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How to Find Your Fashion Style

Take a risk to find your flair.
Take a risk to find your flair.
BananaStock/Thinkstock

Remember the time when you were growing up and your family decided you were the "smart" one or the "pretty" one or the "funny" one in the family. All of a sudden people were making assumptions about the way you'd behave and about the things that were important to you. Being pegged as the drama queen or the peacemaker wasn't necessarily all bad. But it probably wasn't all you, either -- or at least it wasn't all of what you thought you might want to express to the world. Fast-forward a few decades and that personality shorthand is probably still at play in your life. You may have experienced it at school and even at work. In a world where many of us see life speeding past our car windows, fast and not quite in focus, it probably isn't any big surprise that drawing quick conclusions about people is a pretty common practice.

Cursory details add up to an idea, and that idea becomes a seminal truth in about the time it takes the average person to blink. Facial hair on a man means he's either super successful, anti-establishment or a slob. See, the process is fast and efficient: One observation yields three possible interpretations. Which interpretation sticks could ultimately depend on what the guy is wearing or what kind of car he drives. This is before he ever utters a single word. Now that's powerful.

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This could sound terrifying if it wasn't so easy to beat the system -- and have fun doing it. The fact is that we aren't what we wear (or what our family members concluded about us at the age of 8). We're much more complex than that. We're much smarter than that, too. What we wear has an impact on the way we're perceived by others, though. This is a good thing. It means that ultimately, the power to conceal or reveal ourselves, our personalities and passions, belongs to us alone. Fashion experts call that power "style."

On the next page, let's look at a few ways you can put the elements of style to work for you.

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Developing a fashion style can be lots of fun. It doesn't necessarily have to be an "Eat, Pray, Love" exercise in self-discovery, though. The style that suits you today may be different from the style that will fit, literally and figuratively, a few years from now. Fashion style does have some basic, practical elements you should understand, though.

Your body -- If you have body image issues, and who doesn't, choosing your style should be partly about striking a balance between what you like and what looks good on you. If you have a short neck but love lacy blouses with frilly, high collars, you may have to compromise your fashion sense a little in order to look good while wearing modified styles you enjoy. How do you know what will look good on you? Experiment, and don't be afraid of a three-way mirror. It's there to help you see what others will be seeing.

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Your temperament -- You know better than anyone else if you'll be comfortable in 4-inch heels or pencil skirts or halter tops. It's a matter of personal preference. If you aren't comfortable in a garment, your unease will show. The idea of being comfortable can cover a lot of territory: A garment may be too large or too small or too scratchy. It could be too revealing or too sexy or too masculine. It could also be too high maintenance or too fragile. Trust yourself to know when something works.

We have to throw in a caution here: If you're afraid of fashion, you may have to take a few risks at first. Try starting small, like going for a little color when you prefer neutrals. When you shop, ask the clerk for suggestions, and take a friend along whose style you admire.

Your lifestyle -- You know that movie scene where the lady librarian (or secretary) with the glasses and bun lets down her hair and takes off her sweater to become an instant sex kitten? That doesn't happen in real life. If you like a basic cardigan to keep warm in winter, it's unlikely you'll be wearing a bustier underneath. If you think your hair looks sloppy flopping around your shoulders, no amount of unbunning will make you embrace the windblown look. Your lifestyle and interests will inform your fashion style. That isn't compromise; that's reality. If you climb lots of stairs during the day, it's silly to wear stiletto heels (at work, anyway). All you'll have to show for your pains are hammer toes. As you explore your fashion options, apply them to the real world and your real life. You'll waste less money on clothes you love but will never wear.

Once you've reviewed the challenges (and opportunities) presented by your body, temperament and lifestyle, these tips will help you find your fashion and wear it well:

  • Choose a celebrity muse -- Celebrities are fashion icons these days, and they come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. If you admire a celebrity's fashion sense, try it on for size. You know what they say about imitation.
  • Mix and match -- No one develops a successful style in a single season or without a few fashion flubs along the way. To hedge your bets, choose some mix and match items you can experiment with: A neutral blazer, coordinating slacks, skirt and white silk blouse will get you started.
  • Know your size -- Just managing to fit into a garment doesn't mean it looks good on you. Dress designers know their craft, and they can make women of all sizes look spectacular, when those women are smart enough to choose sizes that fit them. Buying a garment that's too small for you because of the number on the label is one example of getting bushwhacked by vanity. Don't fall for it.
  • Test the water with accessories -- You may not know if you look better in sophisticated, quirky or romantic styles, and finding out can get expensive. One option is to experiment with a few of your more basic wardrobe items by wearing a selection of different scarves, costume jewelry, belts, hats and other accessories with them. You'll learn a lot about what works for you without destroying your wardrobe budget on beginner blunders.

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Sources

  • Become Gorgeous. "How to Pick Your Fashion Muse." (5/1/12). http://www.fashion-style.becomegorgeous.com/celebrity_style/how_to_pick_your_fashion_muse-1491.html
  • Brum, Marelis. "6 steps to identify your STYLE." 8/15/11. (5/1/12). http://cristianecardoso.com/en/index.php/portfolio-item/6-steps-to-identify-your-style/
  • College Fashion. "Fashion Inspiration: How to Find Your Celebrity Fashion Muse." (5/1/12). http://www.collegefashion.net/fashion-tips/fashion-inspiration-how-to-find-your-celebrity-fashion-muse/
  • MIT - The Tech. "Dressing Your Body Figuring Out Fashion." 4/4/08. (5/1/12). http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N16/fashion.html
  • Shop Your Shape. "Calculate Your Shape." (5/1/12). http://www.shopyourshape.com/
  • The Chic Fashionista. "Personal Fashion Style." (5/1/12). http://www.thechicfashionista.com/personal-fashion-style.html
  • Wexler, Sarah Z. "Find Your Signature Style." 1/6/09. (5/1/12). http://www.marieclaire.com/fashion/trends/find-your-signature-style
  • Wikiel, Yolanda. What's Your Fashion Style?" Real Simple. (5/1/12). http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/clothing/shopping-guide/fashion-style-quiz-00000000047189/index.html

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