Ever since I was 16 and saw the video for No Doubt’s Just A Girl for the first time, Gwen Stefani has been my idol. I’m almost grateful that I’ve never had to interview her because I’d probably start crying and telling her waaaay too much about myself - “I had my first kiss to Don’t Speak! Sob!” - and it would be horribly embarrassing, but I’m sure she’d be very gracious about it (yes, I’ve given this scenario a lot of thought.)
She inspired me back then, as an awkward skater-punk indie kid, for being so fearless as a woman in the macho music industry, for having her own unique style and for not being afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve through her lyrics.
(Yes this entire article is an excuse for me to feature the Just A Girl video - what of it?)
I loved Gwen’s spirit as much as her dress sense and I still do – it’s been amazing seeing her career and life unfolding over the years as she tackled new roles and challenges – getting married (that wedding dress is still my all-time favourite), having kids, launching a solo career, developing her fashion lines – and through it all, she’s remained completely herself.
From reading interviews with her, it feels like Gwen is still the same funny, smart, self-deprecating person she was when Tragic Kingdom made her a star. And on a superficial level, the most obvious way in which she’s has stayed true to herself is through her style. For me she is the ultimate lesson in 'growing up' without abandoning what’s makes you you.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – how do I adapt my style into something that feels more appropriate for my thirties without losing the essence of the look that I spent my teens and twenties figuring out? Using Gwen as an example, I might have the answer. Some of it's obvious – she pretty much always rocks a red or hot pink lip and has maintained her platinum blonde, retro quiff for about 20 years (with the odd detour into hot pink or electric blue).
But there’s something more subtle at play here and this is where I think the secret lies; it’s the silhouette. Every decade has a signature shape and it goes in cycles: the ‘60s were all swingy A-line mini dresses with pointy pumps, the ‘70s inverted the triangle with disco flares and chunky platforms, the ‘80s flipped it again with power shoulders and leggings and the ‘90s reacted against that with baggy bottoms and tight tops.
This applied to the mainstream – think All Saints with their combats and vests (and Natalie Imbruglia in the video for Torn – ahh ‘90s icon!) – but also alt. style, with skaters and punks in baggy jeans, skinny fit band tees and shrunken vintage hoodies. This was Gwen’s look (complete with skater chain and bindi) and it was mine too.
And what I’ve noticed over 15 years of creepily stalking Gwen’s style online and in magazines is that she rarely deviates from this basic silhouette because a) it was the look that she developed in her early adulthood and therefore the most formative and b) it suits her body shape. Whether she’s taking her kids to the park or walking the red carpet, more often than not, she’ll be wearing an outfit based on this fundamental shape.
I talked to stylist Rebekah Roy about this and here's what she said: "I absolutely love Gwen's style from when she was younger to now. Somehow she's always kept her edge. She's always been blonde (except for when she went pink) - that's her signature look, but she's been really clever about adapting her style, it does change... I hate the term 'age-appropriate' but her look has changed as she's developed as a person. There's always an element of glamour, whatever she's doing."
I asked Rebekah if she could help me pinpoint exactly how Gwen always looks so innately comfortable and confident: "It comes from within; if you can match someone's style from the inside to the outside it's quite powerful. Clothing is a language, it communicates something. Most people don't understand how powerful that can be. Beyonce does it really well too - she looks like herself. And even if you don't like Rihanna's style, you always recognise that it's her - even though she changes it a lot. She dresses for how she feels and that makes it really honest."
Apart from the fact that I’m approximately 1000x less toned than Gwen, we have similar body shapes so that classic ‘90s style – slim top, wide/loose bottoms – has always worked for me. In my teens it was a skinny tee plus gigantic jeans hoisted up with a belt plus DC skate shoes. In my twenties I went full-on retro with big skirts and fitted sweaters. When I think about the stuff in my wardrobe that I pull out week after week, it still fits this template.
When I designed my wedding dress we based it on loads of my other favourite frocks - the neckline, the sleeve length and skirt shape were all echoes of dresses I'd already worn and loved. I know that, as I start to ‘invest’ more in clothes that are well cut and made from good quality fabrics, as long as I stick to that shape, I don’t need to worry about abandoning my signature style – it’ll still be there underneath, in the architecture (if that’s not too pretentious a term, oh who am I kidding, I love being pretentious) of the silhouette.
This might seem like quite an old fashioned, even prescriptive, stance to adopt – like ‘getting your colours done’ and being told you’re an ‘autumn’ and can only wear sludgy greens and browns! And yes, rules are there to be broken and I certainly don’t stick to them.
But I don’t think adhering to a silhouette is a ‘bad’ rule – more a guideline to bear in mind. I’m not saying you can’t play with trends, but keeping the lines consistent and true to your body shape is a way to wear those trends with confidence, knowing that you’re wearing them, rather than the other way round.
Oh and for no reason whatsoever apart from the fact it's just made my LIFE, here's Gwen duetting with Gavin on Glycerine. Wahhhh.