My Style Rules: Neelam Ahooja
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Fashion had always been part of my life. Yet until 2020 it was something I kept very much on the side lines. I’m a retired chartered accountant turned stay-at-home mum, currently based just outside Toronto, Canada. Today, I see myself as a collector and stylist, and my personal style is best described as ‘elevated minimalism’.
If I had to describe my style in three words they would be sophisticated, relaxed and edgy. I like clean, elegant, minimal looks with well-tailored garments, luxurious fabrics, and muted colours. I’m most comfortable in a slightly oversized (but finely tailored) silhouette versus a fitted piece, and in terms of styling let’s just say my shirts aren’t always tucked in – plus, I like slouchy trousers. My outfit always has to have an air of effortlessness about it.
I love that boy-meets-girl look. I don’t like frills, bows, hearts or anything that makes an outfit too feminine. I prefer suits to a dress and loafers to pumps – and something a little unexpected like asymmetrical hems, raw edges, open backs, elongated collars, and a final touch that adds a bit of complexity.
An oversized coat always makes an outfit that bit chicer. It’s the largest piece you can wear, and it immediately draws attention. A well-cut, black, floor-sweeping coat, is bold and striking, and completes an outfit. You could be wearing a simple tee and jeans underneath but the right coat will immediately elevate the whole look.
The one piece of style advice I would share with everyone would be get to know your body. If you don’t feel good in something – trendy or otherwise – pay attention. It’s your inner voice speaking to you. It’s tempting to hop on trends but not everything works for everyone. For example, the high-waisted trend didn’t work for my broad shoulders or my short torso. So, I stuck with a mid-rise and it served me well. I guess the second piece of advice would be don’t follow trends!
My day-to-day outfit is usually a pair of mid-rise, dark, straight-leg jeans, a classic fitted white or black tee, and an oversized coat. I’m currently favouring The Row’s Goldin Jeans in black. This formula works for most situations because if the denim is formal – no rips, clean rinse – it can take me from a casual setting to a more formal one. And the coat adds polish, regardless of whether it’s a trench coat or a car coat. I dress based on my mood and, most of the time, I want to be comfortable.
There are so many brands I love. Aside from The Row, there’s La Collection, Frances de Lourdes, Julie Josephine, Studio Nicholson and Buhee. They each do minimalism very well and work with many of my pieces from The Row.
While I don’t follow trends, I keep up with the general flow of fashion so I look up to date. It’s more important to wear something that works for you, your energy and your body. That will make you feel confident and that’s far more interesting to me. The Row’s fisherman sandals are an exception – they happen to be very trendy right now but I love them.
My five must-have pieces are an oversized coat, leather ankle boots, a backpack, a pair of jeans and a tee. For an oversized coat, The Achilles from La Collection is where you should look. Next would be a pair of leather ankle boots. My favourites are a pair by LEGRES – they’re sleek and work with everything. My backpack from The Row is easily one of my most used bags. You also can’t go wrong with a hardworking pair of jeans and The Row’s Goldin jeans are the perfect fit. They’re just the right rise, a nice dark wash, and the leg isn’t too wide. Finally, a Julie Josephine Agnes tee – even after a run through the dryer, it’s still so soft.
There are times when I have to forgo fashion. I live in Canada and it gets really cold, so when it’s -20°F outside, you’ll find me in my UGG Adirondacks. I also love a warm parka, beanie and a scarf and a pair of boots from LEGRES, as mentioned.
My favourite brands for outerwear are The Row and La Collection. Their coats are timeless and elegant, while the fabrics are luxurious and the tailoring is impeccable. However, if we’re talking parkas and functional ski wear, then Moncler and Canada Goose get my vote.
I like colour but I only use it as an accent. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a small piece – it can be the coat or a dress – but the key is to balance it out with some neutrals so it’s not too loud or overpowering. My favourite accent colours are bright red and blues.
It’s always worth spending money on a great coat or a bag. They’re the most noticeable components of any outfit and really have the power to elevate any look. I’d rather have one multifunctional coat than a dozen cheaper ones. Same goes for the bag. Trends come and go but a finely crafted leather bag will last a lifetime. It’s not easy to constantly be moving contents from one to another, so purchasing a bag that’s classic and timeless is the most efficient way to shop.
Sustainability is something I think about more and more. In the past year, I’ve purchased more second-hand items than new – a lot from The Real Real – and I sell pieces from my closet to give the lesser used items a new home. I like buying pieces made using recycled fabrics and overall I’ve tried to reduce my intake. As an influencer, however, that can be difficult. Sometimes I don't feel I need to buy anything and yet my ‘job’ demands it. I’ve started to reach into the back of my closet to pull out older pieces and style them up to prove to my audience you can give old pieces a new lease of life.
My favourite piece in my wardrobe is my The Row N/S Large Park tote in nylon. It’s so easy. I bought it just before I went to Paris Fashion Week, and much like my backpack, the Park nylon is so light and easy to carry. It also has a nice sheen to the material, it carries plenty and goes with everything – skirts, denim, trousers. I’m wearing it a lot these days.
My style icons are Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show, Georgia O’Keeffe and Carolyn Bessette. For the latter two it’s their timeless elegant style I’m drawn to; for Denise it’s the bohemian boy-meets-girl vibe. A part of her will forever live in me.
There are so many women who inspire me on Instagram. One in particular is Maja WYH. I’ve followed her for many years and it’s always a thrill to see a new post from her. She doesn’t follow trends and has a very unique sense of style which I would characterise as layered, edgy and cool. She doesn’t post that frequently but that’s what I love most. She’s always marching to the beat of her own drum.
The secret to great style comes from within. Don’t second guess yourself, know what suits you, and be open to new ideas – but not to the point of ignoring your own personal style. Confident people just carry themselves differently.
Follow @Neelam.Ahooja for more inspo.
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