This week I found surprisingly profound wisdom in the words of Tim Gunn. Yes that Tim Gunn, of “Project Runway” fame, who effortlessly sashayed around dozens of frantic designers, imploring them in his characteristic, frank timber to “make it work.”
I read his book, “A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style” over the weekend as part of my newfound effort to find—and refine—my personal style. There are glimmers of it in the bright Dannijo statement necklace I sometimes wear or in the current springtime purple polish on my nails but save the flutter of those few bold sartorial choices, my personal style remains nebulous and undefined.
It didn’t bother me when I had a regular, 9-to-5 job. Each morning, I’d don a pair of plain, black slacks and some form of a Banana Republic sweater, which turned out to be a uniform that didn’t ruffle any feathers or make me stand out from the crowd. I was subsumed into the grayish tones of corporate existence, the everyday fashion equivalent of a beige wall. (To be fair, this was entirely my fault. Several colleagues offered brilliant examples of intrepid personal style that hemmed well within the confines of the company dress code.)
If there’s a lesson to be learned from “The Devil Wears Prada,” it’s that fashion is far from the superficial. It’s at once a global enterprise and a highly personal story, told by the choices you make each morning that scream in striped button downs or neon spandex the person you are in this very moment, on this very day.
Gunn puts it well: “What is a closet, really, but a catalogue of the different personas we have auditioned and discarded? Hanging there in our closets are reminders, both good and bad, of who we are, who we’ve been, and who we’ve. Hoped to be.”
His words unlocked something inside my mind. Dressing each day is not a pragmatic, sociological need to avoid walking around naked; it’s how we express our visual identity in every single exchange, from ordering coffee at a local café to sitting down at a business meeting to sitting down for a first date, to breaking up at a last date. What we wear is who we are, whether we like to believe it or not.
There is so much of life we can’t control but this—THIS—we can absolutely control. We can be the type of person who can dress up a Fleetwood Mac concert tee with a blazer and patent leather shoes but underneath, still reverberate our love for British-American rock music and the creative tones it echoes into our days. We can Steve Jobs our lives with a single, black turtleneck from Japanese designer Issey Miyake and wear the thing until every thread comes undone. (A perfect example of fashion storytelling can be found in Elizabeth Holmes, the fallen CEO of the late medical testing company Theranos. Holmes channeled Jobs in her ever-present Miyake black turtlenecks, except instead of highlighting the Zen-like simplicity that paralleled Apple’s aesthetic success, her choice was hailed as derivative and uninspired.)
Some might scoff at the emphasis placed on outward appearance. Never judge a book by its cover, never judge. Don’t be a judgy wudgy. (Made that up, ™ me.)
Well, yes, there’s merit in a blind-eyed approach to living but why not open our eyes? Instead of focusing on the superficiality of style, why not view style as an opportunity to forge a new path, write a new chapter or re-align our inner essence with the outer narrative our clothes inherently tell?
I haven’t forgotten today is Earth Day and the celebration fits well with the personal style theme. Earth’s tale is spoken in springtime flowers and craggy mountain cliffs, from one shining sea to the next, and it’s the visual identity of our planet we seek to forever protect. I’m trying to get at the same concept here with style. What we see is where we live is who we are is who we’ll become.
A final thought before I wrap up for today: You can’t make a statement with style until you decide you have something to say. And I truly believe we all do, so let’s ditch the dressed-down drab and please start talking.