This is Part 4 in the Style 100 series, a course about refining and adapting your closet to suit your personal style. If you’re new, please see Part 1 here. For all the posts in the series, take a look at the tag.
To me, Part 4 is the least significant and least essential of all the steps in the Style 100 series, mostly because it’s unnecessary for the physical closet portion of the project. I find that focusing too much on what you style is is the quickest way to crush all your fledging creativity and sense of style and to putting extraneous restrictions on what you wear. However, after completing the previous steps and developing your aesthetic foundation, the exercise of generating words to describe your style can be helpful to further refine what you have and is essential if you’d like to share it with others. It’s also enjoyable and is a natural place for your thoughts to drift after spending so long staring at your clothes and reading the words “personal style” over and over again.
I recommend proceeding with caution with this step. While you can detox with reckless abandon, finding the words to describe your style can be a minefield of labels and result in a narrowed focus. This should be a fun and playful process about deciding what you want your wardrobe to say about you, not what your clothes dictate about your interests or personality. Authenticity is always of upmost importance and that goes of anything surrounding your wardrobe – if it doesn’t feel like you, don’t do it. If you don’t even want to give your personal style a name or a description, you certainly don’t have to do so. I’ve had the same debate with myself, but as a style blogger, I feel that it’s useful to have language that codifies my aesthetic and presents it in a way that feels applicable to me and helps attract a like-minded audience. Don’t let the words you choose define your style in a way that isn’t 100% something you want. The best thing to do is aim for a sense of contentment. If you don’t want to do it, feel free to skip this step guilt-free.
The first step is to determine what style(s) are physically in your closet. You still don’t need to have named them, of course, but if you have a sense of what they are you can determine if you need to concentrate on identifying one or multiple distinct concepts. If you do have distinct styles within your wardrobe you’ve likely used the style concept organization method which should make this process simple. If not, take in the overall mood of your closet and notice if there are any sections that seem cohesive together but not as whole, if there’s incongruencies in your color palette, if you have textures that don’t seem to go with each other, etc. Try to mix and match these items in a way that makes sense to you – don’t overthink it and focus on organizational concepts, just group items together based on where you feel they belong. I completed this task when organizing by grouping items with like color palettes, textures, and cuts together which naturally divided them by style in my wardrobe. If your closet isn’t as distinct as mine, this may take a little more time.
After you’ve determined what you you’re working with, it’s time to examine it. Play with the following suggestions to see what you come up with before heading on to building your personal terminology:
- Free associate mood words. What does your style make you think of? These don’t need to be aesthetic descriptors in the strict sense, but anything that seems to encompass your new closet from fashion terminology to lifestyle or media. I tend to dream up color words at this point in time. If your closet is heavy on earth tones, rust, and black, “deep forest” would be a lovely way to describe that color palette without the baggage of fashion words that often come complete with their own aesthetic components. (It’s also pretty much my ideal late fall color concept!) I find that this approach is best for concept words rather than the individual characteristics of your closet.
- Pick a song that reminds you of your wardrobe and write down why you feel it fits. What about that piece appeals to your sense of your wardrobe? Write down any associations you have with that song and sense of place or style as these can help you place what lifestyle your wardrobe encapsules. Note decades and music genre for fairly obvious music-fashion cohesion.
- Pick out your favorite outfit from you wardrobe or each of your concepts, capsules, or uniform sections. What do you like about it? How would you describe it to someone? Make note of what words come to mind as you describe this outfit and the same for each of your separate concepts. If you’d like, try on each outfit and note how you feel. What is your mood? Do you feel comfortable, powerful, elegant, relaxed? Do these feelings change based on what part of your closet you are pulling from?
- Determine where you do (or could) shop. What stores carry items you love, or would fit what was in your closet? Take a look at their branding and note any words or images that speak to you. It’s best to do this online or with more niche retailers, as I’m pretty sure you could find your style at H&M if you tried very hard, but that’s not much of a help in determing what your style is called. Collect these images and look back on them – what do they say about the items being sold, and what is the archetype that they’re invoking? Most clothing is sold with a certain persona in mind and thinking critically about this can shed light on your own relationship with the transformative power of dress.
- Notice patterns in garment construction, fabric, or texture. This exercise is especially relevent to closets that are heavy on the uniform system. It should be fairly easy to identify the types of materials or cuts you are drawn to at this point. Thought you don’t have to note what they are conceptually, make note of the patterns themselves. This helps you refine the mood of your closet more thoroughly.
After you have a general list of terms, phrases, and concepts that you feel reflect your closet, start building your vocabulary by combining these terms together. Take a mood word or a color palette term and combine it with a lifestyle phrase or archtype. For example, an earthy wardrobe with dark colors and lots of drapey fabric but anchored with practical boots could be ‘urban forest witch’, a closet with a lot of oversized shirts, sneakers and textured knits in neutrals with contrasting leather jackets is ‘cozy and practical coffeehouse’. Play with descriptors and don’t worry if they sound sophisticated or like even anything like style terms – that’s not necessary at this point in time, this exercise is just a about defining your style in a way that is evocative of what is in your closet. I find this exercise is most beneficial when it allows you to easily visualize everything in your closet and the types of outfits you wear on a regular basis, which is why I shy away from fashion terms such as edgy, cool, downtown, alternative, classic, etc. These are essentially meaningless without context and don’t do a great job of communicating what exactly you are working with. A style described as clean-lined cool-toned basics with varied textures rather that modern minimalism means something more concrete.
Remember that these terms don’t really need to make sense to anyone but you. It can be helpful to have some phrases that use common fashion parlance in order to reach out to others who may be searching for a similar aesthetic as you, or help you narrow down where you can find shops that fit your own style, but again this is all so personal that at the end it doesn’t really matter. Identifying your style is just an exercise in articulating what may have been so difficult to identify a few short weeks ago. It’s for you alone.
If you’ve hung on to this point, you’ve reached the end of my 4 pillars of developing your personal style. I hope that you have reached a point in your style journey where you have a better sense of what you love and what you want to have in your closet and that you’ve found the journey to be a useful one.
I’ll likely be editing and updating all these entries as they are as much of a work in progress as my closet itself. I also intend to do another round of my own personal experiences when I tackle my spring/summer wardrobe in approximately 6 months. If there’s anything you’d like to see in that upcoming series – let me know. If you have learned anything about yourself or fashion in general, let me know if the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!