Ask Allie: Finding Personal Style

Dear Alison,
 
I've been trying so so so hard to find my own personal style…and it's not working. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I get dressed in the morning, sometimes several times before I find an outfit that I think works, and feel okay about. And it seems like the second I get to work I feel disgusting and hate what I'm wearing and wish I could go back home and switch into something that would make me comfortable, namely a pair of old jeans and baggy shirt. Is this normal??? I read your blog and several other style blogs every day. I watch What Not to Wear marathons. I see things I like. I try to keep my wardrobe simple, like you suggest. But it has me in tears. I don't know what to do. I feel like something is wrong with me!
finding personal style

Everyone has days where they feel fantastic in the mirror, but feel disgusting by time they arrive at their destination. Me included. It’s really bad when I think I put together an outfit that feels so awesome, get to work, look at the memory card from my husband’s camera and think, “Why in the world did I allow myself to leave the house in this?” I look awkward, I feel awkward, and I can’t wait to dash home and get into my version of your old jeans and baggy shirt (which is my favorite tee shirt and a pair of lightweight cropped cargo pants from Express circa 1999 – here’s a pic of the winter version with a cardigan). The best thing to do is learn from these days, what I call wardrobe mistakes.

Learning from Wardrobe Mistakes

What made you feel disgusting? Was it the fabric? The print? The silhouette? Was it too fussy? Too boring? Too extreme? I often feel the worst when I wear an outfit that is too… done. Too matchy-matchy, too complicated. Button-down shirts in stiff cotton often make me feel awkward, short flippy skirts make me self-conscious, flats remind me that I have very thick ankles and calves and feel even more short and squat than I already am. While I love blue and it flatters my complexion, I don’t feel as… me in it come mid-day as I do when wearing a warm color.

Take these wardrobe mistakes and use them as lessons on what not to wear, and what not to purchase. Don’t let history repeat itself.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I often feel wrong when I try too hard to embrace current trends. I see another blogger with a similar figure carry off cropped jeans with ballet flats so I try it, wear it, and feel miserable. Every store seems to be selling a certain style of skirt and I buy one to find I wear it only once for feeling so out of my element. It’s hard to know where to draw inspiration, when to embrace a trend, and when to let it pass.

When trying out a new trend or silhouette, I recommend doing it solo. This is not a time for your girl friend’s opinion in the fitting room at Macy’s or the saleswoman’s suggestion at LOFT. Peer pressure can steer you off course and make you spend money you shouldn’t. Hit the restroom, freshen your makeup, get a cold drink and spend time alone in that fitting room. If it’s a crummy, stinky, cramped fitting room get the heck out of there. Try the trend in another shop that has more space, better energy, better lighting. Then if you do indeed like a mullet skirt or cropped boyfriend jeans you can return to the first shop and get the exact style/price you desire. I often shop places with flexible return policies so I can take pieces home, try them with the proper shoes and undergarments and see how they work with what is already in my wardrobe.

Point is, your best friend may tell you that you look great in pink, but you feel like Petunia Pig in the shade. A saleswoman doesn’t know your lifestyle and may suggest a white linen dress when you know it will end up creased and covered in marinara by noon. If a trend, color, silhouette or brand makes you feel wrong, don’t buy it. I really believe it’s better to wear what you own which may not be exciting rather than spend money on clothes you have to force yourself to like or feel right in.

Baby Steps

I adore What Not to Wear and as I mentioned before, I have totally drank the Stacy London Kool-Aid. However, makeover shows and books make one feel she needs to do a complete makeover all in one whirlwind weekend in New York City. Even Stacy and Clinton would agree that such a drastic change is not a good idea. Take baby steps. Assess your current wardrobe – what are the worst offenders or the biggest holes in your closet and tackle those first. Don’t go out and purchase 5 pairs of shorts, instead buy one pair and see how you like them and how the color and silhouette works with your body, your wardrobe, and your personality. Let new pieces marinate in your wardrobe before you bring in new garments. See how they resonate with you, how they improve or don’t improve your personal style. Personal style is a marathon, not a sprint. The reason the personal style of the women on the blog Advanced Style is so awesome is because these women have had a lifetime to hone it!

Seek Professional Help

If you were building a home from scratch, you would consult an architect. If you’re building a wardrobe from scratch, consult a personal stylist. While I try to provide advice, it is very generalized to assist multiple people at once. A personal stylist will come to your home, get to know you as a person, assess what you already own and help you build a strong foundation.

