Monday, 8 April 2013

So... I attended a style lecture

Last week my employer organized a lecture for us at the office - a local style consultant gave us two hours' worth of style advice. According to the lecture invitation, the consultant was going to talk about the meaning of dressing well, about body types, the latest trends and etiquette rules. I was, of course, fascinated. It's always interesting to hear other people discuss style matters, and even more so, when that person is someone who helps people get dressed for a living. It's a tough job. People are relying on you to give them the right type of advice. In a way, you become responsible for a lot of people's ability to give a good first impression. Make a mistake, and your client might become a target of ridicule. It's a big deal, to make someone look good.

I am not a huge fan of catch-all rules when it comes to style - that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. I don't always believe in dressing according to one's body type either. I personally feel that it's more important to love what you wear. But when it comes to people who just don't really get excited about fashion, or people who have trouble seeing what fits them, I think it's really cool that there are people out there who can help. It turns out that there are a lot of women like that in our office: women who don't quite know what suits them, women who don't have the time to think about style. I wouldn't have thought that, actually. The women in our office dress mostly conservatively, but they wear colors and prints, and they don't wear boring, standard uniforms. They all have style.

The lecture started well enough. First the consultant talked about the importance of finding beauty in whatever body type one might have, she talked about how important it was to feel comfortable in what we wear. That was cool and important. She discussed the issues of balancing out one's body, and your usual "find the colours that suit you"s. Still good. But then she ventured into the typical descriptions of apples, pears and Y-shapes, and she told the women what to wear and what not to wear given one's body type. That would have been fine, but as a former clothing-industry professional and somewhat of a style connoisseur myself, I began to notice that I didn't really agree with her about the stuff she was talking about. She told pear-shaped women to wear tight-fitting skirts that flare out at the knee. She told the women that their legs would look shorter in wide-legged and boot-cut trousers. She told big-busted women that they'd look great in fitted blouses teamed with a knitted vest. She told small-chested women to never, ever wear revealing necklines. So fine, I didn't think she was exactly giving her audience the right type of information to work with. That's one thing, and maybe in part it's a matter of opinion. I just happen to think that it looks nice when women with small chests wear their blouses buttoned only half way up. And I don't like knitted vests on anyone, really. What upset me was that the more she talked, the more I noticed the women in the audience glancing over at each other, taking quick looks at what they were wearing at that moment. The way the lady spoke, she was mostly pointing out the mistakes that everyone might have been making. I wanted to jump out of my seat and tell the women that our style consultant wasn't exactly right about a lot of this stuff, that it's a common rule of thumb that boot cut trousers suit everyone, but of course I couldn't. She was the professional giving the lecture, not me. But I strongly got the impression that not only were her style rules out of place, she was also taking advantage of her audience's vulnerabilities.

That became evident when she began to discuss this season's trends. It turned out that she owned a clothing store in a nearby town, and that she wanted to tell her audience what great trends she had stocked up in her own store. What she considered trendy was romantic lace pieces, feminine peasant skirts, 1980s neon colors and zebra prints. I don't know what had happened to the 1960s mod-styles, to the structured minimalism, to the iridescent fabrics, the Asia-inspired pieces, or stripes and neo-grunge of S/S2013 - all this stuff that the fashion magazines are now pushing. It was obvious that the trends that she had chosen to portray were the trends that she had picked out for her store. She went on to say that she gave individual style consultations at her store for a hundred euros.

Okay, so the lecture was a huge disappointment. I could have lived with that. I could have gone home, told Chris what nonsense the consultant was spewing, maybe written a few lines about my dissatisfaction on Facebook (all of which I did). I could have concluded the whole ordeal by saying "fine, my own taste in style and fashion is a huge part of why I'm upset". Style consultants aren't necessarily for those who have a strong desire to play around with clothes in the first place. They are, perhaps, more for those who are a little clueless or just not all that interested. I could have even lived with the fact that the advice she was giving wasn't, in my opinion, correct - the consultant is entitled to her own opinion, just like I am. I could have done all this. But instead, I am still pissed off. Really, really pissed off. Here's why:

