The Power of Personality
I read an anecdote back in the 1970s where a teenage girl went shopping with her grandmother. The grandmother decided to try on a pair of platform shoes for amusement, which were all the current rage among young people. She strutted around in them a little bit and then told the clerk, “Wrap ’em up, I’ll take ’em!”
The granddaughter’s amusement turned to horror. “But….but….Granny!” she protested. “What’ll you wear them with?”
“Defiance!” exclaimed the old lady.
Since then I’ve noticed a growing trend for older women to wear whatever they damn well please. I think it must come down to personality. It seems to pave the path for what we expect of people and our acceptance of their self-expression.
Diana Vreeland, the late editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, and longtime fashion writer for both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, was known for her delicious, artful and fun-loving excess in fashion. A privileged socialite by birth and breeding, she typified that je ne sais quoi of a self-assured maven possessing undecipherable style instincts.
I do not know for certain whether Vreeland was, herself, the instigator of the do-as-you-please style I see among older women today, but she certainly believed in and loved eclectism, experimentation, and the color red. One cannot fail also to think of Irene Apfel, businesswoman, interior designer, and possibly the world’s oldest fashion model. Like Vreeland’s early favorite fashion designer, Coco Chanel, both Apfel and Vreeland are/were spindly women with over-the-top taste in too much jewelry, too much fabric, too much makeup, too much of anything. Dolly Parton, American singer and songwriter, similarly gets away with excess everything, though she is round and petite. She was once quoted as saying, “For me, less is less and more is more.”
But surely most of us fall into the mid-range of the bell curve. That’s normal and nothing wrong with that either.
Personality as Expression and Temperament
There are two major aspects to personality, which I am going to call Expression and Temperament for simplicity. Expression has to do with what we love, what we’re attracted to, and what we wish to say through our appearance. Temperament has to do with how we interact with the world (like whether ten million rhinestone buttons up the front of a dress feels like the lap of luxury to us or a rotten inconvenience). Both of these are huge factors in personal style and maybe even more significant than color and line, depending on who you ask. I’m going to tackle each of these separately.
I never found a better resource for understanding the expression of personality through style than a book that came out a few years ago: Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte. Perhaps some do not need such helps — I don’t know — but most of us need a point of reference to keep our own optimal satisfiers in view as we’re learning what’s possible in style.
The Style Statement book is currently out of print but still being sold online and on Kindle. You can also get it through interlibrary loan, as I often do with books I’m testing out. My e-book version was a little hard to follow at first, but once I got the hang of where it was going, it was a real help. The concept of the book is simple. You are working on a sort of mantra by which to guide your choices in life, and in this case personal style.
You get two words, an 80% word that is foundational to your lifestyle, and a 20% word that represents your creative edge. The 80% represents where you live, figuratively speaking, most of the time. The 20% word keeps you from getting bored with the 80% word and gives that 80% a bit of direction.
Essentially, the process of finding these two words consists of pulling up positive memories, feelings, attractions, desires, satisfiers and then finding common the threads in them. You distill the whole thing down into those two words that really define what you love, what makes you feel “right.” These focus the internal you into the physical world.
The book itself is helpful because it provides real-life examples of how other people found their two-word statements and has pictures of objects, clothes, and environments to illustrate how that manifests for them. The statements themselves present a fascinating picture of individuality. Here are a few that appear in the book: Structured Magic, Refined Treasure, Simply Crafted, Genteel Vitality.
There are several ways you could go about finding your own two words, and it all depends on how intense you want to get. You can follow the book’s plan and go through all the questions it poses, all the vocabulary presented, all the preferences asked about, etc., etc. Or you can do it the quick and easy way with pictures as my Style Mapping page suggests. You can even do a combination of words and pictures. The main thing is to compile pictures, ideas, associations that consistently attract you or that you long to have in your life. Your key to self-expression will show up somewhere in that mix.
