Have you ever thought about your personal style as it regards to your clothing choices? Maybe you know exactly what your style is- what you like, what makes you feel the most like yourself. Or maybe you have no idea. Either way, developing your personal style doesn’t just happen by itself. It takes experimentation and research, but it’s worth it, because you can use your style as a means of expressing yourself. Because developing your style is a bit of a deliberate process, I’m going to share some tips I’ve discovered throughout my early adult years about understanding and choosing your personal style.
Tip #1: Know your Body
Knowing how your body is built and proportioned will really help you discover outfits that bring out your best. It’s about so much more than how tall you are or how much you weigh; it’s about the proportions of your body, and everyone is different.
Probably the easiest way to understand your proportions is to know a couple of the various body types/shapes.
(Image taken from Pinterest, it is not my own.)
Charts like these classify the relative shape of your body, and while they do oversimplify a bit, they help a lot when it comes to making fashion choices. I would add one more basic body type to the illustration above: the inverted triangle. This method of body typing doesn’t correspond to how much you weigh. For example, you could be slender and pear-shaped, or heavyset and pear-shaped, or anywhere in between.
- Rectangle- this is my body shape. It means your shoulders and hips are about the same size, your chest is relatively flat and you don’t have a curvy waist. This is the ideal body shape of the 1920s. You can flatter a rectangle body shape by wearing things that add the illusion of curves: for example, blouses with ruffly necklines or sleeves, tight belts at the waist, or full/poofy skirts. You would do well to avoid things that are really baggy as well as things that are really tight. Here’s a blouse that does a great job creating curves for a less-curvy person.
- Apple- this body shape has a bust and waist that are relatively bigger than the hips. You can flatter this body type with loose, flowing peasant blouses and Empire-waist dresses. The advantage of an Empire waist is that it helps define the bustline and set it apart from the waist. You would want to avoid anything that is particularly tight around the waist. Here’s a nice example of an Empire waist blouse with bell sleeves:
- Pear shape- one of the most common body types, a pear shape is characterized by wide hips and small, delicate shoulders. This type, like the rectangle, may be relatively flat-chested. You can flatter your pear body shape by padding up your shoulders and bust- ruffles and flounces at the neckline and shoulders are your best friend. You’ll want to avoid tight skirts and instead go for loose, flouncy or flowy skirts. This blouse with its ruffles would be very flattering to a pear shape.
- Hour glass- even though most cultures consider the hour glass figure to be very desirable, very few people have it. Like the rectangle, the hourglass has shoulders and hips of the same size, but unlike the rectangle, the hourglass has a curvy waist. You can wear pretty much anything if you have an hourglass figure, but I personally think trumpet dresses are particularly stunning on hourglass figures.
- Inverted Triangle- basically the opposite of the pear, the inverted triangle is characterized by broad shoulders, a broad chest and slim hips. You can flatter this body type by wearing flared or full skirts and avoiding tank tops or halter necks. Peplum tops (tops that are gathered at the waist and flared at the bottom) would work really well on inverted triangle shapes.
Keep in mind that many people don’t fall perfectly into one category. You may be between inverted triangle and rectangle, or between rectangle and pear, or whatever.
Another important factor is whether your coloring is warm or cool. This isn’t about how light or dark your skin is- it’s about the undertones of your hair, skin and eyes. The easiest way to tell whether your undertones are warm or cool is to see if you look better in ivory or white. If you find that wearing ivory or off-white seems to make you glow, then you have warm undertones, and you look better in reds, golds, pinks, warm greens and turquoise. If you find that true white looks much better on you, then you have cool undertones, and you look best in blues, purples, cool greens, beige, and silver. This can also help you pick out your makeup palettes too. Here’s a good chart that explains more about coloring.
Why does knowing your undertones matter? Because the wrong colors for you can wash you out or make your skin and eyes look dull, and nobody wants that.
Similarly, wearing the wrong type of clothes for your body type can make you look bigger or less curvy than you actually are.
Tip #2: Know your Budget
Budget is really important in defining your style, since most of us can’t afford to completely revamp our wardrobes even if we would like to. But there are some clever ways to freshen your look up a little bit without paying an arm and a leg!
If you have a rather low budget, here are some of the places I recommend. (Note: I live in the US, so these examples are US based companies, and I don’t know if they exist in other countries- but hopefully, if you’re outside of the US, you can find similar stores in your location.)
- Always check the clearance section in department stores like Kohl’s, H&M, Macy’s, Forever 21, etc. Some of my favorite casual dresses that I wear every day were bought for $7 at H&M!
