On Style and Systems
I used to read (and never comment) on a blog by a woman in Boston who took a picture of her outfit everyday in her full-length mirror. I felt creepy about my silent spying, but I couldn’t stop. Her systems fascinated me. She always turned out one leg at the same 45-degree angle. She wore her pants in a flowy, work-trouser way with conservative twin sets. She knew a bunch of ways to tie a scarf. It was like In Style come to life. I didn’t really care for the way she dressed, but I admired her tirelessly methodical approach. Her goal was to create a capsule wardrobe of perfect basics, modeled on our ideal of what the so-chic French do. (She also shared what she ate everyday which also aimed to follow a French model: cream sauces, good pastries, strong coffee, small portions, no snacks. The occasional bag of Doritos worked there way in because, well, shit gets real.)
I am obsessed with systems in an almost I long to be a left-brained person way. Linear, pragmatic, solution-based, I’ve convinced myself that systems can be created to crack the code on looking chic everyday, cooking dinner, staying fit, saving money, and producing good creative work. According to this as yet untested theory of mine, the only difficult part should be finding your system.
I’m about halfway through creating my Style Statement. I am loving this book with its pages upon pages of questions for self-reflection: What’s your definition of sexy? Who embodies a sense of style that speaks to you? Where do you feel your best? The end goal of this book is to come up with a two word catch-all, not only for your wardrobe, but as guiding principles for all that you do in life. Your style statement should represent you at your most you.
How’s that for a system: if we can only pinpoint the words that break what we care most about into its most basic form, than we’ll have the road map to buy the right clothes and take the right job. If all of our actions, minute to life-changing, could come directly in line with our most true to us principles, everything would fall into place. We’d have fewer things, but each of them beloved. We’d pull ourselves away from the computer to make something simple and wholesome for dinner. We’d take right action to support what we care about.
I think this is why I keep scouring the web for those images of sweet, perfect inspiration: the photo that captures a desired mood, a couch that fits the imprint of your life, boots that magically work with skirts and pants and go from work to cocktails. I love words, but they can exhaust me. (Just watch me go…on and on and on…)Have you ever been sick of your own voice, or the things you say over and over, the boundaries of your vocabulary or hitting the same problems again and again? But images are appealing in the same way perfume is. They evoke, they tap into your imagination, hit some primordial part of the brain deeper and more buried than language.
And so it goes, perhaps, that I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes. It turns out that I don’t have all the items a lady with a big job needs; I’m long on full-skirted vintage dresses, short on blazers and flouncy lady blouses. So I invited a few of the most stylish (and organized) women I know to come over on Saturday and help me edit my closet.
They meant business, and were not distracted by champagne and chocolate croissants. As they sat on my bed and I faced the dark closet, I felt overwhelmed. Historically, this is when I would become distracted by a box of old photos on the top shelf. But they cheered me on! They told me to sew down pockets. They asked me to look at my face when I put an item on (scrunched, panic, and discomfort were never a good sign). They made lists of what to buy, what brands to consider. In a couple of hours, we had a huge discard pile of things that didn’t make me feel good, didn’t look good, and no longer fit.
I felt especially sad to giveaway a red and white striped top with puff sleeves. I had worn it in college on nights out with high-waisted pencil skirts. It had a cigarette burn in the torso from a girl who danced a little too wildly near me at a bar, and it now hit me on my ribcage instead of right at the waist. Maybe with a longer layer underneath or a higher skirt it could work. “It looks like it would fit a child,” they said. And they were right: it was the shirt of a free-wheeling girl who rode a bicycle in red high heels and showed up in morning English classes still smelling like cigarettes.
After they all left, I had a much-emptied closet filled with some gems. There were two garbage bags by the front door to take to the consignment store down the street. As I picked up the coffee cups and empty champagne glasses in the bedroom, I looked at the list they had been making. Somewhere between fun lady blouse and dark jeans for work was a red and white striped top with 3/4 length sleeves. I could buy another, perhaps with puff sleeves, and walk around my neighborhood wearing practical, yet stylish shoes and show up for work smelling like fresh-roasted coffee beans and just-cut gardenias. I didn’t feel quite as nostalgic anymore.
They say this in all the books about simplifying and decluttering but I got it then: when you let go of items that remind you of the past, you make room for things for your present. How sad to hold on to a shirt that doesn’t fit me anymore because it reminds me of a particular kind of fun I used to have. Why not find a new shirt, one that looks fantastic and promises fun, and wear it for all the new adventures I want to have?
So, questions: Am I alone in my dream of creating these magic-working systems? Do you dream of having fewer things, each of the beloved and perfect? Have you managed to assemble a work uniform that is professional yet personal? Do you have a Style Statement?