THE ICONOGRAPHY OF WOMEN’S FASHION
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
—Coco Chanel, Designer & Fashion Icon
Fashion goes beyond mere aesthetics and design—it represents your personality and what you stand for. Fashion is far more than just apparel—it can become the greatest sum of your parts, a megaphone for articulation where words alone simply will not work. Fashion is a form of storytelling, and there is always a sense of nostalgia surrounding certain wardrobe items, such as the dress you wore to your prom, the couture you splurged on in Paris, or your first designer handbag (which you painstakingly saved up for).
Fashion is an indomitable force that connects us to moments of our existence, inspiring the stories we create for ourselves while wearing certain items that make us feel great, encompassing cultural influence and intellectual touch-points, or illustrating personal transformation. There’s an intangible, powerful quality about fashion that helps you carry yourself in a way that brings out your best qualities.
Professionalism thrives on fashion, and however impressive accomplishments are, our colleagues invariably make judgments on our capabilities based on how we look. When you dress fashionably, inappropriate attire, it conveys the message that you care about the image of yourself and your workplace.
Fashion is a mirror of history, a documentation of what has taken place in society, and often a predictor of what will take place. Fashion is influenced by other arts such as music, movies, and architecture. What is in fashion changes with the ever-shifting layout of modern society; therefore, fashion can be looked at as a reflection of the era that once existed.
Understanding the importance of fashion is one thing and being able to afford it is quite another. So how can you look like a style icon without breaking the bank or maxing out every department store credit card in town? Here are some long-time proven strategies to help you stay on budget.
START WITH THE BASICS, AND THEN BUILD
“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”
—Bill Cunningham, Street Style Photographer
Every stylish, high-functioning wardrobe begins with a foundation of essentials that can adapt to a variety of situations. A great example is a dress that you can formalize with a buttoned-up blazer for work, but which can be adapted for a dinner date by ditching the blazer and instead of pairing the dress with a delicate shoulder wrap and dramatic statement jewelry.
When shopping, it’s important to choose quality over quantity. Set a maximum spending budget before you hit the boutiques to help curb impulse purchases, and don’t fall into the trap of signing up for a high-interest department store credit card to save 10%-20% if you aren’t going to be able to pay it off immediately.
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Be sure to spend wisely by buying the best items you can afford because there is more longevity in well-crafted garments and accessories. Here’s a round-up of wardrobe basics that every woman should own.
A classic pair of flattering black trousers transcends trends and can always be counted on as one of the few wardrobe staples that can be worn with nearly any top or jacket.
French-Cuff Dress Shirt
Nothing elevates a power suit or a pair of trousers like a classic French-cuff dress shirt. The cuffs add a layer of elegance to an otherwise ordinary blouse and help create a look that’s as appropriate for pitching an idea to a new business client as it is for hosting a weekend brunch.
Always in fashion, a sophisticated shift dress is often the most comfortable and most appropriate choice for semi-formal festivities such as luncheons or afternoon bridal showers. As a consistent work staple that can be paired with a variety of cardigan sweaters and jackets, it’s best to own several day dresses to get you through the week.
In business, a perfectly tailored black suit is a fail-safe gold standard. But its appeal extends far beyond the workplace—wherever you show up dressed in a precisely-fitted jacket and skirt combination, you are guaranteed to look polished and modern. It’s essential to invest in the best-constructed suit you can afford, but you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth by also being able to wear the skirt and the jacket as separates.
Whether it’s a cocktail number or an extravagant ball gown for a gala, the evening dress is synonymous with sophisticated style. Choose one with beautiful yet simple design elements, like a V neckline, a fitted waist, and a full skirt, and you will use it time and time again. The perfect accessory, whether it’s a string of pearls inherited from your grandmother or patent-leather kitten heels, will style the dress for every occasion ranging from black tie to something less formal.
A well-tailored, dressy jacket in a timeless wool or bouclé fabric is an effortless way to upgrade almost anything in your closet. You can layer it over a dress, switch it out with a conservative suit jacket for an after-work cocktail party, or casually pair it with dark jeans.
When it comes to what to wear and complementing an evening dress, there is nothing as perfect as a sophisticated wrap. While a delicate silk-and-cashmere shawl or fur stole is no substitute for a warm coat in winter temperatures, it will keep your shoulders warm if you are only jaunting from valet parking to an indoor environment. A wrap also pairs nicely with more casual attire, if you feel like wearing it with a t-shirt or tank top and your favorite pair of pants or jeans.
If Cinderella were around today, her go-to shoe would probably be a black leather pump. This fashion classic has withstood the test of time as the perfect choice for casual day events or formal nighttime events, pairing well with jeans, trousers, dresses, and skirts.
