Schooled in Style - une femme d'un certain âge

Schooled in Style

On Saturday, I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in a group style workshop led by Imogen Lamport of Bespoke Image (whose blog, Inside Out Style is a treasure trove of great style information), with Karen (Of A Certain Age) assisting. Karen is starting an image consulting business here in LA.

I learned so much from this one-day workshop, and would recommend it even for (especially for?) women who are well established in their own style, as it provides a professionally trained eye and fresh perspective.

Some things I’ve learned/realized:

1. Our color changes as we age (we lose pigment), and getting a professional color analysis every decade or so can be a great way to keep us looking our freshest and best. The last time I’d had my colors analyzed was in my late twenties, when I learned that clear, bright, warm colors (“Spring”) were best for me. In recent years I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by really bright colors, and gravitating toward more muted warm tones. Turns out my instincts were correct, as the color analysis revealed that my best colors are now “dusky” warm, light colors. A couple of the women in the group were surprised to learn that their best colors were in the warm family, when they’d always assumed they were “cool.”

2. While I’d always assumed that I was an “hourglass” shape, it turns out that I’m really more of an “H” which changes what styles will work best for me. And we also learned that proportion (relative lengths of different areas) is as important as shape when finding what will create a balanced and harmonious effect. It can make a huge difference to an overall look where sleeves and necklines and hems hit. Even just a couple of inches difference can totally change the entire look of an outfit.

3. Pattern, texture, scale, and structure (or lack of), and horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines (not necessarily patterns, but rather where pockets hit, in which direction seams or gathers go) all factor into the mix. (It can get complicated!)

4. Women’s bodies really do have a lot of natural variety. It’s one thing to know that on a philosophical level, and another to really see it. Two women of the same height and size may be built totally differently, and look good in vastly different styles. Too often we beat ourselves up when something doesn’t look good on us and blame our bodies for not being “right,” when really it’s about figuring out the brands and shapes that are cut right for our unique physique.

5. I really do need to reduce the percentage of black in my wardrobe, especially near my face. Thanks to Imogen’s “black aversion therapy,” it became very apparent that black actually does drain a lot of color from the face, and emphasizes lines and shadows.

6. Personality matters. Some styles may look great on us but will feel uncomfortable if they aren’t in sync with our personality (or in my case, personalities). Sometimes a garment that breaks all of the rules is something that will make you feel great, and if that’s the case, wear it anyway even if it isn’t the most flattering thing in your closet.

7. What we admire isn’t always what we should emulate. In a conversation with Karen on the ride back from the shopping portion of the day, I was reminded once again that the styles that I tend to admire most on others really don’t fit with my body, my personality or my life. (I will never be an “Elegant Chic.”) My personality is more playful, my life more casual and complicated, and my style needs to reflect those factors. I think I gravitate to those more refined looks as that was what my parents idealized. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy…cool, slim icons of WASP-y perfection were the feminine ideals I was taught to aspire to. Despite my various and sundry style rebellions since childhood, something in me has never fully pushed aside that particular archetype as an attainable ideal.

But everyone has their style icons. The trick is to separate fantasy from reality, to take what inspires, what works, a pinch from here and there and create a personal mix, rather than trying to follow literally another’s style script. I’ve been inadvertently doing this the last few years: starting with clean lines and neutral color, and adding some whimsical or artistic or casual touches of my own when the purely classic elements start to feel stultifying.

With what I learned from Imogen on Saturday, I now have even better tools to add, edit, tweak and continue to develop a style that’s workable, flattering, cohesive and most importantly, my own.

Thanks, Imogen and Karen!

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  1. May 11, 2009 / 1:13 pm

    What a marvelous day, packed with learning AND connection. Thanks for the summary and I can tell how much fun it was to be there!

