Archive for the 'Confident Personal Style' Category

‘Elegant and desirable’: what’s not to like?

Last week, I wrote that we could be on the verge of a new era of style in the UK where women will want to look both elegant and desirable.  A number of people have said to me that they felt ‘elegant’ mainly meant old and that ‘desirable’ was not the main message they wanted their clothes to convey – especially at work.

I thought it would be worth expanding on this because I think there are a lot of issues bound up in this. First, ‘elegant’ doesn’t need to mean prissy.  I don’t think we’re going backwards to a glorious bygone era or anything like that.  We are moving forwards into an era where good designers are recognising that people want more for their money in terms of design and quality and want clothes that suit them as individuals.

I see many of our younger customers really starting to understand the concept of buying clothes that help build their confidence because they know they look good, rather than just hiding their lack of confidence because people notice the clothes.

Desirability isn’t a sexual thing in this context,  it’s about not looking or feeling ridiculous. Contrast Pippa Middleton’s dress at last month’s wedding with so many bridesmaids’ dresses.  Her dress was neither twee nor vulgar; it accentuated her body.  In the work context, I do think that confidence springs from knowing that you look great and that it’s you, not the fabric that’s covering you up that people are engaging with.

The era of bling might be coming to an end too. For many years, a lot of top designers have geared their collections towards the bling-hungry markets in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia.  I’ve always found it amusing that, having been forced to wear the same clothes as each other under decades of Communist rule, Russian women were happy to be forced by fashion to look the same as each other.

But this is changing as tastes are maturing: we have a group of Russian women coming to see us in London soon because they want clothes which are more elegant and less vulgar that they’re being offered at home.

So I’m going to stick with ‘elegant and desirable’ as the combination of words to describe the direction that I think and hope more and more UK women will embrace in developing their own confident personal style.


Could it be that the Royal Family is leading us into a new era of style?

I promised myself at the time that I wasn’t going to write about the Royal Wedding – every aspect of it has been written about in so much detail that I couldn’t imagine it would be useful to add more here.

But it’s looking to me like the style choices of Kate and Carole Middleton for the big event could herald a more general shift in attitudes to style among British women.  I’ve been travelling quite a lot in the past couple of weeks and for the first time that I can remember, people are complimenting British women (well, two British women anyway) on the way they chose to dress in public.

I talk and write a lot about Personal Confident Style, and I have to say that the bride and, in particular, her mother got it exactly right – they clearly had excellent and highly experienced advice and wore clothes that fit and suited them perfectly, accentuating the body. You could tell that despite the scale of the occasion they knew they looked great.

I predict that in the coming years we’re going to see British women looking more confident and assured in their own personal style. Even on big occasions it will be increasingly acceptable not to walk around in ‘Garden Party’-style floaty, fluffy, floral bits of fabric and to start to look more elegant and desirable.

Women will continue to need good advice and to take some care over how they look; but as more role models appear this will become more of a norm. I’m optimistic that we’re going to see a new generation taking us forward to a new era of modern classic style in British fashion.


Doing your colours? Makes me see red!

In a comment to a previous post, I’ve been asked for advice on “prescribed” personal ideal colours for clothes and makeup and the use of specific colour swatches used by a number of style consultants.

I thought this worth its own post as I’m asked about this at pretty much every workshop I do. And I have to say it’s a particular bête noire for me. I believe the approach is simplistic and most often taught by people who do not have enough experience working with women and fabrics.

Telling people on the basis of holding up a single piece of blue cotton next to a person’s face that blue either suits them or doesn’t is just silly. A blue in velvet, a blue in silk, a blue in cotton, wool or any number of modern fabrics will look different. Is it a yellow-based blue or a pink-based blue – the base hues have a massive effect.

To my mind there is only one way that the appropriateness of a colour can be judged for a human being: and that is when the actual person is presented with a specific garment in a specific colour.

Every time someone comes into Wardrobe with their colours done, we have to ask them to forget it and work with us because every single one has been wrong or at least far too limiting.

I remember one time a woman came into the shop dressed head to toe in aquamarine – I mean literally every garment and accessory was aquamarine. Her colourist had told her that it was her best colour. It took me more than a year to persuade her to throw away her book of colours.

It is true that there is a basic link (for Caucasian skins at least) between skin colouring and the colour of clothes you should choose. Pretty much everyone has either a pink tone or a yellow/golden tone – and these are the only two you need to consider. I have a yellow base to my skin and look terrible in any fabric with a base tone of pink.

But it’s hard to tell ‘as a rule’ whether particular colours will work for you as different tints can work at subtly different levels.  In my opinion, you are more likely to make mistakes approaching your choices by following hard and fast rules, rather than looking at each garment’s colour/cloth combination with the advice of an experienced salesperson or stylist.


Confident Personal Style – part 7 – the role of personal advice

I and my stylists spend most of our time helping people on a one to one basis, so one of the most rewarding things for me about writing this blog is seeing how many people are subscribing, reading and in many cases letting me know what they think.

On the other hand, one of the more frustrating things is that it’s hard to get people to actually experience what I’m talking about and that the blog really can’t replace individual advice.  It’s like in any other advisory profession: reading an accountant’s blog, for example, provides you with useful advice to bear in mind when you go and hire an accountant – it doesn’t remove the need for an accountant’s advice.

Many people feel they ought to be able to buy clothes without advice.  I disagree – which is one of the main reasons I started both Wardrobe and this blog (as I wrote in the very first post).

So what sort of advice should you be looking for in building your Personal Confident Style?

As in any advisory situation, you need to find someone in whom you feel confident and then build a relationship with them.  They can keep an eye on what you’re buying and help you to build your capsule over the years; they can become, effectively, a professional friend; and you won’t feel like you are being sold to all the time. 

One approach – and you won’t be surprised to read that I think this is the best route as it’s the Wardrobe approach – is to find  a stylist within a shop where you generally like the clothes (and also you like the way they personally look – which is why I don’t like to see sales staff in uniforms). The second route is to find an independent stylist.

The shop stylist has a number of key advantages.  First, working in a shop means working with lots of women of different shapes and styles, learning how to solve individual problems and sharing learning with colleagues.  Another advantage is that the shop stylist is one part of a joined up chain from the designer, through the buyer to the shop floor where they work with the tailor to ensure the clothes fit your individual shape. 

While you may be able to find an individual stylist with a good eye, they won’t have the close knowledge of the designers, buyers and tailors; they don’t have the advantage of working in an environment where, every season, the buyers train the shop consultants; and they aren’t involved in how the clothes are meant to fit together.

This is not to diminish the role of independent stylists in many circumstances – particularly if you don’t have access to a shop with a well-edited collection and well trained staff. It’s just that I think that, in the ideal situation, their most valuable role is to help clients find the right shop with good stylists.  Several independent stylists bring their clients to Wardrobe because they themselves are confident enough in their own knowledge and skills to recognise that they and their clients can benefit from our extensive experience.

Either way, finding a trusted professional friend in whom you have confidence when you are putting together your wardrobe will both make the process more fun and increase the confidence you will feel in the result.

Next time: proportions


Confident Personal Style – part 6 – posture

This week’s post will both help you to buy clothes that enhance your Confident Personal Style and, in the meantime, improve how others view you.

Over the years we’ve noticed that posture is a very strong indicator of confidence. When new clients come in for a consultation we ask them to look at themselves (still in their clothes) in a mirror.  Even very successful women tend to hunch over a bit – we pretty much always have to ask them to stand up straight.

When we put them in the right clothes for them, they automatically stand up straight without being asked. Their body hasn’t changed; their looks haven’t changed; their personality hasn’t changed; but the feeling of looking the best they can has changed the way they feel about themselves and that manifests itself physically for all, including themselves, to see.

It’s one of the most exciting moments in my job when this natural blossoming starts to happen.

Part of it is the relaxed, friendly and safe environment we try to provide, but more than that is because all of us, when we worry about how we look, naturally want to hide.  When we know we look good we can’t help but communicate it.

So here’s how to use your posture to your advantage by noticing how you hold yourself. First, when you’re buying clothes notice how you hold yourself when you look in the mirror.  When a stylist or salesperson persuades you to try something on be aware of how your body reacts. If you naturally open up and stand tall, then you’re probably getting good advice. But if you feel the urge to curl up, then you might want to try something – or somewhere – else.

