- Style •
Jun. 20, 2017
Everything I needed to know about style I learnt from my Soviet school uniform.
Our jawline angle defines our personal style. Some of us will find our lifestyle defined by it as well.
Are you one of those women who have developed shopping fatigue? Or perhaps you shop incessantly, spending money on sales or new collections and still have nothing to wear? There may be dozens of reasons why this happens to you. One possibility is the role your jawline plays in forming your personal style. This may not be your most reassuring read of the week, but going forward it can improve your quality of life.
The entire world of modern fashion, from affordable J.Crew to unapproachable YSL, is wrapped around a well-defined jaw angle. Situated right under the ear, the mandible forms an angle of 120 degrees. All models have this facial bone structure and nearly every fashion image, editorial, or catalog rests on the apex of the sharp lower jaw.
This angular line serves as a bearing pile for the modern signature look of laid back, relaxed luxury and gender-bending trends. The well-defined angle contributes to the formation of a square jaw which has traditionally been attributed to masculine features. While liberating millions of women, the recent gender-bending trends have also become oppressing for millions of others.
As a personal stylist, I see scores of women with a softer bone structure who perceive themselves as unfit or fat despite their really low weight. Ladies with a smooth lower jaw and classic oval face have more difficulties finding designs that work for them. The softness of a face worthy of a Renaissance painting is often mistaken for extra pounds. Androgynous, gender-bending styles do not do them justice. They need clothes with an updated, ladylike appeal. These can be found in the upper echelon brands like Dior and Carolina Herrera, and are generally perceived as an ivory tower look. Women with a delicate jawline receive little visual guidance and inspiration. Some keep experimenting but find themselves continuously powering through poor body image issues; others desert fashion all together, settling into a style rut.
I have the same facial bone structure. Beginning in my adolescent years, my mandible presented a flattened 160 angle, not the sharp, juvenile 120 degrees. With little indentation between the lower jaw and the neck, my face evoked the portraits of Modigliani. But I was growing up in the 1990s, and all the grunge fashion seemed attractive, so I threw myself into that. Despite being very skinny, I couldn’t help noticing the poor results I got with combat boots and Cobain-inspired flannel shirts.
At the time I had no idea that my lower jaw had anything to do with this. I was just baffled. Gradually I learned to put myself first by adapting classical styles dictated by my bone structure to the laid back, undone fashions of the twenty-first century. In the process I have come up with an idea of two beauty types, the angular Z-type, an Amazon, who is all about definition, and the soft S-type, a Siren, who is all about subtlety. This became the focus of one of my online projects, a style blog on LiveJournal that I ran from 2009-2014.
The blog grew overnight at the end of 2009, after a Russian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine ran an article about three Russian women who immigrated to the US after marrying US citizens and became entrepreneurs. I was one of them. The publication also brought an influx of clients to my newly established personal stylist business. My auteur concept of two beauty types, S and Z, helped me streamline the process. Every morning I opened a bunch of new emails, looked through the pictures, preliminarily sorted them into S or Z beauty types, and started mapping personal style strategies. Sorting faces into S and Z beauty types allowed me to concentrate on the nuances of every woman who requested a consultation.
I was in Silicon Valley and received numerous comments on how I needed to scale my business, but I enjoyed the labor-intensive process with no cut and paste techniques. Every client received a highly personalized manual from me and I hated the idea of turning my work into an assembly line.
This was also the time when I first noted the importance of the lower jaw. Whenever I looked at a set of new pictures, my eyes inevitably landed on the lower jaw and that is how I preliminary filed women as an S or Z type. Along with softer jawlines, Siren faces seemed to channel delicacy and vulnerability. Amazons seemed to communicate stamina, with something almost primal about their looks. The strong mandible angle of 120 degrees seemed like the loudest manifestation of their primordial appeal. I came to realize that our facial bone structure has an upper hand in defining our personal style. Intuitively I started reading forensic anthropology literature and it gave me a better grasp on the subject of facial bone structure.
My blog and stylist practice were growing and so were my two newly born kids. Everything looked like an Instagram-perfect Silicon Valley life, but I felt that chronic fatigue was taking over. It did not happen overnight. I recall fighting fatigue since my childhood. Not even in my early twenties was I able to party all night and function the following day. For as long as I could remember, a sleepless night meant the following day was lost. I used to manage it somehow, until children and a successful media project burst into my life and made me realize how low on fuel I was. My body felt like a steam engine that was slowing down gradually, until one day it stopped completely. I was 33 years old.
