Creating a Signature Style: Confessions of a long-time Francophile
Posted on January 06 2020
When I was in college, my sense of style somewhat resembled an extreme weight-loss "after" photo - you know, the kind where the person puts on their old clothes that are now 6 sizes too big. The nuns at my grade school would have been so pleased - there was no chance I was going to stray into a life of sin when I was so busy covering myself up. I wore mostly what I had leftover from high school, having a deeply ingrained sense that buying myself nice clothes was a waste of money.
Then I spent a year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. One thing that will always stick with me, which is of course no surprise, was that the women looked perfect most of the time.
This was me for the first half of my year abroad:
At a time when many young American women are trying to decide if those pajama bottoms can double as pants (they can’t) and whether they should still wear an oversized cartoon logo t-shirt from 8th grade (no), young French women are already experimenting with sophisticated, sexy looks that they know will become their signature style for decades. They dress with intention and authenticity. The term “throw on” does not ever describe a French woman’s dressing ritual. By the time she is in her thirties, a French woman has a uniform of sorts - a signature style to which she sticks most of the time, which frees her up to choose high quality clothing and accessories that last her a lifetime.
My environment eventually began to rub off on me. Surrounded by all of those young women who dressed thoughtfully and conscientiously, I began little by little to shift my attitude about clothes. Even though I had the typical American hostility to being told I was "doing it wrong," I had to admit that they had a point.
I’m not here to try to tell you to dress like the French (that would go against their belief that you should only ever dress like yourself, not someone else). However, we can learn some important lessons from these icons of style, primary among them is that we should find a signature look that looks and feels great, and stick to that look most of the time.
Will you be bored, wearing the same style every day? No! Fumbling around with every trend or style will leave you exhausted and frustrated, and probably broke.
Paring down to a signature look will actually free you up to experiment more. With a neutral palette or a basic silhouette in your arsenal, you can focus on details and accessories that really make your look pop.
Need some proof? Learn from these savvy ladies:
- This woman wore the same outfit for over 3 weeks
- This woman wore the same dress every day for a year
Wearing the same thing every day for a year is a bit extreme (unless you are writing a blog about it!), but they make a great case for a simple, sophisticated, versatile foundational look comprised of high quality clothing that looks great and lasts.
STEP ONE: Find your Uniform
Your signature style needs to work for your taste, body, age, and lifestyle. That's a tall order. Let's get to work.
What clothes make you feel great?
By this point in your life, you probably have a few decades of dressing under your belt, so make a list (actually write it down) of the things you like to wear. Try not to be constrained by what you are forced to wear; take a moment to ask yourself what makes you feel powerful? Sexy? Connected? Artistic? Strong? Beautiful?
What clothes earn you the most compliments?
Now make a second list - what items do others seem to appreciate on you? Solicit advice from friends if you need to. Think of people you trust whose fashion sense you admire - good friends, sisters, or partners who “Ooh” and “Ahh” over a party dress or a particularly well-thought-through outfit. You know who they are.
My friends from college and I, still vaguely bitter that we can’t be roommates anymore, have a years-long text thread rife with selfies seeking fashion advice. Asking for help here is just continuing the old conversations we used to have with our sisters and friends when we lived together: Does this outfit look good?
Remember, those who love us can tell when we feel confident and when we want to sink into the floor, so their reaction to us reflects our own feelings as much as their taste.
Find the intersection
I’m trying to avoid telling you to make a Venn Diagram, but you should totally make a Venn Diagram. Mine looks like this:
That diagram provides me the guidance I need: my signature look should be a flowy and loose top half (tunics, layers, flowy tops, chunky sweaters), and a thinner-silhouette lower half (leggings, skinny jeans). I’ve known that for a long time, as you might suspect. After all, here I am right after getting back from my year abroad:
Okay, people who aren't data nerds like me will probably not make a Venn diagram, but if you do, please share below! Venn or no, it's all about getting your head around what you love and what looks great on you.
Voilà! You have found your signature style! Félicitations!
STEP TWO: Collect inspiration
Use Pinterest, fashion magazines, fabric swatches - whatever you need to create an inspiration board.
If you can find pictures of women who have your body type wearing the kinds of clothes you love, you will able to more easily picture yourself in your favorite looks.
STEP THREE: Clear out your closet and take inventory
Now that you know what sorts of clothes you want to wear most often, it's time to Marie Kondo your closet. I know, even Marie herself admits she can’t Marie Kondo her own house now that she has kids. But regardless of the chaos in the rest of the house, you should be able to control your own (half of the) closet.
Take a good look at your closet and keep in mind that every item in there that doesn’t fit your style profile, is interfering with you having a closet full of clothes that fit your needs right now.
Everything in your closet should spark joy, ladies, but it should also fit your signature style. Take an inventory when you are done, compare it to your inspiration boards, and determine what you need to buy.
While you are digging through your closet, find a top, a dress, and a pair of pants that fit you exactly the way you want your clothes to fit, and measure them, like this. Those numbers will come in handy when you shop at Three Wrens!
STEP FOUR: Fill in the gaps
On to the fun part - shopping! Now that you have all that closet space, it's time to fill in the gaps with great clothes that you love! Thankfully, now that you know exactly what you need, shopping will be less overwhelming.
A few words of advice:
- Focus on high quality basics first
- Get the best quality you can afford
- Tailor items so they fit perfectly
Shopping for basics can seem like a boring task, but with a knockout pair of, for example, black trousers, you can showcase almost any top and look fantastic, so get those pieces right.
FINAL WORD: Treat your clothes like the treasures they are
It’s remarkable how easy it is to postpone treating a spot on a black top when you have 7 more black tops in your closet. When you only have two, that top is getting meticulously cared for. And since it’s a high quality, beautiful item that is perfect for you, it’s worth that effort.
How can you extend the life of your clothes? I'm going to skip to the master class here, assuming you know not to put your sweaters in a hot-water wash.
- Laundering is murder on fabric, so see if you can make spot cleaning a part of your regular nighttime ritual. Keeping a small squirt bottle filled with laundry detergent in my bathroom transformed my laundry habits, and my clothes are the better for it
- A lingerie bag is a great tool - keep delicates in there for gentle cycle, cold water washing
- Keep your clothes in drawers whenever possible to save space and avoid stress at the shoulder seems
- Use velvet or wooden hangers for the items you must hang.
- As to your jeans - click here to read about how to make your denim last and last
The End Goal: Dress more like YOU!
Let 2020 be the year you take control of your closet, rediscover your personal style, and treat yourself like the gorgeous woman you are. You are worth the time and effort it will take to transform your wardrobe.
At Three Wrens, we want to make sure you have everything you need to create a look that will help you look and feel beautiful. Happy shopping!