Written by Billie Bhatia
Stylist columnist Billie Bhatia answers your questions.
Q: “I’ve lost all my fashion personality in the last two years. How do I get it back?”
From Zara, 29
A: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2007 Miuccia Prada famously said: “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world […] Fashion is instant language.” If that’s the case, my personal style has been communicating in tongues.
My fashion personality has seen Preppy Billie, who thought a popped collar and pearl earrings were a way of life, and Yee-haw Billie, who insisted on wearing cowboy boots on a night out. There’s been Skateboarder Billie (a brief blip) and my favourite, University Billie, which hinged on Topshop vests worn inappropriately as dresses, platform boots and a lot of questionable statement jewellery.
When I began working in the industry, my style read as keen but confused. It was a mishmash of trends I thought were cool (printed blazers, leather-look leggings), but I soon discovered that finding your fashion personality is a lot like finding yourself – it takes time and many a mistake along the way.
Countless designers that I profiled, despite offering traditional “trends” on their catwalks, discouraged the idea in real life, stating that innate style transcended any runway recreation. “Women should wear what makes them happy,” Johnny Coca told me when he was creative director of Mulberry. (He also told me he always travelled with a suitcase of sunglasses that matched his swimming trunks.) I took his advice and ran with it, finding happiness, confidence and my style solace in a whole new fashion personality: Trainers Billie. I ditched the fussy blouses, tunic tops and leather-look everything, instead opting for a casual look of simple separates and letting my collection of shoes shine.
But, like a lot of things, I lost her to the pandemic. While the trainers were the most crucial part of this identity, it was my aesthetic of slip skirts, flowy dresses and bomber jackets that went too. My prized Yeezy Waverunners were replaced with mud-splashed walking boots, and only items with an elasticated waistband got an airing from my cupboard. Black leggings and sometimes-stained hoodies became my fashion personality, and it was as drab as it sounds.
As we crept out of the Covid cloud, Trainers Billie was (ironically) cautious on her feet. Unsure of how to actually get dressed, a new and unexpected personality emerged: Go Big Or Go Home Billie. I found my sartorial joy in billowing floral maxis, ruffled mini dresses and big, bold prints. The kind of attention-seeking clothes I had previously snubbed were powering my happiness and confidence.
Rather than trying to claw back your pre-pandemic style, take the opportunity to lean into a new blank canvas. Physically flick through every hanger in your wardrobe and pull out the clothes you genuinely want to wear – to quote Marie Kondo, the ones that “spark joy”. Have a trying-on party, swap pieces with pals, be less rigid in the rules of what you think you can and can’t wear. Dress up for the office (I’m currently wearing super-flared trousers and an over-the-top flouncy blouse) or dress down – loungewear is a fully fledged category now. But if you’re going to keep the tracksuit bottoms, make them tailored or swap the hoodie for oversized cashmere.
Most importantly, don’t be disheartened when you get it wrong. Last week I wore a roll-neck under a kaftan and it’s still haunting me, but like all good things in life, the fuck ups make for sweeter successes.
Ask Billie anything on Instagram, @stylistmagazine
Photography: Sarah Brick
Hair and make-up: Patrizia Lio at S management using Kevin Murphy and Nars
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