In discussions about personal style,a few trite labels always seemingly demand a position at the table. Few people escape encapsulation into one of these neat boxes at some point. Classic, bohemian, artsy, grunge, goth, punk, etc. These labels can serve a purpose, for some people. However, most people cannot be defined by the narrow confines of these preordained categories. With the rise of a public fascination with quizzes, magazines and later online media outlets began offering quizzes to determine the best style modifier, typically incorporating pop culture or celebrities. By selecting a favorite food, a sweater, and a season, one could discover themselves to be a “Rachel” from Friends, or a “Kim Kardashian circa 2010.” These categories, though amusing in their own way, obviously present certain shortcomings. The rise of instagram aesthetic and culture ushered in an era of “-core” fashion. Cottagecore, normcore, angelcore, cabincore, goblincore, the list goes on.
Rather than relying on fitting style choices into preconceived boxes representing an established style, I hope to empower you to think critically about the clothes you wear and determine for yourself what descriptors are helpful and empowering. The act of defining a style seems superficial as best, an exercise in diction devoid of meaning. However, creating a style for yourself provides both an opportunity to uproot the destructive siren’s song of fast fashion, to cultivate a better relationship with your sense of self, and to place yourself on the path to conscious consumption.
The fast fashion industry artificially creates a sense that trends offer new choices, never before seen, far superior to all that has come before. Fashion, in reality, cycles through various trends over the course of decades. As a millennial, I am old enough to remember yoga pants, which now bear the moniker “flared leggings” and the now reemerging low rise pant trend, which was both preceded and followed by eras in which high waisted pants captured the eyes and hearts of the nation. Creating a strong style profile for yourself allows you to select silhouettes, colors, fabrics, and styles which work for you. With these preferences established, you, as the consumer, float above the whirling jetties of trends. Of course, your personal style evolves gradually over time; it is no immutable monolith. When governed by your own preferences rather than the insidious roar of fast fashion marketing, you shrug off the pressure to purchase new looks which suit the trends season after season.
Though some may argue that clothes offer little more than useful protection against the elements, the manner in which we dress ourselves provides the one of the first and perhaps most striking levels of our presentation to others. Clothing can offer empowerment and validation. While trends aim to attract the widest audience of paying customers, your own personal style must meet only the needs of one person, you! You can craft a style which reflects yourself in ways that cycles of fast fashion simply cannot.
Careful consideration of your wardrobe opens an avenue for conscious consumption. (If you missed my post about that a few weeks ago, you can check it out here.) Conscious consumption does not demand expensive items or exclusive taste; rather, it refers to the practice of purchasing with intent, understanding the impact of the purchases. Rather than impulsively adding the hottest items to a digital cart, ordering with a few mere flicks of your finger, cultivation of a personal style invites you to slow down, to think about how the pieces will fit into your wardrobe, to envision how they will pair with what you already own, and to verify that they are things you will wear and enjoy before you purchase them. Purchasing with intention flies in the face of much of the ethos perpetuated by fast fashion for decades. Refusing to treat clothing as a disposable item reveals a more nuanced understanding of the human and environmental cost of the production and distribution of this garment.
How to Label and Cultivate Your Style:
Observe your current preferences:
Take a picture of your outfit every day for a week or so, glance through your laundry basket, or rummage through your closet, taking note of which items you are wearing, and which you aren’t.
Identify what you’re loving:
Think about the colors, textures, fabrics, styles, cuts, lengths, embellishments, and other details which are speaking to you. Are there favorite garments which appear in your weekly rotation? This can be a great time to learn about technical terms for different aspects of garments. Identifying specific cuts or fabrics which you like can give you powerful search terms when you seek inspiration.
If you are a person for whom words are most helpful:
**Take some time to consider what adjectives best match your style. In general, try to stay away from the established style archetypes, unless you really feel that you do fall within the prescribed boundaries. You might benefit from taking an existing style and adding a couple of qualifiers to it.
**Try to narrow it down to three words or phrases which best describe your style.
**Some adjective inspiration, though, of course, there are innumerable words which might spark your creativity: flowy, floral, fancy, neat, colorful, loud, floaty, vintage, textured, androgynous, clashing, urban, country, funky, pop, florida, island, librarian, nordic, minimal, maximal, modern, any decade or span of years (eg: 70s, 80s, 90s), chunky, bold, clashing, frayed, polished, put-together, woodsy, whimsical, cool, athletic, athleisure, etc.
**Remember these labels are solely for you. When I first did a style defining exercise years ago, I landed on funky-grungy-kindergarten teacher, during a phase in which I delighted in bright colors and pattern mixing. Over the last year, I’ve evolved into what I call floral-urban-woodsy because I’m dressing very differently for a job at a construction company than I did when I was in music school. It’s totally ok if your labels don’t make sense to someone else or if they really only describe your aesthetic. The point of labeling your fashion sense isn’t to fit into a larger trope, but rather to discern what you like to wear. This knowledge will be powerful in enabling you to create looks you like and to purchase consciously, understanding that it is possible to love a piece aesthetically while still knowing it will not be a thing you will actually wear if you buy it.
If you are a person for whom pictures are most helpful:
**Spend some time creating either a tangible or virtual mood board. Incorporate colors, textures, fabrics, and styles you like. It is totally great to use pictures of yourself and/or pictures you find online to create this board. Think about the different details you like most and give them plenty of visible space on this board.
**When you are shopping for new pieces, visualize how these pieces would look with the items on your mood board. Check if they match your current style or if they are pieces you like but historically speaking would not actually wear.
Create separate labels for work/school/etc if necessary
Depending on the nature of your lifestyle, you may find it helpful to create different style profiles for different areas of your life.
**Your style can always evolve as your taste changes. Defining your style today does not mean that you are stuck in this style for all eternity. This process just allows you to recognize where you are in this moment and purchase consciously for your current preferences.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.