One conversation. Two aficionados. Three tips about finding your personal style. Meet Veronique Henderson, Creative Director of Colour Me Beautiful, and Tony Glenville, Creative Director of the London College of Fashion.
We all know that true style comes from within. Anyone with great personal style will say that they’re being themselves, just choosing what feels right. It sounds simple enough.
But anyone who’s tried finding their style knows it takes time to look like yourself. It takes experimentation, trial and error and an understanding that the most amazing story is your own. Self-awareness is a key to true style. That, and a little je ne sais quoi…
So when I meet up with two style mavens, I know better than to quiz them on how they found their look. Most people who’ve cracked the code won’t have a clue how they got there (trust me, I’ve asked!).
Yet these people are fluent in what shapes suit their bodies, what colours and designers work, and how to keep the look fresh. Over time, that process becomes instinctive. And that instinct helps us look like ourselves, instead of copying friends, celebrities or the salesperson in the shop.
Tip 1: Know Your Shape
Veronique Henderson says it all starts here: “I’ve learned what silhouette suits me. My body shape is what’s called a round. My clothes are fluid and hang from the shoulders, and bottoms are always fitted. And I’m always in low heels. I wear this silhouette most days.”
Tony Glenville knows that structure does it for him. “I like tailoring,” he says. “I look terrible in casual clothing. It looks wrong. My silhouette is usually jeans with a tailored jacket – and usually a scarf.”
Both agree that a cornerstone of personal style is in working out the details, like the best length of skirt on a woman, or the shape of jacket on a man.
“The calibrations are much finer in menswear,” Glenville notes. “It’s really about the details. If you’re good in tailoring, learn whether a 2 or 3 button works better. Vents or no vents? Get to know the shape of key pieces, like shirts, jackets and jeans that work on you.”
It all starts falling into place once you’ve identified your best silhouette. When you’ve nailed that…
Tip 2: Inject Pizazz
“Tony uses glasses and facial hair to make a statement,” Henderson says. “And scarves!” Glenville adds. “I have a big pile of my current favourites by the door. I always choose one as I’m going out.”
For men, Glenville suggests learning what basic colour groups work, and then “being a bit daring with colour, maybe under something, or in a tie and cufflinks.”
“Veronique does it with her accessories,” he says. Simple, but elegant clothes with the punch of fabulous accessories – that’s her look.
Henderson is rarely without her trademark scarf and her bold silver jewellery: “This Georg Jensen necklace is my signature piece. I’ve barely taken it off since I got it. I have a few different chain lengths, depending what top and neckline I’m wearing.”
So Glenville has his trademark moustache, glasses, tailored jacket and scarf. Henderson has her scarves and her trademark silver jewellery. In fact, they both look very much the same most of the time.
But here’s the kicker: instead of looking boring, consistency makes their signature looks sing.
In his book, Ignore Everybody, Hugh Macleod writes: ‘You have to find your own shtick. A Picasso always looks like Picasso painted it. Hemingway always sounds like Hemingway. A Beethoven symphony always sounds like a Beethoven symphony. Part of being a master is learning how to sing (or dress – that’s my add-on) in nobody else’s voice but your own.’
Tip 3: Be a 1-Trick Pony (with an element of surprise)
So personal style is about nailing your basic silhouette (and riffing on that). It’s about adding pizazz in a way that feels right for you, and making that a pillar of your look (think Grace Coddington’s red mane, or Iris Apfel’s ballsy accessories and trademark glasses).
What makes you recognizable and unique? A colour you love? Your glasses, hairstyle or accessories?
“Even when you’ve figured out what works, you still need an element of surprise,” Henderson adds. Glenville is nodding: “You still have to keep experimenting to keep your look evolving. It’s important not to get lazy.”
Fashion can help, but having a style shouldn’t be confused with being trendy.
“A key fashion person like Anna Wintour has her own style. Fashion goes around her,” Glenville notes. “She buys Prada, but it always suits her. She’s not just succumbing to a trend. She doesn’t change her skirt length. When platforms were in, she didn’t wear them, but instead kept her elegant line, right down to her footwear.”
So while Anna Wintour is always current, she always looks like herself (sunglasses, the bob and her trademark silhouette).
For the rest of us, creating an element of surprise might be a variation on a signature staple – a pattern instead of a block colour in a scarf, for example. Or a slightly new shape on a pair of glasses, or adding a pocket square to a jacket.
I can’t help asking if finding their own style – something I call authenti-chic – has changed their lives?
“It’s liberating,” Glenville says. “It’s one less thing to worry about.”
Henderson agrees: “Everything is SO much simpler. But you can’t find your style overnight. Be patient. It takes time, but it’s worth it.”
Photography by Antonina Mamzenko