Style and Personality

If you have a minute or two, please watch the video below. You can turn the sound off if you're in the library--since we're focusing on style, the visuals are more important.

How would you describe Jean Knight's personality? Here are the words I'd use: confident, aware, no-nonsense, fearless. She projects a cool contempt, with a bit of amusement, for "Mr. Big Stuff," who clearly needs to be knocked down a peg or two.

Notice how Ms. Knight's style and personality mesh. Her pantsuit shows her figure off without revealing it--a sign that she's confident in herself and her body. Her afro flatters her face shape. Her makeup is subtle but flattering, and her earrings draw attention to her neck--one example of how an accessory can make a good outfit great. Her style shows that you can look feminine without looking submissive.

Many people do not reach this level of coordination. Their style and personality have more of a detente than a union. They dress to fit in with a particular group. Or they dress according to what doesn't itch, or based on half-conscious urges they don't understand.

Young Brad Pitt, showing that not everything ages as gracefully as he does.

Emotions have trends, just like fashion.
––Gia Carangi

When style and personality clash, strange things happen. An intelligent, analytical person might be perceived as dumb, or a bit of a space case, if they wear yoga pants and have long, unkempt hair. But what's strange is this person will often play into that misconception without being aware of it. They might start coming late to appointments, or sleeping in, or forgetting to do certain things. It's strange, but true: when enough people expect a certain behavior from you, there's a strong subconscious pull for you to do what they expect.

People also dress up to compensate for something--usually without success. Imagine a man, lathered in cologne, with spiked-up hair, loudly talking on his cell phone about a "production deal" or an "investment opportunity." He interrupts people when they're talking; he never compliments anyone; if anyone dares mention their accomplishments, he butts in with something he did that was even better. Even if his clothing fits him well, his actions telegraph insecurity from a lightyear away. In his mind's eye, he's George Clooney, Cary Grant, Sean Connery--but his true nature shines through the suit, however well made it is.

Unless you're a jerk yourself, you would probably prefer a shy, sweet guy as a friend, even if Lothario up there had a better wardrobe. Why? Because the second guy is honest. It's not that confidence is bad; it's pretension that's bad. Go back and listen to "Mr. Big Stuff" again--or read the lyrics.

Just because you wear all those fancy clothes
and drive a big fine car (oh yes you do now)
do you think I can't afford to give you my love?
you think you're higher than every star above!
Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are?
Just because Mr. Big Stuff drives a nice car and wears "all those fancy clothes," that doesn't make him a good person. That doesn't make him worthy of love. Who does he think he is, indeed?

Style doesn't stop at the skin. It doesn't even stop at the skeleton. Your posture, your facial expression, your voice, all contribute to how people perceive you. And if you feel self-conscious, or if you're pretending to be someone you're not, something will always give you away.

Between Jeremy Piven and Mister Rogers, who wins? Mister Rogers, of course!

At the end of his program, Mister Rogers would always say "You've made today a special day, just by being you. And I like you just the way you are." Style is about expressing yourself just the way you are, and helping you become who you want to be. But you must accept yourself, as you are, before you can become who you really want to be.

Related Reading:

Style and Beauty

Learned Ugliness (a.k.a. the Ugly Duckling Syndrome)

A Brief History of Lipstick

The Looks Book

Men's Style

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