I think there’s a reason that Ms. Van der Post’s book begins with a chapter trying to explain how to dress in a way that doesn’t rely on old tropes about age appropriateness, genetics, or budgets.
The concept of style is difficult to define, but most of us know it when we see it. The difficult bit is adopting and cultivating a style that is all your own.
There is no such thing as an ugly woman – there are only the ones who do not know how to make themselves attractive.
Van der Post breaks the process down into a few (perhaps difficult to digest) bite-size pieces:
1) “Ruthless honesty”
Van der Post says, “The first essential is a long, straight look in the mirror, deciding what is good about your body and what isn’t. Once you’ve worked out what needs hiding and what enhancing, you’re on your way to finding a wardrobe to suit you. The art of disguise is what it’s all about.”
She doesn’t bother sugarcoating it.
I’ll choose to put it differently, but the message is the same; dress for the body you have, not the body you think you have. Another quote from one makeover show or another that was on TV years ago said, “Just because you can get yourself into it doesn’t mean that it fits.”
That one, I think, should be on a billboard somewhere. Or perhaps in every fitting room in America.
The bottom line is to be honest with yourself. If you want to and are able to, fix the things you don’t like, and dress for the rest.
2) Time for trial and error
You aren’t going to go out in one weekend and find all of the brands, cuts, and styles that do and don’t fit you. There are simply too many options, many of which (I’m learning) you may not have access to locally.
And you’re going to make mistakes. I can already tell you that there are changes I would make to the outfit I posted as my cover photo for Vlogmas Day 1. And that’s okay. The key is to make note of these things, change your approach, and try again.
And remember, when it comes to the artistic part of fashion, “error” is subjective. We’re all going to be drawn to different colors, patterns, and cuts. As long as what you’re wearing fits you the way that the garment is intended to fit, the rest is up to you. So take your time, learn what you like (and what flatters you), and don’t be afraid to take some chances.
3) Some tried and true starting points
All of that is well and good, but it’s awfully abstract. Where do you start? So far, it seems to me like it’s easiest to copy basic templates, and individualize it somehow. For instance, Van der Post mentions that “the young” look great in good jeans, a clean, basic t-shirt, and a jacket. A variety of jackets and blazers, in fact, supposedly have the power to diversify your entire wardrobe.
If we take that template, think of all the ways to spin it to suit what YOU prefer. The jeans could be skinny leg, jeggings, flares, or heavily distressed boyfriend cut, just to name a few. Options for the jacket are equally endless. It could be slim cut in a stiff material, or draped more like a cardigan. It could be light and lacy, or heavy with big buttons.
As for the t-shirt, well, I suppose there are fewer options there. But even so, there’s got to be room to wiggle when choosing the fabric and the neckline. Flowing rayon, or structured cotton? V-neck, scoop neck, or boat neck?
From there, you can change the effect with anything from jewelry, to scarves, to handbags, shoes, and hats.
So you see, what I’m learning is that when you pare it down, most fashions come from similar roots. And having style is all about where you choose to grow from there.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. All that bit about time, trial, and error, remember? To start, I’m giving it a go with jackets. My first one came in today. Here’s what happened when I tried it on.