A confession? For years, I was obsessed with the TLC show What Not to Wear. It was fascinating the way wardrobe makeovers and haircuts could completely transform the sartorially challenged into chic, pulled-together individuals. My favourite take-away was that a style setter was just as likely to be an impeccably dressed 60-something as a waif-like model.
I also learned that while certain people may make it look effortless, being stylish requires some attention to detail. And like it or not, what you’re wearing does give people an impression of you, so it is worth that effort.
Chances are slim that I’m going to be whisked off to New York for my own WNTW experience (the show went off the air last year). Luckily, Victoria has its own style gurus who are happy to share their wisdom and the “secrets” to personal style.
1. Invest in key pieces
Before you even walk into Duchess & Duke, a consignment store on Government Street, you can tell that whoever is in charge has a great eye. The window display manages to skillfully blend trendy with vintage, creating smart, covetable looks.
It’s the work of owner Kasia Waissmann-Coey, a self-proclaimed clothing nut, who has been thrifting her whole life. While she does enjoy “fast fashion,” the inexpensive trendy pieces available at the High Street stores like H&M and Zara, she is a proponent of putting money into your wardrobe basics.
“When you invest in pieces, they need to be your staples in your closet: the things you wear over and over again,” says Waissmann-Coey. “Every woman should have a good blazer, a good white button-down shirt, a good pair of black trousers and a good pair of jeans. Pieces that transition and serve you through the seasons are really important —
a basic pair of black pants or a pair of jeans that can be dressed up or down, and can be worn year-round. The pieces, when you do invest in them, serve you longer. And as a consigner, I can say that you will be able to pass them on and get good money for them.”
2. Mix high and low
A recent addition to our YAM fashion team, stylist Janine Metcalfe always causes a stir when she comes into the editorial office. Whether she’s dressed summer-casual or event-ready, she looks amazingly chic and pulled together, and the editors always spend a few minutes analyzing how she’s done it. One of her tricks is to mix high and low.
“I like trends, but you can’t afford to spend money on trends and always buy the high-end,” Metcalfe says. “Every season, I buy a couple of key pieces and then accessorize with more value-conscious items. I like to buy a really great bag or shoes or a jacket, then you can wear anything with them. To me, it’s very much high and low.
“The one thing I would invest in this season would be ‘the Belt.’ For several seasons, belts have held a top place in the list of necessary accessories and it seems that this is going to continue. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, belts are a stylish detail of the wardrobe that travels with us from season to season. Belts harmonize well both with chiffon dresses and coarse-knit cardigans.”
3. Accessories can define your outfit and your style
This past spring, during Mayfair’s Stylist Search, Caitlin Ing impressed the judges with her passion, creativity and fabulous personal style, winning a role on the Mayfair Style Team. She believes that accessories are a fun way to add great versatility to any outfit.
“An easy transition from day to night is to go from fun and colourful jewelry to something bold and metallic,” Ing says. “For example, switching your black or nude office heels for something silver and strappy or replacing your ceramic watch with a pile of mixed metallic bracelets.
She also points to scarves as great pieces to layer on for your day look and then take off for night. “With something like a little black dress,” she adds, “you can top it with a pink or other bright cardigan and a lightweight patterned scarf for day then simply switch to a black or white boyfriend-fit blazer for night. Take off the scarf and add some metallic bracelets and heels or booties.”
4. Your tailor is your secret weapon
One point all our style experts agree on is that fit is key — and the trick to fit is finding a tailor. Each person has a different body type so clothing off the rack will seldom fit you perfectly.
“Fit is a huge factor in how long it takes us to get dressed, how we choose the things we wear and why we won’t go back to certain items,” Waissmann-Coey says. “To get the most wearability out of our clothes, it’s important we make friends with tailors.”
Getting items altered also means you can add more versatility into your wardrobe.
“When I first got into fashion, I just wouldn’t buy a piece if it didn’t fit perfectly. Now I get it tailored,” says Metcalfe. “Fine Stitch (on Fort Street) is really great. Mira, the owner, really understands fit.”
Whether it’s shortening hems, getting rid of pleating or adding darts to a dress for a more flattering silhouette, tailoring allows the wearer to emphasize the positives about her body, another key to looking pulled together.
5. Know what you’re dressing for
While it’s important to know how to flatter your body type with your clothing, it’s also to your benefit to dress for your personality, your career and the circumstances. Ing points to the 20-somethings who wear minis and stacked heels on campus or to work.
“It might be stylish and look great at a nightclub but it doesn’t translate well when it doesn’t suit the environment,” Ing says. “You need to wear what appeals to you, but it also has to suit the occasion.”
She advises that you really need to consider what you’ll be doing. Will you be outdoors or indoors? Will you be keeping your shoes on or taking them off?
“For Victoria in fall and winter, it’s really important to also have a stylish jacket,” she says. “Even if you have a fabulous outfit, it will be hidden when you run into most people.”
6. Be daring!
We all have our go-to styles and outfits so it can be frightening to step out of your fashion bubble and try on something different, but ultimately that’s how you discover new looks.
“I always encourage people to try on something they would never try on their own,” Waissmann-Coey says.
Her biggest pet peeve is labels, as she believes most women get hung up on the sizes. “While I advocate that you shop within reason within your size (if you’re a size 10, don’t frustrate yourself by trying on a size zero), don’t limit yourself to a rack or section. Break out of the idea that things fit because they have a label on them. Things fit because they are sewn a certain way. Shop in the men’s section. Look at maternity clothes. It doesn’t matter if it says maternity in it, it might be really flattering if you are a certain shape.”
And don’t worry too much about being perfect. The road to finding your personal style will necessarily be filled with hits and missteps.
“It’s funny because I’ve been in fashion my whole life and I just try to pick what I think will look good — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Metcalfe says. “Personal style is really about you and what makes you feel good. It doesn’t really matter what other people say.”
7. Wear what makes you feel good
If there’s one overwhelmingly consistent message from our style experts, it’s this: confidence is the be-all and end-all when it comes to clothing.
“Confidence in what you’re wearing actually helps you look stylish,” says Ing.
Getting that aura of self-assurance depends on being comfortable and feeling good in what you’re wearing, and the other style rules play into this. Confidence builders include: having key pieces to rely on in your closet, embracing trends through accessories, dressing appropriately for the occasion and ensuring proper fit. It’s also important to not lose sight of the fact that fashion should be fun.
Of course, gaining confidence from what you’re wearing goes beyond looking stylish — something Waissmann-Coey is able to sum up perfectly: “When you’re wearing something that not only fits your body but your mood, you’ll discover how powerful and amazing you can feel. Discovering your own personal style lets you say what you want to say to the world, without even having to open your mouth.”
By Athena McKenzie