Style isn’t a big-picture concept. It’s about small details and how they tell our story. Anyone can study fashion magazines, but the key is to translate fashion into your personal style. People aren’t born with great style, it’s something that’s learned by those who pay attention. The way to become good at anything is to practice and learn all we can about it. Defining our personal style requires learning what suits us best, and eliminating what doesn’t.
Here’s how to assess and update your personal style.
Identify Your Muses Celebrities whose style you admire are the obvious choices because you have access to lots of images. Many employ stylists whose job is to make their clients look great, which is why you don’t see many of them taking outrageous risks. Here are a few of our favorite celebrity icons:
Catherine Deneuve At almost 70, she stills looks smolderingly sexy in her signature classic style.
Jacqueline Onassis was the epitome of polished American Style. She’d be 82 today, and most of what she was known for wearing would still look great on her.
Jennifer Aniston and Diane Sawyer each have a toned luminous blonde minimalism that is defined by immaculate tailoring and very high-end hair care, jewelry, shoes, and handbags.
Johnny Depp is a master of the use of hats, scarves and accessories. His style looks effortless, not like he spends a lot of time agonizing over it.
Your Style Icons Don’t Have To Be Your Age Or Even The Same Sex What’s important is that they inspire you. Even menswear can inspire. If you don’t think so, you should Google Hamish Bowles, or visit a Paul Smith store when you’re in New York, L.A. or London.
Identify What You Like About Their Style Here’s where you focus on what exactly appeals to you. Make a list in your “style file” of colors, styles, and accessories you want to try.
Identify What You Like (And Don’t Like) About Your Style What’s your best feature? What’s your best look? What are your best basic colors? Are blacks and grays your go-to colors for staples, or is your complexion more suited to browns and taupe? What colors look best on you? What would you like to change?
Shop Your Closet What’s in there that you always feel great in? What’s there that you never wear? Toss or donate the dead wood that you don’t wear, and things that are out of style or don’t fit. This is the time to gather all the items that need altering. It’s easy to let one item sit forever before it gets to the tailor, but having a big pile makes the trip worth it. Now reorganize what’s left and make a wish list of what you’d like to add.
Create A Style File Tear out pages in magazines of things you want to remember. In fact, many stylish women I know keep bulletin boards on the inside of their closet doors to post style ideas ripped from magazines or the internet. You can also use your cell phone to take quick photos of items you see in stores that you want to remember.
Ask For Help Ask for advice from fashionable people you trust. Don’t copy them, though - you want your own style. If you’re on a budget, seek professional help without obligation by going to Talbot’s or Chico’s. If you’re not on a budget, go to a Nordstrom or Saks personal shopper. Wherever you go, find a person you click with. These gals know what they’re doing when it comes to dressing real women. You can also consider hiring a stylist or wardrobe consultant.
Watch The Fashion Parade Daily Everywhere you go is a style show! You can learn as much from bad style choices and unfortunate fashion faux pas as you can from the impeccably dressed. An online goldmine of style ideas can be found at the style blog The Sartorialist. You never know who will be featured, but they’re guaranteed to have great personal style.
Remember That Nothing Works For Everyone There is no one item that’s right for everyone. It’s more important to build a wardrobe around what works for you. Whether or not an item is the latest trend is NOT as critical as whether it looks good on you
Don’t Blame Your Style (Or Lack Of It) On Money Great style is possible even on a limited budget. Once you have a core wardrobe, you build on it. Get over the notion of shopping for “outfits.” You want items that do double and triple duty.
Don’t Stop Now Personal style should evolve. We update our kitchens, our calendars, and our cars, yet insist on wearing the same makeup, hair style or jeans for decades.
The legendary Diana Vreeland, former editor of Vogue and the premier tastemaker of her time, used to say, “Too much good taste can be boring.” Don’t be afraid to try something. The most original dressers experiment with bold unexpected colors and style. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the most conservative ones tend to always play it safe. There's lots of room in between for finding what works for you. Even the most egregious fashion faux pas can be fixed without painful surgery.
Mary Marino is a writer and the editor of flashionista.com .