Essays, Opinion

My Pursuit of a Style Icon

Whenever you tell people that you’re “into” fashion, they almost always ask who your style icon(s) is/are. This is a question that I struggle to answer even though it should be supremely straight-forward. Most women, whether they care about fashion or not, look up to at least one person in terms of style. Usually a celebrity, often from times gone by, as they serve us a basis for how to dress and are always looked up to. How close you follow their style is up to you. It’s important to take inspiration from someone but not to copy them fully. Don’t be a replica, more like a distant recreation. There is only one Audrey Hepburn remember, the world doesn’t need thousands of clones.

The usual icons

The usual icons

Everyone seems to have the same style icons; mainly because good style is universally recognisable. You can tell good taste from bad, class from crass. The same names are usually thrown around. The classics: the aforementioned Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy Onassis (or Jackie-O as some may know her), Jane Birkin, and Grace Kelly. (The last two have been immortalised through the Hermes bags named after them.) Or the modern-day women: Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, Lupita Nyong’o, and the Olsens – to name a few. Even if you know squat about these women (what they have done, why they are famous), you would most likely recognise them if you saw a photo. Images of them are iconic, their styles infamous and infinitely imitated.

So why with all these big names thrown around is it so difficult for me to choose a style icon of my own? Style icons to me are similar to role models – a concept I don’t quite understand. A role model, in its archetypal meaning, is someone you use as an example, to emulate and be like. I don’t like that idea. There isn’t anybody who I look at and think “I want to be you”.  Idolising someone that much, putting them up on a pedestal so to speak, is bizarre. I recently got asked at a job interview who my role models were and struggled immensely to think of a name. The same goes for my style icons. There isn’t one person who I look at and think, “I want your wardrobe, I want to wear every outfit you wear”, because let’s face it, even the best of us get it wrong sometimes.

Instead of picking one person to emulate or copy, I enjoy saving images and trying to pull a little bit of everything and make it my own. I have a wonderful folder on my iPhone called “Looks to try/buy” with images in it ranging from Lady Gaga to Brigitte Bardot to random-girl-off-instagram and everything in between. I have fashion editorials, ad campaigns and look-book shots saved. And movie stills – lots of movie stills. They probably make up the bulk of the folder actually as I find characters from films often a hundred times more inspiring than the star’s real style quite frankly. (I honestly recommend that everyone makes a folder like this, it makes things so much easier for reference purposes.)

Examples of some images in my folder. The first is a photo taken of an editorial in British Vogue hence the bad quality.

Examples of some images in my folder.
The first is a photo taken of an editorial in British Vogue hence the bad quality where the page is curved.

Flicking through my folder, there are a few people who pop-up often. So perhaps, if we have to be pedantic about things and name some names, these women would be my icons? They are pretty varied however which I’d say is a pretty true reflection of my own personal style. I have an aesthetic that I cannot quite afford – ha ha ha – so the images I save, for a lot of the time, are aspirational. They are how I would dress if I were rich and living on the Upper East Side. Or how I would dress if I were a whole lot cooler. Or if high glamour was still the norm. You get the picture, how I really dress is a sad state of affairs compared to how I want it to be – maybe it will improve with age?

Speaking of age, the age range of the women in the images are diverse; the age of the actual photos even more so. Perhaps I need to move on and delete the photos from about 50 years ago and bring myself more up-to-date? Or does that say something about the style? Timeless possibly? A woman who features frequently in my folder is Marilyn Monroe. Now before you start thinking about the notorious white halter-neck dress, stop yourself. She had so many better costumes than that. The costuming in “Something’s Got to Give” is simply divine and serves as continual inspiration to me; similarly with those found in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Niagara”. But full credit to the costume designers in those cases and not Marilyn herself. However, her off-duty style was just as good, if not better. She wasn’t always super sexy you know. I will include some images for reference but I think I may do a separate post altogether.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

Besides Marilyn there are other women too. To name some: Sky Ferreira, Lana Del Rey, Debbie Harry, Winona Ryder circa 1990s, Leighton Meester (as Blair Waldorf) and Dita Von Teese (whose commitment to her look is extremely admirable). As you can see they are quite an eclectic bunch. I mean, sure, Debbie Harry & Sky Ferreira are sort of similar but that’s because Sky likely takes inspiration from Debbie. Apart from that, they are pretty different. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) is always well polished and put-together and generally, quite formal in her outfit choices – something which I wish to be (more dressy and wear more skirts). At the start of her career Lana Del Rey was very much Old Hollywood glamour, which I adored, but is becoming increasingly casual: I still like the looks nonetheless.  And finally, Winona Ryder in the 90s is the ultimate goal in life. I mean she did get Johnny Depp, doesn’t that say enough?

So yes, whilst I can’t name one specific style icon right off the bat, I feel that I can do better than that. I have a whole catalogue of images to reference and to stimulate me visually. As the people are so different and there is such a medley of styles in there, I will never be bored or become boring. And even better, I will never become predictable. Even if I don’t own what they own, or dress exactly like they do, I am taking heed. I’m paying attention to what I’m being presented and trying to translate it into something that I can wear without looking like I’m at a costume party. So to hell with it,  forget what you have been told. You don’t need a single style icon – have a whole bunch!


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