Celia Edell
June 12, 2014 7:00 am

The way you dress says a lot about you. It has evolved with you, become more mature as you have, and is an expressive act which presents you to the world as you’d like to be seen. Following fashion rules about what is considered trendy, “age-appropriate” and “flattering” leaves little room for fashion as a genuine creative outlet. There is great freedom of expression to be found in having a unique sense of style. Here are some tips on how to find your own.

Don’t put yourself in a box

First things first, make sure you’re open to expanding your comfort zone. A few years ago, I started buying a lot of dresses. For a while, that’s almost all I wore.  The jeans in my dresser collected dust for a good while before I started to tire of nylons and feminine clothes. All of a sudden it felt like all I owned were dresses and skirts – what felt so comfortable a month ago started to feel constricting. I found myself admiring the tomboy style of friends, wishing that I could “pull it off.” I had become so committed to a certain look that I no longer felt open to try new ones. That’s limiting, and when I let go of that idea, I was able to wear what makes me feel most like myself on any particular day – whether it’s a dress, jeans, sunhat, snapback, heels or sneakers. When you are no longer constrained by any particular style, you are free to find your own. And when you do, it will be comfortable and authentic.

Find inspiration in everything

There is a lot of inspiration to be found in other people’s style. I am constantly inspired by Rihanna’s
day-to-day looks
, for instance. But I also know that I am not Rihanna and (sadly) never will be. So instead of trying to look like a celebrity with an entire team of people making her up and doing her hair and styling her outfits, instead of trying to look like anyone in particular, I decided I’d rather look like me. Inspiration can be found everywhere. I am still inspired by celebrities, by Japanese street style, by the outfits my mom wore in the ’70s – but I am also inspired by the weather, my mood, movies I watch, and music I listen to. So maybe I can’t be the beautiful movie star, but I can embody my favorite movie – even if just for the day. Tomorrow I’ll be my favorite song.

Forget flattering

The word “flattering” gets thrown around so often in the fashion world, it’s barely held onto its meaning. Literally, when something is flattering, it just means it’s pleasing. But pleasing to whom? When I read most magazine style tips, “flattering” seems to indicate pleasing to other people. “This dress flatters a fuller frame because of its vertical stripes” – what if I don’t like vertical stripes? What if I like horizontal stripes? Is it still flattering? I no longer subscribe to the notion that to be stylish I must appeal to the pleasures of others. This is especially important considering that certain demographics (ie. plus sizes) are given much stricter and limiting options for what is “flattering” on them. It seems wildly unfair to dictate what is pleasing on another person’s body, especially when it is clear that ” flattering” is just a code-word for “thinner.”

Instead, I prefer to live by the idea that what I find attractive is not a universal rule for everyone to dress by, and what flatters me is simply what pleases me. Wear what makes you feel strong or sexy or whichever adjective pleases you that day, and let others worry about their own outfits.

Experiment

The most important step to finding your personal style is to experiment. Take time to try stuff on; whether it’s clothes you like in a store but wouldn’t usually wear, or combinations of clothing you already own but haven’t worn together – just keep trying until you find something that works. I love trying to clash as much as possible by mixing colors that are too similar or too contrasting. This way I can see what I like and what I don’t regardless of what I’ve been told looks good. Try to break the fashion rules you’ve been taught. Wear three different shades of red together. Wear several different prints all at once. Remember that rules are arbitrary and style is instinctive.

Photos by  Annie Thomas & additional image via USMagazine

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