Wondering how to find your personal style? This guide breaks it down, plus explores the benefits of personal style and how personal style connects to sustainable, slow fashion.
A slow fashion journey begins in your own wardrobe. It starts with the way you relate to your clothing — and whether you look at your closet with a scarcity mindset or one of abundance and endless creative possibilities.
We live in a world that is constantly trying to convince us to buy more, more, more. With this rapid influx of new garments, and a social media landscape that only fuels trend cycles, it’s often tricky to figure out what you actually like and separate that from what fashion marketing is telling you that you should like.
So, we need to find ways to resist trends and replace the fleeting rush of endorphins that you get when you buy something new with a more sustainable form of joy. This is where the importance of personal style comes in.
What is Personal Style?
Put simply, personal style is a person’s chosen way of expressing themselves using clothing and accessories as a medium.
Sometimes the terms “fashion” and “style” get used interchangeably. But, there is a subtle difference between the two. Fashion refers to the collective expression of trends and the dominant styles within a given culture at a certain time.
Whereas,style relates to the individual and how they choose to interpret collective ideas of fashion in alignment with their personal expression.
While fashion speaks to the investment in an often-fleeting aesthetic, style speaks to a long-term investment in self and the joy that comes from wearing something that truly reflects who you are. So, a huge part of personal style is learning how to develop an authentic sense of self and let that echo in the clothing that you choose to wear.
The Benefits of Finding Your Personal Style
Understanding your personal style helps you become content with what you have, instead of buying into the idea that you are never enough – which is an idea that the fashion industry thrives on.
In many ways, slow fashion is a personal journey that calls on you to reconnect with your clothes.
First and foremost, developing a sense of personal style allows you to hop off the hamster wheel of endless trend cycles by defining what style means for you, instead of what the media says you should be wearing.
As soon as we dictate what we wear, we dismantle trends.
In turn, this helps you buy with more intention and more mindfully, because you have understood what items make you feel good and confident.
This can make you feel lighter, and freer, as you learn to express yourself on your own terms. And, being a more focused shopper is likely to save you time and money in the long run!
This also means you are creating less waste, because you are not buying unnecessarily, impulsively, and overconsuming for the sake of trends that come and go at a rapid pace.
Focusing on style instead of trends allows you to remind yourself of your creative potential.
Practicing and cultivating this kind of creativity is so important, because in the trend-focused, fast-paced fashion industry that we exist in this intuitive skill has been suppressed.
Embracing and celebrating personal style also encourages the idea that slow fashion doesn’t have to look a certain way or look the same for everyone.
This movement is not accompanied by a prescriptive aesthetic, but rather on the approach that you take to relating to, acquiring, and appreciating whatever clothes you choose to express yourself in.
How Do You Find Your Personal Style?
Developing your sense of personal style is a life-long process, but here are a few tips to help you get started with how to find your personal style:
The outfits that catch your eye on social media, or in real life, can say a lot about your style aspirations. So gathering inspiration is a vital part of figuring out your personal style.
Create a “saved” folder on Instagram for style inspiration or start a Pinterest board to pin outfits that appeal to you.
After a while, you will start to notice patterns in the images you are pinning – perhaps similar colors, outfit combinations, or silhouettes – which will help you to articulate your style.
Do a closet audit and reflect on your current wardrobe
Doing a closet audit will give you a clearer idea of what you have and what you may still want to add to your wardrobe.
This process will also help you reflect and notice patterns in your clothing – which clothes you wear the most, which have been tucked away for ages, and what styles are most common in your wardrobe.
You can even take it to the next level and do a “wardrobe ethnography” as fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell recommends.
Download a wardrobe digitization app and get creative
There are some free slow fashion apps out there – such as Whering and Save Your Wardrobe – that allow you to digitize your current wardrobe and create new outfit combinations with what you already own.
This will help you exist outside of trends and work with the creative potential of your current closet.
Work on building your wardrobe staples
Staples are not the same for everyone (maximalists can have staples too!) but they are at the core of any wardrobe.
A wardrobe staple is not necessarily the most simplified version of a garment, but rather an item that fits with your wardrobe, you’d wear often, and it would allow you to wear your other wardrobe items more too.
You don’t need to search for a prescriptive list of “wardrobe staples”, but rather reflect on your findings from your closet audit or wardrobe ethnography to figure out what pieces are most foundational for you.
