Apr 20, 2020 • 40M

#16 Elegance Expert Devoreaux Walton

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Stephen Harrison
Notes on Quotes is a wide-ranging interview series where interesting people share a quote that’s meaningful to them. Hosted by Stephen Harrison who has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. He's currently a columnist for Slate. Throughout 2020, Harrison is interviewing authors, scholars, actors, entertainers, and more about a quote of their choosing. Brought to you by Aftermath Ventures, LLC.
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Devoreaux Walton is an author, confidence coach, and YouTube personality who serves as the CEO and Founder at The Modern Lady, a lifestyle company that teaches women worldwide how to elevate their lives with elegance and poise. Her book Je Ne Sais Quoi offers tips on style, grooming, etiquette, and attitude. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Scott wrote, “In a world where etiquette and manners seem to have gone extinct, Devoreaux Walton’s voice is sorely needed.”

Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today?

Devoreaux Walton: Today’s quote is from the famous Maya Angelou. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Such a good quote! Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She wrote seven autobiographical novels, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. You mentioned before the interview that Angelou is a hero of yours?

Absolutely. I learned her works in middle school and high school English class. I participated in a pageant when I was younger, and for the pageant portion, I acted out one of her most famous poems “Phenomenal Woman.”

I love how inspiriting Maya Angelou was. Her work doesn’t speak to just one particular era or decade. It really transcends the boundary of time.

You’re an elegance expert and confidence coach. How did your past experiences lead you to that profession?

Several years ago in 2014, I got to a point in my life where I felt stuck in a rut. I was just extremely unhappy in my career, in my personal life, in my social life. I felt like I had no sense of style or presence or gracefulness at all. But I had this idea of the woman I wanted to be. I just had this vision for myself to be polished and poised. And that was not where I was at that particular time! [laugh]

I started to make investments in myself through resources, reading books, hiring life coaches, going to therapy, exercising, getting a personal trainer, and sitting down to have some deep time for reflection. I asked myself some tough questions in terms of what I wanted my future to look like, and who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to carry myself.

I spent the time doing the work to peel back the layers—the baggage, frustration, and fear. I decided to put that to the side, to live in courage and confidence. Once I was able to transform, I started to share who I was, once I was on the other side: I was this stylish and charismatic person. I loved being charming and meeting new people.

I started a blog as an expression to share my wardrobe and my personal style. That evolved into sharing those ideas for other women to help make transformations in their lives.

The quote is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Can you think of an experience where you learned to do better?

I was in an agency environment in my career in 2014 and 2015. At the time, I didn’t really know how to conduct a meeting properly and efficiently. I wasn’t necessarily being professional in terms of the small nuances that make a world of difference: the emails, the setup for the actual meetings, and the agenda.

After getting some feedback from one of my team leads, I started leaning into the area where I knew I had a weakness at that particular time. Instead of thinking about it as a weakness, I thought of it as an area for improvement.

The impact of developing those soft skills was that instead of pitching to ten clients, and maybe only getting one new contract, we would pitch ten clients and get nine out of ten. And that’s just one small example of the benefits of etiquette and being able to carry yourself with a strong social presence.

How do you go about helping your clients with a transformation? I know part of it has to do with wardrobe. And Maya Angelou was not only a Civil Rights leader and author, but a fashion leader during the 50’s and 60’s.

I think that most women come to me, and, eight times out of ten, they’re going to say, “My wardrobe is a disaster. Help me hit the reset button.” And my response every time is, “We will get to your wardrobe, but we’ve gotta start with the mindset first.”

What I do, I call confidence coaching. But it really is an intersection of life coaching, personal styling, and charm school. Essentially, instead of working on just one area, just your wardrobe, or just your mindset, or just your social presence, I work on everything with my clients because I find that these women need it.

It starts with being able to master the mindset, thoughts, the anxiety, the fears, the negative emotions, and really being able to reposition and be very intentional in the actions and the thoughts that we are taking. That creates the foundation for this confident life.

The second layer after we’ve done a lot of the internal work is working on the external. That’s the wardrobe phase. I want to make sure that every woman is able to define the type of perception that others will have of her. If I want people to know me as being bold and courageous, that’s a different perception from being quirky or artistic or creative. But first I want to make sure we’re clear on defining that personality so that we can build an ideal wardrobe for their specific needs.

