How does a girl find her style?
November 13, 2011 2:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I find my 'look'?

Help a girl find some style! I've always struggled with buying clothes and knowing what looks good with what, and as a result always end up feeling somewhat awkward in clothes generally-I rarely feel confident that I look good. I dont really enjoy shopping and really seem to struggle to find clothes that fit me well, although I don't think I'm a particularly non standard shape (uk size 8, generally, and about 5'5") but somehow clothes just don't look good on me-I end up sticking with very plain standard jumpers and jeans (which are worn through because I can't find new ones to fit!) Ive looked through fashion mags for inspiration, but I'm not so into the super trendy. I'm turning 28 this week and feel it's time for bit of a wardrobe revamp, but don't know where to start. I'm not asking what to wear per se, more how do I go about finding my style?
posted by Mnky197 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
You say you tried flipping through fashion magazines -- which ones? I don't think you'll get as much inspiration flipping through Vogue or Elle, but maybe something like Lucky or a UK equivalent would be more inspiring. Try to find something that's focused on work wear or casual clothes, not just high-fashion editorial pieces.

As for fit, find yourself a good tailor and bring him a few pieces you currently own to see what he can do with it. Over time, he or she should teach you what to look for in an item of clothing, and you'll be able to identify what can be altered to fit you perfectly. I love my tailor, he has made shopping a million times less stressful. The price I pay to retouch vintage and op-shop finds is very much worth it!
posted by OLechat at 2:23 AM on November 13, 2011

Do you have a stylish friend who could go shopping with you? I generally rely on the opinion of my mum for this sort of thing, she really has an eye for it. I also try to look out for people who seem well put together and work out what I like about their clothes - especially people whose look is "classic" rather than "trendy."

Have you ever watched any of Gok Wan's shows? He talks a lot about different body shapes and how to flatter them. Googling "body type clothes" brings up a lot of useful-looking websites.

I'm not sure what your budget is, but I find charity shops are a really great place to look for nice smart clothes, because they're the sort of thing that are given away after being barely worn. You can get well-made clothes in nice fabrics for a fraction of the cost of buying things new. I have some lovely silky tops that people always comment on and want to stroke - they cost me £2.50 each :)
posted by teraspawn at 2:51 AM on November 13, 2011

Lots of the big stores have free personal shopping services. I've never done it but I know people who have and they said there was no pressure to buy anything. Go to one of the big department stores which have lots of concessions like House of Frazer or Depenhams, so you can try things from lots of different shops. Take a friend, go out for lunch, make a day of it. Then in the future, use the ideas you get then to help you know what to buy.

If you can get yourself to London, knock yourself out on Oxford Street, everyone from Selfridges to Topshop has one. I bet it's the same in most major cities.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:59 AM on November 13, 2011

Why not go have a play over on Polyvore? It's basically dressup dolls for grownups and you can have a play with contemporary style without spending a penny.
posted by Jilder at 3:31 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look magazine feels mildly trashy but has good weekly 'find it on the highstreet' features showing you how to shop for particular trends.

Topshop, house of fraser and debenhams also offer personal shopping services if you wanted to spend ~£200 at once on clothes.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:02 AM on November 13, 2011
posted by Lanark at 4:53 AM on November 13, 2011

Have you ever wondered why people who look stylish/well put together/are appropriately dressed for all occasions are that way? They spend a good amount of time and effort on their presentation. This includes such things as hair cuts, make-up, clothes and accessories shopping, owning a range of clothes that meet the different requirements of their daily life. So as somebody who has had to learn this the hard way in 'later' age this is what I'd do, if I started the learning journey again.

Work out what you get dressed for - seriously.

What is the dress code at work? And how do people who's style you like actually interpret this? Think clothes, accessories, make up and hair styles, not just one element.

What do you do in your spare time? If you do a lot of sports or specific outdoor activities you'll need different clothes than if you like to go shopping and hang out in coffee shops. If you like to do all of the above you'll need a wardrobe that allows you to be comfortable doing all of it. Again think of somebody who does this well for each situation and analyse how they do it.

What constitutes dressing up to go out for you? Do you just go out for dinner and films? Are you out clubbing every weekend? Are you down your local with your mates most evenings? Do you have a black tie event at work to attend a few times per year? Or even just once per year?

Your wardrobe should allow you to dress appropriately for all these things in clothes that fit you well and that you are comfortable in, wearing appropriate accessories etc. You may have some areas of your life covered more than others at this point.

Learn about your body shape and how to flatter it with clothes.

Get dressed in clothes you're comfortable in and assess them against what you learn about body shape and styles that flatter your shape.

Work out where your wardrobe does not meet your needs at the moment.

And then you have to start to look at shopping as a project, not as something you try to spend as little time as possible doing. Think of it as starting an exercise regime. You may not like dedicating time to it but there is a significant pay-off if you do.

So if you need to focus on your work wardrobe and you work in an office or professional environment for example work out what your basic colours are going to be e.g. black, beige, navy or whatever. These help you shop for basics (trousers, skirts, jackets, dresses). You then add colour and interest with tops and accessories. And you can start to build a bit of a shopping list based on that.

If your job requires you to wear jeans and t-shirts work out what jeans flatter your shape, work out if you want them dark or light coloured, work out if you want decorative elements or a belt, how long they need to be to work with your preferred footwear etc. Work out what t-shirt styles flatter your. Shorter or longer sleeves, what necklines work with your boobs, what fabric and what colours, what patterns. Think what jewellery, scarves, bags, jackets, cardigans or whatever you would wear with your jeans. You get the idea.

If you cannot bear hitting the high street regularly with that list and taking an arm full of clothes into a dressing room to try them on several times in an afternoon consider this. Open one or two catalogue/online shopping accounts and buy a RANGE (different styles, sizes, cuts, stuff you'd never think you'd wear, different colours) of clothes online, try them on in the comfort of your home and send back anything at all that does not work 100% without exception. Only items that fit you well and fill one of the gaps in your wardrobe may be kept. Repeat as required. Doing this you should learn a lot about fit and about shapes that flatter you. You should be able to refine your selections. And you can then walk into a shop and know what items to consider based on their cut and what gaps you still have in your wardrobe.

Get a good friend or relative who is good at this stuff to help you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:58 AM on November 13, 2011 [19 favorites]

Topshop (especially the flagships eg Oxford Street) have excellent personal shoppers and you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune all at once.

I would definitely spend a couple of weeks reading things like Grazia and Look etc and cut out the stuff you like. Then go and visit the nearest biggest shopping centre and hit the shops to try it on, and ditch stuff you like but which doesn't look right or makes you self conscious. Take a(n honest) friend if possible, if you don't want to go down the personal shopper route.

I would strongly strongly advise avoiding places like Oxford Street in general, though, unless you thrive on stress and elbows. You need to have time to try on lots of things and combine stuff, look at yourself and then try again: not fight over the last pair of skinny jeans in Primark.
posted by citands at 5:01 AM on November 13, 2011

Try on things until they are comfortable. It won't be a quick process. I don't really have a look and for a long time, it was hard to find things that fit me right. I have long legs and a high waist. I also have long arms. I'm pretty disproportioned for the regular designers out there and most things don't fit me right. Almost everything is too short in the arms and pants are either too tight or short at the waist to bottom of zipper area. I ended up finding dresses without sleeves worked better for me.

Try this show, they have great tips! I can't see what you look like so it's hard to give you the right advice, this show has lots of different body types and you'll get some great overall tips!
posted by Yellow at 5:07 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

First thing -- ignore the fashion magazines right now. That's actually starting at the end of the process.

Then: get a couple of books about "style" (or, okay, get them out of the library if owning them feels a little silly). Look for ones where the focus is dressing a body type; one good one I have is The Pocket Stylist, which also has some good information about shopping and fashion as well. But the "dressing your body type" info is the real boon. What those books do is get you to focus not just on the clothes, but on what the clothes do to your overall body shape, in a big-picture aspect. They'll spell out what kinds of pants look good on your kind of body, what kinds of shirts make you look like you have no boobs at all, whatever.

