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

The Joy of Overcoming Obstacles

After a stormy night, the trail I walk each morning was scattered with sticks and debris. As I hiked along the wooded path, I picked up a dozen large limbs and heaved them to the side in a gesture of goodwill towards the next traveler.

The warming sun sent smoky shafts of light through the cool forest mist. The soaking rain intensified the heady smell of pine straw carpeting the trail. My eyes remained on my feet to avoid slipping on the muddy slopes.

I came to a stop when I looked up to see a huge oak tree had fallen across my path. The trunk, three feet in diameter, hung precariously over the trail and stretched about forty feet each direction into the thick woods.

Ducking under the tree seemed unwise. Crawling over it wouldn’t be easy. I briefly considered turning around. Then stepping forward, I heard myself say, “The obstacle is the way.”

It was the title of a book I’d just read. Author Ryan Holiday draws on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism to encourage readers to face life’s challenges with resilience. Holiday writes, “Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?”

Deciding a fallen tree wouldn’t stop my daily hike,  I stretched one leg on top of the trunk, grabbed hold of the thick bark to pull myself up and over and dropped ungracefully to the the other side. My arms and legs were dirty and scraped, but I felt surprisingly good.

When I reached the blocked path the next day, I crawled on the tree trunk and stood up to take in a higher view of the woods before jumping to the other side. This morning, I walked up and down the full length of the trunk like a balance beam. The fallen tree had become the best part of my morning.

Holiday believes overcoming obstacles in life requires the discipline of three critical steps:

1. Perception – How we view what happens around us can be a source of strength or weakness.

2. Action – We can always choose to act with deliberation, boldness and persistence.

3. Will – We have an internal power we shouldn’t allow the outside world to undermine.

Take notice of obstacles in your life. They may come in the form of disappointment, difficulty, rejection, injury, injustice, illness or heartbreak. When an obstacle appears – large or small – notice how you react to it. Do you accept it? Do you face it with grace and resilience? The good news is if we don’t handle it well, we will certainly get another chance to try again, because obstacles are a part of life.

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I know the folks who maintain the hiking trail will eventually remove the fallen tree, but until then, it remains a fun daily reminder that the obstacle is the way. §