Let’s talk about defining your look. I believe that we are ever-evolving human beings and our tastes change as we age and our priorities shift. However, there is something to be said about defining your look. Having a go-to style makes dressing easier- you know what you look good in, what is comfortable, what to pack on trips for style and ease. You know what jackets and shoe heights work with the style. You know how to adapt the look for different climates. Defining your look helps to create your personality and persona in a visual sense. While I am definitely a person to experiment with fashion, I also know what types of items I am drawn to repeatedly, what colors look best on me, how to incorporate these items into my wardrobe, and how they work for my body type. Defining your look doesn’t mean you always wear the same top, skirt and sneakers – we are not cartoon characters!- it means three things that help you feel comfortable and YOU at all times. Let’s break it down.
There are a few categories that define my or anyone’s look; Level of formality, Shape, and Color/Pattern, and Styling
Level of Formality
On a scale from 1 to 10, I am probably an 8 on the formality scale. I err on the dressier side of all occasions, tending to always reach for heels instead of flats, formals pants instead of jeans, nails done instead of natural. I grew up covering my hands with rings (seriously- up until I started working I wore at least 12 different sterling silver rings stacked on all of my fingers), and draping myself in necklaces. I wanted not one ear piercing, but at least 3 in each ear plus a nose ring.
Additionally, I don’t like jeans very much. I grew up NOT ALLOWED to wear them. That’s right, this child of the 80’s and 90’s never wore jeans. My mom doesn’t like the look, and doesn’t own a pair, and my dad has one pair from like 1975 that he wears if he has to do some yard work (read: never). My first pair of jeans was a pair that my group of girl friends chipped in to buy me for my 13th birthday from Wet Seal. I was SO EXCITED. Although I was finally ‘cool’ owning a pair of jeans, I more often chose black pants or tights and a mini skirt to wear to school instead. Looking more dressed up is definitely a defense mechanism for me. I have long associated looking underdressed as a ‘young’ or ‘immature’ trait, so as a constant struggle to prove myself to my teachers, my friends, boys, co-workers and bosses, I have overdressed to look older, smarter, or more mature. In the workplace you often hear “Dress for the job you want” and after one reprimanding early on in my career, I lived that quote every day to an extent.
Choosing shapes for your body is definitely the hardest category for women. Most of us really struggle to find both comfortable and flattering items at the same time. In the end, for most occasions we choose one or the other; dresses for work, leggings on a plane. I take no issue with choosing comfort on long, boring, hot plane rides, but I do want you to be able to find pieces that you can wear FROM work, ON the plane, and PACK to wear at your destination. For me, separates (specifically pants) are my go to. While I love dresses for the ease of, well, dressing, I tend to think they work better for a more curvy figure. I love a fitted ankle cropped pant to wear with heels or flats, or a flare leg, which adds length to my shorter frame. I would also LOVE to wear more wide leg styles, but they are harder to find with the right waist height.
Which brings me to waist heights! I would always choose something that hits at the natural waist over something lower rise. It’s a comfort issue for sure, but also makes me feel pulled in at all times. I don’t mind a little squeeze to hold me in! When it comes to tops, I prefer longer sleeves almost always, and if its a tank top or workout top, I prefer a higher neck. Again it might be a lengthening thing, but we all have body parts that we are more comfortable hiding and showing, and I think neck and sleeve height plays into that. Now thinking of the items together – long pants and long sleeve tops, the silhouette of each item becomes important. For me both items should not be tight or loose. One of each shape is best, or both with a slightly loose look like this paired set from Dezzal. The elasticized waist and hem, as well as the more tailored sleeve and neckline counteract the breeziness of the pieces, which make them work for my smaller figure.
