I have encountered the styles of many women over the years where I know for a fact that I would never wear one item they have on, yet, at the same time, find myself absolutely drawn and inspired by what they are wearing. In fact, this is exactly my job description: to style women in what works and is true for them. I have said before, in order to be a good stylist, I need to blank out my own personal preferences, style leanings, and opinions on what I do and don’t like. My brain needs to go into this neutral place to ensure that I am doing right by each woman that I work with. There is a big difference between saying I don’t like this and saying I don’t like this for me. This ability to find this balance is what separates a good stylist from a bad one.
This begs the question, what is it that enables us to look at what someone is wearing, knowing that in a million years we wouldn’t wear it, and still be able to know it’s right and beautiful and perfect for them? What gives us this natural objectivity? Consider that while few of us would choose to layer ourselves in dozens of chunky necklaces and wear ridiculously oversized glasses, like Iris Apfel, or dress like an overgrown teenager and have hair that is so colorful and unkempt that it’s hard to know where it begins and where it ends, like designer, Betsey Johnson, or assuredly know we don’t necessarily want to dress like Lizzo, but couldn’t imagine Lizzo wearing anything other than what she does. I follow a woman named Mars on Instagram who exclusively wears beautiful vintage clothing from the 30s to the 50s and I am obsessed with all her outfits despite the fact that I could never commit to dressing this way all the time, if at all. This woman doesn’t own one pair of jeans while I would be most comfortable being buried wearing a pair. What is it that draws us towards the style of another person even if we wouldn’t wear what they do?
WE LOVE AUTHENTIC STYLE
Last week, I featured Facebook Group Member of the month, Sarah Blunkosky. This long-running series is an opportunity for stand-out members of my Facebook Group to share a bit about their own style and what makes them tick. One of Sarah’s responses really answered the question above.
When asked, “What advice do you have for others trying to find their style?” she said, “I don’t think people really care what someone’s style is per se, I think folks truly admire others when they are leaning into authentic-to-them style.”
Sarah’s answer was like a light bulb and something I’ve been trying to articulate for years. I think humans are naturally drawn to authenticity. Considering clothing is a strong form of communication and personal expression, it reasons why we find we gravitate towards a person’s style even if we know it’s not for us.
CAPTURE THE FEELING, NOT NECESSARILY THE OUTFIT
This is where the breakdown often occurs. In an effort to capture Your own style, you try to duplicate the outfit, not the feeling you get when you see someone dressing in a way that is authentic to who they are. It’s normal to think it’s the clothing you want. However, try as you might buy the same pieces, to create the exact look, oftentimes it falls flat because you can’t duplicate the same feelings that were evoked when you saw the other person wearing it. You weren’t drawn to the clothes, you were drawn to them! This is not to say we can’t be inspired by the exact look another person creates, but it’s important to go deeper than what you see and ask what exactly you are drawn to. Are you inspired by their ease with who they are, their strength in how they carry themselves, and how natural they come across? What are you craving when you look at this person’s style? These feelings, not the actual clothing, are often what you are looking to replicate.
YOU CAN’T BE IT IF YOU DON’T FEEL IT
I’ve always argued the idea of dress for success and the concept that women need to wear X in order to accomplish Y. It’s faulty because self-perception is critical in communication. And, even if it is at a subconscious level, we all know this. We know how differently we interact and approach the day when we feel in what we are wearing what we want to communicate to others, and also know how differently we engage with the world when we don’t. We know the hole we have wanted to climb into when we’ve been caught off guard wearing something that feels disempowering or doesn’t come close to making us feel good. Therefore, to say that there are generic style rules or looks that need to be followed marginalizes and minimizes women’s personal journeys and who we are individually. You can’t be it if you don’t feel it.
I once said in a blog post that I know when a client’s style isn’t capturing them authentically. The reaction I get is similar to the reaction you have when someone tells you a lie. You don’t know exactly what it is that convinces you when a person isn’t being fully forthcoming, you just know when they aren’t. This is what I feel when I know something is off. It’s not a bad lie, it’s just not the whole truth. Women are too often hamstrung by the goal of perfection, of doing what has been culturally agreed upon as the right thing to do. Women will often sacrifice themselves for the sake of fitting in. It’s easier to become invisible or generic and there is certainly more comfortable in standardizing ourselves so we don’t create waves. It can be seen as a defense mechanism or a form of protection to become just another face in the crowd. You can’t become a target and there is little risk, but there is also very little reward.
Authentic style takes courage and guts. It’s a willingness to live louder, prouder, and to be far less apologetic. If you consider, how corralled women have been for hundreds of years, it’s easy to understand why women will easily wait around to be told what to wear, what’s trendy, and what’s acceptable. Women will sooner ask if something is still in style before they will allow themselves to trust their own inner guidance. If you notice, it’s rare to see a woman come into her own style until later in life because, by this point, she not only knows herself better but has amassed the courage to stop giving a flip about what other people think.
But what if we all gave not just ourselves, but each other, the room to dress authentically if we honored the uniqueness found in each one of us and encouraged each other to lean in fully to what is natural and true, and honest? What if we stopped questioning our own style preferences and didn’t get so hung up on worrying about what others might think? Would you dress how you dress now or would you change things? What would you change? What would you embrace, what would you let go of?
AUTHENTIC STYLE IS WHAT’S AUTHENTIC FOR YOU
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we all become Iris Apfels and Lizzos because this would wholly miss the point of what authentic style means. As Sarah continued with her answer to my question above, she said, “…where is your joy? What fabrics feel nice on your skin? What clothes help you embody your favorite parts of yourself? That’s what I love to see. I admire the CEO feeling great in her blazer and comfy Zoom pants if that feels good for her, the teacher wearing her favorite bright colored accessories with her a-line dress; the retired woman now caregiving for her husband at home wearing a new dress with a bold print she’s excited to wear to go out with for a much-needed respite day with friends for shopping. What clothes help you drape your favorite self? That’s who I love to see.”
THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG TO AUTHENTIC STYLE
There is no right or wrong answer to what your authentic style is. And for many women, the muscle within us has become so atrophied if it was ever developed in the first place. Therefore, if you don’t know what your authentic style is, it stands to reason. But it’s not hard to start this journey. Be gentle with yourself, give yourself more credence, more freedom, to wear what makes you feel most free and alive. Stop caring so much about what everyone is wearing, what the world currently agrees is the right thing to wear. And give others the same graciousness and support to find their way on their own time, and most importantly, notice how often you celebrate authenticity in others. You don’t judge them, you admire them. Know that you are always safe when you dress and live in an authentic manner.
Let’s start 2023 with a sense of freedom. Freedom to be, freedom to let go, freedom to fully express who you are. The world wants to see you, we’ve all been waiting.