How to Unlock Your Personal Style in 3 Easy Steps

Your style identity, revealed.
Last Updated
Sep 23, 2021

Question: what is personal style, and why are fashion people so obsessed with it? Influencers flaunt it, stylists try to create it, and editors seek to define it—but nailing down your own, one-of-a-kind "look" can be more elusive than you'd expect.

The benefits are obvious: there's the ease of knowing which garments suit you, and which fall way outside of your style scope. (That's a lot of money saved at Net-A-Porter.) Second, having a well-defined aesthetic helps you to communicate who you are to the world. There's a reason that everyone couples the little black dress with Audrey Hepburn's classy, polished decorum.

The same goes for corsetry—it conjures memories of Madonna's edgy, nonconforming performances through the '80s. Personal style shows a mastery of fashion's very essence: expressing yourself with what you wear.

Sometimes, sticking with a defined aesthetic amid ranging influences and shifting trends can be difficult. (Raise your hand if TikTok made you believe that buying butterfly clips were a good idea for a split-second.) So, the question is: how should someone go about finding their personal style?

There is no one-size-fits-all method that unlocks a fashion sense that’s uniquely yours, but there are steps you can take to refresh your closet with pieces you identify with. To kick things off, we tapped Katelyn Bernard, Styling & Content Specialist at Editorialist YX for a few tips. Get your mood boards ready.

How to Find Your Personal Style

1. Identify Your Style Muses

When watching the red carpet and scrolling through Instagram, think about the celebrities, influencers, and style muses whose looks always speak to you. “Everyone has their icons—it’s about taking certain elements of their signature looks and seeing what might transfer to your style,” says Bernard.

When creating your list of muses, the sky's the limit—you can draw inspiration from a megawatt star with extraverted style like, say, Rihanna—and you can adopt elements from ardent minimalists like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. It’s okay if there’s a wide disparity between some of your muses, but see if you can come to any conclusions from your list of style icons. Case in point, your inspirations could be Princess Diana and Gwyneth Paltrow—throughout the ’90s, both knew how to look prim, proper, and put-together, but also leaned into pieces that have a certain raucous, cool-girl edge to them. And, of course, they’re no stranger to a great pair of mom jeans.

“People try to align with certain styles and say ‘oh, I’m a minimalist,’ or ‘I’m a maximalist’ or ‘a bohemian’—but you can be all of the above,” says Bernard. “Don’t limit your style with one fixed label.” That’s why drawing inspiration from a variety of sources can be beneficial—one figure can inspire you for the day-to-day; the other, for special occasions, and so on. 

Whoever you land on, use this list of individuals to avoid “shiny objects”— i.e., any style icon that might take you on a detour away from your decided personal style. (We get it, Kourtney Kardashian and Megan Fox made us contemplate the alt-girl life, too.)

2. Audit Your Closet

Next stop: filtering through the pieces that you’ve collected over the years. “It’s about knowing where your wardrobe is versus where you want it to be,” says Bernard. You may discover that you have a ways to go—and that’s okay. During your next closet cleanout, give the pieces in the “donate” pile a little bit more TLC. Before you part with these pieces, ask yourself: “Did I wear it as much as I expected to—and if not, what was the reason?”

Before you blame an Instagram ad for swaying you (it happens to the best of us), know this: even the most impulsive of buys have the potential to stick around in your wardrobe. Unless, of course, they aren’t an organic fit for your personal style. “It’s important to know what your trouble areas are,” says Bernard. “I realized that I hate anything that’s high-neck. In the end, it’s more about what’s flattering and what’s comfortable for you.”

Self-awareness is key to any successful closet audit. Is there a top in a certain cut that you’ve tried time and time again, but just haven’t loved the way it fits? Take note of that silhouette and consider tabling it for the time being. What about a print or colorway that feels exhausting, even when only wearing it once in a while? Same answer. Identify the main deterrent for each garment so that you can avoid splurging on pieces with similar attributes in the future. This will also bring you closer to the pieces that you will default to after time.

3. Find Your Favorites

Do a temperature check on the pieces that you stuck with. If you’re active on social, take a spin through your recent posts, too. Are these the garments you feel your absolute best in? If so, why? Can you recall one of your favorite outfits you’ve ever worn? What made it so special? Was it the cut, or perhaps a certain material—like a silky tube skirt—that just felt right on your body?

From specific silhouettes to entire outfit formulas, start making a note of everything you’d gladly re-wear. According to Bernard, compiling pictures of these looks can be especially helpful—so that you can brainstorm fresh takes on the ensembles that worked and come up with likeminded garments to swap in. These will ultimately become the pieces that define your personal style and make up your day-to-day uniform.

Voila—you're officially armed with all the knowledge you'll need to start developing your own personal style. If you do find yourself overthinking it, just remember to stick to your intuition, trust the process, and be patient. As the old adage goes: great style is about the journey, not the destination.

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