How to Find and Refine Your Personal Style

“Finding your personal style means feeling exhilarated every day as you walk out your front door, knowing you look great before anybody tells you so (and, most important, not caring if they don’t).” I sat reading these words in Amanda Brook’s new fashion manual, I Love Your Style, while on a flight to Bosnia with my partner, Senka. She had purchased the book for me because (1) I, like many others, like fashion and want to look good but still find it difficult to really “get it right” and (2) I hate flying and reading books with lots of pictures of pretty, shiny handbags and shoes are a good alternative to squeezing her hand until it’s blue.

“…finding your personal style is really about discovering yourself…personal style is about engaging in a constant creative process – one that evolves as you do.” – Amanda Brooks

Is your style Ellen Degeneres classic?

I had also purchased some menswear magazines to do research for dapperQ. But this Brook’s guide was intended to be a personal indulgence, mine-all-mine to escape the world of work, and school, and blogging, and masculine fashion. Turns out that the New York City fashionista socialite’s tips were more universal than I had expected. And so I read on, coming across golden nuggets of wisdom that I just knew I’d have to share with our dapperQ readers upon my return to the States.

“It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of self-acceptance in this equation.” – Amanda Brooks

Brook’s guide opens with a concept that is a fashion foundation – how to define your personal style. If you don’t know who you are, you can forget about where to shop, forget tailoring, forget fit. Her six-step approach to finding personal style got me thinking more “holistically” (if you will) about my wardrobe, rather than simply panicking at the last minute about picking out individual pieces that will work for different occasions.

Is your style frontier meets urban, like Rocco Katastrophe?

  1. MAKE TEAR SHEETS

Brooks recommends tearing out magazine images that reflect what you want to express in your style (e.g., outfits, style icons, “eras,” color combinations, etc.) and keeping them in a folder. I had recommended doing this a few years back in a previous post. But guess what! This process just got a whole lot easier and “greener” with the advent of Pintrest. Simply sign up for an account and start saving images to your on-line inspiration boards. Take some of my Pintrest boards for example.

2.  WRITE DOWN YOUR STYLE HISTORY

Think about who and what have influenced your style over the years. What style memories made you happy? Sad? Which ones are you still conflicted about? In “Titus on The Ties That Bind,” dapperQ contributor, Titus Androgynous, talks about a bonding experience she had with her father when she taught him how to tie a bow tie, an accessory that had been newly added to Titus’ style arsenal.

Is your style Samantha Ronson street smart?

3.  TRY A LOT OF LOOKS

Shorts. Tank top. Repeat. Shorts. Tank top. Repeat. This was pretty much my style before I moved to New York City. After my arrival, I was amazed at how much beauty, art, risk-taking, and individual personality was reflected in urban style. I wanted to know how to achieve my own signature city style, but was so afraid to try new things. Once I did started experimenting, I realized that I could pull off outfits that I never before imagined wearing and using my body as a canvas to express my inner-self became a fun challenge. Brooks recommends, “If your budget is tight, go for thrift stores or cheap chain stores for your style experiments.”

Are you the consummate dapper, like Janelle Monae?

4.  CONSTANTLY ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS

If you have frustration for or hatred of fashion, what is behind those emotions? Is it political? If so, how can you use fashion as a form of protest to effect change? Is it that you’re just overwhelmed by options? Or is it that you feel like you cannot find anything that fits or represents you? What fabrics, colors, and shapes DO you like? The answers to these questions may be the start of finding a solution to your fashion woes, identifying a personal style, and accepting yourself as your are, flaws and all.

5.  FIND YOUR STYLE ICONS AND INSPIRATION

Who turns your head and makes you say, “Damn, I want that look”? Is it Ellen’s classic but playful style? Murray Hill’s retro vintage quirk? What about JD Samson’s urban swag? Icons are not meant to be directly copied, but meant to inspire. And, just like fashion designers, you can also draw upon other inspirations, such as architecture and paintings.

Is your style Murray Hill vintage?

6.  MAKE AN EFFORT

Brooks writes, “You can’t buy personal style, and you can’t cook it up in a weekend. But if you want, you can achieve it, and you can start playing with it today.”

Ellen Degeneres finds and refines her style from 1993 (left) to 2010 (right)

I’ll give you good example. My partner is a 104 lbs. and has a nearly unattainable (it’s genes) size zero, androgynous waif body with a size 6 shoe to match. I, on the other hand, am short, curvy, and have disproportionately large feet. (I look like a penguin in skinny jeans). My girl can walk into a store, pick up five pair of jeans in any style, and all five fit like a glove. I have to walk into 20 stores and try on a gazillion pair of jeans before I find one pair that fits me just enough to bring to the tailor for additional adjustments and start my quest to find a shoe that won’t draw too much attention to my flippers. The point is, even though my girl (who is more “androgynous”) has a designer’s “dream build,” she struggles more with her personal style (not simply purchasing items, but knowing WHAT to buy that makes her feel good and “put together”) than I do because she only recently started making a greater effort . Just prior to meeting me, she pretty much lived in basketball shorts.

Anita Dolce Vita

Fashion and culture blogger featured in Newsweek's Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Curve, Autostraddle, MTV/LOGO's AfterEllen, SF Weekly, Globe & Mail, DIVA, GO Mag, Beijing Review, and Bosnia's Manjine.BA. Education/Credentials: University of New Mexico (B.A., magna cum laude); New York University (MPA, top marks); SUNY Downstate Medical Center (BSN, cum laude); NYS RN.

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