I’ve wanted to start a discussion on authenticity in style since the inception of this blog, and now seems like the perfect time to do it. I’ve just posted my first post in a series on refining your personal aesthetic and this topic is currently at the forefront of most of my work for this blog right now. I realize that for all my talk of developing personal style as my focus on the series and the goal with my own wardrobe, I didn’t do much in the way of explaining the how and why of style refinement.
For anyone like me who knows anything at all about sociology: I’m more than aware that authenticity and sense of self are constructs. Nothing about this is inherently concrete. There’s no way of truly being authentic. But I still believe that there’s valuable discourse to be made around self-reflection in stylistic choices – plus, dressing yourself is fun! Defining your style should be an enjoyable exercise in self-discovery.
I started this blog as a way to track the development of my own style concept and have a place to share it, and I particularly chose to focus on authenticity as I have been feeling a lack of my own voice in my clothing choices. The safest outfits I wear are the ones that feel most like me right now: dark skinny jeans, front tucked drapey tees, leather jackets, sneakers, beanies, baseball hats, neutral colors, simple jewelry. While that says quite a bit about my style preferences in general (relaxed, comfortable, minimalistic) I think that I’ve come to rely very strongly on the pre-packaged “comfort chic” that’s been absolutely everywhere on style blogs in the last few seasons. I’ve been afraid to branch outside of the good outfit. While I love a well-balanced outfit, I miss being inspired by alternative fashion among many other things. My outfits may feel like me to a degree, but I’m sure that there’s more than enough room for more of my personality in them.
I have been missing feeling at home in my pieces and I realized that I had lost touch with my own authentic self-expression.
But what makes something authentic style? Even if you don’t want to swallow the individuality pill, I find that dressing for myself helps me feel more comfortable and confident. Authenticity doesn’t need to be about looking or being different in an overt way, it can just be about becoming more in touch with your intuition.
Authenticity is what differentiates fashion from style. Fashion fluctuates. It pulls from trends almost exclusively, and while it may look polished, fashionable, and stylish, it’s not necessarily a representation of the wearer’s own personality and preferences but rather what’s “in” right now. Fashion as a concept is more about culivating and presenting a specific desirable image rather than your image. It’s why the most popular style icons often have such a similar look or why groups of very popular bloggers seem to resemble each other – they are incorporating large amounts of trend rhetoric in their personal style (or are possibly trend influencers themselves, but that’s a whole other concept for a whole other post.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with wearing trends or with being fashionable in a strict sense, but as someone who values clothing as a source of artistic self-expression and personal definition, that’s just not what I am here to do. Saying something about myself is most important to me when getting dressed. It’s why I value style over fashion.
Style is personal. You define your own aesthetic and its meaning instead of deriving it from other sources. Developing your style involves letting go of all the excess baggage associated with fashion: labels, subcultures, trends, signifiers. It involves focusing on what makes you feel confident and what works for your lifestyle. To me, style is participatory and fashion is about imitation. While there’s nothing wrong with imitating the outfits of someone you admire, they probably don’t feel as right as when you add in elements that appeal to you as part of your central style concept.
Authenticity in style is just intention. It’s making your clothing choices deliberate based on your perceptions. It’s using genuine enjoyment of a piece as why you wear it. It doesn’t matter if it’s trendy or not, style exists outside of these parameters entirely. Authentic style pulls from trendy and classic pieces and everything in between. This is not to say that you can’t incorporate trends into what you wear – absolutely do! They can be a great source of inspiration. What makes it style instead of fashion is that it is done with intent. Intent is disconnected from trends and in tune with your own preferences and the way you want the world to see you. For someone who values clothing as a source of artistic self-expression this is not the idea – saying something about myself is most important to me when getting dressed.
My own relationship to authenticity is tied strongly to comfort. My clothes must be comfortable; I need to be able to move in them and feel unrestricted. This is comfort to me, and if I’m comfortable, I immediately feel more like myself. I walk in a different way and hold myself in a different way but most importantly, it’s the way I hope the world sees me.
Choosing my clothing based on my needs rather than for looks alone is a more authentic approach to dressing for myself, personally. This may not be your version of authenticity. You authentic closet may be full of things that let you dress to the nines every day and that’s more than okay. That’s the thing about authenticity – it varies as much from person to person as style itself.