A lot of women that just get dressed up, and wear an outfit to impress other people, but they don’t even feel good in what they’re wearing—there’s a huge disconnect. In that situation, you’re lacking confidence. It’s important to have that level authenticity with what you’re wearing because it certainly changes how you feel.

Most of the women that come to me define themselves as introverts. So they are not comfortable in social situations. In fact, they typically avoid them. They can do it personally, and get by. But professionally, you have to be assertive at some level in order to be really successful, regardless of what industry you’re in.

By leaning into these communication strategies and principles, you can walk into an event where you may not know anyone. Instead of being frightened or feeling uncomfortable, you’re at ease enough to enjoy the moments. You can make connections at those events that can open up doors of opportunity.        

There was a fashion psychology study done back in the 1960s, 1970s. A gentleman that was wearing a business suit. Before the crossing signal came on, he crossed the street, and several people followed him. The same men changed into a different outfit—the kind that an interior or home painter would wear, with paint stains, and overalls, and grungy dirty work boots. This time the he crossed the street before the crossing signal came on and nobody followed him.

I imagine there are some people who think that thinking a lot about etiquette, elegance, and how you dress is a very old-fashioned concept. What would you say to someone who thinks that this mode of thinking is out-of-date?

I love that thought, because it challenges the value of what I do! But what I find when people don’t pay attention to the little details like how they’re looking and how they’re showing up—it shows. People will pick up on that lack of confidence.

We are definitely seeing a decline in the quality of interactions in person. [Note: This was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic.] It will definitely be interesting to see what the world looks like 20 to 40 years from now, whether or not etiquette will be implemented further or whether we’ll have no sense of protocol at all.

At the same time, I think that some timeless life principles like respect, kindness, and courtesy—they’re never going to go away. There’s nobody in the world that feels good being disrespectful. But it feels good doing random acts of kindness, like holding the door for someone with lots of bags. That is something that is probably never going to go away.

Do you think that society will continue to get more casual, or will it become more formal?

I think about the rise of the tech industry 20, 30 years ago and how casual things have become. People can work from home. Or if they go into the office, they can wear flip-flops, shorts, and tank-tops. Our modern culture is so very casual and that has carried over into every protocol of style and dress.

In the short-term, I think that things will continue to be more casual. People are sharing intimate and casual details of their life on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

But at some point in the next 50 years or less, my hypothesis is that style will shift back into being more conservative. Because at some point, things are going to get so out of control that we’re gonna have to bring back structure and rules. Guidelines and structure around how we are conducting business and living life.

You mentioned Instagram. What tips do you think Maya Angelou might have about the presentation of self on a platform like Instagram?

That’s a great question. It’s easy for us to “shoot from the hip” when we post something online. On social media you can hide behind a screen. But another favorite quote from Maya Angelou is “people will forget what you’ve said […] but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” What’s critical for someone who wants to be classy or elegant is to be very intentional. You can’t just sit idly and let any thought cross your mind. You have to be intentional so that it’s positive, inspiring, encouraging, motivational, helping you drive to where you’re wanting to be. I think that would be my number one tip for anyone wanting to be classy on social media: to be very purposeful and intentional about it.

Think about people who have this sense of elegance—Princess Diana, Maya Angelou, Audrey Hepburn, and First Lady Michelle Obama. There are so many women that have been some really amazing, inspirational examples that show us the way. And it’s always a choice.

The quote again is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” While I like this quote, sometimes this idea of continuous personal improvement is discouraging. We talked about this recently in the interview with Svend Brinkmann. What would you say to someone who finds this constant personal improvement exhausting?

I think we all have the beautiful freedom to create the lives that we want to have. And so the idea of continuous learning can look different for anyone: For some it might be a hobby, learning a new language, or exploring a passion.

Your personal development and personal growth journey should be just that—it should be personal. You have the opportunity to create it in a way that will help you feel elevated.

The really beautiful thing is that we have all the cards stacked in our favor. We have the choice to create the personal growth journey that’s best going to serve us.

That’s one important thing in your life: to let go of everything that doesn’t serve you. Focus your time and your energy in your life on the things that do serve you. Because you’ll be so much more energetic and vibrant and full of life when you’re able to be energized by all the things around you.

Further reading

The Notes on Quotes Series

Notes on Quotes #14: Svend Brinkmann, Author of Stand Firm

Notes on Quotes $15: Anxiety Expert Kathleen Smith

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