Then take another look at the shops. You'll be better able to assess what looks good on you, because you won't be looking solely at "is the blouse pretty", but you'll also be bearing in mind "does the blouse make me pretty." You'll have a better sense of, say, which cuts of which jackets look better on you and which make you look ridiculous.

You'll also get a better sense of how to navigate the fashion magazines -- sometimes they run articles with pictures of "looks", and maybe you'll get an idea -- but you'll be better able to tell "well, yeah, that's an interesting concept, but I need something that's more fitted around the waist and that's not, so that would make me look like a dumpling, so no thanks".

Get acquainted with what kinds of cuts of clothes are best for your body first, and a WHOLE lot of other stuff falls into place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:31 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a sort of short version of the approach that helped me a lot.

1. Work out what kind of body shape you have. Pear shaped, apple shaped, boyish shaped... Go and measure yourself if you need to.

2. Work out what kind of colouring you have. Here's one approach. For example, if you're ashy blond and blue eyed like me you are not likely to look great in lime green or yellow, but you can rock the blues and purples and reds and greys. For someone with a warm brown colour skin, that lime green or yellow may well look fabulous.

3. Find a fashion blogger who has a similar shape and colouring to you. Specifically, find someone who posts regular pictures of themselves in an outfit, and explains why they think the outfit suits them or why the pieces go together well.

4. Follow the blog and learn!

Most clothes don't suit most people - it's just the super stylish people know what suits them, and can avoid the rest of the stuff more easily in the shops.
posted by emilyw at 7:19 AM on November 13, 2011

Focus on what you like. I've had mind-blowing results by thinking about what I like as opposed to what would look good on me.

Also, Etsy is great for this. The vintage section can give you an idea of the various types of looks out there and then you can look around for stuff you like in currently produced clothes.

Also, don't forget accessories.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:24 AM on November 13, 2011

About a year and a half ago I decided I needed to consciously invest time into becoming more stylish. Not trendy, just... put together. Step 1 was to find some fashion blogs I enjoyed. I was aiming for college-y casual and quirky so most of the ones I read probably don't fit your needs perfectly. But Already Pretty is fabulous and gets recommended here a lot, and though they're not updating anymore I learned a lot from Academichic's archives. You should also check out this AskMe question for some more links. I picked 3-4 blogs and checked in on them a few times a week. The repetition of seeing different things on the same bodies helped me pay attention to silhouettes and fit, and it helped me get a sense of specific elements that intrigued me (blazers! boots! cardigans! belts! teal and mustard yellow! big necklaces!).

That helped me put together an ongoing list of things to look for when I go shopping. And Step 2 is to overhaul your shopping habits. First, are you going to the right places? Ask your well-dressed friends where they buy their clothes. If you're not shopping at the right stores your odds of scoring something great-for-you drop dramatically. Second, get on mailing lists and check stores online to get a sense of their inventory and how the outfits are styled. Third, be willing to walk away if you don't find something you're happy with. I used to think "this sweater is too short for my arms but I'm such a weird size I'll never find anything better so what does it matter I'll just buy it." I walked away with clothes I was unhappy with, and consequently never wore (or felt bad about while wearing them). Once I decided to revamp my style I spent far more time shopping but bought far fewer things. What helped me not feel completely overwhelmed when shopping was to realize that not everything in the store is meant to fit me. It's not about making my body fit the 100 different items in the store, but to find the 5 items that fit my body. You mention being a non-standard size, but almost everyone is non-standard size. Almost everyone has to hunt for their 5 items; the people who seem great and stylish have simply developed a method to find those 5 items as quickly as possible. (Plus, tailoring.)

