Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Brigitte Bardot, Joan Crawford and that mom at school pick up that always looks cute all have a common bond: a signature style. Through their fashion choices, their personalities loom like a halo over their heads. However, many women don’t necessarily have a “signature look.” In fact, the very notion of trends is terrifying.
If you have lived for years mystified by what happens on runways, red carpets and hyped paparazzi shots in gossip magazines, call upon your dormant SAT studying skills and study fashion divas of the 20th century. Your study materials are:
Go to Barnes & Noble and purchase Fashion Icons: Fashion Trends Throughout the Century, Star Style, The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse, and start thumbing through. Eccentric? Yes, but absolutely scintillating. Learn about silhouettes. Discover accessories. Investigate muses like Marchesa Casati, the dynamic Diana Ross, the chic socialite Babe Paley, the ’60s siren Edie Sedgwick, the boho babe Talitha Getty and the art deco diva Nancy Cunard.
These histrionic women dissed convention and used fashion to express themselves. Such bravado is evident in their outré fashion choices: gowns as daywear, turbans, shoulder sweeping earrings, extreme eye makeup, stacked-to-the-elbows bangle bracelets and cloaks fashioned of peacock feathers.
Don’t feel pressured to swap your skinny jeans for an electric blue jumpsuit. Just get inspired. Then, take it down a notch to reality.
TV shows and movies in a fashion moment
In your free time, let your fingers do the walking right over to Netflix. “Fashion moment” TV shows and films are a great way to research style and learn about silhouettes.
Once the kids are asleep, rent Mad Men, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Women, Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Catherine Deneuve in Belle Du Jour, Mia Farrow in Great Gatsby, Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Joan Collins in Dynasty.
Read more: Mad Men fashion must-haves >>
French and fab
For more accessible style, head to Paris. Do a Google search of some of the Franco-fab muses for inspiration: Jane Birkin, Clemence Poesy, Carla Bruni, Lou Doillon, Marion Cotillard, Audrey Tatou, Vanessa Paradis, Ines de la Fressange and, of course, Coco Chanel.
Then, think about a look that jives with your personality. Lady Who Lunches? Haute Hippie? Groovy Gal Uptown? Power Mama? Start playing with looks.
Be the girl with the Bakelite cuff bracelets and fabulous YSL scarves adorning every outfit. Wear Grandma’s lurex sweater sets to go to the supermarket. Channel Annie Hall with a crisp white button down under a plaid vest. Wear lingerie peeping out of your blazer just because. Your signature style awaits!
Watch: Retro style tips
Project Runway‘s Michael Costello breaks down what makes up retro style.