Do you know your personal style? The style that defines and expresses who you are? The style that you are most comfortable in? The style that you think is cool?
It’s funny how early our concept of cool starts. My sister bought Raines some sweatbands when he was two…and he insisted on wearing them everywhere, even to bed. This phase lasted for months – he’d walk around with his sweatbands, a little swagger to his step. For some reason, R had decided that those sweatbands were Just. So. Cool. I don’t know why he decided that Target sweatbands [with sports motif, groan] were cool…but far be it from me to burst his cool bubble. The concept of cool is a very personal one…and one that can start as young as two.
Why do we care? Well. Understanding what you think is cool, not what you’ve been told is supposed to be cool, is the most critical step when attempting to define your personal style.
Personal style is nothing more than your concept of cool + the realities of your daily life.
It turns out…most people have trouble identifying cool in a personal way. They can say, “she’s so cool”…or “I heard that X is now cool”…but going out on a limb and defining it for themselves? A little harder. I base this opinion on my experience doing wardrobe consultations. Before rolling up our sleeves and really getting to work – cleaning out closets, putting together new outfits – I need to have some understanding of what the client thinks is cool. Trends are great (and a nice source of inspiration), but I think most people feel better wearing what they love, wearing what they think is cool.
Easier said than done, right? Instead of a discussion about their tastes and style, I’m often peppered with questions about what’s in, what’s out, what should they buy or toss. Nobody wants to look like a frumpy old mom who will someday embarrass her kids by turning up in a mullet and legwarmers…but there are many, many, many ways to look amazing. Finding the right amazing look for you is the key.
So. How do you define your own personal style? [Hint: Don’t start in your closet.]
I find that many of my clients have a closet that has very little in common with they think is cool, with what they love. This is especially true for you mamas on a budget! So often we’re driven to purchase by cost or lack of time. Which is how one ends up with a closet full of clothes, but still has “nothing to wear!“. “Nothing to wear” is rarely a literal problem…it’s an emotional one. The clothes we have don’t really represent who we are, or what we think is cool.
[NOTE: In general, the more excited you are by the price, the more you should carefully consider the purchase.]
There are a couple of ways you can go about defining your personal style. One method is to create notebooks (or inspiration boards) of your favorite outfits from magazine clippings, catalog clippings, pics you see online, etc. You can also incorporate pics of you in your favorite outfits, take notes, and, over time, a pattern should emerge.
This method is completely valid, but it makes my head hurt. I don’t have the time or the energy, and this method feels like it’s just one lacy frame sticker away from a scrap-book. (My apologies to the scrap-bookers…I just. can’t. do. it.)
My preferred method? Voila…
The Quick-n-Dirty Personal Style Assessment
1. Round up a few magazines and catalogs.
If using catalogs, try to find some with very differing looks (Lands End AND Neimans for example), if using magazines, try to find some for differing age groups (Seventeen Magazine, Real Simple and Lucky would be a nice mix). You don’t need a ton – just 2 or 3. (If you bookmark outfits online like crazy – and yes, I do – you can also use these. Hello, Pinterest.)
2. Flip Through Them – FAST
You are going to flip through all of your chosen material – in only 5 minutes. Flip through, and tear out anything that catches your eye. Anything. Even if it’s an ad. Even if you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) wear it in a million years. The goal here is to not over-think: we’re looking for your gut instinct. Just rip it out and move on.
3. Categorize Your Material
You should now have a stack of pictures ripped out. Go through each and assign it to one of two categories: OMG SO COOL I LOVE IT vs. EH. It’s OK if there are very few in the first category.
4. Analyze Why You Love It
The pictures you love? Try to figure out why you love them. What draws you to the picture? What about the picture is cool? Is it the color combination? Is it the overall feeling? If it’s a feeling…try to identify it. Does it leave you feeling cozy? Or carefree? Or it is overwhelmingly sexy? A pattern should start to emerge. This pattern will help you understand your personal style definition.
5. Translate to Real Life
The pictures that you love can serve as your quick-n-dirty inspiration board. Spread them out on your bed and take a picture of the group. Or take pics of each individually and create an album to store on your phone. Refer to them while shopping as a point of reference. Or stick them up next to your closet. Use them as inspiration when getting dressed in the morning. (Start a Pinterest board if you haven’t already. Only keep on it the things you LOVE. It can be grounding and illuminating to glance at while shopping.)
You want to look for ways to translate your personal definition of cool into something you’ll wear, into something that (ideally) makes use of what you already have in your closet. This translation is the hard part. But by knowing your personal style definition, you’ll be able to start looking for ways to do this translation. For an example of how to translate, see our article, Momiform Style Translation: Capes and Chloe Lace-Up Boots.
Still confused? Ok – here’s another example. I ran through this process recently myself:
(Photo Credits, starting from top left are Le Blog de Betty, The Sartorialist, Isabella Oliver & Shopbop.com…starting from bottom left are Lucky Magazine, J.Crew, J.Crew and the Sartorialist)
Notice that the things I love are rarely things I can wear while chasing a toddler around. (aaaand now you understand why I started this blog!)
So let’s discuss:
At first glance, it’s obvious I like short, short skirts. That pink little number (top right) is downright ridiculous. (But how I love it so!!) Also notice that most pictures feature some kind of comfortable element. That tiny pink skirt is paired with an oh-so-cozy cashmere sweater. Even the polished trench and short gray skirt are paired with a comfy t-shirt, and that gorgeous short white dress? It’s sexy, in a totally girly way, but also looks light and breezy. I love it with the heels, but it would also look cute with a pair of flip-flops. The leather pants (top right), the fingerless gloves (bottom), and the military trench also add in some harder elements.
So. If I were to sum up my style based on this little exercise…it would be a little bit comfy/cozy, a little bit glam, and a little bit edgy.
So how do I translate this style board into something wearable on a day-to-day basis? Well…it means that I wear sparkly headbands with cozy oversized sweaters and jeans, and wear glam belly belts with soft cotton maxi dresses when pregnant. It means that I rock short-shorts with thick fuzzy sweaters and pair moto jackets with ruffles. It means that I play with texture (a silkier shirt with destroyed denim) and proportions – in sleeve length, in hem length. It also means that many of my everyday mom outfits can be made a little more glam by pairing them with a red lip or smoky eye (fun tricks for a blah outfit).
Lastly, please remember that your personal style definition evolves and changes. Your lifestyle changes (single, married, preggo, post-partum, nursing, SAHM, back to work, kids get older, etc etc etc), and your definition of cool also changes over time. And thank goodness. It’s how we go from this (cringe)…
And as horrifying as my 10-year-old outfit was, I L-O-V-E-D it. I felt so cool. And I truly believe, even now, that no one should ever make you feel wrong for thinking something is cool. Even if it’s some bat-sh*t crazy sweatpants-under-skirt-and-oversized-sweatshirt-with-pink-converse-and-really-bad-hair nonsense. Cause it’s you. And being you is always cool.
ps. Am now thinking that I need to get another pair of sweet pink converse…
pps. Want another example of translating a styleboard into mom-friendly looks? Here’s Amanda’s…..
Great job explaining the process…I can’t wait to do this for myself!!
LOVE the new look of the site!!
Great post! I’m similar to you, with one *big* exception – your “edgey” is my “classic”. Add classic and cozy together and it can all start looking a little too 50yo English teacher real fast. The little touch of glamour for me is usually something like short red nails, long hair, or lots of black for drama. That helps, but I do think it’s awfully challenging to keep classic looking young when you’re getting less young (we don’t need to say ‘old’, right?) by the minute. I’m working on it, though. Your tips help 🙂 I have a folder I keep on my laptop of images that inspire me. There’s a definite cohesiveness that comes out once you really start collecting.
Great post! When I first found out I was pregnant, I was so excited to have an excuse to get a completely new wardrobe of pregnancy clothes. It was a completely fresh start for my closet. I was able to buy only pieces that I loved and worked well together. It was the first time I ever sat down and figured out how I wanted to look versus buying what caught my eye. It was so exciting, and I loved all of my outfits. I was probably one of the only women in the history of the world so sad to put my pre-prego clothes back on! Your post reminded me that I need to do the same thing with my regular clothes. Can’t wait to start tearing out pages!
yes – the pink converse NEVER go out of style..at least in my book…i got a hand me down pair from my cousin (circa 1986)…they had a cherry syrup stain on them from when she worked at the “tastee freeze” and she made me a cherry slushie…she couldn’t get the stain out so wanted a new pair…i got the old ones 🙂
i’m always happy w/ my style if there’s something just a little bit “off” in my outfit! something that maybe doesn’t quite go…ha…who knows what other people think of me 🙂
on a side note – my almost 2 yr. old found an old sweatband (i think it was a drink promo my husband got at pub crawl years ago)…and has been obsessed with it since. ha…cracks me up!
Love pink converse! You could make it work 🙂
Great post, and I love the jeans you’re wearing in the “now” picture – what are they?
I started this today but got a little stuck. The pictures speak, but they say so many different things. Sometimes “that’s beautiful,” “she’s beautiful,” or “wow, that look would really work for next week’s baby shower / wedding / playgroup / family function.” I think I should be focusing on the whole look, pictures where I can truly say “that’s ME,” or “that could be me.” Worried this might land me in the same rut I’ve been in for years though … help!
I’ll be trying this ASAP! Great post, S!
This really WAS a great post. I need to try the magazine trick. I wonder what my style really does look like? 🙂
Wonderful post! I need to do this assignment before I ever step foot in a store again. & I’m bookmarking this for future reference.
Jacci – Oooo…that is a toughie. Classic & cozy…but in a cool, fresh way…hmmm…let me think about this. I may have a few ideas. 🙂
Beth – GREAT comment. I love this perspective on maternity clothes! So often the perspective is negative…I’m going to have to quote you on this one.
Lyn – I’m also a HUGE fan of the ‘little bit off’ concept. And seriously – what is the lure of the sweatband???
Mad – I’m SO tempted. 🙂
Cat – Aaahhh…my Rich & Skinnys. Ignore the totally obnoxious name – they are SO soft – sweatpant like. They are the reason I’ll never totally give up on bootcut denim, LOL!
Amanda – It IS hard. Try asking yourself WHY you think something is beautiful. Is is beautiful because of the combination of ethereal colors…or vibrant colors? Throw out any pics that are too functional in nature (“this will work for next week’s…”) unless it tugs at your heart “Ooo..I LOVE THIS” – is what we want. You don’t necessarily have to find pictures that represent you completely (we’re pretty complicated creatures)…but I want them to quicken your pulse. One of my clients couldn’t get past her various “rules” (I can’t wear that or that or that or that) to pick any pics…so we used interior design mags to get to the heart of what her tastes were. Might be worth a shot, just to see what patterns appear. Or….just take a pic of your favorites and send ’em over. I can take a quick peek. 🙂
Lane, Tegan & Heidi – Thanks for the comments! So glad you liked it!
Love this post. I love your board too…I notice everything is loose fitted even if short. Is that intentional? I do short an flowy to kind my mama pooch. lol
The last pic is like my uniform…I love those jackets and have over 5 of them. They allow for picking up toddler & baby carriers without your stomach getting squished.
Ive been enjoying your blog alot since I found you a few weeks ago.
P.S. I have Olive colored Converse and Black leather Converse too! I rock them with jeans whenever I can…lol!
Melanie – Yeah…short + flowy is my very favorite combination…even pre-baby. And now I’m loving it even more post-partum, LOL!
One question – Do you wear your short, swingy jackets under the baby carrier? I’ve always layered them over…but now that I look at it, it might actually fit really well under..
Thanks for the comments! (And I think Converse are ALWAYS cool!!)
I have to admit, I do this already. I keep a look book for room ideas, outfits and now that Lane has given me a full blown etsy addiction, a gift book because I can never find the right gift under a time crunch. Is it appropriate to carry a binder around clothing stores? 🙂
Yes. Yes it is. Lol
I don't know if you have an iPhone, but I'm loving the stylebook app…
Sent from my iPhone
You were very brave to post that 10-year old picture! Aack!
Have I missed a post on short/swingy jackets? I love the one you are wearing…where can I find one? Or is there a post you can refer me to? Thanks for all the great advice on this website…I am obsessively checking it daily after finding it a few months ago. You have made such a difference in my post-baby shopping trips!
Polyvore is also helpful. I’ve found a lot of inspiring things I can’t wait to add to my wardrobe.
I’d love to see what you come up with! 🙂 SO far, I’ve kind of been focusing on taking a more classic approach to trends. For instance – boots? Mine are black and pure riding boots ala Ralph Lauren. No buckles. No motorcycle references. Just riding boots. And blazers. I’m jumping all over the suited blazer trend. That’s a total classic that looks really fresh with skinnies, dresses, or skirts right now. So, it helps when the trends can be translated in a classic way.
Sage…I almost didn’t, LOL! But I’m pretty sure we all have ’em…right? RIGHT?
Amy – My jacket is Iro, bought several years ago. I haven’t done a post on them, but it’s a good idea!! So glad to know you are finding us helpful!
Joy – Polyvore is great – easy to find cute stuff, easy to create a styleboard. Good tip!
Jacci – Nice. It’s hard to go wrong with riding boots and blazers. 🙂
I just found your blog about a week ago…and THANK sweet babies of MERCY I did! I needed something like this desperately! This post was a really cool project for me (thanks!)..I spent my kids’ naptimes hunting down pics I liked, haha.
I do have a HUGE question though… well, I suppose its more of a problem… how do you filter between what you think you CAN wear and what you like (and whats mommy-practical)? Because I found, when picking out pics, that I was drawn to a ton of things I wish I had and wish I could wear (skinnier jeans being one such thing…) and then caught myself going “yah, but you know that won’t look good on your body now.”…so how do you balance that? I went from a fairly-well-dressed (Nashville style!) size 4 to a (bundled up and flabby) size 10 after 2 surprise pregnancies (both c-sections) in <2 years and I absolutely have a flabby belly that doesn't hide well in low-rise or skinny jeans. I went hunting for banded hobo-chic style tops to hide the flab (as per a mom-must style tip! thanks!), and well, sadly, they don't seem to be in style anymore because there were virtually NONE to be found! I'm still rockin' my 7 for all mankind prego pants and a few sweaters that are bigger to hide my "battle of the buldge" but I for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get the styles I LIKED rationalized with the styles I can WEAR. It also doesn't help that I happen to live in the middle of NOWHERE (we are 4 HOURS from the nearest mall) so all shopping is ONLINE shopping, haha!
Id just love some tips on how to grow out of my closet (sooo guilty of having things I'll never fit in again taking up 50% of the space) and into a wardrobe that fits with a hip-mom style and this new (painfully pudgy) body I'm sportin'!
Thanks bunches for anything you gals can offer up! 🙂 -- Audrey
Audrey – This is a GREAT question. I’m a big believer in dressing cute for your size NOW…not waiting until you’ve lost the pooch…and I’m also a big believe in wearing things you love over&over&over&over. So. I’d honestly work around your prego pants for now, especially if they are still fitting you nicely. Build a small capsule wardrobe of a couple of tops (like, 3??) and wear the heck out of them. But let me think about this more and get back to you.
I found your blog a couple months ago when I was trying to find some fashion help online. I LOVE your blog!! I just keep reading and re-reading articles to find inspiration to break out of my “mom” jeans and this RUT!! I am in such a rut. My son is 6 months old and I feel like I am having the hardest time finding anything to wear. I feel like nothing looks good on me any more. When I read this article I asked myself what my personal style is…and drew a TOTAL blank. So I’ve been thinking about it a couple of days and decided to make a collection/picture board on ployvore of things I loved…and still a blank. I have no idea what it translates to as far as “my style”. And I didn’t even include any images of jeans/pants/skirts because I don’t know what to wear. Jeans used to be my FAV but now I feel like all I wear are my bootcuts and a t shirt. I am tall (5’10”) and have some hips so I struggle with finding “skinny” jeans. HELP please!! I am posting my link to the collection I made in hopes that someone will be able to help pull me out of this fashion rut 🙂
I can really identify with Audrey’s dilemma of not being able to wear the styles that I am attracted to because of the shape of my body right now. I also love the pink Converse and agree that they never go out of style. My daughter, who is 10 years old, bought the dark pink sparkly high tops last spring and I gave in to the off-white low tops…but I think I like hers better… 😉
Michelle & Audrey – I’ve been giving both of your comments a good deal of thought. They are both such great comments, so thank you for posting them. I like many, many moms struggle with this dilemma. I need to work a full response into another article…but for now…I think the key is to focus not on a particular style of clothing (THIS shirt, THOSE pants)…but on an overall style. For example…a “glamourous” style can be translated in many, many ways. It can be achieved with skimpy clothing that looks great on a 20-something celeb, or very modest clothing by using faux fur, embellishments, red lips, etc. I do feel your pain – there’s a ton of stuff I want to wear…but it’s just not gonna happen with the postpartum pooch. But I can be true to my personal style with items that flatter my current body — even if it’s just accessories. Does this make sense? Help?
Julie – Love your polyvore collage. You have a great eye! It seems like you have a girly/nautical/rugged thing going on, which is a great mix. Pairing any of those jackets (or tops) with your bootcut denim would be totally cute. And if you are dying for some skinnies….I think finding a pair that hits above the ankle (in a dark wash) would highlight that nautical look you seem to gravitate to. Pair with some ballet flats come spring, and those striped tops or ruffley tanks, and you’d be adorable! Does this help a bit?
Thank you Shana! That is helpful 🙂 so is the shaper cami I bought!! I love your blog!!
What do you do when you like conflicting styles? I like edgy paired with sweet (leather and lace, as they say) but also love boho. And athletic sneakers? I’m a mess.