One of the biggest lies Big Retail gets away with telling you is that style can be bought.
If you’ll just buy enough clothes – look, we’re having a sale! – then you can achieve the style you’re after.
If you’ll just sign up for this handy mail-order clothing service, we can create the style for you!
But that’s not how true, signature style is born. You can’t buy your way into having great style. Your signature style isn’t created, it’s divined out of you.
Case in point: I have my Style Mastery students go through what we call a muse exercise, wherein we look back at what has inspired them to find their true style inspiration. Because, working with your own, authentic experiences is so much better and easier than trying to create something that’s just not there.
We’re not just talking style inspiration here – I want to know everything.
When I do this exercise with clients, it’s fascinating to watch all the experiences bubble up to the surface. It’s great fun to hear what makes each client tick – as well as a bit voyeuristic and vicarious.
And I hear so many different muse inspirations: growing up on a farm (which, surprisingly, I’ve heard from multiple clients), travel to Europe, the college experience, music they listened to as a teen, artists who inspire them, etc.
All of these inspirations, no matter how seemingly insignificant, make up the person you are today – which is why contemporary inspiration is only a small part of the style process (ex: Gwyneth Paltrow, which is one I hear often). And we use this inspiration not to tell us what to wear, exactly, but rather to help guide our choices.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, admittedly, I just discovered myself.
It’s not always just your direct inspiration that has influence on you. There is also some great between-the-lines inspiration you should pay attention to.
Here’s what I mean.
Since I was a teen (maybe younger), I’ve been infatuated with the obsessive love story of Gone with the Wind. Up to this point, I thought it was Scarlett that was my muse – the drive, the determination, the business acumen – but I was wrong.
In fact, it was love affair between Scarlett and Ashley Wilkes that was most influential to me (sorry, Rhett Butler).
Carrying a torch for someone who she could not have, sending subtle clues with her mannerisms and body language. Strained seduction. The fantasy of finally being together.
Just like there are negative spaces in any composition, there are parts of our inspiration that affect us indirectly. Think of an abstract composition – like a Robert Motherwell Elegy painting. The white – or, negative – spaces are just as important as the thick, black lines.
And these negative spaces in our inspiration are no less influential or important to defining our true selves and, ergo, signature style.
So, yes, the character of Scarlett O’Hara (Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler) was influential to me (drive, determination), but so was watching this emotional courtship unfold (romance, mischief, rebellion).
And it’s those themes – drive, determination, romance, mischief, rebellion – that we use to help us craft a style concept. The style concept helps us craft a core wardrobe. And knowing your core wardrobe – the pieces, the colors, the prints and patterns – helps you decide, with confidence, whether or not something is right for your signature style.