Personal style – our visual shorthand

Fashion is not frivolous.

Rewind; clothes are not frivolous. Personal style is not frivolous. Clothes are required, particularly outdoors. Personal style exists. It exists in us all, whether or not we are conscious of it and whether or not we can articulate it. As we must clothe ourselves, so must we choose how to clothe ourselves. Our choices are based on our preferences and it is these preferences that comprise personal style.

Our preferences reveal so much about us, much more than our vulnerable bodies do. Our lifestyle, music tastes, personal interests, social circle, career choice, confidence levels, aspirations and politics can all potentially be deduced by what we wear and how we wear our clothes. And we’re comfortable this way. Our personal style announces us, protects us or camouflages us, speaking volumes and succinctly. Stripped of our personal style, we lose our visual shorthand.

Late last year I had a hospital procedure where I had to turn up wearing no makeup and no jewellery. I don’t wear a lot of makeup but going without any at all is a rare thing for me. Couple this with the removal of jewellery I wear EVERY day and I felt stripped bare.

When I found myself in a room of 20 or so others, all in our white ‘tie up the back’ hospital gowns I felt completely obscured and vulnerable. Without speaking, I was unable to make any impact in that room. But I sensed that speaking to anyone would have been unwelcome. So I sat there in a group of people wearing uniforms not of their choosing and whose usual shields were absent.

As I looked around the room it was impossible to tell who the power-brokers were, who the strugglers were, who was in touch with the contemporary world and who hibernates at home. And I knew that they could tell nothing about me, not whether I was married and not whether they could connect with me on any level.

This week I underwent a similar experience, except that we were all women this time, sitting there in our fluffy white robes. We were allowed makeup and limited jewellery so I could tell a little more about about my fellow robe wearers and the atmosphere in the room was more collegial.

I noticed one woman was tattooed and I thought back to last year’s hospital situation – a tattoo would have given me a clue to a person’s style, revealing something significant about them as they sat completely stripped of their usual clothes, makeup and jewellery preferences. Or at least, the tattoo would have revealed something about them as they were once. I wouldn’t have known whether the tattoo was still relevant today, whether they still loved it or whether they cringed as they glanced at it.

The joy of personal style is that it can be whatever we want it to be and can evolve as we evolve. We can tell a new story every day if we want to. What story are you telling?