A few notes on personal style

 

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My feet, in Birkenstocks bought in Berlin, on the cobblestones of Rovinj, Croatia

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that the U.S. Congress has its highest-ever number of elected women — yay! The New York Times recently commissioned color portraits of each. Given the nature of politics, where everything is fodder for argument or criticism, most of the women chose safe-but-snoozy gem-toned jackets, the default option of TV reporters and anchorwomen everywhere.

Except for one, whose image leaped off the page.

Damn! I was immediately intrigued by her confidence, and wondered who voted for her as well. Those boots! That lilac-highlighted bob! That Miyake-esque dress! That muffler!

Intriguingly, she represents a wide swath of Connecticut, not a place I’d expect to elect a woman with such awesome style.

 

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Rep. Rosa di Lauro of Connecticut; NYT photo by Elizabeth Herman or Celeste Sloman

 

I love personal style!

 

I grew up among people who did as well. My father had a growing collection of safari jackets and highly-polished leather shoes while his late wife, literally, had garment racks bulging with designer clothing. My mother owned a glossy black mink with an emerald green silk lining and a stunning collection of wigs, changing her hairstyle daily when she felt like it.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d wear The Row (designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), Belgian Dries Van Noten and Etro.

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One of my Banana Republic scarves, a Ghost bias-cut dress bought in L.A., a silk floral and sequin jacket bought at an Opening Ceremony sample sale. Why are my Dad and I hysterical? It’s my wedding and all we can hear outside the church, on Toronto’s Centre Island, is cows mooing from a petting zoo nearby.

 

My own style? It’s tough when you’re (sigh) larger than a 10, a size most designers ring with razor wire, deeming the rest of us too fat to bother with, while I’m a size 14 to 16 trying hard to get back to a 12.

The basics of great personal style include knowing your body well enough to emphasize the better bits and draw attention away from the rest; wearing clothes that fit you properly and are comfortable without being sloppy; meticulous grooming (hair cut/color, manicures/pedicure, attractive eyewear, discreet make-up, well-polished/ironed footwear and clothing.)

I spent a year living in Paris, and visit as often as we can afford, which has taught me a lot. I don’t find nearly as much inspiration in New York and black is, indeed, our official color.

Style is less about spending a lot money and more about choosing quality cuts and fabrics, knowing what suits you best, wearing it with pride and consistency.

My style? Minimal. European.

My go-tos:

Knits, not too revealing. Recent finds include a Michael Kors top and matching skirt, several sweaters and dresses from Canadian retailer Aritzia.

Scarves.  Silk, wool, cashmere, cotton, Hermès to vintage. When your basics are simple, you need a hit of added color and pattern. My favorites include a violet wool muffler from J. Crew and four silk crinkled ones from Banana Republic, in cream, dark brown, pale pink and fuchsia. (visible in my new Welcome and About photos on this site.)

Good jewelry. Lucky to have a generous husband and I haunt antique shows; I wear my tiny diamond wedding hoops almost daily. Here are a few of my most-worn rings.

 

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l to r: wedding ring, Secrett, Toronto; vintage; new; vintage, found in Truth or Consequences, NM; new, mother-of-pearl and sterling, bought in Alexandria, VA.

 

— Unexpected patterns and colors. While I stick to neutrals for my main pieces, I add color and pattern in scarves, gloves, hats, shoes.

Shopping out of the U.S. I pretty much hate most of what I see from mass-market American retailers: colors, shapes, sizing; sleeves too long, armholes cut for elephants. So, every two or three years, in Paris, I stock up, and every four to six months, in Canada, usually in Toronto and Montreal, where I know the stores. Thanks to the Internet, you’re only limited by budget and what’s available. In Canada, I like Aritizia, Ca Va de Soi, La Senza (lingerie) and Heel Boy and Brown’s, shoe stores. Were I wealthy, I’d buy almost everything from Gravity Pope, another Canadian clothing and footwear retailer. We buy scarves at Diwali in Paris on every visit.

— Occasional full-price the-hell-with-it investments. Very rare, but worth it. In December 2014 I wandered into Barney’s and found an Isabel Marant heathered navy light wool jacket in my size and a dark denim carryall with black leather handles and base. I blew $700 and don’t regret a penny, still using both and loving them. A $250 cardigan from Canadian brand Ca Va de Soi is perfect in size, shape, color and weight.

