Flirty, tomboy, effortless. These are the three words that, according to Tiktoker and stylist Allison Bornstein, define my personal style. And, to be fair, I think it is pretty spot on, but as soon as I landed on those three words, I felt so limited and restricted that I almost tried to dress completely outside of those words. It didn’t last long, but it did make me realise how we’ve been tricked into thinking that personal style is something that can be defined and categorised.
Boho chic, Scandi, Indie sleaze, Preppy, Cottagecore, Noughties… I could go on and on and I probably wouldn’t even know all of them. I could also go into different decades and sub-divide it into a thousand other different styles, all of which are always very well delineated and are usually linked to only a couple of brands and people. But these aren’t personal styles and the fact that we can lean more into one or a couple of them doesn’t make it our style.
Don’t get me wrong, the three word method is good for an initial approach to start discovering your personal style. The premise being that you think of three words: one for your baseline (what you already wear the most from your current closet), one word for aspiration (what inspires your style and what you aspire to express through it) and one emotional word (as in: what you want to feel by wearing your clothes). In other words: it’s a simple way to tune into what you wear, how you feel and what you buy in sync with your personality.
And that’s exactly why I think that categorising your style into one concept or even into three words could potentially be the worst enemy to your personal style. It should be all about discovering, practising, having fun in a trial-and-error way. I think my biggest nightmare is for people to know what to expect from my style and that it loses the beautiful element of surprise, of the unexpected. This is not to say that I don’t have a personal style, but rather that personal style should be thought of as something everchanging instead of static.
Ultimately, for me someone who has good personal style is someone who’s outfit feels real and complex, one that needs an extra second to look at because it has so many (personal) elements to it. And by this I don’t mean that it needs to have a thousand accessories or layers or physical elements, but rather it’s emotionally and personality loaded and layered. But at the same time it doesn’t feel staged or too planned and put together.
Personal style queen and fashion icon Harling Ross: talks beautifully about a concept she calls algorithmic airbrushing. “The process by which quirks and impulse are subconsciously buffed away for the sake of engagement, leaving behind something (a person, an outfit, an idea, a recipe) that is more easily categorizable, but also less interesting and true-to-life. It is, essentially, the transition from three-dimensional to two, in both a figurative and literal sense.”
We’re all somewhat victims of algorithmic airbrushing because of the era that we live in and because we are ALWAYS being bombarded with content and trends and brands. Don’t let yourself succumb to being the personification of an algorithm or a micro-trend, let yourself be surprised by unexpected and fun expressions and manifestations of your personality. Be bold and try different things, things that inspire you in different ways, things that make you feel something and allow yourself to explore style outside of the realms of Tiktok trends.
This also applies to what you buy: trends come and go in a pace that we just can’t keep up, whereas good style is timeless. That’s why preloved and vintage clothes are so good for injecting so much personality into your style: we reinterpret them by owning them and wearing them in more interesting and unique ways. Running (metaphorically speaking, more like clicking) straight to the “New in” section of fast fashion brands is the complete opposite of personal style, it’s that exact disappearance of self-expression and creativity. We should be looking out for the three best friends for a true successful personal style (whatever that might mean to you): preloved pieces, statement garments and basics. Sustainable, creative, effortless.
All of that said, we all still have our personal style queens from whom we borrow looks, vibes, ideas and inspiration to construct our own little, fun world every single day when we’re getting ready. I asked all the girlie-wirlies in the office who’s closet they’d commit murder over.
Our personal style muses: