Fashion Editor Sophie Miller shares her tips and tricks for how to transform your personal style and build a wardrobe that reflects your personality.
A friend recently asked me for a favor: he asked me to help him transform his personal style. I was initially surprised at the question – as a relatively confident person, I myself had never considered undergoing any kind of “transformation” with regard to my style, and also being a relatively (I’ll admit it) self-absorbed person, I figured those kinds of moments of fashion discovery only occurred in the iconic makeover scenes characteristic of the “RomCom” genre of cinema.
The idea gave me pause: how many of us think about ourselves as completely lost when it comes to style, in need of some drastic rescue mission orchestrated by some astute aesthete? How many of us think of ourselves as necessitating transformation, a process defined as “a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone”? What this friend had brought to my attention through his request was something intriguing, and I began to think: is a complete and utter change of one’s style ever truly necessary? I’ve always been partial to the opinion that the way a person chooses to dress is an expression of who they are, who they want to be, who they want others to think they are – whether inadvertent or deliberate, the clothes we choose to wear are reflections of our sincere selves, so why on earth would you want to transform that
That’s not to say that everyone’s personal style is a perfect representation of exactly who they are – not everyone has the time, money, ability, or, frankly, interest to spend that much time on selecting their everyday garb. The word I would use to describe those looking for a change would be not a transformation, but an adaptation. To use an oft-cited cliche, we’re always learning, growing, and changing, so it’s only natural that our style should follow us through these ups and downs. Just as you did not become a totally new person, the way you dress should not be totally new. But, as anyone in their late teens and early twenties will tell you, change is hard – none of us belonging to this particular demographic truly understand just who we are yet, and trying to harness some form of certainty about this and translate that into a distinctive look is a daunting task. Once again, it takes time, money and know-how that few students have. In an answer to this, below you can find a few tips and tricks on how to adapt your style and attempt to find your own aesthetic. This list is by no means exhaustive, but its objective is to set you off on the right path, to help you present the best version of “you” to both yourself and to the world.
1. Scale your wardrobe back, both in overall look and size: It’s a trite thing to say, but one that maintains its utter truth: Less. Is. More. First, you should pull all the things out of your closet that you don’t wear on a regular basis. Sure, we all have those statement pieces that can only be worn once a season, and I’m in no way ordering you to throw out that iconic dress that you wore to that one amazing ball that one time. But in this era of fast fashion and double-wide closets, I think we can all afford to chuck at least a few things. I once went to a panel on women in the fashion world, and the head of a major online retailer said something memorable: “If you wouldn’t want to be seen by your ex in it, throw it out.” Truer words have never been spoken. Second, when dressing, being loud doesn’t mean you’ll stand out more – it usually means you’re being tacky (sorry, it had to be said). That’s not to say you should get rid of your hot pink club dress, or your favourite red, studded leather jacket. It just means you should strive for baance, as in all aspects of your life. I’ve been really excited that lately, trends have been heading in a more minimal direction, thanks to brands like The Row, Off White, All Saints, Saint Laurent, and (God help us) Yeezy. They’ve taught us lessons like, if you’re going to wear an extremely-oversized parka with wide-leg trousers and a thick turtleneck, maybe try going monochrome with the outfit. If you want to wear neon, pare back the structure of your look – stick to more conservative cuts and simple, clean lines. It’s all about finding that middle ground and understanding that elegance is almost always understated.
2. Find your personal style icons: “Follow the leader” isn’t just a game for little kids! Finding someone whose style you admire and wish to emulate is the absolute first step in any style journey. There are a few ways to do it: I will admit it – I’m obsessed with Pinterest. People often link the site to kitschy home decor and DIY projects, but it’s a great space to look for style inspiration. Putting in simple key words like “classic French style” or “vintage outfits” or even something as basic as “cool modern fashion” garners thousands of results for you to peruse, aesthetic ideas just waiting to be realised. You can also look to Instagram. I know I spend hours everyday on the app as is – why not add some style inspiration to your daily feed? There are a few great bloggers out there – some of my favourite include Alexa Chung (@alexachung and her fashion line @alexachungstagram), her best friend and partner in style Harley Viera-Newton (@harleyvnewton), Erika Boldrin (@erika_boldrin), Sophia Roe (@sophiaroe) and Vanessa Hong (@thehautepursuit). Finally, there are, of course, the big fasion magazines/sites that are good for high-concept style and fashion porn. The best, in my opinion, are Vogue (British Vogue and Vogue Paris are the ones I like, but it depends on your style preferences – for example, if you’re partial to extravagant style, Vogue Italia is good, whereas if you’re into more mainstream stuff, American Vogue should be your go-to), Women’s Wear Daily (more commonly known now as WWD), and the Cut (New York Magazine’s online fashion resource).
3. Identify your basics and supplement your statements: The way any good wardrobe is structured is very simple: mostly made up of fairly high-quality basics that can be worn nearly every day, with a few extravagant, fun, or hyper-luxury statement pieces as accents. For example, you should always have a great pair of jeans (Paige Denim, 7 for All Mankind, and, surprisingly, Good American are the brands to which I’m partial), white t-shirts/button downs for layering or more simplistic outfits, a classic nude trench, and a great pair of everyday shoes (be they sneakers, loafers, or boots, just make sure they’re a neutral colour and go with most of the other items in your collection). The key with these items is fit and durabilty: they should all fit you like a glove and be built to last – this doesn’t mean you have to shell out a fortune on them, but you also shouldn’t be buying your basics from SheIn or Zaful. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you’re free to add in the pieces that make your style distinctive – that amazing statement coat, those incredible heeled boots, that gret, perfectly-beat-up leather jacket, what have you. Again, these don’t have to be the most expensive items in your wardrobe (though they might be), but they should make you feel your absolute best whenever you put them on.
4. Look for inspiration in all aspects of your life, not just on the pages of magazines: I already highlighted the importance of searching for your style role models, but developing your style isn’t just about imitating other people – it’s about amalgamating all of the things that make you happy, confident, and empowered, all of the things you find interesting and all of the things you love. Out of this will emerge a cohesive aesthetic. Look to movies, music, museums, places you love, people you love – these will all help you to define your look. For example, for lots of people, the movie Pulp Fiction is a veritable wealth of style inspiration, not just because of the clothes worn by the characters (although, Uma Thurman in this movie was an absolute vision) but because of the feel, the mise-en-scene, the ‘vibe’ of the movie. You shouldn’t just be trying to capture a specific outfit, but the feeling that said outfit conveys. What kind of feeling do you want to present? Do you want to be immaculate, exuding chic-ness and sophisitication? Then try super simple looks, neutral colors, and sharp structure. Are you trying for a more bohemian vibe, expressing open-mindedness and a free spirit? Go for ethereal prints, drapery, and vintage accessories. Do you want to look powerful and confident, emulating such 80s and 90s icons as Samantha Jones and Alexis Carrington? Try color-blocking with jewel tones, highlight your shape, and give campy statement pieces a whirl. These are just ideas, but the message is consistent: go for mood, not model.
Of course, these are all the very basics, and adapting your style will take a lot more time and energy than these four paragraphs betray. However, by following these tips, you can get a better idea of who you want to be, how you want to express yourself, and how to join these two ideas. So take these and begin your adaptation, and keep in mind that those with the best sense of style are those who have the strongest sense of themselves.