18 Strangers: Understanding Fashion Types
by Carol Foster *
The "fashion type" is a commonly misunderstood concept that is truly less complicated than it often seems. The truth is that fashion types are rather straightforward and not difficult at all and in fact an understanding of fashion types will actually simplify your wardrobe, shopping, etc. Perhaps more important, understanding fashion types enhances your enjoyment of clothing. Your wardrobe becomes more expressive of your personality, and you are better able to achieve that elusive "pulled-together" look.
What Are Fashion Types?
All apparel can be grouped according to similarities in color, fabric, pattern, style line, and other details. These groupings form looks that share a common theme and can be said to have a "personality" based on the non-verbal meanings they convey.
The term "fashion type" refers to common groups of personality traits which also correspond to specific fashion themes. A fashion type can be thought of as a caricature or character sketch describing a personality that will be drawn to one fashion theme. For instance, if you are an Arty fashion type, you will be drawn to Arty themes in your apparel whether you are conscious of it or not.
The eighteen major fashion types I have identified are described below. They might have been arranged in many ways, as each is similar in some respects, but I have listed them in alphabetical order. Remember that these fashion types are merely sketches, not detailed character studies. Read through each of them as if they were characters in a play or motion picture production, and imagine that you are the wardrobe director. For each character, try to get a feel for their personality and then ask yourself, "how would I dress this person?"
As the name suggests, Arty is a creative thinker, if not necessarily a genuine artist. Arty's wardrobe is her canvas, and her clothes express her love of picturesque and inventive artistic themes. Just as art has its various schools, Arty's unique aesthetic values can exhibit a range of tastes, from brooding value studies to showy kaleidoscopic abstractions. Arty eschews the conventional in favor of the unique, and though she might wear a mass-produced Mona Lisa T-shirt, she cherishes the true uniqueness of hand crafted items. Sometimes she goes as far as to make her own clothing and accessories, and often to embellish store-bought items to suit her tastes and make the common uncommon.
Like Arty, Bohemian displays artistic interests and resists convention, but Bohemian exhibits a strong preference for certain Exotic textures and patterns. The free-spirited Bohemian borrows elements from the stock gypsy look with its head scarves, peasant blouses, multiple chains, and intricate patterns, or also from "hippy" ponchos and tie-dye-and-jeans looks. Bohemian's inherent contradiction is her traditional non-traditionality. She wants to horrify squares with iconoclastic apparel, but she defies custom in a customary manner, with a characteristic flavor that fellow free thinkers will understand and appreciate.
Though the term "chic" is often synonymous with "fashionable" or "trendy," the Chic fashion type has her own code of aesthetic criteria that rule out many fashion trends and almost all fads. While Chic is aware of fashion, and is most certainly never unfashionable, she relies heavily on Classic looks, stylishly emboldened for a look that is smart and striking, even if the current fashion is anything but. Chic combines well-tailored garments and well-chosen accessories in restrained, elegantly bold compositions. She has an eye for clean, sharp lines, and strong colors - intense, but never garish.
Although Classic may appear at ease and comfortable, she does not insist on comfort -- she insists on quality, in time-honored styles such as navy blazers and button-down blouses. Impeccable tailoring and quality fabric provide her a sense of permanence. Formal balance and clean, uncluttered lines provide her a sense of stability. Most of all, Classic gains a quiet confidence by upholding her refined, stable standards of music, architecture, dress, etc., and her simple elegance and tasteful moderation are immune to changing contemporary tastes.
The Dramatic fashion type is striking, theatrical, often over-the-top, but carefully coordinated, like a movie poster: memorably bold, slick and sleek in black and white and vivid primary colors, with clean, well-defined lines, strong focal points, high contrast and... high impact! Dramatic understates nothing and sometimes tends to the sensational or melodramatic. There is no mystique to Dramatic, who tells her bigger-than-life tale with broad strokes and a grand flourish.
