Flexible Style

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I’ve spent a long time refining my personal style. A loooooooong time, my friends. I first described my style as “arty-eclectic with a broad streak of retro influence” many years ago, and once I had that nailed, I decided to switch to badassery. I’ve defined how I want to look, accumulated a wardrobe full of pieces that align with my style goals, and cultivated an eye for items that will fit naturally with my established aesthetic.

But I also make every effort to remain flexible. I’ve successfully created a defined, personalized, and quintessentially “me” style and I love that. But I always want to be willing to absorb new looks and contemplate new styles. Establishing and becoming comfortable within my personal style parameters doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to evolve. I consciously branch out all the time to see what ELSE I can absorb.

Because I think that building a fortress of style around yourself and never coming out will only work for so long. Creating a solid style identity is important, but if you settle upon a single set of parameters and never flex or grow, you may end up looking stodgy and dated. And yes, it may take 15 years for that to happen, since many styles are sticking around longer and longer … but when and if it does, it’ll be quite a shock to find yourself so far behind the curve. Not to mention the fact that personal style is like muscle and needs flexing, so getting up to speed after long years of stagnation will be even harder.

Now, I’m not saying that every woman in the universe must update her closet seasonally with trendy duds and accessories. Far from it! If you’ve found an aesthetic that suits you, body and soul, embrace it with both arms and for a good long time. But bear in mind that even simple, classic pieces get subtle updates over the years. A pair of tall black boots from 1993 looks INCREDIBLY different from a pair made this year. And if you have any concerns about looking modern and current, you’ll need to both flex and refresh.

So I recommend two steps to keep your look from going stale:

  • Make yourself branch out: If a trend strikes you as even REMOTELY interesting, give it a whirl. Try on anything you see that makes you cock your head in curiosity. Experiment, explore, and expand your style as often as possible. You’ll be amazed at the variety of pieces that will work beautifully within your existing parameters.
  • Update your staples: Some classics will endure forever, and some gain their personality from their quirks. But if your black sheath dress is from the 80s, it will have different details than current versions. If your white button-front shirt is more than a decade old, you might find one that is more flattering or comfortable now. Consider replacing the workhorse pieces in your wardrobe every five to seven years. More frequently if they wear out!

Crafting a personal style can be challenging, and the process can take years. So many women are loathe to embrace change once they’ve landed on a look that truly works. But just as I believe that we should all make subtle changes in our hairstyles every year, I believe that all of us could benefit from staying stylistically flexible.

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  • ceo

    Great post… I have one policy buy only what I love and never look back…..

    xxx
    ceo

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    I love your personal style. I wish I had that flair for colors, textures, and layers. I totally agree with you about the importance of flexibility. Too much and you stand in front of a closet full of clothes, with "nothing to wear," but just the right amount means that I am even more aware of what I like and what works for me.

  • Julia

    ohh, I'm definitely still refining my style and fine-(actually sometimes course-)tuning it. I'm still all over the place at times, trying to figure out what works for me and what I feel best in. Because I'm still figuring the whole syle thing out, I'm much more willing to try new styles and trends.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Between Laundry Days

    I've only recently felt like I've come into my own in terms of my personal style. It had so much to do with the blog and the new-found freedom to try trends and styles that I was interested in but a bit apprehensive to try. I still haven't found a good way to describe my personal style, but when I see it, I know it.

  • Dianne

    I am constantly refining my personal style. As I have grown older, I have discarded styles that don't work anymore.

    In my teens and early twenties I was an arty/punky/indie rock girl.

    When I became a lawyer I had two styles. arty/punky/indie rock girl at night and on the weekends and classy, brainy lawyer at work.

    Some of the punkier parts of the rock girl looks began to feel wrong as I approached my mid thirties, at the same time I was able to soften the lawyer looks as I transitioned out of suits and into suit alternatives. I also began to show more personal style at work through jewelry choices.

    Now in my mid forties I am chaging again. Its a work in progress with no one style at work or on the weekends because I also have to incorporate 'mom" stuff as the mom of school age boy.

  • Anonymous

    This is not really about my personal style, but your comments about how things become dated (like the 10-year old white blouse or the 1990s black boots…) are exactly the issue I am struggling with right now. I cannot cannot cannot find a pair of new jeans that fit me! I spent over an hour in my closet yesterday, trying on jeans that are 5-6 years old, thinking I'd find reason to get rid of them, but they still fit me like a dream. All the new jeans that I've bought to give me a more current look? They don't fit me well at all. What is going on with that? I would Love to update my look, but I can't seem to do it!

  • Rebekah

    I haven't nailed down my style yet, but I DO force myself to try new things.

    I also refuse to buy much clothing; I want to buy things that are right for me, and wear them to death before their time passes.

    It drives me CRAZY when magazines tout some garment as "timeless." Sure, it may have seemed "classic" in past, but who knows what the future holds? If we're all wearing Star Trek uniforms in ten years, a trench coat might not seem so "timeless."

    Fabulous post!

  • Future Lint

    My style is very eclectic so it's hard to nail down, but I know what I like and what I don't! I think my style will always be evolving somewhat, especially now in my late 20s, when some things that I loved when I was 22 are not suitable for my life now as a 29 year old. I think that will continue to change and I'll continue to refine my style. But I'll always experiment and try new things and have fun with it! I suspect I'll be 70 and still customizing my clothes and thrifting!

  • rubybastille

    I'm definitely still working out my personal style. This year was the first year I worked up the nerve to try really trendy stuff like skinny jeans and waist-cincher belts, but so far there haven't been any disasters. I know what I'm most comfortable in, but I also know what daring things will make me feel sassy and awesome, so I'm trying to find more of those things.

    ps love the obi belt!

  • gingerR

    I think the kind of subtle updating you mention is a good reason to be careful buying into the 'investment dressing' hype we often hear.

    You may fit into that fancy coat or jacket for 20 years but the length or cut is likely to shift enough over a 5 year period that it may not work with other items in the future.

    My feeling is that one's timeframe in that much-touted "cost per wear" calcualation needs to be kept within that 3-5 year period.

  • Samantha

    This is the first post i've read from your blog, but wow, very spot-on. I feel like my style tends to be all over the place. Not neccessarily a bad – or good thing. I like that you took the time to assess and analyze your wardrobe and what you wanted out of it – what you want it to say about you. I'm hitting that point in my life too (late 20's) where I don't want to follow the trends so closely and buy more investment pieces (so difficult sometimes to buy quality over quantity! damn this consumeristic culture! haha) Anyway, just wanted to say I appreciate the insight that it does take work to define your style and stay flexible.

  • tinyjunco

    i think it depends on your type of style, what you want to say with it, and your relationship to time. if a person want to seem edgy and up to date, paying attention to trends and culling 'dated' pieces is vital to pulling off that type of style. but if your style is more romantic, classic, bohemian…being too much of a trend adopter can easily work AGAINST your style. i like to cultivate a style that feels a little outside of time, so staying current with trends doesn't jibe.

    i always keep an eye out for new trends that i like, because it's such a rare occurrence and it's great to have more options. but i don't feel i get a lot out of trying things out just to try them out or just cause they're new. for me, useful flexibility comes more from adopting my look to different areas of my life – casual or hiking looks that really read as casual, say, but that also really reflect my own style.

    and IMO, holding onto to old hair and makeup styles will do much more to date a person than wearing a flattering ten-year-old little black dress. taking your body, skin, and lifestyle changes into account and taking care that your hair and makeup work with the style you are cultivating do A LOT to project a cohesive personal style.

    (i can't believe you think two years is a long time to work on your personal style – to me that's like the blink of an eye! to each their own.)

  • Megan Mae

    I totally agree that flexibility is required. I taste and try new fashions as much as I try new foods. I have a hard time pinning down what to CALL my style, but I don't think it needs a name to do it.

  • rb

    I do have a personal style. The adjectives I gravitate toward are "feminine, classic, elegant, timeless" so I wear these styles in neutral colors. With weird shoes. 🙂 That's my subtle rebellion against being too conservatively dressed.

  • Layla

    Hey Sal, I am wondering where you suggest starting when refining one's personal style. I am sort of in limbo right now with my own style. I am just out of college and it is hard to find quality pieces in my budget. I am still shaking off my lazy college day habit of wearing sweats whenever I am not in business attire. I would love some ideas from you or anyone who has any insights on where or how I should begin to refine my style. Thanks!

  • Marsha

    As I read this thoughtful entry, I realized that I sort of resent the amount of time it takes to get dressed, accessorize (about a third of the time, if I'm determined about it), fiddle with my hair, wash and do makeup every day. Not that it isn't necessary, but by the time I'm done so much time has gone by! Do you ever feel this way?

