December 27, 2007

How Does One Get the Polished Look?

This, or different variations of this question show up in my keywords on my blog’s stat counter every day. It seems that most women are searching for the Holy Grail of style instead of working on those spreadsheets or proposals at work!

Looking polished… well some women are born with that skill. They are able to wear a simple tee shirt, jeans and flats and look like Audrey Hepburn. Their hair never frizzes, their lipstick never gets on their teeth, they have perfect yet natural posture, and possess effortless confidence and style.

I am not one of those people. I always spill my Starbucks latte on my sleeve while walking into work. Friends are always picking a piece of lint out of my hair or a crumb off my sweater. I wear more bruises and scratches than articles of clothing and due to my shape can quickly look dumpy or dowdy in a simple tee shirt or sweater.

The first step toward achieving a polished look is to destroy that mental picture of Grace Kelly, Jackie Onassis, Cate Blanchett and Audrey Hepburn. If you are asking how to look polished, I can bet you weren’t one of those born with their frame, their personality, their “polished” look. To attempt to force yourself into an ideal will never be successful, look authentic, or be enjoyable.


For a week, keep a style journal. Note what you wore (and what condition it was in), how you styled your face and hair and what events took place during the day. Notice how people look at you, respond to you, what comments or compliments you receive (not just on your outfit, but on your work, your talent in another aspect of your life, your health or weight). Also note how you felt when you looked in the mirror before leaving that day, and how you felt when you returned in the evening.

If you leave your house in something that you don’t love and does not love you, you will not look polished, composed or comfortable. Maybe it’s a dress that is a smidge too tight, a blouse that requires a few carefully hidden safety pins to keep your bra from public view, a sweater made from a fabric that itches and of a color you don’t really like but seems popular this season. I always say style comes from quality and not quantity; donate or re-gift those items that make you uncomfortable and save up for worthy replacements.

How does the garment wear throughout the day? Does that chic pencil skirt end up resembling your venetian blinds by noon? Are you constantly adjusting the neckline of your blouse so all your feminine bits are not on display? Did the sleeves of your sweater stretch out so much from pushing them up on your forearms that now they are saggy bells around your fingertips? Again, these items do not deserve a place in your closet. Who cares how sassy you feel at 8am if you feel like a recycled grocery bag by happy hour.

But what pieces make you walk tall and feel good? Maybe it’s that matte jersey wrap dress you found for $10 on a clearance rack at Macy’s, or a cashmere turtleneck in robin’s egg blue that you bought with your holiday bonus. Possibly it’s a frilly feminine confection that makes you feel as though you have been transported from a different time period, or a black suit that has been tailored to fit your shape like a glove. When I say “good,” I don’t mean comfortable. I don’t mean an item that reminds you of your mom because she knit it for you back in college, or because it’s of cozy fleece and hides your lumps. Women often mistake feeling good for feeling safe. Again and again we see on What Not to Wear and How Do I Look? women who cry over a pair of threadbare flannel pajama pants or a college sweatshirt with a paint splatter across the stomach. These are not clothes that make you feel beautiful, strong, confident, sexy, creative, unique, daring or feminine. These are clothes that attempt to recreate the womb or your bed. Whether we like it or not, we have to get out of bed and we have to face the world. Best to armor ourselves with the type of garments that make us feel strong and true, not passive and unimportant.

So you have gutted your closet of the ugly, the uncomfortable, the meek, the shape-shifters. What do you bring to your wardrobe to make you polished?

Keep it Simple

You never see a “polished” woman in cabbage roses, brand logos and bedazzled fabrics. The simpler your pieces, the more versatile they are, the more flattering they are, the more timeless they will be. It is tempting to buy the blouse with the kicky embroidery, but more often than not, you will tire of the pattern, the look will be out of fashion in less than three months and people will think, “oh there she is again in that embroidered shirt!” Fun and flashy pieces are added once a simple working wardrobe is created.

All About Fit
Look at the cut of garments – a polished woman is never in a muumuu or a shapeless shift dress. No matter her shape, size or age, a polished woman has accepted her frame and purchases garments that work to her advantage. An oversized sweater does not hide your stomach, if anything it draws attention to it. Whether you like it or not, everyone can tell that you have a tummy, very small breasts, large hips, short legs, back fat or heavy arms. Hiding these things under swaths of fabric tricks the eye of no one but you. Find garments that work with your lines, and if you cannot find well-fitting pieces, have them tailored. A great pair of black trousers can easily survive a decade in your closet if they flatter, fit, are made of quality fabric and are treated well.

