“Personal style” is a term that gets thrown around a lot—as if it’s just something we automatically have. The reality is that personal style takes work. Even the most fashion savvy need to reevaluate their styles. This should come as a relief to anyone who’s struggling to create a wardrobe that reflects who they are and their lifestyle.
But where do we even begin to discover our personal style? Do we simply take to the mall and start buying everything that looks semi-interesting? Before you take action (or take out your wallet), there are several key questions you can ask yourself. These questions will help you learn about yourself and, ultimately, bring your personal style to life.
01. What words would you use to describe your style?
(Examples: quirky, polished, bold, experimental, cheerful, comfortable, sleek)
Take a moment to think about the overall vibe of your style. What are some descriptive words that come to mind? For example, if Zooey Deschanel were to answer this, her answers might look like this: “quirky, playful, colorful, feminine, and slightly retro.” These words will help you recognize an overall theme or feeling of your style, allowing you to take the first step in curating your look.
02. What do you want your style to say about who you are?
Style is a form of self-expression, but it is also a means of communication. The way we dress gives everyone around us information on who we are. So, what do you want people to see when they look at you? Do you want them to know that you’re professional, innovative, expressive, straightforward, or confident? Or maybe boldly feminine, strong, and pulled-together? Writing down the qualities you want to express to the world will help you pinpoint your major identity traits while also helping you become conscious of how you’re actively communicating those traits with how you dress.
03. Who inspires you, and why?
Many incredible women have come before us, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to emulate their qualities and style. Think of the women who you aspire to be like and the outfits they wore. This could be your mother, sister, friend, a modern-day celebrity, style blogger, or any influential woman. If Jackie O. inspires you, think about the overall look of her style and the specific items in her trademark ensembles. Noting who it is that you define as a style icon will help you recognize what you subconsciously see as being truly stylish.
04. What is your favorite store to shop at, and how would you describe the overall vibe of the store?
What stores do you find yourself drawn to? Every brand has a look that it is known for. How would you describe the overall vibe or look of your favorite stores? All brands have a target audience and specific woman in mind for whom they make their clothes. Who do you think that woman is, and do you fit into that description? For example, the Gap woman is in her mid- to late twenties and early thirties; she works for a living in a business casual office space and enjoys wearing her polished yet relaxed basics in her free time. Her clothes are more traditional and simple, but she loves to experiment with colors and prints.
05. What are the first items you gravitate toward when shopping?
Upon walking into your favorite store, what items do you look at first? Do you feel a pull toward those flouncy floral dresses? Or maybe that smart tailored blazer is calling your name? Noting the natural gravitation toward one type of clothing versus another can help you understand which styles you actually like and will most likely wear. If you always find yourself in front of the jean section, you might enjoy a more relaxed or comfortable style. Look for other casual or street wear–inspired clothes that emulate the same laid-back vibe of your go-to jeans.
06. What items do you repeatedly wear?
It’s one thing to want to wear a certain style and another thing to actually wear it. Being practical about what you will actually wear will help you stay true to your personal style rather than getting carried away with an idealized look that isn’t comfortable or doesn’t suit your everyday life. Most of us wear the same outfit formula every week, consisting of the same five to ten items. To save yourself from buying a bunch of things that will sit in the back of your closet, think about the clothes you wear all the time. Make a list of those key pieces. Now, think of practical ways in which you can add some variety to those outfit formulas. For example, if you love comfy boyfriend tees and skinny jeans, consider trying French-inspired button-ups and boyfriend jeans.
07. How does your style fit into your lifestyle?
Similar to the previous question, this one is about practically incorporating your style into your life. Your lifestyle greatly impacts your style, and you want to make sure that your wardrobe matches your everyday activities. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you know that comfort is key. If you’re a partner at a law firm, you know that looking polished and professional is a must. Make sure you keep your lifestyle in mind when defining your style because you want to create a wardrobe that reflects reality.
08. If you could raid anyone’s closet, who would it be?
We’ve all been guilty of fantasizing about whose closet we would rob. For legal purposes, we will say borrow. Thinking about whose wardrobe we’d ransack tells us a lot about our tastes. Think about what items you’d first go for. If we’re hypothetically going through Amal Clooney’s wardrobe, would you pick her professional statement pieces or her iconic dresses? This will tell you if you like classic items better versus more feminine pieces. Do you want to emulate a more polished persona or a more expressive, fashion-forward look?
09. Picture yourself in three years. What are you wearing?
Picture yourself three years from now. Are you going to a party, walking to work, or relaxing in your free time? Allow yourself to mentally create this scene and take note of what you’re wearing. How has your style developed? What does your outfit reflect on how you’ve grown? Envisioning the future version of ourselves reveals who we really want to be now, so why wait? Clothes can help us become the person we want to be and to feel more confident in a new role. Write down what it is that your future self is wearing: the styles, the colors, the silhouettes, and the key pieces. Start incorporating these items into your wardrobe now.
10. Now, based off your answers, what’s the best name for your personal style?
After answering the questions above, you should have a better idea of what your style is and how you want to develop it. Naming your style is hugely helpful to defining your trademark look. Even fashion designers name their runway collections in order to mentally maintain a cohesive flow to their looks. So, what would you name your style? Bohemian Biker Chick, Preppy Meets Retro, Casual Girlie Girl, 1940s Street Style, Futuristic Minimalist, Menswear-Inspired Uptown Glamour, Parisian Chic Meets Athleisure, Understated Elegance? Get descriptive, and start shopping and dressing with purpose.
This article originally appeared in Verily Magazine.