It turned out that I have UARS (upper airway resistance syndrome), a form of sleep apnea characterized by particularly narrow airways. Unlike the regular apnea with a full blockage of the airway during sleep, with UARS the body works tirelessly throughout the night to prevent the blockage. My airways were so narrow that it was like breathing through a straw. As a result, I was not getting quality sleep. Fatigue accumulated for my entire life. This disorder usually manifests itself by the mid-30s and snowballs into a disaster by the age of 40. UARS is typical for skinny women with delicate bone structures, long necks, and small, setback jaws. It commonly goes undiagnosed.
A flattened lower jaw angle and soft facial bone structure like mine could serve as an indicator of UARS. Renaissance paintings predominantly feature this facial bone structure and, with my classical jawline, I fit right in. These same features contributed to my diagnosis. I started sleeping with a CPAP machine and experienced nightmare-free sleep for the first time in my life. UARS patients are also advised to consider a jaw surgery. I did. The surgery comes with two years of specialized apnea-aware orthodontia. The orthodontist looked at the panoramic scans of my scalp as she asked me questions: “Are you always tired?” “Do you get irritable at nothing?” “Are your hands and feet always cold?” I was. I did. And they were.
The orthodontist followed with a PowerPoint presentation that left me speechless. As she tried to explain to me the intricacies of the surgery to change the facial angle and the jaw bone structure, I was recovering from the shock. The medical presentation she showed me mirrored my auteur concept of S and Z beauty types. The surgery was an attempt to bring an S-type Renaissance woman a tad closer to the Z-type prehistoric beauty.
What exactly, then, does this mean? It means that the fashion industry’s infatuation with a square jaw is not just a whim. It is a call from the depths of a collective unconscious regarding the fundamental state of affairs, just as is always the case with fashion. It just needs to be interpreted correctly. This is a desperate call for health and life energy that comes with the freedom of breathing. And it turns out the generous, square jaw manifests just that. I walked into the doctor’s office as a beauty advocate for delicate jaws and walked out feeling completely defeated and betrayed by my body. So this is the appeal of the demure Renaissance beauty? The fact that she is forced to breathe through a straw? To fight for every ounce of oxygen she can get?
Not everyone whose mandible angle is Renaissance-like flattened will develop UARS and apnea. The surgeon who was to perform my jaw surgery explained that apnea results from three components: facial bone structure, soft tissue, and temperament. In the end I decided against the surgery and went with alternative methods. Experimenting with diet made me suspect that faces with a soft bone structure like mine may be prone to swelling from sugar, carbs, or dairy which can affect the airways and energy levels. It can form a vicious cycle, because with poor-quality sleep it is natural to develop a sugar dependency since sugar is a source of fast and easy energy. People with an angular facial bone structure may never relate to such struggles because their breathing patterns are different.
Strangely enough, my focus on the lower jaw as a stylist coincided with the way part of the medical community looks at it. I do not really know what to say because it raises a lot of uneasy and touchy topics. I will try to concentrate on the fashion side of it for now. As a stylist, I know that a face with a delicate, set back jaw asks for structured necklines, like bateau and strong crewnecks. This provides support to the face of the S-type beauty in the same way the 120 degree lower jaw angle does for the Z-type beauty.
Unfortunately, the modern apparel industry is centered on the well-developed 120 degree lower jaw angle. This feature, along with an angular facial bone structure, looks good in loose necklines and V-necks. But these styles rob the S-type face of its personality. As an S-type, I elevate my style by wearing all my V-necks backwards. This has been by far the most useful and transformational advice that my clients and blog readers have thanked me for. An S-type beauty’s soft facial bone structure also relies largely on complex fibers: cotton and silk blends or silk and wool blends. This may help an S-type beauty develop conscious shopping habits, because a lot of garments today are offered in cotton, linen, and simple silks.
I opened my article with the warning that this may not be your most reassuring read of the week, but I believe that awareness is empowering. One day the apparel industry may realize that particular neckline styles can elevate casual style for millions of women and perhaps bring them back to shopping and fashion.
Jun. 20, 2017
Everything I needed to know about style I learnt from my Soviet school uniform.