Someone once told me, “you are not pretty. And you will never be – but it doesn’t matter. You have style.” – Iris Apfel
Last weekend, I was set the most incredible challenge. I was invited by Parisian premium car brand DS Automobiles to celebrate their new DS 3 car – styled to fashionable perfection, right down to the most beautiful tiny details. This line is famed for attributing unique ambassadors to each car release. This time, they had the inspirational 94 year old fashion icon and designer, Iris Apfel, at the wheel. Highly patterned, bold and colourful dress sense and all.
I was given £100 and one hour to run the length of Westfield London, shopping for an Iris inspired look. I know – heaven right? This is what I ended up with…
Shopping with Iris Apfel in mind was a lot of fun. But I’m not – and will probably never be – a lady of couture designer taste or a veteran of high end fashion. The outfit I posed in at the DS 3 exhibition was from New Look (dress and kimono), Dorothy Perkins (shoes) and Wallis (earrings and ring). Yet the Iris challenge was still really special to me.
How my style references the inspirations in my life
Upon thinking about why I didn’t take what was essentially free money and hit up Westfield’s Calvin Klein and Prada, I concluded that whilst I was shopping for outfits akin to Iris’s love for colour and print, I was also not willing to compromise on my own personal style.
You see, Iris wouldn’t. Given the same challenge, she’s the kind of woman that would take the inspirational assets the designer icon portrayed, then make the outfit her own. And that, I’ve realised, is the ingredient to my own style that makes me confident enough to step out of the door every day and be myself. I don’t have the creative eye of a talented designer. But I do paint on and adorn myself with the elements of people who inspire me. That is the part of my style which, when compromised, leaves me uncomfortable in my own skin.
For example, I simply hate being without at least a lick of rouge lipstick. I’ve been an admirer of the women who led the Home Front during World War 2 since my very first history lessons in school – their courage and bravery spoke to me, and I love to learn about the courageous things they did during wartime despite having next to no rights and living in a time of hardcore misogyny. They are the women of my grandmother’s time, expected to run everything with none of the respect. They wore red lipstick to portray British patriarchy and union whilst balancing the pressure of a war effort on their shoulders. Women to admire indeed.
I’m also not afraid to flaunt my figure. It’s most certainly not very Vogue – I’ve got wobbly bits aplenty, and I’ll frequently find my arse testing the stretch capacity of many-a-pencil-skirt. I’m most certainly more than a size six. I don’t always like my body and I certainly give it more judgement than it deserves for keeping my walking, talking and thinking every day, but it’s mine. I often try to make sure I don’t shy away from clothes that show it off. That’s a trial in the mornings. It’s easy to opt for something low key, thereby drawing attention away from myself altogether, if I’m feeling self-conscious about my curves. Most days though, I’ll push that aside and pull on something bright and gorgeous and figure-hugging, because I’m proud of myself and my body and I don’t need the approval of anyone. When I do that, I’m reflecting the attitude of incredible women in the burlesque world that I admire. A world where women of all shapes and sizes and persuasions are accepted. Where you have a stage to bring creative ideas to life, and doing that well whilst establishing your own individual persona is what matters. Whilst I love her deeply, that world of pinup girls and sexy dancers expands way beyond the parameters of Dita Von Teese. The girls of that world are amazing creatures to behold.
I think my own style inspiration echoes the assets of others right down to loungewear. You will NEVER catch me lounging about in tracksuit bottoms – it’s just not my thing – but instead my go-to comfy clobber is leggings and a long baggy smock top or off-shoulder jumper. I think this comes from my mum. My mum is mightily clever. A maths whizz, well versed in matters of health and finance and career, emotionally intelligent…all round a great person. Over the years I’ve seen her self-esteem waver hugely over her body image, and the result is a (wonderfully glamorous) kind of uniform – a chic baggy top with a little black pair of leggings that show off her tiny, shapely legs. The outfit means comfort, love and familiarity to me. I can only hope to be as great a woman as my mum is, and though I don’t have the same life or career as she did at my age, I channel her in the times where I’m focusing on myself, or when I feel like I need her most.
Embracing the woman you need to be today
Caitlin Moran wrote an article in Esquire for International Women’s Day 2016. It was incredible. An honest whistlestop tour for men that outlined womanhood in all it’s glory and in all it’s total bollocks. A reason for men to be the feminists we need them to be. The stuff they probably wouldn’t ask a woman about upfront, but that they really should get to know about if they are to truly understand the plights and victories of half the world’s population. She references something that she also mentions in her book about women who have tonnes of clothes but claim they have “nothing to wear”. She says;
Obviously we have things to wear. What we mean is, “I don’t have anything to wear for who I need to be today.” As we are the half of the world that still doesn’t get to say as much as men, how we look works by way of our opening paragraph in any social setting. Think of all the different kinds of looks women can have, depending on their clothes, hair and make-up: “Slutty”. “Ball-busting”. “Mumsy”. “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. “Gym-bunny”. “Mutton”. “Nerdy”. “Unfuckable”.
It’s not right this way, but it is this way. The kind of woman I am day-to-day values a great career, needs quick-thinking to be on her side and needs to be able to talk to people using powers of persuasion with as little setbacks as possible. She needs to talk business. It’s also important for me to be sociable and have inspiring meetings with other people, whether at a conference or in the pub after four gins. It’s just how I’m wired. I’m an extravert and I like being around other people. But each day, like a hell of a lot of other females, my first thought when I wake up in the morning is, “right. How do I dress to be myself, to be memorable, to be approachable and to be comfortable enough to work to the best of my ability whilst dressing appropriately? How do I accommodate all this shit in one outfit?”
And so whatever fashion journey my day takes me on, I feel like I need to hold on to those key traits of mine (red lipstick, courageous outfit) to not feel out of my depth. To still bring me to the table as well as meeting all these other prerequisites to have the life I want but in my own skin. Not that easy, actually.
What compromising my personal style really means for me
I think it’s safe to say that the traits I like to present to the world (where my sense of style is involved, at least) is not natural. Ruby red lips aren’t natural. Walking on cobbled ground in heels isn’t natural. accentuating my figure is an emphasis slightly beyond its natural state. But it is what has resulted in me.
I’m not confident in a nude lip and I’d rather die than step out in trainers because I don’t like how I walk in them. But there is more to these style rules than vanity. What really lies behind my style is other inspirational people, and courage to face the modern world. Thanks, Iris Apfel, for helping me realise that. All because of a car campaign.
What is it about your style that you won’t ever compromise on?
Join our tribe
We promise to pop a whole host of good stuff into your inbox every Wednesday to brighten up your week. Can't say fairer than that now can we?