Ruth Essex (you can read her Stylish Thoughts post here) is also an image consultant (in the UK) who has taken part in my 31 day Evolve Your Style challenge has written this review of the program and I asked her if I could share it with you. She kindly said yes.
This summer I went on a big adventure and together my husband and I, along with our two girls, Scarlet five and Eliza three, sailed over 1000 nautical miles from Rome to south of Barcelona via Tuscany, Sardinia, Minorca, Majorca, Ibiza and the west coast of Spain. We had some major challenges such as force 8 gales, anchors coming adrift in the middle of the night, hitting an uncharted rock and finding out we were holed and taking on water at 1.30am, alone in the dark, 150 miles off the Sardinia coast. We went to some wonderful places, which ranged from the glamour of the Emerald coast in Sardinia, ‘home of the rich, the famous and the beautiful’ to scrabbling around inside a dirty anchor locker in 30 degrees trying to remove seized up bolts for five hours. And this was all done on a tiny capsule wardrobe! Over six weeks on board and just a 30” rail and a couple of drawers to stow all my clothes and accessories. The trip was exciting and exhilarating and I came back excited for a new challenge……….
As a full-time mum, with a part-time business as an image consultant, Mycolourcoach.co.uk, the EYS programme intrigued me straight away. Prior to having children I worked in academia, as a Director of Management and Professional Development so I am used to being in an environment of education and learning and I am very driven by continual professional development (CPD.) Could Evolve Your Style be a great opportunity for CPD that I was looking for? What will I learn? How will I feel? Will it stretch me? Can I fit it into my lifestyle? I saw the video of Imogen explaining the programme and I thought, this looks great and was quickly clicking on Paypal to sign up asap.
I looked forward to my emails arriving and was straight in to the first one about reviewing where you are now. I had returned from holiday with one day to unpack before school started. I was feeling confident and good about myself. My skin had a glow from being at sea for six weeks, and I lost weight over summer pulling ropes and running around the boat. I had a strong sense of achievement from having made the trip, in one piece, with everyone home safe and sound. I was really looking forward to the first school run, my version of a mini cat walk, to display my chosen outfit and catch up with friends. And the compliments did come that day and it did made me feel really good.
Taking the pictures
Learning to take a self portrait is definitely an art and required many pictures before I found ones I was happy to post. My first pictures, on an old telephone were really not the greatest. Blurry, shaded and not always the best choice of outfit either. As time went on, I improved my choice of outfit, got a better camera phone and like everyone else probably did, I took loads of pictures then choose the better ones. Inspiration came from other evolvers too. Presenting close ups and distance shots to show the composition of outfits, texture, pattern and fabric, aided me in explaining the choices I had made that day, and it was helpful in putting additional outfit options together. The detail pictures and outfit rationale build a richer, more complete picture of who you are, and how you are evolving though the programme. I was surprised how much you see what you want to see when you look in the mirror, both positive and negative, and the photographs do give a different, somehow more objective, perspective.
One of the disadvantages of working part-time in image consultancy is that many people do expect you to get it right all the time and that can feel a bit of a pressure sometimes and make it harder to ask for feedback. EYS provided me with an chance to share pictures of my new purchases and the discoveries I had found at the back of my wardrobe; a perfect opportunity to get feedback. To challenge myself further I posted some of the outfit pictures on my own personal face book page to see the reaction and feedback I would get. Interestingly, it was very positive too. People are generally very nice and it was great that a few of my friends said that posting my outfits had inspired them to think more about what they wore. I think I have started an appreciation society for my coloured leather gloves collection that I love so much and a small virtuous circle of fashion evolvers, changing the world one accessory at a time.
Warning: EYS causes Facebook Addiction!
A word of warning I would give is that this programme can be addictive! There were days when I could see the ironing pile toppling over and whilst watching a swimming lesson I was writing in my style notebook about outfit ideas for another day, shoe and bag combinations to try and pieces that were missing from my wardrobe. I am based in the UK and with the US being on line in the morning, then the Australians being online in the evening, you could go 24hrs a day if you wished, catching up with comments, seeing who had posted and getting involved. If you went away for a few days you were missed and it felt like being part of a very supportive group of friends. Friends you had never met in person, but who wished the very best for you; and shared you interest in style, colour and image.
Getting started and out of first gear
I wasn’t always able to complete the tasks at the rate, or in the order they were set, however this was not a race, this was about engaging in and enjoying personal development. It was quite tempting to combine challenges some days to ‘catch up’ but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get involved as much as possible and have the chance to try again, making improvements to outfits as I evolved. I was quite nervous the first time I posted pictures. What will others think? Does this outfit suit me as much as I think it does? Does it look better or worse than I imagine? One of the things I have discovered since undertaking my colour and style training is how difficult it can be to be objective about ourselves. Whether this is judging if a colour suits you, or focussing on larger-than-liked thighs, rather than your assets. Actually posting the pictures made me realise that others were in the group to be objective about you. You are not alone on this programme. There is support, kind words and constructive criticism. Feedback is a gift and it is there to be helpful in your evolution and others will benefit from your thoughts too. Sometimes that requires the ‘Let it go to a better place’ comment or ‘love it and wear it more often!’
