Reader Request: Describing Your Personal Style

Describing Your Style

Susan e-mailed me after reading this post about Boho at the office:

I was reading that you don’t consider yourself Boho, and it got me wondering how you describe your style? I’m fascinated with how people describe themselves, and I wonder if you don’t describe it, if you find that limiting, or if you do with some number of adjectives, pictures or metaphors. I’ve read somewhere to come up with two adjectives to describe your style. I think that sounds like an interesting exercise.

Many, MANY moons ago, I did some noodling and landed on “arty eclectic with a broad streak of retro influence.” I must now admit that I’m not entirely sure how I came up with this phrase. I put “eclectic” in there because I’m a total style dabbler and wanted that expressed in a succinct and positive way, and “retro influence” because I don’t do full-on vintage all the time but instead hint at styles from decades past. “Arty” probably arose because I like asymmetry and funky pieces, but it might’ve also gotten shoved in there because I don’t feel like I comfortably fit into any of the typical style categories. And because I view style not necessarily as an art form, but a means of self-expression.

At this point, I’d probably revise my little phrase to “eclectic retro rocker.” I’ve always dabbled in rocker looks, but with the messy hair I’m letting those leanings seep through more often. Retro and eclectic still definitely apply, though, so they can stay. I’m both a word person and someone who works in a style-related field, so I may have an easier time attaching descriptors to my own style and the styles of others. But I’d be happy to share a few tips for those of you interested in describing your own styles, especially since doing so is something I ask you to do as a client, in my book, and in the mini makeover guide!

The big buckets

It can help to start with broad strokes, so ask yourself if your style seems to fall into one of the most-used categories: Preppy, minimalist, classic, edgy, Bohemian. Other less-used but potentially helpful buckets include romantic, androgynous/tomboy, sporty, retro, and bombshell. Do any of these fit, even partially?

Style icons

Even if you struggle to pin a broad term to your own style, you may still be able to identify a few other people whose style you admire and seek to emulate. Style icons needn’t be famous; They can be people in your own life, fictional characters, anyone. Can you think of a style icon? What do you love about her/his style? How would you describe her/his style? Do those terms apply to you, too?

Adjective brainstorming

Making a nice, long list of terms that describe aspects of your style and dressing preferences can give you some clarity. Are you dressy, casual, colorful, neutral, textural? Are your clothes sparkly, soft, sculptural, flowy, or embellished? Try a stream-of-consciousness brain dump and see what happens. A few key descriptors may rise to the top.

Patterns and signatures

Take a peek in your closet and look for items that appear in multiples: Do you have gobs of moto jackets? (I know I do.) Tons of ballet flats? Is your closet overflowing with maxi dresses and billowy blouses? How about cowboy boots? More than one pair? If you have a couple of styles or items that get bought and worn often, they may be contributing to your signature style. What patterns can you identify in your wardrobe? Do they describe a specific style?

Photographic evidence

Still photos offer startlingly different perspective from mirrors, so consult a few snapshots. If you do this, you’ll need multiple images for reference. What common threads do you see? Any signatures or patterns? Do your outfits remind you of any potential style icons? Can you put your style into one of the big buckets?

Ask around

Talk to someone in your life who sees you frequently and knows you in a variety of settings from casual to personal. How does this person see your style? How does she/he describe your dressing choices? Don’t think this is a last resort option, either, friends! The people who know you well can offer insight and clarity even if you’ve already got some pretty solid descriptors.

This is not an exact science and these steps may still leave you drawing a blank. But hopefully getting the ball rolling will help. The vast majority of us never take the time and energy to understand our personal styles well enough to describe them, but it can be a really valuable exercise. Once you know how to describe your style, you can begin to refine it. As you shop, you can pass over items that don’t fit within your ideals. As you purge, you can jettison items that aren’t harmonious with your personal style. Putting some words around your style can be subtly but powerfully beneficial.

Can you describe your style in a few words or a short phrase? Do you wish you could? Think any of these exercises might help?

Originally posted 2014-06-26 09:56:31.

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11 Responses to “Reader Request: Describing Your Personal Style”

  1. DesignWrtr

    For the past several years my definition has been pretty static. I guess because I’ve started to feel far more confident about myself generally, so I don’t try on different style personalities anymore, looking for the one that fits or that I wish would fit. I’ve found the descriptions in The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style really interesting, and I define mine according to their style personalities: Classic Posh-Eclectic Bombshell, with a touch of magpie (although that’s kind of the posh element). That’s a pretty wide spectrum with a lot of wiggle room to play around with variations of each. And each is different enough that I’m not often bored. It’s helpful to be able to define your personal style so that you don’t end up buying things that you won’t actually wear because they don’t really fit into any of your style descriptors. That sounds limiting, but I’ve found it to be pretty freeing. I don’t end up wasting my time and psychic energy wishing something worked for me when it never will, even if it fits my body. I’ve never been able to cite a single or even a combination of style icons, though. I guess I just don’t identify enough with anyone style-wise.

    • jan.4987

      “It’s helpful to be able to define your personal style so that you don’t
      end up buying things that you won’t actually wear because they don’t
      really fit into any of your style descriptors. That sounds limiting, but
      I’ve found it to be pretty freeing. I don’t end up wasting my time and
      psychic energy wishing something worked for me when it never will, even
      if it fits my body.”

      Yes. This. Completely.

      As I started to feel more positive about more traditionally feminine ways of dressing, more glamorous ways, and opened my mind to the possibility of them for myself, what I found was that they genuinely weren’t for me. I went through a phase of collecting the dresses, skirts and shoes, thinking I was *definitely going to wear them, they’re so pretty*, and ended up using up a lot of money and storage space needlessly because they just didn’t fit with the person I saw in the mirror. So it’s back to 1970s androgyny, but with a little more confidence this time now I know where my boundaries are. I’ve kept a couple of dresses in case of an occasion-related emergency (because I’m poor and usually can’t afford to buy at short notice).

  2. walkercreative

    I am so glad you did this post, because I have been spending the last year refining my personal style. I am in a lot of different settings. Like you, I am a bit eclectic, but I think I have it nailed down by situation.

    Church and formal affairs are Electric Retro . . . classic cuts with high contrast and high intensity color. Style Icon: Super Kawaii Mama!! (thanks for that post!)

    Work & Church – Electric Bright classics. Style Icons: Sally McGraw and Joan Rivers. (Loved the yellow jacket and gray bird dress BTW!!)

    Power dressing and serious – Menswear Inspired with feminine edge. Icon: Kelly at Alterations Needed. Love her menswear looks with razor sharp heels! (more serious neutrals here.)

    Casual and Daywear (relaxing, shopping, vacation in ultimate COMFORT) glitter glam (jeans, graphic T & blazer) or Ethnic Boho (asymentrical lines & hems, but in super bright ethnic prints – Southwestern, Indian, African wax, or kimono prints).

    It may seem like none of these would work well together but they actually have a number of commonalities. 85% of my outfits contain high contrast prints. A majority of them also have razor or classic cuts, which work well in contrast with my curvy body. Oddly, all of these things work together pretty well!

  3. Patricia Magicia

    I’ve sort of settled on “like Mary Poppins on a weird acid trip” as my personal descriptor. That hits the vintage silhouettes, the tending-towards-proper hemlines, the whimsical-to-obnoxious color palette, and the fact that I own and frequently wear things like mustache-print and electric blue dinosaur earrings.

  4. crtfly

    Talk about a confused style! Who are my style icons? Stevie Nicks, Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres. I like the floaty, fantasy dresses and hair of Nicks, the solid jewel tone colors of Obama, and the clean lines of DeGeneres pants, sweaters, blazers, button front shirts. What do I do will all of that?


  5. Sonja

    So interesting! I like things to be simple and streamlined, although I don’t mind a creative, dramatic element here and there, as long as it’s not frilly. I wear darkish, very intense saturated colours, love a fifties silhouette with a fitted top, an A-line skirt and heels, and lately have been very much inspired by dark/edgy/rocker style and a boho/ethnic/exotic vibe.
    This very interesting article talks about uniting different aspects of your style by pieces of clothing that bring it all together:
    I’m a perfectionist, so I’ll be on the lookout for this kind of pieces, but Sally, I actually like that fact that you just add “eclectic” to your description and call it a day without forcing yourself to create a (maybe artifical) coherence.

  6. Chelsea Spear

    I describe my style as “New Wave fairy godmother”. I like the exaggerated silhouettes of 1950s clothing and the color palette and whimsical details of the late ’70s/early ’80s NYC punk scene.

  7. Shawna McComber

    I love playing around with words and recently made a couple of blog posts where I described how I was using words to help define my style. I think we often use words that describe what we hope to be more than what we actually are or how others would perceive us, but that’s okay. I like the idea of being an artsy dresser because I am an artsy person, but in reality I don’t think anyone would describe me that way. I am not bold and if the clothing is too asymmetrical or unusual I won’t feel comfortable. I think I draw on bohemian, peasant, hippie, beatnik, rock and roll and I have a preference for things with a late sixties or early seventies flavour. I like soft and draping fabrics and am crazy about jersey. I tend to dress a bit like a university professor of liberal arts. My look might alter a little with the seasons, since peasant blouses are more of a summer thing. I’m a bit more hippie-boho in summer and beatnik-university prof with a small dash of rock ‘n roll in winter.

  8. Keep Warm (Danielle)

    Elegant hobo? Funky ladylike comfort? Whimsical Cynical Fancy Pants?