In which we discuss fit, proportion and what a good tailor can and can't do for you. (Fair warning: You have a big reading list to get to.)
Publish date:
October 5, 2012
clothes, mummies, signature style

I've been getting all up on you guys over the past 2 weeks to really, really think about what your signature style is. (Or what you aspire to it being!) I urged you to come up with a clever, descriptive phrase to describe your style. I cajoled you to use an actual thesaurus. I needled you to make inspiration collages. Find photos. Ask your friends.

I ran down your fave xoJaner's personal styles. I pontificated on my own newfound signature style, which I dubbed “Genteel Bizarro.“ (Also see: a total weirdo, just quite ladylike!) I don't exactly know quite what it means, either, OK?! Does that make you feel better?

It was all an exercise meant to stretch your mind and get you thinking about fashion and style as it relates to your own personal story. To examine how you can achieve whatever you want with it. To learn that fashion isn’t strictly the domain of magazine editors and style bloggers. That fashion appreciation is meant to be free, inclusive, entertaining and fun.

Mummy Style.

But then I read all your fun, fascinating descriptions of how you’d describe your current/desired looks, and I had a total realization: You can actually have more than one signature style -- and it's entirely possible that I’ve changed my mind about what my particular signature style even is!

And maybe now I don’t think that a signature style is even really about the particular look you rock as much as it is about how you rock it. So thanks for confusing the holy hell out of me. (But I guess that’s what I get for being such a know-it-all.) I've suddenly realized that I am figuring it out right alongside you, and that we are on this journey together.

I also realized that this “Find and Cultivate Your Signature Style” series could fill 100 swimming pools, so in the interest of space, I have linked to tons of reference books and further online reading throughout this post, so you can investigate more or less of what interests you in particular. There is more helpful information out there than I could cram into 1,000 posts. So I’ve ferreted out as much of it that is relevant to my points and sprinkled it throughout.

The first order of business in achieving your own "signature style" goal is deceptively simple: Wear what suits you. Most importantly, wear what fits you properly. This is far easier said than done, however. It takes time, dedication and legwork to determine what exactly it is that suits you, but it’s so, so worth it. (You didn't think this was going to be a cake walk, did you? It's a class! With a teacher and homework and everything!)

Think about what you are wearing when you feel your best. I always snap a quick photo of outfits that I get compliments on for future reference, because I have the short-term memory of a tree squirrel. (I was dropped on my head as a child -- true story.)

What do you personally consider your best feature? What do you think flatters your shape? If you're totally unsure as to what suits you, you could always head to a mall near you and step into this strange contraption called Me-Ality that claims to use 196 small antennas to record 200,000 points of body reference that it then uses to give you your exact measurements, along with a handy printable list of where to shop and what to buy. Beam me up, Scotty!

The "Me-Ality" measuring portal, at a mall near you.

It’s really easy to talk yourself into buying something that doesn’t fit properly just because it’s cute or happens to be on sale. It happens to me all the time. I have just recently FINALLY stopped buying clothes that were way too small for me. I figured it out by re-educating myself on where garments are actually supposed to hit you, where seams are supposed to lie, and how clothes are meant to hang on the body. It’s a constant process, but so worth it when you finally have a closet full of clothes that actually suit/fit you!

My very favorite authority on fit and body types are the original “What Not to Wear” babes, England’s Trinny Woodhall and Susannah Constantine.

Left: Susannah. Right: Trinny.

Their “Body Shape Bible” is a classic that I refer to regularly when I’m stumped as to what may work for a particular body type. It is sadly out of print, but luckily the bloody Daily Mail loves Trinny and Susannah to death and has excerpted the important info from the book in multiple places on their site. So read it, for free!

"The Body Shape Bible," used from $2.00 on

All of their books are really worth a read - -I worked with them on a pilot they shot here in the U.S. years ago, and I’ve never laughed or learned as much in such a short time. They are the real deal.

This is also a great, simple overview from ShopSmartMag.Org on what to look for and avoid while you are out shopping. It helpfully points out exactly where seams are supposed to lay and hit your body in a proper fit.

It really pays to take special note of proportions in your ensembles. Proportion and balance is the difference between a successful outfit and a so-so one. A good trick is to lay everything out on the bed and check out the proportions. This way you can juggle and re-arrange pieces until you like the look.

Minneapolis blogger Sally Mc Graw of has a TON of great posts on proportion in clothing. Her photos illustrate her points beautifully, and her style is totally accessible. She explains it far better than I ever could. She is really worth checking out.

The default answer when anyone brings up a fit issue is, “Just have it tailored!” This is both helpful advice and hopelessly vague. Knowing when tailoring can help a garment and when it’s hopeless is a handy skill.

Tailoring is a wonderful thing. A good tailor is better than a winning lottery ticket -- they have the power to change lives. But as my favorite makeup artist James always say to me, "It's a brush, not a wand." There are some things even the greatest tailor can't resurrect.

If a garment is too small, look inside all the seams to see how much extra fabric there is that can be let out. Hems, sleeve lengths, slimming of excess fabric at side seams, and a nip in at the waist are all easy fixes worth pursuing.

Shoulders, armholes, sequins and embroidery are time and money suckers to have altered. I avoid them unless it’s a crazy special occasion garment that I know I can't find elsewhere.

"101 Things I Learned in Fashion School" is a fun, easy read that doubles as a primer on garment construction. A working knowledge of construction enables you to easily see what can and cannot be saved via an alteration. (It's no secret that I am almost entirely self-taught as a costume designer due to reading and simple research -- if I can learn it, so can you!)

"101 Things I Learned in Fashion School," $10.20.

And now for the bad news -- or good, if you've managed to read this far but aren't exactly a fan of mine. I am officially back from hiatus and on a show full time. That means that I am working 12 hours a day minimum on set. So my writing has and will continue to slow down somewhat. I'll be around, just not as much. Don't worry -- I'll let you know when it airs so we can watch and laugh at my work together. It's literally my favorite activity!

But do stay tuned, because our next signature style lesson will answer the question that haunts every woman who has ever set foot in a dressing room alone: "Hmmmm.....should I really buy this?!"

(Sometimes I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison)