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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 6, 2011, 10.20 AMby cadetdee

    Thank you for this food for thought post:

    Question: Readers, “I do not have a look. Or if I do, I am not aware of it.” My Answer: We all have a ‘look’ of some kind or another and Yes I feel you do have a look, one that you can design and re-shape as you wish. I myself spent years wondering why I did not want to look/dress like other people to “fit in”, it use to upset me? Asking myself Why I did not “fit in” into my own Culture’s ‘look’? Even without trying hard to stand out in a crowd.

    Now I don’t worry, I have realized I am ‘Debrafide’ and my process is a self styled ‘Debrafication’: From the way I style my hair to the jewellery and clothes I design and make. I have no need to shock or alarm in the way I look and I can change my look to suit the occasion e.g. a Business Meeting to going Shopping – but all in all I am Debrafide’. “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.” I love what you have said here as I feel this to be true of me at times; although I love to change with every ACT as for me, this keeps it fresh.

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    May 6, 2011, 10.16 AMby loyl8

    ECLECTIC!! that is me.Colors prints solids you name it ill put it together. Style wise also very eclectic. I love to have fun with my clothes. I really didnt think I had a style until recently. When I started pairing my clothes together and actually thinking about what I wore when I was younger. I have always had a fun eclectic colorful style. I always loved collages and even my bedroom was cloud walls with different corners for different ideas. I love to dress up though any chance I get.

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    May 6, 2011, 09.45 AMby marrrija

    I like color. Bright, light and happy colors! My style changed over the years of my growing up. I was dark, I was sporty.. but now I think I may say I’m vintage. I like high waist skirts, button-up shirts, waistcoats and ties. I don’t know why, but when I wear something like that, I feel more “elegant” then when I’m in a dress. Dresses make me “stiff”. There is a way to wear a dress. I like my dresses long (all the way, maxi dress). But I prefer my waistcoat over it.. any day. And a beret.. as you may notice on my profile pic. :)

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    May 6, 2011, 09.18 AMby littlewren

    hmmm… so much fun reading everyone’s posts! I’m so glad this was posted! I’ve always felt self conscious for not having enough of a style.. perhaps this is part of the reason I started sewing my own clothes… (that and living in a country where size 8 is “elephant size”) Looking back at all the clothes I’ve made, however, is a bit disappointing! My designs are so incredibly varied! I have wildly bright colored plaids and mellow breezy hippy clothes in my closet… I suppose that there is my style… and it says something about me? Something or nothing :) am I making clothes that are my style? Can I be making clothes in a style that I like but in a style that will never fit me? If you wear clothes in a certain style for long enough does it become your style? Am I the only one holding me back from actually having that look? hmmmm…. either way, I’m not sure I’d be happy in a world with only happy plaidy or hippy clothes… are these two looks reconcilable? :)

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    May 6, 2011, 07.19 AMby loulourosa

    Hmmm, yes I think I have a “look”, not that I’m realy working on it. Most of the time I wear skirts or dresses, and cardigans. So I have a rather feminine style. But,…I allways choose colourfull fabric, funny prints, plastic jewelry, bright coloured pantyhose, I can’t keep it serious. Yesterday I bought myself a beautifull striped cardigan, it’s fosforent yellow and white, I love it!!! I also love to mix and mingle prints, colours and styles. For example for winter I have a traditional austrian “Loden” coat, I love to wear it with my fuchia pantyhose. Some time ago my daughter didn’t want me to pick her up from school, because I dress so different from the other mothers (black and grey) The clothes I want are mostly not available in shops, so I have to sew and be creative!

