Holding On to Your Signature Style

Do you have a signature style? I’m not talking Madonna in the “˜80s or Annie Hall-era Diane Keaton levels of signature, but a family of basic items that you feel comfortable in and look good on you. For me, it’s simple but vaguely retro items like leggings or narrow pants, ballet flats, boatneck collars, giant sunglasses, and full-skirt dresses. Right now, most of these items are in pretty much constant supply. But what happens when times change?

I’ve been dressing in “my style” pretty much since my college days in the mid-’90s. Back then, it was still all grunge and combat boots, or if you were more polished, those dreadful flared black pants and bolero jackets. Clothing-wise, the “˜90s were not for me. Luckily, I was young and lived downtown and in the days before eBay a resourceful young girl could enter any number of vintage clothing shops and come out looking like Audrey Hepburn for about $20. I bounced around town in my bouffant hair and swing coats looking like (what I thought) was a million bucks.

As I grew older (and let’s face it, wider) and the good vintage stuff began to disappear. I stated to have trouble finding “˜60s garb that I could either afford or fit into. Plus I wasn’t in college anymore and wanted to look a little more professional. Luckily, by the early “˜00s, “my style” was becoming everyone else’s style. I didn’t care that I wasn’t unique-looking, I was thrilled that I could buy cute ballet flats at a variety of price points and find bug-eyed sunglasses at the drug store. It was a boon. And it continues to be, though I know these magical days are numbered.

I can still find things to suit my style (and I have adjusted my look to factor in skinny jeans and tunic tops), but I know that fashion works in cycles and before long “˜90s retro is going to move from the realm of the hipster into mainstream fashion. I’m not going to be able to find the shoes and pants that flatter my body and suit my aesthetic. I don’t want to get stuck in a fashion rut, but I also don’t want to change my uniform to the point where I no longer look like me.

So, friends, what do you do to maintain your personal style as the decades change? Should I stock up on ballet flats in every color of the rainbow? Do I buy up my favorite cardigans and have them vacuum sealed for freshness? Or am I exactly like those people on What Not To Wear who are desperately clutching on to their slouchy socks and Cosby sweaters who need to let go and move on?

Photo by taliesin courtesy of MorgueFile.

By Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

17 replies on “Holding On to Your Signature Style”

My style evolves regularly, and is sometimes totally different from one day to the next. Generally speaking I always wear jeans, dresses in bright colors and fun patterns, cardigans, button-downs, solid tees, fun jewelry, scarves, and flats or boots. So, while you could find me wearing jeans and a black sweater at 15 and 20 and 25, the style of each was probably slightly different and I accessorized differently. I tend to stick with bootcut jeans, and you can always find those, although I’ve also started wearing skinny jeans too. 2 trend phases that thoroughly annoyed me were when I couldn’t find jeans that weren’t super low-rise, and when I could find tops that weren’t so empire-waisted or blousy that they looked like maternity wear.

I love me some whimsy – striped socks, plaid rain boots, maybe some red mittens. This style is more of a challenge to pull off now that I’m over 30, but I’ve been figuring out how to incorporate fun stuff into the office-wear while not looking like I think I’m 17.

No way, it’s great for being over 30. When I was in my 20s I wore almost all black and gray. Now I’m well known for running around in a bright orange coat and a hot pink scarf. That’s another thing I like about the whole ballet flat craze — they come in loud colours.

I’m the same way. Some days I feel like dressing as my inner kindergartner, and there’ll be polka dots and stripes and non-matchy colors involved. I’m 28, but I see no reason to stop, especially if it’s a weekend.

For the office, it’s totally simple to wear a fun, polka-dotted blouse under a suit jacket or blazer. Or to wear fun socks that only you know are there. Or to commute in the fun rainboots, but change shoes at the office. Don’t give up the whimsy!

For real! I’d say a good 80% of my wardrobe is from Old Navy. I think I mostly wear fairly basic things – I love fitted v-neck shirts, tank tops, cardigans, and sundresses, and while I do like the skinny jeans I have, bootcut pants will always be my favorite. Maybe a lot of what I wear is “classic” and always available? (At Old Navy, at least?)

I am fortunate in that my style is easily adaptable. It can pretty much be summed up by “basic” and “simple.” I wear a lot of jeans and tank tops for casual clothing, a lot of knee length black skirts and boots for work, my wardrobe is largely solid-colored, and black and denim are the base colors of just about anything I wear. It’s a little boring, but it suits me, and MAN is it adaptable. Boot-leg jeans are always available, and I’ve finally gotten on board with skinny jeans, so right there is like 50% of my wardrobe basics. Form-fitting, solid colored shirts are always around (although I’m BIG on hip-length shirts, since they do nice things for my figure, and will be sad when those become harder to find.) So even when my favorites are hard to find, it’s relatively easy to stay within my general preferred aesthetic.