  2. May 11, 2009 / 1:36 pm

    Whoa, you are like a scientist of style, deconstructing and explaining the deeper and deeper layers of aesthetics.
    It’s very interesting what you say about aspiring to styles that might fit one’s figure, but not one’s personality. I always feel like I have a punk and a preppy bickering inside me when I go shopping. How can I have my nice, streamlined, coherent wardrobe with all that ruckus? Have to make a decision!
    Also– thanks for turning me on to Inside Out Style!

  3. May 11, 2009 / 1:59 pm

    Oh, that sounds like fun. And I love your point about how wildly women’s bodies can vary. I have one good friend who usually wears the same size as me — except she’s 4 inches shorter & her bra size is two cups bigger — and another friend who’s the same “size” except we can’t wear one another’s clothes very well because she’s all boobs & legs & I’m all torso &… well, I’m all torso. Humans are fascinating critters, ain’t they?

  4. May 11, 2009 / 2:07 pm

    Great breakdown Deja! I’m glad that you found it so helpful, I had heaps of fun with you all and it was so great to meet some readers.

    There is definitely a science to the art of style!

  5. lagatta à montréal
    May 11, 2009 / 2:13 pm

    That is fascinating. Your scarf collection will already go a long way towards softening the impact of black on your face, while keeping its class and figure flattery.

    I’ve been trying to wear less black, but the problem is finding alternatives, in soft, smoky, Parisienne colours – I went to one shop where there was nothing but gaudy bright colours and babyish pastels.

    Of course I could take up smoking to get the smoky allure, but that would not be particularly good for the skin (I see women who are heavy smokers 20 years younger than I am who have far more wrinkles), not to mention more serious concerns…

    Ha – style icons my shape – that would be Marilyn putting on weight in middle age – or the Queen (though the latter is three decades older than I am, and has lost her hourglss shape entirely as an old lady, which my own mum never did). I don’t remotely resemble either in terms of style or personality.

  6. May 11, 2009 / 2:35 pm

    So much you say here pulls together what I’ve been learning lately — how wonderful to get a chance to consolidate that learning and push it so much further. I’ve been studying Imogen’s blog and I’m convinced I’m an H as well. I’d love to find out what colours she’d direct me towards — I was sure, from the 80’s on, that I was a ‘summer,’ but now there are many warm colours I can way that I couldn’t before and many of the cool ones the opposite is true of. As for the black, I agree with Lagatta — it’s tough to find the alternatives. For now, the scarves come in handy, don’t they!

  7. May 11, 2009 / 2:42 pm

    It’s always good to have an expert to point out things that may not be obvious to us. For those who can’t get a personal consultation done, I recommend Bridgette Raes’ book, “StyleRx” – – She covers many of those attributes such as texture, necklines, etc. in addition to body proportions and colors. As far as wearing something that feels great, even though it breaks the rules, I think an outfit feels great when it’s comfortable and others react positively. So it probably is flattering to you,anyway.

  8. May 11, 2009 / 2:48 pm

    I would have loved to have been on the west coast to join in. Thanks for sharing what you learned.

    Isn’t it wonderfully freeing to know that beauty is about who you are and that clothing is there to enhance that natural beauty?

  9. May 11, 2009 / 2:55 pm

    That video of Imogen on the Bespoke Style website is excellent! I noticed she mentioned “appropriate” and I couldn’t help but think of the picture of captain Philips and his wife at the Whitehouse. Did anyone else see that? I was appalled. I hope Mrs. Philips was dressed that way because the visit was spontaneous & she didn’t have a chance to change.

  10. May 11, 2009 / 3:00 pm

    It sounds like Imogen’s workshop was a great success. Perhaps this will be the start of many workshops by Imogen to come….or a kickoff of future workshops by Karen….

  11. May 11, 2009 / 4:46 pm

    Fantastic recap of the day!

    I have to admit I was hesitant to spend money on a workshop, when I can glean this and that from the internet, but it was absolutely worth it. Imogen is amazing.