The term "exotic" denotes something foreign and strikingly and excitingly different, and Exotic Fashion Types relish the most intriguing and mysterious curiosities the world has to offer. Exotic may be a traveler (or only wish), or may have imported her native exotica from another land. She eats exotic food, listens to exotic music, and surrounds herself with rich, smoky colors, long, flowing lines, elaborate beading and embroidery, mysteriously ornate patterns, iridescent textures, jungle prints, paisleys, mosaics, etc., in her home decor and in her dress (often in combinations alien to the Western eye), and typically accessorizes with a bedazzling profusion of shiny bracelets and other jewelry.
Flamboyant is the vivacious cousin of Dramatic, also prone to flashy display, but for the sheer spontaneous fun of it, rather than the more studied theatrics of Dramatic. Flamboyant is outgoing and energetic, and so is her wardrobe: Asymmetrical or exaggerated flouncing, fringe, or other design elements, multi-colored, splashy - even outlandish - prints, and intensely bright colors grab and hold the attention Flamboyant craves.
Foxy is perceptive and self-assured, with Gamine's facile candor, Chic's poised flair, and Sexy's irrepressible magnetism (not to mention Bohemian's disdain for the ordinary and conventional), a volatile combination of traits held together with a generous measure of Foxy's inimitable quick wit, street smarts, and shrewd realism. Foxy is a city girl who's comfortable in spandex or motorcycle leathers or both and doesn't particularly care what you think about it. In a word, Foxy has attitude.
The word "gamine" literally means "urchin," as in a homeless girl who roams city streets, but like a female Oliver Twist, it is her resilient spirit and impish appeal that characterizes Gamine's fashion personality. Gamine is honest and straightforward, but also fun-loving, energetic, and even downright spunky. Her colors are bold but not loud. Her style lines are simple but not austere. And Gamine is active, so her clothes are practical and comfortable.
Glamorous dazzles with a refined drama and a subtle allure that transcends both Dramatic and Sexy. Like Flamboyant, Glamorous grabs your attention, but with an aura of subdued excitement. She doesn't shout - she whispers. She wears colors that draw the eye without tiring it, deep to bright, but not intense. Silk and satin - and of course, diamonds - are a Glamorous girl's best friends.
Earthy, uncomplicated, and approachable are all words that describe Natural. She is relaxed and at ease, and so are her clothes. Even her hair (possibly windblown) and makeup (minimal to nonexistent) exude her carefree, often outdoors-y manner. Nubby weaves and heavily textured knits, durable denims, suedes, and leathers, earth tones, and natural materials such as wood and seashells typify the Natural's wardrobe and her down-to-earth disposition. Natural may be an environmentalist or perhaps an animal rights activist (in which case she will avoid leather!).
Often called a "hopeless"or "incurable" romantic, the Romantic type is not looking for a cure. She's looking for romance. Quiet, gentle, and wistful, Romantic is a dreamer. She is idealistic, often to the point of being unrealistic, and cherishes all the fanciful nostalgia and exalted trappings of idealized romantic love. Delicate hearts and flowers, flouncing and ruffles, and soft fabrics in gently curved lines are part and parcel of the Romantic's wardrobe, the sentimentality often underscored with lockets and cameos.
Sexy dresses almost exclusively for the purpose of turning mens' heads, often to the annoyance of every other woman around. Her flirtatious apparel (or relative lack thereof) is selected for maximum exposure, and Sexy always delights in stopping traffic by pushing the envelope. Sexy may bare a lot of skin, or wear tight, form-fitting tops and bottoms that "leave little to the imagination," and is often willing to go to extraordinary lengths for greatest impact: excruciating stiletto heels, skirts too tight or short to sit in, etc.
The discriminating taste of the Sophisticate is not easily satisfied. Like Classic, she requires high quality, but more than that, she craves distinction, and a cultured polish beyond mere elegance or appropriateness. She is a socialite, or wants to be, and fancies herself a connoisseur. As such, she values haute couture (within the bounds of good taste) and the luxury it represents.
Sporty may be a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer, a gymnast, or at least a dedicated fitness enthusiast. She requires freedom of movement, and her garments must provide this with a functional flair and durable materials and design. Like Natural, Sporty generally chooses a carefree hairstyle and little to no makeup. She'll dispense with any accessories that get in the way of her active lifestyle.
The Traditional type is the sensible, wholesome "girl next door." She is practical and polite, and seems to have a knack for dressing appropriately. The styles she wears are classic in the sense that they are time honored favorites, whether the designs themselves fit the Classic mold or not. She is as comfortable in a pea coat or a plaid flannel shirt as in a classic black dress - as long as her apparel suits the occasion.
What's hot? Trendy is! Whatever the latest fad or fashion, Trendy is on top of it. She knows what to buy and how to wear it, and is quick to discard anything the least bit out-of-date. Trendy is less concerned with the actual appearance of the garments themselves than she is with their modernity. If it's current, it's good, and if it's not, it's obsolete.
Steeped in the enduring cowboy themes of the American West and Southwest, the Western fashion personality may live or work on a ranch, participate in rodeo, or just wish she did. Whether she is a cowgirl who tends to Natural, or a rodeo queen with all the ostentatious Western sparkle of a country music star, she demonstrates a shrewd practicality and a straight-talking authenticity. Western is active and she and her clothes work hard, but she also knows how to relax.
Did you know how to dress these people? Did you recognize any of them? Though some of these sketches are rather exaggerated, they will generally call to mind real people you have met. Perhaps you even recognized bits of yourself!
Depending on your personal style, you will most likely have been drawn to one or another or even several of the fashion types described. You may have a strong sense of your favorites. Sexy types have a relatively easy time zeroing in on their fashion type, perhaps because so much emphasis is placed on it in fashion (and other) magazines. Romantic types also rarely have doubts about their type or how to achieve their look.
Some of the other types are not as easy, though. Also, it's not unusual to be drawn to more than one fashion type. One or more will "feel right" to you, while most others won't. Some fashion types will be expressive of your personality, and others won't. Since you are a real live multi-dimensional person and not a character sketch, you don't have to restrict your wardrobe to any one specific look.
Nevertheless, I strongly advise that you do restrict your outfits to one specific look. It is possible to successfully blend related themes in one outfit but, by and large, different themes simply don't "go" with one another. Take an outfit consisting of a paisley head scarf, a billowing crinkle cloth shirt topped with a smart Chanel jacket and charming handmade ceramic beads, a short red skirt with a tooled leather western belt, fishnet stockings, pink Mary Janes, and a canvas gym bag. It's a ridiculous example, of course, but the point is that while variety in your wardrobe can be a good thing in moderation, individual outfits must have one dominant theme (and perhaps a twist of another subordinate theme) lest they become a hopeless hodgepodge. Not only does it clash visually, if what you're wearing is a form of non-verbal communication, wearing a hodgepodge is the non-verbal equivalent of babbling incoherently.
All Together Now!
The sense of all colors and fabrics and textures and lines and moods working in harmony with you is the essence of the pulled-together look, and it follows that any extraneous mismatched items will detract from it. Using fashion types as an organizing principle helps keep you on track.
When you are shopping for clothing, there are a thousand and one objectives clamoring for your attention, few of which have anything to do with your fashion personality. You need something for work. You need something that fits. You need something that flatters. You need something to wear with something else. You need something affordable.
When you were playing wardrobe director, you didn't have to worry about any of these things. You didn't know how tall or short the characters were, or care how much anything cost. You were able to tap into your native ability to interpret the language of dress, and depict personalities in that language.
Now that you've created eighteen looks for eighteen complete strangers, you can do the same for yourself even without a Hollywood budget. You can be your own wardrobe director. Simply start with your favorite fashion type and let it guide you to those harmonious items that tell your story. Everything still has to suit your coloration, your figure, and your budget. The point is, if something doesn't first suit your personality, why bother with it?
* Carol Foster is a Style and Wardrobe consultant with more than twenty years in the industry. She is the editor of MyPersonalStyle.com and Personal Style Update.