“ASSISTANT ARCTURAN PILOT: Why don’t ya tie a knot in your hanky like everyone else?
ZAPHOD: Style friend, style. Now come on I gotta go.”
– Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Far from a fashion plate myself, I found myself thinking about what advice I’d give to someone putting together a wardrobe or trying to figure out their own sense of style. Then I second guessed myself because there are whole magazines devoted to this question, what the hell did I have to offer? But given the context I’ve been thinking and writing about style for this project, I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Based on personal experience, here are my Five Tips For Defining Your Style
You do you, boo. You can spend a lot of years and money trying to look like someone you are not, and your lack of comfort with yourself will show. However if you spend a little time and energy to learn and understand what clothing you like and why early on, I think it is easier to own your own tastes rather than trying to prioritize society’s or someone else’s. If you know what you genuinely like to look like, that’s what you will end up buying. And if you genuinely like your clothing, you will wear it and avoid buyer’s remorse.
Consider your lifestyle and be reasonable about it. There is nothing wrong with the occasional aspirational purchase–so long as you can afford it and you actually use it (more on that in a later post). But it is the height of folly to buy either items or multiple products that you are simply not going to wear. When I started working full time, I found myself continuing to buy more casual clothes that were better suited to university lectures than the workplace. It took me a while to really get it through my head that five days out of seven were now going to require a new level of formality and that 5/7ths of my budget and closet (metaphorically speaking) needed to reflect that. Having gone back and forth between full time and freelance all my working life, I’ve had to make multiple mental shifts when it comes to my lifestyle and how I need to dress for it.
Don’t compare your wants, needs, and preferences to anyone else’s–not even those you’re drawing inspiration from. And don’t try to force your tastes to match theirs. There may be a friend, family member, or influencer who you really admire and have found value in following. Great! But don’t therefore assume that because they have prioritized certain items in their wardrobe that you have to make the same choices to achieve similar style results.
I fell into this trap a few years ago when starting to build a work wardrobe after leaving university. Many of the women whose professional style I admired wore a lot of skirts and so I too ended up buying a lot of skirts…and frankly not wearing them often enough to justify the purchases. I realize in retrospect that I was trying to recreate the professional but feminine looks that the women who influenced me had mastered, but my mistake was in trying to go against my natural preferences to do so. For me, ease and convenience are high priorities, and most skirts I bought seemed to come with some added discomfort and minor frustrations–waistbands shifting about during the day, constantly retucking shirts or rearranging leggings or tights beneath them, having to coordinate multiple items of clothing during a rushed morning, and so on. These are really small inconveniences and preferences, but they added up to mean that I wasn’t using the items I’d spent good money on; I defaulted to other items in my wardrobe. The long term takeaway as been that at heart I am a mostly trousers kind of girl and that’s okay, but that I still like more traditionally feminine looks from time to time. The solution has been to invest in a handful of dresses; single pieces that achieve the look I want are more manageable to me than multiple pieces that require coordination and more effort.
Pinterest isn’t silly. I say Pinterest but all of social media can be really useful in helping you figure out what you gravitate towards. I’ve talked about this a bit already, and I stand by it. As with my skirt story above, I think it can be easy to mistake what you think you want to look like for how you actually feel most comfortable and stylish. Spending a little time really examining your aesthetics and preferences can save you quite a bit of time and money. As a consumer, I think it can also help train you to admire beautiful clothes or makeup without necessarily coveting it–thereby avoiding impulse purchases simply because a favorite blogger bought a similar piece, for instance. Done well, social media can be an excellent visual research tool for first admiring certain looks and, over time, learning what about them appeals to you specifically.
Take inspiration from stylish people, and remember Amy Poehler’s wisdom, “Good for her, not for me.” I follow a lot of minimalists who have monochromatic wardrobes and styles. I also follow bona fide fashionistas with closets for days and shoes for years. Neither of these options represent me and my own preferences, but I admire people who have a handle on their own style, and I often have picked up tips or tricks from people who have curated a “look” for themselves which bears no resemblance to my own. Remember my defining premise: style is the choices we make and why. Go forth and enjoy other people who like different things than you! You’ll be surprised at what you discover interests you and pick up wisdom about self-presentation along the way.
Broadly summarized, I’d say that to define your own style, figure out what you value, clothes-wise, rather than what stuff you think you want. This sense of value can be characterized by anything from comfort, convenience, color, or messaging, to level of care and upkeep, trends, and price tag. Prioritize your purchases accordingly.
Your turn. Have you “figured out” you sense of fashion or style yet? Has it changed over the years? Is this an area you want to invest some time and attention in the future? Talk to me about how you put your closet together!