Thursday, January 26, 2012
I'll admit to being something of a style book junkie. I probably have a dozen in my own library (below are some of my favorites). I've also had the good fortune to benefit from the knowledge and training of AICI image consultants Imogen Lamport and Karen Karlsen in person, and most recently had a comprehensive Personal Color Analysis from Julia Dupps at Wish Wardrobe Consulting. I've been inspired by each of these as well as blogs by stylists and aestheticians, and have been grateful for the ideas and guidelines they provide.
But consensus, that's another thing altogether. Reading various style books and blogs, one often encounters conflicting advice. Some say black is forever chic, others say that most women should never wear black. Some say that women over ___ should never wear skirts above the knee, while others say it depends on your legs and your style. Some insist that each person has a very specific color palette that will make them look their best, and other say that color is purely about personal preferences. Or while you might agree with 80% of what a particular style guru has to say, you know some of it is just WRONG for you. (An example of that last one: I love you, Tim Gunn, but wearing a belt does not "create a waist," it just makes me look like a sack of potatoes with a rope tied around the middle.) If you're one of those women who has a strong sense of her own style, this probably isn't an issue. But if your body, life and/or style are in transition and you're looking for help, how do you sort through it all?
I think back about the one time I served on a jury (called often, chosen rarely). It was a civil case involving a car accident, and the plaintiff and defendant each brought in their own expert witness to testify about the probable causes and results of the accident. As one might imagine, their expert opinions diverged considerably, which serves to remind me that experts in any field are not necessarily wholly objective and unbiased. With regard to style experts, they are informed by their own taste, their own culture, and even their own physical characteristics. In fairness, they are often designated "experts" because of their unique viewpoint.
Case in point: Charla Krupp of the (oft-divisive) "How To Not Look ______" style books, insists that pale pink lipstick is best for women of a certain age, while Ines de la Fressange says women of a certain age should never wear pink lipstick. And I say, let's examine the evidence. Look at Krupp's coloring (blonde, fair), and look at de la Fressange's (dark, olive). Of course pink lipstick will look great on one and probably terrible on the other. We all have a tendency to project our own experience, and it's certainly not a stretch to imagine that's partly responsible for the disparity of opinion on this particular issue. (I'm not saying that every stylist/image consultant does this around every issue, but when I start to see words like "always" and "never" my antennae start to twitch.)
Going back to the courtroom analogy, it can be easy to view the anointed style experts as Judge and Jury, when in reality they're just offering informed testimony. We each have to be our own one-woman jury, weigh the evidence presented and render our own verdict. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of options beyond "guilty" or "not guilty" (or "do" or "don't") and have the ability to make nuanced choices based on our own taste and judgement.
Style advice from the experts can help us see with fresh eyes, get out of a style rut, and provide inspiration and helpful guidelines. My motto these days is "tools not rules." I'm learning to use expert testimony as a starting point rather than a hard stop.
Do you enjoy style books and websites? Are there any that you've found particularly helpful?