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Readers, I do not have a look. Or if I do, I am not aware of it.

I have always wanted a look but it never came naturally to me, which is strange since I am, and always was, interested in fashion. I just lacked the energy to make it happen, I guess. It also has to do with my being raised to believe you weren’t supposed to put too much emphasis on appearances, as well as growing up male in a culture where men are not supposed to be overly interested in clothes.

So I’ve been highly ambivalent about cultivating a look as well as, regrettably, judgmental of those individuals — men in particular — who seemed (to me) to be overly focused on their appearance.

I generally think of dressing up as theater. It’s fun to wear a costume and perform, but I don’t want to do it every day. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a look.

Sometimes I wish I wore glasses because they can give you an instant look. But so far I don’t need them and I feel foolish wearing fake ones.

The thing about a look though, is how do you know if you have one or not? I mean, everybody looks a certain way, but not everybody has a “look”.

Maybe a look is like obscenity: it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

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Famed Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland definitely had a “look.”

Many people copy the style of a particular celebrity and that becomes their look — often for life. In my apartment building for instance we have a Liza, one or two Farrahs, and a few Beyonces (No Lady Gagas yet). Our one remaining Betty Grable is nearly 90, but she still puts the lipstick and eyeshadow on every morning!

When I walk around the New York City or go to the Chelsea flea market on weekends, I always see people — both men and women — who have amazing looks. It’s more than appearing fashionable: they have found a way to express themselves through clothes that is both highly original and extremely flattering. It’s like alchemy.

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Mexican painter Frida Kahlo looked like nobody else — I think.

When I started sewing and posting my projects on sites like BurdaStyle, I realized that most people who sew just want to make nice clothes, not to make a fashion statement. No doubt their home-sewn garments fit better than ready-to-wear and are constructed of higher quality fabrics, but sewing for most people isn’t about creating a look, or at least, not one that I can readily discern.

When I think about looks, I remember something I read about about one’s identity in some psychology book: There’s the you you are, the you you think you are, the you others think you are, and so forth.

I think you could say the same thing about your look: there’s the look you have; there’s the look you think you have; the look others think you have, etc.

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Marlon Brando certainly had a “look” — at least in the movies.

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Lenny Kravitz has a “look,” definitely required in the music industry!

Then I’m reminded of the old “if a tree fell in the forest” question: if you think you have a look, but nobody recognizes it as a look, then do you really have a look at all?

This can get confusing and potentially vertigo-inducing, like when you look up at the stars at night and wonder where the universe ends.

So I ask you, BurdaStyle readers:

Do you intentionally cultivate a “look”? If so, how do you describe it?

If you don’t have a look, would you like one? What would it be?

Do tell!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

53 Comments

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    May 15, 2011, 07.32 PMby gedwoods

    I agree with cadetdee, I think we all have a look. The question is whether we have a “cultivated look” or a “designed look”, that is a look which we have ourselves semi-consciously coaxed into being, or whether we just wear what inspires us and let whatever that leads us to emerge as a look. For most of my life, I have been in the second group – it is only in the past year or so that I have started to “tweak” things so that I have a more cultivated look.

    I have always worn clothes for their comfort value, although I sometimes also wore clothes to make some kind of a statement. For example, although as a young man I liked t-shirts, I have largely avoided them since my mid-twenties. I just don’t think I look that good in a t-shirt, I don’t find them all that comfortable and I find them “too casual” for me. I also avoid hats – I hate anything on the top of my head, even in mid-winter at minus 40 degrees! In my thirties and forties, I largely avoided dress shoes, as I find them uncomfortable. Combining these “avoidances” already generates a kind of “look”.

    I’ve always liked bright colors, but I like plain colors more than variegated colors. So I wear uniform color shirts, for example, rather than highly patterned shirts.

    About eight years ago, a friend of mine pointed out that vertical stripes “lengthen and slim” a body, perceptually. As I was beginning to gain weight, I was sensitive to this and started to buy systematically shirts and pants with vertical stripes. Since I also like uniform colors, I tended to choose garments with less regular use of vertical stripes. This contributed to a definite look, even the beginnings of a cultivated appearance.

    These days, I am consciously seeking to “change my look”. This is an interesting exercise. The idea isn’t simply to change, but rather to choose a look that is “more me” than what I wore before, that is, that expresses something truer and stronger about who I am, rather than dress, for example, primarily according to comfort or the inspiration of the moment. In order to do this, I need to determine “who I am”… not an easy proposition! So rather than make a series of arbitrary decisions, I have been experimenting, trying some new things, but always trying to enhance my sense of self. Some experiments work wonderfully, and some not at all. I have by no means finished, but I have changed my look substantially. And, although this shouldn’t have surprised me, I feel better about myself in public than I used to – my clothes “represent me” in ways they haven’t always!