The importance of colour, style and fit
I had my colours analysed fifteen years ago and again around three years ago when I was undertaking my colour analysis training, so I was already very aware of the hues, tones and saturations that favoured my colouring and I did have a wardrobe that was organised by colour before I started. This gave me an advantage that I already had many items that co-ordinated together pretty well, however just because something is the right colour for you, and indeed fits you, does not always mean that it deserves a place to stay, and that was reinforced by the EYS programme. Trying on top after top, jacket after jacket, etc made me re-evaluate how important it was to me to love my clothes, and I noticed this in particular during the ‘wear something old’ challenge. Only quite liking an accessory or clothing item was just not good enough for me anymore. Before something new came in, I made myself a rule that I had to want it so much that I couldn’t wait to wear it as soon as possible. Feeling so in love with your clothes is like being in a new relationship that is full of trepidation, where possibilities are endless and we all love that first flush of romance and excitement! I knew there were older pieces that I might not have such a fizz about as some of the newer pieces but some were still loved and deserved to stay. Clothes are like boyfriends. If you don’t love them completely, the kindest thing for everyone is to let them go.
Practice makes perfect
The programme has strengthened my thoughts that style doesn’t just drop in your lap, despite what we may read in a magazine. Like any life skill, it needs work, effort and time to become better at it. Like learning to sail, we only get better with practise. A few hours outfit planning, noting down everything that made an outfit work was time well spent. A small investment in my free time, paid great dividends when selecting an outfit for the day, and trying to get two small children out of the door in the morning. The practice and evolution, along with feedback from others and most importantly what you feel your greatest and happiest in, helps you to develop your style words, and they provide your guiding lights on the exciting style adventure ahead.
My Style Words
Elegance with provenance, chic with a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’.
My husband gave me his opinion on my style words too: Sophisticated, elegant, chic, French, expensive and classic. It is interesting that, without knowing my choices, he was very close. He either knows me very well or the image I pervade is quite clear and identifiable. To be fair to him, he did try five different cities, to find me the perfect shade of orange handbag, in a style I would love, one Christmas. He even gave me a pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy heeled sandals as a new baby present after my second daughter was born. He wanted to make me feel like I could be a yummy mummy and a stylish woman too. He is perhaps more style aware than many men I know and his feedback is still often very important to me. He made comments on many of the outfits I have worn throughout the challenge.
The joy of accessories
I have built up a comprehensive set of basic clothes over time and generally in lovely fabrics, to use as a starting point for outfits. My greatest passion is for accessories though and I find they really make me feel like the outfit is finished. Also, accessories don’t mind if you are a few pounds over your fighting weight or not. Even after a big clear out I still have over seventy pairs of shoes and boots and they do all get worn. Some more than others admittedly, but they are all there because they are loved and cherished and are part of an accessories beauty bundle I have worked together. I passed the coloured shoe challenge with flying colours and received many a ‘coo’ and an ‘ooh’ from fellow EYS shoes lovers with a gratuitous shoe shot.
Putting together beauty bundles means that I ensure that for each colour I have shoes, sandals or boots, plus a handbag, scarf or pashmina, and jewellery that all work together. There are often hats and gloves included too. I got this idea from reading Brenda Kinsel’s book on Diva style and it has been fundamental in building successful outfits, without the stress, for me. In particular it helped with the colour challenges. For my beauty bundles I am a completer-finisher and if I need mustard handbag to complete a bundle then I can search for it on Ebay and I will nearly always find one I love. If something is out of season, or not the latest style then it can be very hard to find everything on the high street. My love of provenance, finding treasures in thrift shops, auctions, car boot sales and antique fairs means my collection of accessories is unique to me. These pieces echo my style words of elegance with provenance. My coloured leather gloves and hats, that I feel always brighten up an autumn/winter look, provide the ‘Je ne sais quoi’ or chic element for example. I would say I used to be more of a classic dresser in the past but I had started to evolve towards a more chic, less conservative look about a year ago and the EYS programme accelerated that process for me.
The clothes I do and don’t love
The programme has helped me focus on my likes and dislikes as I tried on outfit after outfit and built up a Mount Everest pile of clothes on the bed. I love the softness of cashmere in winter and the crispness of linen in summer and these have been good investments. Stripes are my heros in tops, coats and dresses, though apart from a few pin stripe suits, I don’t wear them very often as trousers. They are my go to pattern of choice and never seem to date. Part of my love for sailing is expressed though wearing stripes in my outfits too and EYS has lots of other stripe lovers and the occasional other sailor on board too.
