Ruminating, Wardrobe Planning

MEDITATIONS ON DEFINING STYLE

This is going to be an intensely personal post. You’ve been warned…

The great Wardrobe Architect series on the Coletterie blog has me thinking deeply about my style this week. I’m really digging the order and logic Sarai is applying to something that is inherently emotional, personal and hard to quantify.

A clear definition of my personal “sense of style” has always alluded me, especially when limited to a few buzz words like “boho”, “minimalist”, “classic” etc. Whenever I’ve came across one of those “Are you an Audrey, Jackie or Cher?” style quizzes, I’ve always fallen squarely in the middle of, well, everything. My inner Audrey, Jackie and Cher are all crammed up in here, and it gets REALLY confusing when we need to get dressed in the morning. (FYI, feather headdresses do NOT go with everything).

I love fashion in a way that informs my life, deeply. I’m the weirdo who pauses movies to take photos of costumes, and waxes rhapsodic about Joaquin Phoenix’s high-waisted pants for days after seeing Her (such a brilliant choice). I’ve always been consumed with clothing; what it signifies, how it allows you to present a dimension of yourself to the external world. Often, the choices I made saw me straining against the mold I was forced into by my circumstances.

In high school, I was a bit of a wannabe badass. Forced to wear a Catholic uniform at school, in my off time I was listening to Hole & Nirvana, trying to buy cigarettes (memorably, one time in a trench coat, head scarf and vintage shades in the hope that my Jackie Oh look made me appear older), writing truly terrible poetry and crushing on skater boys and (secretly, confusedly, passionately) the high school quarterback. Aesthetically, this translated into a grunge/riot grrrl anti-fashion cloak I wore proudly for years. Because I turned my nose at the designer clothes worn by most kids my age, I was able to carve out a unique-to-me identity that wasn’t part of the homogenous whole.

When I moved out at 18, I started working full time in an auto factory. I was living on my own, going out all the time and making more money than I knew how to spend. My fashion memories from this period are a hazy mix of thrift store vintage and trashy 90’s mall junk. Knee-high pleather boots, tight black jersey and lots of cleavage, with a ratty lamb coat thrown on for patina. Looking back, it was clear I was pushing back against the working class culture I was immersed in. I was aiming for glamour, but the end result was a small town facsimile of sophistication. A footnote in a John Cougar Mellencamp song.

Leaving my blue collar town for a more cosmopolitan city, my style shifted and evolved frequently as I tried to figure out who I was and where I was going. Looking back, I remember my hip hop b-girl period (including Erykah Badu inspired headwraps from old white t-shirts), my menswear dandy phase (Cravat? check, Kangol? check), and the Visa-broke boho era of layers and lockets, rolling around town on a third hand bike trying not to let my fluttering hems get caught in the spokes. And for a large part of my 20’s, I lived in black. It was only after I started design school 8 years ago that I started to be really adventurous with colour & print (I haven’t posted a single black garment in 3 years of blogging but that may change as I’ve kind of got back together with the ol’ man. Black is the new black. It feels fresh after ignoring it for so many years….)

This evolution is still happening, continually inspired as I am by film, art, blogs, trends. I’m finally truly comfortable in my skin, and while what I choose to wear is governed randomly by my hormones, the weather, my relationship status, or what group of friends I’m spending the most time with, I’m settling into something that feels like me, or at least a few versions of me.

I have a secret. There are really three Heathers.

9-5 Heather is a J. Crew via Jenna Lyons devotee. For the office it’s vintage blouses, skinny trousers, pencil skirts, jewel toned sheath dresses, loads of costume jewelry. Quirky, colourful, classic. A lazy day is an oversize men’s oxford shirt and a silk scarf.

Cuddle/Cottage Heather likes domestic luxury. Leggings and oversize cashmere sweaters, silk slips, suede moccasins, accessorized with a cup of tea and a french braid. Monochromatic and minimalistic comfort.

Night Heather gorges on Icing. It’s tight, or short, slit to here or cinched and full skirted, war paint on, high heels, let’s party. A handmade, low-budget Carrie Bradshaw. She makes a dress for every occasion and needs to take a cab home.