And accept your size. I agree, it SUCKS when you are sure you are size X and you go into a store and you need to try on a size Y or even Z to get the zipper closed. This does not mean you are fat or bad or weirdly shaped. This is just proof that the sizing in stores these days is all out of whack. Once you let go of the “oh, I’m a size 6” mentality, you will have a better time shopping. If need be, cut the tags out once you purchase these garments. Heck, I have even removed the tag advertising the brand of a garment if it makes me uncomfortable (no one needs to know if your dress is from H&M, Lane Bryant, Mossimo or Prada). When you wear garments that are too big or too small, you look uncomfortable, and you never look polished.

Get Over the Name
Stylish, polished women hardly ever wear obvious brand names. So many times, a fashionista is stopped after attending a runway show or a gala and is asked who she is wearing and we find out that fabulous frock is from Club Monaco or that perfect-fitting shirt is from Gap. Walk the mall and scan the internet and catalogs looking at cut, style, fabric composition. Crap is sold at all price levels, and so is quality. Wearing an ill-fitting, and un-you dress from Stella McCartney is far worse than wearing a well-fitting simple one from Ann Taylor Loft.

Know Thyself
You got rid of the impossible dream to be Grace Kelly, now get rid of all those lists that say you need X perfect pieces to be well-dressed. I’m talking about that crisp white shirt, that trench coat, that pencil skirt, and the little black dress. Yes, these are great pieces for many women, but not all women. You’re an artist, you’re a weekend warrior, your wedding registry was at R.E.I., you have more curves than Marilyn Monroe, you live hundreds of miles from a city and heck, it never rains where you live.

Go back to your style journal. Did you feel strong in that rust-colored turtleneck with your brown tweed trousers? Did someone ask you if you lost weight, or notice your green eyes while wearing it? How about that turquoise sundress you bought on your trip to Mexico, the one that you were wearing when your husband told you that you looked beautiful and when your son’s teacher was shocked by your actual age, thinking you were a decade younger? More often than not, these pieces feel good to you AND to those around you because they express your personality best.

Personally, I love the look of a crisp white shirt tucked into a pencil skirt with some fabulous slingbacks… on another woman. A tucked-in blouse accentuates my short torso, my tummy and large breasts, most pencil skirts are unforgiving to my solid legs and round bum, and I have thick ankles and not enough definition from them to my heel to keep slingbacks up all day. However, I feel great in short shift dresses in stretchy fabrics and tall boots because they work with my petite frame, de-emphasize my midsection and wide calves, fit my lifestyle, and make me look pulled-together, stylish AND true to my personality. Accepting and embracing your exterior AND interior is the key to achieving personal style, and looking polished.

General Guidelines
These don’t always work for every woman, but a few tips that may help you on your journey to a polished look:

- Purchase a new purse. More often than not, a woman’s purse is a mess. It’s fraying, overstuffed, stained and tired. Look for a bag that fits your style, but will also be timeless. Try to find something that is stylish instead of trendy, relatively free of logos and shiny decorations so it will span seasons and trends.

- Get a new haircut. A polished woman does not have her hair in a claw clip or a messy bun 24/7. Get a cut that fits your lifestyle as well as your personality. Only have five minutes in the morning and have wavy fine hair? Don’t try Katie Holmes’ new bob – you won’t have the time to keep it looking good. Talk to your stylist before he shampoos your mane. Let him feel the texture, get to know you as a person before those scissors get anywhere near you. And be realistic – unless you want to spend a lot of time on your hair, you can’t make curly locks pin-straight, you can’t have a head of romantic curls when your locks are fine and straight. Just as you should accept your body, so should you accept your tresses.

- Stop purchasing prints. A few prints tossed in every so often are great, but polished women are those decked out predominately in solids. A solid blue sweater will look more polished than a striped one, a simple white shirt will get you more miles and compliments than a paisley one, and a black pencil skirt will look far more elegant than a purple tweed one with a satin-trimmed hem.