    For me, the color analysis part was the best part. I’m someone who lives in black, I think partly to hide, and partly to project a certain image. (Sophisticated? Urban? Unseen stage hand for an avant-garde theatre troupe?) Except all the black has become kind of a prison, and I was starting to feel stagnant. (At least I’ll be appropriately dressed for my own funeral when I die of boredom.)

    I think I was ready for a big change, and in a way this has given me “permission” to lighten up a bit wear color and have some fun. I really can not express enough how excited and amazing I feel!

  12. May 11, 2009 / 5:45 pm

    You have done an impressive job of verbalizing what you’ve learned. I have been thinking about everything so much my brain is jumbled. Especially being one of the cools who are actually warm. Reading your post has sorted out a bit of what I’ve been thinking.

  13. May 11, 2009 / 5:46 pm

    Yay to this: “Sometimes a garment that breaks all of the rules is something that will make you feel great, and if that’s the case, wear it anyway even if it isn’t the most flattering thing in your closet.” I’m putting on my leopard print dress right now! 😉

  14. May 11, 2009 / 7:43 pm

    Golly, fantastic! But Pseu, you achieved the heights of talent and style last week when you got Whose Shoes. What an unbelievable honor!

  15. May 11, 2009 / 8:38 pm

    I’m so happy you had a great time. I wish I could have been there. Maybe one day Imogen will come to the East coast!

  16. ~Tessa~Scoffs
    May 11, 2009 / 2:04 pm

    You touch on a very important point. Many style books assume we can choose our own fashion icon by what is asthetically pleasing to us(Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, etc.) but, as you say, it’s more important to pay attention to body shape and personality. Very very interesting.

  17. May 11, 2009 / 9:09 pm

    Does she ever come up to Northern California? This sounds like it was great.

  18. Sal
    May 11, 2009 / 3:40 pm

    I really wish I could have been there for this amazing workshop! All of your revelations are fascinating … I, of course, am most intrigued by #4. 😉

  19. cciele
    May 11, 2009 / 4:30 pm

    Thanks for the great summary! Sounds like a very successful, fun workshop. Interesting point about how we should not necessarily emulate what we admire. So much of our self image and style seems to be developed in the formative childhood years, and I can see how it might be difficult to break out of those expectations and assumptions.

    And thanks for turning me on to Imogen’s blog — it’s wonderful!

  20. May 11, 2009 / 11:33 pm

    I love black, unrepentantly. I usually wear it on the bottom but in winter, can wear all black and not look drained; I’m a redhead. Would branch out to bitter chocolate or anthracite if I could find clothes- cannot be found readily (and I live in a city of nearly 4 million, and travel.) If you live in far- northern North America or Europe, black reads different than in sun-sturated climes.

  21. Leah
    May 11, 2009 / 5:44 pm

    It sounds like you had a great day! I love the picture of you and Imogen at J Crew (on Karen’s blog)! I fear color analysis since I hate most colors (although I’m wearing a raspberry colored blouse right now) but it would probably be a good thing to have it done sometime! Thanks for sharing your day!

  22. May 12, 2009 / 3:01 am

    Duchesse – it really was fun, and so great to meet all of these wonderful women!

    Glove Slap – why choose? Maybe you’re a Punk Preppy Princess.

    Style Spy – fascinating, and all lovely in our variety.

  23. May 12, 2009 / 3:12 am

    Tessa – that’s so true.

    Imogen – if there’s a science to style, I think you deserve a Nobel prize! I’m glad you had fun.

    lagatta – true, I’ll probably never totally give up my black, but I’ll probably not be wearing right next to my face if I can help it.

  24. May 12, 2009 / 3:20 am

    materfamilias – one of the things I was pleased to discover with my color palette is that charcoal grey is one of my options, as well as a taupe-y grey. So I’m on the lookout for those colors to help replace at least some of my black.

    Rita – I do think that confidence is a huge factor. When we feel good, we look good.

