Why I would rather be stylish than fashionable

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The fashion industry is a massive, multi-gazillion-dollar a year machine which relies on our desire to constantly reinvent ourselves as a means of generating its money.

We’re all guilty of this. I am sure you can relate when I say that at least once every two months I get a pressing urge to do something drastic with my hair – most recently, an attempt to dye it a flaming red, but which ended up with me having hair which is still brown but sort of reddish if you squint at it in the sunlight (thanks for nothing L’Oreal). Also, every couple of weeks, I get this desire, like an itch in the back of my head, to hit the shops and just buy things. I usually don’t have anything in mind – I just want to scour the racks and trade my money for items of clothing which, if I’m lucky, I’ll wear once.

Now, since I swapped salary for student-life, I have had to make some major budget cuts in order to, you know, be able to afford groceries and rent and the occasional -cough- pint of Guinness. I am in Dublin, after all. One way I’ve managed to do this is by cutting out my shopping habit. Yes. Completely (almost). I know. Blasphemy, right?

But I’ll explain my reasoning. First of all, when you are not earning a salary, you find it easier to give up a shopping habits because you’ve simply no money to shop with. Sure, there’s my credit card, but I’m quite adamant that I will not get into debt until I absolutely must. I don’t care how gorgeous the new Fendi handbag is – it is not worth getting into debt over.

Secondly: I am currently preparing for another Big Move. Which means that in a couple of weeks, all my worldly possessions, already massively reduced in quantity since my last Big Move, will be packed in as few boxes as possible and sent off to London. Therefore, in the next week or two, I’m going to have to sort through everything I have. It’s funny how much stuff a person accumulates in a year. I’m going to have to minimize minimize minimize. A lot of the clothes I bought when I first moved here and went a little shop-happy are going to go to charity. Truth is – most of the clothes I wear over and over are clothes I’ve had for a while, and were almost always the result of a planned-out shopping trip.

Which brings me to my main point: the difference between style and fashion.

Despite the opening line of this article, I like fashion. I do. I think dressing oneself, if done properly, is a work of art. We are like canvases, and we put ourselves out there, on public exhibition. We may as well be creative with the way we look. The fashion industry gives us all the paintbrushes and palettes to do that with.

Style, however, is what the artist (you, sweetie, darling!) does with those tools.

Look at it this way: A crappy artist can buy all the supplies in the world and still be crappy and have a studio filled with crap. A good artist only really needs the basics, but has the ability to mix and match these very basics to create extraordinary things.

A fashionista is a slave to trends. Their look changes with every season and they sometimes wear questionable outfits just for the sake of being ‘with it’ (or whatever the kids are saying these days, darling).

A stylista has a strong sense of self and their look changes a lot less frequently, although they never look quite the same on any two occasions. Stylistas know that sometimes, a slick of red lipstick is a lot more effective than a red suede jacket with a weird cowboy fringe. And a lot more attractive.

Rather than spending a little fortune with every passing trend, we should try and learn two things: firstly, what looks good on us. Some of us can wear lycra leggings; some of us can’t. Some of us look good in bright orange; some of us don’t. There is no shame at all in not being able to wear everything. You’re not a mannequin or a clothes hanger – no, you are a person with a whole lot going on behind the facade you display to the world.

Secondly, we should try and learn what we respond to. I personally cannot fathom why anybody would ever willingly wear lime-green jeans, but you might absolutely adore them and, at the risk of sounding corny, that’s one of the many things which make us stand out as individuals.

Personally, I respond to classic cuts of clothing in dark, solid colours with statement accessories. That’s my thing. And, sure enough, all the clothes I have chosen to keep match those criteria. In contrast, the flowery layered cardigan I bought on a whim last spring because it was ‘in fashion’, has been boxed and is on its way to Oxfam.

There is no doubt that we are changing constantly. Our day-to-day experiences are constantly chipping away at us, moulding us, cementing our opinions or changing them. However, despite our changeability, we are not all cut out of the same cloth.

For example, ten years ago, you could describe my style quite accurately as “alternative homeless chic”. I wore lots of band t-shirts, ripped denim, mismatched socks, severely worn-in cardigans or flannel shirts… you get the idea. While I am lot more put together now, I still like stripey socks; I still wear lots of black; I still wear tons of massive rings on my fingers and jeans, though not ripped, are a staple in my wardrobe. I’ve evolved, to be sure, as we all do.

It is important, if you are the sort of person who likes your wardrobe to be a reflection of your personality, to ensure that the clothes you buy are not dictated by trends but by your own personal style. And if the shops don’t sell the clothes that you long to wear? Make them! Learn to sew and make your own unique wardrobe, or buy cheap basic pieces (black t-shirts, white camisoles, plain grey cardis) from the shops and go wild customizing them.

My resolution for the second half of 2012 is to stop buying so much stuff and focus instead on buying things I am going to use over and over again. Who is with me?

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