How to create your own signature look

Uniform dressing is the stylish woman’s best-kept secret. Stylist Cori Burchell offers three essential tips on how to do it.

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Anna Wintour Wimbledon 2014
Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Photo, Keystone Press.

Anna Wintour does it. So does Posh Spice. Uniform dressing is the unspoken wardrobe philosophy of some of the world’s most stylish women.

The principles of uniform dressing are pretty straightforward. Wear what looks good on you, what flatters your shape, and what reflects your personal style. “It’s such a smart, intelligent way to approach dressing. For me, that means you have a system, or very clear idea of “X” number of pieces that always work for you in a good combination,” says Cori Burchell, a stylist and personal style coach based in Toronto.

Far from being restrictive or boring, Burchell sees uniform dressing as liberating. It also significantly cuts down on the time you spend staring into your closet wondering what you’re going to wear. It doesn’t mean wearing the same outfit day in and day out, but rather that each look follows a similar theme, silhouette, or colour palette.

Burchell cites French fashion icon Carine Roitfeld as an example of a woman who uses uniform dressing to her advantage. The former editor of French Vogue follows a simple formula, mainly: “Her uniform is a great pencil skirt and a blouse,” says Burchell. Roitfeld may mix up the colours, textures and prints to keep things interesting but she relies mainly on the same silhouette.

Burchell has her own uniform formula: a unique tailored jacket, a simple T-shirt or blouse and a pair of jeans.

The hardest part about adopting uniform dressing is figuring out your go-to outfit. Start with a wardrobe purge, or “edit” as Burchell terms it. Perform a really good closet cleanout, she advises, taking out everything that doesn’t work for your body, or detracts from your style personality. After that, it’s time to establish a signature look or silhouette, a process that involves a few important “filters”, says Burchell.

First, she says, you need to consider your style personality. “If you’re a really feminine kind of woman, then you’re probably going to want to gravitate towards a skirt or a dress. If you’re sort of a more edgy person maybe you’re going to gravitate towards leather or a bold print of some kind.”

Second, establish a colour palette and print scheme that’s flattering to you.

Third, evaluate your shape. Ask yourself what kind of silhouette is most flattering and choose a look that falls in line with that. “Do you have great legs and a feminine style? Then maybe a skirt really does make a lot of sense to you.”

Once you’ve established a staple, then you can start to build what Burchell calls a “curated collection” of pieces.

“That’s how you start the process. You pick the one piece that’s going to be the key to the rest of it and then you build from there.”

Your next step: add in your tops, paying attention to textures and necklines that you find flattering.

Establishing a signature look can make shopping feel more like a challenge to find the perfect skirt for your newly edited wardrobe rather than a mad dash to grab the most trends in one afternoon. It’s also a long-range approach to building a wardrobe. “It takes a little bit of time.” So, rather than max out your credit card in one trip, you build up your wardrobe slowly and over time, adding pieces season to season.

Burchell also suggests refining your signature look by having garments custom-tailored to suit your shape. It’s a practice endorsed by none other than Jennifer Aniston, who recently admitted she even has her T-shirts tailored.