Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Beauty’ Category

Jean Shrimpton — What is it That Makes a Woman Elegant?

After publishing dozens of articles on male elegance here and on Parisian Gentleman, Iconicallyrare is opening a new chapter, exploring the mode of women’s elegance.

Kept in a simple format, we focus on one elegant woman at a time, trying to understand the concrete elements that makes us perceive her to possess that elusive concept called ‘true elegance’, all the while remembering that it’s never really about the clothes…


In her article “The Man in the Bill Blass Suit”, Nora Ephron tells of the time when Jean Shrimpton posed for a Revlon advertisement in an antique white Chantilly lace dress by Blass. Minutes after the lipstick placard was displayed at the drugstores, the Revlon switchboard received many calls from women demanding to know where they could buy the dress.

As one of the first true supermodels of our time, Jean Shrimpton graced the covers of numerous high-fashion magazines and appeared in a few good films. Raised as a Buckinghamshire farm girl, she later became dubbed as the “it girl” and as “the symbol of swinging London’.

What sets Jean Shrimpton apart from the others, other than her obvious beauty? Take a look at her style preferences to get a few clues:

1. Fabric Colors and Patterns – One base color

Colors are mainly one strong base color (usually black or white). Patterns favored include a simple floral, or a basic geometric design.


2. Fabric Cut / Fit – Fabric is cut close to Body with a Flat Front around the waistline.

Fabric is generally cut close to the body, with a fit that is snug, but not tight.

A round or V-neckline is standard.

The front of the blouse or dress is typically flat, with little or no pleats at the waist area.

The fabric on the underside of the shoulder (the armpit area) is cut high and adequately covers the skin, with few exceptions.

3. Daywear – Very few accessories, a simple ensemble, and pumps.

Accessories are kept to a minimum, ranging from no accessories to two accessories, maximum, with a definitive pair of earrings often being the accessory of choice.

Pumps are the standard for shoe wear, in a variety of solid colors.

A soft print blouse with a solid skirt is the go-to ensemble.

4. Unique Expression – The headscarf and long gloves

The headscarf serves as a staple style-element that sets her style apart from others.

Gloves that extend up past the wrist are worn liberally.

5. Business Wear – Conservative suits and dresses, avoiding excessive accessories that age the look.

To avoid looking “Grandmotherly”, conservative suits and dresses fit closely and are kept fresh by foregoing excessive jewelry, pins and scarves that add age to the overall look. No more than two accessories are worn at a time.

A simple black-banded watch gives a vibe of permanent elegance.

Bags are medium in size with little ornamentation and of a solid color.

A more daring hat with a clean circular line tops off the look.

The suit cut has soft shoulders, a generous lapel, a defined silhouette, and the suit coat has slightly short sleeves.

5. Evening Wear – Keep it simple. Keep it black.

Black is the go-to color.

With evening wear, accessories can be quite strong, but the number of accessories is limited no more than two with evening wear.

The neckline is horizontal, running from shoulder to shoulder.

A plunging backline amps up the formal factor.

Sequins and shiny material is kept to a bare minimum.

6. Make-up – It’s all about the eyes.

Eyebrows are darkened with a defined shape with highlighter likely applied below the brow.

Eyeliner is bottom-heavy with a light wing drawn with eyeliner slightly above the natural line of the eyelid.

A patch of lashes are applied directly to the middle of the eyelid.

Other than the eyes, the rest of the face is natural with no evidence of makeup being applied.



We all have them, those moments when we wear something that goes against the grain of our defined personal style. Whether you like or not…body assets here are shown freely with a dress made of netting and a high fashion fabric.


This is a first attempt to answer some requests from my readers for a source on female elegance. Any advice on how to improve along the way will be fully read and honored, if you find yourself motivated to comment.

~Sonya Glyn Nicholson






The Class Above the Upper Class : The TOP Class

It is a mad world when the rich and famous are checking into rehab centers and the people of the working class feel anxious about whether they will be able to hold on to the very jobs that they dislike doing. Sometimes the world feels a little upside-down and the unimportant gets confused with the important.  And sometimes we even ask ourselves exactly how the art of dressing-well and finding one’s personal style fits into the grand scheme of things?