For the animal print challenge I wore my leopard print blouse. Apart from a few animal print accessories, I only have one animal print blouse. I had wanted one for ages after seeing the Dolce and Gabbana A/W catwalk pictures in Vogue one month, however it took me two years to find the right one as I am very discerning about the colours and fabrics when wearing animal print. For me there is a fine line between looking sophisticated (what I was hoping for) and looking like a lady of negligible virtue (not what I was looking for!) Otherwise I am not strongly drawn to pattern, bar a few silk scarves, some polka dots and a couple of dresses. I do like texture though. Tweed, patent, crocodile print, faux fur, cotton and silk. I guess I am more of a tactile person than one who needs lots of colours, and I like the luxe feel of some of these fabrics and think they compliment the rich colours of my autumnal palette very well. The texture challenge reiterated my preference for texture in an outfit, if it is to be an outfit I love, rather than one I think is just ok.
I don’t love short skirts or dresses, (my legs are not my best feature and I prefer not to have my knees on show,) and leggings do not do me any favours either. I much prefer lined, tailored trousers, which are pressed and have a crease down the front, as they make my legs look thinner. I do have slim ankles though and so a pointed sling back heel is one of my favourite shoes, along with a midi or knee length skirt. My calves are quite big so it is a chore to find boots that are wide enough to fit. I do think boots can make a great style statement and add a more chic edge to my woollen dresses and denim skirts in winter time so I persevere to find them. The wear a belt challenge reminded me to make the most of having an hourglass figure and I have been wearing belts several times a week since I started the EYS challenges.
What I don’t have is many star pieces in my clothing that really stand out. I tend to spend more of my budget on accessories as this gives me more variety in my wardrobe and the key piece might be a rich silk scarf or a pair of fabulous shoes.
I am less boho, modernist, avant garde or romantic and more classic and euro chic in my style, preferring a structured bag , a tailored jacket and court shoes than a cosy, folksy cardigan, snugly trousers and Ugg boots. Even my nightwear is quite glamorous and everything tends to be ironed, even my jeans, though I draw the line at putting a crease down the front.
When I worked in an academic and corporate environment I found dressing smartly and professionally something I was very comfortable and at ease with. When I switched to being a full time mum, I found the transition into more casual clothes quite difficult. I think I will always prefer to be more smart than casual and each day on the school run I am probably more dressed up than the majority of mums. I now feel this is ok. I don’t have to set my standards of dress by anyone else’s. I don’t have a need to fit in with the dress codes and choices of others. I do have a need to be my authentic self and by the time I had worn nine strands of earls with a crisp white cotton shirt to school a few times, people seemed to just accept that I am who I am. Accepting ourselves can be its own challenge sometimes and this is perhaps a less obvious positive side effect of the programme.
Value I gained from the programme
For me, continuous professional development is about both conscious incompetence and unconscious incompetence. I am an avid reader of style books and have over 100 of them. These are my guilty pleasure and I find them engaging, enlightening and entertaining both personally and for increasing my subject knowledge in image consultancy. This is both technical knowledge and aesthetically. An area of unconscious incompetence for me was colour contrast and though I was aware of value contrast the other element was new to me. I do highly commend Imogen for her blog posts of explaining the technical reasons behind styling suggestions and giving great aesthetic examples too. I am sure the abstract concepts backed by the concrete examples have given many of us an ‘Ah Ha!’ moment where the penny has dropped and the vision has become clear. This is what the daily emails and suggested blogs bought to the programme for me.
Conscious incompetence was my awareness levels of the impact texture can make to an outfit. I was cognizant of texture of course but before the programme I underestimated the potential value of it. As for double necklace day, that was an epiphany for me and I have discovered that no one died because of an extra accessory. I love the belle époque look of multi strings of different size and different length pearls. I get to keep wearing my signature pearls but in a new way. Fabulous!
My confidence has increased in believing in myself and my own abilities as an image consultant for helping others too. I do have the knowledge, skills and behaviours that guide others in a way that increases their self esteem and helps them to build their style, select colours with confidence and move them along their own personal journey. I have enjoyed identifying the colours and styles of others on the programme and have made a few individual suggestions for EYS evolvers regarding outfits suggestions, and even cars that seem to fit their style recipe. Since completing the 30 day challenge I have been inspired to design an additional two style workshops for clients based around ‘Advanced colour analysis’ and ‘Finding your own style statement’ workshops. I will be testing these out on a group of friends for feedback and I have contacted a second local style magazine about writing a monthly article for them, and they are very interested.
If anyone has managed to get to the end of this epitaph then I hope it has given you a good idea about who I am and what I great deal I have gained from taking part. I am a reflective person by nature and reflecting on my progress has been cathartic and has focused my thinking in terms of my personal style evolution. I can’t believe what fantastic value for money this programme is as I could not recommend the programme more highly. It has been fabulous x
Ruth Essex, Essex, UK
Image Consultant, Mycolourcoach.co.uk
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