Solo Styling: Learning How To Be My Own Fashion Coordinator
Dressing For One's Self Can Be Very Liberating
Styling With Limitations
Life is funny and unpredictable. One moment you're able to wear whatever you want, and the next you have physical, psychological and personal challenges that cause you to rethink your approach to dressing and style. If you're budget-conscious, like me, and can't afford to overhaul your whole wardrobe you'll face additional problems. Through this frustrating process I learned how to be my own personal stylist and work within my limitations. Initially I worried that my budding coordination skills would threaten the sales staff at my favorite stores until I realized it made my interactions with them easier, because I knew my way around a retail environment.
Back In the Retail Day:
During the 1980s and 1990s I was fortunate enough to work in the industry, as a salesperson, manager and visual merchandiser, while attending CSULA as a Fashion Merchandising major. Enthusiastic, and as curious about fashion and style as I am today, I was trained how to coordinate a whole outfit in minutes, create displays and maintain high sales. My distinctive signature look also inspired customer confidence and increased their spending. At school I studied fashion history, apparel construction, textiles and other related subjects. It was also during this time that I learned how to create my own look from thrift and off-price stores. With very little money for school and work clothes, I bought most of my things at Daniel Freeman Thrift Auxillary and Discovery Shop thrift stores in Inglewood, California and with my employee discount at The Broadway department store, and Clothestime. When Judy's, Contempo Casuals, Casual Corner, The Limited, and Limited Express had sales I also bought from them.
Since this was long before wearing vintage and second-hand clothing became chic I had to get coordination ideas from by Barbie collectible books and bound issues of Vogue and other fashion publications I found on the shelves of the basement archival section of CSULA's school library. Tall and thin, I favored the early to mid-1960s, (i.e., Chanel knock-off two-piece skirt suits, sheath dresses, cardigan sweaters and slim pants), because it emphasized my silhouette effectively. My style icons were Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and Edie Sedgwick. A black short-sleeved drop-waist 1960s dress I'd bought for $5 at Daniel Freeman Thrift Auxillary helped me channel them, whenever I wanted, by accessorizing it with a pair of black tights, pumps, a gold chain belt or ladylike hat.
When I think back to that time, I realize how I dealt with my sartorial and financial limitations then gave me the vision and skills to deal with them now. So despite being geographically separated from more upscale stores, and surrounded by lower-priced chains where you have to be careful how you shop, I feel the same rules apply. The best tactic is to study the classics (i.e., structured or tailored jackets and pants, white button-down shirts, black dresses, jeans, two-piece suits, etc.,) in your wardrobe and see what you can add to give them a little pizzazz. While I've usually been successful with fun accessories (i.e., sunglasses, jewelry, tote bags, hats and scarves), sometimes I've stumbled onto something so fun and cutting edge the stylist in me comes out to play.
Once, while in one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, I was looking around for a few interesting accessories, and I saw a skinny navy-blue and white polka-dotted scarf, that resembled the type Prada featured in her ads for Vogue's for September 2014 issue. I bought it immediately, then when I took it home I saved it for an outfit I wanted to wear later. On the day I wore it, I knew I wanted to wear my brown striped velvet blazer and off-white skirt, so I added a blue top and accessorized it with the scarf to tie all of the colors together. A little bit bohemian and a little bit funky I loved the way the outfit still looked sophisticated even though I'd bought everything locally and for less than $20.
Living away from the hip and the trendy, with a constant view of sprawl, would be a deterrent to me if I didn't open myself up to the literary and cultural influences prevalent in the area. After reading Carson McCuller's masterpiece Member of the Wedding I became drawn to classic argyle prints and the colors beige, white, brown, pink and light blue because they reminded me of the three main characters in the book, Francis "Frankie" Addams, John Henry West, and Berenice Sadie Brown. Written in 1946, the fact that most of the story takes place in Frankie's kitchen the summer she was 12, was profound and poignant to me then because it reminded me of the turbulent year I turned 12 and had to deal with serious cultural and social issues alone.
The other books I've read previously have also directly inspired what I was attracted to while shopping. Neon Angel by Cherie Curie, lead singer of The Runaways, was on my mind when I bought an off-white 1970s retro roller skating tee and pink Obama Change tee at the Goodwill Industries Thrift Store on Crenshaw Blvd.. Normally I would have never chosen these shirts, because they weren't really my aesthetic then, but Currie's book elicited a 70s nostalgia in me that caused me to give them a chance. I have since worn them with an off-white A-line Gap skirt and a lace ruffled white mini. Jo Nesbo's 2014 bestseller, The Son, is the book that recently influenced my look when I read it for my mystery book club. Brimming with biblical images, movie and pop culture references it's caused me to view the colors gray and navy-blue differently and want to see Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby again.
Just as gritty, but in an urbanly cinematic way, the movie Straight Outta Compton has sparked my style eye and given me a renewed appreciation for vintage Raider's gear, large gold chains, baseball caps and sneakers. If I wanted to reinterpret that look for my body type I'd probably coordinate a black fitted Raider's tee with a gold statement necklace, a black cap, black wide-legged pants and a white cardigan sweater or tailored blazer.
Putting It Together for Work:
For the next employment chapter of my life I wanted to keep my first day back, on a traditional job, light and semi-casual so I decided on a slightly 1950s retro feel. Jack Kerouac is one of my idols, and whenever I wear a white button-down shirt with khaki's I think about him, and the time I drove across the U.S. with my family, and read On The Road for the first time. Khaki's and a white shirt were a uniform for him and seemed perfect for this day, and my mood, so I reinterpreted it with a white ruffled-front Ann Taylor shirt, with 3/4 sleeves, and a pair of beige men's khaki's, I'd bought at Out of the Closet thrift store on Pico Blvd.. I then accessorized the outfit with a gold and black charm necklace, beige Guess sneakers, a black and white photo bracelet and a beige butterfly tote. Despite my fatigue, I was cool and comfortable all day, and felt confident that I'd made the right wardrobe choice.
As fall progresses, and summer becomes a lazy memory, I look forward to more style adventures inspired by new books, fashion magazines, new films, and upcoming exhibits and special events. Throughout it all I plan to enjoy expressing myself as a self-stylist and fashion enthusiast with more imagination than money.