We know for sure that it isn’t necessary to find a study or statistics to tell us that it feels good to look good. And it is a bit of a revelation to realize that looking good does not mean being a ‘ natural-born-beauty ‘ as much as it means defining and refining a personal style. And regardless of how rich, handsome, tall or fit a person may be, style does not play favorites, but waits to be embraced by anyone who has the knowledge and will to express him or herself well through behavior, grooming, and clothing.

Some of the most stylish men in history have not been beauties (Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Peter O’Toole or the elegance naturelle de Francois Truffaut). Incredibly, even after some of these men are no longer alive, still their strong sense of personal style emanates  and is remembered and referred to, even to this day.

Many believe that it is the upper class that dresses the best and has the strongest sense of personal style. Notice that this perception can once again, work to everyone’s advantage since even the man from the most humble beginnings can pull himself far above the masses simply through the way he behaves, dresses and grooms himself. And, while a man of royal decent can look and behave as a buffoon, at the same time, a man of meager means can exemplify the meaning of elegance through his actions and through attention to his wardrobe.

Even though the ability for most every person to dress well does ‘ level ‘ the playing field between the wealthy and the working class, strangely, most people do not take advantage of investing in fully developing his or her personal style. Perhaps the goal seems beyond the reach of many, or laziness sets in, or more likely, there is an ignorance of the power that dressing well can bring to our lives. And, the goal to express personal style is typically not to look as if a person is from a certain class, as much as it is to show that a person has class.

Edmond Rostand, who wrote about aristocracy and beauty (or the lack thereof) in the iconic play “Cyrano de Bergerac”,  says this about elegance:

“I have a different idea of elegance. I don’t dress like a fop, it’s true, but my moral grooming is impeccable. I never appear in public with a soiled conscience, a tarnished honor, threadbare scruples, or an insult that I haven’t washed away. I’m always immaculately clean, adorned with independence and frankness. I may not cut a stylish figure, but I hold my soul erect. I wear my deeds as ribbons, my wit is sharper then the finest mustache, and when I walk among men I make truths ring like spurs.” — Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac

And so we agree, that elegance first begins with the character of a person, and only then, is rounded out with grooming and dressing well.


An important distinction can be made between the Upper Class and what author Paul Fussell terms the TOP Class, in his 1983 book entitled “A Guide Through the American Status Systems”.

Those from the upper class often draw attention to themselves through the cars and homes they purchase, the jewelry and clothing that they wear, and the events they attend. In a general sense, members of upper class care very much about the messages they are sending through the possessions that they choose. And although the Upper Class may fail to be discreet at times, still, they seem to exercise discretion in one specific area: they generally prefer older items and antiques over things that are newly produced. They have an appreciation for heritage and tradition in regard to dressing well, and this preference shows up in the things that they own, ranging from vintage cars and watches, to wearing  accessories like antique cuff links, and tie bars and pins, and even tattered clothes (more on that later).

A different group altogether, ranking even higher than the Upper Class is the TOP Class. Members of the TOP class are the uber elite and prefer to remain anonymous while attempting to blend with, instead of stand apart from society. Having a  massive estate with 42 rooms and a butler is an anathema to the TOP elite, since guarding the secret of his or her wealth and retaining privacy are key motives. In short, a life unhampered by the public eye is a constant focus and discretion is of paramount importance. In a strange way, a TOP elite seeks to be emancipated from the chains that his or her wealth has created, and paradoxically begins to identify with the things that really matter in life. Being discreet is preferred to showiness, and there is overall, less of an attachment to things, with the exception of family heirlooms and rare items that generally hold some type of meaning or purpose.

My own experience with a TOP class person has been enlightening. When I knew her, as a fourth generation member of a wealthy family and coming from what we consider ‘old-money’, Margaret lived in a nice but relatively modest home in a very good, but not extraordinary neighborhood. She drove a car that I barely remember and her jewelry consisted of a wedding ring (of what appeared to be just under one carat), a clean, black-banded Timex watch to be worn for everyday, in place of her Cartier, and a strand of her Grandmother’s pearls. She had custom clothes, but also clothes from Land’s End and Ralph Lauren. She was straight forward in her speech, and I found her to be a basically good and genuine person with naturally correct posture and an easy elegance. I also had a glimpse into her character…when she was going through a bad divorce, she was gentle and discussed her feelings honestly, but at the same time, her resolve was impressively strong to work through the difficulty.

