Style Musings: The strange and confusing language of style and how to find your own way around it

Like I've recently mentioned, I would like to get into talking about style more on the blog. I'd like to share what I've learned along the way and give a couple of tips, or perhaps new perspectives in which to see clothes, style and body. Before I get there, though, I want to turn your attention to a couple of things that are so ingrown in the style discourse that it's hard to notice them for what they are, and even harder to get rid of them. The way I see it, they really don't help when you're starting to look for personal style. At the very least they will make you confused and at the worst, they may make you feel bad about yourself. Let's take a closer look.

The Possesive Prononuns

Most of us, ever since we are able to comprehend the idea of picking different clothes to wear, we are taught to think in terms of "who I'm wearing this for". As a child, you're supposed to look pretty when going out so that others see you as a nice girl. As a teen, you are infused with informations on how to dress to be seen as attractive by the boys/girls you like. As an adult, you learn how to dress to suit your workplace's idea of a dresscode. Also the magazines tell you that you should aim to amaze everyone with your looks, full stop. Sound familiar?

If you suddenly find yourself confused and having a slight panic attack in front of your closet before going to a party, know that we've all been there. It's a very natural response to all of these messages. I mean, how are you supposed to find your own style in between all this? When is the time for you to think about yourself as an aesthetic being that can make her own decisions? It all points your attention away from yourself and towards some mythical 'others' or 'the world' or 'men' or 'other women' or, even worse, towards an even more impossible 'objective beauty' (pro tip: this doesn't exist). It makes you believe that you need to please others before your value yourself.

You really don't. What matters is the way you consciously decide to dress yourself. And I mean you: not the style guide, not your friends, not random people in the street or your boyfriend or girlfriend or mother or grandpa. Style is about you and your preferences.

The Tricky Language

How many times, when looking for style advice, have you found articles that tell you how imperfect you are --but 'that's a OK, because you can hide it! Hide those flaws. Procure prostheses for what you lack. Got boyish hips? We feel sorry for you, here's a list of stuff for you to wear to make them appear more feminine. After all, it is every woman's sacred duty to the world to have an hourglass figure. Have short legs? Oh no, that's the worst predicament a woman can have. Please wear sky high heels to make your legs appear at least a few inches longer, for the world deserves to see only the slimmest and longest of legs.' You know the drill.

Language is crucial when talking about style. It can be positive and empowering, or it can be negative and underming. Here'a an example. You know all the the 'pear' and 'apple' and 'rectangle' categories that are supposed to be helpful when figuring out your style. While the concept is somewhat sound, the language it's described with is... well, listen to this: an apple will have a round belly. A rectangle will have no waist. An hourglass body will tend to be flabby. There even is a brick category! One that is all around heavy and stout. Exactly how helpful to feeling good about yourself is imprinting this set of negative associations with your body into your mind?

We're so used to this language that it's easy to actually miss the fact that it's so negative. Please, remember though: style is not about your flaws and working your way around covering them up. In fact, there are no flaws in you when it comes to style because it's all about just being yourself. You are not flawed because your belly is this or isn't that. It doesn't matter what shape your legs are. What matters is wearing stuff that makes you feel good.

The Body Shapes

Back to the body shapes. You probably know which one you are. You probably also know what 'flaws' you have because you fit into one of these categories. And if you know all these things, you also know what you should do in order to fix yourself and to look... well, as close as possible to a lean hourglass with long legs and luscious facial features. How on earth it makes sense to try to put every possible woman, each one unique when it comes to their body shape and facial features, into just one type of beauty is beyond me.

Let's get one thing straight: the body shape categories are wrong not just because they perpetuate the often harmful language. They also perpetuate the idea that we are made in just a couple of shapes, like we roll off a conveyor belt, which is very, very untrue. In fact, while there is no denying that there are similarities between body shapes, we are all vastly different. There is a difference between a person who is an 'hourglass' and 5'0 and one who is 5'6 and another one who is 6'0. Those can be three different body types that would benefit from different kinds of clothes. Now, imagine three 'hourglasses' of roughly the same height and put a cute, childlike face on one of them (think Ginnifer Goodwin), then a classic one on another (Grace Kelly comes to mind) and then a serious, diva-like on yet another one (try Sofia Vergara). To dress all these women in one style and call it a day is an oversimplification so huge that it's really a fallacy. Also pure laziness.

So, yes, there are similarities between us. But we are also different and unique. And that's great, because that's where personal style can happen! Let's focus on that and build our style around who we are, not who we 'should' be.

The Why

To me, developing a personal style was a way to self expression that I'd been avoiding for a very long time (I've written at length about it here recently). When I'm wearing the clothes I like, I really feel like myself and I am also showing that person to the world: which is both a courageous act (because showing yourself as you are can make you vulnerable) and a thing as natural as breathing (because when you don't hide yourself, you feel free). To you, though, the reasons for finding your own style can be totally different --and that's great! Do it your way, for your own 'why's'.

Apart from being a wonderful means of self expression, a personal style with clearly developed themes and rules, aids to live relatively untouched by all the hardships I mentioned above. To me, finding my personal style was like developing a set of armor. I was --and am! --so confident in my conscious style choices, that nothing and no one can touch me: not the troubling comments I sometimes hear from people both close and strange to me, not the dodgy and confusing style guides and not the diminishing language. Even when I feel unsure about my current aesthetic, and am reaching out in different directions and experimenting, I still know what I'm doing. In this department, I'm the sole expert on me. When I'm making new choices and exploring new territories, I still have me as a reference point. Whatever trends come and go, whatever new experiences I live through, however my tastes may evolve, I'm still here, in a sort of permanence. And so are you.

Even though this introductory article is not a set of advice on finding style, let me offer you one question as food for thought: when you focus on yourself, your aesthetic preferences and your lifestyle, what is it that you know you like? This simple question is a good place to start looking for what works for you in the style department. Your style can be as simple or as intricate as you want it to be. You can wear the most extravagant of clothes, or you can find your happy place in elegantly classic pieces. You can mix and match, and watch as the shapes and colours change and a pleasing form emerges. After all, the best thing about personal style is that it is for you.



  1. I couldn't agree with you more! I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with so much of the demoralizing style advice that is passed on by self-proclaimed experts. Almost all of it centres on how to dress to minimize perceived flaws - how to look taller, make your waist appear smaller, or your bust seem bigger - and achieve some unrealistic (for most of us), generic ideal. Then there are rules for what you should or shouldn't wear at a particular age or life stage, which I find equally suppressive.

    Well, like you, I'm refusing to play the game any more. I'm well aware of my body shape and what flatters it, and because I want to look my best I do take that into account, but just as important to me is reflecting my personality in my clothes. So, sometimes I will break the style 'rules', because I'd rather wear something that brings me joy - even if it does nothing to elongate my short legs or disguise my wide hips - than compromise my own personal style. If I like something, if it makes me feel good, then as long as it's also appropriate to the situation, I will wear it!

    1. That's an excellent point, Fran! Wearing things that make you feel good, while also being appropriate to the social situation is what I'd call a great style guidance :D. Let's just forget about trying to mimic a generic hourglass and be ourselves for a while, and, you know, maybe we'd all start to see how fun that person is and we'd like to stay close to her. To keep being her. I like being me in my clothes, that's one of the best things style has to offer.

  2. I've struggled for a long time with my personal style. Growing up, I would wear large jumpers and jogging bottoms to hide my oversized frame. As a teenager I got into a style that was based around oversized clothing, and as I got older this developed into wearing things to 'flatter' my larger shape. Bootleg jeans made sure my legs didn't look ridiculously small under my large stomach, floaty tops to not bring attention to it. I've now found the body positive community, and although I love the way people are finding it gives them the confidence to wear what they want, and be happy in their style choices, regardless of what society thinks or says they should be wearing, I still struggle myself. My own style has now developed into the pinup look, because it means I can wear dresses that skim over everything under my boobs. I still wouldn't feel comfortable exposing any of myself between my chest and my knee, even though sometimes I look at things other people have worn and think 'wow, she looks incredible'. I think it's so important to try and get the body positive community message to younger kids, so that they don't grow up like me, 31 and unable to wear what I want because I'm so terrified of the comments or looks I will receive from others.

    1. I know the feeling, Yvonne. I wear what I like and I feel so immersed in my style that I just don't care what people might think anymore --I mean, it's not their place to think or say anything anyway! But as for exposing my body, I'm not comfortable with that. Not because of the looks that I might get but because of the things that I, myself, keep thinking about my body and its several imperfections. That's a struggle we can work with, though! Just trying to be accepting and loyal to ourselves. And no pushing. There's no need to push anything on yourself if you're not feeling ready. At least that's what I believe.

  3. Great post! I find a lot of fashion advice to be extremely negative too- instead of empowering! I look forward to reading more of your style posts!
    The Artyologist

    1. Thank you Nicole! I hope to keep being positive here, although there are times when I'd rather scream and shout after reading another brilliantly diminishin 'style guide' :D. It's better to share the positivity, though!

  4. I love this. Because ultimately, fashion really is kind of unimportant in the grand scale of things, so why not just use it as a means to express yourself, have fun with colours and textures and shapes, and surround yourself with your own ideas of beauty? Or otherwise, just wear whatever darn well makes you comfortable. I don't think everything in life is necessarily subjective, but fashion definitely is! I work at a women's clothing store, and it frustrates me how much lots of women struggle to "look good" by social standards, how constantly they need a sense of approval from others, rather than trying to find garments that inspire happiness and help them feel good from within. Not that it's a bad thing to seek advice from trusted ones when you're not sure what you think of an item or outfit, but it makes me sad when this all seems to just make people feel poorly about their bodies/themselves. I wish I were better at encouraging my customers in that regard!

    1. I completely relate to what you're saying. As a bespoke seamstress, I don't think I've met a woman who was just happy with her body. When I take measurements, I witness some women apologizing to me for the way their bodies look and it breaks my heart. Because it's not the body that's wrong! It's the industry. I wish women would understand that their type of beauty is their own and they can really own it and make themselves shine because they are completely and utterly correct in the way that they are. But that appreciation turns out to be so hard to share. I hope this series will at least help a couple of people see themselves in different light.