In the fashion world, there are two kinds of female muses who become the eye candy of glossies and inspiration to designers: “It” girls and style icons.
“It” girls are just like any other eye-catching, yet ultimately disposable and consequently replaceable item in fashion (for instance, the oh-so-tired “It bag”)—their influence lasts a season, possibly two, where perhaps they inspire a look or two for fashion victims and the trend-hungry, but don’t bring anything truly innovative or refreshing to the scene. Their looks are derived from the passing amusements of their stylists (Simpson, Lohan, Hilton, Ritchie don’t dress themselves) or regurgitated from the once-original wardrobe of a bygone fashion figure (Sienna Miller’s obsession with Edie Sedgewick, for example). They are as likely to be swept away by the changing tides of the fashion industry as they are to affect it, because their style has no core foundation, except the need for attention and comment.
Then there is the style icon. Rather than an ephemeral blush on the face of the fashion industry, she leaves a permanent beauty mark. The style icon serves as a longtime muse for designers and reference for those who view and wear their collections. Her influence echoes throughout the pages of fashion magazines and along the runways, the suffix “–esque” tacked onto the end of her name as critics and commentators cite her influence in runway reviews and style reports.
What elevates the style icon above fleeting “It” girl status? “It” girls are primarily known for their appearance and clothing, and perhaps a passing escapade or two (a sex tape, being cheated on by the nanny) that splashes across the gossip pages until her beauty or ability to hold the public’s attention has faded. For style icons, clothing is secondary—they are known for accomplishments far more significant than how they get dressed in the morning, and while they also appear on the gossip pages, they will also be noted on the pages of women’s history.
Not every accomplished woman is a style icon, but every style icon is an accomplished woman. Her fashion choices simply underline the other aspects of her character that have made her so significant to our social conscious. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, perhaps the most iconic of style icons, wore clothing that exuded her grace and class as First Lady and (later) her ability to hold everything together while coping with tragic circumstances. The fierceness underlying Katherine Hepburn’s androgynous style reinforced the powerful presence that made her a captivating actress who won four Best Actress Oscars. Marilyn Monroe’s feminine silhouettes allowed her to demonstrate her ownership of her sexuality, and inspire women to do the same.
Each of these women are remembered for their style, but also for much more. Even Hilary Rodham Clinton, arguably the most powerful female presence in the nation, is synonymous with the pantsuit (which many political commentators use to refer to HRC), as she was the first prominent woman to wear the pantsuit to public functions, making it acceptable in even the most formal workplace.
So ladies, do not make fashion the center of your existence (unless, of course, you work in the industry), but make fashion a pragmatic indulgence (practical in necessity, luxurious in application). Strive to leave your mark on the world for something other than being stylish, and your style will be noted, even revered, in light of (or, more profoundly, because of) who you are. Your style should be an outward expression of yourself, so to be truly stylish, your inner self and outer endeavors need to be worthy of stylistic interpretation.