When Do You “Know” Your Personal Style?

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

05.18.15

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.

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