“Define your style!” the quiz lures me in with promises of a definitive label for my look, along with a handy shopping list for the perfect capsule wardrobe.
Dutifully I start ticking off answers. All too soon it becomes apparent that there are not only no right answers, there are no right questions either. But I keep trying, assuming the problem is me and not the quiz. When I finish the numbers proclaim me somewhere between a French minimalist* and a preppy, and that’s only because I can’t in anyway be considered a glamorista or modernist. Then the quiz tells me to go buy a trench coat and some ballet flats, and I throw the whole thing out in disgust.
Are those really my only options? French minimalists, preppy, glamorista and modernist?
Not according to Hollywood costumer Alison Freer. In her book How to Get Dressed**, she suggests that we should all strive to be the costume designer of our own life by developing a signature style. While that sounds like the baffling sort of thing only crazy, high-achieving women do, it turns out to be both simple and brilliantly freeing.
Freer suggests you start by making a list of things you love. There need be no actual connection to clothes, just list things you are drawn to. Soon you will see patterns emerging. Elements of your heritage, tastes and interests will simmer there on the list, eventually bubbling up into a cohesive style. Freer suggests grabbing a thesaurus if you need to find just the right words for your style.
Then name your look. Be playful and have fun with it. This works like magic. Once I discovered the thrill of Freer’s technique I began trying to name the styles of friends: “Quirky preppy,” “European Eugenian,” and “1970s trust-fund on the run.” Freer describes her own style as “Backwoods Nuveaux,” combining her Texas roots with a heavy 1980s new wave influence.
What follows was my own process: First the list –
It took less than 10 minutes to list my words, and I was surprised to see what came up in a stream-of-consciousness “Things I like” list. Then I just stared at it for a while. And like reading an alethiometer or creating a patronus, it was just there.
1940s Pin-up Hiker.
Everything became clear. This is why I wear pearls with cargo pants. The 1940s pin-up hiker has a curvier figure, rather than then the willowy women I see in the Prana catalog. Her active wear is well made and meant to last seasons if not generations. She smiles. My 1940s pin-up hiker look is wool, cotton, linen, denim and silk. It’s neutral colors and classic accessories. The look is unapologetically feminine and sporty.
But this signature style doesn’t quite fit all my moods. Freer suggests we all have more than one signature style waiting to walk out of our lists. I stared at the words a little longer until I put my finger on the look I have been unwittingly moving into for the last 8 years.
There has always been something about the well-heeled suburbanite woman that fascinates me: the shiny-clean house, the finely tuned to-do lists, the Olympian commitment to physical appearance. But I would never want that life. I have too much affinity for the mess and chaos of this world to settle down into well-ordered perfection.
My Stepford Hippie looks says, “Yes, I got my kids to all their sports practices on time, and have the most delicious, nutrient rich meal in my shiny clean crockpot. But I got it all done because I’m wearing a special Tiger’s Eye necklace I bought in Sedona to engage the vibrations of the vortex in my everyday life.”
Stepford Hippie is second hand Hunter mud boots. It’s the perfect jeans, diamond stud earrings*** with a hand-me-down boho top. My Stepford Hippie follows most of the rules, most of the time. The look embraces my roll as a mom and wife, and as an individual.
Words are powerful. So take your time in choosing just the right phrase for your look. Once you have established your own, signature style, getting dressed is a breeze. Shopping becomes so much easier. Rather than being handed a list of “French minimalist capsule” pieces**** that may or may not work with your body or your life, you decide.
* Why is it always French minimalist? Why not Polish minimalist? Or Norse maximalist?
** If you jump over to the Book List tab you’ll find a link to Amazon for this book.
*** Always faux or second hand. The Stepford Hippie isn’t giving one penny of her money to the diamond industry.
**** I honestly have no use for a trench coat.