Signature Looks: Fashion Insiders’ Tips on Personal Style Uniforms

Every day, you need to dress  in garments that suit your activities and lifestyle. Whether you have a walk-in closet the size of a bedroom, or a closet shoe-horned into a tiny space, you need to be able to pull together from your wardrobe an ensemble that meets your practical needs and  pleases your sense of aesthetics too. Irrespective of whether you love to start each day putting together an ensemble that suits your mood, or whether your career dictates the parameters of what is acceptable in the workplace, you need to determine what works for you — the practical side of dressing.

It should come as no surprise that many designers default to a certain look — their personal style uniform, in essence. Designers like Vera Wang and Mary Katrantzou design colorful pieces but themselves dress in black;  designers Michael Kors and Roberto Cavalli dress in jeans, tee shirts and black blazers.

Even if you enjoy piecing together a creative look, there are occasions when a tight schedule dictates that you have no early morning fashion decisions to make.

One image consultants’ trick is to keep a list or spreadsheet detailing favorite ensembles from head to toe; if you can add a photo, so much the better, though the photo is not necessary.

In the March 2015 issue of Glamour, four of the magazine’s editors share their personal highlights of the spring shows during Fashion Week in New York, Paris, London and Milan. Each reveals her personal “show uniform”:

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour NY fashion week REV

  • New York, “A pair of 3×1 jeans, a silk blouse, and a clutch”
  • Paris: “a crisp button-down shirt layered up with my signature silver jewelry, a pencil skirt, and heels”
  • London:  “I live in dresses during fashion month. The less I have to pack, the better. A structured leather belt helps pull it all together.

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour Milan fashion week REV

  • Milan:  “I start with a perfect white shirt, then pair it with a full printed skirt and heels that don’t quite match.”

These are uniforms for women who know they are going to be photographed and who are circulating among people for whom fashion is their life; they need to look terrific, and yet they can find a streamlined way to dress.

A few pages farther back in the issue, freelance writer Emily Holt contributed a piece entitled “Yes, I Will Be Caught Wearing the Same Thing Every Day.” Glamour elaborates:  “Some of the world’s chicest women walk around in essentially the same look year in and year out. Emily Holt makes a case for the art of uniform dressing.”

Holt reveals her personal habit of wearing pants with a sweater and sandals. “The pant-sweater-sandal combination emerged during college in Los Angeles, where that laid-back attire was appropriate year-round.” Now living in San Francisco, she tweaks her wardrobe seasonally. “But while components change, the refrain remains: pants, sweater, sandals, repeat. And why not? It works.” Her look can take her comfortably–ah, there’s a key word–“from a breakfast meeting to a visit with a designer friend in her studio to a work dinner and even an after-hours drink. (Occasionally, I’ll swap the flat for a higher heel.)”

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour Emily Holt article REV

The article includes photos of British Vogue fashion editor Sarah Harris, “consistently chic in crisp shirts, ripped jeans, and standout accessories” and J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons, who “always pulls everything together with an oversize, tailored jacket atop her shoulders.”

Holt provides tips on how to find one’s personal style uniform:

  • Look at how you dressed when you were a kid. What you wore–or refused to wear–before you knew how to spell runway says a lot about your true sartorial nature.
  • Forget trends. Designer Carolina Herrera tells Holt “It’s important to know what looks good on you, not what’s fashionable.” Herrera’s signature white shirt is “something she’s been wearing since she was required to don one as a child in Venezuela as part of her school uniform. ‘Eventually I became accustomed to it,’ says the designer.'”
  • Embrace being different. Jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth “tends to wear colorful, patterned, feminine frocks that cinch at the waist and fall to her ankles”; fashion editor Sarah Harris is a devotee of androgynous jeans and blazers.
  • Think of it as branding. “The best part of a uniform is that you consistently look like you,” citing Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Audrey Hepburn, Celine designer Phoebe Philo, J. Crew president Jenna Lyons, Ellen DeGeneres, and First Lady Michelle Obama as examples.
  • If all else fails, jeans. “There’s a reason they’ve been America’s uniform for more than 100 years. But if they’re your daily fare, Harris has a critical warning: ‘Jeans can look lazy, so you have to amp up the accessories.’ Which means chic, dressier elements are a must. Harris goes for blazers by Stella McCartney, pumps with a heel, a men’s Rolex, and a pair of diamond hoops.” Harris explains: “It elevates the look and helps people think I made an effort. . . . It’s not that I don’t love other clothes. It’s just that in jeans, I feel like me.”

Crisp button-front shirts and jeans appear to be popular choices for personal style uniforms. You’ll find neither of these items in my wardrobe, however. Black slacks provide the common element in most of my looks. They are less informal than jeans and much easier to dress up. And shirts that button are a no-no for busty women (more on this in an upcoming post). I prefer a silk or cotton knit tank or tee, topped with a lightweight cardigan sweater or jacket. The third layer adds polish and also allows for adjustment of layers as the temperature dictates.

Think about what pieces work best for you. Learn what colors are most flattering to you, and wear them near your face. Add jewelry and accessories that are comfortable and, most important, make you smile. Feeling comfortable in your choices, you can relax and “consistently look like you.”