The baseline thumping through all of these me’s is an almost exaggerated femininity. Growing up in a rowdy house of older brothers, I had a small epiphany recently when I realized I go full femme to counteract the inner tomboy with the big mouth who swears too much and still tries to wrestle with her siblings. The femme-y ying balances out my trucker mouth yang. Wearing a sexy dress makes me feel confidant that even when I’m bellicosely arguing a political point, or playing poker with my Shit Talk on, or laughing at crass jokes, I’m still very much a woman. I need the contrast to feel balanced.

The other undying theme is a love for vintage. I’ll never be a true blue head-to-toe retro girl, but I have always loved mixing it with more modern pieces. I have some pretty amazing stuff I’ve collected over the years, and now it’s simple for me to recreate silhouettes that fit perfectly out of the finest materials. That love will never change. I’ll probably be 80 years old in a New Look party dress, yelling at the orderlies to fluff my skirts while I watch my stories in the old folks home.

I have some mood boards I’ve been working on, but I may share them next week so I don’t overshare all at once. Have a wonderful weekend and I hope you have a lovely day, either treating yourself or someone special to you with lots of love.

  • This was very nice to read, thanks for sharing!

    I was an incredibly insecure teen who went to a school she didn’t feel comfortable at, so my personal style didn’t really start to evolve until I was around seventeen. Since then it’s gone from jeans and hoodies to full-blown vintage girl to whatever it is I’m doing right now, and it’s lovely. At the moment I finally feel like I’m making and wearing the clothes I really want to wear, without needing a label to describe my style!

  • Sew Little Time

    really great read heather. i’ve been doing to wardrobe architect and it’s been really interesting to follow. can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

  • Susan C

    Love this post! I love how your style changes depending on your current interests/relationship status/how you see yourself at tht moment. I’m one of those people that doesn’t feel comfortable straying outside very conservative styles of dress. I wish I was braver and cold wear clothing that more accurately reflects me!

  • You only live once Susan! I think following along with Sarai’s worksheets might help you figure out what you like and how you can integrate that into your daily getting dressed routine. It’s been really helpful for me to think about things like silhouette and shapes, and thinking about an overall “style identity” and how I can work towards something more cohesive….

  • I totally fell down a Polyvopre rabbit hole. THANKS SARAI.

  • That’s awesome Annette! Learning to sew your own clothes is so incredibly liberating and lets us figure out what we like much more easily than just having ready made solutions presented to us at a store. Trial and error as opposed to “This season you are THIS”.

  • That’s very true! I guess there is an element of fashion present in sewing as well (after all, a lot of what we create for our handmade wardrobes is influenced by what pattern designers publish) but the influence is way less constricting than ready to wear!

  • puu

    extremely thoughtful, and beautifully well-written. in a piece full of great material, though, this stood out – “Night
    Heather gorges on Icing. It’s tight, or short, slit to here or
    cinched and full skirted, war paint on, high heels, let’s party. A
    handmade, low-budget Carrie Bradshaw. She makes a dress for
    every occassion and needs to take a cab home.”

    love it.

  • I hope this is the post you mentioned in mine – the one that you were meaning to plus – because it’s great! Even I in my extravagant and sometimes questionable outfits, I personify so many different aesthetics. That’s what I loved about Carrie Bradshaw – show could embody any style but still pull off a look. Despite how varied each outfit was, there was a common thread. I’m not sure I could put that into words, but you know a Carrie Bradshaw ensemble when you see one.

  • This is a really thoughtful post, thanks Heather. I haven’t had time yet to go through the wardrobe architect exercises in detail, but with what I’ve looked at so far, I’ve been flummoxed – I have no idea how to describe myself, or what I think my style is, and so I haven’t really known where to go with it. But I think I’ll do what you have done and go back and dig out photos from the last 10/15 years, and use them to try and analyse my style, and how it has changed, and hopefully I can learn something from that!

  • Phronimos

    This is a great post and I can identify with much of what you say. The bit about feeling like a woman even when you’re laughing at crass jokes etc. gave me some pause, since it says a lot about what our culture defines as womanly. Pretty interesting!

  • Interesting. Now that you explain your reasoning for dressing up for Halloween, it makes sense. I thought you were into the holiday for the sake of it, but I see why.

    P.S. I totally understand a post taking a week to write.

  • Janet

    Well written. A very thoughtful post that brings up so many thoughts and ideas in my own mind. Thank you, I may start reflecting after all….