This is huge, and a big defining factor in defining your look. I once joked with a friend (she knows who she is!) that her wardrobe was only full of non-colors. You know, olive-y grey greens. Mauve-y taupes. Burnt orange-y brown reds. I couldn’t define any of these colors, but on her skin tone they look great. For me, not so much. I am a color-wheel dresser. If I wear Red, you know its Red. It’s not orange red. It’s bright, Christian Louboutin, Valentino RED. I wear royal blue, kelly green, canary yellow in a similar fashion. Recently I have dipped my toe into the pastel pond, but you still know the colors are soft pink, lavender and pale blue.
Not only do these colors look better on me, but they are much easier to mix and match within my wardrobe! If I buy a royal blue pant, I know it pairs well with that royal blue and white striped top I already own! A bright cherry red blazer already goes with my cherry red heels and scarf! Matchy-matchy, easy easy. Pattern is another defining point in my wardrobe, but one that I have only discovered in recent years. I love wearing bold patterns, and mixing them together for my own eclectic look. But what patterns is also crucial. I tend to choose high contrast tribal and geometric patterns accented with animal prints, as opposed to muted florals or traditionally feminine prints.
Styling is where you can really make a look your own. Accessorizing and layering are great ways to make a statement with your look. I love long sleeves because I can scruntch them up for a casual touch to a formal outfit. I love high waists so I can tuck shirts in and show off my waist. And big for me, as mentioned before, is matching. I tend to gravitate toward the head-to-toe look, which means everything from the lipstick to the heels were planned. I love the idea of the model off-duty, thrown together look, but unfortunately that doesn’t work for me. Instead of look nonchalant I look like I really don’t care, which makes me insanely nervous. I match my colors, plan out my earrings, and love a matching top and bottom or pantsuit, like this look from Dezzal. It’s casual in shape but dressy due to the head to toe print, and the bold tribal prints fit my color and pattern filter.
Now… Let’s Start Defining Your Look!
Level of Formality
Think about how you dress for weddings. Are you the one in the floor length gown or the mini skirt? How do you feel about heels? How many pairs of sneakers do you own? Are you a hair up or down person? How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? What do you wear to go run errands? How often do you change your jewelry? All of these questions will help you identify your own level of formality and help you define your look.
Do you prefer items that hit at the waist or hips? What body parts do you love about yourself? Which ones do you tend to hide? How do you tend to sit (seriously!) – cross legged, legs straight, or legs not touching (hint: not a skirt person!). Do you love fitted items or ones with volume that flow and obscure the body? What are the necklines you gravitate toward- V, Crew, Boat, U or Turtleneck? Take into affect layering here- are you a pullover sweater person, or a cardigan person? How do you feel about more masculine and traditional collared shirts vs. those with more feminine details?
Look at your wardrobe and review what colors you tend to go for. Not just ‘blue’ or ‘florals’ – really look at the saturation and scale of the colors/patterns. Maybe if you tend to gravitate toward pale blue florals, a pale blue cashmere would be a nice addition to your look. If you find yourself drawn to basic black, white and grey, try to incorporate navy and camel into your wardrobe for more neutrals, and then expand into olive green and red which are nice complements to a neutral wardrobe.
Maybe you love the idea of a patterned collar hanging over a cashmere sweater. Or maybe you prefer long cardigans and draped tops. Maybe tucking your shirt in is your worst enemy. Think about how you wear your items to understand your look. This will help you style them in the future, as well as give you clarity when shopping to know how to incorporate these items into your look.
It may seem obvious to many people what things they like and don’t like, but until they go through the exercise of these 4 steps, you will not have the tools you need to help you shop and pack correctly. If you know you love to layer cardigans over floral dresses, then buying or packing another floral dress to wear under that cardigan is a fantastic idea. If you love the fit of that shirt in green, buy it in blue! Make life easy for yourself. Just like anything else, if you do a little groundwork up front, the rewards later on will be much smoother and bigger.
Thanks for getting through this incredibly long post about defining your look! What tips were useful for you or what did you learn? Tell me about your style! I would love to hear about your styling secrets or things you gravitate towards in the comments!