I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of a signature style. You know, those clothes in your closet that seem to reside there year after year in one form or another, even as trends come and go. At least that’s how I define signature style: the style of outfits in which we always feel comfortable, and which always make us feel like ourselves. Since I let my white hair grow in, though, I’ve been feeling a bit differently about those styles and outfits which I reach for automatically. I’ve been feeling as if I need a change.
In fact, I think I’m having a signature style metamorphosis. Well, maybe not quite a metamorphosis, maybe more of an acceleration of the style evolution I began when I retired. In any evolution, there is slow inexorable change, and then there are periods of rapid change triggered by an event.
Retirement triggered a major personal style change for me. An evolution from business suits to suit jackets with tee shirts and jeans, from skirts and pumps to skirts and sneakers. Of course it didn’t all happen overnight. I was a long while feeling comfortable in skirts and sneakers. But now I have embraced that look whole-heartedly. Sneakers with skirts seems totally me, now.
Two years ago, total winter wardrobe boredom triggered another change. Albeit a small one. I added colourful socks to my wardrobe, and tried wearing socks with my shoes. Something I had eschewed for years and years. Visible socks had always been a no-no for me. Suddenly I was all about the socks. At least in theory. But it still took me a while to fully feel as if socks with loafers was me. In fact it wasn’t until last autumn, to be specific, that I began reaching for my socks when I wore cropped pants or jeans and loafers. I had somehow evolved into a visible-socks person.
Like when I retired, I’m in a period of accelerated style change right now. I’m feeling a shift in my priorities and my preferences. Not because my lifestyle has drastically changed, but because I have. It started last summer when I let my hair go white. That’s a huge change, in my books, folks. Almost a metamorphosis, in fact. Thanks to the pandemic and four months without professional attention to my hair, I went from a die-hard “I will never let my hair go grey” girl to a white hair devotee. And that major change triggered an identity crisis, of sorts. I mean, who in the heck was I anyway? Who did I want to be? How did I feel inside, and how should I reflect that change in my style? Perhaps it was no accident that I went whole hog with the socks only after my hair was white.
So my style evolution has been ongoing since last summer, but what prompted me to write this post was a YouTube video I recently watched, in which stylist Lizzie Edwards talks about why we need a signature style. She made some really good points, that if women identified their signature style, life would be easier in many ways. Easier to get dressed in the morning because we’d always know what we’d be wearing. You can watch the video for yourself here, if you’re interested. As I listened, I thought of the famous women who have an easily identifiable signature style, like Vogue stylist Tonne Goodman who wears white pants and black tops almost exclusively. There are women out there, like Tonne, who adopted a signature style early on in their lives and have stuck with that.
Now, I don’t know exactly whether Lizzie meant that a signature style should be as restrictive as Tonne Goodman’s or not. Or if she meant that one’s signature style, once identified, should not evolve. But I can’t imagine sticking with one style and never varying. What we wear should reflect who we are and what’s going on in our lives. And I am not the same person I was at 25, or 35, or 45. And my life is not the same either. So I can’t imagine wearing now what I wore then.
I should probably qualify that statement. I can imagine wearing specific pieces from the past, and I do wear them. Just because our style changes, doesn’t mean that some pieces can’t have years and years, decades even, of longevity. I have jackets that are decades old. But now that they have come back into style again, I find I’m wearing them in a very different way. Because styles have changed, of course, but also because I’m different, and my life is different.
And in an odd corollary to that, a couple of summers ago, I bought a new pair of boot-cut jeans and a big straw tote bag, and realized that when I wore them with flat sandals and a safari jacket I was wearing an outfit right out of the summer of 1975. So, new bag, new jeans, but worn in a combination that took me right back to the summer I was 19. That made me laugh. Maybe my style at 64 is more like my style at 19, than at 50.
I’m not sure if I agree with Lizzie about the importance of identifying a signature style. Especially if there’s a danger we might begin to think that signature style is carved in stone. I think it’s good to know what we like, and what works on our bodies, and with our lifestyle. And it’s also good to be flexible enough to throw out the old rules and change things up. Especially when we undergo a style metamorphosis like going from highlighted, lowlighted, dyed blonde hair to totally white.
Of course I’ve written about this whole process before. How my style is evolving since I let my hair go white. How certain clothes in my closet now looked dreadful on me. Beige! Ugh. How my new hair necessitated a different approach to make-up, especially with respect to the use of colour. And how my white hair changed how I felt about myself. Oddly enough, it gave me more confidence. And permission to dress a bit more edgy. Dare I say, even a teensy bit quirky.
Now if you are an edgy person, or someone who has always embraced quirky clothing you are probably laughing at me right now. “Ha. Burpee, you will never be fearless enough to be quirky.” Touché. I’ll admit, I’m too fond of the jeans and boots and classic blazer look, and always will be, evolution be damned, to be a true quirky, utterly individualistic dresser. And even if I did give quirkiness a go, I would look and feel as if I were wearing a costume, or someone else’s clothes. It just wouldn’t be me.
But I would like to sidle a bit into edgy, quirky territory. I feel as if my white hair gives me permission to do so.
Don’t ask me why. But I have felt, since I went white, a certain dissatisfaction with my preference for polished looks. A need to mess things up. A desire for big and baggy. Or at least bigger and baggier than I have worn in the past. I’d like to trade polished for a kind of easy insouciance, if I can bring it off.
Like the unbuttoned blue shirt in the first shot in this post. A look I saw Allison Bornstein try. I played around with a couple of new layering methods a few weeks ago. And even embraced the sweater over a jacket idea. A trend that I had dismissed as too contrived before, and which I now like.
I’ve been wearing my short Stuart Weitzman boots with my faux-leather midi-skirt from H&M. And yesterday I added my Everlane tee shirt, a new black hoodie from H&M, my down jacket…. and… black and white polka dot socks in my boots. Oh my god… could I have evolved as far as to wear socks with skirts?? What a rebel I am.
Is this because my white hair has placed me into unabashed little old lady territory? Everybody knows that little old ladies can be hell on wheels. At least the little old ladies in my family. Ha. My grandmother was not a fashion icon, but she sure was hell on wheels.
I think I’d like to be considered hell on wheels when I get to be a little old lady. But I’m not there yet. Still, having white hair feels, as my sister Connie told me it would, quite freeing. In so many ways. Not just in the outfit choices I make as my signature style continues to evolve. Or morph. Or something.
Now it’s your turn, my friends. How has your signature style evolved over the years? In what way does your new style better reflect you as you are now?
P.S. You can shop the items I’m wearing in this post below. If the exact item is unavailable these are as similar as I can find. All links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.