“Fashion doesn’t really give you style – it gives you something to wear that is either very much on-trend or more classic. Style is how you put it all together: color, style, and what you add to the accessory mix.”
“Fashion is what you buy and style is what you do with it.”
“Style is timeless, whereas fashion is more short-lived.”
And from the infamous Ralph Lauren: “Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over quickly. Style is forever.”
Based on our research, here are the most popular differences between fashion and style:
Fashion is based on trends and what’s hot now – a look may be fashionable or on-trend today, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever
Style isn’t about the ensemble itself, but more about how you piece together each item in your wardrobe
Fashion is defined by the media, magazines, and influencers, whereas style is defined and devised by YOU
Fashion and style have evolved over the years. But what about the history and intersection of fashion and style?
A Brief History of Fashion and Personal Style
We’re living in an era of luxury when it comes to fashion. We’re able to shop online at nearly any store, get a package full of clothes within two days, and craft our own wardrobe in a matter of a week.
We are L-I-V-I-N-G the dreams our ancestors didn’t even know they were having.
Not only that, but we’re able to dictate our personal style (if we want to.) Men and women before us naturally were not afforded that same luxury, unless they had deep pockets.
“Before the Industrial Revolution, and really into the first half of the twentieth century, clothing and textiles were much more expensive than they are in today’s world of fast fashion. Wardrobes were much smaller,” fashion historian and author of the new book Worn on This Day Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell tells StyleOtter.
“Clothing had to be functional and affordable first, and the vast majority of the population purchased it secondhand. Personal style was the domain of the very rich.”
So what kind of clothing did ancient civilizations end up wearing, then? Here’s a quick overview of a few ways function superseded fashion in ancient societies:
In Egyptian ancient societies, women and men used their surroundings to create their clothes. For example, Egyptians made clothes from lightweight linen, made from flax in the Nile
Most Egyptian men who were not royals wore wrap-around skirts, and Egyptian women wore dresses with one or two shoulder straps
In ancient Chinese societies, particularly the Xia dynasty, women wore long and short sleeve tunics, sometimes belted, and men wore shorter tunics that typically stopped at their knees
Among ancient Indian culture, men wore a dhoti (a cloth wrapped around the waist) and women wore saris, which also wrapped around the waist. Wealthy women still wore saris, but often would get silk from China as an extravagant touch
So, how has personal style evolved if fashion wasn’t even a choice?
“There have always been trendsetters with strong personal style, but contemporary fashion offers much more scope for individual taste, from both practical and ideological standpoints,” writes Kimberly. And we know plenty of personal style trendsetters that have emerged to inspire the latest decades’ style habits.
3 Recent Pioneers of Personal Style
In our opinion, countless influential figures have developed their own unique personal style. We’ve identified just a few personal style standouts whose beliefs coincide with modern viewpoints.
Elizabeth Taylor (1932 – 2011)
What Made Her Different: Elizabeth Taylor had an iconic style, from her vast jewelry collection (which sold for a record breaking $115 million in 2011), to her hip-hugging dress silhouettes. She embraced her natural beauty and carried herself with confidence and conviction.
Style Quote: “I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can’t possess radiance, you can only admire it.”
Miles Davis (1926 – 1991)
What Made Him Different: Miles Davis is not only one of the most famed jazz musicians of all time, but a performer who also was quite mindful of his personal style. It’s said that Miles Davis was influenced by Ivy League style, and frequently opted for button-downs and suits. He also frequented the Brooks Brothers in New York City to get his suits tailored
Style Quote: “For me, music and life are all about style.”
Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)
What Made Her Different: Before Karl Lagerfeld, there was Coco Chanel. Coco first started selling hats in Paris, before crafting clothing and perfumes. Admired for her business mindset, Coco is most commonly known for developing what we know to be timeless personal style items – black dresses, and women’s suits (at the time, taking a page from men’s fashion.)
Style Quote: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”
Now that we’ve taken a very brief look at the history of fashion, and hat-tipped a few pioneers who have paved the way for decades of personal style pursuers, let’s dive into some common, modern-day misconceptions about personal style.