Jewelry for Women of a Certain Age

Jewelry purchase decisions encompass a wealth of factors, including:

  • For what occasions is the jewelry to be worn (spanning the range from daily wear to gala occasions).
  • With what apparel will it be worn (considering the style of the clothing and its design details).
  • What styles of jewelry are most flattering to the wearer ( considering such factors as scale and color).
  • What styles suit the personality of the wearer (from classic to singularly quirky).

Quite beyond all those factors is another consideration:  What makes sense as a fashion investment. Rare is the individual who does not need to be mindful of her budget. As with most purchases, what is cheapest is not synonymous with what provides the best value for one’s money.

What is of-the-moment trendy — immediately recognizable designs that have achieved cult status and seem ubiquitous for a season or two in the fashion press – will inevitably look tired and dated soon enough. If you want to wear one huge single earring because the fashion editors have embraced that trend right now, that’s fine, but rather than shelling out significant dollars for a single piece, consider purchasing a pair of identical huge earrings that either may be wearable as a set or possibly may be adaptable into a fresh look by a clever jeweler when the trend has finished its course.

What is incomprehensible to me is the promotion of inexpensive jewelry designs that riff off current trends but don’t merit cult status, when the promotion is directed to women of a certain age who have financial wherewithal. The September 2014 issue of More magazine is rife with this type of promotion.

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In your 40s, advises the editors, “become the boss–or just dress like her.” As to jewelry, “Embrace delicate,” urges the magazine. The jewelry selected to wear with the pulled together “multitasking looks” is a $40 metal cuff accented with crystals. The wide cutout style requires a wide expanse of arm, and would not work well with long-sleeved apparel such as the print wool-blend coat pictured. The missed opportunity: A lovely slender bracelet with a tasteful, daytime-appropriate sprinkle of pave diamonds on genuine gold or silver. That’s something the boss might actually wear.

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In your 50s, “dress to please yourself” suggest the editors, adding “You’ve earned the right to wear whatever feels best.” The jewelry selected:  An attractive but uncomfortable to wear square bracelet that has a modest $225 price tag.

0914 bad jewelry exception Lulu Frost necklace 60s More REV

In your 60s, “break with tradition:  stop sticking to safe (yes, you) and show the world you’re full of surprises.” As to jewelry, “update your pearls” suggest the editors — excellent advice in this season of extraordinary designs that incorporate pearls. The first of two recommendations is a $588 necklace of brass, crystal and glass pearls in an eye-catching design from Lulu Frost that merits consideration.

0914 bad jewelry faux pearl studs 60s More REV

The second of two recommendations is something entirely off the mark:  a $28 pair of earrings incorrectly described as “12k gold-plated brass and pearl studs.” The earrings do not contain pearls — the pearls are faux, as one might expect from the price. The man-made pearl-like orbs are set on top of square backings. There is nothing whatsoever surprising about this design.

Why is a magazine that targets women of means promoting a $28 pair of faux-pearl earrings? A pair of freshwater cultured pearl stud earrings can be had for under $12 on Amazon.com.

Does anyone aspire to a jewelry wardrobe of inexpensive gold-plated — or worse, gold-tone metal — designs with faux gems and nothing-special style? Dress like the boss. Dress to please yourself. And show the world you’re full of surprises. Don’t settle.

What’s in your jewelry box?

My Famous “Expedited Engagement Shrimp” Recipe

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Style is more than fashion – it touches every aspect of our lives. Today I offer you  a very stylish addition to your cooking repertoire. For those of you anticipating your special someone will soon pop the question, I offer a recipe with a very special back story.

Many of you no doubt are familiar with “Engagement Chicken” – a recipe that Glamour magazine made famous and which is credited with prompting a number of marriage proposals. The first reported proposal came a full month after the dinner at which the lemon-accented chicken was served, the boyfriend  noting “It’s a meal your wife would make. It got me thinking.”

I’m pleased to share my recipe for “Expedited Engagement Shrimp.”  This is the entrée I cooked for my then-boyfriend’s family on Mother’s Day 2012 — a recipe that resulted in Paul making an impromptu marriage proposal that very evening, months before he had planned to do so. Tomorrow, Paul and I will be married one very happy year.

Do let me know if this recipe proves to be a charm for you.

Expedited Engagement Shrimp on plate with carrots REV 6w

Photo:  “Expedited Engagement Shrimp” plated with sautéed carrots and brown rice

Expedited Engagement Shrimp

Expedited Engagement Shrimp with mise en place REV 6w

In a large flat baking dish combine approximately 1 1/2 pounds jumbo or extra large raw shrimp (whatever fits in one layer), 4 cloves sliced garlic, and 2 tablespoons white wine. Season lightly with course-ground salt.

Expedited Engagement Shrimp pre-baking REV 6w

Sprinkle with a mixture of 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley.

Expedited Engagement Shrimp ready to serve REV 6w

Bake at 425 degrees until the shrimp are opaque, 15 to 18 minutes.