Close your eyes and visualize the "perfect" wardrobe.
Let me guess—it's light and airy, with evenly spaced hangers, and there's not a single wrinkle or speck of dust. The coordinated color palette is soft and neutral—but don’t worry, there’s a stripe, or a pop of terracotta. There’s no storage boxes in sight, and the two pairs of shoes on the shelf never fall over. If you’ve ever searched for “capsule wardrobe” photos, you can picture this exactly, can't you?
Is that the perfect wardrobe?
That glossy, idealized closet isn’t your idea of perfect. It’s not actually anyone’s idea of perfect.
It's a mash-up of all the French Girl Essentials and capsule wardrobe Pinterest graphics, topped with some vague idea of "versatility" and "minimalism." It ignores the constraints of real life: rainy days and winter boots, hot Texas summers or icy London winters. This perfect is also white and thin. It doesn’t make room for your gender or your culture, for your children or your chronic illness.
This perfect is generic. It doesn't belong to any of us. We all have such different lives, bodies, cultures, dreams, goals, values, aesthetics—how could one definition of a perfect wardrobe apply to us all?
What's wrong with "perfect"?
This perfect is also complete. It has all the pieces you should have. There's this year's booties, that one ethical handmade cardigan everyone seems to love, and the mythical straight leg jean. Once you have all that—then, then! you’ll be satisfied.
What we’re longing for isn’t the clothes, though. It’s that feeling of satisfaction. Consciously or not, we’re imagining an end state, where our wardrobe is finally complete and finally feels like us.
Do you know what something is when it is complete? Unchanging. Stagnant. Lifeless.
You aren’t lifeless. You are vibrantly, uniquely, joyfully alive. The world constantly changes, and so do we. As we grow and change, so does what is perfect for us. Striving for a generic and unchanging “perfect” wardrobe only takes us farther away from the satisfaction we are looking for.
We need to deconstruct what “perfect” means—expose our hidden internal assumptions, and redefine it for ourselves.
What will make us satisfied with our wardrobes, then?
What will bring us satisfaction is a style that is specific to us, and as resilient as we are. Our specific style should reflect our inner self and values, our aesthetic, and our habits.
If you don’t feel very clear about your style right now, that’s okay. It takes practice to notice, appreciate, and think critically about it.
It’s worth doing—because the clearer we are about our singular style, the easier it is to escape the hold that “perfect” has on us.
I can hear you asking: So how do I figure out my specific style? I’ve been experimenting—but I don’t feel any closer to having a style that’s “mine”.
Don't start with style inspo.
Usually when defining our style, we start with inspiration. How many Pinterest personal style boards have you made—and how many of them are filled with outfits that you love but aren't really you?
Inspiration photos can tell you what you like, but they can’t tell you much about your style. And you already have a style!
You need to get to know your style a little better, before you can move it in a new direction. You need clarity on what your style is, right now, in real life.
In How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell writes that the more attention we pay to something, the more we see. The more we see, the more meaning is revealed, where before it was invisible. “Context is what appears when you hold your attention open for long enough; the longer you hold it, the more context appears.”
You already have a style!
You already have a style! It's waiting to be revealed, seen in detail and made meaningful through paying closer attention. That is why I call this process uncovering your singular style—not discovering it.
Then, something magical can happen: as you uncover your style, you uncover more about who you are and what you value. As you get more aligned inside and outside, you create more ease.
Our style represents who we are—our identity and personality—as much as our aesthetic.
Erica's style words
Erica has a style word of “conversational.” That might not immediately conjure a specific look for you—but it’s meaningful to her. She loves to talk to anyone about anything, she loves meeting new people and getting to know them, she likes the twists and turns a conversation takes. In her style, this appears as unusual combinations, bright and playful colors and print mixing, unique pieces like holo silver shoes—conversation starters that might lead to someplace unexpected.
Her vibrant, colorful style is how she embodies creative freedom. Uncovering this aspect of her style helped her choose outfits that support her personality—not hide it.
This process also helps us uncover our unconscious beliefs about body, money, beauty, and style.
Uncovering Julia's "irresponsible" shopping choices
My client Julia had a powerful story about herself: I make irresponsible shopping decisions.
Whenever she bought something that didn’t quite work, her internal dialogue went something like this: Well, of course that doesn’t work for you, of course you don’t wear it, because you don’t know what you like, and you’re easily manipulated by marketing. You just don’t how to make good shopping decisions.
She was choosing clothes based on external factors: what people around her wore (college kids in summer jeans shorts), what she felt she was supposed to like (that ethical fashion obsession with mules), what she felt she should wear as an academic (“professional” work attire).
So she kept shopping, because none of those clothes felt like her. Then because none of them felt right, her brain kept saying, See, didn’t I tell you? You don’t know how to make good purchases.
Last month, she bought a blazer, based on the style definition we created together. It had all the right visuals: the shape, the measurements, the color and print… and she still didn’t feel like herself in it.
Her first response? “This purchase is a perfect example of me not trusting my own judgment around clothes and shopping.”
We had to look objectively at the blazer—and look closely at the immediate self-criticism. By thinking critically about why she did (and didn’t) like the blazer, she instead made a very informed, self-aligned, and responsible decision to return it.
Rather than keeping it out of guilt or because she “should” wear it, or because it fit all the aesthetic boxes so it “should” work—she wrote herself a new story.
These stories we tell ourselves shape the way we act. By unpacking these beliefs, we get more aligned, inside and out.
Style is about more than just the clothes.
In this way, you can define your personal values through your style by examining your understanding of yourself, how you shop and where your money goes, and how you model the world you want to live in.
Do you relate to any of these examples? What parts of your identity do you express through your style—or hide? What is something you value, and how do you act on it?
Personal style isn’t just our aesthetic—it’s also our identity, our desires, our habits, our resources, and what we believe and value. It’s about the clothes—but it’s never just about the clothes.