  • I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this post… you write well. Even if it took you a week and multi-edits! I’ve a pretty bland and boring style history myself – so I find reading about so many style evolutionary cycles in one persons life fascinating. So many morphs in so little time! It takes us all a while to find our niche, especially when there’s multiple niches to fulfill 🙂

  • Amy

    Brilliantly written piece, Heather! (So much more than a “post”.) I also really enjoyed reading along, and can connect with a lot of your style story. ‘Ratty lamb coat thrown on for patina’–yes! I was always somewhat of a style chameleon but that has seemed to slow down in my 40s. (No more night life!) It fascinates me deeply how style and fashion are connected to identity, what I believe about myself, what I want to say about myself. I may have to try some of the WA exercises to think afresh about my style–I just gave away over half of my wardrobe. Was like throwing out a lot of crazy memories.

  • sallieforrer

    Dude. Seriously awesome post. I agree with Amy – this is so much more than a ‘post’! It’s amazing how incredibly personal something as simple as clothing can be! And yet it’s also tied up with all these outside, societal ideologies – like gender roles, family dynamics, class, popular representations of ‘success’ etc. (or, conversely, the rebellion against these things) that it can become this symbol of SO MUCH. There’s a lot of weight on a t-shirt and pair of jeans!
    I struggled a lot with personal style (and still continue to struggle!) My high school days were spent trying to let my little art rat oddball self out while still desperately trying to, you know, get boys to like me. So it was this weird mish-mash of Britney-Spears-mall-rat meets Björk. After a few miserable encounters with dumb guys that killed my self-confidence I ended up clinging to conformity and went the Abercrombie&Fitch/Hollister/VSPink route. And then I went to art school and was like… these people look cool! And then I spent the next 6 years playing ‘hipster catchup’ which is an impossible game, designed to make you lose! Lots of short, baby-bang hairstyles followed. And then of course there was my ill-fated flirtation with full on retro girl. And then I met my sewing machine…. sigh…
    I should probably take a look at the Coletterie’s WA exercises… I could definitely learn something. Thanks, love.

  • Britney Spears via Bjork Sallie is a SALLIE I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO MEET. I suspect we would have been the best of friends even then, in our baby tees and weird mini-bun hair.

    It’s funny that you still struggle with your style…. because from the outside it looks pretty tight and honed. Obviously it’s a process of evolution but I have a very clear idea in my head of “Sallie Style” and it’s totally inspiring and unique to you.

    Me, I’m all over the map. Hone, Heather. HONE.

  • That sounds like sweet, sweet liberation. I still have a TON of clothing from my teens and twenties. I really need to let go of the baggage, man.

  • Bland and boring?! Not at all how I would describe you! Chic, elegant and classic-modern more like!

  • I was talking to my boyfriend about this last night and he was kind of laughing at how hard I thought about this stuff all week. But it’s good to reflect and unpack some of these choices!

  • Phronimos

    Gender roles are SO complex! Having recently entered the workforce I am constantly reconsidering my own dress choices in that respect, catching myself wearing high heels and a skirt at interesting moments to give me a certain feeling about myself…I think it’s so cool you shared these things about yourself! love x

  • Elena Knits

    I loved the post. I’m still trying to find myself though my style.

  • Thank you for sharing your life history, sartorial and otherwise – you totally inspired me to rummage through my old photos this weekend! Your thoughts on your fashion choices and gender brought up lots of memories, too – my style choices (or non-choices!), starting as a teenager, were hugely influenced by my attitudes towards gender and body image. I was never a girly girl and had no idea how to handle the transition from elementary to middle school when all my friends starting dressing like they were extras in Clueless! I tried to play it safe in early high school by only wearing workout gear… I just didn’t know how much femininity I wanted to convey in clothing or in life.

    Anyway, I think what I like about your style – from what you’ve sewn and posted here, and in what you’ve shared about your past – is that it’s always bold and decisive. Thanks again for sharing this beautiful post!

  • Sownbrooklyn

    Love this. Really. You have a great way of expressing yourself that comes across so visually. I enjoyed reading it for its literary value as much as I loved learning more about you.

    I wish I could identify my life’s phases through my wardrobe…there are some lost years as a mom with an ever growing family and an ever changing body…I might meditate on it and see what I come up with.

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