The post about black being a mainstay in the fashion world got me thinking about personal style. And I'd like to talk about it. A few years back I wrote a few blog posts focusing on personal style and it was a lot of fun. I will regurgitate some below while adding some new thoughts. And I most definitely want to hear how you think about style—especially involving intersections between race, sexuality, the body, social status, nationality and the like. These intersections are interesting, but more importantly, the discussion about "fashion" and "style" is so often had through the filter of White affluence. Shifting the lens is always insightful. Eljay42's post questioning the politics of looking "sloppy" was a refreshing and fascinating read for this very reason.

I am a self-proclaimed lover of all things fashion. I studied fashion in college, I devour collections every season, fork out far too much dough on international editions of Vogue and have had a subscription to WWD since the age of 19. I'm as interested in polymer science as I am hemlines and I can usually tell you which retailers are performing well in any given week. The majority of my non-fiction, non-cookbook library is dedicated to books about fashion and dress; covering topics from African American clothing in the pre-war South to Diana Vreeland's life story.

Yet, despite this voracious sartorial appetite, I sometimes struggle to define my style.

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Personal style is complicated. Fashion is not style, after all; and an interest in the former does not necessarily result in any kind of understanding of the latter. And then, of course, there's the question of whether one's style needs to be defined at all.

Is it relevant? And, is it important?

Everyone manages their appearance and makes active choices around how they dress or adorn themselves, even if said choices are a conscious rejection of fashion (make that Fashion). No one can escape the communicative nature of dress, but that's a large part of what makes it so interesting and important. What we wear speaks to those around us before we open our mouths. Our style (or lack thereof) evolves from the way in which we dress, and the way we dress is largely* influenced by how we wish to interact with and be seen by those around us.

Style is relevant, whether we choose to speak to it or not.

In the past I've written about my (many) philosophies around style, but in the case of developing one's personal style, I will narrow the list down to five key elements:

  • Proportion is everything.
  • Find what works and stick with it.
  • Don't force trends or silhouettes that don't work for you.
  • Style icons are not a bad thing.
  • When all else fails, keep it simple.

These are mine, of course. The Tavis and Susies and Annas of the world would likely have a very different blank slate approaches.

Let's kick things off, shall we?

Get To Know Your Body

Dressing for your body type is simply an awareness of what proportions and silhouettes work best for you. There is no difference between dressing a "plus-size" and "average-size" woman; it's her body's proportions that are relevant. The length of the bottom half of the body compared to the torso, a waist-to-hip ratio, the rise measurement, chest/cup size and shoulder width can all greatly impact how apparel looks on a body. Sometimes these dimensions require troubleshooting, whether the woman is 110 or 250 pounds, a petite size 2 or size 18 with a 34 inch inseam.

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Getting a feel for proportion in dressing is kind of like understanding proportion in design; it's challenging. Nailing the right proportions will trick and train the eye, and is simply a method of minimizing what you'd like hidden and amplifying what you'd like to highlight.

A top from the 2010 H&M Garden Collection, worn by Stéphanie (PC: Le Blog de Big Beauty), Natasha Poly (PC: H&M), and myself at 24 weeks pregnant.

Play With Your Clothes

I've always felt that one of the best ways to get to know your body is to play with your clothing. Apparel, like most mediums, is malleable. It's very easy to fall into the trap of wearing the same things in the same ways, which is why it's always fun (and enlightening) to experiment with your clothing. A scarf as a top, a belt cinched over a blazer, your favorite necklace refashioned as a bracelet–try and let things happen a bit organically.

Wear What Makes You Feel Good

Ever have those days when you put on an outfit and you just look damn good, but you're not entirely sure why? You've possibly climbed into something that 1) works well with your proportions and 2) you feel comfortable wearing. If you don't have a firm sense of what works well on your body, these moments may happen sporadically, and when they do occur you may find yourself confused as to why. Always take note when you're feeling confident and throw some observations in your bonnet. Remember the times you've felt great in your clothing, think critically about why, and attempt to replicate. Then, by all means, stick with what works.

Seek Out Inspiration

It may be easy point out the "unoriginality" of those who reference Audrey Hepburn's cigarette pants in Funny Face or Faye Dunaway's beret in Bonnie & Clyde as style inspiration, but there's a reason some women and characters are considered icons of style. As with anything creative, we're influenced by the people, places and things we see around us. Fashion is cyclical and personal style is always inspired.

Inspiration abounds in Blogland. Blogger Gabi (of Young, Fat & Fabulous) proves that seasonal trends are not just for those with a model physique.

Keep It Simple

It's hard to not feel fashionably inadequate or unadventurous when fashion magazines and style blogs are constantly reminding us that we need to update our wardrobes.. However, as much as I admire these bloggers (and editors), it's important to remember that style is not always borne of a constantly changing wardrobe and some of the most stylish women keep their wardrobes very simple.

Brana Wolf, Nina Garcia & Sessilee Lopez (all shot by The Sartorialist) and blogger Sakina (of Saks in the City) keep it simple and classic.

What about you guys? Do you approach your personal style with any philosophies....strategies....rules....or even thought? Is it important to you? Is it connected to your interest in fashion or anything else (design/construction, cultural histories, sub-cultures, music, icons, etc)? Do you feel disconnected from the idea of it as it's generally discussed? Why? Do you use clothing to say something about yourself? And does this relate to how you define your style, if at all? Is saying something more important that appearing in such a way that may be visual short-hand for "stylish"? And, perhaps most importantly, is black still the new black?

* I want to acknowledge that I am largely ignoring the utilitarian aspect of dress. This is intentional, as I'm focusing on those who actively seek or reject the idea of style.