Friday, April 10, 2009

Signature (n.) A distinctive characteristic that identifies a person.
Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition. ©HarperCollins Publishers

The fedora. The leather jacket. The whip (ooh!). Even if you hadn’t read the title of this article, I bet you would have easily figured out who I was talking about.

If you think back through all the movies you’ve seen over your lifetime, I bet you will notice that the great characters stand out in our minds for many reasons – witty dialogue or a great actor playing them, for example – but they may also leave an indelible mark on us because of something that stands apart in the way a character looks. It could be as unique as Princess Leia’s hair in Star Wars, or an accessory that is consistently worn and becomes synonymous with the character, such as Harry Potter’s glasses.

When I was first finding my way around the local style scene, I kept being asked if I knew a certain image consultant - “a striking woman with silver hair and unique glasses”, to paraphrase most of the descriptions I received. Indeed, I did know that woman, who is known for being strikingly attractive, having silver hair and always wearing very distinctive glasses.

Could someone describe you in such flattering terms by the elements of your appearance?

Do you have an eye-catching hairstyle, an interesting accessory you love to wear, a favorite color, or even an intriguing article of clothing that is your signature?

And better yet, why should you have a style of your very own?

We need to look consistent and stable. If you have seen my ‘Fashion Victim’ program, I discuss a client who was not consistent and was floundering in both her work and her professional life. I show my audience her Monday outfit, which consisted of a leather vest, boots, gold chain belt, and wild hair. Then on Tuesday, she looked like a librarian, complete with heavy black glasses, hair in a bun, and Laura Ashley floral print dress. On Wednesday, she was a cowgirl – wearing a denim skirt and cowboy boots! This professional young mom was wearing costumes instead of being herself.
Never underestimate the visual clues we are constantly sending out into the world. People want to know that they are getting the same “you” every time they interact with you. Just like Indy was away from us for nineteen years - once we saw that jacket and fedora, we knew right away that he was the same old Indy and was going to take us on a harrowing adventure.

To Stand Apartin a good way
Every business has a brand. Part of that brand is the logo. We all have a personal brand as well. Our image – our visual presence and how we communicate - create our brand, and our logo may be our chosen Signature Style or accessory. Make yourself stand apart from the crowd by having a unique piece of clothing or an accessory that you always wear. It will raise your profile and make you immediately recognizable.
If you’re a mom, has the wrong kid ever come up and tugged on your shirttail, only to realize “You’re not my mom!” You can make yourself more distinguishable to your own children (and less so to other kids) if you don’t resemble all the other moms out there. Set your own appearance off with an accessory (like always carrying a red handbag) or a color they can associate with “mom.”

Feeling Authentic
We all have something we love to wear, and when we wear it, it lifts our spirits or gives us confidence. For those of you who know me, you know I have a deep affection for bright shades of orange. And while it isn’t a really acceptable business color, I usually stand out in a sea of dark suits. At first, it wasn’t intentional. I started wearing it because it fit my personality and because I was attracted to it. I don’t wear a lot of orange all at one time, but you may see me carrying an orange bag, or wearing orange stilettos, or even an orange top. I cannot explain it, but there is some magnetism that attracts me to orange.

I hope all of you have something that makes you feel that way. Think for a second. What have you worn lately that made you feel special?

Well, now that we know the reasons for creating a signature style that sets us apart, let’s look at the four types of signature styles.

Need attention?
This is best left to the famous (or infamous). Someone who wears a costume is deliberately cultivating a certain image, whether positive or negative. Some examples are:

Hugh Hefner – His silk PJ’s and robe are the hallmark of the “Playboy” lifestyle he created.

Donald Trump – He knows his hair is unique. He knows people make fun of it. He can afford to buy the world’s best toupee. But the hair brings him attention - and that’s what he likes.

Cher – The wacky Bob Mackie costumes. The wigs. Cher clearly loves attention, and what she has worn over the years has brought every bit as much attention as her singing and acting talents.

Dolly Parton – Who doesn’t love Dolly? She is so savvy about her look – “You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap!”

Standout style
A true Signature Style is typically created for all of the reasons above: To be seen as consistent, to stand apart and to feel more authentic. It is usually intentional and strategic. It’s a way of visually communicating one’s message very quickly and making them difficult to forget.
We don’t all need to have a Signature Style, but those of us who have one leave an indelible mark on the people we meet. Determine for yourself if a Signature Style is something you need to do for yourself or your business.

Wear what you love
This is more accessible to everyone out there. Simply buy and wear items that you like wearing. It’s more about personal satisfaction than style as an outside symbol. For me, it’s my orange. (As I sit here, I’m wearing an orange T-shirt. See, I’m consistent!) For a lot of women, they love fun and flirty shoes. Other women are purse divas. My mom always matches her watch to her outfit. I never understood it, but that’s what she likes doing. She doesn’t have an ulterior motive for it, besides making herself feel stylish.

Do you have a color or accessory YOU wear all the time and don’t feel like yourself without?
And finally, we have…

Functionality rules
When you wear the same thing all the time, it is not a signature. It can be comfortable and you may like wearing it, but if it isn't deliberate and doesn't set you apart, it isn’t a Signature Style.

Martha Stewart – Her button-up oxfords show that she is earthy and no-nonsense. She has more important things to worry about. Like her garden, her kitchen, her dogs and her empire!

Simon Cowell – He’s teased about the tight black t-shirt and jeans. He seems to appreciate minimalism – I recall seeing his L.A. home on TV and it was exactly what you would have expected looking at his wardrobe. Simon doesn’t seem to need fancy clothing and fashion to accomplish his goals.

Michael Kors – Michael Kors was asked about his affection for black tees, black jackets and jeans. He responded that he did the whole fashionista thing years ago, but he prefers to put his creative energy into making others look good.

Here are some ways to create your own Signature Style!

Gloria Allred – She wears red much of the time. It ties into her last name, but red also exudes power and confidence, and (lucky for her), it also looks great on TV.

Lance Armstrong – How ingenious to build his brand around the color yellow, which is the color the leader wears in the Tour de France. I don’t think anyone can think of Lance without thinking of yellow.

Whoopi Goldberg – The dreads are as synonymous with Whoopi as is the sharp tongue.

Betsey Johnson – Her hair makes her unforgettable and it sets the attitude for her brand.

Tina Turner – Tina is known for many things – her voice, legs, energy, and courage – but her signature is her hair. It was really wild back in the 80’s when she reemerged on the music scene (hey, she needed to get noticed!), but it has been a more sedate version for many years now.

Pink – When she first arrived on the music scene, Pink’s hair was, well, PINK. It etched her name in the mind of the public. Since she has built her fame, the hair color changes regularly, but she is still associated with her signature color – and namesake.

Carrie Bradshaw has had several signature pieces over the years, but the flower brooch really took off and became a mainstream trend for a few years.

Drew Carey – He has been known for those black-framed glasses since his standup days. They reinforce the nerdy aspects of his persona.
And of course, Indy – it can be about associating accessories with an experience. (For instance, the Fonz was cool because he wore a leather jacket!)

Color - L-R Gloria Allred, Lance Armstrong
Hair – Whoopi Goldberg, Betsey Johnson, Tina Turner, Pink
Accessories – Carrie Bradshaw, Drew Carey, Indiana Jones

Props to Elton John for turning what was his 1970’s and 1980’s gimmick into a true Signature.
He went from wearing crazy glasses that were part of his onstage and offstage costume to wearing ones that are more toned down, but still flamboyant and attention-getting.

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