In the ever accessible world of fast fashion, where we have a closetful of clothes but still struggle with having that “I have nothing to wear” dilemma. We have either lost our sense of style or adopted other people’s style as our own but it really does not suit our lifestyle. There is a lot of talk about personal style nowadays. A lot of it is white noise from people who either do not have a personal style of their own to start with or offer real achievable advice to help you develop your personal style. Most seem to be selling you products rather than personal style.
What is personal style?
First, let’s define what is personal style? For many stylists and people with a great sense of personal style. It is a means of self expression in the way you use fashion to convey your personality and the way you create outfits that fit that persona into your lifestyle. It isn’t wearing the latest fashion trends or copying what is in an ad campaigns or fashion influencers style. That is hard to incorporate into your lifestyle. I’ve heard bad opinions like disregarding style aesthetics to being on the flip side of people saying to have X number of pieces in your capsule wardrobe to a bland and boring style aesthetic that lacks personality. In between the bad opinions is the happy medium of what I believe is a workable rule of thumb to follow.
Personal style is a uniform of how you wear fashion. It’s a very distinguished style that is instantly recognizable as your signature look.
Is aesthetic needed to have a personal style?
Yes, here is why it matters. It creates a visual representation of the overall look you want to create as your style uniform. To not have this basic guideline is where most people buy styles that are hard to create outfits. Also, you will find it easier to buy into trends that aren’t suitable for you.
What does an aesthetic mean for personal style?
It is a visual display of creating outfits that is pleasing to the sight. How does this translate into style of dressing? Because fashion is a visual art form. It takes a lot of the same theories in the form of the body, color pairing, mediums use (in this case the fabrics and trims used) and lastly they design details designers implement.
As far as I can tell there are 4 basic style aesthetics and every modern style aesthetic is a derivative of these 4 main style aesthetics by combining elements of them together.
The first is minimalist. The styles are basic cuts of simple silhouettes often with little to no big design details. Often the coloring runs towards a very understated color palette. Whether it is black, white, creams, grays, browns, beiges or soft pastels. It is understated to the eyes visually.
On the opposite spectrum is maximalist. The styles are in over-exaggerated silhouettes and design details. This can be in prints, embroidered embellishments, unusual silhouettes or fabric manipulation. The coloring runs towards very eye-catching visuals. The silhouette can be everything-but-the-kitchen-sink visuals.
Then we go to the feminine style aesthetic. These styles have softer curves and silhouettes with girly details like frilly ruffles, lace and bows. Or it can be sexiness that is alluring and titillating.
Lastly, is the edgy style aesthetic. The styles here are polar opposite of the feminine aesthetic with harder linear lines. The styles tend to have a more masculine or androgynous feel about them. More often than not the styles are sharper in linear structure. Sometimes with sharp and hard architectural elements. Hardware and graphics can be used in design detail in this aesthetic. Commonly used in black and white gradients as an identifiable color palette. Other colors like camouflage, muted earth tones as well as deep jewel tones can be found in this style aesthetic.
Here are some people who have a great sense of personal style. I will break down their looks and what their style uniform is so you can see what it is in relation to their style aesthetic. Let’s start with the Vogue editor since they are the taste makers of fashion:
Anna Wintour, say what you will about Anna Wintour but this woman definitely has a style uniform. As editor-in-chief of Vogue, this woman has access to fashion we can only dream of. However when you see Anna Wintour, she is known for wearing printed dresses, whether it is in geometrics, florals or embellishments. For winter, Anna Wintour can be spotted in statement coats whether it is geometrics, florals or fur. You can see her in tweed sets as well as colorful leather trench coats. Anna is always about the dress and skirt. She has not worn pants to any public event since the 90s. Even then it was sparingly. Her style aesthetic is definitely the lady who lunches. It consists of prints, colors and textures. You can easily see her style uniform from a mile away. Anna Wintour is a great example of someone who is older and has their personal style down so that it looks effortless and instantly recognizable.
Next let’s go to Vogue Japan editor-at-large Anna Dello Russo. This Anna really wore looks straight off the runway. Her personal style is very colorful and maximalist. Anna Dello Russo’s persona is very much the cosmopolitan fashionista. A lot of her looks involve shimmery bright colors with short hemlines for the summer and bold statement coats for the winter. You can tell that her use of colors, prints and textures give a different personality than Anna Wintour. Proving that using the same elements can give a completely different vibe to reflect the personality of the person wearing them. What I love about Anna Dello Russo personal style is she flips the script on what is age appropriate when it comes to personal style. I’m a firm believer that clothes do not come with an age tag. A size tag, yes but never a “dress for your age” tag. I’ve heard a lot of people say “that style is old and frumpy” which leads me to believe you have no sense of style so you can’t imagine how to style it in a way that is not the dowdy way you imagine it to be.
The last editor-in-chief I want to reference with a great personal style is Margaret Zhang of Vogue China, newly minted in 2021. While she is the youngest to assume the role, she is not new to her personal style. From the time she was a fashion blogger where you can see the development of her personal style. While for the most part it is minimalist when you break down the styles individually. How Margret paired the pieces together into outfits is what is key to her aesthetic. Her persona is definitely the cool downtown girl. Since becoming editor in chief of Vogue China she has evolved her personal style a bit to adapt to her new role. You can see she has still kept to basic styles without a whole lot of prints. She scaled up the proportions to be oversized and changed the color to a new color palette of neutrals. You can see it is still kept to a relatively minimalist style aesthetic. Margaret Zhang is a fine example of being in your 20’s and experimenting with your personal style and letting it evolve as you grow.
Now let’s move onto fashion designers who are the creators of the styles we all want. Here are the few with great personal style. Most of these designers are the brand ambassadors of their eponymous brand or brands they work for:
Rick Owens, anyone with any inkling of interest in fashion knows Rick Owens by now. I first became aware of him when he won the CFDA award as emerging talent. To say this man style aesthetic is the DNA of his brand is an understatement. He took a very minimalist style aesthetic but recreated body proportions in a very modern and updated way that focused on design details with a very monochromatic gradient of black and white. While you see some pops of colors on his runway. The man wears primarily black with occasional white and gray thrown in once in a while. You can clearly see his rock star persona in his style aesthetic.
Next we move onto Betsey Johnson, she’s definitely a brand ambassador for her brand. It bleeds into her lifestyle too. Betsey Johnson is definitely a girly maximalist. To say she is a fun party girl would be a suitable description of her style. You can see she is all about colors and frilly details. There is no mistaking her style aesthetic at all. You won’t ever catch her in neutrals or minimalist basics.
Then we come to Phoebe Philo. Not since Donna Karan, can I say there has been such a prolific woman designer designing stylish and functional clothes women want to wear. Her reign at Céline is supreme. You can tell she’s elevated the minimalist style aesthetic and revived Céline to the powerhouse it is today. Her personal style definitely is the DNA of Céline. As the brand ambassador for Céline with her personal style, she made being basic effortlessly cool. The pairing of Phoebe Philo and old Céline was an ideal match which is why she has such a cult following. A lot of people are looking forward to her return to fashion. Myself included.
Lastly, I want to spotlight fashion influencers since they are the people like us who enjoy wearing fashion. These are a few who have a great personal style. These are all people who only push the styles that fit into their style aesthetic. Most of all they are very consistent with their personal style and are often showing you higher quality fashion:
The first one is Michela of FIGTNY. Her style has remained consistent since she has started her instagram account. It is a very relaxed minimalist aesthetic. What’s great about her style uniform is very identifiable with high quality basics in a very understated neutral palette. While it is basic, her relaxed oversized looks makes her personal style look anything but basic.
Then I want to show Susi Rejano. Susi Rejano is the founder of Brilliant Barcelona, a luxury multi-brand fashion and accessories boutique in Barcelona and online. Her personal style is all about getting a tailored slim fit. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything in her style that is messily oversized. There is an edginess to her personal style.
The last influencer who I want to spotlight is Tamu McPherson. Since the beginning of her Instagram account, she has been consistent with her personal style of feminine looks with prints and bold bright colors. It is very identifiable to her style aesthetic.
Now that we’ve established what personal style is and what a style uniform looks like. You want to know how you can achieve it for yourself. Let’s start with helping you figure out what it is with these two exercises:
First, create a Pinterest board and start to curate looks you want to achieve.
Analyze the looks to see if you can identify characteristics of your pins to see if there is a uniform style aesthetic. Based it on what I just explained in the 4 style aesthetic and the examples of people who have a style uniform. If you have figured it out then you can move onto the second exercise.
For the second exercise. Look into your closet to start shopping for the pin looks you’ve curated, to see if you can use what you have to recreate the looks you want to achieve. This is a way to determine if what you have can create the personal style you want, that is a reflection of how you want to self express yourself through fashion.
With what is in your closet, start creating outfits based on your mood boards. As you are creating the outfits, start making notes of what you are missing to create those outfits.
As you are creating outfits, start taking notes of the missing styles you need to complete outfits.
If you have completed these two exercises, be sure to check out my video on wardrobe curation showing you how to buy less but higher quality fashion.
However, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I will give you a different set of exercises to do to help you establish your personal style aesthetic. Please see part 2 for the exercises that will help you fine tune your personal style and finally figure out what your style aesthetic is.