That said, I also stock up like crazy. I have so many multiplied items of clothing it isn’t even funny. I have three pairs of the EXACT SAME JEANS. I’m pretty sure they might be the same dye batch. This is partially so I have them when I can’t find them anymore, and partially because I tend to wear my clothes pretty hard, so it’s always good to have back-ups for when I rip/stain/wear through something.

Are we the same person? I live in dego tees, skinny or slim boot-cut jeans, boots, sweaters/cardigans, and scarves. I can count the number of long-sleeve shirts I own on one hand. And even then I usually throw a men’s undershirt on under them. I hardly have any color in my wardrobe, and if I do it’s mostly a deeply saturated purple or blue. Basically, I wear really boring clothes and really stupid jewelry/scarves.

Oh and I am on board with the long shirt thing, which is a big part of the dego tee layering. Right now I’ m wearing a top that’s to my hips and it feels too short. Past my crotch or GTFO.

I always want to be the woman who can throw on a simple flowy top and be done with it, but no dice. If it’s under 70 degrees, I end up wearing a quarter of my wardrobe at once and looking like a taller, fatter Mary Kate Olsen. If it’s over, guy’s undershirt and jeans.

I should mention that my cardigan affinity is due to my mom hating that I love to wear this ratty old hooded sweatshirt that I stole from my dad years ago. It is lightweight and cozy. I still have the sweatshirt, but now I only wear it camping. Cardigans feel about the same but don’t make me look like a bum.

I am also one of the “cardigan and flats” type dressers. I have the best luck finding flats that I like at Target. If you like Target stuff, check your local Goodwill. The few around me get great closeout stuff from them. I once got 3 pairs of my favorite flats for $0.99 each. I go to the local thrift shops about once a week. I recently found a brand new Tommy Hilfiger cardigan for $5.

I’ve had friends tell me that certain shirts or outfits “just look like me,” or “I knew you’d pick that one out,” but I have no idea what that really means. I look at my closet and it’s just a mess of stuff. I’ve tried to reel in the styles that I wear in the last year so I could control my spending and get more out of each item I buy. But, that’s just economical, not ‘personal.’

But I do gravitate toward this French style that’s popping (too much Garache Dore, maybe?).
Then again I also love the styles that cover New England, “Cabot Cove” styles I’ve picked up after watching HOURS of Murder She Wrote to the West Coast, laid back styles as demonstrated by Marissa Cooper and Summer Roberts.
At least my closet has been reorganized by style? It makes getting dressed in the mornings far easier. For work, I’m either in Parisian blues and stripes with cardigans thanks to Coco or knit sweaters, floral patterns and khakis ready for a bike ride down to the sheriff’s office. On weekends, I’m totally Marissa and Summer. Even have the keds. (yeah, I just eye rolled myself.) Okay, I’m occasionally Seth with the tee-shirts and what not.

…I stock up on socks? Cardigans? Wool? (I should really consider investing more in the long term, this could be useful)

I feel like you stock up on the essentials once you find the perfect ones – let’s say, a perfect tank or cami that fits you JUST RIGHT, or the perfect jeans – get like 10 pairs, right? (Assuming you can afford to over the length of time you are able to find them.) And then, there’s just …flexibility. I’m not sure I have a personal style (except, vaguely, “wear cardigans.”) but I do think that, though there are dry seasons and bumper seasons out there fashion-wise, there’s always SOMETHING I can find that I adore.

Also: I can’t proclaim the virtues of maintaining your clothing longer by washing according to wash instructions and generally being gentle with your threads enough. I love this! I also think ballet flats are here to stay; I’ve been able to buy them in stores in various styles for about 15 years now.

My problem is not only that the varying trends don’t suit me, but that they don’t FIT me. Tunic tops fit my torso like regular-length shirts fit most people because I have a torso longer than Plastic Man after a long work day. The jeans that were big in the early 00’s because they dragged on the ground? Anything shorter and my socks show when I sit down. I died a little inside when skinny jeans started coming back, but that’s pure aesthetics and I’ll give you that one. If I want leggings, I’ll wear leggings!

I hate hate hate fashion cycles. As soon as I find styles that both suit and fit me, they’re gone.

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