- Cut down on the cosmetics. A polished woman many have one facial feature accented, but that is about it. A polished look is clean skin, groomed brows, an elegant and simple look. If your brows are sparse, invest in a brow powder or gel – brows define a face and also your look. Instead of multiple products on the face, consider a great concealer and a highlighting tinted moisturizer to give the look of fresh, healthy skin. Lips are soft, moisturized, and either subtly colored or the focus in a subtle red or wine shade. Glitter, high gloss and shimmer are not in the makeup bags of polished women. As for eyecolor, it should be subtle neutrals to accent the eye, lashes curled and defined, but never thick, heavy or false looking. A blush or bronzer should give only a subtle flush to the skin and not attempt to recreate the look of the sun, cheek implants or a trend seen on the pages of Allure.

- Take care of your shoes. They say shoes define the man, but they also define the woman. Be they ballet flats, classic pumps or knee-high stiletto boots; your shoes need to be cared for. Get them re-heeled and resoled each year, polish them, store them carefully and immediately treat them for stains, scuff or any other damage. Instead of five pairs of fun and cheap shoes that will last a season, use that money to invest in one pair that will last you a generation. Simple black leather pumps will provide you with miles of wear, a tall boot with a classic heel and toebox will work for decades, and there are many adorable flats out there that can be just as comfy as your ratty trainers. No matter how beautiful the woman, how sassy the outfit and how perfect the hair, a pair of scuffed, cheap and worn down shoes will destroy your image.

I would like to thank The Sartorialist for these images. If you haven't visited his blog yet, I highly recommend that you do. He is an impressive photographer, has fabulous style and captures street style all over the globe - women, men, all ages and styles. It is a wonderful resource to help you see what you do and do not like for yourself, and examples of awesome personal style.

37 comments:

  1. You are THE BEST! What a great read for New Years. I think many of us are motivated to purge, polish, and start anew this week. If you wrote a book I'd buy 10 copies! Keep up the motivating posts!

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  2. I agree - I think you've definitely become my style guru, Allie! I'm always making mental notes about my clothes after reading your posts here or at My Wardrobe Today. Thanks for all the insight! :)

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  3. Fabulous post! I'm going to print this out and put it in my inspiration notebook!

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  4. This is a fantastic post. I love the idea of keeping a journal about how you feel and what happens when you wear a give garment. Brilliant!

    I totally agree about the brows and minimal makeup. I love Chanel brow pencil in Auburn. I won't go out without it on.

    I think that really knowing who you are and accepting who you are is the absolute key to personal style. As much as I am drawn to the artistic/bohemian style, I look awful in anything that is not a clean and simple line. I look better at 40 than I did at 20—because I really know who I am.

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  5. I *HEART* this post.

    I'm going to copy it and save it in a Word document to read and pore over...

    I've also linked to your post in a post of my own and highlighted (some) of the parts of the article I really love.

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  6. Allie - you are amazing. I love that you remind us that it's ok to not always wear bright prints and trends, and that looks you love might look better on other than you. You rock!! Happy new year!

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  7. Such a great article! I loved this!
    Very insightful.

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  8. Just as everyone else as said, this is a brilliant article. Thank-you so much for writing it. I felt positively liberated when I read your words about destroying my mental image of Grace Kelly et al (I also laughed heartily).

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  9. Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é http://www.provedorcrescenet.com . Um abraço.

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  10. great post. you are channeling my mother! i was raised with little money but people never knew it as my mother has great style. she taught me these very wardrobe building basics from a young age out of necessity. as a teenager i hated that my clothing was, in my self-conscious opinion, blah boring, but now i appreciate what she taught me. my style is honed after many many years of my mother's guidance and stays with me now even though i can afford to spend on more -- i choose not to. the best part is that she can shop for me from 6,000 miles away because she knows exactly what i want and need -- she taught me, and i am now teaching my own young daughter!

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  11. Allie once again you rock it!

    Another excellent post with straight up advice ANY woman should take to heart!

    As always, well done!

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  12. i'm not a polished women. but new year, new rules! Thank you Thank you Thank you!

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  13. ShinyAndrea1/1/08, 2:29 PM

    This is a really great, well-written piece! Looking polished really is something most women strive for every day and often feel they fall flat of. It's so hard to banish those images of Jackie or Audrey or Gwyneth when you don't look like them, but I'll try!

