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Fashion Notes: On Great Style
by The Kindly One

There is a widespread belief that women considered to have great style - Kate Moss, Lou Doillon, Carine Roitfeld, the Olsen twins - come by it innately, as though it requires no thought or effort for them to dress well. This is absurd. They put effort into their style just like anyone else. The difference between those with a well-developed sense of style and those who don't is a matter of exposure and experience. The women listed here, as well as most other style icons, have spent the majority of their lives exposed to a variety of designers, trends, and cuts. As models, Kate Moss and Lou Doillon have tried on thousands of garments, gaining the experience to know exactly what suits them. As the editor of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld sees an extraordinary amount of fashion pass through her door, having both access to pretty much anything she likes and an editor's eye for what works. Being so tiny, the Olsen twins have spent their lives having clothes cut down for them and have learned how to navigate proportion and silhouette.

It's not necessary to be model, fashion editor, or Olsen twin to dress well. What it does take is practice, review, and editing. To dress well requires the wearer to have spent time practicing and reviewing what works for her body, trying on a variety of cuts and proportions to determine which shapes best suit her. The wearer must also set aside the constraints of ego, popular culture, and notions of beauty in order to edit her outfit. Editing requires the wearer to wear what is essential to her outfit and eliminate the rest, as in the above picture. Kate Moss is well-dressed because she has chosen one statement accessory, the oversized scarf. Everything else recedes into the background. Were she to have worn brighter colors or baggier clothing, the scarf wouldn't have so much impact, and the outfit would have dragged her down.

It's my opinion that the greatest style icons have endured because they dressed for their bodies first and fashion second. Neither Kate Moss nor Jackie Onassis have dressed spectacularly here. Their clothing is neither dressy nor period specific. Instead, they are well cut and fitted to their specific proportions. Having lean legs, Kate pulls of skinny jeans well, and her jacket is not so long or loose as to overwhelm her. Jackie's outfit is fitted close to accentuate her lean frame, and ankle-length pants can be elongating to women between 5'6" and 5'8". By dressing for their bodies first, their nods to fashion - the sunglasses, Kate's scarf - have a greater impact. Dressing for their bodies first also ensures an easier time of editing. By dressing with with the goal of enhancing one's shape, the desire to cave to the vagaries of fashion eventually lessons in proportion to the desire to dress well for oneself.

While it takes time to understand which shapes and proportions work best for your features, it's a process that's worth the effort, as it will eventually save you the time and money of investing in clothes that will never truly work for you. The way I've found which cuts and proportions work for me is by going to department stores with the express intention of trying on a variety of clothes to see what works. I've found that going to a store with this goal in mind has kept me more attentive to what's in the mirror as opposed to whether or not I've found something to buy. I've been careful to note everything I like about a garment's fit, whether or not the garment fits overall. Taking account of how individual elements flatter - a fitted sleeve, the cut of a shoulder - makes the exercise more productive than simply looking for a perfect shirt. I've done this exercise several times, and while no single time has given me all the answers, each session has been instructive, and the cumulative information has significantly reduced both how much I buy and money spent on unsuccessful purchases.

As far as editing goes, much of it occurs simply by dressing for your shape, as this alone weeds out a lot of possible cuts and silhouettes. After working so hard to find the cuts and proportions that flatter me, I'm not so eager to cover all that up with a ton of layers or with clothes that will disrupt the proportions. I'm more interested in finding what will work in concert with them. Admittedly, this initally felt a little boring to me. Having abandoned thoughtful editing for a couple of years, I felt constrained and impositioned with this return to thoughtfulness. The discipline has worked in my favor, though. No longer adopting an "anything goes" attitude to my wardrobe, I've significantly reduced the amount of clothing I have that I wish looked good on me and now possess a greater percentage of clothing that actually looks good on me.

This has required some sacrifice. I'm a great fan of boyish dressing and had developed a sizeable collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans, all baggy to some degree. Even in narrower cuts, this overall aesthetic will never truly suit my body or my personality. As such, I'm learning how to better dress to accomodate both my body and aesthetics. Being a child of the 90s, I'm not yet able to give up that boyish grunge/alternative aesthetic. As a compromise, I leave the sweatshirts at home and wear narrower t-shirts and jeans with either straight or bootcut legs. I've replaced the sweatshirts with a cropped bomber jacket or, alternately, narrowly cut grandpa cardigans, staying true to the lean, elongated shape I prefer. Bagginess is no longer allowed.

When I start to feel constrained by the editing I've imposed on myself, I cheer myself with the new silhouettes I've adopted. While I've given up a lot of clothing that didn't work for me, this has given me the mental space to take in and appreciate what does work. These new revelations include finally finding the right cut and proportion of jeans, a body-conscious dress cut similar to a sheath while retaining the attitude of body-con, and a plethora of narrowly cut sweaters that both double as t-shirts and add polish and cool to my outfits. As much as these revelations have boosted my wardrobe, the real benefit has been in how I feel. Dressing boyishly was a way of hiding, and wearing baggy clothes didn't make me look or feel good. I've taken more pride in my body now that I've started to dress for it, and I'm no longer willing to settle for what doesn't work. I spend considerably less on clothes and like more of what I have. Overall, it's been worth setting aside my ideas of what should work and just appreciating what does work.

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3/24/2009 [3]

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