This is an update on an important post I wrote six years ago. It gets to the heart of why style is so personal. Our needs are different, so our styles are different. The closer we are to satisfying our needs, the more authentic, manageable, and enjoyable our personal style will be.
The goal is to build a functional wardrobe that fulfills our needs, which calls for the amount of analysis and planning that works for you. Too much planning can lead to analysis paralysis, which can take the fun out of dressing and evolving your style, and some inaccurate assessments. Too little planning and you’ll shop based purely on emotion and ease, and not what you need or want to wear.
It can be useful to think about the factors that affect your style in two groups. The internal factors are about YOU. The external factors are about your CONTEXT. Here’s the way I like to break it down.
Aesthetic taste for silhouettes, colours, fabrics, patterns, texture, vibe and design details is subjective, and can be wildly different from one person to another. Your style preferences attract you to items before you’ve even tried them on. Sartorial preferences can be varied and wide, or focussed and narrow, and evolve over time. Identify them, and milk your signature style.
Beliefs, Values and Personality
Style-related beliefs, values and personality are unique to each of us and will come through visually in our styles. They will also be reflected in wardrobe decisions like how you shop, where you shop, when you shop, which items you purchase, how you edit and care for wardrobe items, how you pass on wardrobe items, and how often you refresh your style. Sometimes style is very intuitive and reasons for choices are hard to articulate. That’s OK too. If you trust your gut at this point in your style journey, go for it.
Figure Flattering Priorities
Body type dressing guidelines that encourage the creation of traditionally flattering proportions have relaxed over time, which is a very good thing. Instead, creating outfit proportions that are “just flattering enough” is the more modern approach and awfully liberating. By having the freedom to dress in ways that make you feel great instead of being inhibited by what you are not supposed to wear, you establish a set of figure flattering priorities that is completely personal, and created by YOU, not someone else. Decide what figure flattery means to you, and run with it.
Over the years, I’ve found that a person’s need for outfit variety — or lack thereof — has a noticeable impact on their style. Those who enjoy outfit variety have a greater assortment of silhouettes, fabrications, textures, patterns and colours in their wardrobe. Sometimes, they react faster to trends because they want to add “newness” to their look right away. Generally, the opposite holds true for “uniform dressers” and those who are less interested in trends. Also, those who live in a four-season climate tend to have the need for a larger variety of items. They need everything from shorts, breezy dresses and sandals, to puffers, snow boots, and woolly accessories.
Your lifestyle is the most important factor to affect your style. Someone who works in a business formal or business casual environment has a different set of wardrobe needs to a stay-at-home person or somebody who works from home. How and where you socialize will also have an impact on your style, as will the extent to which you travel, attend formal events, camp, do outdoorsy stuff, and play sports. A common problem I see is a wardrobe that was created for an imaginary lifestyle.
Your climate is the second most important factor to consider because for the most part, it’s best to be practical about your wardrobe choices. That way you’re prepared for the elements and comfortable throughout the day. For example, no matter how much you like to wear floor-sweeping flared trousers with pointy-toe heels, they’re unsuited to wet and snowy weather. By the same token, creating an extensive capsule of outerwear for a humid and hot tropical climate is a waste of time and money.
Sometimes the expectations of people around you – or “your audience” – can have a big effect on your style. I refer to this as your environmental norm. It includes cultural norms, workplace norms, and even the expectations of your social circle. Everyone has to decide the extent to which they want to conform to their environmental norm, or challenge it. Are you comfortable standing out, or do you prefer to blend in with the crowd? Maybe it’s a delicate balance of conforming and challenging. There is no right or wrong here, but it’s useful to acknowledge your environmental norm and factor it into your style decisions.
Although style is not a price tag, your budget will impact your style choices. Within your budget you can decide the size of your wardrobe, the rate at which you can refresh your style, and the amount you choose to spend per item and over time. Although your income level can definitely put a cap on your budget, I find that income and budget aren’t always directly related. Each of my clients is pretty unique in the way that they approach setting a budget for wardrobe purchases.
The size of your storage space affects the size of your wardrobe, which in turn can affect what you wear in a season, and what you can add to your wardrobe. Small storage spaces might find uniform dressing a practical solution, whereas larger storage spaces can add variety and quantity simply because they can store it.
It’s never too late to start thinking about how these factors impact your style. My clients differ greatly in their appetite for this sort of analysis. For some, it’s informal, more intuitive, and something we touch on briefly while we shop and create outfits. Others love the analysis of thinking about these factors in great detail and then mapping them to their current wardrobe and their shopping strategy.
Over the decades, my biggest challenge has been shopping for the right climate. I love Spring and Summer clothes, and have had the tendency to over-purchase that component of my wardrobe. This was very true when we first moved to Seattle, where the Summers are not overly hot. Even when I lived in hot and humid tropical countries, I would forget about arctic air conditioning and that I couldn’t layer over items with flouncy sleeves to keep warm. It also gets cold at night when you live by the coast, so you absolutely need warm toppers and boots too.
It’s taken me decades to get the climate factor right for my wardrobe. I have also become very aware of the other factors, and pay close attention to them. I’m finally in a good habit of fine-tuning them each season, which keeps my wardrobe and style focussed and fully functional. Practice makes perfect. Acknowledging and learning from my mistakes has been very helpful too.