From Nina Garcia—fashion judge on Bravo’s hit Project Runway and author of Style Strategy and The One Hundred—comes her wildly popular New York Times bestseller The Little Black Book of Style. Here, in one indispensible volume, are Nina’s ultimate rules of style to help you uncover your own signature look.
Be your own muse
When a beautiful woman walks into a room, I may glance up for a moment, but I soon return to my entrée or my conversation or the dessert menu. Let's be honest: beauty is not all that interesting (and certainly not more interesting than the dessert menu). But when a confident woman walks into a room, it is entrancing. I'll watch as she moves with poise and self-possession. She is not usually the one in the plain black dress. She is the one in the interesting shirt and the vintage skirt, and I immediately want to know where she got them. And she may not be the most stunningly gorgeous woman I've ever seen, but she has a way about her that can make her one of the most intriguing. Confidence is captivating, it is powerful, and it does not fade—and that is endlessly more interesting than beauty.
The first and most important step to developing style is to project this kind of confidence. The kind of confidence that tells others that you respect yourself, love yourself, and dress up for yourself and nobody else. You are your own muse. Style comes from knowing who you are and who you want to be in the world; it does not come from wanting to be somebody else, or wanting to be thinner, shorter, taller, prettier. Many of the most stylish women in the world have not been great beauties, but they have all drawn from an enormous amount of self-confidence. They made us think they were beautiful simply by believing it themselves. They did not let anyone else define them; they defined themselves.
I truly admire women who love themselves, even if they are not the standard beauty norm. I am fascinated by the "imperfect icons," the girls who are by far not the most beautiful girls in the room, but they are confident and think they're beautiful, so others think they are. I marvel at a six-foot-tall woman in stilettos, a big-bottomed woman in a curve-hugging skirt, a flat-chested woman in a tight, low cut T-shirt. When a woman embraces her "imperfections," they can become her greatest strengths, definers of her character and spirit. When she plays up her weaknesses and draws you to her flaws, she makes them special, attractive, and even enviable.
Confidence has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with attitude. Nothing suits a woman better than this air of self-assurance, and when she truly owns that, she is unyielding and stunning. Confidence is the one thing that can instantly turn the volume up on a woman's beauty. When it comes to style and confidence, you have to learn to move with it, which can be daunting. We all have our insecurities. But you just know when you are in the company of a confident woman. Even (or especially) in the face of imperfections, her air is striking. Her beauty is fueled from something inside her. It's not that she doesn't care about her looks; on the contrary, she is so comfortable with who she is that she even embraces her quirks and flaws.
The confident woman loves herself entirely. Think Lauren Hutton and her gap-toothed smile. Think Frida Kahlo and her unibrow. Think the Duchess of Windsor, no great beauty. Think Barbra Streisand and her Grecian nose. Notice how their heads are always held up high and their flaws are always flaunted, never hidden or apologized for. Look to these women. Follow their lead. Hold your head up high and flaunt your flaws—the confidence should follow. And if all else fails, fake it. Confidence is the one thing that you can fake and you will actually end up believing it (oh, if that were true in other arenas!). You have to put yourself up on a pedestal before anyone is going to look up to you.
You are the goddess, so start treating yourself accordingly. Get your nails and hair done, take long baths, wear great perfume. Do whatever it is that makes you feel amazing. You have to pamper yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you. Start adoring yourself. Love yourself from the inside out, and slowly but surely you will become comfortable on that pedestal, and you will exude the kind of confidence that others admire. And what you wear up on that pedestal matters. Sweatsuits just won't do. I promise you, a great dress or a stunning skirt will make you feel much more "spotlight worthy," and others will see you that way too.
This instant language is much smarter than it gets credit for at times. They are just clothes, shoes, and bags, you could say. And people do say it, day after day. But I think they are more than just clothes, shoes, and bags. They are a large part of a woman's character and tell us a bit of her story without saying a word.
It was also Miuccia Prada who said, "I thought fashion was stupid because I thought there were more intelligent and noble professions, like politics, medicine, or science." And I think every woman has this hesitation at one time or another. I did. I spent four years of college trying to find out what I wanted to do that did not involve the fashion industry. But I always came back to it. And not for the free samples (they are not as free as you might think). I came back to it because I was in love with style, and I finally recognized it as something important and influential.
I have always found that the women with amazing personal style are powerful, intriguing, and yes, even intelligent. Very intelligent. They know who they are and what they want to project upon the world. These women understand that what they put on in the morning is the first thing that people notice about them. It tells the world a bit of their story. And, more important, their clothes affect how they feel about themselves throughout the day.