When you get your collection of concepts, pictures, materials, visuals, ideas, patterns, whatever you know you are attracted to, then quit when it seems like you’re just repeating yourself. At that point, you’ve probably exhausted whatever it is you need to search through.
1. Search for major themes that resonate with you.
2. Select three to five words that correspond to these themes, two of which must apply to material things. (You need both material and immaterial words because your world is both material and immaterial.)
3. Here’s where you can get a dictionary or thesaurus to find related words. You want words that hit the “sweet spot” of how you feel. Look for synonyms and narrow them down until you find exactly what speaks to the way you feel about your satisfiers. (It took me days and weeks to do this part.)
4. Begin a process of elimination until you get three or four words that represent you. At least one of these must relate to the material world.
5. For your 80% foundational word, select only those words that could be used to describe a material object. Get rid of any words that would feel too extreme to fill up 80% of your lifestyle. Your foundational word could be something like balmy, syrup, nail, blue, marble, soft. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a noun, adjective or even a physical thing, just so it can be applied to something in the material world.
6. For your 20% creative edge word, choose the leftover words and begin the process of elimination. Your creative edge word could be almost anything like whisper, heirloom, constructed, thoughtful, gracious.
7. Put the two words together with the 80% foundational word first. See how that feels. Play with other synonyms again to test whether the combination of the two words feels right, feels like it represents the person you truly are.
McCarthy and LaPorte explain it like this:
Your foundation word represents your being. Your creative edge is how you express and distinguish your being. In terms of aesthetics, it’s your accessories and your accent pieces. It’s your jewelry or the artwork on your walls. … In terms of your spirit and the way you relate, your creative edge is most often the impression that you make. It’s what drives and inspires you. And the beauty of the 80/20 principle in this case is that you don’t have to be living on your creative edge at all times. In fact, to do so would lead to overkill and burnout.
From the possibilities suggested above, you could have word combinations like Balmy Whisper, Syrup Heirloom, Blue Gracious. I have no idea what those combinations might represent to someone else, but let’s try. “Balmy Whisper” could work for someone who loves pleasantly warm weather and things that are gentle like a whisper. Such a person would want approximately 80% of her wardrobe to evoke a feeling of calm warmth (in color? in style?) accented with accessories that speak of something whisper-soft (like feathers or gauzy fabrics?). One can only imagine for others — I only know my own two words.
It can take a long time and intense emotional work and logic to be sure you’ve got your two words right, but it’s worth it when you do. And the only thing I want to know when you get through is:
What are your two words?
Keep those in mind, because we’ll use those later.
OR . . .
Maybe you don’t feel the need to do such exercises. You know exactly what you like. You collect elephants, or wear leopard prints, or you wear pearls . . . and that’s how you want to leave it. Or hey — you like following every new trend. That’s okay, too. If that’s what does it for you, then go for it. You are one of the few.
I never thought much about temperament as a shaper of personal style when I first learned about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Sometimes people refer to these types as “personalities,” but actually the MBTI types refer to preferred hierarchies of cognitive functions. These influence the temperament, which in turn influences the personality. Some companies define the types differently, and therefore you will see a lot of online discussions between individuals talking past each other on the topic. It takes a lot of time to really understand the operation of all the cognitive functions, and I really think some MBTI practitioners are much more skilled than others. Shop around.
The best reason for wanting to know your MBTI type is to become objectively aware of what you probably unconsciously know about yourself. (Some people need to feel appropriate, others need to be trend setters, still others have to be original. Some plan ahead, others hate planning. Yes, MBTI influences some of this!) These cognitive functions definitely influence on how you tackle the whole topic of style.
With that said, I would like to put in a plug for the extremely innovative 16 Style Types program by Jill Chivers, Jane Kise, and Imogen Lamport, based on the MBTI types. There is no question that it is highly interesting and probably very helpful to many. I’ve never seen anything else like it. Definitely check it out.