Why Style Matters
Style matters the same way communication matters: we live in a society with other people, and style is one of the ways in which we connect with others. At first glance, you might think style is just about clothes, but that’s like saying communication is just about vocabulary; it’s a terribly superficial way of thinking about it and miles away from the core of the matter. Cultivating a personal style that allows you to effectively communicate who you are is a powerful thing. You can think of it as another form of communication. Like all forms of communication, personal style is ultimately about building bridges between you and the rest of the world.
When people hear style, they often think fashion, trends, designers. Countless books and articles have been written about finding the right fit and building a stylish wardrobe. I have read my fair share of these, and one of the recurring themes I discovered was being stylish begins with “knowing who you are”, or self-awareness. You might think that’s obvious, or that of course everybody knows who they are, but I beg to differ. Let’s take a deeper look at what self-awareness is and how it can help you develop a style that is both authentic and effective.
Two categories of self-awareness
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Tasha Eurich explained that there are two broad categories of self-awareness: internal self-awareness and external self-awareness. Internal self-awareness is “how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions…, and impact on others.” External self-awareness is “understanding how other people view us, in terms of the same factors.” While the two are independent of each other (i.e. being high on one type of awareness does not correlate with being high on the other), everyone can benefit from cultivating both forms of self-awareness.
To cultivate internal self-awareness in style:
- Approach trends as inspirations not rules. Fashion magazines love to tell us the “must-haves” of each seasons, but really they should be viewed as “potentially nice to have”. The idea of having the same dozen “must-haves” for every one is just silly. People don’t come in the same size and shape, why would they all require the same “must-haves”?
- Shop for your current, actual life style, not the one you had, or might have, or wish you have. Many of us have a penchant for shopping for the fantasy life where we go on more beach vacations or attend more black-tie balls than we actually do. Similarly, it’s easy to hold on to that bygone period in our lives when we used to look cute in an unforgiving pair of jeans or got away with a daring hemline. Internal self-awareness means stop pining for the past or an alternate universe, and dressing for the body and life style you have here and now.
- Know what you love and embrace it unapologetically. We live in a world where there are more choices than ever, which is both good and bad. It’s good because there really is something for everyone, but bad because the proliferation of choices makes choosing that much harder. To figure out what you truly love, you need to pay close attention to both what the outside world offers and how you feel on the inside. Some helpful questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I feel comfortable?
- Authenticity and honesty: Do I feel like myself?
- Do I feel confident?
- Do I feel joyful?
To cultivate external self-awareness in style:
- Acknowledge style is part of your non-verbal communication, and whether it’s done with or without intentions, you are saying something with your style.
- Communicate intentionally and effectively by understand the psychology behind colors, texture, silhouette, etc, and apply that to the message you want to send.
- Be aware of others’ expectations and what is appropriate based on your role and context. It doesn’t mean thoughtlessly conforming. The goal is to come up with creative solutions that can meet others’ expectations while allowing you to remain true to yourself.
- Create alignment between your best self and others’ perception of you, so that what you love most about yourself is also what others see in you.
Putting it all together, cultivating style with self-awareness means:
- Do the work to get to know who you really are and embrace it unapologetically.
- Develop your ideals from your values and use that to create the best version of yourself.
- Cultivate a style that is congruent with your best self and effectively communicate that to the rest of the world.
- Be inspired and respectful, while staying unique and authentic.