How to Simplify Your Style
Before I went about decluttering my closet for the first time, I did a fair amount of reading not only on that specific process, but also on things like creating a capsule wardrobe, increasing versatility, and more.
It didn't take long for one thing to become abundantly clear to me — in order to be truly effective in simplifying your wardrobe, you have to be clear on what your personal style is, whether you consider yourself a "fashion person" or not.
After all, the first step in decluttering your closet is identifying what you love, and if you don't know what you love, well, you're kind of stuck.
By now, you've likely done an initial sweep of your closet. You've pulled everything out, sorted into piles of love, maybe, nope, and seasonal. But if you're anything like me, you're looking at what's left, noticing the gaps and thinking to yourself, "How on earth do I create a versatile wardrobe from this?"
And that is where simplifying your style comes in.
The distinction between your style and your wardrobe is similar to the distinction between minimalism and decluttering. Your style is the expression of your personality through the way you dress. Your wardrobe is the physical manifestation of that style. You will always have a wardrobe, but chances are, if you aren't clear on what your style is, it'll end up just as messy and cluttered again a few years from now.
Now, I'll be honest here. I've been going through the process of researching personal style for nearly three years now and I'm still working through it. It's something that takes time and, as with many things in life, your style preferences will evolve with your life.
I've just ended a season in my life that required part of my style be appropriate for corporate America. As a result of that season ending (hopefully for good), there are certain items in my closet that fit an aspect of my personal style but, without that particular setting, aren't something I naturally gravitate toward. (Looking at you blazers and pencil skirts.)
Even though I'm still working through the process, there are several techniques I've discovered over the last few years that have helped immensely in determining my own style and getting me that much closer to having a wardrobe I am absolutely head over heels for.
Even before I began curating my wardrobe, I had a Pinterest board dedicated to what I consider great style. Any time I saw a particular piece or a well-styled outfit I loved, it went on that board.
When I started curating my wardrobe a bit more seriously, that board is the first place I went because it gave me a visual snapshot of the things I loved and caught my eye. If you don't already have a board like this, I'd recommend creating it or something similar — whether it's an actual Pinterest board or a file on your computer, gather a good collection of outfits you love.
IDENTIFY THE PATTERNS
Once you've gone through and created that vision board for your ideal wardrobe, look through it and identify the patterns.
Are there particular patterns or colors you're drawn to? What about styling techniques, outfit formulas, or silhouettes? Take note of everything from the obvious to the detailed like accessories, the way particular items drape, or what fabric they appear to be made of.
Once you've made this list, it'll give you a good starting point for the things you're naturally drawn to that you can compare your current wardrobe to.
When I did this exercise, I realized I have a particular affinity for classic silhouettes, a love of the classy but comfortable vibe, and pretty much the only pattern I like is stripes (with the occasional polka dot or floral pattern).
Once you've identified some of those patterns and similarities between what you're drawn to, start experimenting to see what you love in theory and what you love in reality.
For example, if you looked at my vision board, you would probably see a fair number of outfits with high heels and pencil skirts because I love how classy and elegant that looks. I love the silhouette of a pencil skirt and how heels can instantly dress up almost any outfit.
But in reality? I can't stand either of them. Every single time I would wear heels, I'd regret it and within hours switch to a pair of flats I'd inevitably thrown in my bag "just in case." A pencil skirt silhouette may look fabulous, but every time I put one on, I felt like I was constantly having to adjust it throughout the day which was frustrating and distracting and violates one of the biggest rules I have for my wardrobe. Which brings me to the next technique...
SET THE RULES
One of the best things I ever did for my style was come up with some rules for it. In addition to being carefully considered (no impulse purchases!), every single item that comes into my closet has to fit the following rules:
- Comfortable — In its fabric and cut, the piece must be comfortable. There can be no poking or prodding, and it can't be a piece that I will constantly feel the need to adjust, fix, or watch.
- Quality — All items must be made from quality fabrics with good stitching and construction, and whenever possible, they should be ethically and sustainably sourced.
- Versatile — It must be an item that can be paired with multiple pieces throughout the wardrobe based on its silhouette and color, and must be able to be styled a variety of different ways.
- Confident — Whatever the piece is, it must make me look and feel absolutely amazing. No exceptions.
Setting up these four rules for my style and wardrobe means it's sometimes hard to find pieces and I might be looking for a certain item for a long time (I've been on the hunt for the perfect navy blue cardigan for almost two years), but it also means that the purchases I regret are incredibly few and far between.