3 Common Personal Style Misconceptions
When it comes to acknowledging or developing a personal style, there are plenty of frequent complaints and misconceptions. Here are just a few:
1. Caring about your style is selfish
Whether you’re a busy mom running around with toddlers, a grandmother in senior living, or a student attending your first year of college – everyone has the opportunity to embrace their own style. Style isn’t just reserved for people who are interested in fashion, or who have loved fashion all of their lives
We give you permission to care about your personal style, as style is a natural form of self-expression. It’s the way you portray yourself to the world, and the world’s first impression of you
Think of it this way: do you think personal hygiene is selfish? Hygiene is an important part of staying healthy, just like personal style is an important part of feeling confident and creative
2. You’re only stylish if you wear what’s trending
As noted above, this is simply untrue. Being stylish is about having the confidence to wear what you like, and what you like may not be dictated by what you see in the news, magazines, or fashion blogs.
3. Having style isn’t affordable/I don’t have the time
OK, fair. Building your personal style takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But unless you live on a secluded nude beach, chances are you’re wearing clothes every day, and around other people every day. Why not give some thought to what you’re wearing since it’s something you’ll always need to consider, anyway?
Embracing your own personal style and finding new items for your wardrobe doesn’t necessarily need to cost a pretty penny. There are plenty of websites and apps to help you build your personal style on YOUR terms – but more on that later
Now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you that you should take stock in your personal style, let’s discuss the five steps to help you understand and embrace your personal style.
5 Steps to Identifying Your Personal Style
Here are our five recommended steps when it comes to identifying your personal style.
1. Define what “style success” means to you
What are your motives for building your personal style? Understanding what sparks your interest will help to make better use of your time. Some examples may include:
“I want to gather quick grab-and-go items that look great when pulled together”
“I want to understand more about my personal style and how it can gracefully evolve”
“I’m interested in refreshing or refining my wardrobe with pieces that are more suited for my vibe”
2. Do some quick self-reflection. Which words describe your style now?
Take out a piece of paper, or jot down in your phone different ways you would describe your personal style. Try asking those around you how they would describe your style, too
Keep this positive. Don’t use negative words to during this exercise, as it can always be modified
After compiling a few different words, assess if your words resonate with your current style. If these words don’t strike you as congruent with your style – which words would?
3. What kind of style do you admire?
If you’re having a tough time deciding on words, do some research on others’ style to begin to pique your imagination. Some great places to start are on Pinterest – try using the search functionality to research a few different keywords like “men’s tailored style” or “classic women’s tops” to kick off your brainstorm
Have a friend or family member with impeccable style? Don’t feel embarrassed to reach out and ask how they came to craft their look. More often than not, those around you will be more than excited to share their tips and tricks
Lastly, if you’re still not feeling inspired, head to the store or library and pick up a few books (like this one or this one) or magazines (like this one, this one, or this one) to get started. Keep in mind, these resources aren’t meant for style advice, rather to help you find imagery that might resonate with an aesthetic you admire or appreciate
4. What types of clothing or accessories make you feel the best?
Within your current wardrobe, are there items that currently feel aligned to the look you’d like to achieve, or that feels right to you? Head to your closet and cherry-pick a few items that are keepers.
Tim Gunn is famous for preaching that you wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time. Is that true for you? Why or why not? Consider if the clothes and accessories you continue to gravitate toward are because they speak to your personal style. Or assess if you reach for them purely out of convenience.
5. Compare the style you admire to the words you use to describe your own style. Are they congruent?
It’s OK to appreciate a friend or family member that may have great style, but that style doesn’t necessarily need to be a style that you copy (unless it feels right to you!)
Take time to evaluate if the style you admire is style that you’d like to embody. If not, with the words that you described, assess if you feel that way now, or if those descriptors are your future state style goals
Now that you’ve completed this exercise, you’re in great shape toward moving your style journey forward. Now, let’s talk about creating consistency in your style.
Steps to Creating Consistency with Personal Style
Ask anyone who has done a solid job maintaining their personal style, and they’ll likely tell you: maintaining a personal style can be hard sometimes!
That’s not to say that your personal style can’t evolve over time, and that it might not change again.
However, consistency is key if you’d like to stick to a style and possibly save a few dollars along the way. Not to mention, extra accountability measures will help keep you in check.
Here are just a couple of recommendations:
Create a Pinterest board dedicated to “your style” and begin searching different pins that you believe match your style. Once you’ve crafted a board of at least 20 pins, have the board ready either in the app or online the next time you shop. Hold yourself accountable for only buying pieces that are a true fit to your Pinterest board aesthetic
Go through your closet now to decide whether or not your current outfits match your style. If your clothing items feel like they’re across the board, consider what you could consolidate down (also, be honest with yourself – when was the last time you wore that item?) sell the items on Poshmark, or just take them to your local donation spot
Creating Dedicated Outfit “Buckets”
As much as we all might want to work from home in our pajamas, it goes without saying that in our daily lives, we go places that have an unspoken (or sometimes, spoken) dress code.
