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The secrets of stylish women

Groomed for success ... Jacqueline Kennedy in Oleg Cassini on India's Lake Pichola.

Groomed for success ... Jacqueline Kennedy in Oleg Cassini on India's Lake Pichola.

I interviewed Carla Zampatti last week and she answered the door wearing an immaculate black jumpsuit, a marabou feather bolero, knotted gold belt and velvet flat shoes. She was perfection. Elegant, restrained and polished. Carla is the genuine article - forever chic - and she made me realise how all the stylish women I've interviewed - from stylists to supermodels to politicians - all share a similar set of principles when it comes to getting dressed. Here are the top five lessons we can learn from the wardrobes of stylish women.


This is the oldest chestnut in the style book but there's a reason for that. Restraint is the single most important element in the personal style equation. Why? Control means that you have considered your outfit and consideration is self-editing. Thinking about your look from head to toe will always result in a better, sleeker, more uniform outcome. An great outfit starts in your head but often needs a little tweaking once on the body. Switch a top, lose a bracelet - all the little tricks stylists perform on models, stylish women perform on themselves. Gwyneth at this year's Oscars was a text book example of restraint. No big hair, no coloured lips, no necklace, no earrings - she shone in her simplicity. You remember Gwyneth, not the frock, and that's what you want to achieve every day. Try it tomorrow: plan your outfit before you get dressed; stand in front of the mirror and critically examine how it looks. What can come off? Be honest. There will be always be at least one piece you can remove. You'll be amazed at the impact taking something away makes to the overall look.


Jennifer Aniston is the poster girl for good grooming. She always looks effortlessly natural and that's because she never misses a beauty appointment. Stylish women never drop their standards when it comes to self-maintenance. It's little details that will make you look pulled together. If your hair is done (and by done, I mean washed and brushed), your eyebrows are plucked, nails are polished - then all the rest falls into place.  You can wear an amazing dress but it won't look any good next to chipped polish or split ends. This same kind of care should go for your clothes too. Look after them - no scuffed shoes, pulls in jumpers or dropped hems. Finish is everything.


Style can be innate but it can also be learned. Developing a signature style means understanding what look suits and flatters you no matter what else is going on in the fashion sphere.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis wore a classic shift dress for three decades modernising it with subtle shifts in accessories, cut and print.  Truly stylish women are their own best stylists and always choose clothes that match 'who they are' instead of copying a look from a magazine. Finding your style confidence is important and can be very freeing - once you know what works, you don't have to look anymore and can develop a true signature.


Style is not about size but about the way clothes fit your body. A beautifully cut dress or tailored blazer can change the way you look in clothes - exhibit Adele in Giorgio Armani at the Grammys. Too often women choose ill-fitting clothes out of insecurity. This means exercising discipline when you shop – stop buying pieces that are too big or too small for you. Accept and embrace the shape you have and then work on what flatters you the most. Spending a little bit extra on quality and cut goes a long way to improving the end result. It is better to have fewer good things and wear them well than lots of pieces that don't work.


Even classicists take little risks with their wardrobe. The mark of a great dresser is wearing something that is just ever so slightly out of place. Something quirky or unexpected that makes the whole outfit perfect and special. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean keeping it boring. Remember when Sharon Stone wore her husband's white shirt to the Oscars with a ball skirt? It's that kind of thinking that you want to achieve. Diamonds with a t-shirt, denim with pearls, sneakers with a suit – push yourself to find new ways of putting your look together.

Paula Joye is Editor of or you follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

36 comments so far

  • You forgot point (6). Have lots of money.

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 10:45AM
    • Agree! That's spot on!

      full stop
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 11:49AM
    • I agree.
      The French have a saying: buy less, pay more.
      Think I shall give it a try.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 11:52AM
    • Absolutely, I haven't been to the hairdresser in 8 yrs because it's something I just can't afford in my budget. Women pay so much more to have their hair done.

      Then there are face peels, moisturisers, toners, botox, body creams, laser treatments etc, it all costs money.

      These stylish women have both the privilege of time and wealth.
      As for little effort? What crap. These women all have stylists who have taught them how to dress, groom and maintain themselves. When they appear on the red carpet they have an entire team working on their "natural" look.

      Also it's very hard to find clothes that fit properly at most department stores if that's all you can afford. All the tops gape in an assumption you want to show cleavage. You can't get in between shoe sizes.

      You also need to have white teeth, celebrity style teeth maintenance is unaffordable to many.

      Riff Raff
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 2:28PM
    • I have a great wardrobe and I make $900 a fortnight. Buy two or three pieces per month in preparation for the upcoming season (browse eBay, Etsy and op-shops for cheap designer buys) and by the time that season comes around you'll have a great wardrobe for a few hundred dollars. Base your wardrobe around chic and simple basics that can be worn with each other and you'll never have trouble picking an outfit out again. Less is more, in both outfit and wardrobe.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 6:33PM
    • Nonsense Riff Raff. I dress very well (albeit that I do make mistakes from time to time) and I am not well paid. You can get your hair cut at a training salon. Don't shop in department stores - why would you do that if you don't have much money? Spend a day looking in op shops and trying on everything. As the article says, it starts in your head. Imagine how things will look together. It's about confidence and not being afraid to make mistakes.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 9:09PM
    • You don't have to have lots of money in order to be elegant & stylish. Of course money would help, but I reckon it flows from what's inside yourself. To a certain extent, it's in-born. Some people just don't have the elegant "look" no matter how nice / stylish they dress.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 9:17AM
    • Totally disagree. Imagination and creativity is free.

      Date and time
      April 28, 2012, 3:49PM
  • Aw, some women just have this thing called 'sense of style' in their DNA. Was looking at some old photos of my grandmother and she was always so immaculately and stylishly dressed - in things she often made herself.

    I try and try, but it is all so bloody hard. It doesn't help that clothes off the rack are often really awful and there isn't much time (after working/studying) to make clothes out of the dream picture in one's mind...

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 12:53PM
    • Hi Megan, you're so right, it is in some women's DNA, but it can be learnt.
      Elegance & style seems rare today, but can be achieved for little money if you have "the eye" the ability to see the potential that others cannot.

      If you can sew, have you ever tried vintage, recycle, or even op shops?
      If you look for quality fabric & design, you can always alter or adapt to fit you perfectly.
      You can add or subtract details, change buttons, a neckline, sleeve or hem length etc.
      So much quicker than starting from scratch!
      If you have a photo from a magazine with you, it can help keep you focused, (although you never know what other treasures you may find while you are there!)

      You really can have your dream, don't give up! x

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 5:54PM

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