More on Advice to Ignore

Elizabeth commented on my previous post :
“No, no, I’m going to ignore you and slavishly follow some magazine editor’s tips for skinny urban women with a professional job.

But seriously β€” the points you raise are not always easy to figure out. If they were, we would have done it by now, no?”

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I agree that finding your best colours, shapes, and styles is not easy or quick. Once I started thinking about this I had a whole lot to say !

Styling books are a big industry because they’re selling a dream – that someone will wave a magic wand and it will all be obvious and easy and we will look marvellous. And I think many stylists are, very humanly, best at giving advice to people in similar circumstances. In the same way that fashion journalists focus on the showrooms of the fashion capitals of the world. (You only have to look at the people actually walking along the key fashion streets of Paris, Milan, London, New York, to realise that most people don’t dress like fashion magazines at all πŸ˜€ )

Perhaps some people don’t have as many difficulties with recognising themselves in the style books as I do. But I suspect many do.

I admit I’ve got a large collection of style books bought in hope. . . and yes of course, they suggest a whole lot of interesting things to try which I might not have thought of myself. But it isn’t the case that everything they suggest is right for everybody. If I did follow exactly what they say, I would often be wearing the wrong colours, the wrong shapes, and the wrong styles. Fortunately I know enough about myself and my life usually to recognise when I would be unhappy with what they suggest.

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I’m sure anyone who’s read a styling book has their own examples, but here is some of the advice that goes wrong for me :

Colour :
I’ve never managed to identify my colour category from a book. More than 20 years ago I had a personal session with an inspiring Color Me Beautiful consultant. She identified me as ‘Clear Spring’. But Clear Springs are assigned the dreaded black. The consultant sorted out about half the Clear Spring colours which were marvellous on me, and the others which were best avoided. A personal consultation using all the big colour swatches is definitely needed for that, and a gifted expert. (Though she did recommend coral as my accent colour. She appears in one of the CMB books as the example of Soft Autumn colouring.)

My previously auburn tinged dark hair has become light heathered grey. My skin is still warm toned, so I’m a mixture of warm and cool tones which doesn’t fit anyone’s categories. (And I have a very low opinion of the recent London published CMB books.)

I have now chosen paint chips which match my skin and eye tones, plus a lock of hair. They’re subtle colours which rarely appear in fabrics. But I always compare fabric samples with them, to check what ‘goes’ and what ‘jars’ (often surprises).

Shape :
Standing, my hips are 2 sizes larger than my top. When I sit down they spread another 4 inches. Definitely a pear. I’ve already gone on at length about the odd advice given to the pear-shaped in the Lucky Shopping Manual.

Most stylists tell the pear shaped to wear shoulder pads so their shoulders are as wide as their hips. I would be wearing those 80s pads that were so wide you had to go through a door sideways (see some astonishing examples in re-runs of Murder She Wrote). I am more interested in advice on how to make my hips look as small as my top. And sorry stylists, I know you all say everyone looks better in shoulder pads, but I never wear them. They’re just not my style. Hurrah for sewing – we can change the shoulder seams and darts of what we make so that clothes fall well from our shoulders whatever shape they may be.

Most stylists also tell pears to wear horizontal lines across our shoulders. I’ve always known that was wrong for me, but never understood why until I read Trinny and Susannah’s Body Shapes Bible. I’m a short waisted pear. Horizontal upper lines make us look even more squat. Horizontal upper lines are good on long-waisted pears. And T and S couldn’t find any short waisted pear celebrities to use as encouraging examples (the only body shape they failed with). Oh dear. I don’t think it is actually impossible for us to look good, I’ve managed it myself in the past. But it’s certainly a challenge !

Some stylists go into more detail about body shape with recommendations for specific body parts : long and short neck, wide and narrow shoulders, etc. The trouble is this makes for incompatibilities in what they advise. ‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ is a beautiful book full of fascinating insights. But most of the advice they give on one page is incompatible with what they say for me on the next page. . . Nancy Nix-Rice ‘Looking Good’ is another favourite book (very dated illustrations but covers the widest range of topics). About me she says :
To Broaden Narrow/ Sloping Shoulders : DO Select details (…) to maintain a horizontal shoulder emphasis.
To Lengthen a Short-Waisted Body : DON’T use horizontal bodice details.
Aaargh – Help !

I do try out the suggestions in style books. Darlene Miller’s ‘Your shape, your clothes and you’ has very detailed ideas. As usual, I don’t fit neatly into her scheme (my head, upper and lower body all meet different criteria !), but I do find her suggestions interesting. I use a personal croquis. Snoop shopping upsets me, as RTW fits me so badly. Instead I hold pattern and fashion magazine photos next to me in the mirror, as I wonder if they would look good on me. And I keep an eagle eye out for what flatters and what doesn’t.

Style :
I rarely feel comfortable with any of the personal styles in books, though some come close. In David Kibbe’s ‘Metamorphosis’ I’m a ‘Soft Classic’. Lots of good insights in the text. Then there’s a photo of someone styled this way, and she’s wearing a ‘Mother-of-the Bride’ dress and picture hat. Oh dear. I would never want to look like that (even if I had been a mother-of-the-bride). From the other photos, I would guess Kibbe has difficulty with styling less exuberant people. I think Soft Classics are better catered for by Loes Hinse’s designs.