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    May 6, 2011, 06.46 AMby laneyswissorhands

    What a delightful post! :) Well, reading all the interesting answers all you lovely Burdastylers have provided… and following Kasiorist’s “look” guidelines I would use these 3 words to describe my own: ecletic, relaxed yet put-together. If this list of contradictions makes any sense… then you’ve got me. I believe everyone has a look, whether they realize it or not. It does take some time to come to terms w whatever “look label” we want to stick on ourselves. If you are like me and are a little skirmish of commitment (style-wise anyway) then you may pick a term that actually describes no particular thing… i. e. eclectic. Which means I get to be hobo-ish one day, Lovely Updated Victorian the next, Girlie Vintage the day after that, Doom and Gloom Princess the next… and if I get up late and I’m not feeling up to it… then a t-shirt, jeans and my lovely Vans slip-ons do the trick… throw on a few bangles and a long necklace… maybe a fedora, (my go-to hat), and then… in about 5 minutes… ta-da! Urban chic Laney Swissorhands. :D

    I am always short on time… if a look takes more than 5 min to think up/ put together… it is not me. If my movement is restricted or my breathing in any way impaired… it isn’t me. Whatever your look, you have to “feel it”. I believe in wearing whatever I feel like any time of day… sequins for lunch? if I “feel it” for that particular day… why not? Have fun with it… life is too short. I don’t want to never wear my vintage full-length circle dresses my grandmother wore in the 1950s just because people might think I look strange. So.. I compromise… and wear them to church as sunday dresses. And let me tell you… they are a hit.

    But that’s enough rambling about moi.. pardon me… Maybe you could post some more pics so we can help you pinpoint and detect this ‘non-existant’ look of yours? :)

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      May 8, 2011, 03.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Just don’t inspect my BurdaStyle studio! LOL

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    May 6, 2011, 06.39 AMby groovymama

    I think I have a look. If you glance through my projects I guess you can see what I mean. I’m a big fan of bright colors and simple lines – that goes for myself and my kids. I’m very inspired by the 60s and 70s and you could probably call my look/style updated mod?!

    Thank you for your great article, Peter – and how I would love to go shopping with you in Garment District one day….

    Hugs from another daily ripper….

    ~Trine

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    May 6, 2011, 06.21 AMby urbandon

    Another great post that raises some juicy questions. I feel I have a look. Solid colors, draped, experimental. I try to avoid blending in, ‘busy’ patterns and bright colors. If most of what you have in your wardrobe is similar then you have a look. Simple as that.

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    May 6, 2011, 03.45 AMby laha5822

    I am actually trying to define my look still. In the past I’ve worn costumes (literally), punk stuff, casual skater stuff… the list goes on. I like various aspects of a lot of looks, but I recently became interested in what my appearance said about me vs. what I wanted it to say. Instead of “likes bright colors” and “has questionable ironing skills”, I am building a look that let’s my actual personality come across. I haven’t got it all down, but my current direction is: classic, preppy, with an edge. Great topic!

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    May 5, 2011, 11.51 PMby mollykatherine

    What a great article! I have also been interested in “the look” and since about 9th grade I have had one – referrred to often by my friends as “mollyish”. Its always very feminine and more than often vintage inspired, but never glued to a particular era. I have always enjoyed this, I never cultivated it, rather gravitated towards that style of clothing. However, with my look so set in stone, I find it hard to break free from it. If I showed up to work one day in motor cycle boots and a leather jacket – people would A. die of shock B. laugh and inform me “thats a very un-mollyish” outfit. As you said, dressing is in essence the donning of a costume – If you have a “look” sometimes it can take the fun and variety out of the game!

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    May 5, 2011, 11.50 PMby Paula Lucas

    Yes, I have a “look”. I call it Updated Edwardian – and I have to sew my own clothing because you cannot buy my look (at least, I’ve never come across it in any store). I like LONG skirts with lots of gathers or pleats in flowing fabrics. I also like very detailed, romantic tops with lots of embroidery and lace. I don’t wear this look all the time – it’s tough to garden in a skirt like that :) I’ve posted about my look on my blog, too. Check it out if you would like. http://www.learnhowtosewnow.com/quirky-fashion Paula

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    May 5, 2011, 09.07 PMby lila-1

    I love dressing up. Sometimes that’s my main motivation to get up in the morning :) I have a look (I think) but it wasn’t really cultivated, it just sort of happened organically. My look tends to be aggressive clothes with weapon-like heels. and sometimes very soft, romantic clothes with weapon-like heels. fairly clean makeup. I dont know how anyone can feel beautiful wearing flat shoes.

