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Developing your own personal sense of style
No matter your budget, you can still be super cool

by Hope Nicholls
Picture this: you somehow wrangle an invite to an exclusive gala with the city’s wealthiest, most influential people. You are so excited to see everyone done up in their finest things, mingling with ice cubes tinkling and diamonds jingling, but the most fabulous person you see all night is the homeless man in a polyester suit with a windbreaker over top, an eye patch and a smile.
Well, maybe “fabulous” isn’t the exact word I want to use — but my point is about style. Money, first and foremost, does not style make. Even if your income isn’t in the six digits — you can still be the swankiest! Note to the wealthy types — take heed — you may find a few tips in this story.

Just what is style?
Back to the man with the eye patch: what he had was — in his own humble way — style. You may not envy it, but you can’t deny it.

Style is an essence, a mystery, even an allure. To say style is just clothing is inaccurate; real personal style is not nearly so superficial as what one wears.

Really stylish people have an air about them, whether they have money or not. Not a holier-than-thou air, but the grace of a sort of self-knowledge. Their style gives us a glimpse of who they are, who they are becoming or who they would like to be. When you meet someone stylish — you’re immediately drawn in — you want to know more about them. Their clothes, grooming, personality and demeanor, all bundle together to make a fascinating package you’d like to peek into.
Conversely, a person who goes to Neiman-Marcus on a daily basis, buying clothes as if they were deluxe Garanimals, putting outfits together using this month’s GQ or W like a biblical guide look like what they are: a mall clone and boring, boring, boring!

The same goes for trips to the hair salon. If your mane looks like you just finished a hair show everyday, 24/7, despite a hurricane or a death in the family, you may be focusing on it a bit too much.

Looking like you work too hard is always the death of style. Personal fashion should be effortless and easy-going. It should not be an affectation, but a true barometer of who you are.

Have some fun, wear your hair a different way — don’t let people guess the year you graduated from high school by the way you wear your do!
To be stylish today is to be versatile. Ideally, you should feel confident enough not to have to wear one uniform or look day in and day out. Confidence is the hottest thing anyone can wear. Love yourself. Embrace what you’ve got!

What I said about the salon goes quadruply for plastic surgery. Teeth that glow in the dark, lips plumped to sausage proportions, a face expressionless with botox — despite what some tend to think — are not attractive, nor do they demonstrate the devil-may-care attitude we all find so hot.

Clean out that closet and go shopping!
Everyone should give his or her closet a seasonal shakedown. Purge anything you don’t really, really love, even if it broke the bank or is brand new. If it doesn’t say “this is the real me,” it should go.

Add a few new items to the mix from a variety of sources: it’s okay to visit a mall upon occasion, but also check out boutiques, thrift stores, your granny’s attic or wherever the budget allows.
Stick to acquiring only pieces you love so much, you’d be buried in them. A signature piece is a great way to define style for a season and begin to build a wardrobe. It could be a skirt, boots, a piece of jewelry or even a pair of sunglasses. Create different outfits around that piece as a focal point.

Never buy something to wear once. Anything worth the dirty cash is worth multiple wears. Seek out items you can use multiple ways and for more than one season. For example, blazers are great because you can dress them up or down: with jeans for casual, or dress pants for more formal events or work. You can justify getting a more expensive piece if you can see yourself using it for years to come, for instance, a wool sweater, leather jacket or silk blouse.

Blend deluxe items with tees, tanks or vintage finds to create a high/low balance that is perfectly postmodern. Choose real fibers — cotton, cashmere, leather — over synthetics and blends when possible, and real jewelry — gold, silver, semiprecious stones, bakelite — over costume pieces. The eye can discern quality, adding cache points to your style quotient. If you shop vintage with this in mind, you can often get stuff twice as good at half the price.

Today’s premium designer goods are only on-par with products that were moderately priced mid-century. A comparison of vintage and modern cashmeres will prove this point immediately, as will a look at how today’s Prada suits stand up against a ’60s vintage Penguin.

Wear the things you love
Antiquated rules about age appropriateness should be thrown out the window. At any age, you should be able to wear the things you love — with a reality double-check in the mirror as you leave the house.

If you’ve still got great legs, wear a mini dress — just don’t rock it like Jessica Simpson would unless you’re Jessica’s age.

If you’re blessed with hot pecs and abs, sport that button down tight.

Fashion should be fun, not frumpy. Baggy clothes can make people think you have even more to hide than you probably do.

Finally, never shortchange yourself on accessories. Jewelry, bags and shoes (if you take proper care of them) are the best investment of all. Accessories are the wardrobe stretcher. You can wear the same jeans and tee everyday, but if you tweak your accessories, you’ve changed the look. They also last longer than clothing and are not as likely to go out of style.

All these goodies, carefully chosen and worn with confidence and wit, will become the building blocks of a life’s wardrobe and a style all your own.

Hope Nicholls is the owner of the fashion and accessory store Boris & Natasha, located at 1214 Thomas Ave. in Charlotte. She can be reached at 704-375-0079.



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