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    May 11, 2011, 03.30 AMby harrietbazley

    Thanks to Mr Lappin’s earlier article I now know what my look is – ‘Nice’!

    1 Reply
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    May 9, 2011, 02.29 PMby artemis-ivorywings

    The look I actually have: Well, I told my sister the other day "thank God bohemian’s coming back in style, ’cuz now i can wear my maxi skirts and birkenstocks and not look like I should have been born on the hippie days.

    The look I’d have if I could afford it: http://www.ae.com/web/browse/w_wardrobe.jsp?catId=cat2940002

    The look other people think I have: way too young for my age. (you look like you’re fifteen! You’re twenty! Stop wearing “Gryffindor Forever” tshirts!

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    May 9, 2011, 06.06 AMby dj1

    now that I’m older i do have a look that I like but im not afraid to try new things

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    May 8, 2011, 09.48 PMby Peter Lappin

    Thanks for all the great feedback, folks!

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    May 8, 2011, 05.29 PMby Bess101202

    I loved reading this article. I love the line “there’s the look you have; there’s the look you think you have; the look others think you have”. I think it’s so true because I think my look is like relaxed/ preppy but there’s no telling if other people consider that my look. But I think it is very me and expresses my not overly preppy and relaxed personality.

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    May 8, 2011, 02.18 PMby lizajane09

    Peter, you are awesome and so are all your articles.

    I feel the same- I don’t have a look, but I’ve always been interested in clothes. I try to wear things that are unique and individual but not excessively trendy. Sometimes practicality takes over creativity on my day to day basis. I’m a little scared I’m started to get the frumpy, old art teacher look these days (though I’ll never wear Birkenstock sandals and socks together)

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    May 8, 2011, 08.30 AMby tilshmil

    I love all your articles Peter! This whole thread is a good read! Thanks!

    1 Reply
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    May 8, 2011, 07.51 AMby pambox

    i think i sort of have a style, not sure whether it reaches the heights of being a definable ‘look’. it’s generally a bit kitsch/quirky in terms of fabrics, but still relatively simple and straight forward in terms of my actual clothes, although most patterns i use are vintage. the description a friend gave me yesterday about my clothes and ‘look’ is that it’s retro/vintage but timeless. that’s sort of what i aim for – not really overtly and strictly, more because it tends to be what interests me – so i don’t know, i guess people think i do have a bit of a look.

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    May 7, 2011, 07.33 PMby tinybows

    Where I live, (Main Line area outside of Philly) EVERYONE LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME! I’m pretty sure everyone shops exclusively at either Lily Pulitzer or Banana Republic. There is no real sense of identity fashion wise. So, whenever I step out of the house, I generate a lot of strange looks.

    My sense of style centers around the 1930s. I wear my hair in finger waves, I go out with cute little hats and vintage dresses with with my banjo strapped on my back!

    I pretty much buy all my clothes at estate sales or I make them from vintage patterns. I do it because I love the old styles and they suit my personality. It gives me a definite personal “look”. I don’t care if people stare or make comments. I’m just me and I know what I like!

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      May 8, 2011, 03.08 PMby Peter Lappin

      I love your look, tinybows!

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      May 8, 2011, 06.26 PMby heidilea

      Nifty! I love 30s looks because they are so feminine and timeless. (I used to work near City Line Ave, so I know exactly what you are talking about.)

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    May 7, 2011, 05.09 PMby candroid007

    My style is Rock n Noir Secret Agent, I wouldn’t say its cutting edge either because for me its just functional and a way of life. I’ve been into wearing mostly black since I was wee one.

    When I was 6 years old and my parents moved us from Chicago to Incline Village, Lake Tahoe Nevada my favorite outfits were comprised of black stirrup leggings, black sweaters or turtlenecks and black boots, there was a boy that would tease me and call me Michael Jackson… which to this day I still don’t understand… I remember being just miserable when my parents would later buy me pastel colored cordoroys and other flowery stuff. I do love feminine stuff with a rough edge.

    Now as an adult its been low waisted flat front black slacks, black pencil skirts or bootcuts jeans w moto X knees, black yoga style jersey knit pants, black tops or jewel toned tops. I love anything with secret pockets built in. I love black trench coats or vintage mens wool trench coats.

    When I worked in accounting I had a specific look for it: black pantsuits with a soft black tee underneath or royal blue, or if I was feeling like a Friday a pale pink button down. My hair bobbed ala Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction and geeky black framed glasses.

    You can never have too many pairs of black boots, for me they range from mid calf to knee high. Whether in style or not I will always love the wedge heel. You can always carry a couple of necessary items in your long boots if need be. For pumps or strappy heel sandals, I love a lug sole. And I feel absolutely naked without my heavy eyeliner.

