Thinking About: Authentic Style, And What It Means To Be Original

Thinking About: Originality And Authenticity

my authentic style has room for quirky this case gold Gucci loafers

I haven’t had a subscription to any of the glossy magazines in a while, with the exception of InStyle, a holdover which I’ve allowed to auto-renew every couple of years. I’d skip through all of the celebrity and breathless red carpet features in favor of the “How To Wear X” types of pictorials and articles, which over the years became more and more scarce. When I read that the future editorial direction of the magazine would be even more celebrity-focused, I knew I’d be canceling my subscription. I’m glad I didn’t jump right on it, though, as this one-page piece by Leandra Medine of Man Repeller in the March issue made it worth flipping through.

I’ve been a big fan of Medine for many years. For her quirky style for sure, but also for her smart, witty and irreverent view of fashion and our relationship to it. And I especially liked this piece, which dives into the concept of “originality” and our ongoing fascination with unconventional style.

Look at street-style photography. We often complain about how downright fake the photos from Fashion Week can feel. But we’ve been conditioned to believe that the craziest, loudest outfit wins. And here’s where we run into a problem: If you’re trying that hard to achieve originality, is it authentic? Isn’t genuine nonconformity effortless, like breathing or blinking?

As a style blogger, I haven’t been immune to the pressure to come up with outfits that are new and different and bolder and brighter and more complex than what I’d instinctively assemble. I don’t get a lot of negative feedback on my outfits, but the comments that make me question myself usually include the word “boring.” I mean, who wants to be boring? Is “knowing what works and sticking to it” just a cover for lack of imagination?

But then I’ll see an outfit or design somewhere so beautifully simple, clean and elegant, or understatedly cool, and it will evoke an instantaneous gut reaction of “yes, THIS!” And it reconnects me with what feels authentic in my style. Boring to some, perhaps, but simple, elegant, cool style is what has always inspired me most.

But the heart wants what it wants! So who are we to deprive ourselves of what the trenches of our gut say we need? Our gut is sometimes annoying, and it’s pesky, and we can get it mixed up with weird, negative voices in our heads; but it’s also very rarely wrong.

So I try to remember that one person’s “boring” is another’s “sublime.” And that even when I admire another’s quirky, bold, More Is More style, it doesn’t mean that I’m on the wrong track with my own. Style should never feel forced. Standing out for its own sake isn’t my goal. Feeling good in what I’m wearing is.

When I think about my authentic style, it’s rooted in a certain practicality with an infusion of a little drama and verve. Jeans and a tee or sweater. Black. A long outer layer. Bold jewelry. A standout bag or shoes. Ease. Harmony. Movement. Modernity. A little Edge occasionally. And yes, trying new things from time to time, continuing to evolve and stay current.

Here’s what I recommend: Instead of thinking, “How can I stand out?” ask yourself, “What would make me happiest? What do I need to do to get there?” And then do that.

I couldn’t agree more!

Photo above: when I do go for “quirky,” most often it’s with shoes. Photo by Tannaz Photography.

What do you like to wear that feels completely authentic?

Stay in touch.

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    • Jill Stein
      February 24, 2017 / 12:49 am

      Susan- I like your simple quality and style vibe. I live in Germany for last year, and women here don’t have huge wardrobes. It’s more about attitude and style! Less about quantity and more about quality! You nailed it today! Thanks for reminding folks to dress to make them feel happy- not to stand out- but be secure and it’s more in your attitude, than in constantly pursue ing something new, that’s not style or fashion; that’s consumerism.

  1. February 23, 2017 / 3:27 am

    Brilliant. And Leandra Medine is a joy to read.
    Isn’t it ironic that when people talk about stylish women (not the same as fashionable ones), they point to the French, and that French women are known for (1) classics and (2) not trying too hard.
    But fashion week is about fashion, not style.
    The most important thing is to love what you wear and to feel good in it. One shouldn’t second-guess with “maybe I’m too old” or “this isn’t my color.” If you feel good in something (both physically comfortable and psychologically at ease), second-guessing doesn’t occur.

