Wade took Charlie to get a haircut last week; he came home with a fauxhawk (Charlie, not Wade — Wade got his standard buzz cut). The barber put a little spray gel in Charlie’s hair, which kept the spiky part completely upright and made Charlie crazy happy.
On Friday morning, Charlie got dressed and put his contacts in and re-spiked the (unwashed) hair. Wade said, “Is he going to school like that?”
I shrugged and said, “As far as I know, it’s not a uniform violation, and I don’t care what he does with his hair as long as he’s not shaving designs in the side.” Because that is my line in the sand: No designs, and no actual Mohawk.
The day before, the barber — an older gentleman who keeps Fox News on in his shop ALL THE TIME — asked Wade how I felt about his super short hair. Wade was a little baffled, because why did it matter? It was his hair. I laughed when he told me this; I have never once consulted Wade about my own hair, and I would fall over if he asked my opinion about his. (And for the record, I like his buzz cut. It’s sexy. And also? It’s his hair, not mine.)
Personal style is, fundamentally, a very personal thing — not to be redundant, but you know what I mean. What looks good — or feels good — on one person may not look or feel good on you. To define style as a set of generic of one-size-fits-all conventions developed by someone else (magazines, fashion bloggers, advertisers) misses the point. We’re all different sizes and shapes; we have different priorities and values and ideas about how the world works. All of those things influence our style, whether we realize it or not.
Last week, Rachel wrote the first in what will be a series of posts about her personal style (to which I say, HOORAY!!! because she’s the bomb and she’s a total style inspiration to me, in so many ways). And she made an observation that really stuck with me: Personal style, she wrote, “boils down to this: what is absolutely essential for you?”
I love that idea, that style should be essential, that it is about both what you cannot live without and what you totally don’t need. Finding that balance — both in your closet and your life at large — is one of the hardest tasks of adulthood.
Also last week, Jenna Lyons talked with the Guardian newspaper about her personal style rules. In the days since I read this piece (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I love) I’ve come across a whole string of similar pieces, all written by various magazine editors and fashion insiders, explicating their personal style philosophy. They’re all fascinating to me, particularly the ones from women whose style is so opposite my own (Carine Roitfeld, for example, whose advice is fantastic even though there’s probably not one single thing in her closet that I would actually wear).
What I like about these women’s rules is that they are both specific and generic. Both Lyons and Roitfeld advise steering clear of trends, for example, even though their individual sartorial choices are completely different. Both women, though, are talking about identifying the essentials and manifesting them in a really personal way. Like Charlie and his fauxhawk.
Developing a personal style isn’t about following someone else’s rules; it’s about articulating your own, even if you don’t want to think of them as “rules.” Call them guidelines, commandments, truths, manifestos, whatever — what are the touchstones you use to guide the way you create a look?
Here are my five (mostly) unbreakable style truths. Because of course, truth number six is never say never.
Natural fibers are more luxurious than synthetics. I’m not a fan of polyester; I will always go with the natural fiber — cotton, wool, silk, cashmere — if possible. (Of course, my beloved Pixie pants are made primarily from petroleum products, so take that as you will. These are flexible rules. Of course.)
Flats are practical and pretty. I love a beautiful pair of heels — on someone else. In my world, heels are for sitting down, not doing things. But a smart loafer or slim ballet flat makes my heart pitter pat and doesn’t leave me limping. I don’t believe that pain and style are the same thing at all.
Don’t be afraid of repetition. Every once in a while, I’ll look at my Instagram photos and realize just how often I wear the exact same outfits. The irony, of course, is that repetition — of a specific piece or a specific look — is what defines personal style in the first place.
Accessories make an outfit. Accessories, to me, are like the sprinkles on the cupcake. No matter what else I’m wearing — basic pants and a plain tee, for example — a big blingy necklace or a pile of bracelets makes me feel pulled together and polished. And it’s so easy to do.
Spend more — even if it means having less. I have pieces in my closet that predate my children (yes, really!) — and that I will wear, on a regular basis. I hate to shop, so I would rather invest a little more money in a classic piece that I will wear forever than have to keep replacing things. (See also: Hand washing to minimize wear.)
Your turn: Let’s hear about your style truths. Do you have a look that you default to, or are you still searching for your personal groove?