For example, as much as you might want to embrace your ripped jeans and hoodie vibe at a client meeting, the truth of the matter is a lot of companies are still, well, kind of old school – and will expect you to look more professional.
This is where having dedicated outfit buckets will help you build a wardrobe that will get a lot of use. Think back to the past week – where did you spend the majority of your time?
Your breakdown might look like this:
50% at work in an office setting – business casual
20% out with friends and family
20% in pajamas
5% in your gym clothes
5% in sweats walking your dogs
If this is the case, invest 50% of the budget you set aside for your wardrobe toward business casual clothing. And so on and so forth.
Be honest with yourself – is it worth investing in casual outfits if they don’t get a lot of wear during the week? Speaking of investing, let’s take a brief moment about budgeting toward your personal style.
Saving Time and Money for Your Personal Style
Listen, we know that your personal style evolution isn’t going to happen overnight.
And it’s certainly not going to happen with an unlimited budget, either.
But that’s OK, because style takes time. And lucky for you, we’re not living in the days of ancient civilizations. We have OPTIONS.
The first step is to determine how much money monthly you are willing to spend toward your personal style. For some, this might be $50, and for others it might be $300, or even $1000.
Side note: some people would prefer to budget seasonally for their wardrobe (set aside budget four times a year vs. every month) and this is entirely up to you.
Now that budget is taken care of, and you’ve taken a look at the buckets of where you spend your time weekly, where might you need to prioritize investing?
That might look like the following:
50% at work in office setting > only own two pairs of dress pants that must be laundered frequently > need to buy more dress pants
50% at work in office setting > need a backpack that’s not falling apart to carry my computer in daily > need to buy a backpack
Start to make a list of your priorities, and see what needs to get checked off the list first.
From there, pick three “personal style” shopping sites that carry items that speak to you. Why? Most people don’t have the ability to shop online for hours on end. Simplifying where you’d like to shop based on your personal style will prevent you from falling into a clothing rabbit hole.
Now, you can periodically reference your list when you need to go shopping.
For example, you might picks:
Everlane for their quality collection of handbags and backpacks
Rothys for their affordable, easy-to-care-for flats and heels
ASOS for simple tee shirts, skirts, and jeans
It also doesn’t hurt to sign up for mailing lists so you can get the latest style delivered to your inbox.
Personal Traits That Pair Well with Your Personal Style
So you’ve done the personal reflection. You’ve bought the clothes. You tried them on, and they look good.
But – you feel like an imposter, or a little robotic.
Personal style takes time to settle into. As mentioned earlier, the evolution doesn’t happen overnight.
When you see people who have great personal style, they probably exhibit these qualities:
They’re confident – they have an aura around them that screams “I’ve got it together”
They have great posture – often going hand in hand with confidence, those with great style are also more likely to keep their head held high and their shoulders back
They don’t overthink it – most people with great style not only focus on clothes that speak to them, but also clothes that fit them. It’s important to buy clothes that fit and flatter your body type. Once clothes fit, it becomes that much more easy to craft a great looking outfit
Final Takeaway: Identifying and Embracing Your Own Personal Style
Let’s cut to the chase.
Personal style is subjective, and oftentimes deeply private. It’s a reflection of who a person is at their core.
Everybody deserves to feel confident and empowered by their own personal style, and by taking small steps, you can create a personal style and wardrobe that feels good – to you.
What if I don’t have time to shop?
This is where automation can be a godsend. You have a few different options here. You can sign up for email lists from your favorite stores (which will still require you to click in and browse), or, you can sign up for a service like StitchFix (click here to get $25 off your first order with our affiliate link), which will take care of the styling for you. You don’t even need to have a personal style defined for you to be able to place your first order.
How is $50 allowance going to cover my shopping?
It doesn’t have to be $50, but if you’re on a budget, shopping for clothes can be more affordable than you think. We recommend making some time to head to Goodwill, and also browsing on Amazon for some awesome basics (here are just a few of our favorites to get you started.)
Now it’s your turn. How would you describe your personal style?