Reader Request: Rut vs. Signature


signature style or rut 2

Reader Brenda sent me this fantastic question:

I’ve been considering the difference between a style rut vs. developing a signature look. I’ve read, for example, that Anna Wintor routinely wears a variation on a sheath dress. She’s found what works and sticks with it. Is that a signature or a rut?

I sew a lot of my clothes and have a standard fit & flare dress pattern that I use. I vary the fabric, color, sleeve length and details, and neckline shape, and I get compliments from people. Now there’s a niggling in the back of my head that I’m in a rut, but the competing thought is that this is working for me. I’d love your thoughts on this!

Seriously, isn’t that a good one? As a person who loves being eclectic, I hadn’t given it a ton of thought before Brenda posted the question, but here are my initial thoughts:

How do you feel about it?

This is the main point of differentiation, if you ask me. A rut feels bad, boring, frustrating, and difficult to get out of. You’re in a rut if you’re wearing the same things over and over again and cannot think of anything else you’d rather wear. A signature feels natural, aligned with your inner vision of yourself, freeing, serene. You’ve developed a signature if you’re wearing the same things over and over again and feel pulled-together and perfectly like yourself.

Does it suit you?

Many of us get stuck in ruts wearing garments or outfits that are more easy than appealing: Jeans and a tee, trousers and a cardigan, the same style of dress. They’re on-hand, they fit, they’re comfortable, they’re washable. We may wear them constantly even though they don’t make us feel good about ourselves. Part of the rut is identifying that your routines aren’t necessarily working for your figure or style, and feeling helpless to change. A signature, on the other hand, is a style or garment that you gravitate toward or even collect specifically because you love how it works for you. You’ve actively chosen it because it suits you and made it central to your personal style.

Do you employ variations on your theme?

Our girl A.W. is definitely a fan of the sheath, but she mixes up her choices. We see cap sleeves, half sleeves, no sleeves. Colors and neutrals. She definitely gravitates toward prints, but there are a few solids in her closet, too. And she varies her accessories: Sometimes there’s a belt or necklace, she switches out her watch occasionally, and gorgeous and varied shoes. If she were in a rut, she would probably stick to a single sleeve style and palette, and style her sheaths the same way every time.

Do you mix in other options?

Naturally, if you wear the exact same thing every day, you’re in uniform territory. And nothing wrong with that, especially if you FEEL great in your uniform. If you wear extremely slight variations on the same combinations every day and never introduce other outfits or styles – and especially if doing this makes you feel trapped, bored, or stuck, as mentioned above – that is more of a rut situation. But if you have a style of pant, shoe, dress, or necklace that is your sartorial touchstone but still occasionally wear and enjoy wearing other styles of pant, shoe, dress, or necklace, you’ve likely developed a signature.

That’s my take, anyway. What are your thoughts? What do YOU see as differentiating a style rut from a style signature?

Images courtesy E Online, Style Bistro, Upscale Hype

Originally posted 2014-08-04 06:22:59.

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11 Responses to “Reader Request: Rut vs. Signature”

  1. Anamarie

    Maybe you’re in a rut when others notice you wear the same style clothing all the time, instead of commenting on your overall style. While saying so could be rude, it could be a clue that the style is working against you.

    • Ginger

      Often you’ll hear, “it looks just like you!”

      I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it can be a clue that your style may be on the predictable side.

      • Nathalie Desrayaud

        Which isn’t inherently bad. Being predictably fabulous looking is actually pretty awesome.

  2. Heidi/FranticButFab

    Totally agree, especially with the first two points. When you *know* what works for you, there’s no reason not to wear it in many flavors. I find the same thing is true for hairstyles, too. Like the indomitable Miss Wintour, I’m a chin-length bob girl. I’ve tried it many other ways over the years but I always come back to it; it just feels like me.

  3. shannon

    Speaking as a (long-winded) fellow person who sews…here’s the thing. A tried & true pattern that you make over and over becomes tried and true for a reason–whether because you dialed in the fit perfectly, or love the silhouette, or it’s just a really versatile pattern that’s easy to vary–something inspired you to make it more than once, and I seriously doubt that each version is alike, (life’s too short to turn churn out identical sewing projects, trust me). I have some patterns that I’ve made tons of times and I wear all those makes until they fall apart, because they’re a great fit, and they’re all different! I think it’s really hard to get in a rut wearing things you’ve made, because so much thought and effort goes into each make. What kind of construction choices, finishing methods, decorative details, etc. do you want/would best work with the fabric? Or, what kind of fabric best showcases the pattern details? You want piped pockets with contrast lining and french seams in that dress? Sew ’em in! Every version is your oyster! (And think about it…if you look at ready to wear clothes, how many are just variations on the same basic pattern shape, brought to life with different details?) So anyhow, there you have my two cents.

  4. Lisa Wong

    Ooh this is such an interesting question! Agree re. your points, Sal.

    I think I’m veering into “style signature” territory lately because it’s easier, and because it’s more economical. With a mortgage to pay down and a wedding coming up, it’s nice to have a curated closetful of items that I know will fit and flatter and work on any given day, and stand the test of time, instead of spending money on flash-in-the-pan trends.

  5. Janel Messenger

    I loved this! This is something I’ve wrestled with a time or two.

    I’m not sure someone saying something “looks just like you” is always a bad thing. When girlfriends point out something as “me”, it might not be like anything else I have, but perfectly fits with my style. Those are always fabulous finds. 🙂

    As for tried and true patterns, I go back to mine because they fit well. If you’re already making different hemlines, fabrics and such, mix up your accessories and consider a new hairstyle or color. That will help get you out of a style rut.

  6. LaPriel

    That is a great question. Thank you for writing a post about it.

  7. Rachel

    I think it falls into a rut if you’re literally just purchasing or making the same thing over and over again – replacing one pinstriped shirt with another pinstriped shirt. But if you’re doing similarity with variations, that gives more of a signature style.