How Items of Clothing (and Jewelry) Define Us to the World – Inspiration from an Elle Magazine Essay Contest

If you have ever engaged the services of an image consultant to help you refine your personal or professional image, you may have been asked to describe not only your current favorite “go-to” outfit, but also your all-time favorite ensemble. As a follow-up question, the image professional will inquire why you chose those ensembles as your favorites. What feelings, emotions and memories does the recollection of wearing them bring up for you? What adjectives would you use to describe yourself wearing those ensembles? In other words, what image do you most enjoy conveying?

Very often it’s an item of jewelry that constitutes the signature piece, the centerpiece of a favorite look. It catches the eye and adds polish to an ensemble. It conveys personality.

Elle magazine is running an essay contest during the month of October 2009 asking “What piece of clothing changed your life or your identity? A bikini, leather jacket, tube top, dress, stilettos-whatever.” In her “Elle Editor’s Letter,” Editor-in-Chief Roberta Myers introduces the contest:

“Personal style is fundamentally about the expression of personality, and as such ignites the creative fires of, well, practically everyone. It is with much excitement that we offered up our annual Fashion Stories collection to guest editor Nora Ephron, who, with her sister, Delia Ephron, wrote and directed the play Love, Loss, and What I Wore based on the slim memoir of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, which opens off-Broadway on October 1. Ephron recruited friends and luminaries . . . to contribute their stories of fashion catharsis and nostalgia. . .; though the pieces differ dramatically in kind, they all make the case for one thing: Clothes help us define who we are in the world-they are touchstones for personal relationships, tools of seduction, and conduits to our former selves.”

Elle readers are invited to submit their own 500-word stories by October 31, 2009, and here’s the exciting prize: “the winner will have his or her narrative worked into the play and performed for one night-you’ll be on off-Broadway!-and also win a trip for two to New York City, plus a $1,000 Ann Taylor wardrobe.” See the magazine and the contest’s official rules for more details.

While the examples of “clothing” given in the contest’s official rules specifically include underwear, swimwear, outerwear and shoes, there is no specific mention of jewelry (or handbags, for that matter). I attempted several times to contact Elle through the magazine web site and kept receiving a message “page not found.” If someone from or on behalf of Elle can weigh in with an answer to the question whether jewelry is considered “clothing” for purposes of the contest, it would be most appreciated.

And even if jewelry is not within the purview of the specified subject of the essay contest, Ephron’s play and the Elle contest just might provide the springboard for some interesting reminiscing. From my perspective, the toughest part of the contest is deciding upon just one item to write about.

Jewelry retailers and designers might use the book, the play and the Elle contest as the seeds of inspiration for their own special events, bringing jewelry lovers together to share their personal stories of catharsis and nostalgia associated with their jewelry.