Finding Your Signature Style: Our Interview with Petite Over 40 - Part 1

Ever since launching blog in July 2015, it’s been wonderful getting to know members of the blogging community, sharing our experiences, and being inspired by their style journeys. 

One of my favourite bloggers I discovered is Seattle based Sherry Dryja (also known by her pseudonym Petite Over 40). Aside from sharing a mutual belief in eternal style, I love her upbeat, refreshingly logical take on discovering her ‘signature style’. Sherry’s fascination with genealogy has prompted her to journey through the decades (starting with 1920s), exploring iconic looks and styles, and how she might reinterpret them today.

La Garçonne: Sherry's interpretation of a photo of Coco Chanel hanging out with Vera Bates and the dogs, both in menswear

As a bit of a history nut myself, it was a style match made in heaven. And I know many of you are keen style historians too. So I thought what better than to interview Sherry to find out what prompted her to start her mission, what’s she’s discovered so far, and to pick up some great inspiration from across the pond!

"People looked right through me in a way they never had before"

What inspired you to decide it was time to discover your 'signature style'?

 Last year, I turned 45. It was the first year I ever encountered being invisible in a public setting. People looked right through me in a way they never had before. It was my first taste of that sense of feeling irrelevant that I’ve heard my mom talk about.

 Around that time, I remember looking in the mirror and all I could see were the negative changes that were happening to my skin and hair. In my mind, I could see why people looked right through me. The only time I ever felt really good about how I looked was when I went to get my hair done.

"I had fallen into a rut"

 Sometime last fall while sitting in the chair at the salon, it dawned on me that I could do something about how I felt. If I felt good after leaving the salon, why couldn’t I feel good everyday? I started dissecting where things had gotten off the rails and noticed my closet was a sea of denim and black with loads of sneakers and brogues. A person can be quite stylish and look great in denim, black, and sneakers, but I didn’t feel that way. For me, it’s what that represented – I had fallen into a rut and needed to do something completely different to dig my way out of it.

 At first, I didn’t know how to get started but I kept noticing how much I longed to dress like they did on Downton Abbey. I wondered how someone might do that today without looking like they were wearing a costume. So, began the journey.

Being a writer, it made sense for me to keep track of the journey somehow, and these days, that’s done through a blog.

As well as having a lovely writing style, your posts are full of historic context, and juciy tidbits and tales. How do you go about researching the different styles and decades?

I read a lot. I have four comprehensive books on fashion history that I consult, plus I look at movie, television, and theatre costumes from different eras, and I use the internet to do searches for additional information and images. I have also consulted the Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry for tips on how to see the elements and patterns from different eras that exist in today’s styles.

From that research, I pull ideas and create my blog posts featuring some aspect of a trend. For example, I’m currently researching the 1930s – once I’m finished with “April in Paris,” it’s back to the chronology! I’ve noticed the waistlines for that period went back up and cinched in during the Thirties. They tended toward more embroidery, poofier sleeves, and bigger shoulders (but not as big as the forties, I don’t think). There was also a very glamorous and romantic aspect of the Thirties, so they wore lots of chiffon and floral prints. It’s a very elegant era that I think gets overlooked by what was happening in history – the Great Depression.

"My heart is still infatuated with the 1920s"

Some of my favourite features have been your exploring the 1920s, generational stories behind the ageless appeal of pearls, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to embrace more feminine styles (often associated with 1930s) in 'April in Paris' (that includes a feature on!).  But - as you say - next, you're back to the chronology.

It'll be great to see where this journey takes you, but at the moment, which decade/look do you currently admire the most?

I have a feeling I’m going to fall in love with some aspect of every decade before it’s over. I knew going in that I’d love the 1920s. That’s why I started there. But I’m surprised to already have great admiration for the 1930s and I haven’t even written anything yet or tried on any element of style from that era. 

I’ll be curious to see what my closet and my go-to outfits will be by the time I come to the end of this journey, but so far I still reach for the unstructured pieces in my closet over the more structured ones and that tells me my heart is still infatuated with the 1920s.

"One thing I'm striving for is getting bolder with my choices"

What do you hope you and your readers will gain from your journey?

I hope they find a sense of camaraderie in the particular way I’m approaching the subject. I hope they’re entertained, maybe inspired, by what they see.

It seems like all of us have a resonance with some era of fashion – we may not realize it if we don’t know the history behind it. I certainly didn’t know before I started this. But what’s neat is how much more I feel tied to fashion and how much more I admire it now that I’m learning the backstory behind the things we wear today.

It’s very much like genealogy. The more you know about your own family history, the more connected to the rest of history and humanity you tend to feel. So, I hope readers will feel connected enough to the bigger picture of fashion that they’ll be inspired to formulate their own ideas and create their own signature styles out of history.

One thing I’m striving toward – and it’s still a work in progress – is getting ever bolder with my choices. I don’t want my outfits to look like costumes—and that is a challenge--but I do want them to mean something, to hearken back to that era I’m showcasing in a way that people can see and recognize. If I can keep pushing myself toward that ideal, I think that will connect with readers and maybe inspire them to try bolder ideas for themselves as well.

Read here part 2. And if you’d like to find out more about Sherry’s journey (and learn more about fashion history on the way), I can’t recommend enough following her blog Petite Over 40, twitter, facebook and instagram.

Why not start with Sherry’s interview of yours truly, where I discuss confidence and embracing new styles as part of the ‘April in Paris’ feature.

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