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.