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    May 5, 2011, 08.49 PMby sarsaparilla

    Sadly my everyday look is exceptionally ordinary: t-shirt + shorts + converses. Maybe once I finish uni I’ll be more inclined to wear my ‘good’ clothes out ;)

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    May 5, 2011, 08.37 PMby anajan

    When I was a teenager, I was so eager to have a look, to make a fashion statement and not to fit in the crowd. I was a rebel, but I can’t recall now what I fought against :). As I grew older my attitude changed and my style became less eccentric, but then I discovered my hair was my signature that people recognized me for. So, it became my look for awhile. Now I think I pretty much blend in the crowd, and I don’t have a distinctive look, but I’m fine with that, as long as I feel good in my skin. However, I still like seeing other people’s unique appearances and love eccentricity if its genuine.

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    May 5, 2011, 08.23 PMby Kasiorist

    Someone once said you should define your style with three words and keep to it when you’re shopping, I suppose when you’re sewing as well? geeky stylish black- that would probably me so anything that fits the description works. I wear glasses so the geeky probably is ticked off instantly. You may not know that you have a certain pattern but if you put on something that doesn’t feel like you, won’t feel right in it. If you’re looking for them one could be artsy ;-) go and find your style. It’s not always the destination, the pleasure is in the journey!

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    May 5, 2011, 08.18 PMby psaryce

    I don’t know if my varied and eclectic tastes combine to make a style or not. I dress for my moods and therefore tend to wear a wide variety of styles, colours and items. I do my very best to avoid being sucked into the “blacks, whites, etc.” and go for colours more often than not. I work from home but very rarely give in to the “nobody’s going to even see me” thing and instead dress each day for how I feel or how I want to feel. So for me, expressing myself through my clothes is more important than having a set “look” – but as you have inferred, that in itself could be a look :)

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    May 5, 2011, 08.13 PMby macatrose

    Everybody possesses a own look, even through this hideous standardization of the globalization. Of the globalization of any things… Some persons of certain countries possess, luckily, or because they cultivate it, a lot of “look”, “Italian”, “French”… But each of us in the own look …i think..

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    May 5, 2011, 07.59 PMby Natasha Venzke

    I’ve thought about it many times, but ultimately I could never stick to just one look. I can’t choose a favourite colour and I like looking different every day.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      May 5, 2011, 08.15 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think it does take some sacrifice of variety to maintain a look, ultimately. I’m like you — look-less!

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    May 5, 2011, 07.32 PMby Robin Denning

    Isn’t it always fun to talk about oneself? I could respond to your essay and make observations about your look. But isn’t it just more satisfying to simply prattle on about myself? Yes, I find it is :) First, I will say that I think you do have a look. When I met you, I saw an athletic, relaxed, graceful man with low-key clothing that fades into the background. You look modest and confident at the same time. Your simple styling allows your personal spark to be the main event. That is your look.

    I like to wear plain colors and simple styles, little makeup and natural hair. I think that gives me a look. But I am always interested in changing it up. At the moment i am sewing a very loud jacket, so that will be fun. But I always come back home to my grays, blacks and simple styles. I like simple.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      May 5, 2011, 08.13 PMby Peter Lappin

      So you’re saying I shouldn’t buy the fake glasses?

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    May 5, 2011, 07.30 PMby janul

    Haha, I love your posts, so funny, especially the transcendent ending with the universe question :). I don´t think I have a look, mostly because I don´t have too many occasions to wear “nice” clothes. But when I do, I almost always feel that I look “different”, overdressed in a certain way… So maybe I have a look on some days :).

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      May 5, 2011, 08.14 PMby Peter Lappin

      Janul, if that’s your photo on the left, you definitely have a look! ;)

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