Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and paused, wondering if it's time to change your style? It's an occurrence that happens to nearly everyone, at least once, at some point in their life. Most of us experiment with our personal style and visual identity through our teenage years and into our twenties. In time though, many people find a niche, and their style exploration plateaus. Despite the fact that with age, our personal identity becomes much more complex, our jobs, our children, and our daily lives sometimes foster an atmosphere of stagnation for our personal style. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your lifestyle won't allow you to make changes to your appearance, or that changing your style is just too frightening.
Sure, when you're the chief financial officer of a corporation, or a highly active member of the parent teacher association of your child's school, there's a certain level of risk involved in making drastic style changes. (Heck, there's risk involved for everyone. No one wants to majorly regret their change in style.) People do make snap judgments based on appearance, and there's a possibility that they'll begin to perceive you differently if you go about making big changes to what you wear, how you style your hair, and the objects you carry with you each day.
Since style changes are sometimes associated with mental or emotional changes and lifestyle changes, you're right to be cautious. You don't want to freak out your boss, your kids, your significant other, family, friends, or acquaintances. And, you certainly don't want them to second guess your mental state. But don't let caution overrule your need for creative self expression and creating an image of yourself that truly reflects who you are internally, how you've grown, and where you aim to be. Style changes big and small can be made without regret, they simply require extra consideration (or a robust leap into the unknown, for those of us who are slightly less timid).
1. Define Your Current Style
Before you can get where you're going, you have to know where you are, and where you've been. This applies to nearly every facet of life, and your style is no different. It takes time to truly develop your sense of style, and much of your life up until this point has shaped what it's become. Remember, style is not about trends or even fashion really; it's about your core values as an individual and your sense of what's intriguing, motivating, and desirable in the world. Sometimes, we have to discover what we don't like, in order to get closer to what truly resonates with us — which could be part of why your gut's telling you it's time for a change.
If you're looking for a guide in this process, I highly recommend the book Style Statement , by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte. As McCarthy and LaPorte so eloquently put it, "style is a language." You want to consider what you're saying.
In order to define your style, McCarthy and LaPorte suggest finding two words that represent you. The first word being your core motivator, the part of you that you cannot escape, and carry with you everywhere. The second word being the creative drive that propels you in the world. Examples of these could be Innovative Feminine, Natural Contemporary, or Classic Casual.
2. Assess What You're Drawn To
In order to move forward, you have to expose yourself to new options. Unless you've already encountered some specific inspiration, this will probably mean looking outside of your circle of friends and coworkers. Take time to browse Pinterest. Gather fashion and beauty magazines (or visit fashion and beauty geared sites) and flip through them casually, marking or cutting out the items and styles that strike your fancy. Even dedicate some time to people watching. Look at the people who stand out to you, and try to break down what intrigues you and why.
3. Define Where You Want To Be
Now that you have a good idea of where you are, what your current style is saying, and what other styles you're drawn to, you can decide what aspects to leave behind, and what new style aspects you want to adopt.
In time, you'll notice patterns in terms of what you're drawn to. Once you've found two or three new style aspects that you're interested in, do a little thought experiment. Consider what it would be like to apply those changes to your life. How would they feel in your world, and how might they make you feel about yourself? Pay close attention to your emotional reaction as you imagine yourself looking or dressing in these new ways.
Again, once you've narrowed down style aspects you're drawn to visually, try finding adjectives that resonate with you and also apply to these new outfits or hairstyles. Will this new look be cohesive with your personality (as it is, or as you aim for it to be)? Will it help you to feel closer to a side of yourself that you'd like to give more attention to or that you think will help you with your career, family life, or social life? Is it something you'll be comfortable wearing, physically speaking, considering the activities that make up your day? If so, it's probably worth taking this new style for a spin.
4. Know Your Comfort Level
If you've been rocking jeans and t-shirts for the past 15 years, transitioning to heels, skirts, and blouses may not be easy. Especially if you work or live in a casual environment where your old style is the norm. But if you love and long for the classically chic and inside you're screaming because you can't stand another day of "looking like one of the guys," it's time.
If the transition is going to be a big one, and you're concerned about the reactions of others, start slowly. Incorporate small changes here and there — a new shirt one day, the same old outfit, but new shoes the next. Or, take the approach of dedicating one or two days each week to experimenting with your new style. But do so on days where you won't be in high pressure situations. Heading up a major presentation next week? Probably not the best time to go full on hipster swag for the first time if your coworkers are used to seeing your tight knit side. Remember, you're not asking for anyone's permission to express yourself, you're easing in and giving yourself time to adjust (and second guess, on your own terms, if need be), as well as everyone around you.
Some of us, however, like to take others by surprise. Sure, it can be risky, but if you're the bold type, acknowledge that about yourself as well. Maybe you need to treat this experience like ripping off a band aid. Just prepare for the onslaught of comments if they come — and stand strong in your decision. You know why you're trading your closet full of primarily black ensembles for a splash of pastel.
5. Trust Your Gut
As you make the move from the old to the new, check in with your emotions. (But don't base them purely on the opinion of others.) Does wearing these clothes or wearing this hairstyle excite and invigorate you, at least on some level? Or does the change feel like a chore? Do you feel more in alignment with your style words, or less?
If you find you're halfway through a style transition and things don't feel the way you thought they would, sit down and reassess. This isn't a failure, it's an opportunity to fine tune your goals and to head back in the right direction. What's important is continually finding what style choices bring you joy and make you feel most alive (whatever the peanut gallery may say). Style is about curating your life and visual existence to represent your personality.
Remember, because of the way they effect how other people perceive us, and the way we perceive ourselves, our clothes and our visual style have an impact on our identity. But we are not tied to what we wear today, or what we've worn in the past, and having the courage to experiment with and occasionally redefine our personal style is a great way of reinvigorating our self esteem and ensuring that we're being true to our authentic self.