“Style” is a misunderstood word.
For many, it’s a term reserved for high fashion magazines and the upper echelon, conjuring up an image akin to a scene from The Devil Wears Prada. But in reality, style is for the everyday person, both men, and women.
Unfortunately, “style” has become muddled with so many other words, meanings, and connotations, that we’ve lost an understanding of how valuable it is to the average man and woman. We forget that the clothing we wear has a practical impact as well as psychological, social, and emotional.
On a basic level, we all instinctively understand the power of clothing. Nobody would show up to a job interview or a first date in sweatpants. We know that how we dress is important because it reflects who we are as people.
Recent studies have also shown the cognitive impact of how we dress. The Association for Psychological Science reports, “The formality of clothing might not only influence the way others perceive a person, and how people perceive themselves but could influence decision making in important ways through its influence on processing style.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman similarly explained to Marie Claire, “When you wear something that makes you feel great, the effects may be subtle — the way you tilt your head, your facial expressions — but they matter.” She continued, “The right outfit can help you feel more confident when you need it most — it can serve as both armor and inspiration.”
Suffice to say that while style deals with the external (clothing), it’s actually deeply internal. The things we wear have the power to visually express what we cannot verbally, as well as positively influence self-perception.
Personal style reveals who we are in a way that is entirely unique to ourselves while also lifting us up to be the best versions of ourselves. Personal style is an approach, a method, a technique that has been chosen by you to best represent who you are as a person.
To put it simply, personal style matters.
But for many of us, switching our brains into “style mode” is foreign territory. Where does one even begin when wading into the unknown waters of the sartorial? To begin developing your personal style, follow these steps:
1. Avoid trends
Many people confuse trendiness with having style. “Being trendy” is actually what turns a lot of people off from pursuing style, because they associate an interest in clothing with having to keep up with what’s popular. The general thought is, “Why should I care about style if these clothes aren’t going to be cool in a few months?”
Style, believe it or not, has nothing to do with being trendy. In fact, trends are the antithesis of personal style, because they only occur when the masses buy into them. Massive fast fashion stores perpetuate the idea that you must dress that way in order to be “relevant” and “cool.”
But personal style is just that — personal. It can’t be dictated by stores or magazines.
Personal style stems from an authentic attraction to an item. Even deeper than that, as humans always seeking to express and find beauty and goodness, clothing can manifest our own internal beauty in a tangible way. Personal style dignifies us by expressing the unique beauty by which we were made.
So forget about trends, and focus on the items you are actually drawn to and represent who you are.
2. Discover who inspires you
Developing your personal style requires looking both inward and outward. If you don’t even know where to begin, consider the style hall of famers like Audrey Hepburn, Steve McQueen, Grace Kelly, and Cary Grant who put their own iconic spin on classic items.
For an even more general search, type “female style icons” or “male style icons” into Google or Pinterest. Thousands of articles and images of stylish men and women throughout the past 50 years will pop up. As you sift through images of impeccable ensembles, begin collecting them on Pinterest or in a Google doc.
Start noting the main themes that attract you to outfits you’ve saved. Are they more classic? Are they bold and experimental? Super feminine or masculine? Casual or pulled together? Look for connections like a vintage aesthetic, an academic quirkiness, or a modern minimalism. Organize your favorite styles by common themes. Note the items, colors, textures, and fabrics you are repeatedly drawn to.
Increased awareness of the styles you’re drawn to makes it easier to develop your own.
3. Test it out
Being a copycat gets a bad rap, and while it’s true that your style should be unique to you, you should test out different outfits before committing to a certain look. Finding your personal style is a process that takes plenty of trial and error, but experimenting is half the fun! And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean purchasing, wearing, and returning clothes.
Trying out a different look simply means styling your clothes in a new way. Reference the images you saved in your style folder that best exhibit your desired look and consider the wardrobe you already own. How can you achieve the overall style with the items in your closet? Better yet, raid your friend’s or sister’s closets and borrow their clothes.
After a day of wearing those clothes, how do you feel? If you feel confident and like yourself in them, you have found style success! If you feel uncomfortable, unconfident, or like an imposter, it’s probably not the right look for you.
Pro tip: If neither you nor your friends have clothes you’d like to try out, take a trip to the mall and try on outfits in the fitting room. Even a few minutes in the fitting room can give you an idea of how you feel in a certain style.
4. Consider your lifestyle
A style that doesn’t suit your lifestyle is a great way to waste money on clothing you’ll never wear.
Personal style is also about practicality, which is why it’s vital to make sure your desired style works in your everyday life. For example, if you work predominantly at home as an entrepreneur, you’ll want to stick to a more comfortable, casual style over a corporate office look.
Think about your career and everyday activities and the clothing that makes sense for that lifestyle. This doesn’t mean completely disregarding the style you truly want, it just means finding ways to channel the same vibe into items you will actually wear.
For example, if you love the polished appeal of Kate Middleton but work as a stay-at-home mom, incorporate that classic look into your lifestyle. Throw a blazer over your boyfriend tee, wear a pair of ballet flats with your cuffed relaxed jeans, or tie a trench coat over your whole outfit.
If you’re drawn to the modern debonair charm of David Beckham, try wearing a leather jacket or blazer over your t-shirt instead of a hoodie and swap your baggy jeans for a pair of slim, straight fit jeans.
5. Start with basic, versatile items
It’s easy to think that developing your personal style means buying a ton of new, distinctive items. But creating your personal style depends upon a strong wardrobe foundation. You need items that can be easily paired together and can work for any event or occasion on your agenda.
Great style means putting together those basic items and then building upon them later with more distinct pieces that express your individual taste.
Not sure what these basic, versatile items are? They’re classic items that stand the test of time. You might already own a few: plain jeans, simple slacks, button downs, neutral-colored blazers, and sweaters, etc. When trying out new looks and developing your personal style, these base items will serve as the perfect starting point.
Allow your style to begin expressing your authentic self today, and have fun discovering it along the way!