Reader Request: Style Advice for the Lost

how to change your style

Juliet wrote in with this plea:

When I think of clothes I want to wear I think of how they feel against my skin and how warm I want to be, not anything about how they look like (except that I like certain colours). The only celebrities whose style I can even call to mind are men. I don’t have a non-celebrity whose dress style I would like to emulate either. I find these kinds of questions really bizarre (by which I mean it would never ever have occurred to me to think about that).

So your posts are mostly showing me that I’m all but totally missing some way of approaching the world, which is probably why I find what is written on style blogs mostly incomprehensible. How on earth do I approach style if I’m not drawn to anything? … I’ve never in my life cared what I looked like. This might be way outside what you normally do, but how do I … start?

Juliet’s predicament may be a bit more elemental, but I know that many of you have felt stylistically confused or hopeless and wondered how to start down the long road to fashionability. When all clothing looks about the same and all potential role models seem strange and distant, yet you WANT to carve out a stylistic niche to feel complete and strong and confident, how do you begin to craft your own personal style?

Find out where you are now

The first step in solving any problem is to collect the facts. What do you look like now? How would you define your current personal style? There is no such thing as “no style,” so spend some time figuring out what your current look is. Take a close inventory of your closet, and do some writing about any key/frequently-worn pieces. Think about why you dress the way you do. Consult the ever-helpful Pinterest, and do a few searches for outfits utilizing your key pieces. Do yet more writing to define your current style verbally: Make lists of adjectives about your clothes, your shoes, how you assemble outfits, how you feel about dressing. Do any and everything you can to get a sense of your style as it stands TODAY.

Decide where you want to go 

Even if you cannot find specific garments that call to you, even if you cannot locate a style icon that resonates, you do have some inklings about how you’d like to look. Do some more writing, for starters. List some adjectives that you’d like to describe your style, clothing, look, persona. Think about the impressions you’d like to leave on those who observe you. Do you want to appear feminine and approachable? Strong and powerful? Artistic and creative? Androgynous and edgy? Don’t worry yet about what all of it means, just describe your ideal style in the most abstract terms.

Plan how to get there

This is the hard part, but hopefully it won’t be AS hard once you’ve completed steps one and two. Start collecting imagery of women – from magazines, websites, books, catalogs, Pinterest, Instagram, anywhere. Collect digital and/or printed images that portray women who fit into the lists of adjectives and descriptions you’ve made about YOUR style. Don’t worry about whether or not you like how they look or what they’re wearing just yet. If you’ve decided that you want to look “feminine and approachable,” grab images of women who look “feminine and approachable” to you.

Once you’ve amassed a sizable stack, take some time to look over your images. Write down why these images fit into your lists. Identify postures, clothing items, combinations of accessories, hairstyles, cosmetics, colors, facial expressions, any and everything that links these women to the style you hope to create.

Then narrow it down to things you can emulate. If there are any specific items that appeared in these images that you already own, take note. If there are any specific items that you’d like to own to further your new style, begin a wishlist. If there are hair or beauty techniques you’d like to explore, start hunting down resources. If you are able to identify an established style like “steampunk” or “preppy” or even something as vague as “classic” or “sporty,” do a quick Google search. Try “how to preppy style” or “basics of steampunk style” and see what comes up. Chances are SOMEONE has written up a how-to or list of essentials.

Then gradually start incorporating new pieces, looks, combinations, and techniques into your daily dressing routines, adjusting along the way as you encounter roadblocks. Yeah, that’s a pretty nebulous directive, but implementation is going to mean different things to different women, and my hope is that you’ll each know how to proceed at this point. Or, at least, how to start experimenting enough that you can formulate and ask more specific questions. If moving forward means making many or borderline drastic changes and you’re concerned about feedback from your peers, take it slow. Add new pieces once per week, try a “new you” look every Thursday, then gradually ramp up until the transition feels seamless.

Feeling stylistically lost can be an indicator that you’re feeling personally lost. But it can also be a factor of entering a new phase of life, drastic body change, or even awakening a sudden interest in style but feeling like a total fashion novice. Regardless, it’s overwhelming. But not insurmountable, especially if you dedicate some time to charting out where you are, where you want to be, and how you plan to get there!

Image courtesy K. Barker

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  • Andrea

    Telling someone who’s not interested in style how they should go about it is like telling me how to be interested in football even though I don’t give a flying fig about it. It sounds like Juliet *feels she’s supposed to* be interested in style (with many apologies to Juliet if I have misunderstood). We all know what this pressure feels like, regardless of subject, and it’s not fun. Do we all *have to* be interested in style? I don’t think so.

    • BarbeyGirl

      I see this a little differently. It sounds to me like Juliet isn’t particularly interested in style, but she’d *like* to be. Funnily enough, I felt the same way about football. So I went to the trouble of learning how the game works, and ~ voila! ~ I am now genuinely interested in football. (Not passionate, but interested and a competent game-watcher.) So if a person sees the value in something, even if it’s not their natural inclination, I think it’s perfectly possible to seek knowledge. With knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes interest, or at least the benefits of being competent in a new realm. 🙂

      • Deb

        I read it this way, too. I also wanted to bring up the possibility of short-cutting a bit of the process Sally describes above, because I know from my own experience I could never do all that writing! (I write a lot professionally and for a lot of fun things, but fashion is more visceral/touchy feely than that for me.) The part about identifying clothes we do and don’t wear sounds right on, and I learned to use Pinterest to collect ideas right here (colors and shapes of clothing I like), but maybe just begin by identifying fabrics, colors, and cuts/shapes of clothing that seem to appeal? Then do another thing Sally talks about elsewhere: figure out if most stuff goes with most other stuff, and think about gaps to fill. From my own experience, once I hit that point (colors, fabrics, and shapes/cuts that felt good), and selectively filled some major holes then I was ready to think about making the combinations of pieces that felt good to me look better together–and the whole thing about style and accessories suddenly got way clearer for me. Basically, the discussions and pictures here and on other blogs became fun, and I would see things and get more ideas, and make more Pinterest boards, then add new things as I found them on eBay where I could afford to experiment a bit. And I totally agree with Sally on the life transition thing kicking up a new focus on style-again from my own experience!

    • mmelaprof

      I had a very similar reaction on reading Juliet’s note. She doesn’t have to be interested in this way of approaching the world.

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