Style Statement: The examined (stylish) life

I've promised a review of "Style Statement" by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte, since I suggested it to virtual friends.

The premise of this book is that a two-word summary of your style will guide your decisions, not just in attire and decor, but in all aspects of life: wellness, relationships, service, wealth.

A lofty claim and ambitious goal.

My initial reaction was doubt, Then I recalled a job offer I received years ago. The role offered challenge and great money. They showed me what would be my office: a windowless, dull box on a wearily-decorated floor of a grim high rise. My heart sank, my soul shriveled; I could not imagine spending years of my life in that sterile box. I fled and never regretted it. In the language of this book, this was a style-guided decision.

The two-word Style Statement is, therefore, more of a banner that reflects your
alues and needs: what makes life wonderful for you, not a strictly aesthetic definition.

You reach this lodestar through a very detailed process: first, a rather windy and self-promoting intro: what a Style Statement is, why you need it, and how the authors developed their methodology.

Then, a workbook section called the Inquiry Process, organized by sections such as Home + Stuff, Spirit + Learning, Fashion + Sensuality, Service + Wealth, Relationship + Communication, Creativity + Celebration, Body + Wellness, and Nature + Rest & Relaxation.

Each of these sections contains reflective open-ended statements relevant to the topic, organized into two themes: what works for you, and what does not. After you complete the statements, you then harvest key words, images and themes, and store them for the last piece of work: Defining Your Style Statement.
The authors provide a pick list of Style Statement terms (called Creative Edge Words). Don't see the right words on the list? Fine, choose your own.

Profiles of (mostly) women shown with their Style Statements and the objects that embody it, provide guidance and respite from the workbook tasks.

I broke the work into chunks, picking up the book (and a blank notebook) for a few hours each week. I mostly enjoyed the questions, such as "Some things in my living space that I want to toss but haven't or can't... What do you dislike about them?", "What I would love to have made for me is...", and "I withhold my love when..."

What I enjoyed:

1. The depth of self-analysis in several sections led me to a reaffirmation of values and therefore choices, as well as some mourning for lost opportunities.

2. The complete absence of 'stylist' advice (is your body a triangle or hourglass etc.), and their emphasis on style as a way of celebrating your true self.

3. Prefaces to each section which contain prose-poems to capture the essence of the section. The preface to Service + Wealth, for example, reads in part:
Counts pennies. Counts blessings. Money in the cookie jar. Stock portfolio. Broke. Gives at the office. Gives at church. More than enough. Just enough. Lives lightly on the land.

What I didn't enjoy:

1. The book contains gorgeous photos of people who discovered their Style Statement, along with excerpts from their self-reflection exercise. But I found if I turned the page to look at the collages of their stuff, I could not tell a Natural Cosmopolitan from a Genteel Vitality. But maybe it's enough that they can, and no longer make choices that aren't "them".

2. Cheating doesn't work. I kept turning to the list of "Creative Edge Words" at the back and trying to get my two words to float up into my consciousness before I completed all the sections. But I had to do the work, and ta-da! I've got it! If you want dial-a-style, you won't be engaged.

Now that I've got it, where do I put it?

Most superficially, if this saves me from buying one mistake, I'll recoup the cost of the book.

A more significant benefit was seeing the concept of 'style' in new light. Style is either A) an embodiment of your purpose, talents and preferences, B) a mindless neurotic grab, or C) an attempt to imitate someone else.

B and C are not life-affirming. If you've never considered the relationship of your 'stuff' (including how you give, what kind of friend you are, and how you care for the earth) to who you are, the Style Statement exercise develops your awareness.

"Who am I"? is certainly not what a magazine tells you to be.


materfamilias said…
I've really been wondering about my style, especially at this time of my life which I'll euphemistically call "transitional," over the past few months. I've been frustrated by a disjunction I see between fashion/style recommendations or prescriptions and any sense of personal values. This book sounds as if it might answer that concern, and I think I'll order it and make time for some navel-gazing.
Anonymous said…
Ooh, I love me some self-analysis! This book just sounds like such a different approach to style. For it to encompass style in all aspects of ones life, makes the style statement seem more worthy, because of course ones personal style should direct more than ones clothing. Great review, and I liked the fact that you couldn't cheat.
Anonymous said…
me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me ... need I say more?
~Tessa~Scoffs said…
Am intrigued. Will definately look for this book.
Duchesse said…
ma: The authors and most people profiled in book are from Vancouver.

Cybill: I couldn't cheat, maybe you can!

Greying Pixie: I do think their approach aims to align the inner and outer 'you'. But not everyone will like it.