  • Sal
  • Rebecca

    My style is still evolving, but I'm having fun trying new things. Up until this spring I worked in a very conservative industry, so I am definitely finding my style now that I have more sartorial freedom at the office.

  • Sal

    Marsha: Not really, but then I consider style to be one of my major creative outlets! I do get kind of fed up with flossing, brushing, exfoliating, washing my face, putting on my acne crap, and moisturizing at night, though. My ablutions take about 20 minutes and it drives me batso.

  • The Waves

    Well, I am a bit of an experimental whore when it comes to style. I have gone from grunge to 70s hippy to rave child to too-grown-up to student hipster to vintage lover… and more. I guess a lot of young women have gone through something similar.

    My problem is that I am almost too curious. Everything new looks interesting, and it has always been difficult for me to do less rather than more. The result, of course, has been an exploding wardrobe with a bunch of different styles, and yet I often feel I have nothing to wear. That is one major reason I decided to not buy anything for a year. I feel like I need to really re-assess what I want to be wearing in the long run. Having said that, updating is important, I totally agree with you on that. A lot of times just a modern pair of shoes does the trick, or a new pair of jeans.

  • WendyB

    I'm not sure what my style is. I buy things that I think are beautiful or funny or amusingly beautiful.

  • lisa

    This is such an interesting post. I agree about the subtle tweaks to "classic investment" pieces, but there is something to be said for the look of vintage pieces from seasons past being seamlessly integrated into contemporary looks. I think WendyB is a great example of this with her "grow your own vintage" philosophy. She always puts the date/year she acquired a certain piece in her outfit posts, but the way she puts outfits together doesn't look outdated–the overall look is gorgeous and flattering.

  • Audi

    I feel like my style is ALWAYS evolving, sometimes at the expense of getting the best use out of my wardrobe. I think I suffer from the opposite problem of evolving past my taste for certain items before I've really gotten the full value out of them. I'm constantly trying to force myself to style my older things in new ways, but sometimes I just get bored of seeing the same stuff every day.

  • FashionAddict

    Just wanted to delurk and say that you are looking STUNNING in this! I absolutely adore it. I am still refining my style, and I have a LONG way to go.

  • MJ

    I think my personal style has finally become honed but has also become more eclectic. Lately I'm in a bit of a 50s housewife/Mad Men phase but today was definitely 'Sexy Secretary' & last week its was more of a 70s vintage with some dresses over pants looks thrown in. Unfortunately I have to work around some pretty restrictive dress code limits (no heels or open-toed shoes, skirts must fully cover the knee) but I'm trying to keep my creativity within those limits.
    Still, I'm miles away from the decade of leggings & t-shirts. Oh that there wasn't photographic proof of that time!

  • Esti

    I agree with you completely… I also think it's important to never stop refining, even if you're down to tiny details like thread counts and rhinestone placement… because paying attention to the tiny details has always led me to awesome new big concepts.

    I was also thinking that the lady who sort of embodies both sides of this argument is Anna Wintour… she's the absolute arbiter of high fashion in the US, and she hasn't changed her look in decades. But it still works, as long as she's willing to be a bit of a caricature of herself. And every season she infallibly finds the bits and pieces of the new style that suit her best.

  • Ann M.

    I love your blog all the more for its insightful posts like this! Thank you.

  • kellyroy68

    After having my blog,about a year ego,I seethat my style has evolved trementously and my buys are better thought of. Style is like a muscle ,that was well said.

  • Carrie

    hi Sal, delurking to thank you for your blog. The timing on this post was almost eerie – we recently downsized and moved, and I've been hanging on to some very old favorites. I finally had to admit that I'd outgrown them – not in terms of size or fabrics or even how I feel in them, but the styles/cuts were outdated. I passed them on to my local thrift shop for a younger woman to scoop them up-far better for her to look trendy than for me to look caught in a time warp! Now to figure out what fits the body and Iifestyle I have now, guilt-free – woohooo!

  • The Wardrobe Workshop

    This is a terrific post. Thank you, thank you for the much-needed reminder that all black dresses (or boots or button-downs) are NOT created equal, and that, no, that fave from law school 15 years later really needs to replaced with an updated version. I also love the thoughts re your style.