April | The Essay
How I unlocked my personal style
Nailing your sartorial signature can be the decisive shift towards making your wardrobe more sustainable, says Calendar Magazine founder Anne-Marie Curtis, who counts Japanese tailoring and military brass buttons among her personal style signifiers. Here’s how to find yours…Anne-Marie Curtis
My most recent purchase – a box-fresh, black, Junya Watanabe, fitted, military jacket, sourced via eBay from a seller in Tokyo – was a ‘wow’ moment on all fronts. For one, the price tag was deeply satisfying – £150 to be precise (a fraction of the price of what it would have been new). And how do I know this? Because I actually own this jacket already – identical in every way apart from the colour. The first one, which I bought in a khaki-green hue some five years ago from Dover Street Market, retailed at the hefty sum of £1,400. Not that I regret it – I’ve worn that jacket more than anything else I own. In fact, I love it so much that I have been trawling the internet for a black version for years. So, finding it was hands down more satisfying than anything else I have bought in a long time. And a reminder that knowing your personal style can also be a huge driver in making your wardrobe more sustainable.
As well as being more planet-friendly, finding your personal style is also a pleasing act in itself: a badge of being a fully-fledged grown-up, an anchor to hold you steady in a sea of ever-changing trends, a constant buffer that means no matter what life throws at you, you will always retain a sense of self. As a fashion editor and industry veteran with three decades and counting in fashion-land, I have seen trends come and go… and come again. Having documented the in/out, merry-go-round over the years (and worn a fair few of them along the way), I admit it has been a fun ride, but there are a few items that will always be in my wardrobe no matter where the current trend cycle is at.
Developing and finding your style is not always as easy as it sounds, though. And yes, I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. There were the big-shouldered, ’80s-style jackets that looked great on my tall, willowy colleague, but made me look like a child dressing up for World Book Day. Then there were the circa-2009 towering YSL tribute shoes that resulted in a foot injury so bad it resulted in surgery and an inability to walk in anything over 3” high. And that ill-advised test drive of the clashing-colour-pop trend in the early 2010s, which made me feel like a fashion fraud when I tried it, although it looked fabulous on other FROW attendees. “Regrets, I’ve had a few”, as Frank Sinatra famously sang; but perhaps more importantly to add: “more, much more than this, I did it my way”.
Finding your own style is also a personal journey, an outward manifestation of your life story and how it has shaped you. That’s not to say you can’t experiment. Because fashion, after all, is about having fun and playing. And with the plethora of rental and well-curated vintage options out there, you really can do this without a mad trolley dash around Zara or H&M.
In terms of what ‘my way’ looks like for me, anything nautical or uniform-inspired is always a hard yes (see navy coats with brass buttons, sailor pants, military jackets, trench coats, riding boots and navy sweaters). I will always have a version of these in my wardrobe. On a more whimsical note, I am also a huge fan of musicals, particularly anything Bob Fosse-related, though it’s more the men’s style that speaks to me. Cue: wide-cut, high-waisted pants, neatly cut T-shirts, men’s loafers and a jaunty scarf now and again. Throw in a penchant for French Left Bank style and a Breton top, Chanel ballet pumps, indigo denim jeans and a perfectly cut YSL-inspired tuxedo jacket… These pieces will never go out of style for me. As for how I put them together? A throwback perhaps to my Catholic school-girl uniform means that, despite a rebellious streak, I always need to feel pulled together and neat, which means in my case the eclectic, distinctly British way of pairing a man’s sweater with leopard print and a jazzy Mary Jane shoe – much as I admire it in others – is just a no for me.
Then there’s the fact that as my formative years in the industry were in the early ’90s, a penchant for the moodiness of the Belgian and Japanese aesthetic also gets a look in, resulting in a fair amount of black in my wardrobe. I also love colour, but it has to be the ‘right’ colour and in controlled doses. In my case – grass green, pillar-box red and bright pink dominate the admittedly small section of colour in my closet. Finally, my Irish heritage means that anything by Simone Rocha will always speak to the poetic Gaelic corner of my soul. Actually, it’s quite an eclectic mix when you put it together, but it sums up who I am and how I want to be seen in the world. It’s a kind of sartorial map that means I’ll always find my way home even when blasted by an endless stream of fashion shows, or beguiled by a late-night virtual tour around the Matches or Farfetch website.
Finding your own style is also a personal journey, an outward manifestation of your life story and how it has shaped you. That’s not to say you can’t experiment. Because fashion, after all, is about having fun and playing. And with the plethora of rental and well-curated vintage options out there, you really can do this without a mad trolley dash around Zara or H&M. It also means that when you are buying pre-loved, the likelihood is you will know exactly what you are looking for because you already have a version of it. (Exhibit A: the Junya Watanabe jacket). And rental is perfect for those flights-of-fancy moments, when suddenly you have a yen to wear a brightly hued, marabou-feathered number, or simply the urge to road-test a handbag for a changeup of your look.
In the wise words of Dolly Parton, who found her personal signature early on and has stuck to it: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”. It’s a win for you and a win for the planet – all wrapped up in a wardrobe that is your best friend and ally, rather than that slightly skittish person you know, whose mood changes on the daily and you can never rely on. It’s fashion with purpose, in fact; and a way to be sure that no matter how crazy life gets, it always has your back covered.