    • February 25, 2017 / 4:53 am

      Moreover, French people – men and women – in particular in Paris and the other large cities, are also known for not having large wardrobes. There simply is no room for them. I have a couple of friends, both professors (one emeritus now) who live in a lovely apartment in the 13th, full of books and art, but simply not very big and with no built in cupboards whatsoever.

      We all have different tastes, and I’m sure there are things you or anyone else might wear that would not be the personal choice of all readers (I avoid animal prints, especially feline ones, as I’m already a notorious catlady and don’t want to to be given cat mugs, prints and what have you – but I find them fine and dandy on other people). But I’ve never found your choices boring.

  2. karen h
    February 23, 2017 / 3:37 am

    nodding my head along with your comments re InStyle Magazine (except i canceled my subscription a couple of years ago and now only read it at the salon), and boring vs sublime….like you i often use my shoes as the “quirky”, only i wouldn’t use the work “quirky”, i perfer to think of them as my statement piece….

  3. Ciara
    February 23, 2017 / 3:38 am

    Ditto as per francetaste on all points!

  4. Jane
    February 23, 2017 / 4:04 am

    Absolutely agree! My style could probably be described as ‘boring’, but it makes me feel more confident. Always be yourself!

  5. February 23, 2017 / 4:25 am

    I love shoes but as a retired educator I could never let myself pay $750 for one pair of shoes but I’m glad you can. I appreciate your classic sense of style.

  6. February 23, 2017 / 4:52 am

    For years a coworker insisted I should dress more authoritatively and go bigger with accessories and I always felt bullied about it. She constantly urged me to wear scarves and bigger earrings and trendier chunky things that I hated. Not my style. And I have a good friend who doesn’t bully me but despairs when I don’t get enthused about shawls or embroidered tapestry bags or artisan made chandelier earrings or long flowy skirts and boots. When I tried a few of those elements with her on a trip out west, she complimented me effusively on how great it looked, and I know I looked awesome to her eyes, but I felt like I was in a costume. How you look and how you feel in an outfit are two different things. Thanks for this article!

  7. Ann
    February 23, 2017 / 5:05 am

    What a great post, Susan I agree with you and francetaste. And I too love Leandra’s attitude.

    And because you asked, (What do I like to wear that feels completely authentic?), I feel most comfortably wearing jeans, black boots, a leather jacket, a button-down shirt, simple and not much jewelry (silver — or a mix of silver/gold), my old Rolex, a cross-over bag that doesn’t draw attention to itself, and maybe, just maybe, depending on the weather, an Hermes scarf or shawl wrapped around my neck.

    The jeans could be 501s or Escada. The shirt could be white or black or blue or grey The boots could be motorcycle boots or luxe. The leather jacket is best if black, but could be another neutral, and should not look new.

    Then there’s the hair/makeup — hair is up and not “careful.” Makeup is basic. Lipstick is neutral.

    Oh! And sunglasses of a been-around-forever style.

  8. Thea
    February 23, 2017 / 5:09 am

    I like to wear a piece of jewelry or an small clutch passed down from my mom or her sister…something from 50+ years ago that looks like it could be “now”…it keeps me grounded, remembering them, their love for beautiful things of great quality…and that it’s still going strong in the next century – wow. BTW – love those shoes on you!!

  9. Kristien
    February 23, 2017 / 5:10 am

    The way you described your authentic style would be the way I would describe mine (except for long outer layers.) And yet if we were side by side, our looks would be entirely different. My take on jeans, tee, standout bag and jewelry would be a very different interpretation. And so, I guess what I am saying is that style constitutes our individual interpretations of very common elements. And the variations are endless.

  10. February 23, 2017 / 5:21 am

    Most authentic when I’m casual and comfortable.

  11. Anita
    February 23, 2017 / 6:04 am

    And this post is a great example of why I am such a devoted follower!

  12. February 23, 2017 / 6:06 am

    Love this post. The title says it all for me. I truly believe that when we’re authentic — when we dress to represent our true selves and style, then we are our own originals. Kristien says it well ” . . . style constitutes our individual interpretations of very common elements.”

  13. Tracy
    February 23, 2017 / 7:05 am

    The March issue of Oprah magazine has an article on this very topic. It’s titled “Does Your Style Match Your Soul?” Twelve writers “reflect on why getting dressed can be so revealing.” I found it fascinating reading! Authentic for me is anything that is comfortable that isn’t athleisure and doesn’t come off as frumpy on my frame. I tend to prefer long over lean. Before skinny jeans and leggings were easy to find, I wore mostly dresses and skirts. Now I’m a skinny jean and tunic kind of gal. My jewelry is simple and basic. I would not feel like myself if I wore jewelry like your French Kande jewelry. I love how it looks on you, but on me it would feel too overdone or like I was trying to be someone else.

    The Already Pretty blog is now running old content (still relevant, though). She put up a blog post from six or seven years ago with contributing bloggers, and you were one of them. I did not recognize you in the photo! Comparing that photo to how you look now, I definitely see elements of your core style at play, but you’ve made the elusive leap to being more polished. i think it might be the jewelry!

  14. February 23, 2017 / 7:07 am

    I’ve always felt that if someone thought that my style was boring, they might want to bear in mind that I don’t get dressed for the amusement of the general public! There’s a world full of fascinating things to look at, read, listen to, eat, or otherwise consume; let’s keep clothing to the realm of flattery and personal expression, and let everything else by “amusing…”

  15. Carolyn McLaughlin
    February 23, 2017 / 7:37 am

    I couldn’t agree more too! Thank you for saying this, it’s a rare gem of sanity.

  16. February 23, 2017 / 7:44 am

    This is an Ah Ha! post and I appreciate it greatly!. Reading other bloggers I’ve felt I was not doing things right or enough. You made me realize I’m doing it Lesley’s way and that IS right. I’m most comfortable in leggings & tunic top, I LOVE scarfs and have dozens of them. I’ve continually worn them since I was in collage and have sometimes been IN style and sometimes out, but always ME. I like to mix things up and love to wear dresses. I’m just glad I don’t have to wear them everyday now. Same with heels. I love shoes, but have to keep my heels lower now due to foot & knee problems, but not boring. I feel like I’m skipping through the day with a fun pair of shoes. Purses, I’ve found a line I’m addicted to and I don’t care if they match the outfit of the day, they make my life easier and the fabrics make me happy. I’m at an age I need stop worrying if anyone is thinking how stunning I am and just relax into MY style. Thanks for this affirmation

  17. February 23, 2017 / 7:50 am

    It is important to me that my clothes speak before I do and tell the right story about who I am.

    If someone calls my style boring I know that I have failed completely in my effort to communicate the person I am on the inside to the world outside.

    My personal five style statement words are my guideline to my clothing choices.

    As long as I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I’ve conveyed artistic, unique, relevant, fun and strong with my outfit I will be happy with my choices.

    Should we not be dressing for ourselves? To suggest that the craziest outfit wins would suggest that we are in competition with each other.

    Leandra wrote her genuine nonconformist style is as effortless as breathing. I find that to be a stretch. She thinks about what she wears. Her whole blog and life are built around that very concept. All style blogs are built around that concept. Otherwise style blogs would be, “The first thing I grabbed when I rolled out of bed.”

    Ultimately when we look in the mirror we need to see our true selves reflected back regardless if we are wearing the boldest outfit in the room. Hopefully in doing so we have achieved what makes us happiest.


  18. February 23, 2017 / 7:56 am

    You’ve really nailed it, Susan! Bravo. As a style blogger I’ve felt the same pressure to come up with newer, flashier looks. I do enjoy experimenting with new looks but feel like a clown if I cross that fine line I’ve decided is authentic for me. That said, I adore looking at wild looks for inspiration!

  19. plutrell
    February 23, 2017 / 8:01 am

    My co-worker, who is 60, just walked in wearing a very colorful, flamboyant style. Lots and lots of color and a cold shoulder tunic in bright florals. She looks great…it fits her personality to a tee. But, I also smiled to myself because I knew I was completely confident in the classic, menswear inspired look I have on today…much quieter, but me. I have been saying for the life of my blog that I developed my style focusing on the messages the clothing sends…and today, I feel confident, strong, creative, and youthful in my choice. I want to check out the Oprah article Tracy talked about. Good topic!

