Before launching into this topic, it’s important to lay out what we mean by “aesthetics.” The simplest definition that I found online is this:

  1. a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, especially in art.
    • the branch of philosophy that deals with the principles of beauty and artistic taste.

So before someone challenges who I am to say how others should dress, or what I think that beauty is, let me preface my remarks by saying that what we call “beauty” and what we call “cool” are two different things. “Beauty” is broadly universal across cultures and exhibits some fairly predictable and measurable standards, even when it comes across as slightly surprising and unexpected. “Cool,” on the other hand, may or may not exhibit classical standards of beauty. The “grunge” look is of this latter kind. So are a lot of “rebel” looks. The appeal is primarily psychological and associative.

Most of us want to look more beautiful–but in a genuine way. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to separate “beautiful” from “authentic,” which may be conventionally beautiful or not. Authenticity is perceived on some level as “beautiful” when all the elements create a unified harmony. Personal style–even that based on aesthetic standards–requires the infusion of psychological and associative data to create a believable outcome.

Principles of Design

There is little consensus on how many principles of art or design there actually are. In any case, they are indispensable to personal styling. Most of the style consultation sites I’ve visited mention only a few of these, but I’ve expanded the list in case you want to explore more deeply.


A hue is the dominant color family that we think of as red, yellow, blue, orange, green, or violet. It does not include white, grey, or black. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. The secondaries (orange, green, and violet) are produced when two primary colors are mixed. All other colors come from varying amounts of the three primary colors.

Line & Shape

Line, in general, creates the outline of your face, body, and details of your features. It forms sharp angles or soft curves. Some “curves” are actually soft angles — think of some squared shoulders (or hip lines), for instance, that are soft rather than sharp. Some shoulders seem to blend gently right into the neckline, and these can be quite rounded, convex or concave. Other shoulders are almost razor sharp. You may see soft or sharp angles in ankles, elbows, hips, and even in facial features such as the eyes, nose, mouth (its shape and corners), and even the ears. The angles create lines that continue into long or short lengths–like aquiline noses or turned up noses with soft or sharp tips. There is no end to what combinations of lines can do and this makes them so fascinating.

Shape is created by a network of curved and/or straight lines. Any combination of straight or curved lines can make up body and face shapes.  It is possible, for instance, to have a curvy body and sharp elbows or a straight body and round eyes. All of these can modify your style type in strong or subtle ways.

Proportion is the size of one trait compared to another. For instance, the proportion of your vertical line to your horizontal line can make you look shorter or taller than you really are. The eyes, as well, can appear larger on the face because the mouth is small, or a medium-sized nose can seem larger on a small face.

Texture: This can be anything from your literal skin and hair texture (rough, coarse, smooth, curly — or even a combination) or its apparent texture (freckles, for instance).

Size, Complexity, and Space: The larger the features, the larger the details you can wear. If your features are mixed (large mouth, small eyes, medium size nose, for example), you can probably wear mixed size details very well. Compactness of features allows for a tighter space between design elements. More space between features allows for more space between design elements.

Rhythm: I think there is rhythm in good design. Some designs have a more up-and-down energy while others seem to flow. Some appear still while others seem lively. There is often something in the personality, too, that has a built-in rhythm.

These are just a few of the things that go into the aesthetics of personal style.