When many think of stylists, they think of Rachel Zoe dressing celebs for awards ceremonies and red carpet events. However, stylists have become more commonplace and have prices that the average person can afford. I wrote about the Westfield Style Lounge and Style for Hire here, and I think they are great services to help everyday women get on the right track. Many of your favorite fashion bloggers are also stylists; see if there’s one in your town you can hire for a closet consult or shopping trip. Many malls and higher-end boutiques will know the names of reputable stylists in your area.

The difference between a stylist and a stylish best friend is that a stylist is trained to not project their tastes on you, and will guide you in the right direction when you feel that everything in your closet should be burned. A personal stylist doesn’t usually work on commission with a store, so he or she will find the stores that fit your body, your budget, and your personality. A personal stylist also knows where to shop in your area, being quite familiar with the merchandise and staff. While a personal stylist may seem like a crazy expense, an hour or two may be all you need to move in the right direction towards finding your personal style and can cost quite less than several wardrobe mistakes.

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    July 8, 2012 / 11:47 am

    Hi,

    just came over from alreadypretty.com. Lovely advice and I’d like to add: on days you’re not even sure what might work, there’s nothing wrong with putting on your “fallback uniform” in the first place! I’d suggest you get a flattering version of jeans and baggy tee and wear them whenever you feel that’s right for you. It takes the pressure off – after all, it’s still about the person wearing the clothes, not the other way round. YOU are important.

    Sabine

  2. Aderonkef
    July 6, 2012 / 4:20 am

     Cynthia-
    Thanks for the advise and encouragement! ;o). I love when you said “it isn’t a bargain if you don’t love it and won’t wear it”. I am slowly learning that and it has saved me from buying things that will just sit in my closet.

  3. Cynthia Washburn
    July 4, 2012 / 5:14 pm

    Don’t give up! While some women seem to be born knowing how to accessorize and wear trends, while staying true to their own styles, it takes the rest of us awhile. 

    It seems like it took me forever to learn the “it isn’t a bargain if you don’t love it and won’t wear it” lesson and just as long to acquire enough accessories and actually spend money on accessories to be able to accessorize well. Why it took me so long to realize that it didn’t matter how nice my dress was if I didn’t have a decent bag, wasn’t wearing the right shoes, or wasn’t wearing any jewelry, I don’t know. 

    The point is that you just have to be patient – you’ll get there. 

  4. Aderonkef
    July 4, 2012 / 6:23 am

    This post is spot on! I feel exactly like the girl who wrote this question. I too have been on a quest to find my style. I have been on this quest for two years now and I still feel like I’ve gotten no where. I feel like every time I buy something I feel will work I end up feeling uncomfortable wearing it. I feel ugly and like I am trying too hard. I often get frustrated and just give. I feel like I will never get it right. I see my peers who look so put together every I see them at church, at school, at work, etc. I feel like so ugly compared to them. I keep trying and trying but I honestly feel like I will never get it right. At the moment I feel like pinterest has helped me pinpoint looks I like which help me focus on what I want to buy for my wardrobe. I am starting again with the basics-a great pair of jeans, a nice pant, a great shirt, etc. I am not sure if this will help me make progress but its a start. If not I give up. Perhaps I am just be putting too much pressure on myself to look so perfectly dressed.

  5. Aderonkef
    July 4, 2012 / 2:23 am

    This post is spot on! I feel exactly like the girl who wrote this question. I too have been on a quest to find my style. I have been on this quest for two years now and I still feel like I’ve gotten no where. I feel like every time I buy something I feel will work I end up feeling uncomfortable wearing it. I feel ugly and like I am trying too hard. I often get frustrated and just give. I feel like I will never get it right. I see my peers who look so put together every I see them at church, at school, at work, etc. I feel like so ugly compared to them. I keep trying and trying but I honestly feel like I will never get it right. At the moment I feel like pinterest has helped me pinpoint looks I like which help me focus on what I want to buy for my wardrobe. I am starting again with the basics-a great pair of jeans, a nice pant, a great shirt, etc. I am not sure if this will help me make progress but its a start. If not I give up. Perhaps I am just be putting too much pressure on myself to look so perfectly dressed.

    • Cynthia Washburn
      July 4, 2012 / 1:14 pm

      Don’t give up! While some women seem to be born knowing how to accessorize and wear trends, while staying true to their own styles, it takes the rest of us awhile. 