I went back to work the next day. The women in the break room were talking about how they had gone home after the lecture to only see that they had "wrong" clothes in their wardrobes. Almost all of them had measured themselves to find out which body type they were. Even with the measurements, some of them weren't sure, and they were visibly confused. They were all talking about what parts of their bodies they needed to hide. Some of them said that they needed to buy new wardrobes entirely. Overnight, the women at our office had gone from having perfectly fine style to suffering from total style-related chaos. They had gone from being able to get dressed in the morning to feeling like they needed to pay 100 euros for a personal consultation. One woman in her early 50s was almost distraught. I had seen her at the office before, wearing cute stripy tops teamed with casual black trousers, playful and practical clothes, looking confident, looking perfectly fine. She had realized, after the lecture, that she was top-heavy, and what was she going to do now, because she liked to wear her pink horizontal stripes but the lady had told her not to. I sat down with her and tried to tell her that the most important thing, regardless of what the consultant had said, was that she liked the clothes that she wore. It was a tough sell. A professional consultant's opinion was obviously weightier than mine. 

I guess what I'm trying to say with this post is that personal style is a fragile thing. It is linked to our sense of self, to our self-worth. The ones who make a living from it should be very, very careful. They can make or break a woman.


maria said...

AAAARrGGHHhhh! Sun niin ois pitäny sanoa jotain... Ei ehkä raivota (mikä toki ois sekin ollu oikeutettua...), vaan jotenkin kysymällä saada se kiinni epäammattimaisuudestaan. Surullista että tollasta tapahtuu edelleen. Yritä siellä töissä puhuu niiden naisten kanssa, tietääkö ne sun taustasta? Enempi sulla on osaamista noissa asioissa. Sun pitäs perustaa joku sivuduuni aiheesta!! Mä oon henkilökohtasesti todella järkyttyny..

Milla said...

Ihan samaa mielta tyylikkaan siskon kanssa! Nyt vaan akkia otat ainakin muutamat sun tyokavareista (ainakin sen ahdistuneen olosen leidin) kahvitauolla juttusille ja kerrot toiset totuudet. Just toi on se juttu "muodissa"/ tyyliasioissa mika aiheittaa ihmisille pahaa oloa ilon sijaan. Super ahdistavaa.

Hippocampe said...

The Stylist says all shapes are beautiful. Then, she will teach you how to balance your proportions so you come closer to the ideal proportions of beauty. Wait a minute : if my body is beautiful, why should I learn tricks to make it look different ?

The Stylist also makes the assumption that women dress to show their bodies off. Do they ? I don't know, some people are more status-conscious than body-conscious, I mean, it's alright to show your body off but that's one angle and it should be discussed beforehand as a point of view, not taken for granted.

jo said...

Sad to hear what a negative effect that had on your colleagues. It pisses me off actually, that the "professional" wanted to make some money by making the women feel like their current clothing wasn't good enough and then advertising her shop as having the latest trends :/

Good thing they have you in the office though! Make you can give them some correct info. Seriously, bootlegs? They're so flattering on many people!

The Waves said...

Sisko ja Milla: niinpä! Kyllä noi naiset töissä tietää nyt mun taustasta, kun tänään vähän kahvitunnilla tsemppasin porukkaa ja kerroin niille vähän omia mielipiteitäni luennosta. En tiedä, kuinka paljon siitä meni perille, ehkä jotain ainakin. Kauheeta, miten pienestä voi voimakkaiden naisten itsetunto murentua.

Hippocampe: Styling other people is difficult, and I agree that there is a pretty severe contradiction in this particular style consultant's message: saying that all shapes are beautiful and then telling the same women to balance their proportions. At least she should have been more subtle about it! However, I do feel like there is a place for personal style advisers. Some women just don't care about clothes and fashion, and it's really important that there's help available for them. Too bad that some of that help is basically useless, or damaging.

jo: Yup, I felt really cheated when it turned out that she was there to advertise her own store. Just not cool. Not cool!

