I recently visited the “Diana: A Celebration” exhibition,
which chronicles the life of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. As I left the
gallery that day I immediately began to think of how all professionals can
learn to create a personal style that is unique and expressive of their true
essence. Diana was truly a fashion icon of the 20th century, but she
didn’t start out with an authentic image. Instead she grew into a style that
went against the grain of British royalty but was unique to her.
As I walked through her wardrobe gallery and viewed all of
her suits and dresses – along with photographs of her wearing those same
clothes – it was amazing to see how she had grown and matured through the years
and had a presence of confidence in later years that wasn’t there early on.
When she was in her 20s she tended to dress like everyone else in the royal
family – the conservative and traditional English styles like tartan or plaid
coatdresses. She looked professional and safe in her earlier years, but it was
evident when her style began to evolve and she stepped into the royal spotlight
exuding a more elegant and sassy style. Her short beaded sheath dresses and
sexy evening gowns probably left the Queen Mother speechless – or at least
jealous that she couldn’t sport them with the same presence and panache.
As Diana’s popularity as the “people’s princess” grew, she
began to take some real fashion risks in an effort to find her own style for a
new time. Many women today are stuck in a fashion rut and are unwilling to take
a risk and try on some new styles or show off their assets – but Diana was bold
and confident. During her initial public appearances she was always seen
wearing traditional suits and dresses by English designers – ones that I’m sure
the Queen Mother approved of and probably recommended. But knowing that she was
personally growing and evolving into a celebrity, Diana began to take risks and
wear more stylish looks from international designers.
Seeing her wardrobe on display in glass cases made me also
think about how her style evolved – and how she had to have a wardrobe to
accommodate all her roles in life: official functions, charity galas, casual
ensembles for philanthropic events, and her “mom” style. As women leaders all
of us have different lifestyles, and it’s important that we have a well-rounded
wardrobe for our balanced lives. But it does need to feel authentic to us –
whether we are in khakis and a white shirt, an evening dress, or a great
looking business suit for work.
Finding your authentic style will always help
you feel at home in your own skin when you are wearing your wardrobe. When you feel authentic, you look confident.
When you know what assets to accentuate, you look your best. Although there has
been a great deal of media attention and controversary about how unhappy Diana
was in her personal life, what I saw through the Diana exhibit was a powerful
woman who reinvented herself through the years. She always looked appropriately
dressed for every occasion – but with her own authentic style that resonated
with her audience. She knew the secret – like all of us do – that you have to
dress up to step up, but in your own essence. That’s the Diana I saw in the later
photographs – a woman who glowed and felt at home in her own unique style. She
was a fashion icon that we can all learn from to know how personal style
evolves – and how to sparkle from the inside-out and feel comfortable and at
ease with being the women leaders we have become.
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Sarah Hathorn is a professional image
consultant, certified personal brand strategist, speaker, and author.
Her company, Illustra Image Consulting, works
with high-achieving future leaders and large businesses by enhancing their
corporate and personal brand image to take their businesses and careers to the
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Copyright 2010, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS