Wardrobe Architect Week 2: Defining a Core Style

The first time I read the title of this week’s assignment, I thought, “Wait, what? Isn’t this the whole point of the Wardrobe Architect series?” I was uneasy about having to pin down my core style in a single exercise, because if I haven’t been able to do it in a little over two-and-a-half decades of being alive, how am I supposed to tackle it in an hour or two? (Or five or six hours, if you count all the time I spent surfing for inspiration images.)

Luckily, this exercise isn’t about picking specific garments, colors, or patterns—those all come later, and one at a time—but about sifting through the emotional responses you have to clothes. Like Sarai points out, we usually know what we like. So the goal here is to identify how the clothes you like make you feel, and how the clothes you don’t like make you feel, and, if you’re like me, how you want your clothes to make you feel.

When you are wearing your favorite clothing, how do you feel (e.g. confident, sexy, poised, powerful, etc.)?

My favorite clothing makes me feel mature and polished, but comfortable. I like things that are feminine without being fussy. “Sexy” tends to carry provocative connotations, and I prefer something that’s more understated—something that doesn’t cry “Look at me!” but that invites an admiring look. My favorite clothes make me feel alluring, and hearken to ideas of classic beauty.

When you’re wearing something that is not quite right, how do you feel? What are the feelings you want to avoid about the clothes you wear?

I touched on this last week, but I hate anything that makes me feel constricted or bulky. I also hate anything that makes me feel frumpy or drab, because it reinforces the feeling that I’m lazy with my appearance. I try to avoid anything that makes me feel the least bit childish, since I already have to fight to convince people of my age, and I resent anything that should make me look and feel like grown-up but instead makes me feel like an impostor to adulthood. All of these things make me feel both self-conscious and alienated, which are a pair of opposites that feel a lot like being overly caffeinated while also being completely exhausted.

Who do you consider to be your style icons? What is it about them that appeals to you?

I struggled with this question more than any of the others this week or last week. Because I don’t follow fashion or any kind of celebrity, I hardly knew where to look for ideas. I started with the women named in the essay—Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O, Katherine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Alexa Chung, Solange Knowles, Sofia Coppola—but none of them were close. I thought about actresses I think are pretty, like Emma Watson and Hayden Panettiere, but they didn’t really capture it either. I ran through a list of names I could think of, even pulling up more obscure celebrities whose style I knew nothing about, with no success.

While I certainly think that everyone is entitled to their privacy, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that most or all of the images I could find were from high-profile events. What do these women wear in their day-to-day lives? Obviously they’re not gadding about in evening gowns. Do they wear jeans? Dresses? A rainbow of colors? A uniform of jeans and white button-downs? I want to see what they look like when they’re being people, not just famous actresses and singers and dancers and directors.

Finally, I remembered a fashion blogger that I’d followed for some time before I realized that reading her posts was making me feel bad about myself instead of inspired, and I unsubscribed. That feeling was not the blogger’s fault, though, so I pulled up her most recent post and was reminded why I liked her so much: Jean from Extra Petite always looks put-together without being overdressed, and she’s great at mixing colors, prints, and textures in a way that feels layered but not chaotic. She embodies the kind of style that I’m currently aspiring toward.

What are some words that describe styles that you like in theory, but are not quite you?

I understand why some women gravitate toward vintage, but it’s just not my thing. I like things that are comfortable, but not too relaxed or oversized. I want to look and feel feminine, but I don’t care for things that are too soft, like ruffles or ditsy florals. On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t really pull off bold, edgy, or adventurous styles unless I’m in costume. I need more color in my life, but I don’t think I’m wired for a vibrant, technicolor wardrobe.

Look over your answers from last week on history, philosophy, culture, community, activities, location, and body. List at least 15 words that you associate with your answers. Think about descriptive words, moods, and feelings you associate with these things.

unselfconscious, professional, slim, trim, poised, effortless, ready, put-together, fresh, classic, classy, polished, timeless, mature, feminine, unfussy

Are there other words you would like to add to this list? What other words describe your core style?

Nope, that’s it. I already reused a couple to answer the last question. 🙂

Look over the answers to all of the questions above. If you had to narrow your list to only 3-5 words to describe you, which words would you choose?

classic, polished, comfortable, poised, feminine

Now for the fun and/or stressful bit: trying to find images that capture those ideas. I don’t currently follow any fashion blogs, and I’ve already established that I am completely out of touch with the world of celebrity (the blessing and curse of having no cable TV), so finding sources for images was a challenge. I had an idea of what I was looking for, in a sense, but how do you search for a mood?

I resorted to trawling through Jean’s posts, then checking out nearly all of the blogs in her blogroll. As a result, a lot of the inspiration images I looked at featured petite Asian-American women. I am 100% okay with this.


Photo sources from left to right, top to bottom: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 12 // 13 // 14 // 15 // 16 // 17 // 18

Already I can see trends: skinny pants, stripes, pumps (especially brightly colored ones), blazers and cardigans, and skirts that hit just above the knee. I tried to include some handknits, because knitting is a big part of my creative life these days, but it can be tricky to find handknits that are actually styled like regular clothes. Overall I think these photos may be a little heavy on woven fabrics, since I much prefer the comfort of knits (or stretch wovens with spandex), but that’s something I can sort out down the road. For now, I think this is a really good starting place. I’m finally starting to feel like maybe I have a modicum of style after all.

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