Icons, Inspiration and Distillation

(Le sigh.) Une femme can’t help it. Every time talk turns to fashion icons, this is the image that jumps immediately to my mind. “Realistic” has nothing to do with it; of course my style icon has a body type almost exactly opposite to mine. Nor am I going to prance around work in toreador pants, at least not until I begin living my fantasy life and spend my days flitting from art gallery to art gallery, stopping in between for a drink at a sidewalk cafe. And I’d certainly need to add a scarf to that minimalist ensemble.

But inspiration need not be literal. Imogen’s suggestion of making a list of clothing likes and dislikes really helped to crystallize why this image resonates so strongly, and how I can utilize these stylistic elements in my own ensembles.

Starting with Dislikes:
Visual clutter
Clingy, too tight

Clean lines
Pop of color
Earth tones
Asian-inspired design/prints
Subtly feminine
Mix of masculine and feminine elements

No surprises here, but these lists help clarify why some styles that I admire on others just feel wrong when I try to recreate them, regardless of how they look objectively. It explains why I’ve been gravitating toward a softer and less structured style of dressing, and reassures me that I’m on the right track toward refining my wardrobe and style to reflect my truest self.

Have you made a list of your clothing likes and dislikes? Did you find any surprises?

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  1. It’s so useful to see someone else’s list — reading Imogen’s idea (and High Wasp’s the other day), I thought the theory reasonable but also felt the actual process would be too formulaic and tell me what I already know — here, though, I can see that having these two lists so concretely laid out does work to clarify — I suspect it would help to separate the “whimsical” from the “frou frou” when shopping — those items that sometimes make it home as the former but turn out to have a whiff of the latter might now be left behind at the store.
    Perhaps I’ll try this myself. . .

  2. I don’t have lists. My style has pretty much stayed to same over my entire adult life. I prefer structured classic clothes in basic colors, black, navy, camel,brown, burgandy, grey that can be dressed up or down by accessories.
    I’m definitely too old for “frou frou”.

  3. For those “list types” or those curious, this exercise is similar to one of the exercises in “Style Statement” by Danielle Laporte and Carrie McCarthy- their extensive workbook results in a two word distillation (the Style Statement).

    Continually useful to me, and could not second-guess it (re materfamilias’ comment). Book goes into choices beyond clothes: how I want to participate in the community, etc. It’s all connected.

    Book is sale hugely on Amazon for $9.50 so if curious, it is super cheap. But even though I paid a lot more it’s saved me from mistakes. (But then I enjoy making lists and thinking about this sort of thing.)

  4. materfamilias – I think my interpretation of “frou-frou” is something along the lines of “excessively detailed” or “over-the-top-girly” so to my mind frou-frou and whimsical are different kettles of fish. In fact, I think whimsy is well served by simplicity, if that makes any sense.

    Belle – I envy your certainty and sense of style developed early in life. For a long time, I was constrained by money, and then by fit, so my “style” was limited to “whatever-I-can-afford-that-fits,” and to some degree it still is, but there is considerably more lattitude. It was hard to know what I would like to wear and what would work, as almost everything was so far out of reach. By the time I had some discretionary income, I was into my 40’s and dealing with what felt age-appropriate but not ageing. In a way, it was like being thrown into the middle of the ocean and told to swim to shore. I’ve found the list-making and writing (much of it on this blog) to be very helpful.

  5. Duchesse – I started doing the “Style Statement” exercises earlier this summer, but didn’t feel well-represented by any of the single-word types they described. But maybe I’m overthinking it.

  6. oh, i like the list idea… it explains why i always wind up with one or two things that i *think* i should like, and then never get worn. but does it explain why you find something you really like, you know looks great and then don’t buy it? money doesn’t always explain it. yesterday i tried on two pairs of slacks and two jackets and they looked great, but i just couldn’t do it.

  7. Now this is actually quite scary because your list of likes is almost EXACTLY the same as mine…I think I’d just add in, clever/tricky cutting a la Miyake/Yamamoto/Commes and we’re done! D’you think we are style twins separated at birth, or just really style-savvy? Hmmm….

  8. Based on your “likes,” I can see why *that* image of Audrey appeals to you so much. It’s really more like a line drawing than an outfit, you know? Sinuous with no extraneous details.

    Now that I’ve moved far enough away from my Bea Arthur style to consider other options, I find I have to work fairly hard to get that balance between (what we think of as) masculine and feminine elements you mentioned.

    I am drawn to looks that skew (stereotypically) one way or the other–very severe and tailored and minimalist (“closed”) vs very lush and fluid and sensual (“open”).

    While I’ve never done the official Style Statement process Duchesse mentions, I have discussed it with those who were undertaking it.

    Based on what I read of it a while back I decided *two* statements worked for me–“oh nooooooo you have to pick one” said the purists, ha–but I had to honor my Gemini need for duality-within-a-duality. So:

    Contrarian Classicist OR Minimalist Magpie

    Generally, I think those categories are good ones that allow lots of flexibility for mixing the masculine/feminine (closed/open) styles I like!

  9. Pseu I love your lists and I too (like Vix) can so see why you love Audrey as an icon – simple and clean – sure your body shapes are different, but you can take those elements and use them for your wardrobe.

    I’ve also tried the Style Statement and it didn’t really work for me – it was way too hard, too much, and acutally assumes you’ve done some interior decorating (ha ha)! I couldn’t come up with anything from it – or maybe I tried too hard!

    Great work – I really hope these lists help.

    Oh and Wendy B cracks me up!

  10. bonnie-ann – I’m curious as to what stopped you. Was it the price? The style, maybe different than what you normally wear? Sometimes I’m grateful when I walk away, and other times I kick myself after obsessing about the item for a day or week, then going back to find they’ve sold out of my size!

    Frugal Scholar – those magazine quizzes used to drive me crazy; so often my answer was None of the Above!

  11. WendyB – LOL! oh, denim booty shorts have been on my Radioactive list for a few decades now…

    Madame Suggia – oh, we’re definitely very style savvy, but maybe separated at birth too?

  12. Vix – oh yes, “Minimalist Magpie”, I love that one! I posted a while back about the two women who keep clothing in my closet, and like you, one is a classicist and the other a sensualist.

    Imogen – thanks for the great suggestion! It was a very helpful exercise. WendyB cracks me up too. She’s quite a wit!

    LBR – thanks! I may have to give Style Statement another try, maybe not limiting myself to their categories?

  13. I remember assiduously filling out magazine questionnaires in my young days–to see my style, my perfume, etc. It’s so hard over 50! A few weeks ago, my daughter made me 6 outfits: MWF, MWF. Two weeks of teaching. Next time she visits, she’s adding accessories. I am THAT unsure of myself these days.

  14. I really enjoyed your list and “Style Statement” the book that Duchesse recommended. It is a fantastic way to do the list in an expanded way.

  15. I like your suggestion of making a list. I’ve never done that before. Though I do consider my style eclectic. I change with the seasons or better yet my moods 😉

  16. Pseu: The ‘single word types’ are not the end product! You end up with a two-word description from either their lists or your OWN words. And you could expand to three words, heck it’s your Style Statement. I just did 30 mins at a time in a notebook.

    Anyway. If you cover Audrey’s face and forget this is one of the best known photos of a woman ever, you will see she has an unusual body: extremely long legs on an average but long-waisted torso. Classic dancer’s body (which she was), but also petite. The black form-fitting attire accentuates the lithe line. If one does not have that body type to begin with (or anymore, that’s me) no clothes can give it.

  17. Sher – I think you have a definite style which I’d probably describe as “Accessible Eclectic.” 🙂

    tishjett – yes, as one who is frequently entranced by sparkly objects, the list is a good grounding device.

    Duchesse – OK, i’ll go back and try to work through the book again. I’m still liking Vix’s “Minimalist Magpie” as a type, though. 🙂

    And what I’ve realized about this Audrey pic is it’s not so much her figure I’m wanting to emulate as the clean, pared-down look of it. I can’t go as form-fitting, but can achieve it in other ways.

  18. >it’s not so much her figure I’m wanting to emulate as the clean, pared-down look of it. I can’t go as form-fitting, but can achieve it in other ways.

    Oh ABSOLUTELY! To suit my Minimalist Magpie I will semi-channel that look with monochromatic sweater + dark wool bootcut pants + jewelry * I* consider really fabulous, ha.

    That may mean adding my “molten lava” pendant…or it may mean (and this is crazy even for me) adorning my ears with a vintage store find like my budget-friendly, shoulder-brushing cascade of iridescent beads.

    I’m glad so many style bloggers will only wear “good” jewelry as it leaves more for me….

    Have (more) fun exploring!



    When I do my style assessments with clients, we settle on five or six words. Every three months you can change your words if your the type who needs variety and dynamism

  20. Isn’t Imogen wonderful?! You’ve done a fabulous list and even though I’ve never met you, I feel as though I can picture you just from your Likes and Dislikes lists alone.

    I’m curious, Duchesse: what is your 2-word statement?