  20. Dany
    February 23, 2017 / 8:04 am

    Sometimes I feel that others might perceive my style as boring, as it is very classic. Dark jeans with white, grey or light blue shirts, camel coat, simple sweaters. Classic pearls, loafers and Hermès scarves. Color palette is usually neutrals with a little color, usually light pink. I really like this style and it’s 100% me.
    Slowly, I have come to realize that even though my style is super classic, it is in fact seen quite rarely in real life. When everybody is busy looking original, edgy, trendy and whatnot, I find that suddenly what I wear is distinctive too. Not loud, but no less personal than anyone else’s style either.

  21. February 23, 2017 / 8:50 am

    I am a more colorful boho kind of gal myself, but I love this piece and your blog is my favorite, as for me, it occupies that rare space between ho hum and crazy over the top. Keep on being yourself. You are anything but boring.

  22. Ainsivalavie
    February 23, 2017 / 9:56 am

    Susan I do not think you are boring at all! Some of your choices may not be mine but that’s my style and that’s fine. What is alarming is that women have to actually defend their personal style! As in listing the outfits,accessories and colour and then defend wearing it! Why is that? If a woman walks into a room in a bright red outfit and everyone else is in black AND she feels comfortable then I say that’s a woman who knows her style. No apologies.

  23. February 23, 2017 / 9:59 am

    Excellent post Susan! Yes, as you know, as a blogger there definitely seems like a herd mentality. Everyone is showing cold shoulder tops. Everyone is showing ruffles. Two trends that look terrible on me, but the pressure is still there, b/c you don’t want to feel outdated or left behind. I always keep in mind my mission which is to show that apple-shaped women can look stylish too. That and my story is told on my blog and I need to be my own self. Keep doing what you’re doing Susan!


    • February 25, 2017 / 5:07 am

      I looked up “cold shoulder tops” and what came up gave me the … shivers. A ridiculous look for most of the year in Montréal, and a skin cancer target in the summertime. I’d rather cover my shoulders than slather sunblock on them…

      I’ve already seen MANY of those on sale racks at a liquidation outfit I visited this week, to buy another pair of so-called skinny jeans in a dark colour (I’m not skinny, and don’t wear them tight).

  24. February 23, 2017 / 10:10 am

    Fantastic post — and yes, I read/enjoyed that article too. As a person who prefers an artsy style (I am a writer/photographer), I’ve finally stopped questioning whether or not I am “too old” for some of the clothing I’m drawn to. Now in my sixties, I am learning to follow my heart. I no longer stop myself when I want to purchase or wear something that others would consider over the top. I believe that the way we dress is a form of self-expression.

    All said and done, I prefer not to dress conservatively unless I am doing story interviews or attending a conference. For the most part, the women I admire most — at any age — are the ones who have a distinctive style — and often break the rules. They give me courage to do the same.

    That’s why I truly appreciate style bloggers like you — women who show by example how to develop a personal style, and how to ENJOY fashion rather than be ruled by it.

  25. Deborah Williams
    February 23, 2017 / 10:29 am

    Here, here! You are right on target. I do like lLeandra’s blog and her writing. But I am so turned off by the ‘styling’ I see on the fashion week photos…..Bah Humbug. … all I can say to most of the forced combinations and coats and jackets hanging off their elbows. They look ridiculous. But there are lovely simple pieces out there……you just have to look harder these days. And I guess the twenty somethings are having fun…so let them do their thing……
    I tried a leather jacket this year…….hmmmmmm. I am in my 60’s but try to look up to date. It was too much….too many zippers and harsh looking on me. What we can wear successfully depends sooooo much on our God given looks. But I did try.
    I have stopped getting blogs I feel are boring, but yours is always inspiring to see and read, and I do purchase things from your suggestions frequently….so keep doing ‘your thing’ and we will always have tasteful and stylish woman to emulate.

  26. Liz
    February 23, 2017 / 10:36 am

    I think that people should wear what feels right to them. Some people like to wear imaginative outfits because it suits who they are. Some people like to wear more subdued clothing because it suits who they are. I do wish that I could see street style photos of just “regular” people who are not models and are not wearing “interesting” clothing, but just regular stylish clothing. When I’m walking around in my everyday life, I don’t usually see people who dress like the people in fashion week photos. It is interesting to see fashion week photos, but how about regular people who dress fashionably? Hmm, I guess that’s what fashion bloggers are….

