Interior designer and fashion icon Iris Barrel Apfel famously stated, “Great personal style is an extreme curiosity about yourself.”
I hope that statement gives you pause. Curiosity makes people smarter; it is a natural yearning to learn and know more. Apfel champions extreme curiosity about one’s self as great—not good, but great—personal style. What is she talking about?
Style, as Apfel uses it here, is the way we say, do, express, perform, or basically show up in our lives. Note that Apfel is an “interior” designer. This is an apt metaphor. Style is being curious about ourselves and engaging in “interior” design. When we engage in this designing, we explore, examine, reflect, imagine, uncover, and discover how to say, do, express, and be ourselves. This is the most authentic aspect of style―the “interior” designing we do.
What is often thought of as “style,” the fashionable and trendy, is a matter of taste and is simply an add-on. And any interior or fashion designer will likely agree that there is a real difference in substance and quality between designing and decorating.
All too often, we are encouraged to decorate, i.e., to accept trendy add-on’s and kitsch. When we do, we’re “du jour” (fashionable), and then, just as quickly, we become “yesterday;” dull, worn, weathered, and static. Apfel cautions us not to be fooled. Instead, exercise genuineness and styling from the inside out.
Style, then, is who and how we are, not something to find and finance.
Joe Abel, CPCC, ACC, PhD, is HFMA’s director of career strategies. He is certified as a professional career coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Coaches Training Institute (CTI).