Top 5 Style Setters

Recently my favorite fashion YouTuber (Justine Leconte) in her biweekly post answered the most popular questions she gets asked this season. One of them was something along the lines of what are the top five pieces of clothing/apparel that define one’s style (ie: take your look “from decent to noticeably on point”). You can watch her YouTube video to find out hers, but it got me thinking about mine, as I found myself strongly disagreeing with her on about half of them! Unlike her, I grew up with a very personal sense of style from very early on, partly due to the fact that I had only one working parent, living in a fairly expensive part of the world, and had two other siblings. We often had clothes handed down to us, we occasionally made our own clothes, and only sometimes purchased new clothes. Being the middle child, I always felt the need to be louder than my matronly sister and my baby brother, out of fear of disappearing in the middle. My fashion sense followed pretty much the same idea.

I already knew from an early age that I was different from other kids, because of my parents’ provenance, and the language we spoke at home, but fortunately I also believed that this difference was a good one, and one I should proudly display. In other words, my lived experience, my situation outside of myself, and the way I internalized it, needed to be reflected confidently in my personal outer appearance. For example, I favored moccasins and fringed shirts, braids over pony tails, and headbands that ran across my forehead to declare my North American Native heritage, but I also loved skirts and suspenders, and peasant blouses with little flower embroidery and knitted white socks to reflect my Swiss affiliation. I eventually grew out of both, and when I started earning my own income, began buying pretty much anything of quality that would take my personal statements to the next level.

Back in those days Color Me Beautiful was all the rage among mommies, so I was very well aware of which colors suited me, and which I should avoid. I spent an awful lot of time outdoors with my friends, so practicality and comfort were a major component of my wardrobe configuration. As a hijab-observing Muslim I also have further considerations to uphold, which do not conflict with any of my most ardent fashion staples. Now that I am more mature, have four active boys to clothe, a stylish yet classy husband, and as I become more cognizant of the practices of fashion houses, I tend to be a lot more choosy about my clothes, not only because I don’t have the time or the desire to spend hours shopping around for clothes, but also because I hate clutter, and want to make the simplest choices (such as what I’m going to wear on any given day) easy, and quickly resolved. I also don’t want to waste money on items that will ruin the first time I wash them, I don’t want clothes that I need to iron every time I wear or wash them, and I don’t want to fuss with comfort or versatility, so everything must fit with at least 3 or 4 other existing pieces. Having grown up with hand-me-downs, shopping at thrift stores has never been an issue for me, in fact I consider it an honorable expenditure of money, especially when I shop at charitable stores, where I will donate items we no longer fit or use.

In other words my style has always attempted to reflect not only my history, but my present situation, my immediate needs, and my wish to project my internally perceived identity outwards. Nevertheless, I am conscious of how distracting multiple statements can be, and thus try to keep my loudest ones small, and do my best to unify larger pieces into one harmonious ensemble. The main things I look for are 1) a scarf of good quality, solid or repeated pattern with one color and 2-3 neutrals maximum; 2) a good quality handbag that holds everything I need, depending on the occasion; 3) either a chunky piece or two of jewelry in turquoise, or a delicate one in pearls, depending on the occasion; 4) a comfortable, well-cut, well stitched, hijab-fitting top (blouse, knit, shirt, and/or cardigan); 5) a solid, comfortable pair of bottoms, be it harem, wide-leg, or boot-leg pants, or a floor-length A-line skirt (flattering on any body type).

You’ll notice I left out shoes, that’s not because I think they’re not important, but because I think this is an item that transcends all fashion considerations as far as I’m concerned: in this department I go for classic comfort, all the time. My shoes need to be comfortable first and foremost, they need to be well made, clean, in good shape, and they have to be in one of my basic colors: black, dark or medium brown, beige or grey. My shoes are always loafers or pumps, with a minute heal, unless it’s a special occasion and I’m not expected to walk for more than a couple hundred meters, or stand for more than a few minutes. My half dozen shoes tend to go with everything I own, so I don’t have to fuss. I choose well made, comfortable, practical, easy to care for, versatile shoes that I could dance or run in if I wanted to, a style that I’ve practiced and loved wearing since my teenage years walking back and forth under the portici with my friends. One thing that shoes can do, that other pieces of clothing under hijab rule don’t, is make you look uncomfortable. If you struggle to walk, or your shoes grab your eye or resonate in your ear each time you take a step, they distract you from being fully present, in whatever you’re doing. Hijab, or modest clothing prevents this, but shoes can become a distracting nuisance even when everything else works seamlessly. So I try to keep them simple and to the point of getting me effortlessly from point A to point B.

Although I enjoy adding a pop of color to my scarves and handbags, I rarely wear color on my staples, and combine them as I please throughout the seasons, often layering. I am at an age where I don’t wish to make fashion forward statements, I’m not interested in trend-setting (not that I ever had an interest) but I have always cherished my ability to look uniquely me, and choose classic designs with a bit of a twist (a high collared white blouse, an asymmetrical knit, a ribboned skirt, a collarless 3/4 length linen jacket). For jewelry I for years chose delicate 18-24K gold pieces with precious stones, but have since opted for stronger silver pieces with turquoise, leaving the delicate pieces for my pearls, I find this allows me to make my statements clearly without screaming.

So here you have it, my rundown of style essentials. Which ones are yours? What do you think of statement shoes? Let me know in the comments below!

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