I’ve been putting clothes on myself for the past 20 years, which should make me an expert. And yet I routinely feel like I have nothing that’s quite right to wear. My jacket’s don’t “get” me, my shoes are just a little too this or that. I demand perfection out of clothes that were never made to be perfect, a doomed relationship from the start where inevitably I’ll lose interest and move on to the next shiny thing. I’ve talked about how real sustainability is finding pieces that can last forever, about how buying new with the intent of wearing just a few times creates a hell of a lot of waste. But I’m still irresponsibly searching for my personal style.
This isn’t a new thing. Not for me, not for people in general. With the industrial revolution came greater choice (and even before then people were changing up their looks- let’s not leave early civilizations out of the fashion party) and with greater choice came the feeling of confusion. Having to pick out an outfit feels more like having to pick up a self. In today’s cycle of fast consumption, we violently tear through those sartorial versions of self. And all of those past selves accumulate, macabre girls hanging in our closets, waiting to be slipped into but never to fit quite right again.
That being said, we’re on a journey here, and let’s not stop. I still believe in a completely naive and optimistic way that there’s got to be some perfect way to find your style. I’ve always loved to hear how other people get dressed (one leg first, womp womp). Maybe they’ve got the secret for putting together the perfect outfit, styling everything just right, drawing inspiration from overworn and tired clothing.
So here are some of my favorite methods. For getting dressed, for finding your personal style.
It’s obviously contradictory to look to another person for personal style, but it’s also the easiest way to figure out what styles you’re drawn towards. The Instagram age makes it easier than ever to creep on what other people are wearing, and whether you’re drawn to clickbait-y colors and photo inducing shoes or Girl, Interrupted Angelina Jolie inspired looks, drawing from outside sources widens the scope of personal style.
Another completely opposite but equal valid technique is to look at what you already own. Are you drawn to high waists or low waists, clingy pieces or oversized looks? Look at why you actually like pieces. I’m into my favorite jeans because they nip in at the waist but have a more straight leg, have fallen in love with crew neck sweatshirts because they’re comfy but not sloppy. Pay attention to the way styles make you feel.
In the same vein, I’m a big believer in fabrics. I love 100% cotton jeans because they’re structured, don’t stretch, and wear well over time. Other people can’t stand them because they’re basically rigid denim straight jackets for your legs. Sometimes silk is great, sometimes it’s a sweaty nightmare. Being realistic about the types of fabric you feel great in, match your lifestyle, price point, and sustainability ideals narrows the shopping pool more than even style does. Since transitioning to almost all natural fibers, I’ve basically had to quit fast fashion (which is great for my sustainability goals, and significantly less great for cost minimization).
Also, in all of this, think about color. Having a signature color isn’t a necessity, but it’s another great way to understand and refine your shopping patterns.
And another totally contradictory thought! This one is possibly the most fun (and also most confusing for your closet/ the idea of creating a personal style). Clothes tend to elicit feelings. Sometimes they strike when you see the perfect vintage emerald green slip dress hanging on the rack. Sometimes they strike when you’re trying on a pair of very practical work pants. And sometimes they don’t strike at all. But listening to those feelings, following what you genuinely like, and forgetting any early 2000’s fashion magazine “Do and Don’t”. It’s just clothes, it’s not that deep. Confidence is such a powerful thing, so let your little heart flutter for those flare jeans.
Functionality! Imagine this: you’re caught in the rain, it’s ten blocks to the nearest subway, and your shoes are satin!!! Now imagine this: same thing, but you’re in rain boots. Women’s apparel is all too often not functional, with pockets that fit absolutely nothing and sheer blouses that no camisole can rectify. Careful shopping for the things you actually need is like when you go to the grocery store and just buy the one veggie you need for dinner, and not the mountains of other greens. Hard to do in the moment, sensible in the end. This is probably the most parental approved shopping version, but hello, they know what they’re talking about. Fill your wardrobe with the pieces you need (and nothing more! Nobody needs 15 LBDs). But do buy those rain boots.
I don’t know how to shop, I don’t know how to find my personal style, but I do know that I love to know how other people do it. What’s your personal style game plan?
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