothes are instant visual cues to who a person is, where they came from, and where they may be going.
To get started, make a list of all the things you like. This list can include absolutely anything that moves you, because there’s way more to having a signature style than just the clothes you wear. I believe it’s actually a combination of the history, art, music, food, hobbies, and culture that speak to you. In the beginning stages of sleuthing out what your signa¬ture style really is, write down everything you can think of that interests you as a jumping off point to delve into what your core style may be. This is my exact process to figure out a character’s look on a show, by the way—I break out an old-fashioned yellow legal pad and force myself to think like the character. What books does she like? What things does she hold sacred? What’s her favorite color? What types of art does she gravitate toward? I write it all down, and a clear picture of the charac¬ter starts to appear, slowly but surely. When you apply this process to yourself, you’re actually acting as your own costume designer! And you might be surprised where your character’s style exploration leads you.
Here’s my personal style study as an example: I am a proud Texan. (There is no other kind of Texan, actually.) There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss and think fondly of my home state. So cowboy boots and country-girl style are always going to work their way into my look. But I’m also a die-hard new-waver—the very first concert I ever saw was Depeche Mode. My entire high school career was spent wearing black knee-high socks, black suspenders, and my grandfather’s old black trousers that I chopped at the knee to show off my socks. I also sported a pretty sweet bi-level, asymmetrical “wedge” haircut in a town where cheerleaders with ribbons in their ponytails were the ideal of beauty. As a result, black and edgy pieces will always find their way into my closet, no matter what I try to do. It’s practically genetic at this point. But my love for country-tinged looks is never-ending as well, so I call my current style “Backwoods Nouveau.” It means that my go-to slouching around town look is usually a pair of leather-trimmed jeans, a snap-front west¬ern inspired shirt, and brightly-colored ankle boots with simple, poppy details. Sometimes I swap in cowboy boots and an old T-shirt—making sure to pile on some colorful, geometric plastic jewelry to give the cow¬boy boots that missing new-wave edge.
Whatever your signature style, it can definitely change and grow—you can even have two at once! Whenever I’m feeling the need to “grow up” my professional look a bit, I find myself inexplicably drawn to very classic, heavily tailored pieces. I’ve also started properly reading the books I only skimmed in high school—Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, and Madame Bovary. I’ve even found myself suddenly wanting to listen to classical music in my office while I work! Which is all terrifying, as I’ve always prided myself on being weird and different, edgy and against the grain. But I’ve decided to give in to my ladylike-loving side a bit—just being sure to always temper it with something slightly bizarre. As a result, I’m calling my sec¬ondary signature style “Genteel Bizarro.” (I got that from consulting my trusty thesaurus for synonyms for both “ladylike” and “weird.”)
What does it mean style-wise? It means that I’ve started buying simple sheath dresses and tempering their classic, conservative edge with downright creepy jewelry like gold eyeball earrings and knife rings. The resulting mash up is a look that doesn’t hit you over the head at first glance, but reveals itself over the course of a conversation. It’s great to go to a business meeting and watch people notice the subtle yet slightly gory details of my otherwise perfect ladylike outfits.
Figuring out your own signature style isn’t as hard as it may seem. Practically any keywords that you identify with can be melded into a sig¬nature style—because there’s actually way more to having a signature style than just the clothes you wear. You can use almost anything that interests you as a jumping off point to delve into what your core style may be. This exercise is an excellent way to get your wheels turning as to what really floats your style boat. Get a pen, paper, and your thesau¬rus (I swear, it helps!) and spend some time laser focusing your current or aspirational signature style down to just two or three words. You want to get to the heart of who you are, what interests you, and what you really want to present to the world before you allow yourself to go forth and shop. Your signature style can be as simple or fantastical as you want it to be.
Reprinted from HOW TO GET DRESSED Copyright © 2015 by Alison Freer. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.