When I met Erin Sumwalt 17 years back she was a fashion editor at InStyle magazine in New York. She struck me because the epitome of je ne sais quoi, the French idea that there's just something about her. She'd – but still has – an unapologetically feminine method of dressing, forever in dresses or skirts in ethereal fabrics and patterns. She's also incredibly warm, zen and funny as well.
Along with a great fashion sense that has an eco-conscious undertone into it, she's well-qualified to provide her input: as former Fashion Director at People StyleWatch and Fashion Market Director at InStyle and current Editorial Styling Director at Stitch Fix (based in Bay area), I can't consider anyone more ideal to discuss how you can consider your wardrobe inside a new way, including creating a signature style and what pieces to increase it as we leave lockdown hibernation.
Developing a Signature Style
As a young child becoming an adult in North park, Sumwalt's love of fashion began with old movies, magazines and just what she saw on tv – Lucille Ball's 1950s shirtdresses on I Love Lucy, mainstream looks on MTV and even CNN.”I never missed an episode of Style with Elsa Klench, where she covered all the fashion shows in N.Y.C, Milan and Paris and I knew I wanted to attend these shows one day.” It was then that her signature type of “feminine and romantic pieces” began to flourish.
Whether you're drawn to edgy, avant-garde looks or practical, comfortable styles, understanding what you want and creating a signature style can help you concentrate on items which you'll actually wear. (Hands up if you purchase things that are outside your norm and never put them on.) Unsure what your signature is? What exactly are you attracted to – why is you stop and look and admire? Then research that style and find out the way it can function with your lifestyle. Then, while you shop or cleanse your closet, buy and keep stuff that support this style. If you value rocker T-shirts with blazers outrageous, a conservative wrap-dress doesn't belong inside your closet. If athleisure may be the name of the game, you most likely don't need pencil skirts. When you are strict on your own, you'll end up buying less and wearing much more of that which you feel best in.
Your signature style can extend to your beauty look as well. Sumwalt, for example, is big on skincare, especially serums, sunscreen and delicate exfoliation. She tends to go minimal on makeup except for the sporadic red lip (something from Tom Ford or YSL).
It can take confidence to rock a signature style, but own it: You will find people admire this about you. Additionally, it means you won't fall prey to short-lived trends that don't suit you and also drain your money. (Yep, it's time we reevaluate fast fashion and its effect on the environment and our piggy banks.)
Like a real fashion editor, Sumwalt keeps her closet filled with things that can pair together effortlessly.
Her staples include a cashmere robe coat, denim jackets (both oversized and fitted), feminine blouses, blazers, crisp button-down shirts, flowing midi-skirts and dresses in prints and lace, and floral-print maxi dresses. “I love wearing pieces which have a dream-like quality to them,” she says, pointing to lace, chiffon and silk. And, “Except for some pairs of high-waisted Levis, I only wear skirts and dresses. I never wear trousers or shorts. I do not own any. I love how they look on other women, however they are simply not for me,” she says.
She recommends skipping recognizable prints from a particular season which will look dated in a matter of months. “I would rather spend more money and invest in well-made pieces that will have a lengthy lifespan instead of purchase lots of lower-priced pieces that are not well-crafted.” Think of your closet like a collection, she says, that you're always adding to, concentrating on pieces that “will boost the wearability of products you already own.” Maybe you love a certain pair of trousers but never have the right shoes to wear together. Invest in a neutral footwear that may use the trousers along with other things inside your wardrobe.
People often ask Sumwalt the things they should purchase. Answer: “Purchase accessories that you could pair with stuff you already love in your closet.” For instance, an organized leather tote bag in a tan shade coordinates with many things and it has a timeless quality to it. Buy the best bag you can afford and carry it for years.
Other accessory must-haves for Sumwalt? Belts in a variety of widths, medium and small cross-body bags, ballet flats, leather sneakers, a flexible boot and long printed scarves. “I am never with no scarf,” especially when she travels, as it can “be used on the plane or car for warmth, worn as a sarong or wrapped around shoulders by the pool.”
Look for Inspiration
Movies, TV and magazines served as inspiration for Sumwalt in decades past and today she adds Instagram to that list, having a slew of “wonderfully creative people” to follow for inpso. A few of her faves include designers Alexander McQueen (“I obsess over all the gorgeous dresses and corsetry and sleeve details”), Dries van Noten “for all the amazing prints, color and coats,” and Marc Jacobs because “he is always light and fun.”
She follows stylists Karla Welch and Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele – “I always loved working with her.” Other accounts include London-based photographer Agata Pospieszynska, actress Diane Keaton, lingerie-designer-turned-confectioner Maayan Zilberman, Missy Elliott “for her style and dance videos,” @chinatownpretty and @healthy_hair_journey.
She and her son (middle schooler, Hudson), also frequent the library, “checking out stacks and stacks of favor, photography, architecture and style books” and “watching lots of fashion-related documentaries.” It has been especially important throughout the lockdown. “Looking at beautiful images has helped me feel more connected, inspired and happy.”
Sumwalt's passion for vintage shopping began in high school. “I loved looking for treasures and finding stuff that no one else could be wearing,” she says. “I didn't know it, however this was perfect training for being a fashion editor, searching designers' showrooms for that perfect pieces to feature in fashion stories.”
Vintage shopping isn't just an excellent way to locate quality pieces at a reasonable price and unique items which you won't see on anyone else, it's a conscientious method to shop. (Sorry, fast fashion, but we really need to split up.) And shopping together with your signature style in your mind makes hunting through racks easier, and that includes virtual racks. Obviously, eBay.com is really a go-to for hunters, but there are a large number of options like TheRealReal.com for high-end brands, marketplace.asos.com for vintage throughout the planet, ThredUp.com for any large range of second-hand clothing at inexpensive price points, LePrix.com for high-end labels, swap.com for women's, men's and children's items, poshmark.com for additional modern, fast-fashion clothing and luxurygaragesale.com for label lovers. Keep these retailers in mind for selling as well. Cleaning out items which don't match your signature style is less painful knowing you might get a little bit of cash on their behalf.
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