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  14. makeover momma1/3/08, 10:57 PM

    love this post. i'm a sahm of 4, no need for stilettos or anything crazy, but i did my errands today wearing a nice black sweater, dark wash old navy jeans and grey patent-pleather ballet flats from payless and a grey peacoat from walmart, and i got alot of looks and smiles. looked alot better than my ratty nikes & sweats. felt better, too. like the other lady said... new year, new rules...new me.

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  15. I'm new to your blog, but this post has me hooked! One of my resolutions is to dress well this year. I'm having a baby in March, and I'm looking forward to returning to normal clothes with a sense of purpose! Thank you!

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  16. Ditto to liss: this was a really great post, and it's the one that got me started reading your blog.

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  17. Nicely written - persuasive, matter-of-fact, and to the point. Brilliant. First post i've read of your blog :)

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  18. Great post (sorry I missed it last month). I am so with you: I look AWFUL in that "crisp white blouse" everyone drones on about. Keep them away from me!

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  19. I have a great tip that saves me when I'm stuck I've got wardrobe woes. I add a pearl necklace to the outfit. Chic, professional and it never goes out of style, I got one at premiumpearl.com and it's saved me on many days.

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  20. I agree with everything except for shimmer in makeup. In eyeshadow it can often brighten your eye and make you look less tired. Strategically placed, its not that bad, and you can look polished with it.

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  21. I agree with everything except that plug for PremiumPearl.com. It is a shill/spam comment. Don't you guys have a real marketing plan, Premium Pearl? Spamming people's blogs will just piss people off.

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  22. *Sigh* - I have my hair in a messy bun/claw clip 24/7. There's no other way to control it. I don't want to cut my hair because I love having really long hair. My husband prefers it long too...

    So claw clips it is.

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  23. Red Lipstick. That creates instant everything.

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  24. and a scarf too. tried my outfit with and without and it was a plus with!

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  25. great writing and great content

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  26. Great post! I've been asking myself what makes a woman have that polished look we all want to achieve and your article really underlines the most important thing: feeling good in the clothes you're wearing. I don't spend much time shopping, sometimes i don't even try on what i'm buying and i think it's a big mistake. When I'll go and buy something, from now on, I'll take my time and search for those pieces of clothing that will make me feel good about myself, that are fit and of good quality.

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  27. boogybooboo8/9/11, 7:22 PM

    Sorry but many prints are very beautiful. Yes solids are classic a functional but a pop of bright color or a Pucci (or Pucci type) print dress are staples in any well dressed woman's closet.

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  28. I think you missed the point of this post and this blog. The goal is to help women achieve style; a woman who already has style knows what prints work with her life, her tastes, her body. And no woman with style has a closet chock-full of prints; a woman with style knows when to purchase them, but knows that a simple solid-colored print will get her years of miles. I agree with you, as stated above; however I feel many women who do not yet know their personal style purchase far too many prints that can look dated and cheap quite quickly.

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  29. I couldn't agree more with your article! I am turning 50 this year and no one ever guesses even close to that (late 30's early 40's). I attribute that to a simple classic wardrobe with a few "pops" of color added in the right detail. I have been like that since I was in my early 20's and I've always had people ask how I look so "put together". You have just re-affirmed that I am on the right track and not to change what/who I am. I wasn't actually sure what to do when my 50th comes up and was struggling, so thank you for your wonderful article of common sense!

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  30. Thanks for your comment, and being proof that such a wardrobe is stylish and classic! :)

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  31. Melissa Clutterella10/3/11, 9:37 PM

    Awesome post! I love the way you make looking great seem so simple!

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  32. Love this post. But shoes are my downfall. If you can tell me where I can find flats as comfortable (and cushy and supportive, that don't fall off my short, wide feet) as my trainers, I'd love to get a pair.

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  33. wow,very eye-catching.
    i love such cool fits,which make people look more younger and active.
    not bad,like this article very much!!!!!

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  34. as for myself, i think your post take advantages for me,and i decide to see the more articles here.

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  35. How excellent the areticle is!!!!
    i like to speak highly of this article

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  36. dear,the expression here is second to none,i do really like

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