Second, right now, without buying another piece of clothing you can make an improved impression by actively managing your posture. There has been lots written about this and about how to do it – just type ‘posture for confidence’ into Google and you’ll plenty of good advice from people who are more expert than me in this area.

However, I believe this is only a short term solution.  Deep down you know you’re actively managing your posture and that, in itself saps energy and confidence, so you have to work harder to convince others.

The great thing about developing your Confident Personal Style and feeling your confident best is that you won’t need to actively manage your posture – or even to think about it.

It’s so much better to exude confidence than to have to fake it.


Confident Personal Style – part 5 – start with Modern Classics

Given that I’m writing about developing a Confident Personal Style, you might be forgiven for thinking that the following sentence is a bit surprising.

For a professional and stylish wardrobe, everyone should start with a Modern Classic style at its heart.  I can think of no exceptions to this rule.

This is not because I want everyone to look the same.  In fact quite the opposite.  Modern Classic should be really quite directional, and you can build your personal style through considered accessorising.

If you’re wondering what modern classic means, here is a quick description. It is a basic shape, similar to what may have been around for some time (the classic) but re-cut in a modern and more directional way to incorporate the elements of today’s fashion – be it the shoulder shape or width, the fastening of the garment or its length – without the extreme styling of major design houses that are really best worn just for catwalks.

The reason to start with modern classics is that anything that is too directional – the kind of fashion-driven, arresting garments with which magazines can easily make arty photos – will cause two problems. 

The first is that, if you wear clothes that make a statement, it is the clothes, not you, that will stand out. People won’t look at you and see a successful person; you’ll just be the one that wears those noisy clothes (they may like them, they may not – either way you’ll be marked out by your clothes rather than by yourself).

Elsa Schiaparelli, one of the most influential designers of the interwar years in the last century once wrote: “If a woman walks in and people say what a wonderful dress, she’s badly dressed.  If they say there’s a beautiful woman, you know she’s well dressed.” I quote this regularly because understanding it really is the foundation of developing your own style.

Second, you will almost certainly get fed up with anything too directional much faster than you will with a modern classic which you can personalise in lots of different ways.  If you do need a few more avant garde pieces, go for cheaper ones, so it’ll be less of a financial wrench to discard it when you don’t want to look at it any more. (It often doesn’t take long.)

One of the biggest problems is that the press need to be really experienced to know how to make artistic pictures out of clothes that are wearable in everyday situations. The result is that they rarely make the effort to seek out modern classic garments that are a bit directional – what I like to call edgy.

This means that you won’t see many edgy modern classics on the pages of the fashion press and you need to seek them out in shops which do have the experience, resources and inclination to find them.

Next week:  posture


Excuse #2:  I don’t have the time

Each week, I’m seeking to address an excuse that sits on our shoulders like a demon making developing a confident personal style harder than it should be. Do let me have your ‘excuses’ and I’ll have a go at debunking them for you. Last week, I suggested that you should not feel guilty. This week, why making time will save you time.

Caring about your looks can easily be relegated to low priority, especially if you have a job to do, a home to run and a husband and family to feed and clothe.  You feel guilty about spending time – personal shopping time – when there seem to be so many other important things to do.

It’s true that trying to add to a badly managed wardrobe can be very time consuming.  It is often difficult to find an appropriate item to add fit with an overly large and haphazard collection of clothes – clothes often bought on impulse or in the sales.  And you’re inevitably feeling stressed out when you’re racing around trying to find it when you need it. That’s why you need to take a different approach.

In business you operate most effectively by taking time to consider action rather than by charging in and behaving rashly. Your wardrobe can be run on similar lines with similar results.  Invest some time in developing your personal style, building your capsule wardrobe, finding those shops that consistently provide the clothes and advice you need – and you’ll find that time becomes much less of an issue. As in business, a successful wardrobe is the result of careful planning.


Confident Personal Style – part 4 – assessing your current wardrobe

Before you go out and spend on new clothes, take a very careful and critical look at the inside of your wardrobe.  Think about what your clothes do for you.  In particular, how does looking at them make you feel?  For which situations do you have clothes that make you feel confident?  What situations are not so well covered? Is this because there are gaps – or because what you’ve got isn’t right for you?

