What do Kurt Cobain, Steve Jobs, Alexa Chung have in common? Personal style - do you have it?

Okay, this is one last look toward the British before I move on to the USA in the next in the series on style.

Do You Have It?

What is personal style and do you have it? British Vogue asked that very question of panelists, UKVogue fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, 55,  creative consultant (she has worked alongside designers John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel), Amanda Harlech, 55, and television presenter, Alexa Chung, 30. Take a look:

Personal style can be as elusive as trying to grasp fog and maddeningly so. As most designers (see quotes below) and their muses know, style is most certainly not about fashion.

Money + Celebrity Do Not equal Style:

We can all name celebrities who have oodles of money at their disposal, designer labels bursting out of their closets, and yet possess no style. Paris Hilton, most Hollywood starlets, the Kardashians (although I’ll come back to them in the American style post) – all millions of dollars, clad in the latest designer regalia yet nada in the style department.

But what do you mean, you may ask? They wear all the relevant labels and are often splashed in a variety of magazines that chronicle their each and every designer choice. Yes, but their picks are the ephemeral, short-lived, based on the trendy, the show-horse, the kind of It-bag glory of the present day.

 What’s frustrating is that those very same items might be worn by those who do possess style. It’s just that on the followers it’s like a mad-dash grab of what someone else deems “fashion” that becomes a jumble of flash with no curation. That’s why they’re followers and not trend-setters. There is no signature, no personality behind the fashion.

Style Says Something:

Remember in this article, 7 Icons of Style at Any Age, I said that style often evolves in the later years? That’s sometimes part of it but additionally, as the women above prove, there’s also a vernacular created through their clothes. How they present says something about them, something that the women themselves are communicating very effectively, regardless of age. 

Like Bay Garnett and Sarah Harris in the previous post, Chambers and Harlech are miles apart in their style stories. Chambers has an almost granny chic vibe with an appreciation for furniture textiles, scissoring and sticky tape, while Harlech is a couture clothes horse. The women are the same age and I can’t imagine either of them being dictated to by fashion, rather they embrace  both the current and the past if they choose, while cherry picking items which either speak to them or somehow augment what they already own.

The Unconventional:

In this video from ShowStudio, Chambers talks about the fact that growing up in London in the ’70s and ’80s, no one wanted to look conventional. People wanted to stand out and so, developing style was somehow collectively encouraged. Certainly living in a style capital with a history of fashion explosions spurred on or in tandem with music movements(’60s youthquake pop and psychedilia, ’70s punk, ’80s New Wave, ’90s Brit Pop, etc.) couldn’t have hurt.

The Conventional:

 But still, enduring style is really of the person. It’s instantly recognizable, risk-taking, or can be ultra-conservative and inside the box. It doesn’t have to be about good looks or even money. Hell, in some cases it’s only barely about the clothes. Look at this photo of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. She’s been lauded for her American style both while she was the First Lady and after. In that photo, she’s simply wearing a t-shirt and cropped pants!


And when you have style you can and do break all the rules. Below are some examples of style rule breakers who crushed the boundaries (Go here to see photos):

White pumps are a no-no (especially with black hose!)(Crush:Photo of Carine Roitfeld wearing white pumps and black hose.)

You can’t wear white in the winter or after Labour Day. (Crush: Photo of a street-style fashionista outside the shows in winter wearing coat with white jeans.)

You shouldn’t wear undergarments (bras, corsets or anything that looks like them) on the outside. (Crush: Photo of Madonna in the '80s kick-starting the corset-dress rage.)

Wearing the same “uniform” over and over is boring. (Crush: Steve Jobs wearing his black turtleneck/jeans combo.)

Jeans are too casual to wear for evening. (Crush: Kate Moss wearing jeans with fab. heals to a dressy occasion.)

People who have style, break all the rules whenever they want and we usually end up following suit sooner or later. 

POP Culture, Music, Movies, TV, Art:

Often music or film act as catalysts. Movies/tv shows like Annie Hall, Bonnie and Clyde(1967), and Sex and the City have inspired generations of designers and style icons alike, over and over again.

In terms of musical inspiration, the fashion tide has turned again and again with the rise of pop, punk, disco, New Wave, grunge, rap, etc. etc., inspiring style in droves. People like Debbie Harry of Blondie, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Pharrell and Kanye West, to name a few, brought in a wave of their own personal style, which in turn, inspired masses.

In the last decade or so, designer Hedi Slimane, who now heads up Saint Laurent but previously was designer of Dior Homme, credited a little indie band called The Libertines (especially Pete Doherty)for his own design inspiration.

Doherty (who famously dated Kate Moss) and Carl Barat headed up the British band and also ushered in a look that harkened back to the ’40s but with a twist. Fedoras and charity shop suits and ties were worn by the slim lads who had style but not much money, and Slimane, who was photographing up and coming bands in London, identified. (Here’s a look at his 2005 fall/winter show inspired by the English beat of the time.)

Slimane shared a similar aesthetic himself and spread the look which originated amongst that new London music tribe. And then the rest of the world followed (men’s suits are now cut much slimmer and close to the body than in decades past.) Personal style can spread across the globe! That's how trends are born but the original remains just that (and tends to move on, usually). 

Style Celebrates the Individual:

Then for some, style resides in their body language/attitude and the clothes they choose are not the only indicators of their style “language.” Some examples are Kurt Cobain, the aforementioned Steve Jobs, Carine Roitfeld, Lauren Hutton, David Bowie, Diana Vreeland and of course, Kate Moss.

Below are some thoughts from BrainyQuote from experts past and present on the essence of style:

Coco Chanel:

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

Alexander McQueen:

It’s a new era in fashion – there are no rules. It’s all about the individual and personal style, wearing high-end, low-end, classic labels, and up-and-coming designers all together.

Marc Jacobs:
“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.”

“I still appreciate individuality. Style is much more interesting than fashion, really.”

Hedi Slimane:

On clothes: “Of course, as much, the fit is very important. But the main thing is when it becomes your self. That’s what I always look for. People where the clothes don’t define you, but it’s you.”

Yves Saint Laurent:

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.

“It pains me physically to see a woman victimized, rendered pathetic, by fashion.”

Karl Lagerfeld:

“T-shirts for ten dollars are even more fashion today than expensive fashion.”

Carine Roitfeld:

“Only buy clothes that you plan to keep forever. It’s important to see trends for what they are: a game.”

“Fashion is not about clothes, it is about a look.”

“Fashion isn’t something you can buy; you need to have the sense of it, and most people don’t.”

Style Bottom Line:

So, in the end, the cocktail that comprises style seems to be creativity, inspiration from music movements and pop culture, individuality with a dose of daring and devil-may-care. Or perhaps, none of the above! It's a paradox and unique as a fingerprint, until everyone else identifies and falls in love with the reflection and tries to copy the style mavericks.

Clear as mud, right? Style is what you make of it, if you dare to go your own way. What do you find stylish and do you have style?



Rena Galanis

More Like This


In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.