The Power of Personality
I wish I had known the power of personality when I started this whole style journey thing. Many style consultants talk about the correlation they often witness in the physical lines, colors and personality of clients. I didn’t have a full handle on my own style until I ran into that relationship between my own physicality and personality. Discovering that filled in the gaps for me later. Even so I think I would still start with lines and colors if I had it to do over. It’s the only objective handle we have.
I began with the vaguest idea of where I fell in the color range, got it royally wrong a couple of times. Later, some ladies online helped me guess my approximate place in the 12-season system. It took a while to get the exact range nailed down, partly owing to the limitations of seasonal color designed for the masses. Adriana Cizikova later confirmed my general sense of how I differed from the standard Soft Summer of the 12-season palette. (I am Soft Summer Light in her system. [Note: She has further subdivisions of Light Summer and Light Soft Summer (not to be confused with Soft Summer Light).]
Before that I had gotten an “essences” session with John Kitchener of PSC. He is incredibly gifted with an artistic eye and very generous with his time. He gave me incredible confirmation of things I instinctively knew about myself but hadn’t respected enough. There was also a surprise in the mix of essences that I surely knew somewhere deep down, but hadn’t faced. What he gave me was a perspective I didn’t have before. Many, many of my questions were answered. As happens always, many more questions presented themselves after the fact.
Running Headlong into “Context,” oh dear, oh dear!
With all that under my belt, I had the “A” part of the equation underway — the aesthetics. Now to make it work. I did a lot of experimenting, found a few more things that worked/didn’t work the way I had imagined. Got those sorted out, and came up with a style!!!!! But my bubble was soon to pop with the context of my life. Obstacle after obstacle came up. I could name several but the biggest one was geography. As I wrote about elsewhere, my entire life and everything I knew about clothing was founded upon hot weather. And I had moved to a cold weather zone, which I knew practically zero about.
None of the skirt lengths I dreamed about worked in cold weather. It was also hard to find my colors, or at least to wear my lighter colors when the basic wardrobe in the north is black, black, black. Available colors either felt too heavy, too bright, or had too much value contrast if I wore them with black. I had to compromise somewhere — there was no way out of it in a place where nine months of the year has me freezing. Gone were my Mucha woman (Art Nouveau) aspirations; they would never work in my new climate. I hunted around for alternatives. My essences create a pretty blended style identity: Natural/Angelic. I narrowed it down to just Natural for the sake of ease and then started hunting for styles around the world that might work.
It turned out to be easier than I thought. I discovered Scandinavian dressing, which is basically a minimalistic dressing style. (Luckily, my core preference in dressing is Relaxed — easy to pair with my style identity anyway!) I was afraid it was too non-descript, too plain, too rugged sometimes. But then I began the process of ENGINEERING. (Remember me mentioning that process?) I learned to look for very lightweight items that could be layered for warmth, recombined in different ways. I even figured out how to wear black stockings with muted colors from my palette, keeping lighter colors near the face.
That’s the short version of how I tackled Context. I placed my palette + style identity in the Context of where I lived and then engineered the both of them to work together instead of at odds. And then for good measure, I added in what I think is probably a French inspiration of how I prefer to combine colors that works especially well as we move into warmer months for a while. I was really afraid of being stuck in nothing but casual clothing, with my dressing preference and the cold weather. But I need not have feared.
Personality and Perceptions
There was another process going on in the background of all this at the same time. I ended up buying the Style Statement book and doing the exercises faithfully. My two words were Sea Treasure. (This became the basis of my Sea Pearl brand.) Soon after, I began hearing a lot about style archetypes and became fascinated with that concept. (Seriously, I’ve been through ever shifting “style recipes,” trying to balance all my PSC essences, and feeling my way from the inside out to STYLE. But still, I had no coherent plan for pulling it all together.)
At the time, I was still unsure about my exact palette, but I was sure about my style statement. I turned that statement into a human form: The Seaside Antiquarian. That was truly my personality embodied in make-believe form. I tweaked my generic palette colors to fit that concept. As I did all that, I started getting clearer about that elusive intersection between my physical type and my personality. As I did that, everything started coming into focus. (In the process, I accidentally figured out my probable Zyla archetype: The Mysterious Mermaid.)
When I tried fitting myself previously into a Zyla archetype, I was focused on my secondary traits, not my primary ones, and mistakenly placed myself in his Antique Winter archetype. That seems to be a common error we all fall into: mistaking secondaries for primaries. (Remember “Sea” is my 80% style word and “Treasure” is my 20% — which ties in closely with collectibles, old things, antiques, etc. I had gotten something out of proportion.) None of us will fit into a pure archetype, but one will usually be most prominent. As with personality traits, there are common lines and shapes that appear frequently with certain ranges of coloring — no one knows why. But these archetypes illustrate the effects often produced by lines and coloring, with no one specific in mind.
I later discovered Olga Brylinska’s Ethereal Typology, and dismissed it promptly as just another one of those people cashing in on everybody-wants-to-be-Angelic because it’s “special and rare” baloney. I don’t know what brought me back for another look, but somewhere along the line I began to see the overlaps between “ethereals” as she calls them. Olga claims that individuals may have several ethereal types, but in lessening strengths as you add each one in. I played around with her system and identified those interconnected qualities I had intuited in Zyla’s system, but never nailed down. That is to say, I saw how each one manifested in me, in what amount, and how they went together to create a whole person. When I got done, what I saw was just ME. I didn’t come out with a transformative style that made me become the person I always wished I could be. I was just ME and had a way to express ME.
What happened was that I closed the gaps between styling systems. It’s similar to when you put a 1000-piece puzzle together. You connect the pieces on the border first, then you connect the colors that appear in certain parts of the picture on the box cover. After that, you insert conglomerated puzzle pieces into the framework, filling in the holes.
I had, in theory at least, assembled all the components of A + C + P but hadn’t finished adding them up to a style formula.
Preferred Mode of Dress
The last thing I had to work through was my preferred mode of dress. Not my style identity, but my actual preference. It turned out to be Relaxed/Casual. Well that was easy, but not so fast. Remember that CONTEXT thing again? Two things were in play: 1) Sometimes I need to dress up and I don’t want to be uncomfortable, and 2) I feared that having a Relaxed style as my go-to meant I was sloppy and not creative or romantic. So what did I do? Back to ENGINEERING. How do I express my relaxed self in a way that is not boring, underdressed, or inappropriate?
I thought back on Imogen Lamport’s advice concerning three levels of formality and how to mix those. I asked myself what kind of life I would like to live if no one were looking. And how often do I have to dress up and how formal must it get? I concluded that I needed two main levels of formality in my lifestyle, casual to business dress, and the levels of formality needed to be interchangeable on a sliding scale. Once or twice a year I need something truly more formal (why waste a lot of money here?).
Then I came up with a description to go with the feeling I wanted from each level of formality. For everyday, the magic word was “The Blues.” It could be Mississippi Blues or Paris Blues, just so it was wispy and languid and easy-going. For dressier occasions, the word was “Cool Jazz.” For such occasions, I prefer a head-to-toe solid color in a finer fabric and add a touch of subtle bling. The basic silhouette would always remain the same — no brainer. My style became fun, flexible, and left me free not to think too hard about it.
I had merged several archetypes, under the umbrella of my invented archetype The Seaside Antiquarian. Now I had two registers to express that in: “The Blues” and “Cool Jazz.” Every major question was answered, the life I wanted could be lived and expressed, and best of all — I had laid claim to my own personality.
A + C + P = Blues/Cool Jazz dressing with colors and details that evoke the theme of The Seaside Antiquarian