07 January 2007

It comes from within

When it comes to fashion, there are very few women who have an innate understanding of what they like. In an age where hired stylists and Goldie Hawn-types who think age-appropriate dress doesn't apply to them, women like Grace Kelly, C.Z. Guest, and Diane von Furstenberg are rare birds.

These women - and there are more, these three just happen to be my old-guard icons - regardless of what they wore, regardless of the occasion, and regardless of the decade in which they found themselves, looked comfortably stylish. Put differently, they never looked as if someone else, someone on their payroll, picked out their clothes. Instead, when you see one of these ladies, the first thought that comes to mind is, "That is so her."

When was the last time anyone thought that about Lindsay Lohan?

Grace, C.Z., and Diane, even though they shared similar playgrounds, were all quite different. Grace was the proper one who looked most at home in a red carpet evening gown. C.Z., who invented upmarket American casual, found herself the face of the understated wealthy. And Diane, my favorite, was the sultry urbanite who could pick out a dress that would not only ensure her a best-in-show but would also seamlessly transition her from a Chelsea brunch to an Upper East Side dinner party. The collective styles of these three women, to me, are as good as fashion gets.

And it's not just for their clothes.

The surety these women had for what fit their bodies and their likes is lost on most women. Contrary to popular belief, money, a pretty face, and an enviable figure do not earn a woman an automatic golden ticket into the good taste factory. Good taste is a talent we're all born with but very few - and in DC, even fewer - find important enough to discover, much less cultivate. Good taste is the ability to walk into a store, any store, and immediately pick out that which you love, that which will objectively flatter you, and in essence, discern among hundreds of items those few that are you.

I see glimmers of that good judgment in some of today's stars. Katie Holmes (wedding dress aside), Eva Mendes, and Scarlett Johansson are all aware of their physical limitations (yes, a voluptuous chest can be a limitation), but work around them with consistent, exquisite taste. Rachel Bilson (right in Lanvin) and Cate Blanchett (below in Versace), though both more risk acceptant than the others, also follow this inner, not for-hire, not-for-attention style path.

The confidence this handful of Hollywood women exude, whether it's on the red carpet or on the streets of lower Manhattan, is of a quieter, more radiant variety than that which overt trend-followers such as Carmen Electra and Cameron Diaz so often throw in our faces. Like the dresses my Mother forcibly - and in retrospect, thankfully - made me wear to high school dances, Holmes', Johansson's, and Bilson's are the kind you would still see them wearing five or ten years in the future. This is because they're classic and because they're them.

The difference between having style and dressing well is a marked one. Anyone can achieve the latter, but in order to be the former, in order to have unique, timeless style, you first need the self-awareness that tells you if you do or don't have the right shoulders to wear that strapless Brian Reyes dress.
Whenever you find yourself standing in front of your closet deciding what to wear, whether it be a workday, a casual Saturday, or a night when you know you'll see that ex with his unfortunate-looking new girlfriend, the first step is to be honest with yourself. Recognize your strengths, recognize your weaknesses, and dress accordingly.

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