Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Fake Style

I hate clothes shopping. I loved it as a teenager, when “shopping” was a grown-up version of “playing” and basically consisted of walking around the mall and trying on the occasional shirt at Maurice’s until I’d been there long enough to justify buying an Orange Julius. But now that “shopping” means actually buying clothes that are to carry me through life, 85% of the time I dread it. (The other 15% of the time I treat it as one might treat a professional development seminar: I know it’s good for me, and it might even be pleasant, but enjoying it seems a long shot.) I like to look good; I just don't like getting there.

On top of this, I really don’t have a good eye for style. I know what I like to wear, but when I look at people who, through their endless combining, repurposing, and reimagining, are able to create a house-sized wardrobe with a somewhat limited set of clothes, I’m in awe. I tend to think in terms of uniforms: Jeans + solid top + scarf = winter outfit! This is great in terms of simplicity; not so great in terms of consistently coming up with a good look.

Still--and believe me, I'd gone a good 30 years with hardly a comment on my wardrobe--coworkers began to comment on my style. At first I thought it was them simply being kind; then I thought it was because I started wearing more dresses, showing that I was putting more effort into how I dressed. Over time, though, I realized it was because I’d learned how to fake it. Part of this is simply learning what works on my frame. But part of it was developing certain tricks to create the appearance of having style while simultaneously having no clue. (I know there’s an argument for “the appearance of having style” being the same as actually having style, but over years of working in women’s magazines and living in one of the style capitals of the world I’ve seen so many people who really do have style that the difference is clear to me. I once worked with a fashion director who usually wore ripped T-shirts and jeans but styled them in such a way--little boots, little chains, possibly a necktie for no apparent reason other than homage to her own private goddess of Style--that she looked ineffably chic, utterly effortless, and always amazing. When I wear ripped T-shirts and jeans, I look like I’m regrouting my bathtub. Of course, she was French, so.)

With that, I present to you: How to fake style when you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t like shopping anyway. 

1) Wear dresses. Really and truly, this is the number-one thing I can tell any woman who wants to appear stylish but doesn’t have a good eye for style. It’s one piece, so you don’t have to think about how to match it with anything (black shoes or neutral shoes will work with pretty much everything, or at least they will if you dislike shopping more than you dislike not having nicely coordinated shoes, which is true of me). Basically, it dresses you for you. It’ll make you look pulled-together because even if it’s a casual dress, people still connect dresses with being “dressed up”--and I know some people will disagree with me on this, but it never hurts to be a little overdressed. (If you disagree with this, perhaps you are cooler than me. I want to be liked way too much to risk underplaying it.) If you’re not a fan of dresses, try the uniform principle of it: Try buying tops and bottoms that are designed to go together (the word pantsuit sounds dated, but the idea of it works), or, hell, ask for help. The idea is to not have to think about it.

2) Let someone else do the work. That is: Find a designer you like, or a store/boutique that has a higher than usual amount of “yes” clothes, and stick to them. A store’s buyer knows more about clothes than most of us (and certainly the same is true of designers), so they’re doing the heavy lifting of finding fabrics, cuts, and styles that fit the store’s aesthetic. Once you find that store, honestly, you don’t need to do much else shopping until you have a very specific need. I spent several years shopping nowhere but Huminska when I was trying to build up my work wardrobe--I already had enough jeans, tops, and sweaters to last me for a while, and I knew that while Huminska dresses were more expensive than what I’d normally spend, because it was “my” store I’d wear every piece to death (I'm a big believer in figuring cost per wear), and by going there regularly I also had chances to peruse the shop's sales rack. Also, if you hate shopping I’m guessing you also never sign up for a store’s mailing list, but when you find the right store you totally should.

3) Wear one bold accessory. I dress very simply--one piece of clothing if I can get away with it, no jewelry except for the pair of silver hoops I wear every day, unremarkable shoes, no mixing-and-matching. But I picked up a kelly green silk scarf a couple of years ago because I couldn’t stop touching it in the store (so smooth! so fine!), and started wearing that with my boring old jeans and long-sleeved tees, and all of a sudden my boss told me I had “panache,” and a woman on the street asked me where I got it, and a college friend asked me when I started being a “fashion plate,” and Mayor Bloomberg had a parade for me, and it was all because I was wearing a bright green silk scarf and absolutely nothing else had changed. 

I'm eschewing guideline #4 but rocking #1 and #3, and those are
my second of two pairs of burgundy Mary Janes. Shhhh!

4) Embrace color. I was one of those wear-black-whenever-I-can-get-away-with-it people for years. (I read as a kid that New Yorkers wore a lot of black, and that seemed terrifically glamorous, and then I read that River Phoenix always wore black because black allowed the "spirit within" to appear more radiant, and that sealed the deal. I loved that boy, to the point where my parents understood upon hearing of his death that they would be obliged to host a film fest/slumber party, and even though everyone fell asleep during The Mosquito Coast, it was a tribute, dammit. O River my River! You are still missed!) If I branched out, it was to gray, brown, and olive green--these suit me well (my name is Autumn, after all), but they’re also boring as hell when worn exclusively. After the style consultation/cocktail session with my friend Lisa Ferber (see #3 here), I realized that I really loved wearing color, and every dress I’ve bought since then is colorful. (Okay, fine, every dress I’ve bought since then is pink. PINK! Pink pink pink pink pink. And one green.) In any case, I’ve found that wearing color does indeed pick me up mentally, and others respond to it too--a coworker said that she always looked forward to seeing me because my colors brought her cheer.

