I was on the front cover of a magazine. No big deal (*screams internally*).
Sadly, I can’t give you any informed advice about how to get yourself in a local magazine. For me, it was completely random and wholly serendipitous. Instead, this article is about a question the writer for the magazine asked that led to self-assessment of my personal style and what I actually wanted it to be.
In early 2017, I received a message on Facebook from a photographer, Jay Sinclair. He was working on an article for the Winston Salem Monthly magazine. After doing my research and making sure he was legit, I agreed to his request to shoot some photos for the magazine. I’m not a model by trade, but I have quite a few photographer friends and I’m always happy to pose for photos when they ask.
A week later, I was on location with the photographer and a writer for the magazine. Turns out the article they were working on was about local trendsetters and I was on their radar because of a local fashion design competition I’d won.The photographer asked me to bring two different outfits for the shoot: one dressy and one casual.
Before the shoot, the writer interviewed me for the article. He asked some simple questions that I should’ve expected but hadn’t thought much about before the interview. One question had me stumped.
How would you describe your style?
It’s a pretty straightforward question, but for some reason I had a hard time answering it. I hadn’t thought much about putting into words what my personal style was. I just wore what I liked to wear. I told the writer what came to my mind first: “sleek, sexy, and chic.” *insert eye roll*
What does that even mean? After answering the question, I thought to myself, is the outfit I’m wearing chic? What about the casual outfit in my car? Ripped jeans? Is that sleek? What is sleek? Is this dress too sexy? Is sexy a bad word to use?
I finished the shoot and I was really happy with the photos. When the magazine ran about a month later I was surprised and flattered that they’d chosen me to be on the cover! On the other hand, I’d left the interview and photoshoot wondering how I’d gotten that far without being able to describe or really even understand my personal style. Since then, I’ve worked to better understand myself and the message I want my clothes to convey. These three things have helped me the most along the way.
Developing Your Personal Style
Ask your favorite garments.
What is your favorite dress? What shirt do you wear the most? Imagine you have to go to brunch tomorrow with your friends. Are you thinking of wearing jeans and a blouse? Slacks and a blazer? A shift dress?
Obviously, some of the answers to these questions depend on venue and weather, but if you take a hard look at the clothes you wear the most, they will tell you what your personal style is.
When I asked about your favorite dress, you may have thought of a tight, bright blue, bandage-style mini dress you bought from Bebe. Sexy. You may have imagined a delicate, flowy, white lace maxi dress. Feminine. Maybe you don’t have a dress…. at least not one you like. Tomboy.
When you read “shirt”, did you think of a loose, soft, cotton v-neck t-shirt? Sporty. How about a high-neck white silk blouse? Elegant. Did a collared button-up come to mind? One that you like to wear with an a-line skirt or tailored slacks? Preppy.
The clothes you wear the most and feel comfortable in will tell you a lot about your personal style. Try looking through your closet or, even better, browsing through some pictures of yourself at different events to learn more about what you like to wear and what your clothes are saying.
Search for your message.
Now that you’ve found some indicators from your favorite clothes, reflect and try to understand the message they’re sending. I agree with Rachel Zoe that “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” Are your clothes consistent with the message you want to convey?
Even though I told the magazine writer my style was sleek, chic, and sexy, I came to realize that “sexy” wasn’t the first thing I wanted people to think when they saw my outfits. It wasn’t what I wanted my clothes to tell the people who I met. “Hello, my name is Cheslie and I’m sexy.” ….no, thanks.
Instead, I want to say that I am intelligent, sharp, powerful, and feminine. I nixed my low-cut shirts and traded them for blouses with high necklines and flirty ruffles. I began to shy away from slacks that were a bit too tight and traded them for pants and even wide-leg trousers that felt business-appropriate and comfortable.
Find style inspiration.
I told the magazine writer my style inspiration is Scandal’s Olivia Pope. That still rings true. Olivia’s clothes are fashion-forward without being trendy. Elegant, but not stuffy. Feminine, not sexy. I wouldn’t wear every outfit she wears, but–for the most part–I’d feel like I died and went to heaven if I woke up tomorrow with a closet like hers.
Here’s how my style inspiration helps me: when I shop, when I try on outfits before I head to the office, when I decide what to pack for a work trip, I think, “Would Olivia Pope wear this?” I don’t think all of my outfits fit perfectly with her aesthetic, and I don’t think they should. Olivia Pope’s style is just that–hers. But having some inspiration is a great rule of thumb and helps me when I have to make hard decisions about clothes or when I’m on the fence about an outfit.
If you’re interested in reading the article I was featured in, you can find it here. The photos and my cover shot, taken by Jay Sinclair, are above. Also, thanks to the Winston Salem Monthly, my shot was featured again on the January 2018 cover as one of the top 12 photos of 2017. Many thanks to the kind writers and photographers at WSM!