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    May 6, 2011, 09.29 PMby MissPx

    Interesting…I could understand the psychology you were talking about with the ‘The you you think you are, what others think you are….blah blah’ (I find psychology pretty intresting) and I would say that goes with the whole ’do I have a look question.

    I would say I wear wjhat I feel comfortable in whilst at the same time not conforming to the latest fashion trends, I would be happy wearing something that stood out compared to just dressing like everyone else. In college I was more observant in what people wore, and although they tried to create their own look it never worked because they were still dressing like everyone else. I would say a look is consistent, no matter what comes out in the stores you will always have aspects of ‘your’ look, its like an identitiy.

    So answeing your question, I woudln’t say I have a look, reasons being is because my look changes from year to year, what I wear now is not the same as what I wore last year. Then again I am 18 and I could say I am still actually trying to discover this ‘look’ of mine. Recently I am so much more comfortable in loose clothing, this includes loose crop tops, baggy jumper, baggy jeans (the ONLY jeans I wear), legging, baggy shorts, vest tops, floral patterns, other colourful patterns and in the winter I must have my wellies and I do not leave the house without black eyeliner <3 (I hope thats a rough idea)

    However these days I have been more care-free about what I wear, I dress less to impress, I dress becuase I am comfy in it and I have found that uni friends have said ‘you dress like a dancer* ’ and acqantances asking me ’do you dance, you dress like a dancer*’ and the other day my boyfriend said to me ‘you are dressed like one of those 80’s singers, but it looks good’. However I don’t dance (as a hobby, although I wouldn’t mind) and it was not the look I intentially look for. I have also had a boy tell me ‘If I was a girl I would dress like you’, so I assume I have a look there somewhere.

    My actual look: Whatever I am comfy with What I think my look is: I don’t have one, whatever looks good mixed together What others think my look is: So far, dancer*

    *Assuming the dance genre is hip hop, pop, street

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    May 6, 2011, 09.26 PMby amber winter

    i have a look…it’s not cutting edge or too out there but it’s me. a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and tennies. when you said:the look you have; there’s the look you think you have; the look others think you have. well thats the look i have and thats the look i think i have because it defines who i am as far as the look others think you have, well lets just say that my friends, family, and the people who know me see me in my look everyday and when i do switch it up and do a Liza, Farrahs, or Beyonces they tell me to stay true to whoo i am ’cuz they like my look

    1 Reply
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      May 8, 2011, 08.20 AMby tilshmil

      I am an American living in Europe and I have to say the ‘look’ you decribe is the way we can spot a fellow American over here! Funny but true! I have tried to blend by ditching the sneakers and flip flops for flats or wedges and use more jackets instead of hoodies…but when we move home to WA state (next Saturday!!), I look forward to getting back to the more American way of dressing! :o)

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    May 6, 2011, 08.40 PMby Nicole Nolan

    I find that trying to define my look to any one style just limits me. I have many looks and pick different images to try on each day. Sometimes I will pile my hair into a much too high pony, slip into a mini-shorts set of pseudo coveralls, toss on a pair of chunky wooden heeled shoes, and finish it all off with brass animal skull jewelry. Another day I might choose sleek hair, vintage inspired heels, and a simple wrap dress, with cherry red lips.

    I think the things that define my look would be my unruly copper curls, and my love of dresses, beautiful shoes, and the fact I always add something that clashes or is a little macabre. My collection of animal skull jewelry for example, always adds that weird little touch to a prim floral silk dress.

    @Janul- you don’t need to dress up to have a look! Some of the best looks are developed out of practicality! A favorite pair of earrings, or a love of a certain shoe can easily define a daily look!

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    May 6, 2011, 06.13 PMby lclausewitz

    Whenever I look my best, it’s usually when I’m wearing something with a military edge to it. And when I look at the best of my old photographs I find that they make me look like a veteran or a reservist who’s hanging on to the item or two he could still wear to remind him of the days when he was serving a cause greater for himself. Makes for nice psychoanalysis material, that.

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    May 6, 2011, 04.55 PMby lienepien

    Like your blog. I don’t think I have a look. I would like to have as when I see other people wearing nice clothes I think that is nice.. But when I go shopping myself I am thinking, well I don’t think that looks nice on me etc.. I do have been always interested in fashion but I think as you say a lack for expressing it. And now I wish I had but thinking I am to old.. but you never to old.. I also wanted to be a fashion designer.. but never did anything with it, I thought because I didn’t wear the latest fashion trends it wasn’t something for me. Haha But maybe those two has nothing to do with each other, because ideas are in the head.. Most of the time I am wearing jeans, comfortable clothes. But in summer time I like to wear skirt or dresses a little bit more feminine (? how you write that). And wish I started sewing earlier..

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    May 6, 2011, 04.15 PMby fashionfreek

    I wear things that are comfortable. I like my ralphy caps and jeans for my school runs as i dont like fussing too much with my long locks. Sometimes I wear no caps. I am getting into a phase to create my own clothing and be me;-). My look varies. I love all colours. Black and white my fav..but then again i prefer reds and brown and pink:-D. Am i fussy or what?? Nice post by the way.

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    May 6, 2011, 03.34 PMby Makeshift123

    Great post :) I love my look, but i am young, and it will probably change. Knee-length circle skirts and huge petticoats and a cropped leather jacket, short, vintage silk nighties under a long black coat, or, in winter, pencil skirts under massive fake fur coats. Plus blonde hair , red lipstick and big geeky black glasses.

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    May 6, 2011, 02.00 PMby MamanADroit

    I think I have a look that’s a mix of sporty, punk, & prep and full of vibrant colors. I tend to mix lots of comfy textures and solid colors but generally avoid complicated/fussy patterns. So things like dark wash skinny jeans, a white cotton tee, a chunky light blue sweater, a maroon alpaca wool scarf, and a yellow parka all together. I wear flats or sneakers pretty much exclusively because I have a toddler to chase, but there are definitely cute ones available! It’s not the most high-fashion “look” but it works for me!

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    May 6, 2011, 01.00 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    I’m not sure what my look is..disheveled fashionista? In my mind, I’m polished and stylish and I never wear the same thing twice like Gwen Stefanie…but I tend to wear the same staples over and over: my Gap jeans, faded but well-loved jersey tops I’ve sewn, my knitted Noro Silk Garden cowl, my Missoni-like scarfs, the black Zara zipper vest. I’m predictable in my looks, unfortunately, I need to break into my closet, seriously, even though there’s no lock.

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    May 6, 2011, 12.39 PMby bhghatesyou

    what a great post..very thought provoking! i feel kind of the same as you about people"who seemed (to me) to be overly focused on their appearance" i feel that a "look " is too much trouble. i wear clothes that i like and occasionally i feel dressy, or tough, or kooky. this is the reason i started to make my own clothing. i feel sometimes that people get to caught up in a fashon style or “look” and try to fit in with it. then you have the other end of the spectrum and have people seemingly wearing anything just to get attention or stand out. For me i take inspiration from people, places, items, ages, colors, buildings, artists, anything and yes there is usually a similar thread to the item i wear but i try to stay open to anything.

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    May 6, 2011, 11.36 AMby heidilea

    What a great post! I was (still am, but not as much) an 18th century reenactor. I chose the century for it’s clothes and history, but ironically, as much as I love the fashions, I dress as a working class woman. Such a mirror for my real life and background. I’m only now starting to switch my sewing from historic to modern.

    I don’t really have a look anymore, though I wish I did. It is hard for me to combat my upbringing: my mother for the last 20 or so years has been extremely heavy, and since the early 90s I have rarely seen her in anything but knits and sweatpants. When she was younger and thinner, she dressed stylishly for the times, as some of the clothes I inherited attest. I think as women, we do in many ways follow our mothers.

    In high school and college, I did a mashup of goth/hippie/grunge/punk, which was fun, and fine for my age group. Doing this well into my 20s, I started to feel lost—I was too old to dress like a kid, but too young (so I thought) for the grown up section. I started to intensely dislike the younger fashions and my now-husband helped me shop for clothes for a while. Having him helped me a lot; I learned how to find things that flatter me well and can pick them out easily when shopping. I used to look more polished, but since moving to Ithaca, my job does not allow me, and I can only look nice on nights and weekends. The Royal Wedding has inspired me to make hats again, and I hope I can bring my look up to par with hat-wearing.

    However, my roller derby self, Loco Rococo, definitely has a look. My teamates tell me they look forward to seeing what I’ll wear to practices—a screaming pair of leggings in neons or patterns, bright shorts and sometimes a coordinating or contrasting top, always in bright or bold colors. To bouts, I have a short blue lacy skirt I wear over the leggings, but under the uniform. I put on 18th century style makeup, complete with “patch.”

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    May 6, 2011, 10.23 AMby anndk

    I have a look – not one I’d chose again and it just kind of happend. It’s the ‘mummy-look’ :( Jeans and long-sleeved cotten Tees. I’m going to change it….. I just need to loose that baby/couch weight I gained LOL.

    1 Reply
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      May 8, 2011, 08.26 AMby tilshmil

      LMAO! That is what I was going to write too! I have the “Mom” look, since I shop for everyone but myself so my clothes are basic and bland, hence why my sewing has been my saving grace.
      I say forget the losing weight bit to start a new style though, because if I did that I would never make it. You can dress nice at any weight, so don’t let that hold you back…best of luck to us Moms for getting a style we like!

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