Style is Costume

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players – Jacques, As You Like It

I was a late-bloomer in style, but even as a child I loved playing “dress-up.” If I was to work in fashion I would work in the film costume industry. A character has a core essence that makes them unique and the designer must capture that essence in a few outfits seen on screen that we are supposed to be believe, for the sake of the film, that character chose those clothes.  This of course is a suspension of disbelief, but a more fundamental suspension than computer generated effects, as a mis-dressed character is a ruder jolt than a pixelated barbarian horde.

My style is influenced primarily by film and TV show characters. As dressing for my figure has been my greatest challenge I usually start with a character with a figure similar to mine. I single out winning outfits from movies and seek out similar pieces, maybe not to recreate the entire outfit, but with knowledge that it would look great on me.

You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake! – Iris Simpkins, The Holiday

That quote is a little out of context, but still relevant. In the same way real people are characters too; we each have a core essence that makes us unique that we feel our clothes reflect, and we really do choose our outfits everyday. Unless we all make our own clothes, no one is unique in style. Every day I choose a different costume, a different character to play, and as we mature those characters become fewer and more deeply developed. We are each characters in our own lives.

You should seek your own style. I rarely read fashion blogs because they’re just that… fashion. The herd mentality. I know all of two fashion blogs. Style blogs are more my taste, especially vintage. In one way I allow characters to influence my style, but I chose those characters because they reflect something of myself. It’s cyclical. I very rarely use celebrities as style muses. It is here that the discussion can turn to the deterioration of style but that is for another day.

Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody. – Billy Joel, “James”

Often fashion websites warn against “looking costumey.” This is of course after they have removed one cool vintage piece from the style context that made it cool. Cast that illogic aside: we all play costume. If you want to wear an outfit straight out of 1974 or 1958 with every piece either reproduction or vintage, then go for it. Why should the pinheaded sheep who wrote three sentences in a slideshow or a magazine care? Why do you care if he/she cares? Heaven forbid wearing vintage 80s jeans with a big slouchy 80s-repro sweater crosses the line between homage and costume. If you like wearing it, then wear it.

Balance and proportion

Appearing balanced is probably the most important concept regarding style, with colour theory a close second. Each woman has a unique body and face shape that can be successfully styled with the right pieces. By combining your proper colours with a flattering outfit, you have a solid foundation set towards looking amazing.

What is balance? It means to create a pleasing aesthetic to the eye. This ranges from wearing a higher waist on a long torso, to wearing square earrings on a round face (like your’s truly). Balancing is achieved through various ways, perhaps through colour, cinching your waist, hemlines, a coat, etc. This does not mean that certain “unflattering” items are completely off-limits, but those items are significantly harder to style in a way that flatters you.

The golden ratio

Golden Ratio, 1:1.6

This is the heart and foundation of a balanced look. This won’t come up often, but it is worth learning about because it is important to both mathematics and art. The golden ratio or rectangle relies on the rule of thirds. If you flip this rectangle, the pink region would be, for example, your forehead – it should occupy one third of the rectangle. For body shapes, the ideal arrangement is that the torso and above occupies roughly one third and the hips and legs the rest of the two thirds. Roughly.

This is considered a universally pleasing aesthetic that has influenced art for centuries. It actually serves to illustrate our natural desire for proportion better than anything else.

Why bother with balance? Can’t I wear whatever I want?

The answer is, yes, you can wear whatever you want. No one’s stopping you but one day you’ll get a glimpse of yourself in a glass window and you realize the error of your ways.

Our goal is to counter extremes to create a harmonious look. When buying clothes, always ask yourself the simple question: does this outfit emphasize my dominant area? It could be your legs, your bust, your shoulders, whatever.  You will know it when you see it. These aren’t problem areas or areas you should hide or be ashamed of, but instead look at as the “perfect area” that needs no extra attention – if you have fantastic legs, they will be noticed no matter what, if you dress well (hiding them behind yoga pants does you no favours). But you are not your legs only, and every part of your body is amazing – some areas just need more help than others.

As long as you’re “confident”

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue...

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue…

You can wear any colour as long as you’re confident.

Sound familiar? That’s the favourite easy advice of fashion “experts.” Part of me thinks it’s a ploy so that you don’t regret buying that trendy colour even though you look positively sick wearing it.

With our subject to the left, that brunette in sky blue is impeccably styled and yet she looks… washed out. Do we see her confidence? I don’t think so.

I believe that when you look good, you will be confident. This requires objective knowledge of what flatters you. I know that I am stylish from within, but we’ve all been there: the perfect new outfit laid out in my closet the night before is a horrendous disaster in the morning. My confidence is zero, and I will not leave the house until it is at full throttle. On the flipside, we all get that little extra bounce in our step when wearing our favourite (flattering) skirt or shoes. You know the irony of it, though? We can trick ourselves into thinking we look good and thus feel confident. For example…

I am a winter, but I naively acquired pieces in oatmeal or pale lavender. I wore them proudly. I didn’t know any better, and I thought I looked good. I was confident. In reality I looked horrible, but I was confident that I looked good. See my point? Confidence is very subjective and it should not be relied upon – I have completely lacked confidence when taking style risks that ultimately improved my look, and my confidence increased from there.

If Zooey, a classic winter, had selected this dress in any jewel tone, or since her eyes are blue, a vivid blue instead of sky blue, she would have hit it out of the park.

Forget confidence in a vacuum. This means investing in a body-length mirror and a well-lit room, acquiring clothes in shades that flatter you, and dressing your figure. No exceptions, if’s, and’s, or but’s. Confidence will come from within.