College is a time for us to discover who we are, and that includes finding our own personal style. But when college campuses are seas of black leggings and white tees, gathering fashion inspiration may not be easy. Don’t fret — even if you can’t pick an outfit out of a full closet, we’ve got just the guide for you!
1. Discover What You Love
The first step to finding a style that’s you is to figure out what you like. HC Style Editor Elyssa Goodman, who taught a class called “The Art of Personal Style” at Carnegie Mellon, suggests creating your own inspiration book.
“Look at the world, look at magazines, look at photographs, even look at color samples from Home Depot,” she says. “After that, you look at the book and notice patterns in your selections.”
Former freelance couture model in France Wemi Opakunle says that inspiration can come from anywhere, from photographs to people. She lists Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil, Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, and photographer Garance Dore as sources.
“The great thing is with the Internet, all these sources are just a mouse click away,” she says. Websites like Pinterest or Tumblr, where Opakunle records her inspirations through her own blog, can help you collect your own images or peruse others’ ideas.
Are you attracted to stripes? Is red your go-to color? Your affinities may range anywhere from a time period (for Elyssa, it’s 1940s Pinup Girl Moves to 1970s East Village!) to a current trend (such as menswear-inspired).
“Getting dressed makes us feel good,” Elyssa adds. “Why wouldn’t we want to feel good all the time? Getting dressed in something you like can change the mood of your entire day for the better.”
2. Don’t Avoid Extremes
Once you’ve determined that the ‘80s are your jam or that purple is your favorite color, don’t be afraid to go all out. Simmone Seymour, a Tufts University sophomore, calls herself an “uber-prep,” and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.
“I don’t mean polos and boat shoes, I mean red pants and green corduroys, I really go all out,” Simmone explains.
A half-hearted attempt may end up looking more out of place than playing a trend up — and Elyssa says not to be afraid to experiment.
“I realized that I could wear whatever I wanted,” she says, “and honey, I’ve worn it all — disco pants, platform shoes, men’s blazers, rompers, vintage t-shirts.”
Opakunle says that her “personal belief is either you go big or go home.” Love necklaces? Layer them on, Opakunle recommends — multiple thin chains go well with whimsy pendants that show off your character, she says.
3. Do The Unexpected
Standing out from the college crowd can be intimidating, so if you’re not ready to commit to a full-on look just yet, try a little something “fun and quirky,” HC Contributing Writer and Boston University student Kelsey Mulvey says.
“You can always add some personal style to your outfit by adding something unexpected or a little funky, whether it’s a red lip or a really awesome shoe,” she says.
Accenting your outfit with something unique takes your look up a notch — your tee and skinny jeans look totally different with a pair of fun boots than they do with your everyday flats, and your going out outfit (you know, the requisite sheer top and black miniskirt combo) has just that much more oomph with brightly colored lipstick.
“If you can’t live without your favorite tee,” Opakunle says, “then incorporate it into your look. Pair it with chic blazers or tuck them into high-waisted jeans to keep things interesting.”
4. Figure Out Your Playing Field
As an avid athlete, University of Portland HC Campus Correspondent Julia Kennedy says looking traditionally fashionable isn’t her forte.
“I dress pretty bro! There’s nothing I love more than throwing on some kicks, basketball shorts and sick Nike sweatshirt for the day,” she admits.
But even if your personal style isn’t exactly runway-ready, you can still put together a great outfit that’s true to your personality by determining how to make your specific look work.
“There’s a true knack and skill for putting together the right kicks and socks, then pairing them with the right jacket and shorts,” Julia says. Worrying less about what’s trendy, and more about how to stylize what you love, will ultimately make you more comfortable and confident.
5. Coin a Signature Item
What’s your style trademark? Whether it’s a necklace you wear all the time, a series of bracelets you never take off or a signature look you always sport (think Blair Waldorf’s headbands circa high school), this is a piece or style that is you. Let this piece be a part of your everyday outfit — once that item is integral to your daily attire and can be associated with you, no matter what it is, it’ll go with everything — meaning that yes, even your favorite cupcake charm necklace will look good with your boyfriend jeans.
6. Dress For Your Body Type
Knowing how to play up your best attributes can help define your style. Does the high-waisted look accentuate your legs? Does a raised shoulder look good on your frame? Flaunting your favorite features can be the beginning to putting together your outfits.
“Once I started understanding what looked good on my shape, I embraced [my curves],” Elyssa says.
We come in all different shapes and sizes, so personalizing each look to those differences can help inform your personal style — we’ve each got something that nobody else has, so let that be your style inspiration and go ahead, show it off!
7. Let History Repeat Itself
Emory University senior Christina Ludgood says that looking back at your previous fashion choices can be “enlightening.”
Though some of our past outfits may be cringe-worthy (poorly-cut denim skirts with platform flip-flops?), looking at what we’ve been drawn to in the past can tell us a lot about what looks best on us now. There may be a reason you were a crop top lover during Britney’s bubble gum days, or why midi skirts were your fave in middle school. Style can recycle itself, so don’t be afraid to bring back a favorite trend, no matter how historical — but do recognize why certain trends have remained in the past — we’ll leave the bejeweled flip-flops to Snooki.
8. …or Rewrite History
Looking through your parents’ or older siblings closets may help you find points of inspiration. Christina said that she discovered her love for menswear-inspired pieces after going through her dad’s closet. From then, her style icons have broadened to include classics like Frank Sinatra.
Rather than emulating men’s fashion, however, Christina, who is constantly seeking vintage pieces and ‘70s-looking attire, merges her interests to find unique pieces such as a vintage blue velvet blazer that has landed her in a British street style blog.
Instead of copying someone’s style, make it your own — determine what makes something “you,” whether you’re fabulous or funky, and infuse that into a look you’re inspired by.
9. Trial and Error
Finding your personal style means knowing who you are — and how can you get to know your limits without taking risky looks for a test drive? Each time you go shopping, make it a point to both gravitate to what you’re most comfortable in as well as put on a piece you might not usually pick — who knows, that asymmetrical skirt or pair of snake-print skinny jeans might just work for you.
“When it comes to style, it’s important not to be afraid to try new things, but keeping the foundation of who you are in mind is also equally important,” Opakunle says, adding that there is no such thing as “perfect” style. “Style is always going to be subjective. In the end, it’s about creating an avenue to express yourself and having fun with it. As Coco Chanel says, ‘You live but once; you might as well be amusing.’”
10. …But Be Picky
How you dress says something about who you are, so it’s important to love what you’re wearing.
“Forging your own personal style is picking and choosing, being very selective about what you put on your body,” Elyssa says. “What we wear gives the world the first impression of us. Why not make it a good one?”
Whether you’re seeking to define your personal style or just want to give your look a little something extra, just remember: in the words of Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus, “Know, first, who you are; then adorn yourself accordingly.”