Step 3 is figuring out how to put it all together once you've actually bought the clothes. The fashion blogs you're reading should be really helpful at suggesting how things get put together. For example, Academichic has some great tutorials on color theory (I use this tool in conjunction with it). Then you need to budget more time in the morning or night before to creating an outfit. It gets both easier and harder as you go along, and some days it takes 5 minutes to get ready and other days it takes 20 minutes and three different outfits. Actively budget time every day to incorporate your new clothes, and be ready to push yourself -- attacks of self-consciousness make that totally adorable scarf feel like a huge risk because nobody's ever seen you wear scarves before so won't it attract all this attention and maybe you really don't look good in it after all... wear it anyway. And feel completely self-conscious all day until someone gives you a nice compliment (they will!). Then feel a little better but still uncomfortable. Repeat until you feel awesome. But if you don't budget time for those moments of indecision you won't ever pull your great new clothes out of the closet.
posted by lilac girl at 8:38 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sadly, the answer is an unpleasant one--trial & error! I'm pretty fat, so it's hard for me to find clothes in the first place. A LOT of times, I'm tempted to buy things just because they come in my size, and not because I actually like them. I'll buy whatever the damn thing is, take it home, and then it will sit in the closet for months. I'll plan outfits around it, maybe wear it one time and feel uncomfortable, and then I'll sell it or donate it. DON'T BE LIKE ME!

Concentrate on what you like, and what looks good on you. Leave the tags on something, put it away, and if the next day you're not chomping at the bit to wear it, return it! It's a great feeling to be excited to get dressed every day, instead of dreading it. Shop online if that's an option for you--trying things on at your own house and in front of your own mirror is more comfortable than doing it in a store, and you look more the way you would look every day putting it on; same lighting, same mirror!

Besides clothes, check out accessories. I know some people who dress pretty plainly, but always have an AMAZING necklace or something, and I think "Here I am wasting my time crafting a look with all these pieces, and Jenny looks so effortlessly cool with her funky jewelry." Same goes for a haircut or color!

Creating your style can take a long time, so don't be discouraged. I really do think the payoff is worth it though. If you like the way you look (or even if you just really like the shirt you chose to wear), it can make you feel like a million bucks all day long. I have been LOADS more confident in my new job now that I know how to get dressed every day, as compared to how I felt when I was grabbing a random pair of khakis and a v-neck tee back when I was 22 and didn't know any better!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, take all your measurements. Measure your bust, your natural waist, and your hips. Next measure the circumference of your shoulders. Next measure the height of your head from the very top of your head to your chin.

Now, get a copy of Trinny and Susannah's "What Not To Wear: The Rules". This will tackle your individual features one at a time. It should be easy enough to figure out if you have big boobs, your measurement will tell you how much waist you have (also try calculating your waist-to-hip ratio just to make sure), and you'll know if you have a flabby tum, and so on. The tricky one is whether or not you have short legs. Measure the length from your hip socket to the bottom of your ankle bone and divide that by your head height. If it's less than 4, you have short legs. More than 4, you have long legs. Exactly 4, your legs are proportionate.

You also need to check and see if you have large or small bones. Look at the bones in your wrists and ankles to figure this out. Small bones mean finer jewellery and less-chunky footwear, large bones mean bigger jewellery and more-chunky footwear.

Now, tackle one feature at a time. The first chapter IIRC is about big boobs. Whether your bust is very big or very small, take some time working through the chapters to learn the principles using the clothes you already have. Pick out all the tops you have that match the description of "worst top" or "best top" for that feature, and each day wear one of them and observe the visual effect it has. This will really help you to get a full understanding.

When you reach the end of the book, take all the features you actually have, save all the "best garments" for those features, and chuck out all the "worst"; the others are neutral as long as you style them properly according to what you've learned. If a garment is one of the "best" for one of your features but "worst" for another, eliminate it. What's left will be a set of garments that are either "best" or neutral for you.

Now you've figured out shape, you next have to figure out colour. An important thing Trinny and Susannah used to push, and which I tend to agree with, is that you should wear colour with colour and black with black (or white, grey, and dark brown). I agree with this because treating black as a neutral tends to interrupt the visual effect and look like the black item in an otherwise colourful outfit is a placeholder: .

They also say: don't combine red and white because the white will kill the red. Don't combine beige with dark brown leather accessories, and don't wear beige head to toe at work or you will merge with the filing cabinet. Don't indulge the cliché of dark blue and white (but combos of dark blue and white that aren't clichés are fine). Light green and brown in the same outfit will make you look like a tree; an overwhelmingly green outfit will do the same. In general, I've found this true.