And so, it is intriguing to take note of what some may consider TOP class gestures. Here are some nice, specific practices of the elegant, that is usually not written or spoken about explicitly:

1. Frayed Edges on Clothing

To be embraced, is signs of wear on clothing. The upper echelon detests shopping and readily accepts, even prefers, signs of wear on their clothes, including moth holes, small tears, piling and fraying, as this practice of accepting minor defects not only defines the behavior of the class, but also, wearing items that have been “broken in” can feel more natural and comfortable. It is considered a good thing to eschew the image of the parvenue in favor of patching, mending, and sewing worn spots on timeless pieces. One practice that has been relayed to us is the practice of estate owners instructing their valets to wear the owner’s shirt for a while in order to “break in the shirt” so it is more comfortable and in order for the shirt to appear less “new”.

2. Old Things Trump New Things

An antique or family heirloom, or anything with a history or a story, surpasses a newly produced item.

3. The Color of the Carnation

A red flower symbolizes that your mother is still living, while a white flower means your mother is no longer living.

4. Equal amounts of Shirt Collar and Shirt Cuff Showing Beneath a Jacket (with no Proletarian “Prole” Gap).

The amount of shirt collar and shirt sleeve that is shown beneath the jacket (typically around 1/2 inch) should match in area  (e.g., 1/2 inch shirt extending out from beneath the coat collar and 1/2 inch shirt sleeve extending out beneath the coat sleeve). No “prole gap” (collar gap) is imperative, as a gaping area between the coat collar and the shirt is considered a characteristic of the lower class proletarians, who are perceived to have little knowledge about good tailoring.

5. The Tailor’s Label — Hidden inside the Coat Pocket

There was a time when the name of one’s tailor was kept confidential, perhaps to protect a person’s privacy or even to prevent others from copying a look, or more likely to demonstrate discretion. Placing the name of the tailor inside the coat pocket so that the only way to read the tailor’s name is to peek inside the suit jacket pocket is an ultimate gesture, in terms of being discreet.

6. A Handkerchief Inside the Jacket Pocket.

Gentlemen at one time made it a point to carry a handkerchief in the suit coat pocket to handle things on the spot, like cold symptoms, spills, and teardrops.  And, a prepared gentleman equipped with gestures such as this, almost always left a lasting impression.

7. The final shirt buttonhole on a tailored shirt is sewn horizontally

Some swear by the practice of instructing a shirtmaker to sew the final buttonhole of a shirt horizontally instead of vertically in order to help secure the last button in place and as a discreet signal that the shirt is handmade (since no one sees the horizontal buttonhole except the wearer of the shirt and those closest to him).

8. Regimental Ties — Worn with Caution

Regimental ties, whose stripes represent a certain regiment, club, or private school, are only worn to functions associated with the entity that the tie represents. To wear one’s regimental tie to any other venue other than those events associated with what the regimental tie represents, is seen as a need to show off or broadcast a person’s membership. When wearing a striped tie with a suit, stripes should point up towards the right shoulder to avoid indicating that a person belongs to a club of which he has no affiliation (since true regimental ties generally point upwards towards the left shoulder).

9. All Sleeve Cuff Buttons are…Buttoned

To leave a button open on the coat sleeve cuff is not even considered, since quality is assumed with this class, and there would be no reason to announce that your buttons actually work on your coat sleeve.

10. A good watch ‘ peeks out ‘ beneath the shirt sleeve, but is not fully shown

Fully exposing a nice watch underneath a shirt sleeve would be seen as peacocking and as a way to get your watch stolen. Also, thrusting a watch forward  for display when posing for a photograph  is not an option.

11. An aversion to high fashion labels (with the exception of a few favorites specific to the individual)

Old money families steer clear of high fashion flashy labels (associated with “new money”)  but welcome a few personal labels into their wardrobe, some of which can be surprising to others, for example, choosing a black-banded Timex watch to be worn on certain days, in place of a finer watch.


How to participate in a «Toast»

Raise your glass with everyone else, when clinking glasses with an individual, always make quick eye contact with the individual, and…never cross wine or champagne glasses with anyone at the table.

Restrict Compliments since Quality is Assumed

Reserve the amount of compliments given to the elite…quality is assumed and mindless compliments are usually seen as unnecessary flattery that holds little meaning.

