It’s something I’ve been pondering in my own attempts to build a wardrobe to last, and I’ve found it requires a high level of confidence in your own style; difficult to achieve when a new trend seems to emerge every other day. Do I really love floaty dresses, neon yellow, ruffles, and ‘Regencycore’ or am I just seeing it all 800 times a day?
I’m currently in the middle of a sew-only year, which means no buying new clothes. If I want something new I have to make it from scratch, and because I’m using one-off, secondhand fabrics it’s really focused my mind on what styles and silhouettes I truly love and what I’ll wear for the next 10, 20, even 30 years. After all, I don’t want to put hours and hours of effort into something I’ll only wear for a year because I was swayed by a trend.
So, I tasked myself with coming up with a formula of sorts to work out what the building blocks of my style are. I started by scrolling way back to the start of my ‘Style’ Pinterest board, where I keep all my outfit inspiration. I wanted to identify common themes that I’ve referenced again and again over the years. Ankle-grazing coats, midi skirts with calf length boots, light wash jeans, suits and co-ords, berets, polo necks under anything and everything, blazers, silk neck scarves, ankle boots, and layers were what stood out. (Turns out I want to be Tia from Uncle Buck or Elaine from Seinfeld with some extra colour thrown in the mix.)
From there, I created a ‘catalogue’ of my go-to silhouettes to draw from. For me it’s 7/8 and mid-calf lengths, high waists, exaggerated shoulders, and blouson outer layers. For others it might be dropped waists, short hems, or bodycon. It’s all about what you love and have consistently loved as other trends have bubbled up then simmered down.
“Personal style is less of a reflection of your external environment and more of a reflection of your internal environment and the things that inspire you,” says sustainable stylist Alyssa Beltempo who specialises in decoupling style and fashion from consumption. Beltempo shares styling tips with 188,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel and runs virtual ‘Shop Your Closet’ styling workshops. In the first instance, she advises her audience to find three words to describe their personal style, which don’t have to be explicitly style-based.
“I think finding them requires a bit of introspection,” Beltempo says. “What poetry do you like? Are you a romantic person? Or do you like watching horror and thriller movies? They might not seem very related to fashion but I think you draw from the different environments and energies and match that to your personal style.”
Bold, earthy, polished, chill, elevated, soft, and comfortable, are all words that Beltempo has used to break down looks in her workshops. And she also has a handy outfit formula to help people build looks either around a key garment, according to a style vibe, or based upon a colour and shape. “I have a background in finance, so I’m always looking for the analytical part of things!” she says.
Having a formula to hand isn’t just useful for building a look but it helps identify whether a potential new addition to your wardrobe would actually work for you in the long term. “You can kind of pass it through your own filter,” Beltempo explains. If I’d passed a peplum top I bought during lockdown through my own filter, I’d have realised that I always, always tuck tops in and it just wouldn’t work with my go-to silhouette. Using that same filter, I now know that I’ll have to alter the 80s peplum-hem blouse pattern I have (bought because I’d seen loads of cool Scandi Instagrammers wearing airy peplum tops) so that it will suit my style.
Of course, experimentation with new looks and trends isn’t out of the question. Defining your personal style isn’t about trapping yourself in a box! As well as re-styling, adding accessories, and playing with what you already have, Beltempo recommends rental or secondhand as a low-impact way to try something new.
Just a few weeks ago I rented an oversized vintage suit for an event to see whether I actually love the look or had just, once again, been swayed by unfeasibly chic Scandi Instagrammers. I did love it and when I’ve upped my skill levels I plan to make my own.
After a few months of moodboarding, refining, experimenting, and homing in on the details, I feel like I finally get what my core style cues are. Will my head still be turned by trends? Undoubtedly, but now I have the tools to know whether they’ll fit into my wardrobe, and my life.