When I was a freshman in high school I flunked Algebra and had to spend the time between my freshman and sophomore year taking it again in summer school. I barely eked by that summer and then finished the first quarter of my sophomore year failing Algebra II. Sadly, being a match flunky was nothing new for me. In the third grade my parents kept change on the kitchen table and would quiz me every morning over breakfast because my brain just couldn’t grasp the concept of counting money and because I had a horrible struggle with telling time, they would also pull the kitchen clock off the wall every night after dinner in an attempt to teach me this simple lesson that my brain just couldn’t grasp.
I’ve never been officially diagnosed but I believe I have dyscalculia, which is the mathematical equivalent of Dyslexia and difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as challenges in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, and learning math facts. Seriously, if you want to torture me start a sentence with “A train leaves Chicago at 12pm and…”. As an adult, I’ve learned to cope with my mathematical shortcomings, including using a calculator, triple-checking anything I do involving math and making my husband make the change when the food delivery guy arrives.
I tell you this story not to embarrass myself but to make a point because I’ve been asked on many occasions if I believe that some people are born with style and others aren’t. Expecting me to say that I don’t believe that everyone is born with style (because one trip to a Walmart would definitely back up this belief), people are often surprised to hear that I actually believe that everyone is born with style. Yes, you heard me, I believe that everyone has style.
Now, if you are reading this because you think you don’t have a style or that you too have been in enough Walmarts in the flyover states to think my belief about style is ridiculous, let me explain further. Saying that someone can be born without style is the equivalent of saying that someone can be born without a personality. It’s impossible. However, while I believe that everyone is born with style, I also believe that the difference between a person who has a natural ability to be stylish and someone doesn’t is simply that some people have an easier time with it and others don’t. Just like I am challenged with math someone can be challenged with style. But to say that the stylishly challenged person doesn’t have style is not true.
Going back to the end of the first quarter of Algebra II in my sophomore year, when I was failing yet another math class, I remember making the decision that I would not fail again. As luck would have it, my Algebra II teacher was an extremely committed educator. Every day after school she stayed an hour for anyone who wanted to stop by for extra help. I decided to start going and did so every single day. With all the extra work I did I managed to get a B in Algebra II when report cards came out and never had to take it in summer school. Yet, even with the extra help, I struggled tremendously to get what some of my classmates aced with no extra effort.
I believe that there is a lot of pressure put on women to just get fashion and style as if it is supposed to be coded somewhere in our DNA to like and be fashionable. When a woman notices that she isn’t naturally predisposed towards being stylish it’s easy to think there is something wrong. Let me assure you, if you struggle, there is nothing wrong with you. It’s just not something you aren’t as naturally predisposed to, that’s all, and that’s okay. In fact, if it is any consolation, given how many women I’ve worked with over the years, I’d say you’re more the norm than the exception.
If I don’t have style how do I get it?
#1 Accept it
If you have identified yourself as stylishly challenged there are a few things you can do to help yourself. The first is to stop beating yourself up over the fact that this is hard for you. So style doesn’t come naturally to you, so what? Math doesn’t come easily to me. Accept this and move on.
#2 Create ways that work for how you work
I have some clients who have been with me for years. One in particular stands out in my mind as I write this. This client cannot put an outfit together to save her life and she knows it. One of the services I offer, and she takes great advantage of, is a session where I style looks using the items in a client’s closet and photograph those looks as a reference tool for the client to use after I am gone. Usually, once a client has worked with me long enough they start to become more independent and, over time, develop the ability to style themselves relatively well without my help. But not this client. Even after nine years of working with her client lacks the ability to put an outfit together on her own. She just can’t do it and has years of photo albums recording every single outfit I have styled with her. Yes, my client may struggle but she is smart enough to know that she does and to figured out how to cope and create strategies to help her.
What you need to do is figure out your method for developing your own style. I have some more analytical clients create spreadsheets and charts to figure out their outfits, others who take copious notes that hang in their closets, and one who looks at creating an outfit like cooking and adding ingredients because she has a nutrition background.
Just like I struggle with math, the only way to overcome something is to accept that it’s a challenge and then find shortcuts, coping strategies, and ways to make it make sense to you.
#3- Style has nothing to do with fashion
If you struggle with style and have been pressuring yourself to create an interest in fashion, even though you’d rather not, I want you to stop. This is probably the most important tip I can give you: Style has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion and style are two totally different things. Style is a distinctive form of expression and fashion is simply the tool you use to express it.
Think about the most recognizable style icons that you would identify as stylish. In most cases, what makes these people stylish is not so much in what they wear but in the seamless alignment created between their inner and outer selves. Take someone like Steve Jobs, for example. The man basically wore a black turtleneck and jeans every single day. There was nothing overly fashionable or trendy about this look but it is something that will always be seen as iconic and memorable. In fact, check out all these iconic fashion designers who are also in good company with Steve Jobs with singular looks that aren’t exactly trendy but are very memorable. In addition, for even more thoughts on style having nothing to do with fashion you can read my thoughts here.
#4- Educate yourself
As frustrating and unfair as it seems, image is important. In fact, it is one of the biggest ways we’re perceived by others. This is why most women come to me in transition, particularly career transition. They’re smart enough to know that in order to get where they want to go their style needs to be in alignment with that goal. My job is to not only help them create a style that will get them there but do it in a way that encapsulates their inner selves outwardly.
Not everyone has the budget for a personal style consultation which is why I started this blog. My goal has always been to give down-to-earth and sound advice about how to get dressed. While I hope you consider me a valued resource, here are additional things you can do.
Finding your personal style is a very visceral and instinctual experience. Style is found beneath the chatter of the mind, the worry if something is trendy and the panic of whether the style is right for the body. Style is a reaction, it can’t be thought about. This is why I created the magazine exercise. Go through catalogs and magazines and to pull out images that you respond to. The important part about this exercise is that you need to respond quickly to an image. If you spend more than five seconds looking at something pull it out save it. The images don’t necessarily have to be fashion and they can be anything from products to architecture to a landscape. After you are done pulling out images lay them out in front of you and just look at them. You may start to notice themes, connections in all the images or repetition. This is what you want to pay attention to because this is your style trying to talk to you. If you don’t trust yourself enough, ask a friend to look at all the images you pulled, and give their opinion on what they see.
Another way to do this is to use Pinterest. Go through fashion images on Pinterest and repin anything and everything that draws your eye (side note: you can follow me on Pinterest here). If you stop, pin it and when you’re through go through the same exercise you would with the magazine exercise. If you wonder if this works, I will tell you that after years of doing this my clients I’ve never had a client not pull exactly what their style is. It’s quite remarkable, actually. They’ll hand me a stack of magazine images and feel like the failed and when I look at them I am able to see their style staring me right in the face.
Lastly, talk to other women who you find stylish and ask them for help. Recently a woman hired me after asking a stylishly dressed colleague how she always managed to look so pulled together. Turns out this stylish woman was a client of mine years ago and was happy to share my info as a resource. Fashionable and stylish women aren’t nearly as smug and snooty as the media tends to portray them. In fact, I think any woman would be flattered if another woman asked them their style secrets.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
– Martha Graham
Now go get your style. It’s waiting for you.