While these observations may only skim the surface of some elegant practices generally known within an exclusive subset of the population, the spirit of these subtle gestures come through– and brings some nice insight about being discreet and the some of the intentions behind why we dress the way we do.

The Enduring Fedora

Put on a hat and people will notice.  And if you can wear a hat and make it look like a natural extension of your wardrobe, then you have found your hat groove.

The fedora is a massively appealing style in hats.  This medium-brimmed hat comes either with a C-crown or indentation at the top of the hat for a roomier fit. The brim follows the entire base of the fedora and often a hat band or ribbon is featured just above the brim.  Hat materials include traditional felt, canvas and straw.

What you may not know is that a woman (not the men of the 1920s-60s) prompted the enduring style of the fedora. Victorien Sardou introduced us to the fedora hat in a play written for Sarah Bernhardt.  Bernhardt (Princess Fédora) plays the heroine of the story and this possibly began a general fascination by women which still lingers today.

The fedora is associated with Prohibition, the Great Depression, gangsters and savvy detectives.   Humphrey Bogart is the iconic example of donning a fedora in Casablanca. The hat is also recognized in the productions of The Spirit, Daisuke Jigen, Freddy Krueger, Dick Tracy, Rorschach and Indiana Jones; and, the fedora is particularly closely associated with film noir characters.  More recently, Leonard Cohen may be best known for his allegiance to the hat.

Some spectacular examples of the female and male fedora:

As for the men, I particularly like how most of the men (with the exception of Russell Brand), have mastered a nice tilt at the front brim of the hat, which adds more overall interest.

In this example, while Depp carries off the Fedora look with his hat selection and brilliant tilt, Brand obviously misses the mark.

Style – Visual Shorthand

Maybe Jean Cocteau had it right by summarizing, “Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”  I believe that style could mean something as simple as visually and non-visually expressing the truth of who we are, without any filters.  And, wonder if style and freedom are more closely related than we realize.  As I search for my personal definition of style, I’m drawn to this:  style is expressing the truth of who you are (outwardly and inwardly), with freedom from boundaries.

If someone is not oppressed (by government, organizations, or personal situations), then he or she is free to truly express his or herself by outward appearance, words and actions.

It is fascinating to me to realize that people who are not oppressed by outside forces, and are free to express themselves, so often place self-imposed boundaries, which prohibit them from communicating their true personal style.

If we have confidence in our ourselves and our personal decisions, then it is possible to release self-imposed boundaries like worrying about judgement from others and experiencing guilt for self-indulging.  On the flip side, a narcissist or completely self-focused person cannot successfully express personal style, because true style must factor in bringing pleasure to other people as well as ourselves.

And really, how is a being a painter of true art much different from someone who spends real effort on self-expression through presenting his or her body and mind in the best way at the highest level?

Self-expression is an art, which in turn becomes a pattern of personal style.  Monet and van Gogh painted a certain way, which of course, rendered a definitive style–so much so, that we recognize the artist by simply viewing the painting itself.  So we too, may develop a style specific to ourselves…to the level  that we could be recognized by others even before they see our faces.  This is an incredible thought.

Perhaps you recognize these people without the benefit of seeing their faces?

Answers: Jackie O, Oscar Wilde, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, James Dean, Brigitte Bardot, Ryan Gosling, Princess Di, Steve McQueen.

Tartan Beauty

Aristocratic Tartan

Steeped in history…It’s the feeling I get when I see an image of The Scottish Register of Tartan.  The register is maintained by the National Archives of Scotland based in Edinburgh, with the aim to provide a definitive and accessible resource to promote and preserve tartan.

This edict seems like a noble goal and the book appears like a treasure trove–a piece of history that you can hold in your hands.  And, if you have a tartan cloth that you would like to register and preserve, then you may be able to do so at

I imagine holding this book would create a real connection with its contents.  It is reminiscent of my Grandmother’s collection of fabrics that she held dear and kept in an open basket, which invited anyone passing by, to cast a hand in the bin, feel the fabrics and feed the eyes with the various colors and patterns.

Sir Jamie [right] with SNP enterprise minister Jim Mather at the launch of his register plans, 2008. The register itself is made up of the existing registers of the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register (now defunct) and new registrations from 5 February 2009 and on.


