Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's your style? The classic woman

What's your style profile?

Today's style: The Classic Woman.

Do you relate to any of these style buzzwords? Elegant? Tasteful? Refined? Understated? Tailored? Polished? Neat? Well-dressed? Appropriately dressed? Pulled together? Ladylike? Traditional?

While some of those buzzwords overlap with other style profiles, they do, when taken together, give a picture of classic style. Classic style is timeless. It is not extremely trendy or faddish. It evokes the image of good manners, excellence, and poise. The classic woman is always perfectly and appropriately dressed without looking as if she tried too hard. Classic style also is associated with with great posture and dignified, effortless grace in movement.

Classic style emphasizes quality over quantity, good lines and fabric over fussy detailing, and simplicity over splash. Classic style showcases the person wearing the clothing.

Classic clothes do not shout so loudly that they drown out the person wearing them. When a woman wearing classic style walks into a room, you notice her first of all. Only later do you realize that she was exquisitely dressed. Also, classic style (done well) expresses the womanly nature without flaunting it. This faintly echoes the Christian idea that we should stand out not for wearing fancy or expensive clothing, but with the adornment of a faithful, quiet, and gentle spirit and with good deeds. (I Peter 3; I Timothy 2:9-10). Thus, in creating a modest, feminine, and God-honoring look, women of faith can easily make use of some aspects of classic style.

Since classic styles are so timeless and easy for designers to work with, some version of the classic look is always in style. This is particularly true in the American South and, perhaps, the northeast. However, though classic is always around, it goes through periods when its popularity rises to the forefront. Right now, a retro style of classic is popular. This is due in some small part to the popularity of the show Mad Men, as well as it being the natural next step in the whole retro fashion craze.

Every woman, no matter what her style inclinations are, would do well to have classic pieces in her wardrobe. Since classic styles evolve more slowly than other fashion trends, they can be worn year after year and are a good investment. Classic lines and classic fabrics tend to hold style and shape better longer, any way.

Also, no matter what else we have in our closets, we can reach for classic pieces when we need to look pulled together in a flash. Classic style is perfect for job interviews, weddings, funerals, meeting future in-laws, and any other time when you especially want to be appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Classic style is one style that spans all the stages of our lives. When properly adapted, classic style is flattering to the young girl. However, it is also flattering to the maturing woman, as well. In fact, as a woman ages, she would do well to incorporate more classic elements into her look. Classic style has a dignity about it that complements mature beauty. The classic woman ages gracefully.

The classic style can intersect at some points with the romantic style, the All-American girl-next-door look, and sporty style. To help us picture that, we might think in terms of style continuum. For example, we might have pure classic/romantic classic/pure romantic or pure sporty/sporty classic/pure classic.

Two sub-sets of classic style are preppy and traditional. While classic can be either dressy or casual, preppy is generally a more casual style. Preppy can either be "cute" preppy or the true preppy look of the Atlantic coastline, which consists of classic clothing for sailing and other outdoor wear. While some elements of preppy can safely be worn over a lifetime, other elements of preppy style can look too girlish on a mature woman. Preppy often contains references to the college you attended, but that is not necessarily so. Preppy overlaps with casual and sporty styles.

The traditional woman is often classic in style because she absorbed it from the examples of her mother, grandmother, and other women around her. She is probably conservative in her tastes. She probably values home and family greatly. She may favor certain pieces of jewelry and clothing because they have sentimental value to her. If you peek into her jewelry box, you might find a broach that her great-aunt wore, the charm bracelet she had as a child, and a pair of earrings that her husband gave her ten years ago. She may or may not wear these bits of jewelry. Even if she hasn't worn them in years, however, she cannot think of letting them go. While the purely classic woman has no trouble keeping her wardrobe stripped down to only the most essential pieces, the traditional woman may let sentiment get in the way of simplicity. The traditional woman wears softer classic styles, and might combine her classic pieces with feminine/romantic style or even girlish touches. She may use daintier accessories than some purely classic woman do.

Since classic was one of the dominant styles from the 1940's through early sixties, some of the women we most associate with classic style are from that era. Most women of today immediately think of Audrey Hepburn as being the epitome of the classic style from that era. She did, indeed, have classic taste, but she combined her classic taste with other styles -- such as gamine. Thus, Grace Kelly might be a purer example of the classic style. Jackie Kennedy also wore a classic style.

A few of today's classic style examples might be Stacy London, Diane Sawyer, and Laura Bush. Michelle Obama has put her own fresh stamp on classic style. Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet both are on the line between classic and feminine/romantic., sometimes dressing more on the classic side and sometimes dressing more on the romantic side. For Reese, a thread that ties together her romantic and her classic styles is "ladylike". I personally do not care for the show "Mad Men", but publicity shots for the character that actress January Jones demonstrate a classic style from the early 60's that can easily be updated for today. In some cases, Gwyneth Paltrow wears classic style.

