There was a great line in the Hulu series Only Murders in the Building starring Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez (which I haven’t finished yet so no spoilers in the comment section.) Steve Martin says, “How do you carve a statue of an elephant?” “Easy. Just get a block of stone and carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” That quote, which is very much like the quote about how Michelangelo sculpted in marble — that every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it — inspired today’s post.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how women search for their personal style and what a futile effort that can be, particularly when it comes to giving your style a label or a name. So when I say “finding your style,” I am not implying finding it so you can define it and give it some sort of definition. What I mean is, finding the clothing and styles that feel authentic to you. Women go on searches to find their style and often the majority of the effort is done through their own version of hunting and gathering. If they buy more something might click. After all, shopping is a numbers game, eventually, the odds will swing in your favor. But doing it this way is a backward approach, especially when you have a lot of information at your fingertips you can utilize without shopping for more. It’s through eliminating.
FINDING YOUR STYLE THROUGH PROCESS OF ELIMINATION
The average woman can more readily tell you what she doesn’t like to wear than what she does because she likely has more experiences with failures than she does with successes. We know if we’re a frilly person or not. We know how we feel when we wear something that feels off, and most women certainly have enough things hanging in their closets that never get worn to indicate what they aren’t jazzed about. These things are the non-elephant parts of the sculpture or your style. If you want to sculpt your elephant, a.k.a. find your style, the best way to do it is to remove those non-elephant parts.
THE MORE GRANULAR YOU ARE THE BETTER OFF YOU WILL BE
You need to get granular about this exercise if you want to be successful. It’s not just about liking cardigans, it’s getting granular about the types of cardigans, the color of the cardigans, the length, fit, closure, and so on. So to say you like a modern look is not enough. Case in point, I constantly rave about J.Crew’s vintage t-shirts being my absolute favorite tees, so much so that you would think I own every color they offer by now. I own two v-necks in grey and navy, one in white and one in olive because what I know about myself from getting granular is that I will never wear a t-shirt in a color. Even if the color is perfect on me, even if the shade will work in my wardrobe, I know that every time I have bought a t-shirt in a color it wasted away in my drawers.
Take what works and what you like and dig as deep as you can. What is it about the piece that makes it a winner for you every time wear it and, more importantly, what about the things you don’t wear bother you? Why do those things just hang there? Why do you feel off every time you try to wear X? What are the non-elephant parts of your closet trying to tell you? Look for patterns and consistencies and then avoid them in the future and look for the patterns and consistencies that do work and repeat them. Over time you’ll start to see an elephant emerge from the stone.
FINDING YOUR STYLE THROUGH ELIMINATION FREES UP TREMENDOUS BANDWIDTH
While kicking around this blog post in my head, I had an appointment with Ms. Chic. She’s one of the clients I have blogged about the longest and has actually accumulated fans due to her fantastic style. We were heading home after our session and needed to take the same subway line home. Above us, there happened to be an advertisement for some sort of medical professional school where all the people in the ads were wearing scrubs. I asked Ms. Chic, “would you be okay wearing scrubs every day?” Given her style, given what she invests in clothing, and the time she has put towards working with me, I expected her to immediately say, “No way!” but instead, without pause, Ms. Chic replied with an emphatic, “YES!” I was stymied but then she explained that if she didn’t need to spend all this money on clothing because of her image requirements at work she could then use that money on other things.
We continued our ride with me still studying the models wearing scrubs in the ad. I turned to her, and said, “You know, in a lot of ways, we all wear our own versions of scrubs. Well if we’re smart we do.” We continued to discuss this and I said, “Over time, we just become more and more clear about what works and what doesn’t, and the more we eliminate and distill this down the easier it becomes getting dressed.” I explained that the reason most women hire me is not because of fashion necessarily but to help them free up precious bandwidth so they can put it towards things that matter. And as a result of that, my job isn’t to necessarily overburden my clients with clothing choices but, instead, to get granular with them in a really strategic way. It was thinking about this elephant quote that I realized that so much of my work isn’t just about adding more but also about taking away and eliminating so a client can be more focused, clear, and efficient about getting dressed.
Even Ms. Chic who has a larger wardrobe than average still has a very clear look, so much so that we have named a blue shade Ms. Chic Blue (well in real life her actual first name is used), and when we were shopping last week and put together an outfit that was a consistent and authentic representation of her style I declared loudly, “There she is!” because at that moment what she was wearing, a sheath and a sharp blazer was so clearly an example of her elephant.
YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO SAY NO
Eliminating the non-elephant parts to sculpt your elephant can get emotional because sometimes we don’t want to accept the things we have to eliminate. There is a reality about it that we have to face and accept which also means letting ideals go that aren’t realistic. But it’s also an incredibly powerful feeling when you can confidently say, “I don’t wear that.” To know yourself that well, to be that confident that no matter which trend comes down the pike, that you can still be choosy is a woman who has no real emotional attachments to clothing and is only interested in whether or not it is serving her. Sure, I wish I could be the person who looks adorable in a midi skirt and sneakers or could stand a ruffle or two, but those whistful feelings are nothing compared to how I feel when I put something on that makes me feel like a strong, powerful, woman when I wear it. I know what my non-elephant parts are and every time I find another part of the marble to chip away I feel inspired and not deprived.
YOUR ELEPHANT IS RIGHT THERE
If you want to know your style it’s literally right there staring at your waiting for you to uncover it. It’s not out there somewhere requiring you to become all Magellan-like to find it. There are hints and clues staring you right in the face, emotional cues that indicate what you respond to positively and negatively, and the deeper and more granularly you dig into these messages and eliminate that which does not serve you, or that which is not elephant, the more deeply you will find it.