Which individual items make you feel good?  Why do you think this is the case? What does that say about your personal style? Which ones make you feel a bit anxious and why? Is it the colour, the fit, or just that it’s not you?  Do you think you are too fat, too thin, too short or tall for it?

All of this will give you great information as you continue to build your style.

If there are clothes in your wardrobe that you really don’t want to wear again, seriously consider giving them away, selling them on ebay or just chucking them out.  Even if it is only one item, there is no point in keeping it.  As you develop your style, it will just sit there reminding you of previous insecurities.  The first time you do this, it may turn into something of a clear out (see this post for more details on how to approach it); but as you assess your wardrobe more regularly there will be fewer pieces that stick out and feel wrong.

Your goal is to get to a point where you look in your wardrobe and see only things that make you feel confident and happy.  Adopting my Capsule Wardobe approach is the best way I know to achieve this, so if you’d like to know more, take a look at the Re-introducing the Capsule Wardrobe I did last year. (The first article is here and you can browse the rest by clicking on the Capsule Wardrobe category in the right hand column.)

Next time: why you should start with modern classics

Excuse #1:  I couldn’t spend the money

Each week, I’m seeking to address an excuse that sits on our shoulders like a demon making developing a confident personal style harder than it should be. Do let me have your ‘excuses’ and I’ll have a go at debunking them for you. Here’s the first:

You feel guilty about spending money on yourself.  Conditioning leads you to expect others to be dependent on you. You spend money on what are considered to be the necessities – food, clothes for the kids, cars, holidays abroad and school fees.  If you spend money on yourself, it’s best if it’s a bargain.

I’m always impressed that when you compliment a continental women on her outfit, she says ‘thank you’; a British woman will tell you how cheap hers is or how she’s had it for 10 years. British women are delighted to tell others the cost of a garment if they bought it in a sale, but keep very quiet if they spent a lot of money on it.  It’s a very British thing.  On the continent, women are more likely to feel guilty if they do not buy good clothes or have a regular manicure.

The truth is that by investing in your appearance you are investing in your professional future and, with any luck, enjoying yourself too.  Your financial success and rewards are going to come from your career, and developing a confident personal style will make you look and feel successful and give others confidence in you.  Never see it as an extravagance.  It’s actually a necessity.


Confident Personal Style – part 3 – start on the inside

Happy New Year.

Thank you again for the emails I’ve received about the Confident Personal Style idea over the holidays – they’re giving me some great ideas for posts over the coming months.

One theme that has come up a lot is: how do you get started?

I’ll be writing about the practical issues such as where to look for clothes, how to put the style together, how to make the right choices for you, how to consistently apply the Capsule Wardrobe approach, how to ensure your style develops with you as you get older over the coming weeks.

But the first steps lie much closer to home – in your current wardrobe and in your own mind – in understanding how you see yourself and giving yourself permission to spend time, effort and money to look the best you can.

Giving yourself permission to go on this journey is the key to making it fun and successful.

I believe that the vast majority of women deep down want to look as good as they can, but our culture has come to discourage it as vain, shallow, frivolous or wasteful (I’ve written about this in more detail here – although lately I’m not sure Michelle Obama is quite the model of style that she used to be). 

And with fashion magazines mostly showing clothes that are unwearable, too many choices and not enough advice, it is not surprising that many of us haven’t really worked out what we feel about ourselves – and either wear clothes that are too young (because we follow the magazines) or too frumpy (because we can’t find an alternative).

With too many choices and not enough advice, many women will tell you that they don’t really care about how they look.  But I honestly believe that anyone with any self-respect does care.  What they actually mean is that they don’t know where to start or find someone to help – not just with clothes, but hair, make up, nails, accessories – all of it together.

Some years ago, a leading fashion journalist decided to give me a challenge.  She introduced me to an incredibly plain, but quite successful woman who was very sceptical about the whole style thing and asked us to dress her.  This was probably my biggest – and most successful – challenge. At the end of the session, the woman burst into tears – happy ones.  She said she had never thought she could look attractive and realised that she had been inventing excuses not to have to make the effort, because she didn’t know where to start.

