Can we just talk: How do you define your own personal style?
A fashion editor's journey into discovering what "good" style really means
As someone who's been in the fashion industry for about a decade, how does one become stylish is a question that's haunted me for years.
When I was younger, I used to haughtily think to myself, "Why, it's innate, of course. Either you have it or you don't," clearly assuming I was "born with it". Of course, a quick scroll through the 'gram of some of the outfits I wore from just a few years back (what was I even thinking??) would have many scoffing at my over inflated confidence.
But what was the quality that set one stylish person from the other? Why is it that someone with the capability to afford an entire fresh-off-the-runway look might not look as good as someone rocking a pair of Zara jeans?
If personal style is subjective, why do we feel some people have "it" and some people don't?
With social media being such a visual medium, the pressure to look stylish seems to be bigger than ever before. Even for celebrities, good personal style — whether truly their own or carefully crafted by a strategic stylist — can parlay into an extra side-hustle in the form of fashion campaigns and brand ambassadorships.
Back then, before the invention of social media, you would have to physically meet a person to see the outfits they wore. Now daily OOTD posts tell you what your entire social circle wore that week — even if you haven't seen them in months. Plus, for fashion-centric accounts, their grid is an archive of all the looks they felt proud enough to document. I would know because I'm guilty of making sure my feed looks curated with the outfits that I thought best represented me.
And because of my profession and the side of myself I've chosen to showcase on social media, I find myself occasionally fielding questions and statements on being a "natural fashion person". But what does that even mean? If one spent a long time honing their eye and taste, is that even considered natural anymore? Because I can tell you right now, the ability I have to go into a store and pick out something visually interesting isn't something that I was born with.
Unlike Karen Smith's breasts in Mean Girls being able to forecast rain, this isn't some sort of sixth sense. It's the culmination of years and years of consuming fashion media, first for leisure and now because my job expects me to.
How many years did you think it took for this person to be able to rock a huge tulle dress like this Molly Goddard one with such confidence?
While we're always taught that personal style is something we need to develop early on as something to define ourselves, so much of it is actually a lifelong journey. For me, I've always considered my own style as eclectic as I was never drawn to one particular style at any time. And even if I tried, it wasn't long before a new trend approached and I would be so tempted to try it on.
But somehow, even after all that experimentation, I started developing a "look". Friends started texting or DM-ing me things that they've seen that's "soooo me." But what was representative of me stylistically if I myself wasn't even sure of it?
I had no idea I even had a definitive look, which according to a friend, can be summed up as "suiting details with a touch of ballerina tulle". Another alluded to anything that was "weirdly-proportioned" as she called to attention the OTT silhouettes I had a penchant for, as well as riduculously tiny bags that held nothing. And when I scrolled through my greatest hits on Instagram, I discovered they weren't wrong! Any outfit that can combine tailoring, tulle, denim AND interesting propotions that vastly exaggerated my shape are all elements that feel "me".
But just as your life and the path you take is ever-changing, so does your style. Not having a clear signature like the women you see at fashion week doesn't mean your personal style is weak. It just means that you're only seeing the top 10% of these women's wardrobes. Which, by the way, is probably gifted or on loan.
If owning a ridiculously tiny bag indicates that I am... ridiculous, then yes, I am very ok with that
It's the same for Instagram. When you see someone's styled OOTD post, you don't know what they wear on days where they can't be bothered. No one's photographing the makeup-free days paired with a t-shirt and a pair of jeans even though that could be more representative of real life.
I used to think good style meant finding something that works and sticking to it. That straying into other facets of style meant you were fickle or a slave to trends. But just like how our personalities are multi-faceted, our affinity to our clothes is exactly the same. There are some days where you can be grungy and laid-back in comfy, oversized clothing. But then there are also the days where you are feeling yourself, strutting into the office with a sexy hip-bearing slit that is in violation of several office dresscodes (No? Just me?). You can dress sexy, cool, hyper-girly or grungy on different occasions and simultaneously identify with one or all of them at the same time.
But what I can say is this: gravitating towards the same piece is not finding your style. You don't need 10 blue striped shirts in your cupboard. Chances are, unless your friends are super fashion oriented, they won't be able to tell the difference. Gravitating towards the same QUALITIES however, is the key to developing your style.
What was it about that blue striped shirt you loved that the deconstructed jeans you're eyeing have in common? Do they both project a feeling of laid-back cool when you're wearing them? Do you feel comfortable to take on the world when you're in it? What are the details they share?
The mix of layers, masculine and feminine details like this look above have also been things that encompass a "me" outfit
Keep that in mind, and just keep trying and trying on things until you realise the piece you put on ultimately has given you the answer. Look to people you admire for inspiration. Stop telling yourself that "only someone like Rihanna could pull this off". Celebrities started out as normal people like you and I but are just lucky enough to be blessed with a whole styling crew.
And hey, it's really ok to look to celebrities and influencers as you're trying to discover what you like. But just remember, apply the same rules when it comes to copying someone's homework — change up at least 10% to truly make it your own.
I want to say discovering your personal style or reinventing it is easy. But it really isn't. Even after years of experimenting, I still struggle. There are days where my weird outfits make me feel like my true, authentic self. But then I see a cute guy looking at me funny and then I wonder whether the way I dress gets in the way of how men/society view me.
And then I get upset for even letting something that trivial affect me.
Just like friends and partners, you're going to have to kiss a whole lot of frogs and try on a whole bunch of really awful pieces to finally be able to find the right ones
Just like finding the right partner, friend group or job, it takes A LOT of trial and error. And if this is something that's important to you (cos it may just be clothes to someone else), then take the time to discover your true, genuine self.
Finding your true personal style equates to this — what do you want the world to think of you based on what you're wearing today? What are the things that give you an immediate, visceral reaction? How can you look like the best version of yourself? Once you have the answer to how best to express yourself, the rest will start to automatically fall in line.