You know, I’ve got a confession to make in light of Plumcake’s article of yesterday: I don’t spend a lot of money on my clothes. Why? Because for far too much of my adult life I have teetered on the brink of utter financial ruin. If I need to choose between feeding myself, Mr. Twistie, and the cat for half the month and a pair of great shoes, I’m going with feeding the family. And yes, sometimes that really and truly is the choice.
In the course of my adult life, I have spent more than $100.00 on precisely five wearable items. One of them was my wedding gown. One was a pair of handmade tapestry boots I’ve been wearing the hell out of for the past ten years and change. They’re starting to reach the end of their road, sadly, but they have been my good and sturdy friends for years. One is a silver ring shaped like a bat that I’ve been wearing every single day for some twelve years, now. One is a velvet dress that I worked a weekend for the designer to afford. I even got something like eight bucks in cash in addition to my beautiful velvet dress that makes me feel like a muse and a warrior queen at the same time, yet can be tossed in the washer and dryer without thought after I do housework in it. The last was a really great heather grey wool coat that I wore from 1983 – 1990 when I could no longer fit in it. I wouldn’t change any of those purchases. And if I scrape the cash together again, yes, I would definitely be open to more of these sorts of items.
And yet, despite my budget, I’ve managed to own some amazing clothes in my life. Some of them have gotten just as much wear and given just as much delight as those five (excellent) purchases. Last year I bought a fabulous chocolate brown silk velvet blouse from Zaftique on sale for twenty-two bucks. I expect to wear it for years to come. Whatever their occasional oddities of design, I have to say that their construction cannot be faulted, and their size chart is accurate.
There is, however, a trick to being a diva on a dime store budget. Funnily enough, it’s the same one to being truly superfantastic on a champagne and caviar budget: you have to have a good eye. This eye needs to know quality when it appears on the horizon and it needs to quickly spot a good deal in price. Perhaps most of all, though, it needs to know what fits.
I’m not talking about fitting your body. That’s what dressing rooms and size charts (for what they’re worth) and mirrors are for. What I’m talking about is knowing what is your style, as opposed to what happens to be fashionable at the moment.
One season, fashion says that pink is the best color in the world, tweed is king, and nobody should be without Madras plaid shorts and skinny silver chain jewelry. The next, everything is black, op-art prints, linen, pencil skirts, and chunky enamel jewelry. Change is the point of fashion. If everyone keeps up, then it can’t be used to laugh behind hands at lesser beings who don’t know what’s ‘being done’ this season.
What you want is style.
Style is aware of fashion, but doesn’t really give a fig about it. Style is perfectly content to use the bits of fashion that happen to belong, but discards the rest ruthlessly. Fashion is a whim that must change sharply every few months. Style is slower to morph, and does so at its own pace for its own reasons. Fashion is by its very nature needy. Style is self-sufficient. Fashion requires others to join, whether they will or no. Style is a rugged individualist.
So how do you develop style? You can start with that great inspiration board project Plummy gave us a while back. Find what calls you. What are the colors, shapes, patterns, and textures that you are drawn to. After a short time, you’ll discover what they are.
Once you know what you like in theory, you have to see how it works in reality. This is far more difficult. It means you have to put on your critic’s hat and wear that puppy for all it’s worth and then some. You need to find out for yourself whether that delicious shade of green you keep putting on your inspiration board makes you glow when you put it on your body, or whether it makes you look as though you’re in the final stages of a dread, wasting disease. You need to honestly decide whether those swirly patterns you find so delightful make you look more like the free spirit you see in your head or the deranged escapee from a Grateful Dead revival concert you fear being mistaken for.
While you’re at it, be sure to try on a couple of things that wouldn’t quite make your inspiration board. Play with the scale of the patterns, the shading of the colors, the softness of the textures. Sometimes it’s the thing that isn’t on your board that actually winds up making you feel like you do when you look at the board.
This is the hardest part of developing a personal style. Why? Because you’re going to need to take some of your dreams at this point and stomp them flat. You’re going to need to accept that there are things you love that you will never, ever look good in.
This is also the most exhilarating step in the process, because this is where you find all the surprises. This is where you learn something fun about yourself. This is where some of your dreams are fulfilled in ways you’d never dreamed they could be. This is where you dare to learn that your favorite color really does look amazingly good on you, or that a look you’d always been told you were ‘too fat’ to carry off is really the most flattering line in the world on you.
Once you know your style, build it slowly. It’s tempting to just dive in and get everything – particularly if you happen to be lucky enough to have the budget to do so – but that’s not as good an idea as it sounds. In a buying frenzy, it’s easy to get so caught up in the excitement that you grab any old thing that might fit into your new style. It’s easy to forget the importance of construction and proper fit. Check the seams and hems, no matter whether you’re buying designer duds or budget blouses. If the construction is no good, it’s not a smart purchase, no matter how inexpensive. If the fit is constrictive or otherwise uncomfortable, you’ll never pull it out of the closet, no matter how pretty it looks on you.
Consider where you will wear the piece/outfit. Do you have an activity or destination for which this piece will be appropriate? Are you making any changes in your life that will allow this previously unusable look to function in your wardrobe? Are you making changes that make this one-time staple an impractical addition? Do you have the accessories you need for the look? Can you get them?
Style is harder than fashion. Fashion sets out a whole rulebook every few months that tells us precisely how to dress. Style, being more personal takes a great deal more effort. We have to choose what fits, what is our own essence.
Style is freer than fashion. We are not bound by the rules. We create our own.
Whether your budget allows for boutiques or is restricted to thrift stores, though, there’s a way to develop and live in your own style. After all, style is not a price tag. It’s a way of life.