The Definition Of Real Style (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love iCiNG)

“Etiquette are for those without manners, in the same way as fashion is for those without style.”
– Coco Chanel

People on forums all over the internet keep asking about what will be big in 2007. I put forward the notion that 2007 becomes the year that people really start to develop their own personal style. How does knowing what the latest trend is benefit you in any way? Who are you trying to impress? Do you run with a crowd of lemon-sucking fashionistas? There are screeds of girls on the street who have the runway-look sussed — but don’t you find them boring?
I know that I am always far more excited to see someone who has broken away from what is “expected”. Once you decide that fashions are unimportant to you, you will really feel that you have the space to grow, expand, experiment.

Of course, you don’t have to do this, & I’m not trying to insult you if following trends is your thing. It is entirely up to you. I just feel that exploring your personal style is one of those things people should DO — in the same category as drinking tequila with your best friend, kissing in Paris & watching Amélie with a broken heart.

Style is not just a matter of dress. People work hard to develop a writing voice, a novel approach to business, ways to manage their time. You spend so much time doing all these other things that to somehow forget about developing your appearance seems bizarre & negligent.

Style, when it comes to physical appearance, is about distilling your personality into tangible articles. People who have spent time discovering & fostering their own personal style are people who realise that life is an occasion, & that the way you present yourself to the world matters. Gore Vidal said, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn”. Not all of us are that fearless, but it’s certainly a noble thing to aim for.

In my opinion, the best-dressed people are usually the ones who aren’t afraid to take a risk, know their body type & make their primary fashion goal to wear something fun. There is nothing wrong with picking up trends as they come along, if you like them. It is also worth testing them out, even if you think it looks hideous. (You might try on a pair of leggings in a store & find that, far from making you look like some tragic 80’s throwback, you look amazing.) This is how we progress — by trying out new things. But there is a vast difference between following every trend passed down from Vogue & picking & choosing from what is available to liven up your style.

Some things I absolutely loathe, & am never going to experiment with — like ugg boots. I just couldn’t respect myself if I set foot in one of those snuggly ugly ugg boots. I am okay with not expanding my personal fashion mission statement in that direction. You may feel similarly about wedge heels or high-waisted trousers, & that is a-okay! The thing to realise is: you are capable of making your own fashion choices. This seems obvious, but evidently, it isn’t! I am amazed by the amount of girls in the street who look almost identical. The worst thing is when they go shopping in packs & their outfits match. Come on! Maybe if you were all wearing Pink Ladies jackets… maybe!

It is so easy to get caught up in the media hoopla, & given that we are programmed to compare ourselves to other people, it is hardly surprising that even if you initially resist trends, you will feel the pressure at some point. Let me emphasise — NOBODY is entirely immune to this. I had a moment of weakness the other day in a department store. I was in the luxury bags section, perusing the expensive hunks of dyed leather with their tassels, quilting, shiny clasps & fixtures. Back-lit logos hung from walls & histrionic label-freaks flitted from shelf to shelf. Anybody who reads fashion blogs or knows anything about trends will know that designer handbags are BIG business: there are even companies that will rent you an “It Bag” so you can keep up appearances. I knew I was supposed to be apoplectic in the very presence of these highly sought-after items, but instead I found myself bored & unimpressed. Once those feelings dissipated & I walked away, I began to doubt myself. Every other fashion writer goes GA-GA over this stuff. Was I missing something? Maybe I didn’t really “get” fashion or style. Maybe I didn’t love it enough — maybe if I loved it more, I, too, would join the frenzied women who put their names down for the latest handbag. But then I realised something.

Those girls who swoon over every latest “it” bag — they’re just the grown-up version of those girls in school who all wore the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with them doing that, it’s pretty natural to want to stick with the herd, but I was never like that — & I don’t think I ever will be.

I read something that night which said:

“The most difficult battle you ever fight is the battle to be unique in a world that will marshal its every force to keep you the same.”
James Ray

This all ties into what I’m doing with iCiNG. This is not the place to come for an update on the latest Marc Jacobs collection. There are plenty of fashion writers who flip their wigs over that stuff, & I’m not going to pretend I care about it. If I find something I like which is by a big name designer, I’ll profile it, but only because I liked it in the first place. I have a particular affinity for the Hermes Kelly bag & Christian Louboutin shoes, but only because the workmanship is divine & the aesthetics have strong appeal. Labels really mean very little to me. iCiNG is my full-time gig, & I am committed to keeping my passion for it as high as possible: the best way to do that, in my experience, is to only write about things I care about. I work on several articles a day, some of them answering questions people have sent me but mostly my opinion on how to wear things. Since the site is relatively new, at the moment I am concentrating on building a solid base of information. Much of it is timeless — buying a suit, how to wear colour — & I hope that it will be helpful years on from now. It amazes me how little of this sort of thing is online, especially when a cursory glance down the street wherever you live will tend to confirm that most people are lacking this knowledge. But there is another reason for doing all this.

“You got to know the rules before you can break ’em. Otherwise, it’s no fun.”
– Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice

Yes, you could just go out there in a multi-coloured ensemble & think ‘critics be damned!’ — but the point of fashion is to look good, not ridiculous. You can be as zany as you like as long as you follow some basic guidelines (& really, there aren’t that many). Once you know the basics of dressing, you can put anything together & feel confident that it works. There may be minor tweaks you can make, but this knowledge should remove all apocalyptic panic attacks on the subject.

I think a lot of women neglect their personal appearance for fear that they will be considered shallow, frivolous or vapid — they think that they will be judged by their clever friends. Yes, some people who care about fashion are shallow, frivolous & vapid — but so are some people who care about coffee. First impressions really do matter — you are evaluated & appraised in the first few seconds of meeting someone, whether you like it or not. In that short time they will decide whether they want to have anything to do with you or not, & this can greatly impact on your life.

Why not make 2007 the year that you started really getting to know yourself? Really began to LOVE yourself? Really began to realise your true value — in ALL arenas? Everyone has area of their life that could use improvement. Along with the other things you do this year, why not also make some style & fashion resolutions? If you do, you will feel a sense of immense achievement & your self-esteem will soar. You will be surprised at the amount of support you receive from other people, & if you have a problem, you can always write to me!

Happy 2007.

P.S. The dear Madhavi wrote a response to this.