Personal Style: A Manifesto
Personal Style is the intentional use of clothing, hair, make-up, jewelry and accessories. It is your unique way of expressing yourself to the world. Here are four truths about personal style that are the foundation of Style Thoughts by Rita.
1. Style is deep and meaningful
If you care about style, you know it. You find yourself browsing clothes online or in real life. You notice what other people are wearing. A good outfit lifts your day. When the clothes are wrong, it bothers you. Whatever your current style is, there is something in your heart that loves the idea of style.
Depending on your environment, you may feel guilty about this. You may feel that style is trivial. That it doesn’t “deserve” the time, the money, the energy you put into it. That those resources should be allocated elsewhere, to something “important”. You may fear that good style could set you apart in a negative way. That if you look good, people might believe you are stupid, shallow, conceited.
It's likely that you compare yourself to other people in your life, those who don’t care much about style. They have different interests that occupy their attention and they dress in a simple and comfortable way. Maybe they dismiss style as something shallow and trivial. But that dismissal doesn’t mean it’s true. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about style.
Yes, someone can be interested in style in a shallow or trivial way. You can fall into a bad place where you are addicted to shopping, buying endless things which only offer temporary satisfaction without actually satisfying you. But the problem isn’t style, it’s the way you’re engaging with it. You can have a problematic relationship with basically any other interest -- whether it’s travel, cooking, sports, whatever. Style is not shallow or trivial in itself.
Style is deep and it is meaningful. It’s about connecting with who we are, with our physical bodies, with our unique beauty. It’s play, discovery, joy. It’s about taking space, being seen, and connecting with people around us. The topics of self-discovery, self-expression and artistic presentation are infinitely deep and hold a lot of meaning.
If you’re on this page, you know that style matters to you. Let’s release the idea of style as a “guilty pleasure.” Let’s open some space for style. Let’s welcome it into the group of “legitimate interests” that you have in your heart and your life.
2. Style is for everyone
It’s difficult to escape mainstream style imagery: photos of models on clothing sites, editorials in fashion magazines, pictures of celebrities, popular style influencers on Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube. These images shape our perception of what “style” is but also what is means to be “a stylish person”.
According to these images, to be “a stylish person” you should be young and thin. You should live in a major metropolitan area. You should have a job which gives you freedom in style. You shouldn’t have any physical or mental health concerns which limit your style expression. You should have unlimited money and storage space.
Almost nobody fits that description, but still this vision of “the stylish person” is deep in our minds. I’ve heard so many reasons from women why they can’t have an enjoyable personal style: budget limitations, physical health needs to accommodate, caretaking obligations or jobs which require a certain form of dress, too old, too tall, too skinny, too curvy…Honestly the list could just go on and on.
Let’s be real: Yes, it would be so cool to live in a fantasy land where your body looks and functions exactly the way you want it to, and where you have an unlimited budget and unlimited freedom. It would be cool! You would have some really cool clothes! But… almost nobody lives that way.
This presentation of “the stylish person” is just a sales strategy for the media, influencers, and clothing companies. It is not a standard we need to meet in order to be stylish or to enjoy our style.
We can enjoy “the show” but we have to claim what’s ours: the right to have style in our lives. You, as you are today, with your specific life and your specific body – deserve to have a personal style that supports you and makes your life better. Let’s release the idea that your challenges (lifestyle, body, health, money) preclude you from developing a personal style. You are welcome to cultivate personal style exactly where you are today.
3. Style is a tool
Style can be available to anyone, so of course there are endless ways to have “good style.” There are so many ways people can use style to bring positive things into their life:
Style can be a tool for personal power. You can use style to help express important qualities about yourself, helping you get what you want. For example, if you want a leadership position, style can help you command respect and admiration. If you want to enforce boundaries towards other people, style can help you keep them away.
Style can be a tool for pleasure. Our bodies can give us so much physical and psychological enjoyment. You can choose clothes that help you feel connected to these positive sensations: shoes that make you feel like you’re walking on clouds, fabrics that feel delicious on your skin, colors that make your heart sing.
Style can be a tool for self-expression. We each have so many different qualities within us, and there are so many ways to bring these qualities out. Perhaps you want to bring out your creativity by combining clothes in an unusual way. Or you want to bring out your sensitivity by using a gentle color palette and flowing light-weight fabrics.
There are just three examples. We can also use style for play, for healing, for social connection, for personal comfort … the list goes on.
The important thing is to recognize that style is a tool, and it’s up to you to decide how to use it. So, let’s release the idea that there is one way to be stylish, that the question should be “Am I stylish?”
Instead, let’s claim our right to use style for our lives, to ask “How can I use style effectively in my life?”
4. Style is an ongoing process
Style is an ongoing process and it takes time and effort. It takes time to figure out what you like, to develop your style imagination, to find the pieces that speak to you, to learn make-up techniques, etc. It takes effort to learn about style, to try things out, to put outfits together, to organize your closet in an effective way. It’s helpful to acknowledge how much time and effort style requires – this way you don’t pressure yourself to “figure it out.” Let’s not put pressure on ourselves to go as quickly and as intensely as we possibly can.
Most of us have many other responsibilities and interests in life. Maybe you figure out some styles you’d like to wear, but it takes a few months to really find those pieces. Or maybe you just don’t have the money to upgrade your wardrobe, and there is a time when you’re only happy with half of your clothes. Or you are starting to realize that your clothes don’t work for your daily needs, but you’re not really sure what you want instead. These are normal parts of a person’s style journey. They may not feel satisfying, but it’s impossible to have style without these parts. Let’s just accept that style is a complex and messy journey.
Another helpful realization is that there is no “endpoint” with style. There’s never a point where you’re “done.” We are always experiencing change: changes in your body, in your family, in your work, in the world, in fashion trends, in your personal preferences. That’s not to say that you will always be in a phase of style exploration and acquisition. It’s great to reach a phase where your style is really stable, where you can focus on enjoying what you have and reaping the rewards of that style. But that’s a phase too, and just because it ends, doesn’t mean you’ve “failed.” It means you’re on the journey.
The different stages of the style journey each have their own value and the important thing is to take our time, to be open to what comes next without placing too much pressure on ourselves to move quickly towards some imagined final destination.