Metallic Strappy Sandals
Think of silver or gold metallics as your nighttime neutral—subtle enough to work with everything from basic black to jewel tones, pastels, or elaborate fabric patterns. A slight platform will add comfort to whatever heel height your favor.
With a minimalist, chic silhouette and extreme flexibility, a classic black ballet flat will take you anywhere. It’s an excellent travel option, or if you walk a lot. If you’re feeling adventurous, red or nude are other classic shades that will add variation to your favorite casual or formal outfits.
Accessories: Belts, Scarves, Jewelry
Audrey Hepburn’s cocktail dresses and satin gloves, Jackie Kennedy’s shift dresses and pillbox hats, Grace Kelly’s timeless elegance. Whoever your favorite historical fashion icon is, what they all have in common is the way they styled their wardrobe items with a distinct flair. Accessories are a wonderful way to change up your look, and they can be as simple as a belt over a dress, a statement necklace, or a sophisticated watch or bracelet. Bright splashes of color in a scarf or other accessory can accentuate your outfit, adding an element of individuality that allows your personality to shine through. When in doubt as to what’s appropriate for the office, subtle jewelry is always a good choice.
The Importance of a Good Tailor
Sometimes even the most gorgeous designer, vintage, or off-the-rack dresses might not look good on you due to improper fit. It’s important to have your outfits properly fitted your figure. Find your best local tailor or seamstress and visit him or her regularly to nip in the waist of a boxy blazer or adjust the hemline of a dress or a pair of trousers. Wearing clothes that look custom-made is a massive step towards taking your wardrobe from plain-Jane to fashionable.
Coco Chanel once famously said, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” Although perfume is not directly related to your clothing, the scent is undeniably part of your overall signature style. It’s also something a lot of people get wrong. You certainly do not want to give anyone who crosses your path a headache from the amount of perfume you wear, especially in an office setting. Less is more, and natural scents such as vanilla, sandalwood, and citrus are less likely to stir up allergy-attacks amongst your colleagues than synthetic perfumes.
CLASSICS WILL ALWAYS OUTLAST THE TRENDS
“Fashions fade, but style is eternal.”
—Yves Saint Laurent, Designer
Keeping up with the latest fashions allows you to express your individuality but beware of trends that you can only wear for a season. If you can’t help yourself, then at least try not to spend a fortune on something that will make you cringe once it’s gone out of style.
Whether you are out shopping or sifting through your own wardrobe, it’s important to inspect every item to make sure that the seams are sewn straight, and the edges are nicely finished. Things like loose threads, uneven creases, missing buttons, and prints that don’t quite line up can make even the most expensive garments look cheap.
Here are three important things to avoid so that your trendy outfits don’t look tacky.
1. Gathered Seams
Designers favor gathered seams because they can make clothes more forgiving and help hide fit issues that arise with flat, smooth seams, but they don’t stand up to wear and tear. Instead, select garments with clean lines and sharp tailoring, and always choose pleats over gathered seams.
Embroidery, sequins, and metal studs can look amazing when they are applied by skilled craftspeople using quality materials, but not when they are machine-applied onto cheap fabric. Even if an embellished piece looks fine in the store, once you start wearing it, it’s guaranteed to fall apart. And nothing looks worse than a jeweled sweater with missing jewels. Instead, focus on simple, unadorned pieces and use your jewelry and other accessories as embellishments.
3. Overly Intricate, Busy Prints
Intricate paisley and multi-color floral patterns might seem adorable when they are displayed on a store mannequin, but the more complicated the print is, the higher the chances are for something to go wrong with the way it’s constructed, making the garment look cheap. Instead, focus on bolder, streamlined graphic prints, stripes, polka dots, and plaids in high-contrast color combinations, like black and white.
CONSIGNMENT STORES, VINTAGE SHOPPING, RENTING THE RUNWAY
“Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.”
—Gianni Versace, Designer
Buying and wearing pre-owned has lost its stigma, especially when it comes to barely-worn designer clothes. There is an abundance of women’s consignment stores in nearly every city but stick to shops in more affluent neighborhoods where people generally have more disposable income—and therefore more disposable high-end merchandise sold at a fraction of the price.
If you don’t have the patience to sift through random one-off used merchandise, then online shops are an excellent time-saving alternative that allows you to seek out specific designers and brands. You can also sell your own gently worn items on these websites and put that money back into your clothing budget.
eBay remains a popular online auction and shopping website and the app used to buy and sell various goods and services, including electronics and vehicles. The great news is that it seems to have to become a buyer’s market in recent years, especially when it comes to accessories and statement jewelry, with earrings as inexpensive as $1 and beautiful necklaces that run under $20. Just be aware that if inexpensive items are made in China, they are probably not the best quality.
