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.


Don’t trip over this season’s longer skirt lengths

It appears that skirts are getting longer for next season and it’s a trend that is likely to continue.

For some body shapes and some skirt shapes this can look great.  But it requires a lot of care. Much of what is coming into fashion can look dangerously mumsy or fancy dress-like.

This length is all about proportions. To avoid getting it wrong, you need to be sure that there is enough space between your ankle and the hem of the skirt. If your height is mostly in your torso, long skirts need careful appraisal and alteration to get the length right for you.  One way is to not to wear a skirt that is mid-calf, but instead to choose one that is just below the knee and taper it which gives the effect of a longer skirt, but doesn’t foreshorten the bottom part of your leg.

In summer, I think this quite a difficult look unless the skirt is pencil slim and you’re wearing a high heel; and in winter, in my opinion, unless you have been blessed with good legs, it looks better with boots with a small heel. 

As I’m working on collections a year ahead, I can see that the trouser suit is making a big comeback and I think one reason for this is that it is a safer option than the dilemma that a lot of women face over the length of their skirts. 

Nevertheless, from what I’ve seen on my travels, the skirt that is the most successful falls just below the knee and is gently tapered. And for optimum chic, the knee does need to be covered for this summer and next winter.


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.


Re-run: Sales shopping – how to make sure the discounts really are bargains

Earlier this week, I started writing a post about sales shopping, but realised that I’d written much of it previously.

Below, I’ve reproduced the one from last year – a timely reminder for readers who were here last year and, I hope, useful for all those who have discovered Confidence Tricks this year.

You can also read one from earlier this year –  Austerity, quality, style and the sales… how to bag a the right kind of bargain – which also seems to me to still resonate.

If you’d like to receive Confidence Tricks in your email box (I try to do a post roughly weekly), please do subscribe using the box on the right.

Oh, and while I’m plugging, the Wardrobe sales begins on Thursday 25 November from 8am to 8pm.  If you email and mention ConfidenceTricks, we’ll send you a VIP invitation.


Now’s the time to make sure you’re on the mailing list of the shops where you’ve had your nose against the window for the past few months so you get first shot at their sale.  More often than not there’s a preview day for mailing-list customers.

But, particularly if you’re taking advantage of the sales to buy quality pieces you couldn’t afford at full price, don’t get carried away just because it’s in the sale. A cheaper mistake that you never wear is still very costly.

Sale shopping should be viewed in exactly the same way as non-sale shopping – no impulse purchasing and a well thought-out shopping list.

Being well thought-out means knowing what you need and what it will need to go with.

So, for example, if you’re looking for a jacket to go with a particular skirt, put it on so that the sales stylist can see the proportions, give you good advice and prevent you making mistakes. I advise potential clients to photograph themselves (or better still get some one else to do it) in the pieces that they want to add to.  With mobile phones generally having cameras in them now, you can easily take a snap of yourself in the mirror.

Be aware of sale ‘bargains’ that don’t fit properly.  Many shops will put ill-fitting mistakes in the sale.  At the least, ensure that there is a tailor in the shop who can rectify any problems.

Shoes are a particularly good thing to buy in the sales, especially in neutral colours as they can last for many seasons.


Confidence tips: how to look after your winter wardrobe

Now it’s cold enough to wear your winter wardrobe, here are a few tips for looking after it:

  • Leather garments – if you’ve just purchased your new boots, shoes and bag, don’t forget before you go out the first time to spray them with a water repellent spray. This is very important if the leather is not top quality as it may not recover from water marking, but I would suggest that you spray all leather just to be on the safe side.
  • Don’t wear your new outfit for the first time to a very important meeting. If you have to do so, try the outfit on with the shoes and the tights that you plan to wear, just to make sure the proportions and colour really work. Quite often, you’ll have a different idea about accessories when you get your garments home.
  • Make sure that your jackets are on hangers that don’t mark and make points in the shoulders. Often shops will offer you the hanger that the garment arrived with. Take it.
  • I think it’s worth investing in a high quality washing liquid if you intend to wash cashmere sweaters either by hand or in the machine. There are some very good ones on the market. They are expensive, but since you only need a very little amount, it is really worth it and will save on dry cleaning bills, while increasing the longevity of the garment. However it is worth bearing in mind that moths don’t like the smell of dry cleaning fluid and it’s sometimes advisable if you’ve had a moth problem to get the garment dry-cleaned before you pack it away for the summer.
  • Always remember to read the care instructions on your clothes very carefully and inform your dry cleaner of it as well because they don’t always pay full attention to the instructions. For example, P with a line underneath it shows that it should be cleaned in the most gentle way and, as I’ve said in the past, please use the most expensive dry cleaners you can afford – or an owner-operated one – I have heard many horror stories about dry cleaners.
  • Also regarding dry cleaning – I always enclose my own instructions and point out any stains in case they miss them. It’s worth noting the type of stain too, as different substances require different chemicals to remove them. Also I note on the same piece of paper, the make of the garment just in case it goes astray.