Create a wishlist
You can also create a wishlist of pieces you are coveting. Wishlists help you make more thoughtful and considered investment purchases, instead of impulse purchases.
This is because each item is on your wishlist for a reason. You take the time to reflect on it, save up for it, and look out for it.
By the time you buy it, you have already been looking forward to it, and have plenty of styling ideas! You can use wishlists for thrifting or for investing in new items.
Thrifting allows you to notice what styles and types of clothing you naturally gravitate towards. Thrift stores don’t have mannequins, big posters, and catalogs, glaring at you as you walk around and showing you how to style the garments.
S, the items you are drawn to are more likely to reflect your personal style. Plus, thrifting is a much less wasteful way of shopping, because you are repurposing preloved clothes.
Check out thrift and consignment stores near you or check out this guide to online secondhand stores.
Borrowing clothes from friends and family is a great way to experiment with styles that you have been eyeing out.
Then if you do love the piece and eventually buy something similar, you know for sure that you will wear it loads.
You can also try out a rental service to experiment with your style a bit!
Try to identify your style in three words
Ask yourself how you would describe your style. How would you want others to describe your style? How do you want your style to make you feel?
Summarize these questions into three keywords that you can always reference back to. Having these keywords allows you to buy with more intention because you can look at a new item and assess whether it fits into the style framework you have created for yourself.
It’s normal for these words to evolve as your style evolves, so don’t worry too much about perfecting your words right off the bat. Pick your three words, and try them out for a few weeks to see how they feel. You can always change them later!
If you are looking for more tips on how to find your personal style, listen to this Conscious Style Podcast episode with sustainable stylist, Alyssa Beltempo, and this Conscious Chatter podcast episode with Nadine Farag of One Who Dresses.
What if I Feel Like I Don’t Have One Personal Style?
The short answer is: this is 100% okay!
Finding your personal style is less about sticking rigidly to one, clearly-defined aesthetic. Although this is true for some people, personal style is more about learning what kinds of clothing make you feel most yourself.
It is about learning to dress for who you are, instead of who the fashion industry tells you you should be. And this looks different for everyone.
Some people define their personal style by a color palette, textures, or by silhouette. Others define it by a feeling or idea they are trying to embody – there is no rulebook.
Embracing personal style is a tool for getting to know yourself better, which allows you to wear what makes you feel good and exist outside of trend cycles.
What Happens if My Personal Style Changes Over Time?
Finding your personal style is a journey. It’s not something you can figure out in one day. As we move through different life stages and our lifestyles shift, so do our tastes, aspirations, and preferences. And, as you get to know yourself better, you will get to know your style better too.
There are ways that we can explore and redefine our personal styles, responsibly. These include shopping secondhand, attending a clothing swap, and borrowing from friends or family.
These are all ways of mixing up your wardrobe and trying out something new that doesn’t cause harm, or create unnecessary waste, and doesn’t rely on you buying something new.
When you feel a shift in style coming on, it is important to sit with yourself and consider your intentions. Do you want to invest in new (or new-to-you) wardrobe items because they align better with your current life stage and avenues of expression?
Or is it just because that item is trending and you don’t want to miss out? Try not to buy into trends if they don’t enhance and work with the closet you already have.
While the constant evolution of self and style is entirely normal, we can still find ways to honor these natural changes while prioritizing sustainability and mindfully updating our style and aesthetic.
We hope this guide was helpful as you navigate how to find your personal style!
Not only is finding your personal style a way of reconnecting with yourself, redefining abundance, and embracing creativity, it is also an important part of resisting trends and limiting unnecessary overconsumption – a true win-win!
So, we hope that this article inspires you to take a deeper look at the clothing you already own – and the clothing you aspire to own – and get to know your personal style a little bit better.
About the Author
Stella Hertantyo is a slow fashion and slow living enthusiast based in Cape Town, South Africa. Stella finds solace in words as a medium for sharing ideas and encouraging a cultural shift that welcomes systems change and deepens our collective connection to the world around us. She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability, and social and environmental justice, that is inclusive, intersectional, accessible, and fun.
Stella holds a B.A. Multimedia Journalism from the University of Cape Town, and a PGDip in Sustainable Development from the Sustainability Institute. She currently works as a writer, editor, and social media manager. When she is not in front of her laptop, a dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.