Monday, September 22, 2014

Defining One's Style: No Nonsense with a Touch of Classic Femininity

My relationship with fashion has been one filled with tension and contradiction. I'd watch old movies with Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and I want to be like them. Unabashed. In control of whatever room they walked into. Unafraid. Confident.


At the time, I formed an opinion of who they were as women from the clothes their characters wore. Later as I studied the women, reading biography after biography, I learned that they were trailblazers and actively shaped the clothing their characters wore. Attire mirrored and magnified their personalities. And even more than ever I wanted to be like them.

How do you define your style?


Relearning to Shine

Ever since my first corporate internship in high school, I learned to hide my love of fashion. Fashion became something to be ashamed of. Any compliments were to be brushed off and downplayed. In male-dominated work environments, I was cautioned to avoid drawing attention to myself. Where I naturally gravitated towards the sophisticated styling of 1940s and 1950s business attire, to appease HR, I camouflaged my hourglass shape in boxy double-breasted jackets with shoulder pads worthy of a football player. In my corporate garb, as a twelve year old I could pass for a woman in her early thirties.

As the only female in many of my undergraduate engineering classes, makeup and a styled appearance were eschewed. Female engineering students who put thought into their appearance weren't there for an education, they were there for a husband. Outwardly, I nodded along in agreement with my male colleagues. But inwardly, I was envious of that other woman's confidence.


When I was pregnant with our daughter Gates, I realized how much I wanted to shine. How much I wanted to be that woman I was envious of in college. Being pregnant, I was thrust back into oblivion--the uncomfortable space where you exist but no one acknowledges you. Family, friends, and strangers were focused on one characteristic of my being: my uterus. (Where many women take countless photos of their baby bump, I fled from cameras. Besides one photo of me on New Year's Eve, my baby shower was the only other time I was photographed while pregnant. I didn't want reminders that I was invisible.)

Preparing for my first Alt Summit in 2013, I was sick with worry. I didn't know what "my style" was. (I was somewhat relieved when I read a stylist's post about why she wasn't going to win best dressed at Alt.) There were days when I walked out the door and felt like "me." But, I couldn't tell you why I felt like me on some days and not on others, why if I wore the same outfit I couldn't replicate that feeling reliably. (Even now I shake my head at a couple of the outfits I pulled together, wondering what I thinking beyond frantically trying to find attire that my post-pregnancy body could fit into.)


When cubes ended up in the hospital last Fall, I was struggling with once again disappearing into the background. And this time I did something about that feeling. I started participating in Hilary Rushford's #StyleMeSeptember and signed up for her Style and Styleability course. Little did I know that I'd be on the way to finding my confidence and relearning to shine.


Understanding Your Fashion Icons

Have you ever sat down and thought about your style?

I never really gave my personal style or my fashion icons much thought until I created a Pinterest Board filled with clothing I liked and similar to items I wore. (Here's a link to my Style and Styleability Pinterest Board if you're curious.)

And then it hit me. The two things all my fashion icons had in common. A no nonsense attitude. Tailoring that flattered and accentuated their femininity. And then I had it, my style: No Nonsense with a Touch of Classic Femininity. Fitted silhouettes with defined waists. No wonder I'll take a fitted button-down collar oxford (darts please!) with jeans and loafers or belted sweater over a tiered cotton skirt with boots any day over a t-shirt and yoga pants.

I don't know when femininity began being seen as a sign of weakness. My fashion icons are anything but weak, whether in the movies or in real life. Taking care in how you dress and being excited to be a woman should make you feel good, not guilty, because seriously, who wants to spend 365 days a year hiding or secretly apologizing for self care? When I realized how I'd been sabotaging myself and decided to stop, it was like a veil had been lifted and I had a new bounce in my step.

Who inspires your style choices?
What can they tell you about yourself?
genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.