What do you call it when you know—and love—your body, wear only what you're totally comfortable in,
accentuate your best features, and leave the house every day feeling like a million bucks? We call it signature style, and these six women have it in spades. Luckily, they're more than happy to help you find your own. Make sure to find each signature style rule on each page!
Signature Style Rule #1. Stock up.
When you find something that suits you perfectly, buy more than one.
"Great style enhances your life—it shouldn't rule you." — Lipstick queen Poppy King
Founder of cosmetics line Lipstick Queen
"At around 17, I had an aha style moment: I looked—and felt—better when I emulated the style of the 1940s than when I tried to achieve a modern look, which at the time was Debbie Gibson and Pat Benatar. My pale skin and sharp profile make me look more like someone out of an old Hollywood movie. So I stopped trying to get a tan and started experimenting with red lipstick. My search for the perfect deep matte shade inspired me to start my first company at 18. Fine-tuning my style over these past 20 years has been a trial-and-error process of understanding what really works for me. One thing I figured out pretty quickly: When your overall aesthetic is vintage, you have to beware of getting costumey. So I always mix it up. If I'm wearing a very sweet floral dress, I add a studded belt; if I have a full-skirted silhouette, I skip the delicate handbag. Over time I've learned to strike the right balance—I hope!"
Signature Style Rule #2. Don't make things too hard. "Great style enhances your life—it shouldn't rule you," says King. She spent years glued to the Weather Channel, terrified of rain. "I was a slave to my blow-outs. After I'd found the makeup and clothes that worked for me, it was still another ten years before I embraced my curls."
"I do some version of the smoky eye every day. Ever since I was 13, I've had no problem wearing midnight-worthy eye makeup at 9 A.M. For me it's like slipping into a comfortable old shoe. I feel so good in it, I don't care what anyone else thinks. And I love ginormous hair—lots of teasing, kind of Brigitte Bardot...or Dolly Parton...or, okay, maybe RuPaul. Now that I have three kids, I've had to deflate the hair a bit—less time to cultivate the height. And I never leave the house without earrings—big ones. You won't see me in a pair of diamond studs. A cocktail ring, or two, never hurts either. I'm known for losing my jewelry, though, so nothing's real."
Signature Style Rule #3. Experiment a little. "Once a month, try a different shade of eyeshadow or lipstick, and see how you like it," says Roncal. "If it doesn't feel right, you don't have to wear it again. But maybe it'll feel great."
Executive vice president of brand development at Full Picture, a public relations company
"When I first started working in the fashion business, it felt so heady to be part of that world. But I definitely made my share of dubious style choices. The grunge period in particular—flowered dresses, leggings, slouchy sweaters—was not good to me. Since then I've learned that just because something is fashionable doesn't mean it's right for me. I've learned that matte jersey is not my friend. Neither are cargo pants. I spend most days in some version of a sleeveless sheath dress. I wear clothes that you put on, zip up, and forget about for the rest of the day. It's like my hair—after a Flock of Seagulls period in college and Dynasty-esque hair in the late '80s, I've been faithful to a neat bob. I get it blown out once a week, and that's that."
Signature style rule #4. Find a great salesperson whom you can trust—she can be an amazing resource. Salespeople get to know your taste and your body type. "For me, it's Doris at Barneys New York in Manhattan," says Brown. "I'm not an impulse shopper. I really shop only twice a year, so I tell her exactly what I'm looking for—a new jacket, a blouse I can wear for evening—and she keeps me focused. Without Doris's intervention, I can think of many pieces I would've bought and worn twice."
Owner of Rescue Beauty Lounge, a Manhattan nail salon
"The best thing I have going for me is my legs, so I keep my hemlines pretty short. I recently chopped off all my midcalf dresses and skirts a few inches above the knee; now I wear them so much more. My hair is the one thing I always keep long, with the exception of an unfortunate Amélie-inspired cut in 2001. After shampooing, I just let it air-dry; I can easily pull it off my face, and I need a trim only a couple of times a year—that's about as much hair maintenance as I'm willing to do. Though I'm very petite, I think the proportion of my waist-length hair works—as long as I keep my skirts short...and my heels high. I don't leave the house in flats, or even kitten heels—they make me feel schlumpy, and I don't like to schlump. If I'm just cooking at home, I still try to look good—not for my husband, just for me. I might be wearing sweatpants, but they're cute and cuffed and fit perfectly. In the kitchen, though, I do go barefoot."
Signature Style Rule #5. Pay attention to your gut...especially if it's spilling over your waistband. When something's too tight, or too low-cut, and you feel uneasy, you know it. "If you have to psych yourself up to wear something out of the house—or the dressing room—it's not the look for you," says Brown.
Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem
"For the first half of my life, I wore every kind of hairstyle—from a chin-length bob to an asymmetrical do. I felt like a different person in each one, which was interesting, but it was also confusing. I never really felt like myself until I cut all my hair off in my mid-20s. I only did it to get rid of the damage from a bad relaxer, and I thought it would be a temporary style. But I never looked back. My hair hasn't been longer than an inch in the past 20 years. Sometimes you try for a long time to figure something out, and then you get it—and you just know."
Signature Style Rule #6. Play to the positive. What are your best features? Remember them when you go shopping. And catalog compliments—if they start rolling in every time you wear a certain lipstick shade or style of dress, you're onto something.
Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
"I think the idea that fashion is a mirror of your soul is a delusion. I see fashion as more of a performance—it's a mask, not a mirror. The look I've ultimately come to could be described as fashion nun—minimalist, often black, slightly bohemian. I keep my makeup minimal—a little red lipstick sometimes. And I usually wear glasses; my favorite style is cat's-eye. At the end of the day, I have a slightly puritanical tendency. My husband says, 'You have great legs. Why don't you wear shorts?' But I'm in my 50s, and my inner fashion police just won't let me."
Signature Style Rule #7. Keep having fun!
A signature style has consistency—but it should still have some joy in it. "When you stop thinking about your style, when it just becomes a knee-jerk reaction, you can slide from a signature look into a rut," says Steele.
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