Thrift, resale, vintage and consignment. Check out The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective and others for high-end stuff. Recent scores include a beige suede newsboy cap and a burnt orange velvet and silk muffler.

My husband is a snappy dresser, slim and able to carry off French looks with ease, like a wrapped muffler with a jacket or blazer. I follow a British professor, Nigel Cleaver, on Instagram and hope to go clothes shopping with him when we get to London later this year; his Insta handle is (!) ignoreatyourperil.

For inspiration, we read the weekend FT’s How to Spend It, which offers insanely expensive ideas, but also some cool stylish ones we can afford. I read Vogue and Porter but don’t follow anyone on Insta or any fashion bloggers.

 

Where do you get your personal style?

 

Are there people whose personal style has inspired you?

Does style even matter to you?

19 thoughts on “A few notes on personal style

  1. my style has developed over time and with age. for working with the kinders, it’s all about comfortable, as i move all day, sit on the floor, play at recess, etc.

    in my life away from school, i don’t have certain brands, but tend to choose things that are basic colors, with scarves and simple jewelry, comfortable and well-made shoes that i keep until they wear out, and boots in the winter.

    i tend to choose less things, better made, that i really like, and that i keep for a long time. that makes splurging once in a while doable. i have donated a ton of things recently, only keeping what really feels right to me.

  2. I’m lucky. I can wear what I please when working alone at home and also when meeting clients, as journalism has no official dress code. I like to dress up and miss having more opportunities to do so, and get out of comfy clothes.

  3. Very relaxed dress codes at all the places I’ve worked at means that my wardrobe has evolved into check shirts and a largely equal mix of chinos trousers and jeans. Hardly stylish I’d say….

    Oh and I found Rovinj beautiful when I passed through last Spring.

    1. It’s interesting that, in its own way, it almost becomes an informal dress code.

      Journalism teaches us to be unobtrusive observers whose primary role is to make others quickly feel at ease with us, whether radio, print, photography or film. Most of us earn crummy wages, so that cuts out a lot of finery as well! So we dress for the people we will be interviewing, whether a banker or a former felon.

      I love the creative freedom that freelance gives me. I’ve got 2 professional meetings in Manhattan next week and am looking forward to dressing up for them.

  4. Myself, I tend to go for simple colours and patterns, learning towards blues and blacks and perhaps towards plaids of different kinds. I have been considering more often of late the extent to which these style choices are a product of a desire to camouflage myself. Should I be more bold? If so, how?

    1. Hmmm.

      I’m experimenting now with a few new-to-me ideas — still sticking with neutrals, but in different proportions; i.e. my 3 new Aritizia sweaters are all slightly oversize in ways I normally wouldn’t consider. Two are longer and one is wider. Love all of them!

      A good way to shift your style is to cruise a few new-to-you stores and see if anything there says: “hmmmm. maybe?” It helps to have someone along with a good eye as well; Jose has helped me choose some great stuff I might not even have looked at.

      Also..if you find a store with styles you really like (even if pricey), get to know a helpful sales associate to help you get to know their stock — and get on their email list for sales.

      Once you find a few shops whose style you like, it saves a lot of time and wasted energy.

      Toronto has a lot of choice, but too much of it looks the same.

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  6. I break my clothing choices down into three levels, going from everyday to just short of formal.
    For everyday wear I like jeans and t=shirts. Levi’s are my favorite jeans, regardless of price. I won’t buy a t-shirt locally. Mine are all from places I have gone in my travels. When it gets cold, I have an assortment of flannel shirts, mostly from L.L. Bean and Land’s End. They are made from Portuguese flannel, which they (whoever they are) say is the best. I do know they are all pretty old but they still have their nap to some extent, as well as all their buttons.
    If I need to look nice but not really dress up, it’s either khakis or jeans and a heavyweight cotton shirt, pressed and starched until you can cut yourself on the creases. Slap on a belt and matching pair of shoes (PLEASE!) and I’m good to go. Here’s where I would like to thank my Dad for teaching me how to spit shine a pair of shoes, because it doesn’t matter how dressed up you are, if you’re walking around in a scuffed up pair of shoes you look like a bum. Also it’s kind of meditative, like knitting or hand sanding a piece of wood.
    When it’s time to really slay ’em, I like a nice suit. But I don’t want some Joe business thing, I want the suit worn by the guy Joe Business goes to see when he needs to grovel a bit. I only own one, but it’s just as advertised. It’s single breasted with narrow notched lapels, charcoal with a really thin triple pinstripe, blue and red, courtesy of Mr. Tommy Hilfiger. Cathy helped me pick it out, good eye on that girl. I wear a blue shirt with it and a Jerry Garcia tie.
    Most of the time my jewelry is limited to my wedding band and a gold hoop I have been wearing for the last thirty five years or so. If I need to wear something else, I have a couple necklaces, made from trade beads and some little skulls from Tibet, carved from bone, along with a bear claw in a silver setting on one and a canine tooth of unknown origin on the other. You kind of have to know me to get them, but when you do, well, you do.
    I’m thinking about getting a go fund me page to help me buy a pair of Saint Crispin’s shoes. There’s a pic right at the top of my most recent post and I swear you can smell the quality right over the internet.

