We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~ T.S. Eliot
If you have come this far and hammered out some solid answers concerning your own aesthetics, context and personality, you should be ready to plug those into the formula:
Aesthetics + Personality + Context = Personal Style
Expanded into its elements, it amounts to something like this:
(Color + style identity) + (Expression + Temperament) + (Geography + work + time + mode of travel, etc.) = Personal Style
Let’s start putting this all together.
What are your three signature colors? List those here.
Add two more only if you are absolutely determined to have off-palette favorites, but no more. If they are not in your palette, they will not work next to the face, nor will they correct other “off” colors in an outfit (use carefully). Only a few rebels will likely opt for truly off-palette colors. This is a personality choice rather than a principled aesthetic one. Consider wearing such colors in a mix with your signature colors or at least away from the face. If monochromatic is your thing, you can also wear a related color from your natural palette in the top position nearest your face and add the “rebel” color below that.
Style Identity (based on overall body type)
What is your style identity or archetype? Do you have one or need to invent one for yourself? Style identity is the second half of the objective aesthetics of your look.
You might have found a generic style identity for yourself (like a Kibbe type) somewhere like Dramatic, Classic, Romantic, etc. Use it as a starting point, not an end point. The beauty of PSC essences, on the other hand, is that whatever isn’t a leading essence is a nuance of your generic style identity. Example: If you are a Classic and feel that you have obvious secondary essences of High Spirited, Romantic, Youthful, etc., use those to add a dimension to your basic style i.d. Refer back to the Style Typing page, where I have a couple of examples. Everyone does not have the same amount of secondary essences nor do they carry them in the same ways. A good resource for secondary and tertiary essences and how they might combine various ways in outfits is Truth is Beauty. (The author of that site shares the same leading PSC essences as me, but I think we’ve made different choices about how we combine them because the essences show up slightly different in us physically. We have different color palettes and different personalities. She is self-taught and brilliant.)
Jennifer Aniston is an example of a Natural type with added essences of Romantic and High Spirited (PSC). She has just enough soft curve to place her by a toe over the yin side of Natural (that’s the Romantic in her), but enough staccato angularity of facial lines and expression influenced by High Spirited energy. Kibbe will never break it down in his public discourse, but I can tell that he figures it into the equation when he does a personal analysis. This is where PSC kicks the golf ball in the hole for the do-it-yourselfer.
Juggling essence lists or giving yourself a broader style identity and then infusing it with a shorter PSC list of essences can get tricky. We have to progress somehow from the mechanical list of to-dos into the simple passionate conceptual picture that really represents the individual. For this reason, I find personal, invented archetypes helpful. It’s easier to picture something with personal meaning to you like “Wild Horses” than it is to balance a whole word list like “leather fringe,” “lots of brown colors,” “rough texture,” “bypass the tummy,” and so on. If “Wild Horses” is your archetypal big picture, you’ll probably think of freedom, wind in the hair, dust in the air, hoofbeats. You’ll feel it much sooner when you put together something that seems “off.”
So here is what you need to maximize your aesthetic reality. Take your colors, your style identity, your PSC essences, your objective understanding — anything you absolutely know is true of your body and features — and work to put them together into a picture you can relate to.
Look for simple words that go beyond a list of dos and don’ts. Go for the archetype. Think of the objective qualities of the look you want to convey.
Also start looking at art from any era, from every era. Can you find artworks with colors, lines, images, spaces, and textures similar to the ones that are native to your own look? Don’t stop till you find a pretty good match for the feeling your face engenders. (And you can always change it if you find something better.) Put that picture where you can refer to it. You are holding that thought for now.
Examine the aesthetic philosophies and principals of other cultures.
Example: I had to bypass a lot of European works and didn’t find what I needed until I looked into Japanese aesthetics. The ones I saw cited by other style seekers were wabi-sabi, iki, and shibui. All of these had something going for them, but didn’t quite capture “it” (whatever “it” was) until I found mono no aware. Most people find fairly normal material themes that work, whereas all I could find were weather patterns and things that you cannot readily lay hold of. When I discovered mono no aware, it made sense, because I live less in the material world than most. There is often an intersection between objective aesthetics and the personality. Many will not easily discover this until they go through the personality part of this system.
