Saturday, June 16, 2012

Follow your style - make the trend work for you

In the five years I have worked in the fashion industry, the single word I have heard the most often in work conversations is TREND. Fashion companies, magazines and all the major market places, from retail shops to online, are constantly talking about the trend. At the retailer where I worked, we were always instructed to introduce the latest trends to customers. In the meantime, while I was serving customers, I was often asked: will this item be out of fashion next season?

The whole idea of trend has always been a source of wonder to me. Clothes, handbags, shoes and accessories are generally not manufactured to be disposable! They are built to last longer than one season, yet in many people’s perception trend is seen as a single-season concept. Of course, the simple explanation is that everyone in the fashion chain, from designers through retailers, needs to create demand for their new products every season. But let’s dive into this a little deeper, so we can understand trend and how to make it work for us as savvy fashion consumers.

The first question to ask is, what is the definition of trend? According to Merriam Webster:

1: a line of general direction or movement <the trend of the coast turned toward the west>

2 a: a prevailing tendency or inclination : drift <current trends in education> b: a general movement : swing <the trend toward suburban living> c: a current style or preference : vogue <new fashion trends> d: a line of development : approach <new trends in cancer research>

3: the general movement over time of a statistically detectable change; also: a statistical curve reflecting such a change

Of these, definition 2c is most relevant, but actually I think the emphasis should be on “current” rather than “style” when talking about trend in this way. Interestingly, a Wikipedia search of “fashion trend” redirects to a page titled “fad”. That may tell you something...but let’s look at one of the places where trends are thought to be set, the industry’s various Fashion Weeks.

According to Wikipedia:

A fashion week is a fashion industry event, lasting approximately one week, which allows fashion designers, brands or "houses" to display their latest collections in runway shows and buyers and the media to take a look at the latest trends. Most importantly, these events let the industry know what's "in" and what's "out" for the season. The most prominent fashion weeks are held in the four fashion capitals of the world: New York City, London, Milan, and Paris.
In the major fashion capitals, fashion weeks are semiannual events. January through April designers showcase their autumn and winter collections and September through November the spring/summer collections are shown. Fashion weeks must be held several months in advance of the season to allow the press and buyers a chance to preview fashion designs for the following season. This is also to allow time for retailers to arrange to purchase or incorporate the designers into their retail marketing. Latest innovations in dress designs are showcased by renowned fashion designers during these fashion weeks, and all these latest collections are covered in magazines such as Vogue.

So let's break it down:

  • The dictionary tells us that a trend reflects a current style or preference
  • Wikipedia tell us that trends are set by the industry to lead the commercial season

Now it’s time to think carefully and perhaps a bit cynically. Who benefits from setting the trend? And how do you benefit from following the trend?

It’s perfectly understandable that each of us want to feel accepted and welcomed in this world, and if following the trend is the simplest way of fitting in, that is one shortcut to not feeling excluded at the most basic level. But fashion can be so much more than that - that’s why I think it is such an interesting subject. We can use fashion to express both our individuality and our commonality.

There’s a famous quote by fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent that has almost become a cliche in fashion circles:

“Fashion fades; style is eternal.”

This quote became a cliche for a reason - it holds a lot of truth! While trend is about “current style”, true personal style belongs to each one of us as individuals and does not change with the seasons. We have all known someone at some point in our lives who has tried so desperately to fit into a group that they would do anything, including trying to change their personality even if it didn’t really fit them. It can work for a while, but it doesn’t last.

And so it goes with trend following as it relates to personal style. Know yourself first! Know the types of things you enjoy wearing, the things that make you feel confident, comfortable, sexy, or fun depending on the occasion, so the end result is always you at your best. When you start with this level of self awareness, you can use the changing fashion seasons to work for you. You can learn to be selective among the season’s offerings while maintaining the core style you know works for you, rather than feeling overwhelmed at the change of seasons or buying every latest thing in a desperate attempt to stay trendy.

