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How to Have Style

October 14, 2009 by · No comments

By Ellie Ivanova Ponti
How to Have Style by Isaac MizrahiI love browsing through fashion advice books, but it’s always out of curiosity. I like to see a different interpretation of what women should look like – and how that changes through time. I never follow the advice contained in those books because I forget the specifics. And they are so different in every book. I just enjoy the visual imagery and the interpretation of the role of women in society expressed through that advice: do they have to make themselves attractive, do they have to learn to be practical or conform to some rigid etiquette?

I never thought such a book would be liberating, feminist or useful for me, for what it is worth. After all, they all imply that women undeniably have to change something about themselves or to adhere to rules on how to conceal problems and boost merits. That’s hardly liberating. It is more a constriction than freedom, just as a sculptor friend of mine expressed it through her metal corset creations.

But this book was a revelation. Instead of compiling a list of rules to follow in order to have style, it is a case study of 12 real women who are reinventing their style with the assistance of designer Mizrahi. Still, it’s a conceptual book. Mizrahi starts with the advice for women to define an ideology for themselves in terms of their self image, which they would want to present to the world. Because, instead of the trite notion that women should dress for themselves, he proposes the idea that they should dress, if not exactly for the world around them, then according to the message they would want to send to the community they live in through their clothing. That ideology, embodied in a self-image, will be then the guiding principle in choosing their style and specific clothing.

For that reason, the book is inspirational. In fact, the first step in discovering one’s own style is the inspirational board, a space in which women display photos, mementos and images related to their cherished memories, moments of happiness, favorite objects (not necessarily related to fashion), inspiring paintings and visual art, words of wisdom and treasure-box ephemera. It is the self discovery necessary for defining one’s own image personality.

Based on that collection of images and inspirational ideas, Mizrahi then proceeds to offer women real-world looks, clothes and accessories that would be faithful to each one’s personality and “self-image ideology”. Instead of restricting women within some canned advice, he encourages them to experiment, to be bold and regard clothes as works of art, not as consumer goods.

But if women have to see themselves as art collectors, that does not imply that they have to buy expensive designer numbers; it actually implies that clothes are not regarded as one-season items to be constantly bought and discarded; it means that even old clothes deserve appreciation and care. There are no wrong clothes for any body type: if a woman feels something does not sit well on her, it’s because it sends a statement she does not believe in.

Ironically, How to Have Style is not a book everyone should keep on their dresser. It’s not a reference book to be consulted before going out. It’s an empowering insight. It’s about women paying attention to themselves and loving themselves while asserting their personae. It’s a reminder that they control the message they send through their clothing, which in reality is self expression outside of the convention and what we know as fashion.

You can read other articles by Ellie Ponti on her blog.

Categories: Critique · Frontpage · Lifestyle · Modern Times



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