Reader Chelsea had this request:
I’d love to see something on balancing different styles! I’m still struggling with feeling OK with having completely contrasting tastes in clothes. One day I’m wearing graphic shirts and jeans (I’ll even be specific…a UFC shirt, can’t help it, I love it!), or the next day will be a punk, stud-covered outfit, and the next day a cutesy knitted woodsy outfit. So it’s kind of a mix between confidence and style. Style confidence? The part that I especially have trouble with is going back to college and seeing people see me wearing things that appear to make me a completely different person every day, which is the awesome thing about clothes, but how do you do it without feeling unsure about it?
Although I do my best to maintain a consistent look myself, I occasionally suffer from Multiple Style Syndrome. Like Chelsea, I’ll be in a retro shirt dress one day, cowgirl boots the next, and leggings and 80s-influenced tunic the day after that. And occasionally I feel like I’m failing to broadcast a cohesive style, but most days I think I pull it off. Here are some practices and philosophies I utilize to keep me from feeling too fragmented:
Mix dressy and casual
The most common split-style issue is work wear vs. casual wear. I’ve written before about the merits of incorporating work wear into weekend looks, but it’s a good idea to mix casual items into weekday looks, too, if you can. (Not everyone can, I realize.) Part of what fuels Multiple Style Syndrome is segmentation of your wardrobe. If you allow yourself to mix pieces from different levels of dressiness and different genres, that will create some continuity. It may take a while for it to feel natural, and you may hit some bumps initially as you figure out HOW to mix all these seemingly disparate elements, but keep at it!
Keep stylized looks from getting too costume-y
I love to dress in outfits with punk influences. Summertime brings out my inner cowgirl. And most work days you’ll find me wearing something moderately vintage-y. But as someone who has an eclectic personal style AND a tendency to gravitate toward bold and showy looks, I make a concerted effort to tone down any outfits that might read as stylized. If I want to do punk, I don’t do studs and combat boots and a bomber jacket and head-to-toe black. I make sure to mix in elements from another style – typically a more neutral one – for balance. If I want to do cowgirl, I may do a denim dress and vintage cowgirl boots, but I won’t add a straw hat, turquoise jewelry, or a large-buckle belt. You catch my drift, I’m sure. If your Multiple Style Syndrome manifests in fully-formed and highly-stylized outfits, try to tone those outfits down on a case by case basis. Add simple, classic, even slightly boring pieces to the mix to balance out costume-y elements.
Define signature pieces
The quickest shortcut to unified personal style is to select and wear a few signature items. You may consider your watch or pendant necklace to be signatures, but this practice is most effective when the items in question are fairly large and noticeable, and exist within your wardrobe in several variations. Over the years my signature pieces have included silver hoop earrings, full skirts, tall boots, and utility jackets. I kept multiple versions of these items in my wardrobe, wore them often, and loved them to death. AND! By wearing them across the board, no matter what the dominant influences in an outfit may have been, I created continuity. If you find that solid-colored cardigans, ballet flats, and cuff bracelets are your signatures, do your best to wear those pieces often and in multiple style contexts.
Consistent hair and makeup
How boring does THAT sound? But if unifying a set of disjointed looks is your goal, making sure that your noggin looks approximately the same each day will help loads. If you do exaggerated cat eyes when wearing a 50s frock, spiky hair with your leather pants, a tight ponytail with your college sweatshirt, and nothing but blush when you go boho, you’ll just add to the stylistic confusion. Play a little, but be as consistent as possible.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with cultivating a varied personal style. Women who have honed in on narrowly-defined styles often do so for comfort or convenience, and they typically look chic and pulled-together at all times due to their careful choices and beautifully curated wardrobes. But those of us who prefer to dabble can and should do so, since style should be fun and exploratory as often as possible. And, as Chelsea rightly points out, the true key to making it work is enjoying your experiments and wearing them with confidence. Which makes sense because confidence helps boost just about any outfit from good to great.