Style and Styling

3 Reasons Ad Style Doesn’t Work

AND 1 Reason It DOES!

Happy day, reader dearest!

You really ARE the most dear!

Thank you for your patience over the past few months. Your understanding and extension of grace during a crazy season has been a blessing. Every day is new. Some days go smoothly and others are a total (expletive deleted) show.

I try to stay thankful for the smooth ones and learn from those less than stellar days.

Outfits are kind of the same way. Some days we blow it out of the water and others? Meh. Which begs the question: Against what norm we are measuring? When we measure against ads and/or catalog images, we are doomed to fall short. Because there’s nothing “normal” about the “norms” we see in ads.

Not only are most of us not models. We don’t have someone doing our makeup and hair. Setting lights. Pinning our clothes to fit perfectly. Photoshopping the image for publication. We are dealing with our non-model bodies, our own efforts at hair and makeup, and real-life wardrobes that aren’t brand-spanking-new-fresh-off-the-rack.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t look and feel your best! It’s just unlikely to look like the hundreds of images with which we are bombarded daily.

There’s been a lot of talk recently (as we find ourselves stepping back out into the world) about dressing yourself happy. I LOVE this! It’s something I (and other image consultants) have been preaching for years, thank you! It took the depths of a pandemic and the slow and bumpy return to help others take notice of the power of clothing, and particularly color, to affect your mood and performance.

That said, as we look for inspiration, let’s be aware of the possible flaws in that plan! (Besides the obvious ones I noted above) Why doesn’t Ad Style work?

Ad Style Is About the Clothes

In an ad, the style is all about the clothes. Logical. The clothes are the center of attention. The wearer is irrelevant. Why? Because they want the clothes to catch your eye and make you swoon. Never swooned over an ad? I’m not a Gucci fan, but their ads regularly make me swoon… As do the ads for Versace. SO much color! So MUCH pattern!

In contrast, your style isn’t about the clothes. Your style is about YOU. Your personality, your lifestyle, your values, your coloring, your budget. All those elements combine to create a style that is uniquely you. When pulling together a look, you are should be the center of attention, not the clothes! We call that creating a Face Focus rather than a Body Focus.

Ad Style creates a Body Focus. With a Body Focus, we remember the clothes. When you put on ad style, you become nothing more than a mannequin. Not to mention that the clothing pairings shown don’t harmonize with many people’s Color Contrast or Value Contrast.

The looks in ads don’t work for my shape or my coloring, and possibly not yours either… But we can certainly crush on all the gorgeousness happening there. And find fresh inspiration!

Ad Style Is about an Archetype

You might say, I don’t pay attention to that high fashion stuff, I’m just looking at catalogs and websites of the stores I like. But their focus is the same! It’s on the clothes and selling them. To do that, they rely heavily on marketing to a particular Style Personality Archetype–the company’s archetype, or you could say–the company’s ideal customer.

The problem with ad (or store) archetypes, is that your style isn’t made up the elements of one style archetype. Or even two! The elements from which you create your style the are drawn from multiple archetypes. There will often be one that speaks the loudest, but others contribute, too!

You’ve seen this in action. I expect you have received a catalog, taken one look at the cover and said, Oooooh! And browsed happily. Or walked into a store and thought, There’s nothing here for me! Only to find yourself surprised when you ask a friend where she found that gorgeous scarf/jacket/sweater/dress… Only to find out it was in the catalog/store you ignored. Because those clothes weren’t “you.”

Specialty stores are growing more one-note. Department stores are still the best place to find a variety of style archetypes under one roof. Hence one of the reasons Amazon has done so well. You can find everything… (Even things you DON’T want to find.) Some stores/catalogs with a super clear and consistent archetype? Garnet Hill, J. Jill, Sundance, Banana Republic, J. Crew and Brooks Brothers, Madewell and Everlane. Two companies I’m waiting to see more from? Sezane, Madeline and Modern Citizen.

Ad Style Is Aspirational

Archetype and Aspiration go hand in hand. Particularly when talking about ad style! What do I mean?

