PERSONAL SPACE: Personal Style

Editor-in-Chief Amy DuBois Barnett

A few weeks ago, I went to an exclusive dinner party in one of Chicago’s fanciest rooftop restaurants. As the small crowd lounged on the enormous deck overlooking a gorgeous cityscape, the conversation turned to fashion. I was chatting with a few elegant women who were all dressed to the nines. When I initially walked up to their group and introduced myself, they were already in the middle of a conversation about what they were wearing and where they shopped. Many designer names were mentioned, along with expensive boutiques and department stores that were, apparently, like second homes to these ladies, as they all had a “guy” at each spot on speed dial. 

I complimented one tall, willowy woman on her lovely statement necklace. “Vera Wang,” she immediately replied. “My guy at Neiman called me the minute it came in because they only had one. Of course, while I was there, I had to get three dresses to match.” I laughed along with the others, even though I was thinking that was kind of a lot of information to give a stranger.

Then another woman, who out of the corner of my eye I had seen looking me up and down (well, more like sizing me up), leaned over conspiratorially, pointed to my zebra-print heels and asked me, “Now, where did you get those funky shoes? I don’t think I’ve seen them in any of the collections.” I leaned over as well and looked around as though I was about to deliver a highly guarded industry secret. “My guy at Nine West called me when they came in. I had to rush over because they only had 1,000 pairs left!” I smiled at the group, but the reaction was not nearly what I had anticipated. There was uncomfortable silence, a couple of raised eyebrows, and I even caught glances being exchanged. I made my excuses and slunk away as quickly as

politesse would allow. Initially, I was mortified that my joke had been so ill-received. Then I looked back at the group and realized that they were basically carbon copies in their

knee-length cocktail dresses and prim heels. I smiled to myself when I realized that no one at the dinner looked anything like me and happily joined another group to chat.

That evening, I was wearing a black Topshop jumpsuit and a green Barbara Bui blazer, a chunky J. Crew necklace and carrying a Prada bag. It was one of my typical highlow mixes. As I write this, I’m wearing a tan Gap skirt, a white Vince tee, a large wood-and-brass Tracy Reese necklace and brown clogs, accessorized with a white Yves Saint Laurent bag. I’ve always bought what I like—not the labels that people inform me are “in” that season. If I like a designer item, I assess whether it’s fabulous and timeless enough to justify the investment. If I find a cool piece at Target or H&M, I don’t think twice about buying something that doesn’t require an urgent call from “my guy.” Then I add random finds from tiny boutiques, vintage stores and overseas travel. 

So many people interpret style as wearing the latest and most popular designer gear. But true personal style is about making a personal statement. Of course, we are all influenced by major trends, but as you think about your fall purchases, think about doing you. Check out our “Style Trend Report” on page 38 for inspiration and ideas. Then get creative. Mix feathers and leather, designer and discount, Target and vintage. Love yourself; love your style—and never judge anyone because of how they dress. E-mail me or hit me up on

Twitter to tell me about your best fall find and how you rock your personal style.

My style staples: Marni, Vince, Barbara Bui, Zara, Lanvin, H&M, Prada, American Apparel, Catherine Malandrino, Malia Mills, Goorin Bros. Hats, J. Crew, Loeffler Randall, Tracy Reese and Topshop.

Please e-mail at amy@ebony.com and hit me up on Twitter @amybarnett.