Tessa: I ordered mine from Amazon.
Anonymous said…
Greying pixie, what else is there?(I say that only slightly tongue in cheek!). I know that we all live a life of abundance and that leads to us thinking about ourselves too much, but with balance, is that such a bad thing? I do tend to get caught up on these things though, so I liked your perspective.
Susan B said…
This sounds intriging.

One of the best things anyone ever told me is that you're always committed to something whether you're aware of it or not. The most effective living comes from making your committments a conscious choice. This book sounds like it might help sort out some aspects of that.
materfamilias said…
just back for a quick chuckle at the "ma" for "materfamilias" -- love it! (but don't think I'll adopt it, thanks)
Anonymous said…
cybill, you ask what else is there? How about life? Life is for living and I see these forms of self-analysis not only as a waste of time (never to be retrieved) but as a form of anasthetic deadening the vitality of life.

deja pseu, I'm afraid I completely disagree about making your commitments a concious choice because you end up, as I've seen many women do, observing yourself which results in performance and self deception.

When I left my rather bad mannered comment (my apologies duchesse) earlier I was also tempted to quote the writer G K Chesterton: When people cease to believe in God, it's not that they believe in nothing, it's that they will believe in anything.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for answering Greying Pixie, thats how I feel about football (or any sports for that matter). I have decided that beauty is an important part of my life. I love good design, well-thought out objects and wonderful art - these are all stylistic choices that I can refine with some self-analysis. If I don't do further self-analyis how will I know if I am deadening the vitality of my life with them?
Duchesse said…
Greying Pixie: Service to others, friendships, philanthropy, community involvement and stewardship of the environment are very significant parts of this book.
Susan B said…
because you end up, as I've seen many women do, observing yourself which results in performance and self deception.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. To me, living a consciously committed life means not just following some cultural/parental prescription, but examining your values and living in a way that is in alignment with them. Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living" and I agree. Self-analysis helped me break free from some pretty self-destructive and selfish behaviors and to take charge of my life. Some of the unhappiest people I know are those who refuse to look at the part their own attitudes and actions play in creating their life situations.

Incidently, the person who made the comments about committments was a rabbi.
Anonymous said…
deja pseu, thank you for your response. What I mean is that by committing yourself through self-analysis can lead to performance, that is setting out to present yourself to others. I know women who will only offer a compliment if a third party is present to hear them make the compliment thereby allowing themselves to appear generous spirited not only to the third part but to themselves - that is what I'm angling at.

I have no issue with analysis to sort out one's life - but just as I would never operate on my own body myself, so I would never assume that I could sort myself out without the support and guidance of a professional. I am deeply sceptical of self-help manuals because in my opinion they are tantamount to navel-gazing, and as I said, life is too short for that.
Such a dynamic and rich discussion provoked by Style Statement! I encourage you to share your thoughts on the Daily Q&A on Carrie & Danielle's site.
Anjela's Day said…
I wanted to get outta bed and make a cup of tea but was fascinated by the comments and so read through a whistling kettle until it had run dry.
I think about style- and it isn't anything that can be bought or learned. I believe that ......I see people with tremendous resources who have awful taste. Who clutter their homes up with things instead of people and life and wonderful meals made with care and conversations.

greying pixie you made an interesting point when you said " I know women who will only offer a compliment if a third party is present to hear them make the compliment thereby allowing themselves to appear generous spirited not only to the third part but to themselves - that is what I'm angling at"

I thought about that and then thought how I had designed a window last week but got too ill to complete the window- I gave the job to a 'girl' who has just started working with us and she has some emotional things happening in her life.
I had worked really hard at plannning the window and had gone to considerable lengths to buy the 'ingredients' needed. Someone came in and admired the window the first day(my idea- my creation- my plannning but not my execution and several people came in and asked the next day and so on ...Instead of saying "My window' I just said "X did the window' they were raving about her- one person offered her work to design her children's bedrooms in their beach home. (It was a beach/driftwood theme)
I began to feel niggled...a bit. I wanted to be generous and yet- yet- I ruined my karma-:)
Interesting though when I read your comment- I felt it put it in perspective. I was probably looking for some sort of generous praise in my generosity in giving to a lesser known designer/person.
Anonymous said…
anjela, I don't think the scenario you describe is quite what I referred to regarding the appearance of generosity. But I can sympathise with your situation. As a university lecturer I do my utmost to help my students not only while they are scholars, but also after when they go out into the world. Some years I receive a lot of recognition, other times no one thanks me for anything.

I think it was probably up to the young woman you helped to indicate your part in her success, or at the very least to thank you quietly for the opportunity you gave her. But young people often don't appreciate generosity or opportunity; that comes with time and experience.

duchesse - too bad this strand of your blog did not take place round your dinner table - could have been a very animated evening (with delicious food of course!)
I got this book in my last Amazon order - I'm inspired to work right through it now!

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