Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life. What prompted my contemplation is this pattern:
I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties. I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more. I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.) At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn. I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.
I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then. For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:
At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it. The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk. However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.
Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:
I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost. I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.
Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties. I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me. Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love – and also hope to make some day.
I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades. How about you? Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)? If not, what has changed?
What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color. I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink.
All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too). Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote: “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.” [my italics]
And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along? Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs? Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status: Under the Spell of Haute Couture: “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void…. A woman’s fashion compass should come from within. When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.” (pages 146-147)
Is your personal style really that important? Does it allow you to project the person you truly are? If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years. Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.” When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.) I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.
I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?