don’t panic, you don’t have to figure out your personal style

An ode to making it up as you go along

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Hero image in post

An ode to making it up as you go along

By Sophie Lou Wilson26 Jul 2023
6 mins read time
6 mins read time

There is a lot in life that you supposedly have to ‘figure out.’ It’s like you’re supposed to wake up one day, ideally on or before your 25th birthday, and decide how you’re going to make money, where you're going to live and how you’re going to dress for the rest of your life. How you dress might seem like the least consequential of these, but it’s the only one you have to actively choose each and every day.

TikTok microtrends have made it both easier and harder to settle on a personal style. If you decide you really are a cottagecore, fairycore, prairie girl or a strawberry coquette waif then there’s an endless archive of fashion inspiration and cultural markers for you to embrace this aesthetic. Most of the time, though, this endless choice just makes it harder to settle on a particular style. And that’s fine too.

There’s nothing wrong with experimentation and trying on different identities. As long as you don’t try and keep up with every trend and buy a whole new wardrobe each time a new aesthetic is coined, then TikTok trendcore can offer expansive creative terrain to play around in.

When we think of personal style, specific style subcultures like goth or grunge tend to come to mind, but if you think of any major style icons from the past century, their distinctive styles created a new aesthetic rather than following one. Often these were born from practicality and carried off with enough charisma to become fashion statements. Think Edie Sedgwick wearing tights as pants or Jane Birkin using a basket as a handbag. They were spontaneous and messy around the edges. But not every person with iconic style will end up on Pinterest boards for time immemorial. They might be someone you pass on the street or always see in your local cafe.

In cities like London, lots of people have big, creative, attention-grabbing style. Sometimes their look might be a true original, but they probably have their own niche references that they pull from. Fashion can be the art we wear. Some people dedicate their whole lives to this, but unless you're a celebrity influencer or a CSM student, it's unlikely you'll wear these dramatic, highly creative outfits everyday. Practical factors like time and energy come into it, as well as comfort and safety if you don't live in a big city.

That's why others choose to stick to straightforward uniform dressing, often signalling that they have bigger things to think about than clothes, but sticking so rigidly to one outfit can get boring. “I often think about Steve Jobs wearing the same clothes all the time, or Andy Warhol, or Leigh Bowery, wearing wigs, preferring certain shapes and patterns, devoting yourself to creative life so much that your day to day appearance must be able to be simply picked up and put on, your brain power goes elsewhere,” says Kaycia, 25, who doesn’t believe in sticking to a singular personal style. “I often try to push myself into finding a set style for this exact reason and I simply become much too bored with it. I can't resist playing and changing and next thing you know I'm wearing a different decade.”

Not sticking to one personal style can also be an act of defiance. It’s a refusal to be categorised or let people make assumptions about you based on the way you dress. “I understand the power that style has in framing narratives and I think I’m uncomfortable with being pegged into one narrative,” says Darshita, 25. “I want the liberty to be unpredictable. I like having the option to show up as a different person each day."

Personal style, like personality, isn’t always something we entirely choose. You can shape it and curate it, but there is an innateness to it as well. Some of our fashion choices are formed subconsciously, more noticeable to others than it to ourselves. Even if you don't think you have a personal style, your friends would probably say otherwise. They could walk into a store and pinpoint pieces they think match your style even if you think it's constantly changing.

“I would say my personal style is passed on and borrowed,” says Darshita. “This doesn’t mean that all my clothes are thrifted, but that my style is a reflection of who I’m spending time with, online and IRL. There are more kicks in my wardrobe now because my best friend is super into streetwear and there’s some new Indian-inspired prints because of the nostalgic content I’ve been watching.”

Ultimately, your clothes tell the story of your life. "Andy Warhol archived periods of his life by wearing a particular scent for a three month period and then never again, tying the scent memory to that period. I do the same with clothes," says Kaycia. Of course, changing your entire wardrobe every three months wouldn’t be financially or environmentally sustainable, but rewearing pieces that remind you of a certain time or event can be a way to tap into different past versions of yourself.

“At the moment, I wear a giant neon green bow on top of my head," Kaycia continues. "I'll wear it now and when I stop I'll always think of this period, if I see images of myself wearing it I know what period it is straight away. The outside appearance is much less important than the feeling." Having this level of emotional connection with your wardrobe can help you shop more consciously even if you don’t have a defined sense of personal style. If you want clothes that tell a story, pre-loved fashion and pieces by independent designers will always feel more romantic than fast fashion hauls.

There is a case for figuring out your style. You may be less swayed by trends and therefore only buy pieces you’ll keep and love, reducing unnecessary purchases and potentially feeling more confident that you know yourself. It’s a good idea to know what you like and dislike, in fashion as in life, but it doesn’t have to be as rigid or prescriptive as choosing one colour or aesthetic and sticking to it religiously. The best style isn’t fixed. It evolves with your tastes and passions, reflecting where you are and who you are at any given time.

Fashion is most exciting when it is transformational. How much more joyful and exciting life is when you never know where your next style inspiration might come from, a guy you pass in the street, a film you see at the cinema. Instead of following pre-set rules you've made up about your personal style, embrace the chaos and change that comes with being alive. Intuitive dressing and following your instincts each day can be so much more fulfilling.