What style means to me // Well, ELLE magazine seemed to like it, anyway…

Inspired by Our Chrissy‘s recent Clothing Chameleon post, I thought I’d dust off the below piece of prose. I wrote it a couple of years ago for the ELLE writing competition. I didn’t win, but I did get name-checked in the January 2010 issue as a finalist, so technically I was printed in ELLE, anyway. And blagged a lot of writing opportunities off the back of it dined out on it for much of last year. I don’t even need to put this feature into context as the title neatly does that for me, I feel:

What style means to me

Carefully balancing two steaming lattes in each hand, quilted handbag swinging from one arm, I politely thank the barista and spin on my strappy snakeskin heel, ready to dash into the office. I’m stopped in my tracks by a rugged gentleman (note: a gin-soaked street urchin) eyeing me up and down appreciatively with a low whistle; the distinct tang of Special Brew clinging to the air. He then serenades me with You’re the one that I want, the hit-single from Grease. I think he’s making a hilarious reference to my leather skinny cigarette pants and high-heel combo being rather akin to Sandy’s. I explain that I don’t find him at all ‘electrifying’ and disappear through the door faster than a Spaniard on a moped.


I’d love to say that this occasion was a one-off, but my life appears to be peppered with such incidents; I think it could have something to do with my unique sense of style. Yesterday, I watched as a woman stared at my studded footwear for a good five minutes, blissfully unaware that I was watching her, watching me. Who knew shoe-boots could be so riveting?

Now this is the bit where I’m supposed to make measured observations about my appearance, but for me getting dressed every morning is about daily reinvention and the mood I’m in. It doesn’t matter if this comes courtesy of Topshop or a charity shop, the sentiment is the same: looking how I want to look, feeling in control and frankly rather pleased about it. As any girl knows, the clothes you wear can make or break your day. A great piece of clothing is not only a means of self-expression, but a delicate piece of armour against the muck daily life slings in our direction.

For some women (read: Alexa Chung and Claudia Schiffer) being stylish comes as naturally as breathing. For the rest of us, having an innate sense of style requires commitment and hard work. Looking stylish is all about looking effortless; like you haven’t tried too hard. Which is deliciously ironic, as achieving this often takes hours of planning, and years of practise.

When I was younger, I used to view shopping as an Olympic event, bagging as many trophy purchases as I could physically carry. I’d follow the notions of catwalk trends to the letter. I encountered many fashion disasters along the way but by the time twenty-five candles were flaming on my cake, dressing to suit me started to make sense and over the last few years I’d like to think I’ve upped my style quotient by a good few notches. And truth be told, it’s more about the mistakes I’ve stopped making; the knowing what not to wear.

Having worked in fashion all my life, I understand that it’s a frivolous affair and stylishness isn’t really about having a walk-in wardrobe stuffed full of clothes. It’s not about ordering from the look book, being a size zero, having a bulging bank account or going under the knife. It isn’t even about the ‘right’ bag or must-have shoes, as anyone can pop into Westfields and buy a fashionable head-to-toe look from the nearest shop mannequin. Nor do you need to be a supermodel to have super style – it’s all in the presentation, and the ‘wearability’ factor.

Style simply boils down to looking fabulous every day, and not necessarily looking fashionable every day. Whilst I’ll never be able to casually throw on a fella’s shirt and just look amazing (in a Sunday morning-ish kind of way) I know if it’s a face-off between looking lovely or being bang-on trend, the former must win out every time. It’s about adapting the season’s trends to suit my body shape and not being dictated to by fashion.

Balmain: Paris Fashion Week A/W 09


These days, it’s cool to wear something that suits you and works in real life – not looking like a trussed up fashion dolly who’s never caught the bus or undertaken the weekly grocery shop (delete as appropriate) in her life. Think stylish and the following pieces may spring to mind: low-heeled ankle boots, a Breton striped tee, ¾ length skinnies, a beaten-up biker jacket. Call it the Balmian effect but they’re staple items, reminiscent of chic Parisian girls – who we all refer to as the epitome of elegance.


What is it with Gallic girls and the super stylish gene, making their dress sense the envy of others the world over? They’re not smarter or richer, but for them, great fit is much more important than a great price reduction. They have the natural ability to look perfectly finished, expensive and groomed by investing in classic pieces and dressing to enhance their figure. They’ve even coined a nifty phrase for this – mettre en valeur – which essentially means showing off your best bits.

Appropriately enough, it was Coco Chanel who famously observed, ‘Fashion fades, only style remains the same’, but for me, the ultimate formula for supreme stylishness – the very essence of style stripped bare – is to be yourself and believe in yourself. True stylishness has to emanate from within, as it is an expression of your innermost soul – it cannot be found on a clothes rail. For me, the prerequisite of the meaning of style was pinned down as early as 108 AD, and delightfully summed-up in the Discourses of Epicteus: ‘Know, first, who you are: and then adorn yourself accordingly’.

Natalie Wall

My submission for the ELLE writing competition 2010 (submitted September 2009)

  • Comments

  • avatar

    What style of leggins are thouse that Sandy wears in the very last scene of Grease. I’ve been looking all over for the style of those (not wet look or leather) i really want that particullary material. Any help?

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