Today we have a Fashion Friday post from guest blogger Kasia over at Writer’s Block. Some of you might remember her as the force behind The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, an excellent and rather varied collection of essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and art on the theme of motherhood. Check out her blog and the anthology, but first enjoy her timely post on style correlation.
Are you a style icon? I’m not.
But I do like to watch and learn. I travel on the train to work, and if I’m too tired to do anything but stare around in a zombie-like fashion, then I can’t help observing my fellow commuters. Discreetly, of course – there’s nothing more likely to have you labelled as the train lunatic (there’s one in every carriage) than sticky-beaking unashamedly at the people around you.
As a result of my gawking research, I’ve come up with a working theory about style. There are perhaps three schools of commuters. Firstly, those who are bursting through the cutting edge of fashion – whether it suits them or not. Often they are beautifully groomed, having spent at least an hour in front of the mirror before hopping on the 8.07am. I guess that I can admire the time and effort that they must go to, although part of me wants them to rebel against the sycophantic dictates of the industry that tells them they will look wonderful in neon yellow this season. Unless, of course, they do glow in neon.
The second group just don’t care, and I suppose I’d divide them into those who have a noble disregard for their appearance (a freelance sculptor I know comes into this category – he used to come to work in his pyjama top), and those who are, well, slobs. Sometimes it can be pretty hard to tell the difference. It may come down to how articulate you are. 😉
The third group? These women have their own styles, regardless of fashion. It can be a brave position to take – the peer pressure to all look the same is not inconsiderable. This third group I’d also split, but by a sort of style correlation factor. Let me explain.
There are some women I see, about whom I think: “Wow – I love that top/skirt/magician’s cape! I wonder if I should try one of those?” High style correlation. I’m not saying that my taste is better than anyone else’s, just that these people have a similar look or body shape, and they have dealt with it beautifully. They give me ideas. Sometimes it’s just a small thing, like wearing brightly coloured stockings with a monochrome outfit – a little whimsy that I saw a woman in the city carry off with terrific elan, and which I now often wear in winter. I do love colour, and being able to add a flash of it to a more sober suit is a joy.
Some people are trying but, well, they just get it wrong. We all have those days, I think. Too tight, too short, not right for our body shape or colouring. I’d call this one Low Style correlation, because of course, it’s only my personal taste that says that look isn’t right. There is a woman who I see most days, who always wears black, head to toe. Layers of black, in an unflattering cut. I long to be able to suggest to her tactfully, that unless she is in mourning, she would look so much better in colour, but I know black is easy. Perhaps even lazy. Perhaps, and I suspect this is closer to the truth, she just wants to disappear into the background, which is a bit sad.
Then there are those who provoke the thought: “Wow – you look great in that! But not for me.” These women often have superbly quirky styles – the goth girl who is as white and lithe as bamboo grown in the dark, with long green hair.
The chick who looks like she walked off the set of Mad Men (and the amount of time required to achieve that corseted, lacquered mid-twentieth century look makes me shudder).
The lady with generous curves who dresses with terrific colour sense and flamboyance.
I would never choose to wear what they have chosen, but I can appreciate it. I love the fact that they have been able to bring their personality out in their clothes: that they seem to be having fun with their appearance. I see joy and playfulness in these women, each with their very different styles.
Style is inherently a matter of taste.
What I think these women have in common is a terrific natural self-confidence. They can rock their own style, to use a great American phrase. You’ve got to admire that. My point is this: you don’t need to give a stuff about what is in Vogue this year. You don’t have to bow to some bimbo in advertising. If you love hats, then wear them with verve, and people will admire you for it. If you want to wear studs and chains, go for it. Red rubber shorts? If you can carry it, and they suit you, why not?
You may need to grit your teeth at first. It’s a scary, judgmental world out there; you need only look at the statistics about body image to get confirmation of that. To give you some examples, 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships (from HeartofLeadership.org). Beyond Stereotypes, the 2005 study commissioned by Dove, surveyed 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries. They found that 67% of all women aged 15 to 64 withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks.
A random stranger once reached across, tapped me on the arm, and said, “You know, you’re very pretty,” and then kept looking out the window. I was blown away and have never forgotten it. It’s only happened once. I don’t even remember what I was wearing, but I do recall the courage it must have taken for her to say that to a stranger, and also how it made me glow all day. This could be a reflection of my vanity, but there are so many images and messages out there all the time telling you that you’re not good enough. You know the ones – the photoshopped perfection of magazines, the insidious messages of advertising. That sneaky little voice that says: “You could have perfect skin if you just buy this cream.” They’re all selling hope. Hope that you will look better.
Imagine if every time we saw someone with their own style who looked terrific, we could tell them so. They might be putting their own style out there, but cowering inside. A little encouragement can go an awfully long way.
If we all had the confidence to rock our own style, the world would be a much more intriguing, varied, and happier place.
Would you like to write a guest post for our Fashion Fridays series? Check out the Fashion page on this blog for more information and some examples, then query me with your idea!