Style pervades all aspects of life: art, interior design, architecture, everyday objects, fashion, food, writing, and even physical appearance. But what is meant by personal style? For me it is how a person influences their everyday life, how they look, behave and present themselves to the world.

When you ponder your own style are you happy with it? Does it convey who you are? Or is your style stuck in the past, a throwback to who you used to be? Do you want to change it? If so, what do you need to do? This blog explores these questions.

Style does not come in a book from a store, or in a bottle. It comes from the inner person.  True style is a very personal thing, not a magazine-look, or a label, or a designer. Nor does it have to cost money. Yes, there are accepted styles and there are looks that people say they want. There are accepted conventions - and sometimes rules or constraints - but style does not belong to the crowd or to the norm. By definition it refers to a distinctive appearance or look that is a result of definite design or personal consideration. Style does not happen by accident, even if some appear to show it with ease.

Before you read the rest of the blog – and for a bit of fun – perhaps you might like to take this Style Q.

 Style Q: Take the Test

 In terms of your general personal style (which might include what you wear, your interior design sense, the way others see you etc.), how much do you agree with the statements: (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree), with 3 = neither agree nor disagree)

  1. have my own personal style in all areas of my life, public and private.   
  2. I am always stylish, not just now and again
  3. I know the differences between what is fashionable and what is stylish
  4. Big name brands do not define style for me
  5. I find it easy to make my style choices without much research and lots of shopping trips
  6. I don’t need the blessings or confirmations from others in the style choices I make
  7. I don’t get my style from magazines and TV programmes
  8. Style is not just about how things look
  9. My style has changed over the years
  10. You cannot become can stylish by copying others

Double the total you scored. It should be between 10 and 100. Feel free to get your friends and colleagues and others to do the Style Q and see how your score compares.  How does this compare with your own evaluation of how stylish you are? I know people who would score in the 90’s and I know others who score 10. One of my friends who scored 15 thinks she is stylish. We had a good discussion about real style!

What is style?

You can see from the questions in the Style Q that I would say style is much more than fashion or an outward appearance.  It is individual expression, not a reflection of a marketplace or an accepted look. To be really stylish I would say a person needs to:

a)    Have style in all areas of their life, not just a corner of it. A person who appears well dressed, for example, does not have real style, if where they live is a shambles.

b)   Style is pervasive, not something that you do just when you go out, or that you do now and again.

c)    Fashion is an externally driven thing. Style comes from inside. You can be stylish and look like many others, but merely fashionable if you want to  look like others.

d)   Brands are big business, but they are not the arbiters of style. They only appear to be so through their persuasive marketing power and the media support of celebrities etc.

e)    Style does not require hard work – it is a natural expression of the self. If you are not stylish the best way to develop this is to work on yourself. Do Something Different is one way to do this.

f)     If you are worried about getting the approval of friends and others, this can limit your own expression of style. It does take confidence to express your true style when you can (and I know many people have constraints of many different kinds). Others often want you to be like them, not like yourself. That is what defines a group!

g)    I have always found it odd that people will take a picture into a store, and say I would like this look.  Or when people ask interior designers to ‘copy’ a look. It may look grand, it may be fashionable, but it is not stylish.

h)   A person who is growing and developing changes in a positive way. A person who stays the same in views, appearance, likes and dislikes, is probably unreceptive and habitual. If your style does not change over time perhaps you need to think about what this reflects about your inner self.

i)     You are not someone else, so your style needs to be personal. It is not the style of someone else.

In my book Flex: Do Something Different I argue that personal qualities – and this includes style - are reflections of the coherence between all levels of the self – what you desire, what your habits are, your thinking, your intentions, what you say and what you do, as well as how you reflect.  What you wear, how you deport yourself, and the design of your life in all other areas that reflect you will be affected by all these levels of the self. The physical self is a very small part of the style equation.

Style is commonly talked of in terms of what people wear, although it applies to many areas of a person’s life and how they live. Professor Karen Pine – in Mind What You Wear – suggests that how people feel inside and what they wear are fundamentally linked and that changing clothes can change feelings. In a survey of 400 people, the top three reasons for choosing what to wear related to inner feelings, not external looks:

  1. To feel confident  (73%)
  2. To be comfortable (52%)
  3. To express myself (40%)
  4. To look fashionable (28%)
  5. To look professional (27%)
  6. To get noticed (18%)
  7. To look sexy (14%)
  8. To show off my body (13%)
  9. To disguise my body (11%)
  10. To blend into the background (7%)

The external reasons, such as looking fashionable, sexy, professional, all come low down on the list of reasons –they are not the primary motives. Perhaps trying different clothes could impact on the psychology of the person as well as potentially helping them develop a true style.

Many people struggle to find their true personal style because they cannot see themselves as others see them. They view themselves from their own habitual world, often through filters of the past, and do not have an objective perspective.  In Change Your Questions Change Your Life  Marilee Adams talks about developing this ‘observer self’. Becoming more open to change is important to developing a personal style because it helps to connect the person with their inner self. This is one reason I recommend people to try out different styles and looks in the way they live, what they wear and how they behave. With the Do Something Different techniques, for example,  people are given licence to behave outside their box,. The Wear Something Different programme is designed to do this with clothes.

The person with true style is likely to be self-assured, coherent and flexible in thinking and behaviour, even though being stylish is not always reinforced socially because it sets a person apart from the crowd. But developing true style – from the inside out – can be a real benefit in all areas of life. Not just because of the style, but because of the positive glow it produces. Being personally stylish has real value……..

About the Author

Ben C. Fletcher, Ph.D.

Ben C. Fletcher, D.Phil, Oxon, is a professor of psychology, a behavior change expert, and the author of Flex: Do Something Different — How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

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