Jess said...

Oh god, how depressing and frustrating. I take every opportunity to disabuse people of these kinds of style rules (e.g. the number of times I've seen people post on forums asking questions like "Am I allowed to wear brown with black?" like it might be some sort of crime) but the media have really battered it into people's heads that there are precise rules that you must stick to, otherwise you'll be offending people with how gross and disproportionate and clueless you look.

I'm sure the stylist genuinely thinks she is helping people (and probably has enough rationalising mechanisms in place to deal with the cognitive dissonance of the fact that she's just indirectly trying to sell her stock to people, so she probably doesn't think there's anything biased about her behaviour) but could you maybe send an email around the office just to put your ideas and opinions forward, as an alternative view? I think so many people really do need to be told that these rules do more harm than good, and no one who is trying to help you should tell you things that leave you feeling bad or inadequate or ignorant. That's never a good learning experience.

Shey said...

Wow! I can totally understand, that's why I hardly read fashion magazines now days, I usually find my inspiration from other bloggers who have their own style. Till this day I have not been able to figure out my body shape, I never look like the girls in the magazines with well-defined shapes. It's so confusing and frustrating. I agree that in the end the important thing is to wear what makes you comfortable and happy, it's what makes you, you. I hope that lady in her 50's ignores the tips provided by the consultant. And that's why I never understand why some fashion bloggers feel like they can be stylists and charge people to give them advice.

Carolyn said...

Oh, that is a terrible outcome, to what should have been a fun and informative session for all the women there! I thought when I first started reading that the consultant was lecturing to an expert already in you! I agree that style consultants are terrific for those feeling lost and in need of a little guidance, but not to the extent that they end up feeling crap about clothes they previously felt happy and comfortable with. The way we dress is often tied up with our personality as well as our body type, and also our confidence and self-esteem and that is a fine line to deal with, and sounds like she tactlessly overstepped it some.
And sometimes our clothes are sentimentally important to us, and we love them for reasons that have nothing to do with trends.
Maybe your employer could have got you to speak to everyone, rather than someone with a hidden agenda.

jo said...

Hippocampe, interesting point there.
"The Stylist also makes the assumption that women dress to show their bodies off." In the make-overs I've seen on Tv and in magazines, the stylist almost always choose an outfit that is very tight, or short, and with high heels. Often with a tight belt to show off the waist. And they go on about how the woman is more beautiful than she thinks and that she needs to show off her figure, and how thight clothes will make her look less fat. It's generally just to show off a difference, not to give the woman advice on everyday dressing on those shows/articles though. However, why is showing off the body the priority number 1? It shouldn't be for office workers for example, should it? Here it might be more needed to focus on looking professional and serious. I doubt male workers would get this type of advice. I never see any makeovers with men in the media either where they learn to flatter and flaunt their bodies. Although it might be a little needed for some ;)

Anonymous said...

VMJ! Järkytyin!
Missä kaikki puhe pinttyneestä rasvankärystä takissa, karitsan paahtopaistisiivuista hampaissa ja lisärei'itetystä vyöstä.
Entisenä konsulttina(lähes tyylisellaisena) olen pöyristyt myös seuraavistakin asioista.. Voiko joku todella tehdä työkseen jotain, josta hakee itselleen taloudellista etua ja että onko blogin kommentoiminen todellakin välttämätön sukuvelvollisuus.

-Sisariensa veli

Eline said...

Just have to comment and say what a perfect post this is! So well-balanced, well-written and with a beautiful conclusion! I've felt really averse and actually MAD for a long time about these rules because they had the same effect on me as on your colleagues. I love how you mention a stylist can be a good thing for certain women because I always overlook that fact.

Also, can I say this reeks of pure capitalism? Making women feel bad so they can buy buy buy... and they'll never be happy with any purchase because what kind of clothing fits all of those rules at the same time?

Franca said...

That's really sad! I do agree with you that style rules and style advisers can be helpful for people who have no interest in clothes, but it's a shame this person's rules seem to be so determined by her business! I do hope your colleagues regain their confidence