CHOOSE A COLOR PALETTE
Part of streamlining your style and, as a result, your wardrobe, is thinking about versatility, and unless you plan to wear nothing but neutrals, coming up with a color palette can help tremendously in simplifying your style.
There are a ton of different ways you can approach the color palette, but the best place to start is where we started this whole process — your vision board. In the same way you took notice of patterns, textures, and silhouettes, you hopefully made note of the colors that pop up the most within your wardrobe and have hopefully already experimented with some colors you may love but don't work well on you for whatever reason.
A perfect example of this is blush pink. I think it's a gorgeous color — so soft, elegant, and lovely. But blush is a pale color and I am a pale person. If I'm not careful, blush not only washes me out but can almost blend into my skin, which is not a situation you want. So I might pin it and pine after it, but I don't wear it. Instead, I use it in things like home decor so I'm still surrounded by it without having to deal with it washing me out.
One more note on color — if you love a lot of different colors that just don't seem to go together at all, don't worry. You don't have to cut any of them from your wardrobe or feel like you need to tone down your style. Just concentrate the color — as bright, bold, and wonderful as you want — in the items of clothing that won't ever be worn together like shirts or dresses and make the things you'll pair with them — like cardigans or pants — in more neutral colors.
EMBRACE OUTFIT FORMULAS
Other than coming up with the four rules for the items that enter my closet, one of the things that's helped simplify my style the most is embracing outfit formulas.
You've probably heard of the idea, practiced in its extreme by people like Mark Zuckerberg, who literally wears the same thing every day. The idea behind the outfit formula is simple — you set the general components and plug in the individual pieces from day to day.
In my current season of my life, my go-to outfit formulas are pants or shorts, a shirt, (optional) cardigan, and sandals or a dress, fun necklace, and sandals. There is about a 95% chance that I will be wearing one of these two outfit combinations on any given day and I will never apologize for it because it not only makes getting ready in the morning way easier, but it also helps a ton when I'm developing my wish list and considering future items to purchase.
If you're looking for additional inspiration or ideas, below you'll find some of the resources I've found most helpful in my journey to simplify my own style.
- Un-fancy — This is how I began my minimal wardrobe journey and one of my favorite places to go back to. Caroline has a completely different body type than I do and a rather different style, but I love seeing the different ways she's experimenting and her evolving thoughts on her own personal style, because it gives me lots of think about in regard to mine.
- My Green Closet — Erin's YouTube channel is one of my current favorite resources, particularly as I've begun the shift toward higher quality items and more ethical and sustainable fashion. Similar to Caroline, she has a different body type and personal style than I do, but her thoughts on finding your own style and making that a reality in ethical ways are absolutely fantastic. Plus, her voice is super calming to listen to!
- The Curated Closet — This book by Anuschka Rees is hands down the best resource I've found for comprehensively taking you through the process of discovering your own personal style and curating a wardrobe to match — but be prepared to do some work! She's where I got the idea to identify patterns and experiment with styles, and her book takes you through a step-by-step process of identifying the outfits you love most, the styles you're drawn to, what works best for your body type, and more.
- Outfits by Cladwell — If you're not even sure where to start with finding your personal style, you might want to check out Outfits. Created by a fantastic company called Cladwell with the mission of giving you a smaller wardrobe and a bigger life, Outfits is an app that allows you to select the items in your closet and will give you daily outfit recommendations based on what you already own and the weather. Outfits keeps track of how often you wear individual items, how much of your closet you actually wear, and gives recommendations for versatile pieces to add to your wardrobe as well, which is another great way to get a visual on what you actually love and wear!
- Capsules by Cladwell — If you want to try out the capsule wardrobe thing but the thought of choosing a color palette and curating it all yourself is overwhelming, then Capsules could be the thing for you! From the same fantastic company that brought you Outfits, Capsules helps you create the capsule of your dreams by taking into account your lifestyle, color preferences, and the items you already own and love to wear. Like with Outfits, it is a paid service, costing $5/month billed every three months.
- Roadmap for Men — Don't worry, dudes! I didn't forget about you! Cladwell's program Roadmap is more or less the men's version of Capsules. You give them info about your body type, coloring, lifestyle, climate, and more, and they help you generate a great wardrobe! As with Cladwell's other apps, Roadmap is a paid subscription service, costing $7/month billed every three months.
As you can probably guess, the journey to identifying your personal style isn't one that happens overnight, but nearly three years into it, I can tell you that it's totally worth it. While I'm not 100% of the way there yet, I feel infinitely more confident about what I love, what I have in my closet, and what I wear every day as a result.