Are You A Style Icon?

It takes courage to be a style icon. Do you have it in you?

It seems like everyone wants to be an icon, but few actually reach this status. Yet there are ways we can be legendary. Forget being Madonna – we have so much power over our own material world, based on purchasing power, to attain almost anything we can think of with just a few moments’ search.

While designers are skillfully trained in the art of building a fantasy around their collections, not everyone will understand. In fact, most people tend to buy what they see others wearing, because they want to fit in or emulate someone they admire. A rare few are bold enough to actually strut in something more individual and self-expressive – and have that confidence to pull it off.  Here a style icon is born.

The actual process of putting an iconic outfit together and wearing it outside of your bedroom takes courage. There will always be some point in the day you hear something along the lines of, “How creative you are!” or “I could never pull something like that off!” Are these kudos for your bravery or a back handed compliment? Best to consider the source.

Sustainable stylist Bahar Shahpar gives us a little hint on how to deal with this.

“Learn the word ‘Bollocks!’ and practice saying it to yourself every time you hear the voice in your head limit you with some random story about what you should or can look like,” says Shahpar. “There are ways to finesse every sort of look on every sort of person – you certainly do need to learn those skills to make it work, but you’ll never even start that lesson if you stop yourself from even being open to the idea.”

Of course, if this commentary is coming from anyone within the fashion media, it would most definitely be suspect of someone suggesting that you’ve gone too far with your outfit, as some are occasionally accused of doing.

Posh steps out in a less-than-ordinary hat and catches hell.

“If Victoria Beckham quits fashion, she could be a limo driver,” pokes regarding a mildly theatrical hat Beckham wore out on the town one day. The fashion media is infamous for hurling insults at unknowing victims or anyone in society who has the guts to stand out in the crowd, even when they’re as highly polished as Posh.

Understandably, no one wants to be caught or accused of trying too hard with an outfit that was not meant to be a costume. What’s the fix to this? Either decide to go all out in a full-on costume or work to cultivate a look that is so individual that no critique is valid.

Pop icon Lady Gaga gone wild.

Pop icon Lady Gaga is a woman who fully intends to baffle, tease, and entangle viewers in her personal style. How’s that for social artillery? Her intention of putting on a full persona each morning generally goes along with the get-up, and it always comes off confidently. These are not looks to be tried by someone who prefers to be invisible in company of others, nor are they looks that we would suggest anyone try to copy.

Her outlandish costumes are as clever a disguise as they are entertaining; few would recognize her if she ran into Starbucks in jeans and a tee-shirt, and her hair and makeup undone. By wearing opposite disguises, she can separate her public and personal personae, all the while dodging or attracting the paparazzi when she so chooses.

Not everyone is ready to take on the effort or attention that a costume attracts. But most people do have an inner desire to express themselves and clothes can be an excellent medium. Style icon Lisa Mayock, one half of the genius behind Vena Cava, says she’s felt uncomfortable about expressing her personal style in public in the past.

Lisa Mayock of Vena Cava is no shrinking violet. She can put on a loud dress and still stay above the noise.

“I was totally that person growing up. I was always afraid to wear things that I loved, and I would buy or make things that I never had the balls to pull off,” says Mayock. “What I took a long time to realize is that it doesn’t matter if people hate your outfit. If it makes you happy, then it’s worth it.”

After starting her own line with partner Sophie Buhai, she certainly got over the fear.

“Being too serious about fashion really bogs it down in my opinion. They’re clothes, they’re meant to be fun! Levity is a really important quality in dressing,” says Mayock.

This isn’t exactly the sense of style one can easily give tips on or package and sell in a magazine. This is the stuff individuality is made of.

Vogue Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour

Our billion-dollar fashion industry is built on the concept that women need to be told what to wear because industry experts know best. What do fashion magazine editors know? Apparently, how to sell some really expensive clothes. If an item makes it into the pages of Vogue, it will sell out immediately. Meanwhile, make note that even though she’s pimping how to get the newest look to those who wish to remain en vogue, Anna Wintour has had the same iconic haircut for the past 20 years.

I asked Eviana Hartman, a former Vogue stylist, and now sustainable designer behind the line Bodkin, what her take is on buying beautiful things.

Eviana Hartman of Bodkin

“I really try not to accumulate too much stuff, for sustainability reasons and also because I am already overwhelmed by trying to get dressed. I worked in fashion magazines long enough to see so many bright, clever, beautiful, must-have wearable objects come in and out, racks and racks of it each day, to know better than to get attached to anything,” says Hartman. “I would look at Grace Coddington, who works with these things all day, and wears basic black turtlenecks and pants. I like a little more personal expression than that, but I’d rather spend substantial money on, say, furniture, or a vacation. I really only buy things if I know I’ll wear them a ton. And I’m more likely to go with what might be considered ‘overpriced’ for a subtle, amazing vintage military men’s mesh T-shirt in the perfect oversized fit (as I did yesterday) than, say, an it bag. I hate it bags!”

I’d wager the reason Hartman hates “it bags” so much is because of the tired marketing strategies behind selling them. These bags are meaningless even to the icons associated with them, and yet millions of women buy into the dream the bag has to offer.

Take for instance, the Birkin Bag.

Jane Birkin was photographed carrying a basket more often than carrying the “it bag” that was named after her.

The concept of “icon” gets thrown around a lot in fashion as something to aspire to. But icons aren’t made up of clothes or accessories that can be bought or sold. They’re made up of the lives lived by the individuals who end up being labeled “iconic.” In fashion, you see images of icons offered with tips on how to copy the look which seems impossibly contradictory. You can’t imitate an icon. They stand out in a crowd because of who they are, not because of what they’re wearing.

Hartman gives some insight into how it feels to recognize being different.

“I definitely feel different from the vast majority of people, maybe it’s alienation, and I guess I like to choose items or combinations of items that don’t look like things I’m accustomed to seeing,” she says. “But I’m quiet and don’t like being the subject of a lot of attention, so I do this in a subtle way, not a ‘look at me, I’m quirky’ way.”

We all have it in us to become true icons if we choose. Cultivating and experimenting with our individual spirits through personal style is always just waiting to be tapped. Do you have it in you?

Image:, Huffington Post, NY Magazine, les anti-modernes