See if you can sum up a feeling, a picture of the sense of what your combined colors, lines, style identity (or archetype) evoke in two words, five words, a phrase — just so it’s short.
- If you are having a hard time, too, don’t beat yourself up over it. Hold what you find in reserve for now. There is a sort of tension between the physical makeup and the personality that modify one another. It is, in fact, difficult to tell sometimes which parts of our style are owed to physical reality or personality.
- If you go to the personality section later, you will still want to revisit your answers here. (I did the personality part first, and found the exact archetype and words after the fact.) You will continue re-examining the interface between your personality and your objective reality in order to tweak your memory words, your big picture, your mental image of what it means to look like yourself so that you can perfect your style identity. It will become the core of how you put yourself together at any level of formality.
Did you do your personality style mapping from the Style Statement book, or from either the Personality Power or the Lifestyle Mapping pages? There are any number of ways you might choose to tackle this part. You could even go the quick route with the Style Mapping page. They are all similar approaches. You need not bother with this part, though, if you feel you’ve got everything nailed down and don’t need my help. Otherwise, continue . . .
Assuming you did one of the style mapping exercises with personality in mind,
The first question for you at this juncture is: How does a personality like me consistently create the look I want?
Maybe certain colors express you better than others. How about certain fabrics? Hardware? Patterns? You can always change the buttons, too. Get creative. Be on the lookout for new ideas. (My themes are sea-heavy, but those don’t limit me to all nautical, mermaids, and seashells, which start to feel like kitsch. Mirrored touches in jewelry remind me of reflective water without being so obvious. You’ll find more options than you ever thought! Stay open.)
The second question is: How do I instinctively operate on a day-to-day basis?
In other words, is it realistic to expect yourself to plan everything down to the detail, two weeks ahead? (Personally, I have to head myself off at the pass somehow, because I know it’s never going to happen!) Do you need to create a uniquely artistic ensemble for every occasion or do you need a basic interactive wardrobe so you can free your mind for other endeavors? Or even a mix of both?
The third question: Given what you know about yourself, how do you incorporate what you love into the personality you display in your clothing? Does what you love show up literally in prints, or does it show up abstractly? Does it reveal itself in textures, colors, or surfaces?
Hint: I have changed buttons on outfits, altered jewelry colors with nail polish, and replaced decorative top stitching that was the wrong color. Because the sea figures so prominently in my imagery, I look for things that evoke the feeling I love: fabric texture and color, abstract prints, mother-of-pearl effects in jewelry, buttons, things that look like water. I even have a small jar from Arkansas made of crushed pre-historic seashells — no I don’t wear a jar, but it’s part of my home decor.
Context is, I think, the most daunting initially, but the easiest to rectify when it goes wrong. Most of it has to do with things you have little to no control over. (And you can’t control everything in the world.) I have less to say directly about the matter of life context than the other sections because each engineering solution is unique. Sometimes it requires you to deal with something for which there is no roadmap in style consultation.
Your best tools in solving issues of context are an open mind, an optimistic outlook, a can-do attitude, and possibly the help of friends with creative minds if you run out of ideas. Don’t try to solve a complex issue all at one go. Instead, see if you can break it down into smaller components. Solve one of them at a time.
To get the wardrobe you want, you may have to sew, to learn to wear a garment in multiple ways, to dye things, to learn how-tos you’ve never considered. There are books, the Internet, friends, teachers. How much time do you have? Can you pay someone like an alterations person?
If the problem is your work or the climate, should you move, get another job, or figure out how to adapt? (It would surprise me if many people change jobs because of personal style!) How important is this style thing to you and for how much of your day? How important is it to self-express, to be appropriate in all times and places? What if you can’t find the kind of clothes you want? Have you looked everywhere? Did you find what you wanted but it was as much as your rent or mortgage? Maybe there is a better way to find it or get something very close to it.
