How to use style words to define and understand your personal style
From easier shopping trips to streamlined morning routines, you’ll be glad you took the time to choose style words and define your personal style.
September 15, 2022
Style often starts in your subconscious. You may notice you feel more comfortable in soft fabrics or more at ease in pastels, but lack the vocabulary to explain why. You’re not alone! Many of us struggle to define our style simply because we have no idea how to articulate it correctly. Having a few clear style words can set you off in the right direction—feeling confident and stylish.
What are style words?
Think of style words as shorthand for the clothes you prefer to wear. They should be specific and unique to you. (Not prescribed by the media or your stylish best friend.) Three or four words total is all you need.
For example, my style words are subtle, luxurious, discerning, and ease. (What? Were you expecting more “fashion words” like edgy, boho, or the worst, “classic”?) The more specific your style words, the better. They should break out of the industry-monitored fashion box and mean something to you. Great style words describe how your favorite clothes make you feel, not just how they make you look.
Your style words can be obvious or have personal meaning. I like the word “discerning” because I'm very particular about fit and naturally steer away from “sweet and girly” things. It doesn’t matter if others don’t necessarily know that from the word “discerning”—because it means something to me.
You might have to take a few shots at the target before landing on your descriptive style words, but eventually figuring them out is a huge confidence and efficiency booster. Even having words that are not-quite-right but okay for now is a step in the right direction. It gives you something to aim for!
Related: What is personal style and why is it so important?
How can you use style words to understand your personal style?
The link between vocabulary and style isn’t obvious to everyone, so let’s take a closer look. Unearthing your style words can help you understand yourself on a deeper level. Here’s what I mean…
Figure out what each of your style words means to you
The words you choose can have obvious meanings—or not. Ultimately, they don't have to mean anything to anyone else but you! Just mull them over carefully and take time to understand why you chose them (and why they’re the best choice).
Take words like “luminous” or “kinetic” for example. Their relationship to clothing and style means different things depending on who you ask. That's totally okay! Playful, feminine, elegant, sporty, or outdoorsy… each carries a ton of meaning. Keep things narrow and focused in your mind. Others might not get it, but you will!
Related: 4 tips to help define your style (even if you don't think you have one)
Ask yourself if your clothing is aligned with one or all of your words
Style words help you answer the question: does this feel like my style? Try to match all the items in your wardrobe with one or all of your style words. If you can’t make sense of an item, consider passing it on to a friend and replacing it with something more you.
Tying articles of clothing or accessories back to three or four thoughtful style words is far more effective than trying to decide if something is “cute” or “looks good.” As a stylish, unique individual, you need a deeper, more complex question to steer your decisions.
Keep your words in mind when you shop for clothes
Use your style words like a checklist when you shop — they’ll help you identify which pieces to purchase by asking the question: does this outfit or item feel like one of my style words? Style words are liberating in this way! They can help you explore different elements of your style and get you out of your comfort zone while maintaining your personal style.
If you’re considering clothes that are appealing but don’t fit your mold, they might be meant for someone else. Say you’ve just stumbled across the funniest graphic t-shirt. It caught your attention and made you laugh! (Maybe it even fits in with some of your collectible items or home decor.) Unless it fits in with one of your style words, you probably won’t wear it very much.
To get a boost while you’re defining your personal style (or what it isn't!), come join us in Style Lab, my new monthly membership community for people starting their personal style journey. Explore bite-sized personal style lessons—like a how-to on creating your own style words—and get feedback on your real outfits from style coaches and fellow community members. Membership starts at just $7! Become a Style Lab member and get started creating your authentic style.
You've got "figure out personal style" on your to-do list, but can't figure out where to start? Welcome to Style Lab. Style Lab is a private membership community for people starting their personal style journey. Explore bite-sized personal style lessons and get feedback on your real outfits from style coaches and fellow community members. See what it's all about and join us today for just $7.👉 See what's inside Style Lab and become a member today
4 tips for determining your style words
Narrowing down your style words is ultimately pretty simple. Use these four strategies to streamline your process!
Stay away from vague words
Okay, I’ll just be honest: I think “classic” and “comfortable” are useless as style words. After all, we all want comfortable, versatile items that will last a long time, don’t we?
I’ve never heard anyone say they want their style to be uncomfortable, formal, stuffy, or even trendy. Unless your definition for either of those words means something more unique and specific, avoid them altogether.
If you want to describe a certain classic or comfy aesthetic, open up your thesaurus and dig around for more descriptive words. Maybe to you, classic evokes Vintage 1940s Americana, Hollywood, and Audrey Hepburn; or maybe, classic means simple, minimalist menswear-inspired pieces in black and white. Or maybe classic just means “versatile”—but what is versatile to you? All of those descriptions are far more visceral and can help you choose more versatile items for your wardrobe in the long run.
Remember, your style words are yours
Style words are powerful because we get to imbue them with all kinds of meaning. We don't have to fit ourselves into an external trend or make expectations for what something means.
If I say “outdoorsy,” that could mean I:
- Mind the climate when I dress
- Prefer sturdier footwear
- Wear clothes that give off hiking vibes (whether or not I’m hiking that day)
- Adore tropical vibes
- Love ski hats
The variety for some style words is seemingly endless and exciting! On the flip-side, fitting ourselves into a box of external expectations is algorithmically bland. Forget the standard definitions for the style words you choose.
Style is nuanced!
Related: You're allowed to love fashion: why caring about being stylish isn't shallow
All of your words should be visible in your personal style
The point of having style words is to combine all the aesthetics you love into something balanced—and uniquely you. The trick to personal style is creating continuity by balancing all of your style words in your outfits.
Take my style words for example: subtle, discerning, luxurious, and ease. If it's really hot one day, I may wear a Miranda Bennett linen sack dress for “ease” of wear and its “luxurious” fabric. I might require a modest piece of jewelry or structured loafer to accomplish “subtle” and “discerning.”
My client Sabrina’s style words are extravagant, dark romantic, tailored, and contradiction. She favors a goth-y, dark romantic, vintage-inspired look, and she uses her style words to keep it from veering over into costume-y territory.
There’s no right way to go about it! The end goal is to feel confident and like yourself in the clothes you choose.
Style is not a yes or no question
Some of your outfits will favor words A or C. Others will lean more towards words B or D. Any blend will do! Your style should fluctuate with your mood—and there’s no perfect answer to the style riddle when you wake up in the morning.
Your aesthetic will shift from day to day or week to week. It’s totally normal to feel preppy one day, sportier the next, and polished another day. You’re still you and your style can still be cohesive. Your style words make you dynamic and stylish. After all, style is more than the clothes you wear: it’s an overall understanding of yourself, translated into one-of-a-kind clothing blends.
From easier shopping trips to streamlined morning routines, you’ll be glad you took the time to develop your style words. Become a member of Style Lab to start building the core style skills (and supportive community) you need to step into your personal style.
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