Fashion didn’t used to come naturally to me. I knew I liked pretty things, but I didn’t know how to use clothing, hair, and makeup to make myself as pretty as possible. I had no concept of what I would like to wear before I went to the store and saw something that looked beautiful on the hanger.
But I have always loved beauty, and I have always known that I wanted to look beautiful, even during the years when I was too lazy and clueless to learn how. And over the years I have figured out the basics of fashion, to the point where I am confident that I have a look, and that I am making the most of my appearance. This post is for any girl who would feels uncertain about fashion but would like to become more stylish, for any of the many reasons that style is good (objective love of beauty, confidence, professionalism, and not least… TEH BOYS!!!!!!!).
“Wine enters in at the mouth, / Love enters in at the eye” – W.B. Yeats
Men love who they love, as Auntie Seraphic says. Men tend to fall for a certain type – voluptuous redheads, short girls, waifish brunettes, curly-haired girls. You are somebody’s type, and if you hone and polish your typiness, you have a better chance of standing out like a neon sign to your unknown intended. I’m not saying that this is always necessary – a guy can fall in love with the sweaty, distracted, ball-cap-wearing version of you – but I think it helps the odds, and how could it possibly hurt them? If you make an effort, men will notice. They may not know what you’ve done, but even the smallest details can make an impact: nail polish, for instance. Men notice fresh, shiny nails – if they are sweet on you and they are holding your hand, they will rub your nails as if hypnotized by the agate-like gloss. It is truly adorable.
Where was I? If you truly don’t care about style, you might just be meant for a laidback guy who likes super low-maintenance. Even then, there are three things you should do: avoid short hair, colors that wash you out, and pants all year round. At *least* don’t wear colors that make you look like death. Red isn’t any more expensive than blue, you know. And with that, I will segue into my style treatise…
1. The first key to becoming stylish is color. I can’t stress enough how important this is. It is the first thing to determine before you go any further down the road. Before you try anything on, you can hold a shirt under your chin and observe the effect it has on your face – and the difference between Your Color and Not Your Color is awe-inspiring. Reading that 80s classic Color Me Beautiful in college was the moment when I began to make sense of fashion, and I highly recommend that you read up on color analysis. Start with this article, which I can scarcely believe was written by a man (I mean that in a nice way). You may find the division of all women into Springs, Summers, Autumns, and Winters a little cutesy, but I find it useful to think of myself as an Autumn, since warm, muted colors look best on me.
The most important aspect of knowing your colors is freedom from all the other colors. In a way, style is all about refusing to wear certain things: how cool and decisive you will feel, parting the clothing racks like the Red Sea and zeroing in on the one item in moss green or sky blue, and considering the merits of that item only! After realizing that there is no shade of purple that looks good on me, I decided to ignore the entire purple family from lavender to eggplant. I never have to try on a purple thing ever again, and it’s a great feeling. So before you do anything else, take a weekend and figure out what your colors are. Choose some that you really like, neutral ones and bright ones. It will clear your mind and make the whole shopping process much simpler.
2. The next key to being stylish is finding a role model… or six. If you want to create a symphony, it helps to know Beethoven like the back of your hand. If you want to know what looks good on you, it helps to know what looks good on fashionable women who roughly resemble you (in coloring, build, face shape, hair texture, nationality, and anything else you can think of). Subscribing to a fashion magazine and taking note of the looks that just leap out at you can be very important. I recommend the American magazine Lucky, just because it is all fashion and no Cosmo crap whatsoever. Over a few months, I noticed that I loved looks modeled by Francoise Hardy and other slightly disheveled French girls, and that I went for keywords like 70s, French, chic, California. Another thing you can do is go exploring in the jungle of style blogs, until you come across a girl who looks sort of like you and has a style you love. But it helps to have a bonafide famous style icon, and it helps even more to have a constellation of them:
Francoise Hardy, Jane Birkin, Jean Shrimpton. These ladies have several things in common: they are slender and not tremendously curvy, they have big eyes but the rest of their features are slightly boyish, and they have fine, messy, light brown hair. And bangs. I have all of those features, and I look very right in sailor stripes and trench coats and black ballet flats: that is, the French Girl look. I don’t make a very convincing Goth, and I look kind of stringy in frilly, girly things. This look works with my appearance and my introverted personality: people notice that I look sharp, but I don’t feel uncomfortably dressed up.
3. Look deeper. There is more that goes into style than celebrity photos. When I was four, I had a green and purple striped dress that I wore all the time. When I was seven, I had a black and white striped dress I wore all the time. When I was twelve, I had a navy/white striped shirt that I wore with denim culottes decked with silver buttons like sailor’s trousers. I was obsessed with old sailing ships, like the ones at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. I was enchanted by the Sailor Rat from The Wind in the Willows. I worshiped Pippi Longstocking:
But there are other things… my childhood love for ballet has made me long for floating, fairylike things; thin knits; dresses in blush, apricot, rosy pink. Growing up in California has made me feel grounded when I wear bohemian, 70s-style clothes. My mom lets me wear a dress her mom sewed for her in the seventies, and recently I appropriated something truly splendid: a real Hopi necklace, all silver and turquoise, which was made for my great-grandmother.
So many fashions feel closed off to me. The preppy look, the equestrian look – too east-coast and WASPy. The southern girl look – I’m not southern. The punk/rocker look – who am I kidding? I grew up taking ballet and violin lessons. But every now and then someone hypes the “southwestern look,” which consists of turquoise-and-silver, Navajo prints, and dusty, desert colors. And if I, having family in New Mexico, knowing the place well, and possessing handmade Indian jewelry cannot pull off this look… who else is going to?! I have played in the desert as a child, gone to sleep with the sad howling of coyotes in my ears, driven down I-40 with all my possessions behind me and the sunset staining my face. If I wear a sand-colored blouse and a Hopi necklace, it’s because I’m proud of those memories and I want to be that girl all the time.
So think about childhood memories and family heirlooms. Think of where you grew up and where you came of age. Think of your heroes, your hobbies, your favorite books and movies, even your favorite art movements. Whether it comes out as a color, a cut, a hat, a pattern, a piece of jewelry – there is inspiration everywhere, and we might as well have some fun with an art we are compelled to practice every morning.