To figure out whether an item is in a shade that suits you, take all the items you have in that colour and, in good daylight, hold it right up under your chin. It will either make your face look brighter, or more haggard. If it makes your face look more haggard it's a bad shade for you. You can still wear it, but away from your face - in pants or a skirt, say.

For combining patterned items with solid, it's good if the solid item picks up a colour in the patterned item. For combining two patterned items, make sure that they have at least two colours in common.

For certain heavy or textured fabrics, you want to wear only one thing in that fabric at a time. Jeans and a denim jacket don't mix; velvet skirts should not be accompanied by a velvet top, and so on.

Once you have all that down, buy the Lucky Shopping Manual for inventory. They will tell you how many of each thing you need to get.

If you can find a copy of "The Triumph of Individual Style", this will take you into the advanced version of the above. Great resource. But if not, take into consideration the relative squashiness or boniness or muscular-ness of the various areas of your body. For example, squashy areas are supposed to match with fluid fabrics like silks and chiffons; muscular areas with medium-taut fabrics like lycra; boniness with taut fabrics like denim. If a fleshy woman wears taut fabrics, according to this system she should make sure they are cut to hug the curves. Imagine an hourglassy woman in a straight-cut denim skirt, for example - it will make her look like she's standing in a barrel.

posted by tel3path at 10:59 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, you need to find your body type and shape. You're going to have to be honest with yourself if you really want to look good. There are several websites that can help you with this via some easy google searching.
Measure your hips, waist, and chest. This will help you to find your body ratio.
Compare a few websites on body type. You're going to end up going back and forth to a -full length- mirror a few times to compare the body shape pictures with your own image.

Now, look at what types of clothes you should technically be wearing. Pay attention to shape, line, and how something hugs the body in the picture, rather than color or pattern right now. Write these things down. Draw little sketches of what you should be looking for, such as a-line skirts vs. pencil, what kinds of necklines, where your jacket pockets should be.
For comparison, also take note of another body types clothing recommendations (aka what you shouldn't be wearing).

Let's go shopping! Whether or not you have the budget for it, this is mainly just so you can have a blank canvass, free of previous emotional attachment to you "favorite" clothes.
Look for 3 to 4 different tops that you should be wearing. Now pick out a couple that you shouldn't.
Go into the dressing room and put on the one you shouldn't be wearing first. See how it doesn't follow your lines? Doesn't work well with you body?
Now put on a top or two that you should be wearing. Keep comparing like this until you understand.

I had to do this to actually look good. I happened to have several tops and pants that were already my type as well as several that didn't look good. I still sometimes stray from what I should be wearing but believe me...once you have an image in your mind as to what you should be buying, it's SO much easier to shop. You'll find yourself tempted less often by silly things that just end up in the back of your closet.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:32 AM on November 13, 2011

I would first pick a friend whom you think looks best and has a sense of style you like to emulate.

Then, I would tell them, "I have some money and I need to revamp my work/ social wardrobe. I like your sense of fashion. Will you please help me go shopping, pick key pieces and tell me why you chose them and why they flatter my body shape?"

Did I ever say that ONE OF MY LIFE DREAMS IS TO HAVE SOMEONE COME TO ME AND SAY THOSE EXACT WORDS? I would do this for free -- in fact, I'll probably beg to help you.

Anyway, I'm so very sure that one of your fashionista friends will feel the exact same way too :)
posted by moiraine at 2:31 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice in this thread. I wouldn't call myself a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but I did a few things a few years ago that helped me finally feel comfortable in my clothes in any setting. The very best thing that I did was invest in a few hours consultation with a personal stylist. She specializes in helping people understand which colors and shapes look best on them, and which to avoid altogether. This really varies greatly with each individual. She did not buy clothes for me, she taught me how to find the right things for myself. I think I paid a total of about $1200 for her services, but in the long run I have saved a ton of money by not buying the wrong clothes for myself, and ending up with a closet full of "nothing to wear".

