Style Logs: Style, the Act of Storytelling

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Dominiece Johnson-Clifton. Photo: Joyell

Style: the variation in language use to which social meanings are attributed.

Style is fascinating. Generally speaking, we are all encouraged to have our own voice. Your style may YELL or whisper to the world, “This is who I am.” Even when we aren’t thinking about it, style can be our loudest form of communication, revealing to the world exactly who we are as people. Some people may not subscribe to fashion trends, and therefore, believe that they don’t have personal style. However, their clothes still say a lot about who they are.

I recently sat in a lecture presented by producer, artists and curator Elissa Blount Moorhead. Elissa talked about how former slaves, by mixing various prints and patterns, used their garments to remain rooted to their African ancestry. For slaves, their style was a way to communicate with other persons of African descent about their origins and cultural background. Generally interpreted by other slaves with ease, these messages were often misinterpreted by the society-at-large. Europeans judged the slaves based on their bodily gestures and style. Slaves could be depicted as demented rebels, all the while trying to convey a completely different message to the world.

As I thought more about these truths, and connected my style with the legacy of my ancestors, I reflected on the idea of communicating through our style. While our tribe—often comprised of family and close friends—may easily understand the underlying message behind the garments we wear, the rest of the world is left to decipher this message on their own. Despite our intentions, we can’t control how our story is translated to the world. Be it for better or for worst, others make their own presumptions and judgments about who we are, just by what we chose to wear. Case and point: often—but, not always—when I’m going out, I make a choice to style my hair, apply makeup and wear heels because these are things I associate with pride and confidence. Elements of my style that are pleasing to me can be interpreted as chic, or maybe ornate to others. Within my tribe, we share a common language. Therefore, my style is easily understood and appreciated by those who know me. To us, there is no such thing as being overdressed. You wear whatever satisfies your soul.

Photo: Joyell

In my introduction, I touched briefly on the power of first impressions. As soon as we meet new people, before we even speak, we have already said so much about who we are. Think about the last time you were at a networking event or a mixer. Most likely you scanned the room and consciously or subconsciously made perceptions about most people in the room. We can be immediately attracted to a person because of what their style communicates to us.  Their style has intrigued you. Most likely, you are curious and may want to learn more about who they are, their profession and interest. Personally, my style is an eclectic variety of things. My mood determines what I say to the world on any given day. One day, my impression may be welcoming. In my go-to shoes and favorite accessories I say, “Hello world, I am consciously choosing to communicate my confidence to you!” The next day, with a bold pattern or bright color I say, “I am commanding your attention,” all the while completely unbothered by the opinions of others. On any given day, no matter how you are feeling and whatever you chose to communicate with your style, you must own it.

The next time you get dressed, take more time to think about your message. What do you want the world to know about you as a person? How do you want to be perceived? In doing this, we will all think more about our personal brand and the messages we suggest. Perhaps your message is being portrayed just as you intended, so for now there is nothing you need to do differently. However, if you are unintentionally sending a different message, are there adjustments to your style that should be made? Does your style reveal your desire to elevate your profession to the next level? Does your style reflect the positive aura that encompasses you? Be true to who you are and wear what makes you feel good, because that’s the most important message that anyone can convey.

Communicate your style—unapologetically.

Dominiece is a native Baltimorean. She is a current Baltimore Corps fellow and serves as the Advancement Manager for The Contemporary Museum. A true Aquarius, she is independent, spontaneous and lives for adventure. She has lived in DC, New York City and China but is glad to call Baltimore home again. Her favorite things include morning meditation, Ankh jewelry, Asian food and reggae music. More than anything, she loves to travel and experience the people and cuisine of other countries.