How about those relaxed casual outfits that don’t look like anything we actually wear when we are hanging out watching movies with the family or cooking. Yes, I am talking about those lovely coordiated outfits the models (And yes, they are models.) wear to harvest veg from the garden for dinner. (Have you ever gone out to the garden to grab dinner looking like an ad shoot?) Or toasting with friends around the fireplace. With board games, of course! And matching glassware.

I don’t live there. I bet most of us don’t. Not that that life doesn’t look lovely. Relaxing. Fulfilling. We live in the present. Our present. The one in which the holiday get together is all about happy messy people with mismatched drinkware and socks that don’t coordinate with their outfits.

While I’m ALL about dressing to reflect how you want to show up in the world, it needs to work for your real world, which includes who you live with and how you do laundry! (Don’t tell me those dry-clean-only labels on casual wear don’t make you crazy, too?

What part of Ad Style does work?

Ad Style is About Creating a Mood

That’s the point of an ad. To evoke a feeling in us. Hopefully one that draws us in and makes us say Yes, when I buy that, I’ll have a piece of that life! Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t work that way. Sorry.

BUT using what we see in an ad can help us dress that mood or create that feeling. By looking at and analyzing the elements, the clothing pieces, and especially the colors, we can take that and run with it in a way that works for us. Think of it as a super Copycat Style, not copycatting an outfit but a vibe, or way of showing up in the world.

The mood ads create can tell us about how we want to show up in the world. Are you drawn toward bright vibrant ads, or calm relaxed moods. Is it all about cool urban chic or warm country elegance? The options are myriad!

How About You?

Do you find Ad Style frustrating or inspiring? Whose ads DO you like to see? What stores or catalogs speak to you? Price point isn’t relevant here, just the looks you like or if lucky, love! What store(s) has surprised you?

Stylishly yours,


  • Kathleen McDermott

    I always think of Maria Ouspenskaya as the archetype for Chico’s style. Not that I don’t own and enjoy some Chico’s pieces.

  • Cindy Clark

    What archetypes do the stores you mentioned have? I don’t think of them in terms of archetype, but rather in terms of the lifestyle or background of the women they want to appeal to. For instance, J. Jill says, “My happy place is the lake house.” Chico’s says, “I was at Woodstock and lived in a commune for a while.” Garnet Hill says, “ I’m a stay at home mom with a master’s degree in 19th century French Literature. I go to Pilates while Zoe is at Montessori.”

      • Kathleen McDermott

        Oh, I definitely see Woodstock and the commune – aged into a new age, crystal wearing gal who reads tarot cards, loves large jewelry, never shies away from an aggressive print and cruises regularly with her mahjong group. Though, again, I do own many Chico’s pieces (just not the ones she’d buy).

        • Liz K

          You’re certainly right about the aggressive prints, Kathleen! Chico’s is all over the place stylistically… From hippie skippie to crispy white shirt to easy traveler (the cruises) to suburban liver with the overstuffed closet. I regularly see wardrobe multiple personality syndrome in committed Chico’s shoppers.

    • Liz K

      Okay. I’ve caught my breath. I can’t even. 19th C French lit and Zoe was the end of all my composure. Even Mr. CP had heaving hysterics. I really think you were meant for stand-up, Cindy! Lifestyle and Archetype are closely tied. I am struggling with Woodstock and lived in a commune for a while with Chicos. They actually have quite a wide range of style archetypes which is why I didn’t include them in my list. Talbot’s has traditionally skewed highly classic, but veers about with fashion trends, frustrating many. J.Jill–Relaxed and Feminine (Without the hippie vibe.) Garnet Hill is a younger Relaxed and Feminine but at a higher price point, hence Montessori and Pilates. J Crew is an younger and more urban Classic. Depending on when someone reads this, both year and season, any of these Archetypes may have shifted. The retail and fashion landscape has shifted dramatically in the past two years, and we are and will be seeing that seizmic fallout for years as retail recalibrates!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.