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How to Develop Your Own Sense of Style

Young woman wearing stylish sunglasses and a fashionable outfit holding a cup of coffee
Rohappy/Shutterstock

Thanks to the internet you can find any number of guides to put together a chic, trendy outfit—and you don’t even need to leave the house to shop for it. But when it comes to finding your unique style, most of those sources will leave you at a loss. Here’s how to cultivate a personal style.

Like developing a taste for fine art, developing a personal style is one of those nebulous things that seems impossible to achieve—yet easy to recognize when someone else has it.

Of course, there’s no step-by-step guide to follow that will leave you with a distinctive style all your own. But some ideas will lead you toward a unique, individual fashion sense. To define or refine your style this year, try out these tips!

Gather Inspiration

The primary challenge of personal style isn’t having enough clothes to wear. Between thrift-store steals and online shopping sprees, it’s easy to build up your closet. But the thing that makes getting dressed hard is that you don’t have any way to guide your choices. Instead, you’ll find yourself staring at a closet full of clothes, unsure of where to start with your outfit.

That’s why your style process should start with gathering sources of inspiration. This can come from anywhere you like: friends, celebrities, brands, you name it. At this point, don’t worry about organizing or evaluating your choices; just collect fashion ideas that you gravitate towards.

These ideas can take lots of different forms. If you’re often online, try following Instagram accounts that show styles you like, or screenshotting looks that appeal to you. If you like being more analog, tear out pages from fashion magazines, or make some fashion-related mood boards.

You’ll probably start to notice some themes in what you collect. Don’t overthink it, but pay attention to patterns in your choices. Maybe you gravitate toward specific colors, items, or designers.

Shop a Bit

At this point, you’re not quite ready to go out and stock up your wardrobe with things that reflect your style. We don’t advocate going on a full-blown shopping spree yet—but a little bit of shopping can help your style start to take shape.

Two friends shopping for used clothes
oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

To keep the stakes low, hit up thrift stores, or arrange a clothing swap with your friends. The goal is to pick up a few things that appeal to you without overthinking it. If you’re not spending much money, it will be easier.

The inspirational looks you’ve gathered might give you some ideas of things you’d like to have, or looks you want to create. But don’t shop with specific items in mind yet—just grab whatever speaks to you intuitively. That intuition is your style at work!

Copy Everything

Now, you’ve got some inspiration to work with, and a few cool new items to wear. But you probably don’t feel confident enough to create your own unique looks just yet. That’s why at this point, it’s good to be a copycat.

Go through your screenshots, magazines, or social media accounts, and find a specific outfit that you like. Now, your job is to recreate it using things you already have. Because you’re using your own items, the look will be your own—no one will know you copied the idea.

For example, maybe you find a look you love that has boots, jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket. Use your versions of those items to create your outfit. You can be flexible based on what you have—maybe the original look used a leather moto jacket, but you have a leather bomber instead. Your goal is to get as close as you can to the original, but while using your own clothes.

When you build from existing looks, you can quickly put together an outfit you like without much stress. This will also help you see what resonates with you, and what doesn’t feel quite right when you put it on.

This step may also show you some holes in your wardrobe. If you want to recreate a look with skinny jeans, but discover you don’t have any, you can go shopping to start filling in those gaps.

As you develop your style, you might not need to copy other people’s outfits anymore. But keep this idea in your back pocket for days when you’ve got that “nothing to wear” feeling—it’s great for breaking out of a rut.

Don’t Make Rules

You might feel like your style needs to follow specific rules, or fit into a box. Maybe you want a style that follows all the latest trends, or perhaps you want to be able to describe your look with a single word like “preppy” or “classic.”

While these ideas can help shape your style, avoid boxing yourself in by writing rules about what you can and can’t wear. Maybe you always dress like a rocker, but one day you come across a preppy blazer that speaks to you for some reason. Don’t hesitate to try something new: your style will become more defined by variety, not less.

Keep Old Clothes

Another rule to ignore? The old “If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it” rule.

While you don’t want to keep a closet overflowing with clothes you’ll never wear, it doesn’t hurt to save a few old things that you don’t wear often. Your style will evolve with time, and that dress you haven’t worn for years might become your go-to next season. When you have some exciting things to pull from in the back of your closet, it becomes easier to create impressive new looks without going shopping.

Embrace Impulse Buys

In the age of the capsule closet, the importance of carefully selecting versatile basics is well-known. However, impulse buys can also help define your style, so embrace them (without breaking the bank, of course).

For example, when you walk into a store or browse online, you might find yourself drawn to one or two specific items. If the pull feels strong enough and you can afford it, pull the trigger on the purchase. Your style is mostly intuitive, not rational. So let your intuition speak.

If you can’t afford that impulse buy, take the time to ask yourself what appeals to you about it. Understanding what you’re drawn to, and why, can help deepen your sense of style.

Follow the Trends

You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—wear every trend that comes around. In fact, trends mean less today than ever before, because in a sense, everything can be trendy. There’s no fashion rule that hasn’t been stylishly broken and no unexpected combination that hasn’t made it to an Instagram post somewhere.

But with that in mind, paying attention to new trends or celebrity style can help hone your sense of what you like and don’t like. It also provides a great source of ongoing inspiration. Follow some fashion blogs, flip through the occasional fashion magazine, or watch the Met Gala’s highlights. Make fashion a part of your life, so your mind is always thinking a little bit about your style evolution.

Trust the Process

Above all, remember that personal style is a journey, not a destination. Your look should evolve with time, reflecting your growth and experiences along the way.

Don’t strive to land on a final, finished version of your style. The process is the point, and every iteration of your style at a given moment is an authentic reflection of who you are. You’ll change and learn throughout your life, so relax, embrace the changes, and let your fashion choices reflect your growth.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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