  27. Sarah Harvey
    February 23, 2017 / 4:01 pm

    Hey so I love your style Susan. It was you who articulated what I was aiming for. You have WAY more style than I do. I am ms practical. But I love your sleek and soft layering with natural fibers. You turned me on to EF, which has saved me. You also made it ‘ok’ for me to wear comfortable shoes–I try my best to purchase the ones that would look ok if I were walking all day in Paris. Again: you’re the one who finds the styles and I get the ones that fit my foot type etc. I can’t thank you enough. BTW: I gave up on the fashion magazines about 3-4 years ago. They aren’t meaningful for me anymore. I follow you and Ms That’s Not My Age! Oh, and Materfamilias. You three are the bomb for me. I still aspire to Emmanuelle Alt but… know…..I’m 70! XO Sally

  28. Eimear
    February 23, 2017 / 7:34 pm

    I am the accessories woman! I’m tall and broad-shouldered so fussy styles don’t suit me. My clothing tends to be fairly classic and quite plain. I ring the changes with shoes, bags and a large collection of scarves and jewellery (much of it inexpensive and purchased on my travels).

  29. February 23, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    If I could wear nothing else, I’d go completely bohemian. I’d look like a ship under full sail, but I’d be happy as a clam and comfortable as all get-out. For now, though, I’ll save that stuff for weekends and stick to impossibly bright “nice” tee shirts under suit jackets, or wear ironic jewelry and handknitted scarves and cowls. When I’m queen, though, look out!

  30. Anne Elizabeth
    February 23, 2017 / 10:56 pm

    Hello Susan. I really enjoy your blogg and like that you stay true to yourself. My style is very similar, I ring changes with accessories, scarves ( well over 100 ) jewellery, bags,shoes.I am matchy, matchy I must confess. I also enjoy Jennifer’s blogg, although lately she seems to be ” straying ” from her tried and true, but then returns to her own style, which makes this 70 plus reader very happy. Thankyou both for the pleasure you bring to my life.

  31. amy
    February 24, 2017 / 6:00 am

    Just a quick note to let you know how much I enjoy your blog.

  32. Beth25
    February 24, 2017 / 6:09 am

    Dear Susan, Well, I am having my 15 Minutes of Fame. On Wednesday I attended a town hall meeting with our Congressman, where I was able to ask a question about the changes in fidiciary laws governing investments. I was wearing my black graphic t-shirt, red neck scarf and cream long sweater from your blog. I was photographed by the newspaper and received several paragraphs about my question in the article. My friends thought I looked cute, but feisty….Thanks. I love your wardrobe and travel suggestions.

  33. February 24, 2017 / 10:39 am

    I read the article and I have stopped clicking onto the fashion week outfits…I am so bored with it all. My personal style is subdued but I have fun with makeup,scarves and color. And I am so pleased that flats are so much more fun now. Jeans,sweater and boots/jeans ,t-shirt, and flats…it works for me..

  34. February 24, 2017 / 11:15 pm

    Anyone who dresses in a way truly pleasing to themselves shines in a way that is indefinable, definitely not boring, whether it’s jeans or a gown.

  35. February 26, 2017 / 12:28 am

    Oh I love it when you do one of your thoughtful pieces! As an actor I’m very aware of the impact of costume on how I feel and move when I’m actively trying to “be” someone else. I’m also very aware of when I’m incorporating elements of costume into my daily life. Sometimes that is necessary, there are occasions on which I want to look more corporate or like a wedding guest or like a football (soccer) fan. The difference is that when it is me I am wearing my version of the corporate look and it feels very different to when I am in a character’s costume. My authentic feeling style in any context is predominantly block colours suppported by black or navy, simple lines – no frilly bits – intense pops of bright colour on stud earrings, scarves, sometimes nails and good quality fabrics. Great post look how much response it has generated!

  36. Michaela
    March 3, 2017 / 2:55 am

    Absolutely. You have to feel comfortable and I LOVE understated. These days it is all about proportion – what suits you and flatters you. Who wants to look theatrical? Elegance is never anecdotal.
    Michaela, Sydney

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