How to Fake Style

I hate clothes shopping. I loved it as a teenager, when “shopping” was a grown-up version of “playing” and basically consisted of walking around the mall and trying on the occasional shirt at Maurice’s until I’d been there long enough to justify buying an Orange Julius. But now that “shopping” means actually buying clothes that are to carry me through life, 85% of the time I dread it. (The other 15% of the time I treat it as one might treat a professional development seminar: I know it’s good for me, and it might even be pleasant, but enjoying it seems a long shot.) I like to look good; I just don't like getting there.

On top of this, I really don’t have a good eye for style. I know what I like to wear, but when I look at people who, through their endless combining, repurposing, and reimagining, are able to create a house-sized wardrobe with a somewhat limited set of clothes, I’m in awe. I tend to think in terms of uniforms: Jeans + solid top + scarf = winter outfit! This is great in terms of simplicity; not so great in terms of consistently coming up with a good look.

Still--and believe me, I'd gone a good 30 years with hardly a comment on my wardrobe--coworkers began to comment on my style. At first I thought it was them simply being kind; then I thought it was because I started wearing more dresses, showing that I was putting more effort into how I dressed. Over time, though, I realized it was because I’d learned how to fake it. Part of this is simply learning what works on my frame. But part of it was developing certain tricks to create the appearance of having style while simultaneously having no clue. (I know there’s an argument for “the appearance of having style” being the same as actually having style, but over years of working in women’s magazines and living in one of the style capitals of the world I’ve seen so many people who really do have style that the difference is clear to me. I once worked with a fashion director who usually wore ripped T-shirts and jeans but styled them in such a way--little boots, little chains, possibly a necktie for no apparent reason other than homage to her own private goddess of Style--that she looked ineffably chic, utterly effortless, and always amazing. When I wear ripped T-shirts and jeans, I look like I’m regrouting my bathtub. Of course, she was French, so.)

With that, I present to you: How to fake style when you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t like shopping anyway. 

1) Wear dresses. Really and truly, this is the number-one thing I can tell any woman who wants to appear stylish but doesn’t have a good eye for style. It’s one piece, so you don’t have to think about how to match it with anything (black shoes or neutral shoes will work with pretty much everything, or at least they will if you dislike shopping more than you dislike not having nicely coordinated shoes, which is true of me). Basically, it dresses you for you. It’ll make you look pulled-together because even if it’s a casual dress, people still connect dresses with being “dressed up”--and I know some people will disagree with me on this, but it never hurts to be a little overdressed. (If you disagree with this, perhaps you are cooler than me. I want to be liked way too much to risk underplaying it.) If you’re not a fan of dresses, try the uniform principle of it: Try buying tops and bottoms that are designed to go together (the word pantsuit sounds dated, but the idea of it works), or, hell, ask for help. The idea is to not have to think about it.

2) Let someone else do the work. That is: Find a designer you like, or a store/boutique that has a higher than usual amount of “yes” clothes, and stick to them. A store’s buyer knows more about clothes than most of us (and certainly the same is true of designers), so they’re doing the heavy lifting of finding fabrics, cuts, and styles that fit the store’s aesthetic. Once you find that store, honestly, you don’t need to do much else shopping until you have a very specific need. I spent several years shopping nowhere but Huminska when I was trying to build up my work wardrobe--I already had enough jeans, tops, and sweaters to last me for a while, and I knew that while Huminska dresses were more expensive than what I’d normally spend, because it was “my” store I’d wear every piece to death (I'm a big believer in figuring cost per wear), and by going there regularly I also had chances to peruse the shop's sales rack. Also, if you hate shopping I’m guessing you also never sign up for a store’s mailing list, but when you find the right store you totally should.

3) Wear one bold accessory. I dress very simply--one piece of clothing if I can get away with it, no jewelry except for the pair of silver hoops I wear every day, unremarkable shoes, no mixing-and-matching. But I picked up a kelly green silk scarf a couple of years ago because I couldn’t stop touching it in the store (so smooth! so fine!), and started wearing that with my boring old jeans and long-sleeved tees, and all of a sudden my boss told me I had “panache,” and a woman on the street asked me where I got it, and a college friend asked me when I started being a “fashion plate,” and Mayor Bloomberg had a parade for me, and it was all because I was wearing a bright green silk scarf and absolutely nothing else had changed. 

I'm eschewing guideline #4 but rocking #1 and #3, and those are
my second of two pairs of burgundy Mary Janes. Shhhh!

4) Embrace color. I was one of those wear-black-whenever-I-can-get-away-with-it people for years. (I read as a kid that New Yorkers wore a lot of black, and that seemed terrifically glamorous, and then I read that River Phoenix always wore black because black allowed the "spirit within" to appear more radiant, and that sealed the deal. I loved that boy, to the point where my parents understood upon hearing of his death that they would be obliged to host a film fest/slumber party, and even though everyone fell asleep during The Mosquito Coast, it was a tribute, dammit. O River my River! You are still missed!) If I branched out, it was to gray, brown, and olive green--these suit me well (my name is Autumn, after all), but they’re also boring as hell when worn exclusively. After the style consultation/cocktail session with my friend Lisa Ferber (see #3 here), I realized that I really loved wearing color, and every dress I’ve bought since then is colorful. (Okay, fine, every dress I’ve bought since then is pink. PINK! Pink pink pink pink pink. And one green.) In any case, I’ve found that wearing color does indeed pick me up mentally, and others respond to it too--a coworker said that she always looked forward to seeing me because my colors brought her cheer.

5) When you find something you love, get two. If a top comes in 12 colors, get one in each color that you like and wear them all to death. If you like a pair of shoes after wearing them a couple of weeks, go back and buy them again. I know that styles change, and that even non-fashion-conscious eyes begin to adjust to certain looks. But if you despise shopping, chances are that the pleasure you’ll get from being able to replace your favorite pair of shoes from your own stock will outweigh whatever fashion points you might lose by wearing square-toed shoes two seasons after they’ve gone out, or whatever. You won’t even know they’ve gone out of season! Because you hate shopping, you have no idea what’s fashionable, right?! See how easy?