5) When you find something you love, get two. If a top comes in 12 colors, get one in each color that you like and wear them all to death. If you like a pair of shoes after wearing them a couple of weeks, go back and buy them again. I know that styles change, and that even non-fashion-conscious eyes begin to adjust to certain looks. But if you despise shopping, chances are that the pleasure you’ll get from being able to replace your favorite pair of shoes from your own stock will outweigh whatever fashion points you might lose by wearing square-toed shoes two seasons after they’ve gone out, or whatever. You won’t even know they’ve gone out of season! Because you hate shopping, you have no idea what’s fashionable, right?! See how easy?


  1. Great tips! I don't understand fashion all that well either. I mean, Lady Gaga is supposedly a fashion icon but 99% of the time I think the crap she wears is fugly. So you know you can just go get an outfit and if someone doesn't like it, then just act like they are clueless to what's trendy right now. If Gaga can make her ridiculous style work, there's hope for us all.

  2. Yes to all of the above.
    Also - invest in a camel trench coat. It goes well with EVERYTHING. And learn the beauty of simplicity. No need for too many colours and patterns.Stick to three colours at the very most.

  3. AMEN! I totally live by rule #1. I hate putting together outfits. I HATE IT! It always reminds me of my physical imperfections. Dresses however, dresses get me. My figure is flattered by a dress. I would have rocked the 50's-60's look. I am someone who people often perceive as having a sense of style when in fact I am really clueless. Most of the styles I like don't look good on me. I love wearing ripped jeans and shirts, and as you so eloquently put it, oft look as I am about to grout!

    Great Post!

  4. Ashley, ha! I love the thought of passing off my outdated clothes as cutting-edge. (I thought that by being in close proximity to fashion I would begin to understand it, but I never do. It seems like menswear is always in, that's just about all I can ever glean from reading fashion pages.)

    Davinia, a camel trench will probably be my next big purchase. I have a poppy one (sticking with the bright colors rule) but indeed it doesn't go with everything. And YES on the simplicity. I do have a few patterned dresses but overall I'm all about the solids. Pattern-matching is basically advanced trigonometry to my basic arithmetic--when other people do it successfully, brava to them! I will happily watch by the sidelines.

    Cameo, that's hilarious--I totally think of you as someone who has a great fashion sense! So either you do or you've been tricking me for years. And you know, I hadn't thought of it but I do think that part of why I don't like separates is that it puts a fine point on evaluating my body. (Except for jeans--once I found the perfect jeans I stopped looking anywhere else.) It just feels like more WORK, ugh.

  5. Dresses are wonderful! I love that long, unbroken line. Though I suppose some dresses have contrasting tops and bottoms, which shoots my theory to hell. They're still great, though!

    I second the One Bold Accessory tip. I have a big, aqua, beaded necklace that strangers from 12-90 all gush over. Instant style cred.

    Here's another good style-faker: slap on a hat.

  6. Rebekah, I hadn't even thought of the unbroken line--and yep, all my dresses have exactly that. And a YES on hats! The bigger the better, I say, for style fake-out purposes. They draw attention, so they just make you look like you know what you're doing.

  7. I second you on hating to shop retail...but I want to SEE you in pink. I've been trolling for pink jeans, without success--yet.

  8. Pink jeans!

    And your wish is my command: http://www.the-beheld.com/2011/07/am-i-apple-or-pear-part-ii-youre.html

  9. I love this post Autumn. You mean black isn't always stylish? I've been known to over indulge in black clothing and made an effort to bust out a bit. I have always felt un-stylish, hence my 30for30 experiment earlier this year, but it weighed on me even more once I began working from home and could actually wear jeans (& sometimes PJs) every day. This year I got feed up with feeling frumpy and bored and have experimented and put in more effort.

    I think one reason, but definitely only one, that I have never been stylish is that I am much more concerned with comfort and lots of stylish stuff is not comfortable. I cannot do heels for any length of time outside of a wedding or a funeral. I can't even stand tucking in my shirt usually! LOL!

    I second the bold accessory and sticking with a brand. I have a turquoise and red coral necklace that is my favorite. I even sometimes plan my outfits so that I can wear it. I buy most of my pants at Loft now on sale simply because their petite pants usually fit me without the need to alter. And yes, Rebekah, hats! I have a small collection now. Plus works great in the Portland rain. I will have to try the dress trick. My biggest issue is always being cold/wet in the winter, so I've avoided dresses, but now that I've discovered boots and wool tights its more doable.

  10. Andréa, thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I too work from home a lot and I think this is part of why I'm paying a little more attention--now that I only dress up when I'm going out, I do actually want to look a little nicer because it feels like an "event" now. And now I want to try wool tights! I'm a big tights fan but haven't experimented with wool yet--certainly better than cotton/nylon in the winter. Thanks!

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