Our brains are almost hard wired to make these excuses and make them feel like valid reasons sitting like demons on our shoulders.  Here are some excuses to debunk in your own mind to help smooth the path your confident personal style:

  • I couldn’t spend the money
  • I don’t have the time
  • What will people say?
  • I don’t want to seem vain
  • My figure is faulty
  • What if I stand out?
  • I don’t want to play by men’s rules

These fears may be engrained and hard to shift.  Over the next few weeks, at the end of the regular posts, I’ll look at them one at a time and give you some reasons to not to use them.

Next week’s post: Assessing what you feel about your current wardrobe.


Confident personal style – part 2 – what is it?

Thank you for the responses to last week’s post which was the first in a series on developing your own confident personal style.  The subject has clearly hit a chord: I’ve never had so many emails following a post and I hope to address them all during the series – do keep making suggestions whether as comments here or by email.

One question that intrigued me – and that I am very grateful for – was: “How do I know when I have a personal confident style? What does success feel like?”  This is worth addressing before getting on to more practical advice on how to develop it.

I’m grateful for the question because I had been struggling with how to define a confident personal style – it’s quite intangible.  But in fact, really it’s all about how you feel.

 A confident personal style will help you move ahead in whatever field you are working, but what my clients have always talked most about is the feeling they get when they are wearing the right clothes – and it’s that feeling that you want to achieve.

I think of it as a way of dressing every day that you don’t have to think about.  It’s where you have a collection of clothes which can be adapted for whichever season you’re in and which, when you are wearing them, you feel so good that how you look hardly enters your mind during the day.

You feel totally confident. It’s totally you. You don’t feel your wearing somebody else’s clothes. You’re not in costume.  It’s when you feel that you look and feel as good as you possibly can.  

Women who have found their confident personal style tend to be nicer people to be with because they feel secure. And we’ve all got enough things to be insecure about without feeling unsure about how we are dressed. Insecurity about how you look in a situation feeds insecurity about whether you belong there (whether because you look wrong or because you don’t feel like you) – and that can easily start to affect how you behave and how you come across to colleagues.

Personal style is about packaging – all you are doing is packaging yourself in a way that is personal to you but also attractive to other people – and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s in business life or in personal life; and it applies to everyone – men and women.

Next week, I’ll start to cover how to develop your personal style.


Confident personal style – part 1

I spend a lot of time talking to clients about developing their own “confident personal style”.  Three words: confident that you look great in whatever situation you find yourself; personal because it is an expression of you, not a uniform or incongruous statement that hides the real you; style rather than slavishly following fashion, so that your own looks develops with you.

Decades ago I developed the concept of the Capsule Wardrobe, an idea which has stood the test of time.  The Capsule Wardrobe is really a tool to help you build your confident personal style.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to write a series of posts on developing your own Confident Personal Style (much as I did with the Capsule Wardrobe last year).

I’m planning to cover: what it is, why it’s important, how to build it and the myriad excuses I hear as to why too many women don’t develop it.

I’m acutely aware that for many women this is a very difficult area, but I strongly believe that the lack of confidence in their personal style and the resistance to actively developing one is a real hindrance to women moving up the corporate ladder.

I’m increasingly aware that at our end of the market, we have an unusual focus – helping women not just to look good for its own sake, but in order for them to achieve more in business, which requires understanding the cultures of the organisations in which they work and of their personalities, and of course where the two meet.  Obviously Wardrobe is a business, but our buzz comes from making people feel confident in themselves in their working and social environments .

The more we meet women, particularly in the UK, who are climbing the corporate ladder, the more we realise how low a priority it is for them because it threatens an area they feel very insecure.

It’s a particularly British phenomenon – many of my continental and American clients, whenever they are going for or working in an important environment, consider this to be something that has to be tackled before they can get down to the job in hand.

Is it the British puritanical view about spending on your self to make yourself look good or just a basic fear of getting it wrong and therefore the easiest thing is to ignore the whole subject.

I believe that many of the new generation of managers coming through in their 30s are more aware of the effect that personal presentation will have on their careers; and that it is therefore even more important for women to understand the importance of feeling confident in the way they look.

I’m wondering whether the concept of developing a Confident Personal Style has the potential to be as important an idea as the capsule Wardrobe was all those years ago. Please do let me know whether it resonates for you and what you’d like me to cover either in this series or more generally with Confidence Tricks.