Yesterday we talked a bit about how developing or expanding your personal style can be daunting, and today we’re going to talk about developing a vocabulary.
When I say “developing a vocabulary” I mean two things: having some understanding of the fashion lexicon and being informed in at least the broad strokes of what’s coming down the catwalks.
Before you get on your huffy bikes about having to do homework for something as simple as getting dressed in the morning, think about this: knowledge is power, and the more knowledgeably you can speak about something, the more control you have over what you do and do not want.
I call this the Cerulean Sweater Principle:
The most time-efficient way to get yourself a working knowledge of fashion terms is to spend an afternoon or two immersing yourself in a glossary, the absolute best of which comes courtesy of apparelsearch.com. It’s the best on the web and a great combination of useful fashion stuff and arcane terminology. Click on a letter and skim skim skim. Also useful is Stylopedia, a brief illustrated glossary you could skim through in 30 minutes. I can’t over-emphasize how important this is since it will give you both practical knowledge AND the confidence to hold your own in the face of opinionated sales assistants, well-meaning but crazy-making mothers and that frenemy from college who wore white to your wedding.
The second element to developing a vocabulary is a bit slower going, and that involves knowing what’s happening on the runways. Are you ready for some heresy? Burn your fashion mags. Unless you get British, Paris or Italian Vogue –all worthy publications and available for around $250/yr– pretty much any fashion rag you’re likely to encounter is going to be pre-chewed, thoughtless pap that’s useless at best and soul-wreckingly counterproductive at worst.
What you want is pure, unadulterated access to information, so you can form your own opinions without undue influence. Well, you know, except for mine.
See, there are a whole heap of so-called fashion experts, especially online, who wouldn’t know their ascots from a hole in the ground. They’re going to try to tell you what the “in colors” are this season, or the “hot shapes” but odds are unless you know they’re poring over the runway shows themselves (which is time consuming and tedious to say the least) like as not they’re just swallowing what’s being fed to them by advertisers and clothing companies or just making stuff up.
So what’s a girl who likes to think on her own two brains to do? Go straight to the shows.
Style.com offers every look for all the significant shows (and some not so significant) from New York, London, Milan and Paris and is an invaluable resource.
But how do you know what shows to watch for premium trend-spotting? Here are ten of the most important houses to watch:
Of course, if you can’t stand to do all ten, just be sure to hit Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dior, Chanel and YSL.
So why are we watching impossibly skinny women wearing impossibly expensive clothes for created for events that in our daily lives seem well, impossible?
Because runway shows are about ideas, not pieces; and it’s ideas, not pieces that make us who we are.
Case in point:
Over the past few seasons, designers have been showing clothing with extremely defined, sometimes over-extended shoulders. These strong shoulders don’t just exist because Christophe Decarnin at Balmain decided to tack on some extra material.
A strong shoulder signifies strength, protection and disciplined power. It references military apparel and toys with androgyny, but also nods to the early 40’s and the Make It Do bonhomie of wartime rationing. (Interesting side note: part of the reason big shoulders were so in during the ’40s was that embellished clothing was in short supply so women turned to creating increasingly baroque hairstyles. The broad pads were used to balance out these complex ‘dos, which would’ve visually toppled a softer shoulder).
When a look appeals to us, it’s more than likely not the clothing itself but the message that clothing conveys. By thinking about the message the designers are trying to convey we can decide if that’s something that applies to us.
Do you like the designer’s ideas? If so, did you like the execution? If you liked the execution, what elements struck your fancy the most?
It’s from there that we pluck out an idea or two, refine it and incorporate it into our wardrobe. More on that tomorrow, ducklings… same Plum-time, same Plum-channel.