I firmly believe that any wearable item can look good if styled properly. OK, maybe not cloven-toed shoes or butt-cheek-exposing short-shorts, but pretty much everything else. Trendy items like jumpsuits, tricky items like ankle booties, even garments that fit imperfectly or hit your body at strange angles can all be strategically deployed in ways that will make the items look natural and you look amazing.
And since I want everyone to feel confident in exploring style as a means of self-expression, to try new things and branch out, to work at assembling amazing outfits, I thought I'd write up some instructions on how to cultivate a stylist's skill set.
BUT. What I discovered as I wrote was that the cultivation part is enjoyable and fascinating ... but the timeline is much, much longer than can really be captured in a blog post. And the process itself isn't just long, it's nebulous and changeable depending on your personality and priorities. Nevertheless, I'm going to plow ahead. Because learning what you love to wear and which items fit your personal figure flattery priorities constitutes the groundwork, but learning to make clothing a true artistic medium for self-expression is the end goal. And a worthy - if daunting - one at that.
Here are the basic steps you need to follow to become your own best stylist:
Nothing can replace experimentation as a means of understanding how your body and clothes will interact, and to be done right it must be done ON YOUR BODY. Practice doesn't mean brainstorming possible outfits, or sketching ensembles, or shopping. It means standing in front of the mirror and examining how combinations of clothing, shoes, and accessories impact your figure, your complexion, your overall look. It means starting with an outfit that looks horrendous and changing and refining it until you are not just satisfied, but thrilled with the results.
No woman dresses in a vacuum. If you want to learn how to style yourself, you need to see how others style themselves. Not only will the choices of others influence your own choices, but an awareness of what is available and how it's being worn will help you keep your look current. Does this mean "copy outfits from magazine editorials," "buy entire ensembles as shown in ads," or "become a slave to trends"? Certainly not. It means that consuming images of dressed women will grease your imaginative gears. A photo of a runway model shouldn't make you think, "I could never wear that." It should make you think, "What can I use from that?" Color combinations? Proportional play? Hairstyle? Accessory placement? Blogs, magazines, books, television, movies, and women who pass you on the street can all fill your internal inspiration folder.
Related to confidence, but perhaps a step beyond, dressing with courage means committing yourself to wearing clothing that makes you visible, defined, and interesting. This doesn't mean that you have to wear something loud and showy every day, or that you cannot follow this path toward a sleek, minimalistic style. But it does mean that you must be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone fairly regularly in the name of exploration and refinement, try a new garment, silhouette, or look in a public setting and gauge your own reactions and the reactions of others. If your interest is in learning to be a creative, effective self-stylist who can make any outfit sing, then sticking to tried-and-true formulas will just work against you. Be bold, take risks, fail. You'll never get good if you don't have a few spectacular mistakes to learn from.
Sorry, folks, but no weekend-long course will transform you into a great stylist. You may be able to hone in on flattering colors and styles fairly quickly, but defining and crafting your personal style typically takes years. You've got to find out where your tastes and lifestyle intersect, explore which garments work in theory but not practice, allow yourself to change as you learn more, refine your wardrobe, adjust your grooming ... I could go on. The process of cultivating personal style is long and slow. And learning to work with any garment - no matter how unusual or strangely-fitting - and slip it seamlessly into your now-refined personal style? Honestly, that takes even longer. Not to say it isn't worth it! Just to say that you need to understand that you're working on a long timeline.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, you've gotta want it bad. And I know for a fact that many of you don't want it at all! Learning to style yourself is related to learning to dress yourself, but as these steps have illustrated it takes substantially more time, energy, and effort. If you are totally passionate about clothing, experimentation, and remixing AND you've got the time and willingness to dedicate to this personal project, you can absolutely do it. And if you don't, and your goal is to learn what works and craft a look that makes you feel fabulous but never push beyond to styling, you are still absolutely golden. Neither path is a better path.
Is cultivating the ability to style any garment a goal of yours? A wish? Do you feel like you're there already? (Or almost?) If I challenged you to take your five least-worn and most difficult to style items and craft outfits around them, could you do it?
Image is the venerable Rachel Zoe, via sociablenews.
Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.