Reflecting on this feeling of “fabric and history” reminded me of another story of “keeping revered fabrics”.  As a child, I had the pleasure of sitting cross-legged underneath my Great-Grandmother’s giant quilt frame (circular, perhaps 8 feet in diameter), downstairs in a well-lit cellar.  On this day, my Great-Grandmother was hosting what is called “A Quilting Bee”, and, as a 5 year-old child,  I took this occasion to sneak underneath the loom where I could not be seen.  Similar to sitting underneath a round dining table draped with a huge cloth, I saw at least eight sets of old-lady-craftswoman legs, gathered in a circle, with busy hands working together, to complete a quilt masterpiece, one stitch at a time.

This practice of the quilting party was brought to the states from Europe and surged in popularity in the 1800s.

While it was fascinating to see the hands of these women work each individual stitch, most intriguing was the conversation of these women, that I eavesdropped on, (me hidden beneath the loom in a clandestine fashion, dead center in the midst of all these knees and squirming feet).  The southern quilts that these ladies produced were constructed with fine stitchery and elegant fabrics.  The host house of the quilting party, had the privilege of keeping the quilt.

And so, for some reason, seeing The Scottish Register of Tartan, transports me back to all sorts of memories of days past.  When I view these regal fabrics, I imagine what it would be like to wear true Scottish tartan and it makes me want to stroll the grounds of the Edinburgh castle.

or even take a day trip and drive out to the country, pulling the car aside after a long, slow, cruise with the windows down, and walk along a Scottish country dirt road, picnic in hand, perhaps in Tayside.

Of course I became curious to know how a tartan fabric may be registered and began researching the process a bit.  Here is an example of a nice fabric that is part of the registry:

STA ref: 8036
STWR ref: none
Designer: Jones, Harriet
Tartan date: 01/01/2009
Registration date: 1 November 2011
Category: Name
Registration notes: Designed by Harriet Jones of Holland & Sherry for a Mr Guzzo of Montreal who is “fascinated by all things Scottish and wishes a ‘family’ tartan using his family’s colours.” Being woven by the copyright holder Joseph H Clissold.

My personal favorite, using woven tartan, is the tartan coat.

Coat by Betsey Johnson:

Linda Evangelista, in Oscar de la Renta, gets a kick out of tartan (Arthur Elgort shoot)

And last, and perhaps best of all, a bespoke creation from Timothy Everest, who has been fantastically described as “borderline cheeky”, from Fall, 2011.

Q – Cumbered for Fresh Eyes

Summer is heating up all around the world and I am reminded of the special home brewed “spa treatments” I did as a little girl.

Surely, even Grace Kelly placed cucumbers over her eyes for a little self-pampering?

To add a little brightness to your eyes and to steal a little time to relax (and feel cool as a cucumber)…why not drop some sliced cucumbers on ice and apply to the eyes for 15 – 20 minutes?  It’s a beautiful idea recycled from days gone by.

What is the advantage of this summery, crisp, succulent wonder?

Cucumbers have a similar pH as our skin, which helps to restore our protective acid mantle.  And don’t forget, cucumbers also contain amino acids.  They have a cooling effect and offer a gentle astringent of alpha-hydroxy acids to soften, tone, and nourish skin stressed from exposure to the harsher elements of life (sun, dirt, stress, sleep deprivation).

Optimistically perhaps, but theoretically these green marvels tighten pores, reduce eye puffiness, and reveal a radiant, dewy-fresh look when applied to the skin.  OK, I admit, that is laying it on a little thick, but hey…the point is that cucumbers are just cool.

Today’s Inspiration

60s Style Icons — Natalie Wood and Raquel Welsh.

Classic.  Enduring.

The Zebra — Here to Stay

Image bу Roger Wo

I’m beginning to think the zebra pattern has become a classic design, rather than a fad.  And, have actually found a reluctant acceptance to this observation.  A rather nice example of Emillo Pucci’s creation.

Feast Your Eyes – Images from Paris’ Fashion/Style Week 2012

Words fail me…except to say I am more than satisfied with this year’s shoe selection and a few strong and original style-statements.  True style is self-art, and a I find a decent portion of this collection to be adrenaline-provoking.

Feast your eyes on around 150 images!!

Women on the Street and About in Paris, 2012

%d bloggers like this: