When Do You “Know” Your Personal Style?

  • Personal style doesn't just happen. Feel free to get a little help from a style icon, or your mirror.
    A little boho, bo-no?
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Leandra Medine | May 18, 2015

Is it a quiet evolution of taste, or is there a grand aha moment?

If you already know your personal style, what helps aid you in getting dressed?

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of personal style — partially because it is kind of my job but also because it has become increasingly apparent that we’re occupying a post-trend era that galvanizes style cues of the individual. No longer do we look to the collective cues implemented by an overarching fad to cull our inspiration. Here we celebrate the outlandish and the intimate, the particular and colorful while we lift our noses at the homogeneity of a uniform that hasn’t been executed personally.

But how does one know when they’ve achieved their style, right? You think about some of the greats — Jane Birkin, Lauren Hutton, Inès de la Fressange — and they tend to prove that personal style has always been the preferred method of achieving icon status. These are women who know what they like. Who don’t stray from their elected paths. Jane Birkin has been unofficially canonized as the poster woman for flare jeans and crochet crop tops. She embodies a South of France of yore like no current icon will. Lauren Hutton will forever sell the lifestyle that comes with a white Ralph Lauren double-breasted pant suit, and de la Fressange? With her boyish jeans and boxy button down shirts and shrunken blazers and delicate ballet flats, she is a French proof of concept that style is merely a question of attitude.

The common thread among these women is something I realized in our Chatroom with Linda Rodin. When I asked about her personal style, she explained that it kind of happened to her. Her thick-rimmed eye glasses are not for show: she is practically blind. She was never much a fan of coloring her hair, so when it began to go gray, she embraced it. She has, for as long as she can remember, felt like the most accurate version of herself in high waisted denim and per the flatforms: she is small and they are comfortable. Point blank.

This process seems easy enough, right? Let your style happen to you. Let life begin to show on you, allow nature to take its course and then adjust, modify, accept what you are and make it the best. But there is an ingredient that I believe is often overlooked and seems to be at the crux of defining your style, and that is honesty. You can’t know your style until you know yourself. It sounds platitudinous, yes, but clichés proliferate and become clichés because they’re true. How, after all, can you dress to reflect yourself if you’re not quite sure who you are yet? It can sometimes feel like a chicken or egg thing: does the style inform the person or the person inform the style?

I think I am only just now beginning to realize myself honestly. It is when I leave home and don’t want to turn around to go back and change that I know I’m exuding the most accurate version of myself. Comfort, it seems, is deep rooted in honesty. For me, that has come to mean stripes and old jeans and elaborate footwear and whimsical objects of curiosity that are sold as jewelry. For you it might mean something entirely different.

There’s incredible value in switching on and off different identities; in dressing up until you’ve been able to play every part in the cast in order to uncover which one feels best. But in the event you’re trying to find you, I propose this: think about when you feel like the best and most comfortable version of yourself. What clothes propel that notion? Put them on, leave home, ask yourself if you wish you were wearing something else. If you do, what is that? Try that. If you don’t, amplify! Elaborate. Good style doesn’t mean consistently changing. It means learning to make the same point over and over through the use of different methods. Maybe that means prints or colors or silhouettes that deviate only slightly.

Let me know how it goes. Something tells me this is how we will save some capital in therapy dollars.

  • Sadie G

    I enjoy taking the Edie Beale approach. Find the best costume for the day.

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  • kduck

    Thank you for this! I’ve been struggling with finding my personal style for…well, forever. It’s comforting to know that even those who know what they’re doing when it comes to fashion struggle with this. I think you’re right when you say that you just have to let it happen. I always gain a little insight when I get rid of those items that I never wore. Why was I attracted to this in the first place? Why didn’t I end up wearing it? Would I wear it if *this* were different?

    • Tolani Whatsshelike

      Couldn’t agree more! I’ve always browsed your posts but something told me to thoroughly read this one and I’m beyond estatic that I did. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement – here goes nothing! :))

  • I read somewhere women find their style at the average age of … 47. Jep. My reaction was, more or less: YES! NO!
    I mean: while I am not 47 yet, I think I have discovered my style during the last 2, 3 years. And it is exactly what you claim it to be: stuff to feel well in (to be you in). Plus a clever detail or two I am always hoping noone else in my vicinity has thought of.
    At the same time I am sure this so-called average age does not apply to your generation. Well 🙂

  • Allie Fasanella

    STOKED for Linda.

    I actually just told Amelia last week that since I am interning at Elle and Nylon this summer I want to take on these two different personas. When I walked into Nylon black was ubiquitous, some had neon hair, some wore creepers, and t-shirts with the names of obscure bands. i felt like a kitten in the jungle sitting on that grey couch staring up at the nylon sign. elle couldn’t have felt more different. i’m going to have to feel them both out because i dont want to lose myself but i think playing dressup and feeling like a different version of yourself for a bit can be fun.

    i’m looking forward to finding my groove. i think i know what i feel comfortable in and what makes me feel most like me but sometimes i feel like venturing outside of myself.


  • As earthy-crunchy as it may sound, I think it’s really more a journey than a destination. At least for me, the second I think I’ve found my style is usually the second it changes. (A few things are forever, though. Like black.)

  • Personal style is something that is obviously extremely personal but it’s also really hard to advise on. I think you said exactly the right thing about it being not wanting to change when you leave the house. I love the clothes I buy but sometimes I feel like the way I style them isn’t the way I want to present myself. Finding your personal style definitely has a lot to do with finding yourself and what you’re comfortable in and I think that’s what we should be doing in this post-trend era.

  • Stephanie

    Wow- I was having a very similar conversation with someone this past weekend. I realized that the older I get, the more confident I become in myself, and the more bold my style choices become. That said, I don’t know if I’ve really found “my” style yet, or if I will ever settle on one style. I draw inspiration from many places (including here!) and am constantly evolving.

  • Jessica dW

    I love this quote on the topic from Nina Garcia’s book, “Style comes from knowing who you are and who you want to be in the world; it does not come from wanting to be somebody else, or wanting to be thinner, shorter, taller, prettier.” For me it took some time in my late teenage years to realize this and I’m still learning to apply it. It can be hard not to get swept into trends, but I think at some point you just have to look in the mirror and accept and love yourself, and allow yourself to be your true inspiration rather than looking at what everyone else is doing. I also think experimentation is part of what makes fashion so fun, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with deviating from your style as long as like Leandra said, you don’t leave home wishing you were wearing something else.

    • That quote!!! <3 <3 <3

      Trends come and go.. to be honest, the more insecure part of me is usually grateful for the validation when something I thought was awesome and everyone else thought was weird finally starts trending. (But my inner hipster is still secretly enraged.)

      Example: I started wearing printed joggers in like 2007, and my sister repeatedly asked me why I was wearing pajama pants. When I realized I was pretty much the only one around me wearing such cool pants, I started to wonder if I looked dumb. (This was before I stopped caring about looking dumb.) When they became a "thing" it almost felt like vindication.

      I like that trends can serve to encourage people to try wearing things they normally wouldn't choose for themselves but may end up loving forever. They serve a purpose. They're just not everything.

  • so i just got a denim jacket that was a Small but apparently it was a men´s Small… i was thinking about not wearing it because it was too big but then i tried it on and its a keeper.

  • Personal style. I know that’s what I’m trying to acheive as I worm my way towards my 40’s. Everything must have a personal reason for being, whether functional, aesthetic, sentimental or politic. And when I find it I hope to forget about it entirely and just live my life as I wish. What would be the point of growing older otherwise?

  • elizabeth

    I believe I’ve grown to know my style through a series of purchases which at the time seemed outlandish and ridiculous, but over time these items have become my absolute go to’s. Case in point, for today’s foggy, is this spring/summer/fall? New York weather, I’m wearing an off-white longish moto jacket that I splurged on in London but have now worn probably 265 days out of this year, a white shirt with lace sleeves (variation on a theme…white white white), black jeans, and my ultimate a ha purchase: rose gold brogues with a white track sole. Timeless shape, sensible sole/soul, and a glamorous but not loud color and texture. I’d wear it all over again in a heartbeat.

    And a watch, always a watch.

    • Kenns

      Your outfit sounds awesome! Please post a picture!

  • I always say my style is schizophrenia without the disease and a fickle heart without the moral consequence.

  • Aydan

    style can be fleeting and evolve at the same time. I have a feeling what I’m wearing now at 25 may not be the same way I’ll dress myself at 45. One thing is for sure thought, I will forever always be pilling on the jewelry!

  • This is a great article. I think everyone has a hard time finding their style as there are so many options out there! With trends constantly changing, it is easy to get caught up on what’s hot at the moment, and not even ask yourself how you actually feel wearing it. I am still finding my style, but one thing I know for sure is that I have tight clothing – loose and breezy is what I’m all about!


  • Kenns

    I love Linda Rodin!! I am so excited you are doing a chatroom with her!

  • Courtney Moran

    Amen Sadie G! “It’s the look of the day!” -Little Edie #GreyGardensForever

  • It seems that there are so many factors to be considered when deciding what to wear, and which therefore play a role in shaping one’s style: every day I for one base my top half decision on my bottom half decision, which is decided by what knickers are available, and also has to be considered with reference to how far I will be walking and whether or not it is raining. And if the top doesn’t work with the earrings I feel will be faithfully representative of my mood that morning then I have to go riiiiight back to the beginning.
    I was incredibly self-conscious of my visual identity (oh god, I have been writing essays for too long) throughout my teens, whilst simultaneously dressing completely unlike my friends (I dressed like my mother, because at the end of the day that’s what made me feel like me). As soon as I went home to Australia on my gap year, after years in the UK, everything clicked: there is obviously a cultural influence behind what each person wears and is drawn to. I am still analysing myself to figure out the deeper meanings behind this…
    OK, I’m done now.

    • Oh, something else. Thanks to t’internet, we are all so dependent on other peoples’ style, as seen on Pinterest (I just pinned photo 5 above, hence…), that it can become awfully hard to decipher what is us vs. what is following the pack. I guess it is just past of the process: but I do admire Man Repeller so much because of the individuality of its dear writers. So THANK YOU!
      OK, really done now.

  • I have been musing a lot on personal style recently. Some days I feel like dressing in a flamboyant way is not me and I just want to be boring and wear stripes and denim (see here: http://fashionnomads.com/2015/05/18/getting-dressed-irl/) BUT then I feel like I’m crushing my spirit dresser and should unleash her more. It’s hard to know which is more genuine and more ‘me’. Sophie xxx

  • Lindsey Cook

    I was just asked how I would define my personal style during an interview and the question really stumped me, because I’m still trying to figure this out and I don’t have a go-to phrase that accurately describes my style. And it’s frustrating because I still feel like my style changes everyday, depending on my mood. Some days I’m girly and feminine, other days I’m colorful and preppy, and others still I’m minimalist and trying to be “cool”, whatever that means.

    For now I’m just dressing how I dress, not concerning myself with fitting into a boxed-in definition of my personal style. I can’t describe it, so I just wear it and hope that my personal style becomes apparent through my dress.

    • Sometimes Frida Kahlo – who as we all know had one of the most iconically and identifiably feminine personal styles of all time – pulled her hair back tight and put on a boxy suit to look like a boy. And she looked damn cool doing it!

      For me, that about sums it up – there are no rules, and boxes are dumb. As someone who likes to either go full 1940s glam chick vacationing in Havana, or full Jack White-meets-librarian, with almost zero in-between, I am personally very grateful for that. 😛

  • Marion

    I really loved this post, and it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time! I think it is very true what Leandra said about honesty, and it’s great to finally be able to put a simple word on basically, what you should wear to feel good in your clothes. And yet, I can’t help but feel that this very popular notion of “style” and being “you” is too simple. We should always try to be the best version of ourselves, and more importantly to become better people every day. So how could one find his style and forever stick to it? That would mean to stop evolving, which is kind of depressing… Maybe that’s why I never fully understood why some people get tattoos (which can be really beautiful, don’t get me wrong), because they usually mean “Here, that’s who I am”, but that would mean you don’t expect your “you” to ever evolve, and that’s too bad, isn’t it? I am still thinking about this question every day, and I still haven’t quite made up my mind about it yet… Sorry about my English… Love from Paris !!

  • I loved this! Totally reminded me of how shocked I felt when I first moved to New York last summer from a cold city and realised that hot weather happened not just when I’m on vacations at the beach. And because this time I knew how bad it felt to walk out of home and wanting to go back and change, I’ve been trying to find my true summer style in these transition days. Feeling comfortable has definitely been the way, and I loved reading your words and totally feeling identified. I will probably read this post a thousand times more!


    Oh wow this is so true though! It takes time and effort to truly get down to what is your style and my style. Well written!


  • Tra

    It’s great that some people can stick to a certain signature style. But for me, some days I feel like a bohemian, some other days I feel like a tomboy. I dress accordingly to the mood that I feel. Does that mean I don’t have a personal style?

    • Selina Moses

      No. I say that half the population stick to a style and half experiment but just because you don’t stick to something specific, doesn’t mean that you don’t have a personal style. It just means that it’s hard to pin down and not as definable as the other half of the population. I find that there is too much emphasis on a signature so that people who like to mix it up, could feel a bit lost when they are actually just as fabulous

  • Lua Jane

    My style is very simple. I think thirties are a good time to say that you already have some kind of style. That look you wear most of the time. In my case it’s ankle length pants in black/gray/jeans and lots of gray cashmere in colder months and thin stripy button downs for summer. It’s simple, and maybe boring, but it feels like me. It’s the version I’m comfortable with and lets me be me, without thinking how I look. Only exciting thing about me could be my shoes which I like loud, colorful, elaborate.
    But fashion and clothing isn’t about strict rules, so if I feel inclined towards something a little bit different from what I normally wear, I’ll buy it. I learned to trust my instinct. I guess it all comes down to loving what you wear, and feeling good with the image you project.

  • Снайпер

    These days, I’m dressing like a mix between prep school brat and buttoned all the way up form-fitting Mormon modesty. Occasionally, I’ll add an equestrian spin to these outfits. On weekends/after work/special occasions, it’s bgirl attire, mad max-inspired biker gear, and 90s grunge/goth/Victorian. But most would describe my style as “why do you wear goddamned costumes every day?”

    • Снайпер

      Last year, hookers were my biggest fashion go-to for inspiration. Now I’m backlashing and cover up as much as I can.

  • I’d say my style is quite classic and minimalistic. I hate to have too many impractical or “trend” items in my wardrobe. That being said, sometimes I gravitate towards items that might be more boho, but I go with it – I try not to put myself in a box!


  • Aires Nuevos

    I know what is my stye , comfy style ever !!!
    love so much be myself with my warthdrove
    lot of huggs

  • keepitsimplesilly

    “Good style doesn’t mean consistently changing. It means learning to make the same point over and over through the use of different methods.” Nailed it.

  • Mlle Coconath

    Great post!


    Mademoiselle Coconath


  • I agree that personal style is about being honest with yourself. I live in a uber small town where people ask me why I’m dressing up if I wear anything other than jeans (I do wear a lot of jeans, to their credit). It’s not so much that I’m dressing for something or someone, though, it’s that I’m dressing for myself–to be myself! If I don’t dress edgy and quirky, I’m not staying true to who I am, no matter where I am.

  • =

    I’m turning 30 this year and just barely beginning to feel like I’ve got my style almost nailed down. How do I know? I can enter any flea market stand, thrift store, or retail store and immediately spot the items I would like to try on. I’m not overwhelmed by the amount of choices available because I already know what I like, and what I would like to experiment with.

    • Lua Jane

      That’s what it comes down to. Knowing what works for you. Sure there are variations, but once you figure the equation it’s pretty simple.

  • I think style is ever changing regardless of how good an idea you have of your own…

    xx Daphne


  • To me, the most enjoyable part about style is wearing something every day that is a little out of the ordinary, something a little wha?, something a little bit obnoxious, or something with an unusual detail… basically, anything but normcore. Some days I tone it down, and some days I turn it up, but that novelty factor has to be present for me to feel like myself.

  • Johanna

    This post is one of your most interesting comments…. I’m always eager to read what’s on your mind!

  • Anna Ovtchinnikova

    http://annaborisovna.de check out my Fashion-Blog!!!!

  • Sarah

    As a fourteen year old who daily inhabits a great number of victims who believe that leggings are pants and only shop at Brandy Melville, this article provides a great explanation for me when I’m asked “What made you want to wear ˆthose pants.” Thanks!

  • Sarah

    Ever-inspiring article to a fourteen year old whose friends, though wonderful, wear leggings as pants. Daily.

  • rita perdomo

    Loved this whole post. – I’m a fashion student myself even though I really don’t like to admit it. Not because I feel I shame of it, but because sometimes by the way I dress I do feel I want to go back and change. I’ve seen this post and loved it since the beginning, but never truly pay the attention it need it. I am so very grateful that my first entire article to read has been this one. You speak the truth and most importantly you are clearly being honest with yourself and us in telling us this story. I’ll have to keep working on me, but honestly, this has been the best and more accurate article on how to dress trend-friendly without advertising any trend.

    And if you’re wondering- Yes, I am a newbie.

  • I have been thinking of this concerning my design and my photography style so I like seeing this being discussed in terms of clothing. While I know that repetition, cohesiveness, and consistency make it easier for people to understand what you are trying to present, I keep having to repeat to myself that I need a bit of an eclectic mix to feel more complete whether it’s in my clothing style or my design style. There are parts of the thought process and aesthetic that remain consistent but sometimes I do love to embrace the many layers of myself. I realize everyone is different and uniformity may be the way someone expresses themselves best. Some find this soon, others find it later. Some may even go back and forth. Maybe one day things will become more consistent but I kind of think that right now is the best time for me to explore that journey towards my style. I love trying new things and that’s just simply me being true to myself during that particular day. This is not to say that I change with the trends, I own a lot of the same clothing articles I just love pairing things very differently or returning to old gems, all according to the statement I want to make on that particular day.

  • Anna

    there is not a thing called “my style” that exists out there somewhere for me to find. it doesn’t exist. i can make it up. i can change my mind.

  • Whitney V

    Great article -I question myself the same thing, and wonder what to say when people ask me what my style is! I don’t know -you tell me! Even when the normcore trend was at its peak, I would still need some sort of colour and same, I always go for flatforms coz I’m petite and they give height while still being comfy… Maybe that’s my style, but it is as much more, like you say, about how you feel, when you truly do feel like yourself!


  • For me personal style is the essential reflection of my core self. That being said that does not mean that I cannot have many different personas that are comprised of different looks and designers. However, how you put it together, the attitude with which you wear the clothes is what the personal style is. Personal style will never change even if you change your wardrobe. It is in your body and how it moves and acts when you put something on.

    Accidental icon

  • Lexie

    As a small, stereotypically girly-girl, I had a hard time developing my style for a long time. Other people wanted to see me in bows and sparkles that made me feel like a child. Dressing in a more mature fashion made me feel like I was playing grown-up. I like to stay now that my style is “streamlined girly-girl.” I still dress mostly in shades of purple, but they’re up against neutrals. The cuts are simple and clean-lined, but with little details I love. It’s a work in progress, but I like it. 🙂

  • I’m deep into personal style. So much so that I developed style programs that empower women to live their own style, across all the spheres of their lives. // #liveyourownstyle // http://www.carahotz.com

  • uju nwapa

    You must be in my head- answering the question I asked myself in the shower yesterday (where I do all my deep thinking) but realized that as obvious as that question might sound, I didn’t have an answer. What is my personal style??? For some reason it really vexed me that I couldn’t in the slightest way define in words or in my head who I was stylewise cos I love all sorts of clothes and styles. I don’t seem to have a style uniform or identity like some of the icons you mentioned…or so I thought. Well I guess the struggle is over. Thanks for being in my “style” head and leading me to the answer to that troubling question.My personal style = dressing that make me feel most ME- sexy, girlie, different, and yet so free! Thanks Leandra.

  • So…what happens when you “know thyself” and the lewks/style you love however can’t seem to be able to actually make them happen? The classic, Parisian chic/clean/simple/with a touch of tomboy or what have you style is definitely what I love and what I am going for each day. And yet every morning I stand in front of my closet and just stare into the dark abyss of really basic basics. In theory all of these pieces make sense together; and yet when I place them on my body it just doesn’t work. I feel frumpy, schlumpy, dumpy and all other kinds of -umpy; not to mention far far away from effortless and elegant without being fussy. What am I doing wrong???

  • fran

    finally! i’ve been wanting to read something like this

  • Trendysoul

    I loved this post so I have written a post in my blog talking about this It will be awsome if you could read

  • Catalina

    LOVE this article!

    “Comfort, it seems, is deep rooted in honesty. For me, that has come to mean stripes andold jeans and elaborate footwear and whimsical objects of curiosity that are sold as jewelry. For you it might mean something entirely different.”

    I’ve been able to weed out what DOESN’T work. The test, is the ‘after work approach’. If I immediately strip whatever outfit off my body when I arrive home from work IS NOT my within my comfort zone. i.e. a James Pearse body con dress (a la Kim K.)… Although I love it and will definitely wear it to the next Cuban-themed party I go to, it’s something that I truly don’t feel myself in.

    Can’t wait to find the staples that are me. It’s definitely an adventure of sorts.

  • Selina Moses

    I would say it’s a mixture of both

  • MissMelB

    Being in Brisbane, Australia where it’s definitely a more relaxed vibe to Sydney or Melbourne (and mostly hot) I live in denim, shorts or jeans, all sorts. I have a “thing” for jackets which due to said hot climate (winter? What winter?) doesn’t really make sense but I love them. Relaxed has always been the vibe, metallic leather sneakers and always great sunglasses… Sometimes I just wish it got colder so I could layer clothes! Great article…

  • claudine nguyen

    Hi Leandra and MR team,

    My name is Claudine, I’m French.

    I was saying to a friend I love Leandra is so herself! Of course first I was appealed to your style, and after watching you on Pinterest and Insatagram, I found out what I love about your style is your FRESH mind.
    I feel you still have this precious mind of a kid, no preconceived ideas, you are open, free of “things should be”. My definition of beauty and style is a fresh mind, as you have, as Linda Rodin, as all the stylish women you mentioned.

    Being passionate about style, organizing with beauty and HEART-expression, I develop a coaching about style with mindfulness. I help people to connect with their heart meanwhile sorting out and re-organizing their closet. That way they can REMOVE WHAT BLOCK THE VIEW OF THEIR HEART to find out what they really like / are VS. what they think they like / what image they want to reflect / what will make themselves look good and successful.
    I did that for myself and found out I wasn’t that fashioned, that stylish. I just have my own style and I’m still exploring it : simple, comfy, a drop of je-ne-sais-quoi that is my heart expression, and I cannot control that, neither describe it .

    I’m in NY end of August and would really, really love to meet you.

    For now my website is only one page and in French. An english version is planned for this summer, as I would love to work in USA as well.

    A bientôt j’espère.


  • Thiện Nguyễn
  • Santa

    I drove myself mad on this very point. Overthinking it. Decided I want to be a streamlined minimalist. But I missed bad taste and spontaneity. Giving up, I observed I repeat buy variations on a few certain things and have done for years. Fitted black jackets. Button down shirts. Leather skirts. Jeans. Black boots and crazy heels. Primary colour t-shirts. Always sunglasses. Looks like a pattern. Sounds a lot like personal style.

    It was there all the time.

  • Carla Gayosso

    Best article ever! <3

  • I completely agree! Since I’ve started sewing, I have found this to be even more true. I will buy a crazy fabric, make something and then…..never wear it. All gray everyday, tight pants, billowy tops, stripes and polka dots and I’m a happy gal 🙂

  • notapplegreen

    I always knew what I wanted to wear and wore it. I was used to answering questions about why I was wearing a particular outfit, but one day, someone commented that I could get away with everything. It made me pause, because I’ve worn so many style faux pas just because I wanted to. The advice I give to ppl now is just to wear anything they want, regardless of whether it looks good or feels good. We only learn our potential when we push past what feels comfortable and familiar. As long as you act like it was meant to look like that, no one will question you.