Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Fashion: from the outside

Style: from the inside

Okay, you won't find those definitions anywhere but in my own head, but it's the conclusion I've come to after reading two books last months on style. However one defines those two terms, the distinction is important when considering one's wardrobe.

Fashion is something I've never possessed, and have only rarely wanted to. There were times in adolescence when I would try to jump on the fashion bandwagon, but it was almost always too little, too late. And though I had moments of it bothering me, it never bothered me enough to make the necessary effort to be truly fashionable.

Now I realize how very enlightened I was.

Because style is entirely different. It's not about what you wear--it's about who you are and how your choices in clothing reflect who you are.

(I'm not going to get into the whole philosophical argument that people should not be judged by their clothing--that may be nice in theory, but as any mother of teenagers knows, practically speaking people will make assumptions about us based on what we wear and how we wear it. So let's just take that as a given for the remainder of this post.)

I had help defining the issue with two books that I read last month: LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF STYLE by Nina Garcia and TIM GUNN'S GUIDE TO QUALITY, TASTE, AND STYLE by, not surprisingly, Tim Gunn. Both are part of Project Runway (Nina, an editor at ELLE magazine, is a judge and Tim is the, for lack of a better word, father to the competing designers, meaning he wrinkles his brow in concern, shepherds them through crises of confidence and tells them to "Make it work!") I picked up their books for several reasons, not the least of which was an upcoming shopping trip during which, lucky me, I would need some new clothes thanks to the success of the BodyBugg.

And I wanted to buy something slightly more sophisticated than jeans and t-shirts. Maybe it's my upcoming 40th birthday. In any case, I was hungry for information and Nina and Tim provided it in clear, easy to read style (there's that word again--it pops up everywhere!)

The salient points:

1. Quality beats quantity.

2. A deal isn't a deal if you'll never wear it.

3. Try on, try on, try on. Sizes differ from one label to another and you can never know how any particular item will look without trying it on. On a related note . . .

4. Don't get hung up on numbers. Tim's book had a revealing section on American vanity sizing (how mass market clothing has changed sizes downward in the last forty years to appeal to women's vanity--a size 12 then is now an 8.) I had a revelation on this point while driving across Wyoming with my friend, Katie. We are different heights, different weights, and wear different sizes. And it wouldn't necessarily match what you would guess from looking at us. If size 10 pants make you look 10 pounds heavier and size 12 makes you look 10 pounds slimmer, which size would you rather wear? If you must, cut out the size tags, but honestly no one will ever know the size unless you tell them.

5. Both Nina and Tim talked about inspirations--not to slavishly copy but more as an outline or beginning point. I found Tim's section on inspirations particularly helpful. And I was able to find mine, mostly as a process of deduction. After all, there's no chance that I'm Italian sexy like Sophia Loren or European chic like Jackie Kennedy. I really, really wanted to be Angelina Jolie--I can't even remember what her style is called but it quickly became obvious it wasn't mine. Join my husband in his moment of mourning.

Okay, moment's over. I know you're all dying to know what style I am. Ready?


Stop laughing. The waif style is not about body type, remember? The waif style as defined by Tim is classic and feminine. Think A-line skirts, cashmere cardigans, fitted tops, boot-cut trousers, and ballet flats. Waifs are rarely seen wearing high heels--this one threw me for a moment, but then I remembered that I certainly don't wear them every day and there's always room for slight adjustments. The waif style is epitomized by actress Natalie Portman and director Sofia Coppola. (In fact, I may just have decided I'm a waif merely because I love Padme Amidala and because I was beguiled by Tim's description of Sofia walking the streets of Paris in ballet flats and a patterned skirt.)

How did this information affect my shopping? For starters, I tried everything on, including items that caught my eye but that I would initially have dismissed as too small or not my style. I bought only what I loved, not what I merely liked. I bought classics with a twist, like a kelly green trench coat.

And I didn't buy a single t-shirt. Not one.

Fashion is beyond me. Style I can embrace.


~PollyAnna said...

pictures girl... pictures!

Anonymous said...

LOVE this! My sophomore year of college my mom convinced me to buy a pair of low-heeled boots, even though they were waaaay over my budget. Ten year later, I still wear those boots every winter, and they never look dated. Quantity vs Quality. :)

Melinda said...

Now I've gleaned three books off your blog I want to read, and I've only been reading it for two days.

I need style. Right now I'm in Mom-Frump style, which emphasizes t-shirts that can be used to hide a nursing baby, with patterns to disguise spit-up marks.

I love boots, though. Like beccaajoy, I spent a crazy amount of money on a pair of low-heeled boots years ago, and they are the classiest things in my closet. I look forward to cold weather so I can break out those boots.

Katydid said...

This is late, but other books I have liked and read are :Dress Your Best by Clinton Kelly (What not to wear)

The Lucky Shopping Manual--how to build your wardrobe piece by piece (great explanations & pics)

What not to wear--by Trinny Woodall

Would love to see the trench. I love bold green. Yes, show pictures.