After that, I paid attention to What Not to Wear to further understand what works and doesn't work for my shape, and to mags like In Style so that I could stay on trend if I so wished. But really, the knowledge avout the right colors and shapes will serve me for the rest of my life. Money well spent.
posted by vignettist at 2:57 PM on November 13, 2011

I think there are many great specific advice in this thread on how to approach finding the clothes that work for you. If those step by step tips encourage you and trigger your curiosity, you should definitely try them out. But if they somehow don't motivate you but rather make you feel like this whole finding one's style is a tedious systematic job, then maybe the pressure of finding the "right clothes" is getting to you, and you might want to step out of that.

I myself find some of the advice above, though very useful and true, a little too microscopic and not the first thing I'd think about in your situation. Which color, style, size, material, etc. work on you varies considerably depending on the brand, their philosophy, etc. and you need a lot of experience and knowledge to grasp that. Trying to decipher and understand all that now in the beginning can be a little overwhelming and confusing. Instead, I personally feel the most important thing about fashion is to just simply enjoy the overall image that it gives off, and that begins by you having reactions to clothes and images in general. It seems like you're currently not very sensitive in that area, and maybe that's where you should start.

If that's the case, I'd go about it more casually, beginning by focusing on what attracts your attention, what your aesthetic preferences seem to be in terms of color, shape, etc. (regardless of what works on you, or what the trend is or whatever), and in general just notice what others are wearing and what kind of impression you get from them. When you're watching a movie or TV, do you see an actor you like wearing something that appeals to you somehow? What is it about them that you like? Then try imagining if you would want to wear that yourself. And if you get to that point, then try things out casually, you don't have to try out every size and style yet, but just the ones you are curious about. Maybe it'll work, in which case you'll be feeling pretty comfortable in them. If you feel for some reason uncomfortable, then it most likely isn't working for you. Maybe you feel like you're faking an image, or the material or the cut makes you look like someone else, or whatever. This experience will naturally lead you to focus on the details, where all the advice above will come in handy.

In any case, I think daily fashion is ultimately all in the eyes of the beholder, and the only thing that matters is your subjective feeling about them. I've lived in many cities around the world and their sense of style and fashion vary significantly, it's quite surprising. I'm thinking that doesn't flatter their body shape, but they think that it does. So there's no universal "right answer" as some people might think when it comes to fashion, so don't worry too much about it, and prioritize your feeling and your interest, and enjoy it. If you don't have much interest in clothes right now, that's ok too. Don't force it. If you just be honest to your senses, I'm sure in the long run you'll naturally come across "your style". In my opinion, style isn't something that you go out and find, but rather something that you build over time through experience and experimentation. And your style could be that you don't care too much about clothes, and that can be cool!
posted by snufkin5 at 9:42 PM on November 13, 2011

I'm about your size and have the same problem. The issue for me is that I'm such a visual person, it's hard to me to look at something on a rack all lifeless and imagine it on me. I get really discouraged when something seems promising and then ends up looking a nightmare, so I don't really go out of my way to be more experimental by trying on something I wouldn't have otherwise.

I've found that shopping online actually increases my willingness to experiment because I'm able to see a real person in the item and read reviews from people wearing it day-to-day, not to mention the selection is endless.

I've found that Svpply really helps me find styles I like that I didn't even know existed or just didn't have the names for. My taste tends to be a little expensive there, so I use the terms I learned and plop them into Svpply's search bar or Google to find what I can in more affordable varieties.

Hope this helps, good luck!
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:56 PM on November 13, 2011

Thanks so much everyone for all the advice!
posted by Mnky197 at 4:58 AM on November 14, 2011

A different approach -- try looking at a museum exhibit, or leaf through fancy coffee table books on fashion and see if anything hits your eye. I had a lot more success liking fashion, enough to hit a few stores semi-regularly to build a wardrobe, after I saw a Giorgio Armani exhibit in Bilbao. I'm still no fashionista, but it at least helped me appreciate clothing more as a form of expression.

Also, seconding the accessorizing bit above. I love necklaces, so I have about a dozen I rotate which helps dress up my fairly plain Gap-on-sale, etc wardrobe. I'm also pear-shaped, and there are just some clothing that will never look good on me, so I stick to the silouhettes that work.
posted by ejaned8 at 9:00 AM on November 14, 2011

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