How to Find Your Personal Style: 5 Tips to Be Your Own Stylist

Some say that style is something you’re born with, but I don’t believe it can’t be learned, or perhaps finessed out of a person. I always say that style is having a point of view, so everyone has it in them, should they choose to explore it.

Fashion can be healing. I love a good makeover show and seeing a spring in someone’s step after a bit of grooming, flattering clothes, and self-care. If you don’t want to hire a stylist, here are 5 tips to be your own and really define your personal style.

Pinpoint What You Like 

I’m regularly asked what I look for when I’m shopping, but what I gravitate to may be very different from what you would. My suggestion is to first take the time to figure out what you like. The easiest way to do this is to make Pinterest boards. I divide my style inspiration boards into spring/summer and fall/winter. If you ever come across any photos of outfits on the Internet that speaks to you, simply pin it on one of your boards. You might see some themes emerging.

If you take a look at my fall/winter board, you’ll see a lot of cozy knits and tailored wool coats, but what surprised me was how much I liked outfits with belted, high-waisted wool pants. I don’t own pants like these, so now I know what to look for when I’m shopping, especially in chaotic vintage stores.

I also take loads of inspiration from stylish people—see my fashion icon Pinterest board. It’s quite a mixed bag, from the rock star style of Julian Casablancas, and the extravagant designer fashion from Gianna Jun’s Korean dramas, to the usual actresses and It girls known for their good tastes. I may not be duplicating Iris Apfel’s eclectic looks—and simply copying someone else’s style is not honouring your own point of view anyway—but I do see elements of every one of my influences in my personal style, no matter how subtle.

Know What Works for Your Body

Now that you have a general sense of what you like, figure out what flatters your body. These days, clothes are designed to look good on the hanger, which is one of the reasons why tall and skinny women have more options.

If you don’t fit that mold—and few women do—my recommendation is to take a look at stylish women with similar body types for inspiration. With so many fashion bloggers, celebrities, and public figures out there representing different heights, shapes, and backgrounds, there’s bound to be someone whose style you click with. Make a Pinterest board for this too. Notice what kind of clothes complement them, and see how you can put together equally flattering outfits in the styles you like.

Consider your proportions and find the best ways to balance them. I’m a little bottom heavy, so wearing tight jeans with a loose top is a comfortable and casual day look for me. I also like to define the waist, whether that’s with belted dresses or high-waisted pants.

For women of all sizes, a good tailor is your best friend. If something doesn’t fit the way you want it to, get it one size bigger and have your tailor do some magic. If I like the fabric and general style of a piece, but the fit is even a little off, I get it fixed. It really makes a world of difference.

Own Quality Basics but Take Chances

For those who have outgrown most of their clothes and want a closet makeover, I recommend building your foundation with a capsule wardrobe. I tend to rely on my neutral basics on days when I don’t want to think about clothes and still want to look put together. Sometimes I’ll wear an outfit that I think is totally unoriginal and uninspired, but others will love it and call me stylish. Go figure. Sometimes less is more. It’s important for me to have the quality basics to offset or complement my more eclectic pieces.

I do think only sticking to a capsule wardrobe is boring. Other times, more is more. It really depends on your mood, and you have to find your balance. I see ethical fashion bloggers doing the 10×10 challenges on Instagram (create 10 looks with 10 pieces), and I think it’s a good exercise in taking what you own and really think about the different ways to wear them. Unless I’m traveling though, I don’t like to plan my outfits. It’s more work for me. Just grab and go is my motto. Once you own things you love and develop good instincts on what goes well together, getting dressed will be a breeze.

I suspect many are afraid of branching out of their fashion comfort zones. They probably assume certain things won’t look good on them. You wouldn’t know until you try on the pieces you like. How do you know what you need to take a chance on? This brings me to my next tip.

Shop for Pieces Instead of Outfits

Some people buy clothes purely because they match the other items in their wardrobes. I don’t like doing this because I actually find it limiting and counterintuitive. Would you rather buy a cardigan that’s meh but matches five other things in your wardrobe, or one that you absolutely adore but it’s a departure from your usual style?

I would absolutely pick the latter, and then worry about putting outfits together after. Take these By Far green suede sandals I’m wearing for example. If my purchasing decision had been based on how many things they’d match in my wardrobe, I wouldn’t have bought them at all. Matching is different from complementing, and after wearing them through three different seasons, they complement more outfits than I’d imagined.

Some of my friends worry about getting their clothes to match because they are afraid of deviating from a look. Style is not about sticking to one look. I honestly don’t know how to describe my style. I simply honour what I like, whether it’s a neutral basic or something bold, vintage or contemporary, throw it together, and that look is unique to me.

I’m not the kind of person who likes things matchy-matchy anyway, and I find it rather exciting to see what kind of outfits emerge from different pieces. And you know what? More often than not, my clothes go well together, and I can usually find multiple ways to wear an item, no matter how out-there it is. If something is casual, there are ways to dress it up. If something is flashy, there are ways to tone it down. If I really love something and want to wear it, I’ll make it work.

I can relate all this to decorating my apartment. I never had to start from scratch with a completely empty space before, and I’m not an interior designer. First I used Pinterest to pin the designs, furniture and decor I liked. Then I bought the foundation pieces, such as the couch and bed. Then I had fun with the accents. While I didn’t set out to do this, things automatically matched and complemented each other because I naturally gravitate towards certain colours and materials. My seafoam rocking chair matches my typewriter. And the copper on my side table matches my copper stool. I still don’t know how I did it, but I ended up with a cohesive design that’s very representative of my dĂ©cor tastes, which I didn’t even know I had at the start of this process.

Use Your Intuition

When I shop, I do take the practical into consideration: fabric quality, cut, price, function, versatility, etc. But the quicker method is to use my intuition. Gut feeling, instinct, thin-slicing, or whatever you call it, it’s using intuitive judgment to instantly know what’s for me and what’s not. I can go into a store, comb through a rack in seconds and know what I like and what I should try on. Same with online shopping. Quickly scroll through a shop page, and boom, something will stop me in my tracks.

In the fall of 2016, I was in Barneys New York with a friend. A lot of their goods are pieces of art, expensive stuff that you don’t necessarily need, but they also have a selection of contemporary fashion. We looked at a lot of amazing clothes, but nothing really jumped out at me. Until I saw this Victoria Beckham Striped Deconstructed Dress. I had to leave shortly to catch a flight so I didn’t have time to try it on, but I remember turning to my friend and saying, “I love this. This would look amazing on me.”

Back in Toronto, I kept thinking about the dress. It was sold out online, and later that season I inquired about it at Holt Renfrew. Nothing. For over a year, the dress haunted me. I had to have it. Then finally, after much stalking, the dress appeared on TheRealReal.com in my size, at a fraction of the retail price. When it came, it fit perfectly.

How did I know this dress was for me? Years of looking at clothes, trying on clothes, learning about fashion and art, and really knowing my body. I’m also very discerning with materials, stitchings, and fit. Is my intuition right all time? No. Sometimes the piece I like looks off on me, or something that looks boring on a hanger is amazing on the body. But the more I try things on, the more I’m building my expertise.

This is why I think anyone can develop their style, should they put in the work. If you want to look good and have great style, but don’t want to learn about fashion, discover what kind of styles you like, or try on clothes, hiring a stylist to do the work for you is the way to go. If you do want to make an effort, have fun with it. The more you look at photos of fashion, learn what styles you like, know who inspires you, and actually try clothes on, you’ll also develop the intuition and uncover your own unique style.

Photos by Amina Touray

Do you have any other tips on helping someone find their personal style? Let us know in the comments.

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