One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about apparel is the distinction between fashion and style. Most people think the two terms are interchangeable, completely synonymous concepts applying to the methods with which we clothe ourselves and, more broadly, our society.
Style is a personal experience of clothing, whereas fashion refers to the mass consumer fashion that is advertised, consumed and worn by the general populace. Most people who care about what they adorn their bodies with follow a mixture of both style and fashion when shopping and styling outfits.
For example, pastel-colored, button-up shirts might be the big trend, but you might be more into darker, earthy tones. What most people do in this situation is find a compromise, pairing the button up with darker jeans or layering it with a neutral jacket or sweater. Fashion might influence your apparel, but style is the method that informs how those clothes come together.
I occasionally hop on whatever is the most-popular fashion trend, but the most important thing to me is style.
Style is timeless, classic and visually appealing. It doesn’t take an elitist eye of judgment or a degree in fashion or art school to appreciate the simple beauty that style lends its audience. For that reason, style should be the backbone of anyone who aims to impress with his or her clothing.
The Midwest isn’t praised for its consistent, measurable and logical patterns of weather. Like Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I can’t control what we’ll have to deal with this October, nor can I control how we’ll handle it.
I suggest clothing choices that offer a balance of maximum comfort and maximum visual appeal. Hopefully, you’ll feel maximum confidence showing them off. The undisputed, best apparel piece for these transitional weather periods is the sweater.
What comes to mind when you hear “sweater weather?”
Aside from the angsty song by The Neighbourhood we all listened to in high school, an image of coziness, cloudy days, pumpkin spice lattes and crunchy fall leaves probably presents itself. What comes to my mind are the same outfits year after year. Fashion changes all the time, but it’s like the world stands still from late September until early November.
Why does this happen?
People often let the latest fashion trends guide their clothing choices and purchases in summer and winter but rely more on their own intuition during the fall. Fall outfits tend to stay the same every year, whereas looks in the surrounding seasons seem very different.
I see it all the time — a student wearing athleisure or streetwear in summer with pastel hues, joggers and a patch of Steve Buscemi and Drake cuddling. But walking around campus in October, I see the same people looking reminiscent of 19th-century European peasantry.
This is because fall is dominated by style, which isn’t a bad thing. People wouldn’t be wearing the same outfit every year if it didn’t look good. But, to make an impression this year, switch it up by breaking away from the same old cardigan, jeans, boots and scarf combo that’s been repeated far too many times.
In the earlier and warmer bit of autumn, pair your sweater with shorts to offer a fun and sporty twist on a classic fall staple piece. The shorts nod to the previous season you’re not ready to give up, and the sweater will keep you grounded in your soon-to-be-chilly reality.
Next, a nice twist would be to add your own aesthetic preference or an almost costumey overtone to make the outfit original. I’ve always been a fan of the vintage preppy look. When I first started caring about fashion and style in high school, the first brands I liked were Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, who drew inspiration from the glory days of 1920s - 1950s Ivy League fashion. Adding little dashes of extra inspiration give a layer of originality and thought into what would otherwise be only a functional outfit which, by itself, is still pretty good.
These elements can be seen in one outfit, which is inspired by preppy tennis ensembles. It also reminds me of my high school days when I would go to school dressed up in cardigans, ties and Oxford-collared shirts.
The colder part of the season is where it gets tricky. You don’t get as much freedom to play around with different pieces from different seasons. If you’re outside, functionality plays the lead role, while style often takes a back seat.
That’s why in my other outfit, I dressed for what I would most likely be sporting toward October’s end, preparing myself for November’s cold by leaving room for a jacket if I so chose to throw one on. A turtleneck is a great piece for that reason, as you get both function and classic, ageless style. To accompany the look, I added in a scarf, which is probably the biggest fall must-have following the sweater.
The biggest takeaway here is not only finding a place for functionality with visual appeal — that’s always the case — but altering style and tradition with fashion and innovation. Too often, outfits during the fall become stale and unoriginal, but by adding your own influences to your look, you can feel comfortable turning heads and flipping expectations.
This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The DN.