The reason I care so much about authentic style is that I feel like without it, your true likes and dislikes are constantly clouded by outside forces. Tracking trends is enjoyable and engaging but if you let them run your life, you’ll never know yourself enough to make decisions about your closet. You’re constantly buying new clothes and wearing them for a short period of time which isn’t sustainable. Your style shifts on other people’s whims instead of your own. This isn’t ideal because you’ll either fall in love with trendy items and feel obligated to quit wearing them at a certain point, or you’ll be caught in a cycle of constantly buying and purging items that don’t necessarily connect with you. I crave a personal connection to what I wear. I want it to have meaning. Creating your own authentic look is the best way to make sense of what you put on in the morning.
Engaging with trends, once you’ve established your own style, gives you a sense of clarity. You only pull from trends that mesh well with your own image and you’re able to mix in other elements of your style to make the trend your own. That’s what style is. It’s not forgoing trends but it’s certainly not being beholden to them. It’s making them your own.
I know I sound like a broken record, but I find this advice hard to take myself. It’s not easy to step out of the whirlwind of microtrends and listen to your own voice when you know you have it right.
For a period of about a year, I found myself drawn to the bohemian aesthetic as defined by brands like Free People and Gypsy Warrior. I think was drew me to that look initially was the mixture of feminine pieces with pieces with an edge – something that had been missing in my own wardrobe for quite a while, especially in the summer. I feel that I’m able to dress in clothes I want to wear only in the fall/winter and am still lost on my summer style, so finding something that was so accessible but seemingly so different from what I was wearing immediately caught my eye. I started imagining buying clothes for a new bohemian wardrobe and in that period of time bought a few kimonos in both muted and bright colors, a pair of black faux-Birkenstocks, and some Forever21-quality statement necklaces – most items that I saw other bloggers wearing. I’ve worn the black and green floral kimono a handful of times. The jewelry once. I got some wear out of the Birkenstocks this past season, but they don’t want to stay on my feet, and I still sometimes feel like I’m committing a fashion faux pas in them despite liking the way they look.
Why didn’t I wear these pieces very often? Because fundamentally, they weren’t my style. I had co-opted an image I wouldn’t have normally gravitated towards unless constantly bombarded by it as it got more and more trendy. I began to associate floppy hats and western ankle boots with dressing stylishly and eventually I was so overexposed to the trend that I started to like it. I would have never, ever picked up anything “Southwestern-inspired” prior to that time. While I’ve since recognized that bell bottoms are not something I want to wear, I’ve now adopted the aspects of mainstream boho fashion that do fit my closet – turquoise jewelry and vintage muscle tees. I love to wear as many rings as possible at one time, and am especially a fan of antique-looking jewelry, so it was a natural fit in my closet. I can pair them with monochromatic looks or simple black and white ensembles to add a hint of color without it feeling over the top or themed. I already wear muscle tanks and adding vintage ones was something else that meshed in with the rest of my closet nicely, especially as they can pull lots of different ways and aren’t tied to one aesthetic in particular. I do have a love for the kimono, though only with certain outfits and on certain occasions. It wouldn’t necessarily be my go-to layer if I didn’t own one already but I like the interest they provide to an otherwise straightforward outfit, and I just really love to layer. Layering is also a pinnacle of my personal style – see how this works?
Once you parse through the trends and pay attention to the pieces that you are wearing, you discover that there’s usually a reason you’ve chosen those particular items. They probably reflect your own style the best. I’m not suggesting that you never step out of your comfort zone as that’s no way to grow. But mindlessly adopting styles you see without reflecting on them will just lead to excess clothing and style confusion.
I think authenticity is a worthy pursuit in a world so focused on consumption and not-being-good enough. It doesn’t mean wearing the exact same thing 24/7/365 or always being concerned if what you wear is “you”. Instead, it’s about translating the person inside into the clothes you wear. It is absolutely a learning process, just like every step in this journey. It will take time to develop your innate stylistic voice, but once you do, it’s a valuable tool to help you understand your choices and expand the possibilities of your wardrobe.