Poshmark is a digital marketplace with an appealing user interface that’s fast-eclipsing eBay, where people buy, sell, and trade new or used clothing, shoes, and accessories. It’s almost as addictive as Instagram, and it won’t be long before you feel inspired to list everything in your closet that you aren’t wearing.
The Real Real features authenticated luxury consignment items which are carefully curated, and they also operate standing stores in certain cities. There is also a consignor section in case you are inclined to sell your own designer items.
But why buy expensive designer one-off items when you can rent them for under $150? Rent the Runway is an excellent alternative to buying a gown for a special occasion that you will only wear once, and the best part is that they include a second size option with every rental just in case a designer cuts smaller than your usual size. RTR also rents out designer accessories and jewelry, ensuring that your entire ensemble will be outstanding.
When in doubt, throw it out! Ultimately, you want to dress in a way that represents who you are now. If you haven’t worn something in the past year, it might be time to let it go. You shouldn’t feel guilty about selling or donating the clothes that don’t align with your style or even fit you anymore.
There are countless places you can donate your clothes to that will help those in need. Not only will you feel great about supporting those causes—you’ll receive an added benefit from a charity donation receipt that can be applied towards your yearly income tax.
ORGANIZE YOUR CLOSET TO AVOID DUPLICATING ITEMS
“One is never over-dressed or under-dressed in a Little Black Dress.”
—Karl Lagerfeld, Designer
Have you ever gone out shopping with every intention of buying something different, and when you go to hang it in your closet, you realize it’s essentially a duplicate of something you already own? It may be true that a woman can never have too many LBD’s (little black dresses), but if you find yourself with too many similar items, then you may want to re-think your wardrobe strategy.
Start by buying matching hangers so that your closet will seem more orderly, and arrange items according to type (dresses, pants, skirts) and color. Organize your shoes so that you can easily pair them with your outfits. If you own a lot of jewelry, it’s worth investing in a proper accessories organizer to keep track of what you own. Another creative way to showcase your favorite items is by displaying them on jewelry mannequins. Both vintage and new mannequins are readily available online, but be sure to stick with plain black, white, gold, or silver shades to keep your jewelry as the focus point.
Once you have taken inventory of everything you own, a good way to keep track of what you’re stowing away in your tiny closet is to use an organizer app. You can photograph your clothes and accessories or select images of items that are similar to what you own, and then find inspiration through computer-generated or personalized style recommendations. Here’s a round-up of some of the best wardrobe apps currently on the market.
Cladwell is the world’s largest personal styling app, whose mission statement “love what you wear and wear what you love” is based on the realization that it’s overwhelming to have a closet full of clothes and yet feel like there’s nothing to wear. It features styling tips to give you ideas on how to wear what’s already in your wardrobe and which supplemental items would be beneficial.
Closet Love aims to be the ultimate wardrobe planner and style creation app. You can easily digitize and organize your clothes, planning your looks ahead of time, storing them in collections, and adding them to your calendar. If you want someone to guide you on what to wear, expert advice is available from a selected panel of stylists.
Closet Space looks like a carefully-curated street style blog, with high-quality photos that showcase a variety of looks. It’s meant to be a centralized fashion hub for everything related to managing your signature style. It offers access to a network of fashion bloggers and other community members with tons of inspirational ideas and allows you to sign up for daily outfit recommendations. For $25/month, you’ll be able to access an on-demand pro stylist to advise you via Urban Darling. Some of the app’s features (i.e., weather-based outfit suggestions) seem to cater to the type of woman who meticulously catalogs her wardrobe—or one who can’t remember what they have jammed in the back of their closet.
Intelistyle is at once an AI fashion stylist and a retail aggregator, offering personalized styling advice. The mobile app can either be used to search for new clothes or to find ways to style an existing wardrobe. Users can browse from online retail stores or upload photos of their existing clothes. From this, the AI can provide instant outfit recommendations that are right for the user’s figure type, complexion shade, hair, and eye color, as well as their personal sense of style.
Our appearance and the confidence and self-empowerment that comes with it plays a significant part in how we are perceived in our lives—both professionally and personally. Successful people maintain an impeccable image, understanding that their overall appearance is part of their signature brand, especially if they own their own business.
Fashion remains an undeniable indicator of who you are, and a keen sense of style can lead to greater opportunities and higher levels of success. By carefully cultivating and curating your personal style, you can build a wardrobe that any style icon would be proud of—and you won’t have to break the bank to do it.
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