Sunday, 7 September 2014

What's your fashion type?

Bullock's tea room, Los Angeles, 1920s. Via. Is this the "daily fashion showing during luncheon"?

How would you describe your fashion personality type? Are you artistic, with a love of vivid colours, peasant necklines, and bizarre jewellery? Or are you modern, sleek, boyish, “just now shingle bobbed”? I’ve taken those descriptions from a 1920s guide to fashion personality types by L.A. department store Bullocks (as quoted in this post on American Age Fashion), but – according to Elle magazine at least – these questions are just as valid in 2014. Their September accessories supplement asks the question: “What kind of woman are you?” with possible answers including The Athlete, The Lady, as well as The Modernist and The Artist (illustrated with some vividly coloured bizarre jewellery, naturally).

The September issue of Elle UK pushes fashion ‘types’ in a big way. In her introduction to the issue, editor Lorraine Candy writes: "I'm excited about a/w 2014 because there are no style rules - every trend is open to your own personal interpretation, which means fashion is fun again … Now you can be anything from a BMX biker girl to a power woman dressed in superbold colours." Exciting, yes, but it's further into the magazine they get to the real crux of the matter, writing: "In her 10 years on the magazine, Anne-Marie Curtis has seen some remarkable seasons come and go. And this one: It's tricky."

For fashion magazines that thrive on picking out trends and must-have buys, this disparity of styles is tricky. Simon Doonan expands on this in a piece for the FT:

“The fashion landscape has never been more vast, diverse and mind-numbingly confusing than it is today. Where there were 20 designers, there are now 20,000. Where there was serenity, there is now only mayhem and despair.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the fashion commentators – editors, reviewers, fashion directors – are in total denial. Rather than cop to the fact that mother fashion has exploded and fragmented beyond all comprehension, these advice-givers persist in distilling the season into a neat little cluster of trends just as they always have: masculine tailoring! Couture shapes! Grey is the new black!”

He concludes with the advice: “In order to traverse this endless fashion landscape … you need only take one simple step: you must adopt – drumroll – your own signature look.”

Except it’s not that easy, is it? No matter how closely you opt in or out of trends, they do influence the way we get dressed in the morning and they help us judge, for better or worse, the people we encounter. Most importantly, they help drive that urge to go shopping, because (if you're me, something along the lines of) you realise you don’t own any culottes and suddenly they look quite fresh and fashionable and actually you quite fancy trying some.

We’re not in the early 70s anymore, but – according to Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s account at least – towards the end of Diana Vreeland’s editorship at Vogue she being criticised for not letting her readers know about trends: by encouraging them to create their own style, she was alienating them. Moreover, she was losing the support of the magazine’s advertisers who needed her to push trends.

Thanks to the internet, it’s easier to go shopping and buy anything we fancy. Perhaps we’ll see more fashion ‘types’ used again in editorials and by shops to help us navigate all the choices, with future purchases governed by BuzzFeed-style quizzes. Back to September 2014, “Here's how to nail it, whatever your style” states Elle, giving you options whether you are A Rock Chick, Ladylike, Boho or A Minimalist (these types all distinguished by the Use Of Capitals). However, just like Bullock’s insistence that dark hair and dark eyes qualify you as the artistic type, this argument isn’t terribly convincing either. We can have days when we want to look ladylike, (perhaps a job interview), or like a rock chick (at a gig maybe?). Talking about people in terms of fashion types seems even less persuasive than talking about wider fashion trends.

In a much wider field, how we going to be made to Buy More Things? And to Buy The Things the huge clothing brands want us to buy? The answer is probably closer to Doonan’s suggestion of a signature look. But I imagine that signature look won’t be your own: it’ll be the look of a celebrity or, more likely, one of the uber bloggers, who can attract dedicated and devoted readers. Read about their lives; shop their wardrobe. Less fashion personality types; more fashion personalities.


  1. Wow, this is a really interesting assessment of those "fashion types" quizzes. I always find this concept of "personal style" a bit overwhelming, though. I'm a high-street shopper, and although of course I make choices about what I prefer, I'm aware that my choices are always limited by what's available. ie. Buying The Things that the brands want me to buy.

    But you mention that there are style arbiters – celebrities, and fashion bloggers mainly. Are they influenced by trends?

  2. Bloggers are of course influenced by trends (and in some cases what brands give them what) but they're great examples for showing how you can wear trends - or stuff from the high street - as part of your personal style which could theoretically be bought, like for example Rumi of Fashion Toast. Online gives you a space to carve out a certain aesthetic which may not fit with high street trends (I'm thinking of brands such as ModCloth or Nasty Gal). And, on a minor scale, there are mini-blogger trends that fall outside of the high street: I know I really wanted to buy a pair of Swedish Hasbeens because I'd seen them on some of my favourite bloggers and liked the way they looked.

    Celebrities I think are more attached to the conventional fashion system, i.e. they've always been given free clothes by brands. But I think they probably have more influence in people actually deciding to buy than a picture in Vogue does or - at least - suggesting how you might want to look.


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