“Style is something each of us already has. All we need to do is find it.”
— Diane von Furstenberg
Aesthetic Intelligence entails an appreciation of the senses — how and why various sensations trigger certain emotions and how to use aesthetic cues to create pleasurable and desirable experiences. In today’s newsletter, we decided to get personal and talk about people’s use (and misuse) of fashion cues and the effect that clothes have on our moods and wellbeing.
Many people look at fashion as frivolous. We believe, however, that your style of dress conveys a lot about who you are, how you live, and what social and cultural forces have influenced you. We also believe fashion can have a dramatic effect on how you feel about yourself.
Does your current style capture who you are? Does your outer image reflect your inner beliefs and values? Do your clothes enhance your confidence? Or undermine it?
With so many options and such poor guidance, it’s tough to build the right wardrobe and curate the right looks. According to one poll, half of American women experience anxiety while shopping for clothes. No surprise; studies also show that most people wear the same 20% of their clothing 80% of the time!
In our quest to figure out how to put our own wardrobe to better use, make wiser shopping decisions, and rediscover joy through dressing, we invited our friend and favorite stylist, Cynthia Carr Gardner, to join us at A.I. Labs and share her insights and advice.
A few tidbits on Cynthia:
Cynthia Carr Gardner cultivated her love of fashion by watching her mother create her own brand of couture at the sewing machine. Cynthia took this passion for fashion to Hampshire College and Smith College, where she studied Costume Design. (A skill that continues to serve her and her clients well!)
After college she worked as an AssistantSportswear Editor at Conde Nast and Glamour Magazine. Her assigned task (the “Do’s and Don’ts” column) honed her eye for styling both men and women. From there, she moved to Boston, where she applied her skills as a stylist to TV advertising and broadcast news. Cynthia eventually landed her long-sought wish to dress Katie Couric. During the course of their multi-year collaboration. Cynthia created all of Katie’s on-air looks, reinventing her image from ‘perky’ to elegant and styling all of Katie’s red-carpet appearances including the Met Gala, Time 100, and Glamour Women of the Year.Cynthia has worked with many other high-profile personalities as well as several fashion brands. Today, she focuses her efforts on styling private clients in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.
Below, excerpts from our latest Tastemaker Conversation with Cynthia.
On starting the process of curating a client’s closet:
“I start with each new client by asking them to send me pics of themself — pics in which they like how they look. I love when they include their friends and family in the pics. It gives me a sense of their environment, how they live, and who they are. I glean a wealth of information from photographs.”
On balancing the tradeoff between usefulness and aesthetics:
“I don’t think there needs to be a tradeoff. You can easily meld practicality with style. One of my favorite ensembles is a simple pair of jeans with a white t-shirt, paired with a fun pair of shoes. I have a wealth of white t-shirts.”
On eliminating waste:
“I can’t stand waste, so I try to make sure that every item works in a multipurpose way. Nothing should be saved and stowed away in the back of a closet. People waste a lot of money buying things on sale that they seldom wear. When I shop, I don’t just consider the price, but the price-per-wear.”
“I can’t stand seeing prominent logos on merchandise. It’s my biggest pet peeve. I don’t want my clients to serve as billboards for the brands they buy. I just feel that when you have something that’s wildly expensive and it has a big brand name on it, that brand should be paying you to wear it!”
On sneaker culture:
“I personally would never walk out of the house in sneakers, unless I’m heading to the gym. For comfort, I far prefer a slide with personality. Sneakers have become a statement for others. But they’re not a statement for me.”
On shopping for men:
“I love working with men. They never walk out of a dressing room and ask whether they look fat in this? Men shop for clothes with great joy and ease.”
On the Kardashian effect:
“I have a problem with young women who are under-dressed and who show too much cleavage. As my father would say: it’s too much information.You don’t need to be conservative, but you should look polished.”
On dressing for zoom meetings:
“While on zoom, we’re all what’s called ‘in TV.’ That means we’re in a frame. You don’t want your viewers’ eyes drawn to items other than the subject. When I worked with CBS News, everything was about drawing the eye up to the face. Necklines are all-important.”
On the ath-leisure trend:
“I really feel that everyone should get out of their lycra. Do your exercise, then take a shower and get dressed. When I see women who are living in Lululemon’s all day, I think they look sloppy. They’d feel better if they’d look more presentable. Get dressed. Just get dressed!”
On the power of a good bra:
“Foundations are key. Foundations, foundations, foundations. The first thing I did for Katie is to get her a good bra. You can take 2 inches off your waist with a good bra.”
On other core pieces every woman should own:
Everybody needs a few good pairs of black pants. I think at least 4 or 5 are necessary. They are the workhorses of a wardrobe.
Quality coats and jackets. Outerwear is worthy of investment.
Three kinds of boots: a low boot that you can wear with jeans; a more utilitarian boot; and a dress boot.
Scarves, especially cashmere ones, are a must. They’re effortless, and they marry your head to your outfit.
Basic handbags, in black and neutral. I love a cross-body bag. It frees up my hands!