I think deep in our hearts, many of us feel that we are being manipulated by a fashion industry that thrives on separating us from our money over and over again. Turn the game in your favor by de-emphasizing “current” and emphasizing “style” when thinking about fashion trends. Anyone over the age of 30 has been around long enough to see that fashion trends recur all the time. After all, fashion trends are decided by human behavior, which means, if you are reading this you are part of it.

My appeal to you is, don't worry about the trend. Go with what suits you best. For some help in discovering what suits you, please have a look at my previous post: "How to define well-dressed?"

Readers, next time when you are in a store, instead of asking what’s new, ask yourself, “What’s new for me?”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How long does it take you to get dressed?

My husband and I talk a fair bit about my styling business. While I may have taught him everything he knows about fashion, he does know a lot about business so I do get a lot from our conversations. The other day when I mentioned that I help my clients with closet reviews - that is, I will visit their homes to help clean out wardrobe items that have either become outdated or unusable, and to help them optimize their wardrobe, he remembered a presentation he saw a few years ago from an MIT professor of finance, Dr. Andrew Lo. He was using a fashion example to make a point about finance, but I think he makes a very interesting point about fashion and the value of periodic closet reviews.

His example takes a man’s wardrobe, so let’s stick with that for now. Dr. Lo asks us to imagine a man’s closet that contains:

  • 5 jackets
  • 10 pairs of pants 
  • 20 ties 
  • 10 shirts
  • 10 pairs of socks 
  • 4 pairs of shoes 
  • 5 belts 

(I know, who has five belts and only four pairs of shoes? But let’s stick with Dr. Lo for now.) If it took you one second to evaluate each of the possible outfits you could create from this closet, how long would it take you to evaluate them all?

If you do the math (as Dr. Lo did) - it would take 23.1 days to look at them all for one second each!

Obviously, nobody takes this long to get dressed - we all use mental shortcuts (
heuristic is the five-dollar word used by Dr. Lo to describe this) to shorten this time. But you can easily see that by simplifying (my husband might say “optimizing”) your wardrobe, you can ease that overwhelming feeling of looking at your closet every morning thinking about what to wear, without losing useful options.

Shifting to a very simple example, a woman whose closet has ten skirts, ten blouses, two belts and ten pairs of shoes would have 2,000 combinations from which to choose. Because we will coordinate by color, we can eliminate most of those combinations, and probably come down to a manageable number of core looks. By strategically selecting and varying jewelry, accessories such as scarves, and adding just a couple of jackets or sweaters, you can create all the variety you need without an overwhelming closet filled with things you’ll never wear or haven’t worn for years. 

Dr. Lo’s example contains 64 individual items, which can be combined in two million unique ways. If you live to age 90, you will only have 26,280 days alive as an adult! Quantity does not serve you when it overwhelms you. You don’t need two million or even one million combinations. You will need more than 2,000 combinations though, and that’s where we can add dresses and make fun yet thoughtful changes through seasons and years. 

What is most important is discovering your individual style and creating the right outfits to express that style!  Readers, what do you think?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taipei - you touched my heart! - Taipei and Tamsui District street view

Followed by my previous two posts of "Taipei - you touched my heart!", I'd like to share some pictures of Taipei.

Taipei street view

Mopeds are very popular in Taipei

Night market - visiting Taipei's many night markets is one of the most fun things to do in the city.  There are several night markets in the city limits.  And usually they stay open well after midnight.  You can find food, street fashion and even fortune tellers there. 

Taipei 101 - the tallest building in Taipei.  Because Taipei is in an earthquake zone, it is very special for Taipei people to have a skyscraper.  And also according to the local people, the building was designed under strict feng shui rules.

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Ximending - as a fashionista, I love Ximending.  I saw a lot of Taiwan local fashion trends.  Though it is not my personal style, I do appreciate their looks and creativity.  I will show a few pictures of local Taipei fashion in my next blog post.

