It's funny how early our own concept of cool starts. My sister bought R those sweatbands (pictured) last summer...and he insisted on wearing them everywhere. Even to bed. And still sometimes pulls them out, over 6 months later. For some reason, R thinks those sweatbands are Just. So. Cool. To match his cool sweatbands, he'll add a swagger to his step. I don't know why he decided that Target sweatbands [with sports motif, groan] are cool...but far be it from me to burst his cool bubble. The concept of cool is a very personal one...and one that can start as young as two!
I bring this up because I believe that understanding what you think is cool [not what you're told is cool] is the most critical step when attempting to define your personal style.
Personal style is nothing more than your concept of cool + the realities of your daily life.
Yes? Ok. Now why do we care?
It turns out...most people have trouble identifying cool in a personal way. They can say, "she's so cool"...or "I heard that X is now cool"...but going out on a limb and defining it for themselves? A little harder. I base this opionion on my experience doing wardrobe consultations. Before rolling up our sleeves and really getting to work - cleaning out closets, putting together new outfits - I need to have some understanding of what the client thinks is cool. Trends are great (and a nice source of inspiration), but I think most people feel better wearing what they love, wearing what they think is cool.
Easier said than done. Instead, I'm often peppered with questions about what's in, what's out, what do they need buy, to toss. Nobody wants to look like a frumpy old mom who will someday embarass her kids by turning up in a mullet and legwarmers...but there are many, many, many ways to look amazing. Finding the right amazing look for you is the key.
So. How do you define your own personal style? [Hint: Don't start in your closet.]
I find that many of my clients have a closet that has very little in common with they think is cool, with what they love. This is espiecially true for you mamas on a budget! So often we're driven to purchase by cost or lack of time. Which is how one ends up with a closet full of clothes, but still has "nothing to wear!". "Nothing to wear" is rarely a literal problem...it's an emotional one. The clothes we have don't really represent who we are, or what we think is cool.
[NOTE: In general, the more excited you are by the price, the more you should carefully consider the purchase.]
There are a couple of ways you can go about defining your personal style. One method is to create notebooks (or inspiration boards) of your favorite outfits from magazine clippings, catalog clippings, pics you see online, etc. You can also incorporate pics of you in your favorite outfits, take notes, and, over time, a pattern should emerge.
This method is completely valid, but it makes my head hurt. I don't have the time or the energy, and this method feels like it's just one lacy frame sticker away from a scrap-book. (My apologies to the scrap-bookers...I just. can't. do. it.)
My preferred method? Voila...
The Quick-n-Dirty Personal Style Assessment
1. Round up a few magazines and catalogs.
If using catalogs, try to find some with very differing looks (Lands End AND Neimans for example), if using magazines, try to find some for differing age groups (Seventeen Magazine, Real Simple and Lucky would be a nice mix). You don't need a ton - just 2 or 3. (If you bookmark outfits online like crazy - and yes, I do - you can also use these).
2. Flip Through Them - FAST
You are going to flip through all of your chosen material - in only 5 minutes. Flip through, and tear out anything that catches your eye. Anything. Even if it's an ad. Even if you couldn't (or wouldn't) wear it in a million years. The goal here is to not over-think: we're looking for your gut instinct. Just rip it out and move on.
3. Categorize Your Material
You should now have a stack of pictures ripped out. Go through each and assign it to one of two categories: OMG SO COOL I LOVE IT vs. EH. It's OK if there are very few in the first category.
4. Analyze Why You Love It
The pictures you love? Try to figure out why you love them. What draws you to the picture? What about the picture is cool? Is it the color combination? Is it the overall feeling? If it's a feeling...try to identify it. Does it leave you feeling cozy? Or carefree? Or it is overwhelmingly sexy? A pattern should start to emerge. This pattern will help you understand your personal style definition.
5. Translate to Real Life
The pictures that you love can serve as your quick-n-dirty inspiration board. Spread them out on your bed and take a picture of the group. Or take pics of each individually and create an album to store on your phone. Refer to them while shopping as a point of reference. Or stick them up next to your closet. Use them as inspiration when getting dressed in the morning.
You want to look for ways to translate your personal definition of cool into something you'll wear, into something that (ideally) makes use of what you already have in your closet. This translation is the hard part. But by knowing your personal style definition, you'll be able to start looking for ways to do this translation. For an example of how to translate, see our article, Momiform Style Translation: Capes and Chloe Lace-Up Boots.
Still confused? Ok - here's another example. I ran through the process above recently for myself:
(Photo Credits, starting from bottom left are Lucky Magazine, J.Crew, J.Crew and the Sartorialist)
Notice that the things I love are rarely things I can wear while chasing a toddler around. (aaaand now you understand why I started this blog!)
So let's discuss:
At first glance, it's obvious I like short, short skirts. That pink little number (top right) is downright ridiculous. (But how I love it so!!) Also notice that most pictures feature some kind of comfortable element. That tiny pink skirt is paired with an oh-so-cozy cashmere sweater. Even the polished trench and short gray skirt are paired with a comfy t-shirt, and that gorgeous short white dress? It's sexy, in a totally girly way, but also looks light and breezy. I love it with the heels, but it would also look cute with a pair of flip-flops. The leather pants (top right), the fingerless gloves (bottom), and the military trench also add in some harder elements.
So. If I were to sum up my style based on this little exercise...it would be a little bit comfy/cozy, a little bit glam, and a little bit edgy.
So how do I translate this style board into something wearable on a day-to-day basis? Well...it means that I wear sparkly headbands with cozy oversized sweaters and jeans, and wear glam belly belts with soft cotton maxi dresses when pregnant. It means that I rock short-shorts with thick fuzzy sweaters and pair moto jackets with ruffles. It means that I play with texture (a silkier shirt with destroyed denim) and proportions - in sleeve length, in hem length. It also means that many of my everyday mom outfits can be made a little more glam by pairing them with a red lip or smoky eye (fun tricks for a blah outfit).
Lastly, please remember that your personal style definition evolves and changes. Your lifestyle changes (single, married, preggo, post-partum, nursing, SAHM, back to work, kids get older, etc etc etc), and your definition of cool also changes over time. And thank goodness. It's how we go from this...
And as horrifying as my 10-year-old outfit was, I L-O-V-E-D it. I felt so cool. And I truly believe, even now, that no one should ever make you wrong for thinking something is cool. Even if it's some bat-sh*t crazy sweatpants-under-skirt-and-oversized-sweatshirt-with-pink-converse-and-really-bad-hair nonsense. Cause it's you. And being you is always cool.
ps. Am now thinking that I need to get another pair of sweet pink converse...
pps. Want another example of translating a styleboard into mom-friendly looks? Here's Amanda's.....