- Random stores like Sears’ and Marshall’s usually have kind of a weird assortment of products for really cheap, and if you pick through them thoroughly, you might land upon some good finds.
- Thrift shopping: you can often find really cute pieces at places like Salvation Army, and consignment shops like Plato’s Closet.
If your budget is not super strict, but you still can’t spend extravagant amounts of money, you have all the above options, and some others in addition to that:
- Look for outlet stores for those really high-end stores like Nordstrom. I could spend hours picking through everything in Nordstrom Rack. Going shopping at Nordstrom itself would be really expensive, but they have to get rid of their inventory quickly, so there’s always a lot of fairly recent stuff available in their outlet stores.
- Most places in the mall do have a fair amount of middle-price range items to choose from, so you can dig around a little bit in the specialty stores.
If money is no issue for you, then you are lucky because you can shop pretty much anywhere. If I had an unlimited budget, I would shop more in the local specialty boutiques in my area, or the places in the mall that have the weirdest, most brand new items available.
Keep in mind that more expensive tends to mean better quality and more recent, so sometimes it is worth it to invest in something really high quality- especially if you are done growing and you’re unlikely to gain or lose much weight in the immediate future.
Tip #3: Try New Things
I believe that no matter what your style happens to be or how long you’ve been wearing it, you should always be willing to try things outside of your comfort zone. If I didn’t experiment with my style in high school, I would still be locked into tight, solid-colored T shirts and skinny jeans and nothing else. (In middle school I was very paranoid of loose, lacy, or patterned clothes. I perceived that lace would make me look like an old lady and loose clothes would make me look bigger.) But now, my closet is full of lacy casual dresses, skirts, leggings, fabrics with subtle or flowery prints, and lacy knit cardigans.
Obviously, one way to gain exposure to new styles is by going shopping. Maybe there’s that one section of the store that you never go to- like maybe you always hit up the graphic tees area, but you’ve never gone to the more business casual section. And then, try on stuff that you would have never considered before. Have you never worn a leather jacket? It might look unexpectedly cool on you. Maybe you’ve never worn a long skirt because (like me) you’re short and you think that a long skirt wouldn’t flatter you- but it turns out, long skirts come in many styles and the right one might actually make you look taller. Or, instead of ignoring that blouse with super-ruffled sleeves because you perceive it might be weird on you, try it anyway. It could add a touch of the Renaissance to your outfit and flatter you if you have narrow shoulders or thin arms.
And of course, if you try something on and absolutely hate it, at least you know for sure!
But the other way to see what’s out there is to use social media. Pinterest and Instagram are particularly awesome for this. You just have to know what to search for, and then bang! You may discover substyles that you’ve never heard of before. Here are some good search terms to use on Pinterest. I believe the links should take you to the search results when you type it in on Pinterest.
- Boho style (Boho is short for bohemian. This is a inspired by the carefree style of gypsies and the 1970s, and it can actually be quite beautiful.)
- Haute Couture 2018 (Haute couture is a term that means high culture or high fashion. This will take you to the absolute newest, latest stuff as of 2018 that high end fashion designers are making.)
- Modern vintage style (If you’re a vintage lover and you would like to incorporate the style into your wardrobe, without looking out of place in today’s society.)
- Steampunk fashion (Steampunk is a modern Victorian/Industrial Revolution sort of look. It’s really awesome.)
- Classy outfits casual (Yes, the words “classy” and “casual” can actually be combined- shocker!)
You get the idea. There are tons of other substyles out there I can’t think of at the moment…. The world of fashion is not limited to just those 5 searches I suggested!
Another good tip for Pinterest: If you see a pin you really, really like, click on it to enlarge it, and then keep scrolling down. Related pins automatically show up, so it’s kind of like searching Pinterest for pictures by how they look visually- not by keywords. For example, I made a mental note this week to go back to this pin and scroll down to look at the related pins, because I’m trying to develop a collection of modern Edwardian/shabby chic/girly/faded aesthetic pictures.
Instagram works similarly. You can use the Discover button and search for hashtags, such as #bohostyle or #steampunkfashion or whatever it is you’re looking for, and then follow accounts that specialize in that style.
While it helps to know the “rules” of which cuts of clothing are flattering to which body types and that sort of thing, there really are no rules when it comes to style. Fashion is about what you like. I don’t believe there’s honestly, genuinely anyone in the world who doesn’t care about fashion at all- I mean, we all wear clothes, don’t we? And yet, no two people have the exact same tastes and preferences.
Whether you know exactly what your style is or if you’re not quite sure, I hope you found this post helpful. Thanks for reading!