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.