      It seems like it took me forever to learn the “it isn’t a bargain if you don’t love it and won’t wear it” lesson and just as long to acquire enough accessories and actually spend money on accessories to be able to accessorize well. Why it took me so long to realize that it didn’t matter how nice my dress was if I didn’t have a decent bag, wasn’t wearing the right shoes, or wasn’t wearing any jewelry, I don’t know. 

      The point is that you just have to be patient – you’ll get there. 

      • Aderonkef
        July 6, 2012 / 12:20 am

         Cynthia-
        Thanks for the advise and encouragement! ;o). I love when you said “it isn’t a bargain if you don’t love it and won’t wear it”. I am slowly learning that and it has saved me from buying things that will just sit in my closet.

  6. lorena
    July 3, 2012 / 5:51 pm

    Marvelous advice.  
    I personally think that the best shopping is done when you are on your own. 

  7. lorena
    July 3, 2012 / 1:51 pm

    Marvelous advice.  
    I personally think that the best shopping is done when you are on your own. 

  8. Roberta Johnson
    July 3, 2012 / 3:48 pm

    What a FANTASTIC post – so direct and helpful. I grew up in Akron, and when I moved to Chicago and started working at an art museum with a lot of well-off women, I felt hopelessly square and out of style. Wish I’d had your advice back then! My only piece of advice, which you’ve said many times also, is to remember that if something doesn’t look good, it isn’t YOU, it’s the CLOTHES. That’s my daily affirmation.  🙂

  9. Roberta Johnson
    July 3, 2012 / 11:48 am

    What a FANTASTIC post – so direct and helpful. I grew up in Akron, and when I moved to Chicago and started working at an art museum with a lot of well-off women, I felt hopelessly square and out of style. Wish I’d had your advice back then! My only piece of advice, which you’ve said many times also, is to remember that if something doesn’t look good, it isn’t YOU, it’s the CLOTHES. That’s my daily affirmation.  🙂

  10. Cynthia Washburn
    July 3, 2012 / 1:55 am

    You are so right about not listening to the salesgirl/fitting room attendant – I remember trying on a dress at Loft and being iffy about it. I came out to ask my mom and the fitting room girl exclaimed over how cute it looked – I was ready to think that maybe I shouldn’t be iffy (after all it was on sale), when I heard her say the exact same thing to another lady. And her outfit was not flattering. At all. 

    My mom also didn’t think that it was too bad – until I pointed out what was bothering me. The giant white flower on my chest that made my (not ample at all) chest scream “look at my boobs!”. Then she agreed that it was iffy and not worth it, even at $15.99. 

    I still really struggle with not buying things that aren’t quite right when they are at an awesome price – I keep reminding myself that a bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t feel AMAZING in it. And, really, I have enough dresses that any new ones have to be AMAZING to make the cut. 

    I think that the key is in the analysis of what went wrong with an outfit – what makes it uncomfortable? And then don’t repeat that element – and get rid of it, so you don’t do it again one morning. 

    I am thankful for style blogs though – there are some things that I never would have thought that I could pull off that I’ve tried and loved. 

  11. Cynthia Washburn
    July 2, 2012 / 9:55 pm

    You are so right about not listening to the salesgirl/fitting room attendant – I remember trying on a dress at Loft and being iffy about it. I came out to ask my mom and the fitting room girl exclaimed over how cute it looked – I was ready to think that maybe I shouldn’t be iffy (after all it was on sale), when I heard her say the exact same thing to another lady. And her outfit was not flattering. At all. 

    My mom also didn’t think that it was too bad – until I pointed out what was bothering me. The giant white flower on my chest that made my (not ample at all) chest scream “look at my boobs!”. Then she agreed that it was iffy and not worth it, even at $15.99. 

    I still really struggle with not buying things that aren’t quite right when they are at an awesome price – I keep reminding myself that a bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t feel AMAZING in it. And, really, I have enough dresses that any new ones have to be AMAZING to make the cut. 

    I think that the key is in the analysis of what went wrong with an outfit – what makes it uncomfortable? And then don’t repeat that element – and get rid of it, so you don’t do it again one morning. 

    I am thankful for style blogs though – there are some things that I never would have thought that I could pull off that I’ve tried and loved. 

  12. July 3, 2012 / 1:21 am

    One thing stuck out from the original question – that she’s trying to keep a minimal closet, and the wording made me wonder whether she feels like she should do that but it’s not really working for her. I think when you’re in a phase of rethinking or discovering your style, minimalism can be a trap. You have a few things and you don’t like any of them! Just my personal experience, but I’ve found that letting myself explore a variety of styles and having a really varied wardrobe works well when I’m in a transition phase in my style or feel at sea. It lets you explore different ideas of your style and mixing and matching without it being a big deal. And if you wait for sales and/or buy secondhand, it can be within most people’s budgets too. This is the absolute worst time to do “investment dressing,” imo – go to H&M or the thrift store and play around for a while instead! 

  13. July 2, 2012 / 9:21 pm

    One thing stuck out from the original question – that she’s trying to keep a minimal closet, and the wording made me wonder whether she feels like she should do that but it’s not really working for her. I think when you’re in a phase of rethinking or discovering your style, minimalism can be a trap. You have a few things and you don’t like any of them! Just my personal experience, but I’ve found that letting myself explore a variety of styles and having a really varied wardrobe works well when I’m in a transition phase in my style or feel at sea. It lets you explore different ideas of your style and mixing and matching without it being a big deal. And if you wait for sales and/or buy secondhand, it can be within most people’s budgets too. This is the absolute worst time to do “investment dressing,” imo – go to H&M or the thrift store and play around for a while instead! 

  14. CA_Powell
    July 3, 2012 / 12:29 am

    What a helpful post! Such a lot of good advice here…Even, as you said, for those of us who feel like we mostly know our own style, we still have days when something just goes ‘wrong’. It’s always good to stop and think about some of the things you’ve said here to re-evaluate.  Thanks!

  15. CA_Powell
    July 2, 2012 / 8:29 pm

    What a helpful post! Such a lot of good advice here…Even, as you said, for those of us who feel like we mostly know our own style, we still have days when something just goes ‘wrong’. It’s always good to stop and think about some of the things you’ve said here to re-evaluate.  Thanks!

  16. Leah Jenner
    July 2, 2012 / 9:47 pm

    I love your advice!  I would also recommend reading a few style books that help develop a personal style statement (like “Style Statement” by McCarthy and LaPorte).  There are also a few articles/posts about developing a three-word style statement that should help focus shopping so you are not distracted by trends or things you think are pretty but just aren’t you.  I have a style “story” that I remind myself of every time I go to buy something.  The item needs to fit my style story or I won’t buy it.  My story is really strange 🙂 but it helps me stay focused on what I want my wardrobe to say about me.  I also recommend  that your reader head to a better department store and start trying things on.  Get a whole bunch of skirts (or other clothing item) with different styles and different prices and have them in the fitting room at the same time.  Try them on one after the other and decide why one skirt looks good while the other doesn’t.  Make a list of the style features that look good then you know what to look for in the future.  

    Leah

  17. Leah Jenner
    July 2, 2012 / 5:47 pm

    I love your advice!  I would also recommend reading a few style books that help develop a personal style statement (like “Style Statement” by McCarthy and LaPorte).  There are also a few articles/posts about developing a three-word style statement that should help focus shopping so you are not distracted by trends or things you think are pretty but just aren’t you.  I have a style “story” that I remind myself of every time I go to buy something.  The item needs to fit my style story or I won’t buy it.  My story is really strange 🙂 but it helps me stay focused on what I want my wardrobe to say about me.  I also recommend  that your reader head to a better department store and start trying things on.  Get a whole bunch of skirts (or other clothing item) with different styles and different prices and have them in the fitting room at the same time.  Try them on one after the other and decide why one skirt looks good while the other doesn’t.  Make a list of the style features that look good then you know what to look for in the future.  

    Leah

  18. July 2, 2012 / 9:29 pm

    This is such great advice, Allie. Trying to “go it on your own” can be so challenging, but in the end, that’s where we learn and grow the most. I love how you said to pay attention to the store’s return policy. I almost NEVER try things on at the store. At home, I can make sure I am going to get my money’s worth out of a new piece. I believe a few hours with a personal stylist can be invaluable (bias alert -I am one!). Thank you for reminding women that they are worth taking time to invest in themselves by investing time and effort in their wardrobe. Best! ~Sarah

  19. July 2, 2012 / 5:29 pm

    This is such great advice, Allie. Trying to “go it on your own” can be so challenging, but in the end, that’s where we learn and grow the most. I love how you said to pay attention to the store’s return policy. I almost NEVER try things on at the store. At home, I can make sure I am going to get my money’s worth out of a new piece. I believe a few hours with a personal stylist can be invaluable (bias alert -I am one!). Thank you for reminding women that they are worth taking time to invest in themselves by investing time and effort in their wardrobe. Best! ~Sarah

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