Don’t know what to wear? Sick of opening up your closet every morning and staring at the contents in despair, or trying on outfit after outfit, only to end up settling for that ancient pair of jeans and a sweater, because you just don’t know what you like any more, or what actually suits you? Maybe you’ve had a baby, gained or lost weight, or simply reached a point in your life when you no longer feel your old look is working for you any more, and you need a change. But how do you find your style when there are so many choices out there that you don’t even know where to start…
(Where’s the woman on the far left’s head?!)
How to find your style and learn what suits you
Start from scratch
The pursuit of personal style always begins with a good ol’ closet clearout. Take everything out of your wardrobe, go through it and try it on. Discard anything that doesn’t fit, has never been worn, or which you just instinctively hate on sight. Replace the items you’re left with… for the time being at least. If your closet is now looking too bare to, well, bear, you might want to think about investing in some inexpensive basics to tide you over while you’re hunting down new pieces that are more YOU. We’re talking about items like black pants, jeans, fine-knit sweaters… the kind of dull-but-useful pieces which don’t constitute a particular “style” in themselves, but which can form the basis of many different styles once you’ve worked out what kind of look you want to go for.
Create an inspiration board
Much of the time, we work out what we love instinctively: by having a gut reaction to something we’ve seen online, in a magazine, or on someone else. If you’re not really sure what you like, an inspiration board is a great place to start: we love Pinterest for this (follow us here), because it not only allows you to create boards filled with looks you like, it also lets you browse other people’s boards to find even more inspiration. You can, however, use any method you like to gather and collate photos of the outfits and items you like: pretty soon you should be able to start spotting the common themes among them, which will give you a good place to start when you go shopping.
There’s a big difference between knowing what you LIKE and knowing what suits you. You may absolutely love a particular style of dress, for instance, but find that it just doesn’t flatter your figure, or fit in with your lifestyle. It’s a mistake to assume that just because something looks good on someone else, that it will also look good on you: we’re all different and there is no “one style suits all.” In order to find out which of the styles you like will actually work for you, you’re going to have to experiment. This is the fun part, and it can also be totally free: you don’t have to actually BUY anything at this stage, simply to try it on, and take a good, long look in the mirror. When you’re doing this, don’t simply stick to the “safe” options, or the things you think you “should” wear: you’re not obliged to buy anything you’re trying on, so take a range of different styles into the changing room – you might be surprised to find that the look you like best is the last thing you’d have thought of.
Experimentation is all well and good, of course, but how do you actually know whether something looks good on you? It can be hard to be objective when you’re looking into a harshly-lit fitting room mirror (Why ARE the mirrors in stores always so unflattering?), and it can also be difficult to trust the words of friends/family members who don’t want to hurt your feelings. If it’s at all possible, we recommend photographing yourself in your outfit (Front AND back) – or, better still, getting someone else to do it for you. You don’t have to get all “fashion blogger” here, and take perfectly staged style photos: a simple snap will do. Clothing can look very different on camera than it does in the mirror, and sometimes seeing a photo can completely change your opinion of something. It might not be easy to photograph outfits in store (although a cellphone photo taken in the mirror is still better than nothing), but it’s something worth trying with the clothes you already own: it might give you a totally different perspective on some of them.
If it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t wear it
We’ve said this many times now, but confidence and comfort are absolutely essential components of good style. If you feel at all uncomfortable in a certain style, ditch it – no matter how good it looks.
Understand that it takes time to develop a personal style, and that once you’ve found yours, you’re not obliged to stick to it
If you’re struggling to find a style you can call your own, it can be very tempting to look at the people you consider to have “good” style (or simply at the ones who have very defined signature styles) and assume they were practically BORN like that: instinctively knowing what they like, what suits them, and with the confidence to wear what they want and not care what anyone has to say about it. Of course, that’s not actually true: it takes a lot of trial and error to arrive at a personal style you really love, and most of those women probably have plenty of fashion mis-steps to look back on, too. It’s also important to remember that style changes over time: what worked for you in your twenties may not work in your thirties or forties, say, and changes in job, location, or just taste can also have a big influence on your style. Don’t be afraid to change, evolve and experiment: not only will it help you discover the styles that work for you NOW, it’ll also help you understand when it’s time to make a change. You don’t actually NEED to have a signature style if you don’t want to. If, after trying on a few different looks, you decide that you like – and suit – more than one of them, there’s nothing in the world to stop you changing your look as often as you like.