Putting the Personal back into Personal Style (and making a style system work for you)

Putting the Personal back into Personal Style (and making a style system work for you)

I’m back to one of my favorite topics- personal style and making style systems work for individual needs. I want people to enjoy their clothes, and to enjoy the process of self expression and the visual art of putting outfits together. I think people are most likely to enjoy style (both their own and as a spectator to the style of others) when they keep it personal, and so much of the advice I’ve come across has a tendency to lead people away from themselves to a style that might look great but isn’t personal and won’t be loved in the long run.

You are not a type, your body is not a fruit, and any system is a best fit approach where types are shorthand for inspiration and ideas. You won’t find yourself by finding your type. You find yourself by listening to your little thoughts (your intuition, your gut, your feelings).  When you are grounded in yourself, types are fun and they offer ideas and possibilties you might not have considered, and they provide a different way of thinking about the art of dress and visual storytelling through dress. When you’re grounded in yourseslf, you can take what you like from a type (or two, or ten), and ignore the rest. Types can help you find what you like best, and again if/when what you like best changes.

Systems approaches to style are great in a few ways

  • They offer inspiration and possibilities you may not have considered before
  • They offer a starting point if you feel overwhelmed by all of the possibilities
  • They help to show and explain why some things might look better on you than others (external view)


They are also troublesome in a few ways:

  • It can be hard for some people to find their type
  • They can be overly restricting once you do find your type, or you may not like what you find
  • They place physical characteristics above your personal preferences and feelings in importance


It’s this last point that can be the most troublesome. I believe it is best to use systems and types as inspiration, but to really get in touch with your own feelings and hone your own preferences as the essential core of your style explorations. Put the primary importance on how you feel, and the secondary (if wanted at all), on the outside view, and you will discover and be happy with your personal style.

In placing the physical above feelings, you dissociate, valuing the external view over the internal, and you move further away from your own feelings when you most need to be connecting to them (finding personal style by keeping it personal). If you solidify your personal style from the starting point of how you feel about things, you’ve built a strong foundation that makes it easier and more fun to experiment with style, or to hear outside opinions, while still feeling authentic, grounded, and well represented.

At the end of the day, you don’t wear things you don’t feel right in (whether that’s physical discomfort, the mood of it, uncomfortable with the color, etc), or at least you won’t wear them for very long, and what a waste that is in so many ways. It can be really disheartening to try something (or many things) and “fail” (or if you’re grounded in your own feelings, you might see it as trying and deciding it isn’t for you afterall). Trying something new or asking for advice once you are well rooted in your personal style will feel challenging and fresh, and that’s very different from feeling like you’re wearing a full costume or ended up in somebody’s else’s clothes.

Let body types, style types, proportions, and color palettes be inspiration guided by your own feelings. Systems can be just what you were looking for, and you find your type, love it and live it, or maybe you skip over systems altogether and hone your feelings based dressing, or maybe you find systems incredibly useful as well as enjoyable, but enjoy them most when you’ve put your own feelings at the center.

If you don’t know what feels right, if things don’t “spark joy”, try finding words that make more sense to you. I’m partial to “I feel grounded in this,” or “I feel like myself in this” but the language that makes the most sense to you might be something else. It could be about functionality/practicality (e.g. “I feel capable in this”) or more outward “I feel presentable in this” or “This makes me smile”. Whatever it is you are looking for, the language will reflect something that feels essential to you about your personal style.

So what about the types? Let your feelings choose the types for you if that feels right at this time. Let the system approach guide you if that feels more right at this time. What about personal style services? Seek advice when it feels right to hear it, when you want an outside opinion and new ideas, when you are confident that you can take what you like from the opinion and forget the rest. Personal style is best when it’s personal.



Suggestions for making your personal style, Personal 


examples of noting your personal basics ^ fill in your own with as much detail as you can about what you notice, especially what you like about it. 

1. Know your personal basics

What do you gravitate toward wearing, and why? What do you find comfortable? What makes you feel like yourself? What makes you feel calm/capable/buoyant/however you want to feel? What items have been like comfort blankets in the form of clothes to you in the past? What can you say about the fabric, color, cut, and detail of those items?   

Starting from a point of comfort, of feeling like yourself (if a bit uninspired), is the ideal (perhaps necessary) starting point. You don’t have to feel like you love your look or clothes, but if you can say that you feel at ease in them (and describe in detail the fabric/color/cut/etc of those items), that’s the starting point.


2. Follow your feelings to expand and explore

Feel your way through new cuts, colors, details, and other aspects that deviate from your personal basics. Add one new thing to a base of your personal basics. Change one aspect of one of your basics (e.g. the cut and color you always love, but a new fabric) rather than a bunch at once, because it’s more likely to feel like a costume if you do too much too fast.


3. Reject the standard advice for creating a wardrobe

Just like you don’t need whatever is touted as universal basics (e.g. white button up shirts, black trousers), you don’t need a certain number of whatever items to have a great wardrobe. You don’t need a specific ratio of tops to bottoms. Yes you can wear only prints if that’s what you love, or only ever wear green, or only have two skirts be the entirety of your bottoms- just whatever works for your lifestyle needs and your personal preferences.




Suggestions for navigating any style system


  • Use the system as a system, but only adopt what feels right/good
  • Use the types, not as a system, but as inspiration that you explore by feeling your way through
  • Hire a stylist when you want that specific person’s opinion or creative eye, and explore their recommendations slowly from a base of your own personal basics. Give final authority to your own feelings.
  • Remember that while you have a best fit type, you are a person, not a type, and finding your best fit type might not bring the answers you were looking for (the answers come from listening to your feelings. If you’ve silenced your inner voice and your own feelings for a long time, it can be difficult to hear and feel it- keep listening and trying.)

What makes personal style great is that it’s personal- an authentic expression of one person’s preferences that they’ve put together in a way that makes them feel good. People-watching isn’t joyful if everyone is wearing the same impersonal things in an effort to blend in with whatever is dominant in Fashion for the moment. Style systems and personal stylists can be useful when explored from a point of knowing your comfort and using your feelings as your guide. There is a personal style joy I wish for people, to wear an outfit that feels so good it’s hard to have a bad time while wearing it, because your style has become a buffer of good feelings.