The Elegance of Signature Style

Audrey Hepburn had a little black dress. Abraham Lincoln had a stovepipe hat. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had fancy robe collars. Harry Potter had glasses and a magic wand. 

What they all had in common was a distinct signature style. They were each well-known for other accomplishments, of course, but their sartorial choices added to their recognizability, uniqueness, and elegance.

Having a signature style means creating a consistent and memorable visual image or look. Whether that look is considered gorgeous or goofy may be in the eye of the beholder. The fact remains, what we wear matters.

In a 2012 report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a pair of scientists coined the phrase enclothed cognition and proved the clothing a person wears has an effect on the way one thinks, feels, and functions.

In one experiment, participants who were asked to wear a white doctor’s coat showed an increase in cognitive abilities. Similar experiments showed formal clothing enhanced the ability to negotiate and think abstractly. Casual clothing boosted openness and agreeableness. Gym clothes increased healthy choices. Bright colors improve mood, while softer colors had a calming effect.

What makes signature style so intriguing is that there’s no single definition, and it’s impossible to purchase no matter how much money one has. I have to admit, I’m really not one to give fashion advice. Although I’m still working on the how and what of personal style, I am convinced of these six reasons why we should cultivate a signature style.

  1. Self-Knowledge – Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” Creating a true signature style requires knowing who we are, what we value, how we spend our time, and what we want to project into the world. This can be a lifelong challenge that requires some deep dives.
  2. Authenticity – Energy healer Carol Tuttle believes what we wear on the outside should be congruent with who we are on the inside. She teaches that everyone is born with a natural energy that should be honored. Are you naturally extroverted or introverted, loud or quiet, silly or serious? Be careful, she warns. Most of us hold false beliefs about who we are or should be. We can learn to dress in a way that celebrates our authenticity.
  3. Confidence – Committing to a signature style, impervious to trends and opinions, takes guts. Dressing every day in our own unique style will increase self-confidence and eventually garner the confidence of others. Audrey Hepburn said, “To pull off any look, wear it with confidence.”
  4. Simplicity – There’s no question that having a signature style makes life easier. Clothes shopping can be overwhelming and expensive. When we know exactly what we do and don’t wear, the entire process saves time and money. No more standing in front of a stuffed closet with nothing to wear. According to Coco Chanel, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
  5. Discipline – Staying true to a signature style requires discipline. It’s easy to question our wardrobe, especially when the choices are endless and ever-changing. The fashion industry banks on us being easily distracted, discouraged, and undisciplined. It takes laser focus to only purchase and wear that which we’ve determined perfectly expresses our personal style.
  6. Wisdom – Having a signature style is smart. Albert Einstein famously wore a grey suit, black tie, and white shirt. He said, “I don’t want to waste brainpower on what I’m going to wear each day.” Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all followed suit. Saving time and money makes good sense, but so does taming our closets and consistently projecting an authentic image of ourselves.

Director Orson Welles said, “Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself, yet identifiable for others.” It’s the big, gold charm bracelet my mother has worn for fifty years and the upswept hairdo her best friend has worn for as long as I can remember. Signature style is difficult to define and to cultivate, but it’s always the epitome of elegance. §

“Personal style is about a sense of yourself, a sense of what you believe in and wearing what you like.”
~ Ralph Lauren