Defining Your Personal Style, Part One: The Concept

Defining personal style can be an intensely difficult thing to do. For some people it comes very easily, for others, not so much. If you’ve spent every day for the last several years just throwing on whatever is comfortable in the morning, it can be pretty challenging to start actually thinking about your clothing choices. There isn’t anything wrong with that, by the way. I don’t think anyone has any obligation to dress stylishly. As was posted at A Dress A Day, in a post I’ve linked to before, “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.” In fact, that quote from Chanel – “I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness.” – really annoys me, and if someone said that to me I would probably tell them to eff off, which is probably one reason nobody is going to be quoting me in fifty years. Anyways! If you choose to do so, viewing your clothing and the way you wear it as a creative endeavor can be extremely rewarding and a whole ton of fun!

But how do you get started? The process is probably going to be different for every person, so I can’t give you a step by step guide. I can tell you what I did, in hopes that it will help you.

  • Think about the kind of films you like, the kinds of books you read, your favorite websites. What do these say about you, and how can you incorporate that into your personal style? Are there recurring themes? Do all of the movies you like have a film noir feel, a gothic feel, or are they all classics from the 50’s? What do the characters wear? You might want to take notes next time you watch it, as geeky as that sounds. Or, another approach is to just watch films with a strong aesthetic to get a feel for what you’re drawn to. My approach to this was to write down (or print out) films that won Academy Awards in the costume and art direction areas. It’s a good place to start, at least!
  • Look everywhere for inspiration, to start getting a feel for what you like visually, and what you don’t. Here’s some suggestions: Flickr (just search random phrases – some neat stuff comes up!), which as most everyone knows, is a photo hosting site/community. Wardrobe Remix is a group on Flickr and is also a great place to look for inspiration. Street fashion blogs are great for this – Hel Looks is a good place to start, Japanese Streets is also pretty cool. Model Mayhem is just awesome for inspiration, as you may have gathered. You can find an infinite amount by googling “street fashion blog”. I have an inspiration folder on my computer where I save any photos, whether of outfits or costumes or whatever, and being able to flip through all of the images is great.
  • Speaking of your inspiration file folder – download Picasa and start making inspiration or idea boards with the images! Find yourself downloading a lot of fairly tale themed photo shoots? Make a board based around the idea of the modern fairy tale! Or, try and narrow down where your influences come from (i.e. certain movies, vintage fashion, subcultures, etc.) and then make a collage exploring all of your influences. Here’s my attempt at this from a while ago.
  • Or – another good exercise is to make a magazine clippings inspiration board! Tutorial here.
  • Polyvore is also an incredibly useful tool. Put the Polyvore bookmarklet on your browser, and whenever you come across something you like, clip it! Start constructing outfits with all of the things you like. You’ll be surprised what goes together! Don’t worry about the prices of the items right now – just getting the creative juices flowing is what’s important. We can always find more budget friendly items later, non?
  • Look through your inspiration folder and Polyvore items. Take note of recurring colors and patterns. I, for example, noticed I seem to love the colors of pink, turquoise, and black. When I buy anything now, I ask myself if it will go with these, or at least clash in a way that I like. If the answer is “no”, I reconsider buying the item. This is a useful strategy to employ because it keeps you from having those items that you can only wear with one certain outfit – a waste of a great garment, to be sure! For more on this, see Ashe’s series on developing your wardrobe palette.
  • Come up with a style statement. It can be vague and you can refine it later, or hell, it can even just be a list of words that you’d like to reflect in your style. I.e., colorful retro glamour, etc. I find that easier myself, I feel kind of pretentious pretentious coming up with an actual statement, honestly. There’s an entire book called Style Statement dedicated to this – I’m about halfway through it as of this post and it’s pretty good reading so far, so it might be worth looking in to!

The really important thing is to not get discouraged – this is a process that WILL take a while. I started seriously thinking about this right around the time I started this blog (October of 2008); I had had the same style for years, whether out of comfort or habit I’m not sure. Sometimes I still buy things that fit the Michelle of three years ago much better than they fit the Michelle of now, and only in the last two months or so am I getting to a point where I feel comfortable even TRYING to define my style. If you mess up a couple of times, that’s fine! Don’t stress about it, it’s all just part of the process.

Related things to read and love:

Top Five Ways to Define Your Personal Style

The Definition of Real Style (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love iCiNG) both articles by Gala Darling

Eccentric Glamour by Simon Doonan

Any more suggested reading? Leave it in a comment – I love reading things about this topic :)

There Are 18 Comments So Far. »

  1. This is a great compilation of links and suggestions, dear! You’re way ahead of me on having actually researched this stuff. And thank you for including me on your list!

    (I’m SO tempted to order Style Statement after all the talk of it!)

  2. i think it’s about being a dreamer in a good way. life is as fantastical as it is practical. i like your list of suggestions. i use wardrobe remix as a big support system really, for dressing. even if i don’t post in there all the time.

  3. Nice post! I really like your inspiration board. It’s really nicely done. I’ve accepted that my style is slightly schizophrenic with only a few reoccurring themes!

  4. @ashemischief – Thanks doll – your series totally deserved the links, I loved it! Re Style Statement: I really like it so far! I did find some of the profiles a little pretentious, but I’m almost done and it’s been a good read. Nothing totally essential, but still.

    @swandiamondrose – I love looking through wardrobe remix, it can be a ton of fun. I like your comment about being a dreamer/fantastical too, very true!

    @najeema – Schizophrenic style can be fun, though! :D Thank you!

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  7. Great post! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  12. Great blog post! Thanks for the Polyvore mention :)

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  14. I love your approach! It’s given me some things to think about…

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  16. [...] Decline Designs – Defining Your Personal Style, Part One: the Concept [...]

  17. [...] Decline Designs – Defining Your Personal Style, Part One: the Concept [...]

  18. It’s personal art! Inspired by mood and situation. I have been mulling over personal style for many years. I work in a professional office and love my job, but the dress policy is so BLAND- Creativity works for me. I love being commented on when I mix scarves and skirts at work! Why follow the norm?!
    Thanks so much for the info on researching yourself to determine your style. I love Polyvore!

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