Is Personal Style Born or Made?
Mining the qualities that make you you, and then translating them visually is what true style is all about. Personal style is both born and made, because identity emerges over time, honed by experiences.
The first new sofa I ever bought was for a bachelorette pad I rented in my mid-20s. I had previously lived with roommates, lounging on garage-sale finds and exercising first-job thrift. I was finally becoming a grown-up with a career in the city, and I wanted my apartment to look as groovy as my idol Mary Tyler Moore’s digs on TV. She was the consummate professional woman, after all. Mary’s bright studio apartment with the tiny kitchenette and dual platform dressing and sleeping areas was a bold, modern statement. Although shag carpeting was out of favor at this point, I knew I wanted something cool. So I set out to shop for furniture, excited by the chance to show the world who I was. Well, a trip to one store led to a second and, by the third one, I was facing a full-on existential crisis. What is this sofa going to say about me? What do I want it to say about me? What color should I choose and why aren’t I married yet? Even I, who had gone to design school, was paralyzed. Who was I? I decided to enlist the support of a friend. Surely, two heads were better than one. The quest commenced and we combed through dozens of swatches. We debated the options for weeks. Exhausted, I finally pulled the trigger on a fabric and placed the order. Twelve weeks later, I was the proud owner of the most nondescript, epically beige couch in existence.
As it turns out, this endeavor wasn’t about design at all. My personal issues slugged it out on the sales floor of every furniture store in town and when the tussle was over, I was punch-drunk with ambivalence. Since our outer world is merely a reflection of our inner world, I was not able to come up with a clear picture of who I was because, at that age, I was still waiting to find out. No wonder I chose furniture suitable for a waiting room. Years later when I bought my first place, I felt so self-assured that I went out and got a modern, deliciously splashy red sofa. It was so me.
TRAVEL AND INSPIRATION
One of the greatest ways to develop your sensibilities and broaden your influences is through travel. During an excursion to London, also while in my 20s, a new facet of my taste was born. Walking down the Strand in Covent Garden, I discovered the eponymous Twinings teashop, a stalwart of English commerce for centuries. It has since been renovated for a more hipster effect, but back then it was stuffed to the hilt with a staggering array of old-timey tea-making paraphernalia and darkly painted portraits of ye olde Twining family. I was absolutely charmed by all of it. There and then I developed a lifelong appreciation for beautiful teapots and teacups, which not only fueled a collection but also mitigated the sharpness of my essentially modern bent.
A decade or so later, an important trip to Guatemala unexpectedly nourished a passion for interesting textiles — a departure from my proclivity for solid colors. I was there to meet my newly adopted son and, as I toured the city to shake my nerves, I learned all about the local, deeply rooted tradition of handweaving. Complex patterns in brilliant colors adorned everything from tables and chairs to floors, windows and people, exemplifying the cultural aesthetic. Bringing home a stunning assortment of fabrics, my style surged toward the eclectic approach I embrace today.
An American fashion maven was once quoted as saying, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” Summoning up a sense of wonder and adventure is really all it takes to express who you are now and who you have the potential to become.