Tamsui District - Steve wished to go to Tamsui, an area northwest of Taipei where the Tamsui River meets the Taiwan Strait and home to some interesting European colonial history and several universities.   When he lived in Taipei 20 years ago, there was no subway.  It would take him a couple of hours each way on buses to go to Tamsui, so he had never been there.  This time, the convenient Taipei Metro took us to Tamsui from Taipei downtown within 30 minutes.  Here we are:

Statue of George Leslie Mackay

Can you see the pigs hanging around outside this restaurant.  I just found it is hilarious.  I guess those pigs are the pets for this family.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How do you define "well-dressed"?

Last week, my sister-in-law Jill sent me a link of The 40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America. This led me to think how we define "well-dressed" in our society. Is it money? Is it brand? Or is it just how you feel yourself? I have my own take on this.

First of all, I think if you are OK with what you wear, labels such as best-dressed or worst-dressed simply do not matter.  Looking at the photos from the link above, to me these people appear comfortable and happy. There is nothing wrong with it! And some of them clearly don't care what other people think of them! Good for you! There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes to express yourself.

Second, I think it is quite important to dress for the occasion, whatever that occasion might be. Imagine if you are the only person who wears an evening gown to a football tailgate party, or if you wear your football jersey to your son’s graduation. Don't get me wrong, if you are happy with yourself, it is OK. But if you are not intending to express your unique personality through your wardrobe, following a common sense dress code is not a bad idea. There are exceptions too. I heard this story from my husband. A famous billionaire property investor wore jeans and an open-necked shirt to speak at an investment conference where suits and ties were the dominant style. Clearly, he is not concerned with being underdressed, and that is OK too.

All that said, most of us still live in a world where we deal with people, and those people’s opinions matter to us and may well directly determine our success, whether we get the business, the promotion or the date. If we are not where we wish to be in life, part of trying hard may well mean presenting your best possible appearance. A salesperson, to take one example, needs to project professionalism and credibility. In an ideal world, a potential buyer would see past appearances and judge objectively and solely on the merits of a given proposal. However, there is plenty of evidence that shows that people’s initial impressions come from the first five to ten seconds of meeting someone, and that these are extremely difficult to change once established.

What type of image do we want to represent ourselves? That may well depend not only on oneself, but also on who is in the group with whom you are interacting. A salesperson approaching a law firm, for example, may well dress differently than one approaching a musician or an internet startup. There are still some general guidelines one can follow - it is generally a good idea to be no less dressy than the customers you plan to call on. Here are three basic key guidelines for looking good in general:

1. Fit! Sleeves, hem, waist, inseam etc are all very important. If they are too loose, you appear to sink yourself into the clothes; if they are too tight, you could look like you have “sausage rolls” on your back - this is clearly not a good look! Reasonable balance, and the right type of camouflage and accent for your individual body type are the keys to the ideal fit.

2. Color. Color is the essence of dressing well - it affects how you feel and how people respond to you. Color attracts the eye first. It is the first thing that others see about you and probably will remember about you. The right color will light your face up, and make you look bright and energetic. The wrong color will emphasize more of your wrinkles and dark circles. Understanding and using the magic of your individual color palette to express yourself will empower you to look and feel better and healthier, and evoke a positive energy around you that will make a good impression on those you meet.

3. Style. This is the most challenging to discover and manage. Many of us go through stages with our style and it is OK. Don't be overly self-critical. Our personal style usually evolves over the course of our lives. As we shift priorities from ourselves, to our career, to our families, and sometimes back and forth among these, how we express ourselves and our style may well change too. If you feel more comfortable with a timeless, classic look, go for it! If that bores you, you can try for a more creative look. You need to learn through your own experimentation and experience what is best for you - no store salesperson or magazine can decide this for you. The only way you can wear clothes comfortably and confidently is to find your own style.

Readers, I’d love to know what you think! Please share your ideas in the comment section.