A “signature style,” as I’m using it here, is essentially the irreducible terms of your natural best look. Even though I consider personality the driver of personal style philosophy, I also think of it as the shaper of objective data. That is, if your goal is authentic beauty, you cannot simply ignore objective facts in favor of personality. You want to find some “sweet spot” where personality and objective data can work together. (I deal with that more in the e-book I’ve got in the works right now.)
If you think of signature style elements as points of differentiation, then you can understand them as things that set you apart as a distinct personality. Think of a lion’s mane, a leopard’s spots, or an elephant’s trunk. Those animals would not look like themselves if they were minus these features, would they? Likewise, we erase our presence in the world when we wear colors and lines that contradict everything about us. And yet, a surprise personality element can work when it does not dominate.
Unpacking “Signature Style”
I used to confuse “signature style” with branding. There is some overlap, but they aren’t quite the same. No wonder I was confused, though. “Signature style” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. (Neither do the words “signature color,” “power color,” or color “seasons.”) That’s why I define it for these purposes as the “irreducible terms of your natural best look.” It is possible to expand on that with something you have adapted to yourself that isn’t literally “natural”–like your hair color, a preferred silhouette, or a favorite color that might not be someone else’s idea of your signature color–but I suspect that’s the exception rather than the rule. But for the present purpose, let’s build on the basic core of the idea of a “signature style” that is based primarily on natural traits.
The Difference Between a Signature Style and Branding
I once read about a corporate woman who established herself with a color. I forget which color, but let’s say it was blue. She always incorporated blue somewhere in her outfit, had a blue business card, wrote memos on blue paper, and always had blue flowers on her desk. She never had to fight for recognition, because everyone knew who submitted those great ideas on blue paper. Some might say that was part of her style, but actually I’d call it just darned good in-house public relations advertising. That is part of branding, but it’s not the same as a personal signature style.
Could you turn your signature style into a brand? See that mermaid-and-child image in the heading of this site? It was derived from a personality based exercise I did. It also works pretty well with my signature style, even thought it’s not precisely the same thing. Like my actual signature style, it has wavy lines, an element of water, and a sense of movement built into the artwork. So, yes, I think it’s very possible, if not always practical. If I were publishing a medical or legal site, I would probably have chosen something sparser and possibly more linear.
Elements of a Signature Style
What might a signature style contain if we are talking about expressing ourselves authentically? Here’s a partial listing of the kinds of things that go into your signature style:
- The triad of your hair, skin and eyes.
- Colors with punch–the complementary or opposite hues to your skin tones, or possibly the deepest or brightest color of your eyes
- Your favorite color from your palette
- Your favorite color NOT from your palette (you rebel, you)
- neutrals vs. color-colors
Your natural silhouette
- An alternative, adapted silhouette that you prefer instead
Prints, patterns, solids
- Naturalistic patterns
- Delicate vs. bold
- Color blocking
- Textured or smooth
- Draped or stiff
There are endless possibilities. However, out of all the possibilities, only a few will surface over and over in your preferences and recs. You’ll find that you don’t quite feel yourself without them.
A personal example: I need a bit of elongation and drape at all times because of my long face and smooth outline. Hair functions as an accessory, and my hair manifests that quality of elongation and drape. One day I put on a long draped skirt + a long scarf and it felt like too much. I hadn’t factored in the element of my hair, which I normally wear down and loose. As long as my hair is worn regularly, one more draped element is enough for most purposes. BUT….if I put my hair up and have nothing else slightly droopy or elongated, then I must add the droop/elongation back in through a long scarf, necklace, topper, elongated drop earrings, etc.
That’s an example of a signature element: something you must have in your style to look like yourself.
It can also be a preference you must have in your look to feel like yourself. I have heard of women who wear colors for neutrals, for instance. Take the color red. If you must, must have it somewhere in your garment at all times, and if you wear it consistently where others might wear a neutral–for instance, in your shoes–then you may be looking at something that needs to be part of your signature style. Doesn’t mean you have to dress head-to-toe in it, though. Maybe you need just enough of it, but almost all the time.
For others it’s prints. Some women love animal prints–must, must, must have them somewhere in the outfit or they’ll not be who they are. They wear them with unexpected colors the rest of us would never think about. That’s a case where a print functions as a neutral–like the red I mentioned earlier.
The main thing is realizing that a signature style is a limited collection of elements that you tend to wear again and again but not necessarily all at once, all the time. It’s just that you can’t do without them altogether and look or feel complete. It might be the elements themselves or certain combinations of them that give you your authentic look. These will be what you return to again and again, though everything else you put them with may change.
I doubt a style consultant can ever tell someone else precisely what their signature look ought to be. This will typically come from a combination of your best recs plus your own preferences. (There’s where personality comes in.) You will naturally gravitate to some of your recs more readily than to others. You may also feel the need to modify some of them to allow for self-expression. (Just remember not to add in too many self-contradictory items. If they make up over 40% against your best lines and colors, you are way over the line.)
What are your favorite things to wear and why?