I’ve always admired people who have a uniform.
I’m not talking about soldiers, or nurses, or any of the hundreds of other professionals who have ACTUAL uniforms, here (Although I admire those people for other reasons): I’m talking about those people who have/had a style which is identifiably theirs. Audrey Hepburn. Dita Von Teese. Hell, even someone like Amy Winehouse, with her huge beehive and messed-up ballet flats. I don’t have to actually admire the uniform itself, you see, to admire the fact of its existence: the idea that the person wearing it has created a “signature style” that is instantly identifiable, in the sense that when you see something in that style in a store, say, you think, “That’s SO Audrey/Grace/Gaga/whatever.”
This, for me, is what personal style is all about. It’s something very different from fashion. Fashion is about following trends, and changing your look from season to season, at the whim of those who dictate the changing trends. Anyone can follow fashion, and flit from one look to the next, and, of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It can be fun to experiment with different looks: to try them on for size, before moving onto the next one, then the one after that.
How do you find your ‘signature style’, though?
Some people are just born with it, I guess: they’re the lucky ones. They instinctively know what they like AND what suits them, so they get to go through life looking effortlessly stylish, without even having to think about it. I kinda hate those people, don’t you?
As for the rest of us, though, style isn’t always effortless. Sometimes, in fact, it can take years to work out what YOUR personal style is. When I look back at photos of myself in my late teens and early twenties (and, OK, my late twenties too, if I’m being honest…), for instance, I realise I had absolutely no idea what my style really was. I was just copying other people, following trends and buying things I liked the look of, without stopping to wonder if they actually looked good, or worked with my wardrobe. Which I think is probably pretty typical, really.
Gradually, though, I’ve managed to talk myself down from the shopping ledge, and arrive at a style I’m comfortable with, and which is identifiable as my own. I rarely stray too far from that style, and I’m OK with that too, having learned the hard way that following trends just empties your bank account, and gives you some really embarrassing photos to look back on, too. For me, this was something that happened naturally, over time: I didn’t ever sit down and say to myself, “OK, today I’m going to work out what my personal style is”, or anything like that. If I had, though, I think this is how I’d have done it…
01. Take everything out of your closet. Yes, every single thing.
I think every major style change (or life change, for that matter) has to begin with a good ol’ closet clearout. If you’re anything like me, I bet you’re hanging on to tons of clothes you don’t wear, or which don’t work – and you’re probably buying more of them, too, purely because you don’t really know what else to do. It’s OK: we’ve all been there. First, then, take everything out of your closet, and put it somewhere close to a mirror. Yes, you heard me: a mirror. This is possibly going to get a bit scary, but the next thing you need to do is this…
02. Try everything on
In doing this, you’re not just checking to see whether the various items fit: you also want to ask yourself how they make you feel. (Yes, I’m aware how cringey that sounds…) Do you feel comfortable? Confident? Or are you just desperate to take that thing back off and move onto the next thing? Basically anything that falls into the latter category has to go, no matter how expensive it was, how new it is, or how much you like the way it looks on the hanger. Pay attention to the items that don’t work, and, more importantly, WHY they don’t work for you: you can even make notes if you feel like it. Your aim is for every single item to own to be something you feel good in: so once you’ve taken that long, hard look in the mirror, it’s time for the next step…
03. Organize your closet
Replace the items you’re keeping, and put the ones you’re ditching to the side – you can deal with them later. When you’re re-filling your closet, try to apply some kind of order to it: I normally organise my closet by type, and then by colour – so all of the dresses go together, then all of the green dresses go together, and so on and so forth. You might prefer to organise yours by season or by activity (work clothes together, casual clothes together, etc etc), but however you do it, try to find a system that makes it easy to see exactly what you’ve got. This might be easier said than done: sorry about that. I’ll just wait here for a while before moving on to the next step, shall I? Speaking of which…
04. Start a Pinterest inspiration board
Or a scrapbook. Or one of those “photo walls” serial killers always have, where they plaster their bedrooms with photos of the people they’re stalking. OK, maybe not that last one, actually…
I like to use Pinterest (you can follow me here, by the way), because there’s an endless amount of outfit inspiration to be found there, and because it’s so easy to create boards for anything you fancy. In this case, the idea is to create a board for outfits you like, then start pinning. As you do this, don’t think too much about whether you own the items in the photos, or what they’d look like on: the aim is simply to work out what you like, without being influenced by budget, trends, or anything else.
05. Analyse it
Once you have a decent amount of images (I’d say you’ll need a couple of dozen, minimum, but you can’t really have too many, here…), it’s time to sit down and take a look at what you’ve got. It shouldn’t be too difficult to start spotting some common themes amongst the various outfits you’ve pinned, and as you analyse them, you’ll start to notice that you’ve pinned a lot of causal looks, say, or preppy looks, or girlie looks. The common factors amongst the looks you like will be starting to give you some important pointers as to what YOUR style is.
It’s not quite as simple as that, though, unfortunately. No, as much as you like the outfits you’ve pinned, you’re going to have to acknowledge that they won’t all work for you: some will be totally unsuitable for your lifestyle/climate, for instance, while others just won’t work for your shape. You’ll know which types of outfits these are from the closet clearout you just did (Er, you DID just do the closet clearout, didn’t you? Just checking…) From that, you’ll already have a rough idea of what kind of styles and shapes just aren’t “you”, so you can eliminate these from your inspiration photos, and see what you’re left with. (If you’re not left with ANYTHING, it’s time to start again: sorry.) Now for the fun part…
06. Make a shopping list
The items you’re left with in the exercise above will form the building blocks of your “signature” style – well, let’s hope so, anyway. (It’s important to note here that you might make a few mistakes along the way: not everything you THINK will work for you will actually work, so be prepared to repeat a few of these steps until you’ve got this thing nailed…). Now all you have to do is find them: easy, right? Er, not so much, actually. But make a shopping list anyway: you’re going to need it.
07. Identify the brands that are the best fit for your new style
My final tip, and something I find really useful when it comes to “signature” style, is to work out which brands are the best fit for your new style – both literally (as in, they make clothes that fit you), and stylistically. If you’ve worked out that you like preppy or classic clothes, for instance, brands like Boden and J Crew are your BFFs. If you’re a modern, minimal dresser, you might like Zara or Topshop. Kate Spade makes very “girlie” clothes, with lots of fun prints, while Oasis and Warehouse are a good source of contemporary classics with a feminine feel. And so on and so forth.
What you’ll also find is that most brands create collections of clothes which are all designed to work with and compliment each other, so while it might sound boring to shop exclusively from one or two brands, if you’re still trying to find your personal style, and are essentially shopping for a whole new wardrobe, it can make sense to do exactly that – at least at first. You don’t have to do it forever, obviously: once you’ve gained some confidence, and have really gotten a feel for what you like, you’ll be able to pick up different pieces anywhere and everywhere, but for now, sticking to a couple of favourites will help you create a cohesive wardrobe, full of pieces which will mix and match easily.
Oh, and one more thing (Yes, I know I said that was my last tip: I’ll shut up soon, I promise…)
08. Keep on experiementing
It’s very easy to get stuck in a style rut – sometimes without even noticing. What worked for you five years ago might not STILL work for you today, so it’s important to keep on trying new things, even it just means taking a few different items into the fitting room, and then discarding then. You don’t HAVE to change your style if you don’t want to: but don’t rule it out, either!