Read an Excerpt
"I have a closet overflowing with clothes but nothing I put on feels right for me. Every morning when I go to my closet to get dressed I just stand there and stare. I feel I have nothing to wear and I get upset. It's a terrible start to my day."
"I know that my image is not up to par with the position I hold at my job. I want to look more successful."
"A few days ago I wore my favorite jeans, and I felt and looked great in them. Only a couple of days later I put them on and they made me feel fat and I thought I looked terrible in them. What happened? What's going on?"
"My husband and I fight about his clothes every weekend. He always looks like he doesn't care."
"I hate shopping. I've gained some weight and nothing fits me anymore, and I feel self-conscious when I go shopping."
"My children are no longer living at home, and I'm starting a new career. All of a sudden I have absolutely nothing to wear and no idea where to start."
"I have a pretty conservative dress code for business. How can I put my own stamp on my wardrobe without rocking the boat?"
"I'm too old to wear trendy and certainly not old enough to wear matronly. How can I look stylish and current on a reasonable budget?"
How do you feel when you look in your closet every morning? Do you feel confident that your clothing choices allow you to present yourself most effectively in business? When you are in social and casual environments, do you feel self-assured and comfortable with the way you look? Or do you find it a challenge to get yourself dressed for the day? Do you constantly worry about the way you look, never quite satisfied with your overall appearance? Do the clothes you wear express who you really are?
Everyone we've met clients, associates, friends, ourselves included has experienced some form of insecurity, confusion, or dissatisfaction about his or her image. Our clients have included celebrities, politicians, world leaders, business executives, homemakers, models, teachers, and people from all walks of life. Although the scope of their image concerns have varied widely, all of them have had one thing in common they had not yet discovered their own personal style.
You have a personal style. You have specific and unique tastes. You have your own sensibilities, values, passions, and dislikes, as well as your own sense of what image you would like to project. But self-doubt, conditioning, and the desire to please others often combine to prevent authentic self-expression. Being concerned about other people's opinions of us becomes a habit, so much a part of ourselves that we lose our true identity.
You may simply be unaware of what kind of image you are projecting. You may deny or ignore your own desire to cultivate your image. Perhaps, as you grew into adulthood, you left behind your personal style because of conditioning from family and friends or the demands of your business or career. Perhaps your mother repeatedly told you when you were younger that you could never wear a certain color. Or maybe the demands of your business restrict your image. Have you been running after an image you want to project but are now becoming worn out from the race?
Many of you are projecting a style that is not your own personal style but a composite of others' interpretations of a particular style. And some of you who think you are projecting your personal style may not actually be doing so. Your desire to look a certain way cute, manly, sexy, strong, younger, fill in the blankhas camouflaged the most interesting aspect of your image you. That's right, the real you is so much more interesting than the "you" that you attempt to project.
Each and every day we have to present ourselves to the world, and like it or not, other people judge us based on the way we look. Social scientists tell us that our personal image can affect the way we are treated, even our credibility in certain situations. Within the first fifteen seconds of our meeting someone, a subconscious impact is made. Simply by the clothes we choose to wear and the image we project, others may judge our class, imagination, state of mind, sexuality, financial status, self-esteem, personality, politics, and individuality.
Think of how many times you have read a novel, newspaper article, or magazine story in which someone's clothes were described in detail. Authors use the way a person is dressed to tell readers something about his or her personality. Clothing choices are a window into the person's character, into who he or she really is.
Solving the question of identity is something we all have to do eventually. Your identity speaks to your individuality and the characteristics that manifest as your personality. Ideally your identity, your uniqueness, is something that you project in your image.
The word image is usually associated with public manipulation and an emphasis on appearance over substance. But when we talk about image in this book, we mean something deeper, something more serious and vital than that casual shorthand. Your image is the totality of how you present yourself to the world your visual presentation of your inner and outer self. It is the manifestation of your personal style. When we teach you how to define your personal style, we will be helping you to project an image that is authentic. When people use image to camouflage the truth about themselves, it is often called "trendy" or even "fashionable."
The subject of image and personal style has never been taken seriously. We have all been conditioned to believe that caring about the way we look is vain, self-indulgent, shallow, and in the grand scheme of things, unimportant. But image is integral and relevant within that grand scheme. It is a serious matter, because it affects how we live, our self-confidence, and the way we feel about ourselves in the world. What could be more serious than that?
Perhaps you are thinking, "I don't care how I look—I'm fine the way I am." We're not saying that you're not fine the way you are but we firmly believe that everyone has a desire to improve, no matter how deeply buried that desire may be. What people usually really mean when they say "I don't care" is "I don't know what to do. I don't know where to begin, or who to ask. I feel as if I should know."When they tell themselves that image is not important, they really mean, "I'm not important enough."
Or you may be thinking, "If people are going to judge me by my appearance, then those are the wrong people for me." Of course we don't want to be judged by our appearance, but the fact remains we are and will continue to be. You cannot avoid being judged, but you can encourage people to make judgments that will serve you rather than detract from you. By taking care of yourself and your image, you will build more self-confidence. When you acquire more self-confidence, others will mirror that behavior by respecting you too. The ten sessions in this book were created by our work in helping people to recognize the value of discovering their personal style so that they could get on with their lives.
