Is Personal Style Something to Be Discovered?
Is it just me, or do the phrases ‘dressing for yourself’ and ‘finding your style’ get thrown around quite generously in and around the fashion ecosystem? Every day I come across another TikTok of a girl copying her Pinterest board or following yet another aesthetic subculture on the rise, and think to myself- is discovering your style even a thing?
They usually come up in a multitude of scenarios:
- When discussing the male gaze and the role it plays in how women present themselves (“learn how to dress for yourself”)
- When discussing the damaging effects of trend cycles and staying away from them (“you have to find your personal style”)
- When discussing originality, or the lack thereof (“learn how to dress for yourself and find your personal style”)
‘Style discovery’ is definitely not a new concept, but with our relationship to it constantly evolving and being challenged due to technological advancement (or rather, shaped by the social regression into the metaverse), it’s becoming increasingly present in everyday discourse. This is a conversation which, with time, becomes more and more multifaceted– especially currently, as social media becomes increasingly more and more prevalent. Our own exposure to everything we see online, as well as the intrinsic oversaturation of media which we have accessible at our fingertips leaves very little room for independent or objective thinking. Often people begin masking the concept of discovering themselves and ‘finding’ their style behind seeing which aesthetic brings them the most external validation and sticking to it (and it works- but does an OOTD selfie a day really fill that hole?).
With everyone and their dog (literally) becoming an influencer these days, we’re being tricked into the idea that as people we need to cultivate a personal ‘brand’ and stick to it. The idea is that this would make our specific attributes easily recognisable – kind of like cartoon characters - to an audience with a short attention span. In fact, the search for a particular personal style is in fact up there among the most depersonalising processes to ever exist. While a personal uniform is something I deeply encourage and admire (what fits you and what doesn’t will save you tons of time in the morning) creating an artificial, curated persona brand to hide behind is something to discuss.
As it stands on its own, the implication that personal style is anything of importance is a strange one- it implies that somebody’s outward appearance and set of clothes has to be a defining feature at all, which for many people it isn’t (and shouldn’t be). Sure, we communicate a lot through our clothes and other physical attributes, but lately this has turned into somewhat of a circus. You can pose as someone online, but the online world is heavily dominated by visuals. You’re so much more than a cluster of pixels on a screen, and definitely more than a cohesive set of outfits ripped off from a Pinterest board.
When we add the concept of ‘fashion influencers’ to the overall equation, it becomes even more complex. Because then we have the subconscious desire to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ by manufacturing your style and your persona based on the things we see online; and this goes out both to the influencers and the influenced (you & me). It becomes a never ending chain of people assimilating to one another, except for no good reason there are people at the top of the chain considered to be an authority on the matter, even though they’re very much fabricating both their expertise and appearance based on something they saw from somebody else (hello Pinterest). Who in turn saw it from somebody else, and they saw it from somebody else. Lest we forget the outrage caused by the green House of Sunny Dress. We see things, we hear things, and we just run with them without a second thought.
We often talk about mindfulness in the context of self-care, sustainability, consumerism and other aspects of our lives. This should also be applied to the current topic in question- am I mindful of why I’m seeking this ‘personal style’? Am I aware that I already have a style, but am deliberately trying to fabricate a different one, hoping that it would come with a whole new personality, a new persona for me to be perceived as. Am I myself in my true form not good enough? Who’s making you feel like you need to look a certain way, act a certain way, to be treated a certain way? We could all use with some alone time to reflect on who we are vs. who we try to present ourselves as. Chances are, you’re not really copying that girl on Instagram for her style, you probably think that dressing like her will come with everything that surrounds her- the smile she wears in all her photos, the lifestyle, the friends, the energy. The street cred for being considered a ‘fashion it girl’. But by being a carbon copy of someone else, you’re only ever going to be second best. It seems that a lot of people are fine with this, seeing the rise of mediocrity on social media and in the real world.
Desiring external validation is natural, but have you ever stopped to wonder why exactly you need that validation specifically about your looks? Why do we so rarely seek validation about our actual interests? Is it because we don’t have any? Or is it because something astrophysics isn’t as easily digestible, harder to grasp when scrolling on an endless feed? In exactly the same way I’ve personally never tried to make astrophysics my personality trait, or my defining interest– although I think it’s absolutely fascinating and I will happily smile and nod along while my flatmate talks to me about nebulas and model galaxies– fashion isn’t everybody’s either (mine included). I like clothes, I wear clothes, I enjoy feeling cute in a (subjectively) good outfit, but there are 1 million big and little things about me (and about you) which make up who I am, that have nothing to do with what I wear or look like on a daily basis. We resort to relying on our looks to do the work in times of uncertainty about our interests and drive in life, we’re afraid to not excel at the next hobby we pick up so we turn to vanity for immediate validation. While everyone’s busy appearing more attractive, more ‘stylish’, more in-the-know, more carefree, we must ask ourselves the question- am I more interesting than I look?
Now, before you take that much needed break where you light a candle and write down 5 things that are interesting about you that aren’t related to clothes, let me spare you the existential crisis- absolute originality is an impossible concept. Contemporary theorists have begun redefining the term to stray from its meaning of ‘uniqueness’, but rather pertain to the adaptation of tradition to modernity for a reason. While every other person on TikTok claiming to dress for themselves actually ends up looking like yet another duplicate of Emma Chamberlain, this doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. No one’s saying that you need to actively try and be original or one of a kind- you already are, in some aspect of life. Embrace those parts of you that make you unique- you don’t need to become a Jules if you’re a Cassie, and you don’t need to try to imitate a Cassie if you’re a Lexi. They all have their unique strengths and weaknesses. Admiring another person’s natural penchant for self-expression through style doesn’t lessen your strength in something else, that comes naturally to you. Don’t blindly assimilate to something that’s not natural to you. They’re probably jealous of your defining features- whether it’s the ability to play an instrument or engage in public speaking, these aren’t as easy to replicate as an outfit.
Simply put, active discovery is entirely a facade, and everything superficial (using this word without its negative connotations) is something which should come naturally to you, and it already does. There isn’t one single style that is superior to another, because your style is the one you’re already wearing. Everything else is a costume.