Finding Fashion In The Magic City

Photo courtesy of Javacia Harris Bowser.

When you think about the world's most notable fashion hubs, places like New York, London, or Milan might come to mind -- but probably not Birmingham, Alabama. But there are a fair number of fashion-forward-thinking people right here in the Magic City, and their philosophy towards clothes goes beyond outward appearances. Our guest blogger Javacia Harris Bowser explores this in her monthly post for WBHM:


In my next life I want to be a fashion blogger.

I want a website that boasts bold and beautiful photos of me sporting chic and trendy outfits. And I want to wax poetic about the importance of women having a strong sense of their personal style.

But there's one huge obstacle preventing me from realizing this dream: I hate shopping. And most days, I don't feel all that fashionable.

Enter Megan LaRussa Chenoweth, the founder of fashion consulting firm Southern Femme.

Chenoweth helps plan local and regional fashion events, offers fashion tips on her website, SouthernFemme.com, and writes a monthly style column for Birmingham magazine.

Birmingham may not be known as a fashion capital, but that hasn't stopped Chenoweth from turning her passion for fashion into a successful career. "We as Southerners take pride in our heritage and ourselves and thus dress accordingly," Chenoweth said.

Plenty of Southern ladies have been showing off their style at the fourth annual Birmingham Fashion Week. It kicked off April 19 with a gala and winds down with a grand finale this Saturday, April 26. The week of events has included a celebration of local designers and even a showcase of fitness fashions.


The author at Birmingham Fashion Week with local fashion bloggers. From left: Rachel Tindall of To Hell In a Handbang, Javacia Harris Bowser, Ivette Thomas of AllAboutBham.com, and Chandler MacWilliam of Shotguns and Sea Shells. Photo courtesy of Javacia Harris Bowser.

I decided this year I would write about a few Birmingham Fashion Week events to try my hand at this fashion blogging thing. But first I needed something to wear.

I knew Chenoweth could help.

Chenoweth, who holds a master's degree in fashion marketing from Parsons School of Design, started SouthernFemme.com as a blog in 2009 while she was working as a trend forecaster in New York. When the Birmingham native returned home that August, she continued her blog, focusing on Southern style, local fashion events and trends, and sharing style tips. This eventually led to a style coaching business.

For Chenoweth, fashion isn't simply about clothes.

"The way we dress is a type of social communication," Chenoweth says. "It's visual currency."

The night before my initial consultation with Chenoweth, I emailed her my weight and measurements. She told me she'd use these to perform a body-type analysis. I was nervous. I am not a skinny girl, so I felt certain Chenoweth would tell me I needed to wear frumpy frocks to conceal my curves. But when I arrived at Chenoweth's cozy Mountain Brook office, she immediately made me feel at home by asking me to do something I love to do: tell stories.

We all have style stories whether we realize it or not. While chatting with Chenoweth, I realized I had plenty. I told her about my days as a tough tomboy and the day I fell in love with dresses. I told her about the time I foolishly changed my wardrobe to impress a guy. And I told her how sporting my hair in its naturally curly state boosted my self-acceptance and self-esteem.

All this talk led to a writing assignment. Write a sentence that defines your style, Chenoweth instructed.

Like a good student, I pulled out my notebook and quickly got to work.

"OK, I think I have it," I announced a few minutes later. "Javacia is always effortlessly stylish, exuding confidence and power while still being approachable and feminine."

Chenoweth smiled and said, "Perfect!" I'd made my teacher proud.

Then came the uncomfortable conversation about body type. To my relief, Chenoweth actually encouraged me to wear clothing that accentuates my curves. There were also rules on things I shouldn't wear, but I kept in mind a statement from a book excerpt Chenoweth sent to me before our meeting. In her book I Love Your Style: How to Define and Refine Your Personal Style, Amanda Brooks writes, "There are no rules to this, except the ones you make for yourself -- and even those are made to be broken."

With that in mind, I decided I'd use the suggestions from my body-type analysis to help me put together more figure-flattering outfits. I also decided I wouldn't let those rules keep me from wearing anything I really liked.


Javacia models an outfit she put together with stylist Megan Chenoweth. Photo courtesy of Javacia Harris Bowser.

For our final meeting, Chenoweth helped me put together two outfits that I could wear to Birmingham Fashion Week events.

For one look, we "shopped my closet." Chenoweth showed me how to put together old clothes in new and unexpected ways. She paired a coral peplum top with a cobalt blue pencil skirt. It was actually look I'd wanted to try, but I worried wearing two bold colors together would be too much. Chenoweth explained that these colors work well together because they share the same vibrancy. And she advised that I go with neutral accessories, because "You don't want to look like a Crayola box."

For my second outfit, we headed to Target. Though I typically hate shopping, this trip was quite tolerable. Chenoweth explained that having a strong sense of your personal style can make shopping a lot easier. Sure, you can be aware of the trends. But when you know what you really like, you can head straight to the looks that are best for you. An outfit on a mannequin, a pushy sales associate or even a well-meaning friend won't derail you.

At the start of this journey, Chenoweth said, "Fashion is so much deeper than what it appears to be." And she's right. Fashion is not simply about clothes, it's about confidence. And should I ever become a fashion blogger, I hope to convey that message with every post.

Javacia Harris Bowser is an educator and freelance writer in Birmingham. Javacia is the founder of See Jane Write, an organization for local women writers, and she blogs about her life as a "southern fried feminist" at The Writeous Babe Project.

~April 24, 2014