Style isn’t just about fashion. When we get dressed, we have the freedom to highlight aspects of ourselves – our mood, our fantasies, roles we’d like to play – through our clothing choices everyday. Personal style is our conscious self-expression. The question is, how do we figure out what to say?
Master Image Consultant, speaker, author and doyenne of creative dressing, Sue Donnelly, shares some thoughts about personal style.
Is style learned or intuited?
It can be both. Some people are instinctively drawn to clothes that look great on them. They easily find the perfect accessory, or see that a hemline needs shortening without really knowing (or asking themselves) why.
Others will go through an analytical process before deciding what to wear. They may have learned that they have short legs, and need clothes that create the illusion of length. Or maybe they understand that their slim shoulders look best with a wider neckline. For some people, looking their best has ‘rules’ attached.
I’m a mixture of both. My style has become more intuitive as my confidence has grown. I’ve learned to trust my instinct on what looks and feels right.
As a new image consultant, it made sense to follow rules. Now I realize that this wasn’t always entirely successful. At times my style was boring and predictable, and I got no real joy from my wardrobe. I created the illusion of a well-proportioned body, but my soul missed out on the party!
So how do you know when a style is ‘right’?
My style has to enhance my looks, be current, comfortable and totally appropriate. My look doesn’t stand still – I love fashion too much. I think style follows the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). The 80% is about comfort for me, which may sound boring and old-fashioned, but it works. So you get the picture, imagine me in a changing room, waving my arms around like a banshee, or testing my overlarge stride!
I need to know that I’ve chosen the right clothes for the occasion and the people I’m with. I’d be mortified turning up in an inappropriate outfit, although I’m more than happy wearing something unusual.
To be truly comfortable, I need to dress with authenticity and uniqueness. The 20% can be more fluid. This allows me to change how I look according to my mood, my life and my needs.
For a while, I dressed my “comfort” creatively. I’m currently looking a little more dramatic in a simplistic, understated way. Variety is key for me, but not at the expense of representing who I really am.
I know I’ve got it right when my wardrobe is a haven of pieces I love that can be mixed and matched for any occasion.
What would you say to someone looking for their own style?
Your Style should:
• Be an outward representation of your inner persona – your Soul
• Flatter you physically – your Silhouette
• Enable you to get what you want out of life – your Spirit
Consider your passions – what fires you up? What do you love? If you adore exotic places, your style could encapsulate bright colours, rich fabrics, heavy jewellery, sun-kissed hair and makeup. If you love order, your clothing might feature symmetrical design with crisp, neat lines.
To know if a piece is physically flattering, look for things that appeal to you, then try them on without looking in a mirror. You’ll know if it feels right, which a visual check usually confirms. And be open to new ideas and try things on. If it doesn’t work, just have a laugh.
Because clothes are our visual shorthand, we need to ensure our personal style is sending the right message. Wearing a ‘uniform’ that isn’t right for you can mean you’re in the wrong job, are with the wrong partner, or are aiming for something that isn’t really authentic. Think about what you want in your life, and dress accordingly. But ensure it feels right for you.
What’s so great about looking like yourself?
We all have bits that we don’t like. Luckily, God has given us diminishing eyesight as we age – I’m much kinder to myself these days!
I love that I can wear my hair really, really short. I love my retro glasses and my large eyes, and the fact that I can carry a super bright lipstick.
Now in my mid 50’s, I’m happy to look a little eccentric. I don’t need, or want, to be part of a tribe. I want my own unique look, and I’m not afraid to go for it by staying curious.
Like this? Last week, Can These Shoes Make You Invincible? 5 Women Discuss the Amazing Power of Clothes