    Good one, Caitlin. I always enjoy responding to your posts.

    1. ooooooh, those shoes! Very nice indeed!

      Jose has been very kind and let me help change up his style a bit — years in DC and covering the WH meant zzzzzzzzzz style. When we are in Montreal in Feb. we plan to shop for clothing there — on our last visit I did the recon and found him a fab navy blue short coat.

      My fantasy dream job would be to work in a very good menswear shop or the department of a good men’s store. Commission, eye candy and having fun helping men look better.

      1. Those shoes, right, I know.
        Doin’ the recon: I can see you wearing a helmet with leafy twigs all over it, peeking through the Armani to se what Hugo Boss is up to.
        I’ve seen enough of your personal style in your posts to know that you would be doing God’s work outfitting men in the sharpest, not necessarily the latest, fashions. In NYC, I would imagine you would make a killing as well. Personal stylist, maybe? That sounds like a gas.

      2. But my book about retail would likely kill my chances!

        Montreal recon was fun — I love putting looks together, for sure, but also when there are some fab options. Our taste is def. more European (lots of navy and blue, not black or brown) — we got him two fantastic jackets in Dublin, of all places.

        I’ve spent sooooooo many hours in auctions and flea markets and antique shows that I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing the right thing quickly and being able to stay focused on the hunt.

        With Jose, I already know what he owns and might need (and like) and what suits him. I trust his taste for me and vice versa.

        I would kill to be a personal stylist but have zero credentials.

  7. I’m an upcycler, so much of my aesthetic has that post-apocalypse make do and mend feel to it, and much of what i wear is as a consequence, unique, and a bit tatty, and much loved.

  8. One of the reasons I moved to Paris was for style. I wanted to live a stylish life. After working in Canadian offices throughout the 1980s (big hair, big shoulderpads), I thought that too many of the men and women were really schlumpy-looking. I mean, nice people but schlumpy. In Paris people dressed real nice. I’d spend all my Saturdays shopping for clothes and accessories. I managed to build up a nice wardrobe. Clothes were less expensive back then. It also helped that in the 1990s I had a fab figure (size 36/38). I’d walk into a boutique and the saleswomen would rush over to me.

    I probably get my style, or was influenced by, my fashionista mother. She was a fashion writer for STYLE, a Maclean Hunter trade magazine geared to the women’s apparel industry, and then she was editor of several Canadian consumer mags. She’d go yearly to the Paris prêt-à-porter collections. She was pretty stylish, and she was not a slim woman.

    Moving on, I don’t have such a fab figure now, but I’m still interested in nice clothes of course. Footwear and scarves are my favorite. I just bought myself today a pair of GEOX ankle boots with a really nice heel. Everything’s on sale right now – 40 to 60 per cent off. Last week I bought a gorgeous wool-cashmere blend 3/4 length coat and two scarves. 2 weeks ago I purchased a velvet blazer, but when I got home I looked more closely at the label which said Made in China. That’s a big turn-off here. We don’t like to buy Chinese-made products AT ALL. And why should we? Why should anyone?

    1. I think it helps to have a stylish mom and/or father, for sure.

      I never saw much style in Toronto and there is style, obviously, in NYC if you know where to look for it.

      I’m fairly well set for clothes at the moment but plan to shop when we are up in Montreal in two weeks since there are so many European labels I can never find in NYC and colors I love…I get really tired of black! I also feel a bit more confident of income for the next six months, so willing to splurge a bit and upgrade some things from wool to cashmere or more basic to designer.

      Scarves and footwear are very forgiving of a larger hip or waist size!

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