For eighteen years, the former Malcolm Levene retail store in London, England, played host to men and women from all walks of life. This well-known store had an excellent reputation for providing much more than beautifully designed clothes: it became renowned for its exemplary service, in which people could buy a piece of clothing and at the same time receive an image education. Customers who normally would have been intimidated by fashion learned how to make choices for themselves. Although they were informed about what was current in the world of fashion, they learned how to interpret it so that it became their look. The result was that the customers always felt confident about their image.
The combination of a Savile Row-trained designer and retailer (Malcolm) and an American teacher of self-development methods (Kate) proved a compatible and effective mix. We learned from each other and traded each other's experiences and expertise to create a more holistic approach to style and image.
Soon business executives who had been our very satisfied customers asked us if we could do for their employees what we had done for them. Our personal style and image-development consultancy thus was a natural outgrowth of the retail business. In addition, we were asked to conduct workshops and seminars on how to present a successful image. Over the years our work became a tried and tested method for discovering personal style the ten sessions that you will find in this book. Although we are now based in the United States, we continue to work regularly with our corporate and private clients in Europe.
On both sides of the Atlantic, we have come to recognize, many people find change to be a challenge. The people who inhabit the world of fashion, celebrities from all fields, public figures, and the like are all expected to stand out and be different. They are allowed even required to agonize over the minutest decisions about their image. But when the woman who works in the telephone sales department of a computer company enters her workspace and is seen to be gradually changing her image, she may receive unwanted attention. Generally speaking, people are frightened by change, especially by changes that have a visual impact. They worry about what else might change, and how these changes will ultimately affect them. It all comes down to this: How is your change going to affect me?
Don't let other people's insecurities or fears get in your way. As our clients have made improvements in their image, they have been promoted, formed better relationships, and made successful career moves. Some experienced a short period of adjustment while they and the other people in their lives adapted to the progress they were making. This is quite normal.
We encourage you to remain focused on your goals. If, during the course of your work with these ten sessions, you find that someone is pressuring you to quit or is not supporting you as you might expect, communication is the most important remedy. Our clients who have communicated honestly to their family, friends, and business colleagues about this work have found that the skeptics become much more positive when they saw the wonderful changes it produced.
Most of our clients tell us that the observations and comments they have received have been encouraging and complimentary. One reason is that progress is made gradually and carefully. Slight changes in appearance or manner over time are much easier for clients to assimilate into their lifestyle than large, abrupt changes. When one of our clients attended her annual review meeting with her employer, she saw an appreciative look on his face as she entered the room. He clearly noticed a positive difference in her, in an unspoken moment of recognition and approval.
The fashion world is home to a food chain of image experts, color consultants, wardrobe consultants, personal shoppers, and clothing stylists. These savvy shoppers have eyes in the back of their heads, and they are quick to translate what they see into a look. They will tell you what to wear and how to wear it. That is not what we do. We do not want you to be dependent on our style choices, or to look for outside approval for what you are wearing. What we do instead is teach people how to improve their image and discover their own personal style. We provide a therapeutic road that enables and empowers people to successfully find their true style and make positive changes in the image they present.
You can buy someone else's taste; you can buy the services of a personal shopper; you can buy beautiful clothes; you can even buy beauty. But you can't buy your personal style.
The Problem with Categories
Unlike most books about style, 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom contains no diagrams, beautiful pictures, or color charts. That is because this is not a conventional "style" book or a "beauty" book, and it is certainly not a fashion book. It is a self-help book about how to discover your own personal style.
For many fashion experts, "process" means identifying a client's category: "Phew, that's done. I'm a Winter!" or "Oh, I've got it now I'm 'Sporty.' Now can we please go shopping?" Trouble is, what does a "Romantic" do who happens to work on Wall Street, or a "Gamine" who lifts weights? All of these ways of fingerprinting people whether by seasons, colors, or personality types are different versions of the quick fix.
Those who use these categories do not ask you to look inside yourself to explore who you are. They are looking at groups. You are not a group. You are an individual. Our approach is about self-awareness we ask you to use what you have learned to determine your own categories.
Your image also reflects your inner style, through very specific messages about who you are and what you represent: your attitudes, your behavior, and the way you communicate. Do your business associates find you personable? Do you remember your manners, even when you have a bad day? Sometimes your inner style messages are so strong that elements of your outer style your clothes, your hair become almost invisible. Knowing what your inner assets are, and communicating well both verbally and physically, are just a few of the elements that make up your inner style. When you have defined your inner and outer style, you will be able to integrate them seamlessly to create your true personal style.
But if your image is incongruent, untruthful, and inappropriate for your inner style, it causes distractions and misrepresents who you really are. One "creative" whom we met was trying to express the fact that he lived and worked in a creative field. He wore all-black clothing, with chunky black boots, and he sported a goatee, which had become the hip trend in men's facial hair. He was sending out the message I am creative loud and clear. The problem was that that wasn't the message people were receiving.
His black clothing was worn and faded. His jeans had been washed so many times, they were now gray. His trendy facial hair did not complement the shape of his face, and his black boots interfered with the way he carried himself. He thought his image represented his creativity, but in reality it had swallowed his personality and made him look shabby. Those who met him might well have wondered: If he is that uncaring about himself and his image, then why would we want to be around him or trust him as a "creative"?
Most people do care about their appearance and want to improve it by finding their unique style. But most people don't know how to go about achieving it. They try quick fixes and superficial ways to feel good about themselves in the form of one-day makeovers and shopping sprees. But as soon as the shopping high wears off, they become discouraged and are once again dissatisfied with how they look. And they no longer feel confident participating in their own transformation.