A lovely Color Me Beautiful consultant in the early 90s described me as a ‘Eurochic with Romantic accessories’, a heart warming phrase I still keep in mind. Eurochic is a concept you don’t see mentioned these days – a sort of elegant current casual. (It’s in Mary Spillane’s CMB book.) At the time Armani was super-fashionable. I don’t at all agree with one style book which says it’s impossible for casual to be chic, as one is precise and the other is don’t-care. That seems an oddly blinkered view. But that writer (Angela Marshall) is an extreme classic. She admits to having difficulty knowing what to wear at weekends. Though her expensive repetitive little book is the best at recognising personal style isn’t only clothes but also work, hobbies, manner, home, relationships. . . I think many designers and fashion magazines do recognise the need for high quality stylish relaxed clothes.

To identify my personal style, I notice what I wear consistently. I particularly enjoyed the style exercises in Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Fashion Makeover’. (The rest of the book isn’t right for me at all. No, I wouldn’t find it a treat to lounge by my pool waiting for a bevy of masseuses and chefs to give me an at home spa day. I won’t even have my hair and make-up done. But I did get insights from the style exercises !) I keep in mind long ago clothes which I remember with affection. (That velvet dress with a lace collar my mother made when I was 12, which I rapidly grew out of. Wouldn’t fit my active lifestyle, but I need touches of it as I loved it so much.) And I imagine myself wearing what appears in pattern and fashion magazines, and check if I would feel happy. I’ve made a list of ‘would love to wear’ patterns which have lasted beyond initial enthusiasm, and it’s not as short as I thought it would be.

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I think the good style books guide personal exploration, rather than dictating. Such as Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Wardrobe Companion’. I also enjoy Garza and Lupo ‘Nothing to Wear’, a fun read. Mainly general encouragement, but then they fall in the trap of giving specific examples, which are all ‘urban cocktail’. Good for their clients in NYC no doubt, but not relevant to this suburb (even though estate agents describe us as ‘exciting and cosmopolitan’ now we have a Starbucks where the local radio host holds court πŸ˜€ ).

That seems to me a key problem for style books – this uneasy balance between general advice about exploring, which works for everyone, and specific examples. I know I feel more secure when writers give specific visual examples. I feel I know more clearly what they mean by their words. And I feel more confident when I know the alternatives to choose between. But I usually don’t recognise myself in any of the specific examples. So my desire for confidence that I understand the message actually backfires.

I think there are some things you can sort out for yourself fairly painlessly. My list of Personal Style questions is possible food for thought.

I do still occasionally buy styling books, but I’m looking for tips rather than expecting them to solve my problems. I now find it more helpful to follow discussions at Stitchers Guild, which are full of useful comment and inspirational wardrobes from a wide variety of real people. I’m getting much more clear about what is right for me, by thinking out my answers to the style questions people ask there.

This may be an unending process, as fashion styles (and we) change. I’m still far from being confident I’ll get it right every time, but I’m a lot closer than I was a year ago. . .

Sadly, there isn’t any way of avoiding doing the work of trying things out. Or of avoiding big mistakes – try to make them in cheap fabric ! I once bought a red fake fur coat. I love red, and fur coats, and I loved myself in the coat. But I only ever wore it in public once. I’m a quiet and private person !

This trying out doesn’t have to be a miserable process. It’s like fitting. We take one small step at a time, and see if we’ve made things better or worse – and it works out in the end. Every move in a better direction is a big plus πŸ˜€

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P.S. Training to be a Style Consultant is lengthy and expensive. There are even college textbooks on it (see Fairchild Books on Image Management). So people in the business reoognise this process isn’t all that easy.

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Links available February 2010

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Explore posts in the same categories: body shape, personal style

6 Comments on “More on Advice to Ignore”

  1. RuthieK Says:

    Yet again an insightful and helpful post. I have all those books too, and have eventually found my best colours and styles. I am Clear and Warm although a lot of the swatch colours don’t work for me and I can use quite a lot from Deep and Warm to supplement the gaps. In Kibbe I am ‘Flamboyant Natural’ which has the tagline ‘Free Spirit Chic’ which I love. I have adapted the Kibbe styles quite a bit to come up with something which seems to work.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Ruth – I love getting feedback and added comments. I think Kibbe would enjoy styling you much more than me πŸ˜€ Lisanne

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  2. Pat Says:

    good observations! Isn’t it odd how grey in your hair can change how colors that used to work suddenly do not? I think I’ll head off to the Guild…

  3. sewingplums Says:

    Thanks for your contribution Pat – we obviously have similarities !

  4. Chris Says:

    Always love your posts – they’re so real and helpful. This never ending quest for style is fun, isn’t it?

    PS maybe you should just go ahead and wear that red fake fur coat out more often

    • sewingplums Says:

      What a lovely comment – I think that red fur is still up in the roof somewhere – but I seem to remember huge 90s shoulders – some remodelling required πŸ˜€

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