Of course, you don't have to be a celebrity to wear classic style. We can usually find the most beautiful examples of classic style among the women we know.

You can hardly ever go wrong wearing classic style. However, if you love classic style, you should remember to avoid two pitfalls.

1) Classic done wrong can look dowdy or severe or intimidating. It can also look plain or even mannish. You can overcome this by taking a few simple steps: Understand your body shape and coloring. Choose classic styles that flatter your particular features. Choose flattering colors. Make sure that some of your fabric choices are soft and feminine. Update your wardrobe as is appropriate. You can easily freshen and/or soften classic style by adding a few wonderful accessories. Remember, classic done right is flattering and feminine. Think Grace Kelly rather than Miss Marple.
2) With classic style, you can fall into a style rut (Actually, you can fall into a style rut with any fashion type, but classics are very prone to it). Again, update your wardrobe as is appropriate. Look for ways to keep your classic style fresh and modern.

Here are some tips for achieving a classic style:

1) Remember that classic style should look effortless. It's charm comes from careful preparation behind the scenes. The classic woman chooses her clothing well. She organizes her life well. She keeps her purse neatly organized and her shoes polished. She keeps her car clean. She takes good care of her clothing. Because she prepares ahead, she is able to get dressed in a hurry. Everything in her closet is clean, mended if need-be, and ready to go. She is not the woman who (like me:)) runs out of the house with her jacket half-buttoned, two curlers still in her hair, a run in her stocking, a stain on her blouse, and with items trailing out of an overstuffed purse. She is the woman who is ready on time and arrives at her destination looking serene and prepared.
2) Classic style has a patrician background. However, you can achieve classic style on a budget. Look for the best quality you can afford. Choose quality over quantity. Mend items if need be and have them altered to fit you well. Learn at least a little bit about sewing so that you can recognize things like well-sewn seams and quality fabrics. It's handy if you know how to mend and alter your own clothing, as well. If you, like many bloggers, are into thrift store shopping, pieces with classic styling will probably be your best finds.
3) Choose a hairstyle that is medium to shoulder-length. Classic women typically settle in on one style that works for them, and they tend to wear that style most of their life. That's OK, provided that you update it just enough to keep yourself looking current rather than dated. You are probably better off understanding what works for you than chasing trends, anyway. Make sure that your hair is polished, neat, and refined. There are a variety of styles that you can choose and still achieve a classic style. For example, you can have a straight bob, a style with neat waves in it, an up do, etc. The main thing you are going for is a polished look, rather than a tousled style. Many women might wear the exact same hairstyle. One will wear it with a polished, classic look; another will push it to look more dramatic; another will want it to look soft and romantic; still another will look playfully sport in it. If you are going for a classic look, go for a polished style and keep your hair clean, shiny, and as healthy as possible.
4) Know the power of a flattering neutral. Choose key pieces in neutral colors. Add other colors in tops, accessories, etc. When it comes to makeup, keep it understated, with the possible exception of a red lipstick. When emphasizing your lips, choose the red that is most flattering to you.
5) Choose a stylish coat. A camel trench coat might be one of your best allies, for example.
6) Know your body type. Do you look best in empire styles? In A-line skirts? In a sheath dress or a skirt and top?
7) Go for a balanced look. Avoid extremes. Keep makeup understated. If you do emphasize your lips, as some classic women do, choose a lipstick shade that flatters your coloring.
8) Create a good foundation using great undergarments.
9) Contrary to our culture's belief, clothing doesn't really make the woman. You can emulate classic or any other outward style and, yet, not feel or be beautiful where it counts -- on the inside. On the other hand, classic style can be a great frame for a noble character. If this is your aim, do the best you can with your clothing and appearance. Check yourself in the mirror before you leave the house to make sure that you look neatly put together. Then, forget yourself, other than to do a spot check throughout the day to make sure that you still look fresh and neat. Focus on other people. Smile. Ask questions. Be kind and generous. Get on with the more important things in life. Because the classic woman does her preparation behind the scenes and because she does not wear fussy styles that need constant attention, she is able to concentrate on loving and giving to other people.

Here are some classic thoughts from Audrey Hepburn:

"It's that wonderful old-fashioned idea that others come first and you come second. This was the whole ethic by which I was brought up. Others matter more than you do, so 'don't fuss, dear; get on with it'."

" The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It's the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years. ~"

Here is a poem that Audrey Hepburn did not write, but loved. It, too, speaks of a classic attitude.

"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness; for lovely eyes, seek out the good in people; for a slim figure, share your food with the hungry; for beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day; for poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone."

Be lovely!
Elizabeth