If you were allowed to freely explore my closet before ever meeting me, you might come to the conclusion that I’m schizophrenic. My wardrobe is so wildly varied that it contains everything from a 1970s kelly green glitter gown that once belonged to Diana Ross and authentic Moroccan red leather slippers to a Navajo patterned cape. There are representative styles from every era back to the 1920s in my closet, and plenty of pieces purchased while traveling to places like Hong Kong, Paris, and India. As a lover of fashion, I’m a collector of anything and everything that catches my fancy, and I love experimenting with unexpected combinations. Yet, since I can remember, I have been told by magazine articles and stylist friends that I need to have a signature look, and for years I’ve admired the dedication of those who have well-honed signature style like Karl Lagerfeld and Diane Pernet. This signature look idea has been hammered into my head for so long that I never stopped to consider why this advice might actually be useful to someone like me, who has too many odd bits of clothes and not enough occasions that call for wearing them.
A signature look is a uniform, one that you can easily reach for on any given occasion that defines your personality, but if you’re currently lacking such a uniform, do not despair. As of 2016, fashion is in such a state of flux that dominant trends are disappearing and you can dress in a host of styles that still look current. A quick scroll through the #streetstyle hashtag on Tumblr or Pinterest will prove a range of styles are on-trend. Just look at the current landscape – whether you’re a hipster, a sneakerhead, a grunge girl, a goth maven, or a polished professional, there is room to accommodate any and all fashion categories in a single wardrobe. That said, there is no fashion mantra that says you need to have a signature style, but there are plenty of good reasons to embrace one anyway.
For starters, having a signature look helps tremendously toward effortlessly selecting your outfit of the day. Instead of being crunched for time in the morning, you can simply step into a version of your “uniform” that makes you feel comfortable and put-together. In other words: signature style saves brain space and demolishes morning “what to wear” panic.
Second, your signature look should convey a consistent, cohesive message about yourself. Cara Delevingne‘s penchant for tailored tuxedo suits tells you that she’s concerned with smashing gender-based prescriptive dress codes, while Lady Gaga‘s avant-garde, experimental ensembles signal her artistic credibility. The first step in defining your signature style is to define your message. What do you want the world to know about you at first glance?
Third, having a well-developed signature look will make shopping for yourself so much easier. In knowing that you prefer tailored separates to floral feminine dresses, you can hone in more easily on the boutiques, brands, and e-tailers that support your preferred aesthetic.
Personally, as a clothing and accessories collector, I’ve come to the point of being overwhelmed by choice. In order to gain clarity, I’ve developed the following steps toward defining one’s signature look, which, if followed, will bring you closer to the perfectly styled, ideal self that we each have in our minds of what we want to look like, dress like, and ultimately, feel like. Follow along for helpful tips on learning your own style strengths and weaknesses.
Step One: Define What's Already Working
We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. In order to understand what’s already working, the easiest way to build a foundation for your signature look is to physically remove all of the items from your closet that you wear regularly. What remains is the 80% of your wardrobe that occasionally sees the light of day. What fits with your style goals? What doesn’t make sense? What are you holding onto for nostalgia’s sake or in hopes that it may one day fit again? Now look at the 20% of your closet that you wear most frequently. What’s missing? What needs an update? What doesn’t flatter that you wear regardless? Here is where the minutiae of wardrobe tweaking can begin.
Step Two: Research and Development
As an avid fan of research, this step is my favorite. Here’s where you can utilize any one of the organizational tools available via apps or the internet to create a mood board of your favorite looks. Pinterest is a great way to begin saving and aggregating looks from celebrities, models, and street style girls that you want to emulate. Once you have about 100 images saved and stored, step back and look at the whole picture. Do you notice any patterns? Once you have your style goals visualized, you can begin to see what parts of your wardrobe meet your goals, and which don’t. Begin to hone your wardrobe accordingly.
Step Three: Know Yourself
What colors look best on you? What’s your body type? What shape is your face? Once you know the basics, you can begin to evolve your signature look into one that flatters you specifically. As much as we’d all love to look like one of the celebrities we admire, the truth is, we can’t all pull off Kendall Jenner‘s #BalmainButt look. For example, I have broad shoulders, a narrower waist, no hips, and long legs. This means that oversized pieces look absolutely terrible on me, and shoulderpads are the bane of my existence. Yet, when I look at my wardrobe, what do I see? Dozens of oversized babydoll dresses and several ill-fitting padded jackets. Armed with self-knowledge, I will not be making those mistakes again. Even though it may be hard, be honest with yourself. Knowing your angles, proportions, skin tone, and face shape will go a long way toward developing a signature style that makes you look your best.
Step Four: Try and Tweak
Now that you’ve gone through your closet, assessed what works, assessed what’s missing, compiled a mood board, and defined your stats, it’s time to test drive your signature look. Since this process is measured at your pace, you can tweak it as you go. Be prepared for your preferences to change often as you undergo these steps, and be gracious with yourself when you realize that you need to re-define your parameters or revisit a step. What you should be looking for is a basic capsule wardrobe, consisting of several tops, bottoms, jackets, skirts, dresses, and shoes, that can be mixed and matched together. Once you have completed these steps, you should be well on your way toward a well-developed sense of style that not only conveys your personality, but also makes you feel confident and beautiful every time you walk out the door.
Victoria Beckham became an instant style icon when she chucked her Posh Spice image in favor of strictly tailored clothing, minimalist lines, and monochrome palettes.
Former model, actor, and activist, Cara Delevingne, shows off her feminist convictions by frequently wearing masculine separates, tuxedos, and men’s clothes on the red carpet.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, actor and frequent muse to directors like Lars Von Trier and Michel Gondry, has a well-defined sense of style that is both tomboyish and minimal.
Fashion blogger and critic, Diane Pernet, has been wearing some version of this look every day for decades.
We’ve lost track of just how long Karl Lagerfeld has been wearing immaculately tailored Dior suits, finger gloves, and glittering brooch accessories, but his signature look seemed to have developed some time in the late 80s or early 90s.
Lou Doillon, French fashion muse, singer, and daughter of Jane Birkin, is always wearing a jacket or cardigan with basics like a tee and jeans. She changes up the brands and silhouette, but her fashion uniform almost never changes.