Maybe you have to dress in formal office attire, but your feet are killing you in those damned high heels that your company requires. Can you fight it? What about educating someone higher up about the medical issues of forcing women into high heels for eight hours a day?
Whatever the obstacle you face, there is an answer somewhere. Or there is someone with the power to help. Ask around. Ask everyone you know. See if someone else has dealt with the same thing at some time. Answers will come, if you seek them.
If you need an example of working through context issues, read my page How I Worked Through A + P + C. There’s, of course, much more to the story, but it may help you to see your own way clear.
Personal Style Formula
A personal style formula is a way of ordering the aesthetic concept of your style within the modifications required by your personality and the limitations imposed by the context in which you live. Aesthetics are fixed, personality is partly fixed (temperament) and partly free (freedom of choice/preference), and context is partly fixed and partly changeable (choice and chance).
You know your best colors and lines now. Did you figure out your basic style identity or archetype based on your body’s geometric lines, shapes, or essences? Did you manage to come up with a mental picture of how all that looks when it comes together? If so, you have your idealized style figured out. Now you must prepare to run into obstacles so you can create the unique real-life style you need.
Let’s start with my earlier make-believe two words that create a visual image: “Wild Horses.” I picture dust and excitement, fringe, beads, maybe Indian feathers or cowboy hats, leather fringe. Definitely natural materials — pottery, wooden floors, jute, and maybe even fine Western decor and art, like the kind you see in those highfallutin magazines like Western Art & Architecture. (I think of someone kind of like Betsy Huelskamp. She’s awesome!)
What could be a first obstacle for someone whose style evokes “Wild Horses”? Maybe it’s climate. She lives where it gets to -40 F. in winter. Maybe part of her theme involves wearing those big earrings with feathers, but the problem is the metal in the studs. It’s too danged cold in winter with the wind blowing. (I don’t know, having never lived in such a climate, but I do remember not being able to wear earrings outside because the metal got so cold.) Maybe she wears her jingle jangles some different way instead. Or maybe it’s fringe — like maybe when the wind blows it gets jammed in car doors. But those are the kinds of things I’m talking about. Situations where it’s just not practical to wear what you want. So you find another way.
Let’s suppose now that imaginary “Wild Horses” woman gets her contextual conundrum solved, whatever it may be and she makes it to the part about Personality. She does some tweaking and decides that she really loves piling on lots and lots of decoration. She’s Dolly Parton at heart and decides that “less is less and more is more.” So maybe she does one of the personality exercises — doesn’t matter which kind as long as she is happy with the results. And she decides that “Horses Ornate” is a good two-word style statement or something. So she loves the idea that horses evoke, but it’s too plain for her unless she can add on as much handcrafted jewelry as her body can bear and as much embroidery as her garments can handle. Maybe that’s her, and she’s got her obstacles accounted for. So she goes for it, and her formula ends up like this:
(Lip, hair and eye colors + Flamboyant Natural with a dramatic flair) + (Horses Ornate + ESFP temperament) + (Freezing cold weather that makes wearing fringe inconvenient) = Personal Style
And she has got it nailed!!! Eureka! Everything she chooses from then on is according to her philosophy and she’ll know it when the feeling isn’t there. Even if the recs look right, if the feeling’s not there, she’ll just know.
I know this seems like a complicated way to go about finding your style, and ultimately your philosophy about it. But human beings are complex and complicated creatures. I see it all the time in style discussions. People can suggest lots of things and make really good observations, but they cannot get inside your soul.
That’s why I got into the complicated stuff here. You have to answer the questions and then question the answers until you get it right. Even the so-called experts don’t agree on everything they advise. Lay claim to your soul, for in the end, it’s the most important thing you wear. When I got to this part, I was surprised how much I already knew about myself — but didn’t know that I knew. Why did it take such a long process to see what was always in front of me? Maybe it takes all that to detox from the false knowledge we get from the world. Somehow the questions force the knowledge to the surface.
I’ve ended with a page of Resources where I’ve gotten lots and lots of help. Pay for help if you need it; ditch the stuff you don’t need. Above all, listen to your heart.