    Modest Mom – you’re very welcome! It’s great to learn ways to bring out our best.

  25. May 12, 2009 / 3:31 am

    Belle – it’s definitely worthwhile!

    Sal – it’s amazing when you really see the difference in proportions going around the table from one woman to the next. And everyone looks great too, there is no one “right” body!

    cciele – it is hard to break out of those assumptions, for sure. I’ve spent decades either trying to conform or rebelling against them, but not as much effort developing my own style “voice.”

  26. May 12, 2009 / 3:36 am

    dollycannotfly – I still can’t get over how great you look in your new colors! It was really great to see you just light up.

    Leah – the good news is that you don’t have to wear any colors you don’t like. But when you hit just the right one…BAM! It really makes such a difference.

    Cosmo – your skin just glowed with some of those warm colors. I hope you’ll be able to find the girly styles you like in the colors that work for you.

  27. May 12, 2009 / 3:40 am

    WendyB – your leopard print dress rocks big time, and looks fabulous on you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

    Miss Janey – it *was* fun, and you’re welcome.

    dana – not to brag, but that’s actually the second Whose Shoes Wednesday I’ve won…the first one was Barbara Walters a year or so ago. I’m flummoxed when it comes to current celebutantes, but the women of my mother’s generation I can identify.

  28. May 12, 2009 / 3:46 am

    Julianne – maybe she will, or maybe there’s someone in your area who will do style workshops.

    LPC – It was great, and very helpful. Imogen is visiting from Australia; I don’t know if she’s planning to visit the SF area. I wonder if you could find an image or style consultant locally who’d be willing to do a workshop for you and your friends. It’s a great way to spend a day!

    Duchesse – I think you do have a point about the light.

  29. May 12, 2009 / 3:47 am

    Karen – I’m looking forward to reading that one. You are such a natural at this!

  30. May 12, 2009 / 5:54 am

    Without light there is no colour, the darker it is the less we see colour, so black is not as harsh in a darker environment, and is much harsher in a bright light.

  31. Karen
    May 12, 2009 / 1:15 am

    Une Femme is an H shape–also known as a rectangle, so she should look for that description when reading other style and fit guides. Une Femme is VERY lucky to have found her defining colors, the best of which imo, was salmon. It made her look so healthy and it helped diminish the brown spots she fights in her face.

    Doll Cannot Fly has a whole new world opening in front of her, and a stagehand she’ll no longer be! By popping in her new colors, she’ll be the star on that stage. With her understanding of fit and the female form, Doll knows how to create an hourglass shape rather than boxing herself into a rectangle. Some of us are more comfortable in a feminine form than others, but by emphasizing your best, like Doll’s slim waistline, you can take years off your appearance. Doll looked 35 coming into this thing, and now she appears to easily be in her early thirties. For REAL!

    Cosmo will take more time to play with her warm colors–and that’s okay. We are grownups and we get to do things in our own way now and at a pace that suits our comfort zone. Cosmo, take a good look at Rebecca Taylor and Tracy Reese for the “femine looks” you’re after. And Betsy Johnson would be incredible on you. Buy your pants that fit your way, then use the designer tops and dresses as your signature pieces. You’ll save money while getting the “look” you’re after.

    It makes no sense to have fashion icons that have nothing to do with our own bodies. The Jackie O look that many are inspired by does not suit people of certain shape. Wear the pins, bags and glasses, but find a muse that looks like your body and see how they look comfortable in their own skin! Your muse may be a relative that has your figure. And maybe she looked amazing in more skimming , soft clothing than the very structured Jackie O look.

    I am really big on finding everday muses to admire. You get so much out of real life dressing by emulating real people!

    I think I’ve just found my next blog post, so stay tuned for “The Everyday Muse.”

  32. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion
    May 12, 2009 / 10:44 am

    Sounds like a great time! Thanks for the recap.

  33. June 14, 2009 / 10:55 pm

    some great tips and really good advice.

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