I believe that when it comes to being successful at anything, experimentation is the key. It's essential to try new things so that you know what works & what doesn't! It just makes sense: the more information you have on a subject, the more capable you are of making first-class choices. When it comes to what's hanging in your closet, there are plenty of things you can do to start constructing a more substantial vision of your personal aesthetic.
Find your style icons & inspirations.
If you're only now feeling the need to crawl out of your blue jeans coma, it can be very daunting. How the hell are you supposed to know what to buy? Do you just run into the closest shop, buy a bunch of things & hope for the best? Well, you could, but I don't recommend it. The best way to do it is to look at people who you think have exemplary style, & use what they have learned as a guide. Watch, observe, & replicate. Why reinvent the wheel, right?
Your inspirations can come from anywhere, there are no restrictions! You could be invigorated by the colours of the postman's uniform, transfixed by the sparkles along a drag queen's eyelids or fall head over heels for an old photograph of Betsey Johnson. It doesn't matter what it is, just as long as it provides something delicious for your soul & your imagination to feast on!
Start a style bible.
The best way to do this is to buy a big blank hardcover book with lots of pages, & treat it like your very own aesthetic bible. Moleskine make my favourite notebooks, & their big, hardcover, A4-sized books are totally ideal for this purpose. I have one & it is full of scribbles, bright ideas, magazine clippings & snippets of conversations that I don't want to forget. If you can, you should get one of these, because they are the very best in my opinion! (If not, art supply shops have every kind of blank notebook you could possibly imagine.)
You can put anything in here that you choose, but a good place to start is by writing down your style history. This could mean reminiscing about your favourite dresses, thinking about what your mother wore when she went out on the town, remembering how a certain make-up artist made you up one time, or a big love letter to all the shoes you never bought! Stick in photographs of your best (& worst) fashion moments. Think about what inspires you & consider your biggest & most successful sartorial risks. Write about your friends' looks, dissect what makes them work, & think about how you could bring some of their flair into your wardrobe. Jot down any ideas you have, stick in Polaroids & editorials, make lists of items you really, really want, & plot future outfits.
Doing all of this will really start to wake you up to your own ideas about look, aesthetics, fashion & style. After all, if you don't think about something very often, you're unlikely to have opinions on the subject! It will begin to give you a place to work from, & you'll realise all the possibilities & options you can explore. Really, when it comes to style, nothing is off-limits!
Bring all these things together in the one place & you will have a big, delicious tome for leafing through on dreary days. The perfect pick-me-up, not to mention, quintessentially useful! Yum yum!
Host a style swap.
This one can be a little tricky, because everyone's style is so different that you could easily just end up with a bunch of stuff that doesn't really suit you or your aesthetic. I have been to a couple of mass-organised style swaps -- say 100+ people -- where I ended up bringing items that were far better than anything that was on offer. Talk about a recipe for tantrums! But if you have stylish friends, then it's worth doing!
Basically, all that this requires is a few willing participants (it is useful if you are all the same kind of size, but if you're not, you can just as easily have an accessories swap instead!), some champagne (it makes it more fun) & a location! Everyone brings a few pieces that they don't wear anymore. The only thing is that they need to be in good condition; you can't just bring along your old, stretched-out, bobbly sweater & a pair of stained white athletic socks! So you all show up & throw the things into a pile, then go nuts!
Hopefully you will all end up with a couple of nice new-to-you pieces each, but if not, it's not the end of the world... You at least got to spend time with your friends!
Take photos of your outfits.
I have been banging on about this since 2006, & it's as true today as it was then. These days, everyone with a blog does this, & the value of doing it is totally self-evident. I don't even think I need to get into it. If you're not taking photos of outfits yet, you should really, really, really think about doing it. (You don't have to put them on the internet if that's not your style. Just have them for your own reference.)
The easiest way to take an outfit photo is to stick your camera on a tripod (you can buy them relatively inexpensively) & use a remote if your camera has that option. If not, a self-timer will work just as well. Set the camera far enough away that you will be able to photograph yourself from head to toe. Then take a series of pictures: front, back & side are most helpful when it comes to assessing how you look. (So few of us know what we look like from the back! This can be a total revelation, if a bit horrifying the first couple of times!)
Save all of these pictures onto your computer, organise them into a folder, label them chronologically (sorry, this is my inner Virgo talking), & then look them over. Make notes if you want. Think about how the outfit could have been improved. You will learn so much about aesthetics & more specifically, what it takes to make your body look its best, through doing this. You will begin to notice things, like the fact that wherever there is a horizontal line (from a belt, or the top of a sock, or an ankle-strap on a shoe), you will look wider. Or you will see the difference in how your legs look in white stockings versus black. You will get a much more realistic view of what your best assets are, & how to dress them so they look stupendous. You will realise the difference good underwear makes. You will learn what length of skirt is most flattering on you, which necklines suit you & what kind of sleeve is most slimming, & as you discover these things, your confidence will grow. You see, it all comes around in circles, & it all comes back to you finding out who you really are. It's a win/win situation!
Make vision or inspiration boards.
Making vision or inspiration boards is super-fun. You can buy a huge cork bulletin board from any stationery store or one of those mass retailers (K-Mart etc.) for practically nothing. Mine is on the wall next to my closet & I look at it when I'm getting dressed. Whenever I see something in a magazine that I want to emulate or try out, I tear it out & stick it up. It could be anything, from an entire outfit to a tiny detail -- the way someone wears a belt, a pair of stockings, or even a visual depiction of a mood. It helps so much with not getting sick of your wardrobe & giving you new ideas for wearing old things that you would not believe it.
The best thing about a bulletin or cork board is that it can be changed instantly, which is great for fickle or over-imaginative minds! I change my mind so often that this is something that really works for me. If you fear change, you can always photograph the board so you can look at it whenever you like!
Another thing you can do with your vision boards is add photos of outfits you've worn that you've deemed as being successful. This, of course, only works if you take photos of your outfits... or draw them on Post-Its or index cards or document them in some other way! Alongside those pictures, you could make notes as to how it could be modified, or add magazine clippings of belts, accessories, a certain shoe, etc., that you think could enhance the outfit in the future. This kind of thing can be a never-ending project, which is really what style is all about. While fashion is something that constantly changes & is dictated to us by magazines, style is not. It has very strong roots, but the best style evolves.
Remember that nothing has to be permanent.
A lot of us are intimidated by the idea of putting a stake in the ground & saying, "This is my style, & I stand by it forever!" The good news is that you absolutely, categorically do not have to do this! It's totally normal, and in fact, encouraged, for our style to change constantly.
Don't feel like you have to commit to anything. If you can view your path of personal style growth as an evolution, something which is fluid & mercurial & prone to flights of fancy, it will take a lot of the anxiety out of it.
Make an effort.
Finally, & perhaps most importantly, you need to make an effort. All the theoretical knowledge in the world won't make an inch of difference if you don't then take it & apply it in the real world. Make notes on things you would like to try or improve upon -- these could be anything from trying a new foundation you read about to pairing high heels with an unexpected outfit -- & then act on them!
You could even make style resolutions if that is the way you like to operate. I used to write these quite often. I remember one of my style resolutions a while ago was to wear more red lipstick. It was a radical change from my usual look, it made me feel totally different in my own skin & I really enjoyed branching out in that direction!
All of this is without even mentioning how good it makes us feel to be all dolled up. When you think back on your most glamorous, beautiful moments, odds are excellent that they were times when you had made the effort to get dressed up for some kind of occasion -- as opposed to running down to the shops in your faded tracksuit pants! While you don't have to spend three hours making up your face every morning, just spending a little extra time on your presentation will make you feel so much better & more confident about how you look! Even a great pair of high heels worn with your favourite jeans will add a little excitement to your step & give you a boost.
I always feel like hard work is rewarded, & that applies to everything -- so if you put a little extra energy into the way you look, it will pay dividends!
"My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort." -- Isabella Blow
This is an excerpt from Gala Darling's podcast, Love & Sequins #5: Daintier, Smarter, Better Dressed! A deluxe guide to looking truly fabulous, defining your personal style & being the best-dressed girl at any party!