My name is Katelyn, and I would describe myself as an involved person. Involved in my family life, in my personal interests, in my job, my church, and my community. Things feel busier than ever before and I know that I won’t be slowing down as I look into the years ahead! And as I look back at the process of taking on these various roles, I’ve noticed a bolder style developing in my life. It’s been exciting to explore living out my personal style, and what works for me, in all of these spaces that I exist in.
The following is the first of a two part series on personal style. The purpose of this piece is to talk about inspiration for personal style - some ideas of where to find it and how we might think about it. Part two of the series will be about execution - how to live out your style in a busy, budgeted life. So when I think about developing sort of a “style profile” (not that I have anything nearly that defined) I have drawn the most enrichment from the following areas.
Art and Your Environment
You can get as existential with this one as you want, but really, style can be found everywhere - because it’s an expression of art. Start to make a habit of noticing anything beautiful or striking or calming around you - whether it be spaces or objects, people or nature. At this level, it’s not about consciously trying to translate art into your style. Your receptiveness to the beauty that exists in the world will open up your styling habits. This applies to even observing other people’s clothing styles. Hopefully you’re noticing a variety of gender and race and color and settings. Appreciating others’ aesthetics will uplift your own, even if there’s not a direct take away for you to adopt into your own wardrobe.
Media technically falls under the art umbrella, but it can be used a little more concretely. When I refer to media I am talking high-level celebs in music, television, etc., but also more grassroots influencers on various social channels. So when you are consuming media with an intention of observing art/developing your style, think of it as picking up tips from friends, influencers, and characters. This is not an exercise in copying.
For example, if you like an outfit or look, ask yourself what is it about it that you like, and how can you incorporate that into an outfit built from your own wardrobe? This question is not about the having or not having of specific items. What do you like about the skirt? Is it the contrasting pattern that is drawing you towards it? Or the structure, or lack thereof? Keep those things in mind as you reexamine your own wardrobe, and work with what you have before putting those inspirations to test in a store.
One of the amazing things about today’s world is that style everywhere can be inspired by style almost anywhere else. The accessibility of travel for some, and social media for most, seems to be increasingly opening us all up to recognize and appreciate the beauty upheld by cultures other than our own.
Personally, I know that living in a predominantly African American neighborhood is closely linked to how my style has developed over the past few years. Black art and culture is innovative and inspiring on every level, and when we look at American pop culture in general, almost all of it exclusively stems from the ingenuity and essence of Black culture. However, as a white woman (so yes, I’m talking to you my fellow generally privileged people), I am trying to always have an ear to conversations around cultural appropriation and other problematic habits that white people have - mainly of taking over what belongs to another culture and claiming it as our own. Race may not be a felt part of your conversations around style, but style is always influenced by race and culture, so it is worth acknowledging and being mindful of.
I don’t have a clear definition of where the line is drawn between gleaning inspiration from and appropriating a culture, for my context or any other minority styles that tend to filter through American trends (such as Indigenous American and South American styles). I do believe thought that if we are working on eradicating white supremacy in our own selves, lives, and society at large, it becomes clear what we can be blessed with as inspiration and what we should not take for ourselves as appropriation. There are a few questions I try to ask myself when looking towards other cultures as a source of inspiration:
- Does me wearing a certain style edify that minority? I should never assume that it does.
- Is this style intricately related to their experience as a minority culture, specifically the hardships that they and their ancestors have endured? If so, I should not wear it.
- Instead of translating our inspiration into specific items, what can I observe about the intention of a style, in formality and function?
Are You Pumped Yet?
Thinking through the source and psychology of where and how we contrive our style is really exciting to me. I can see influences from many important places and people in my life over the years that still affects my style preferences. Style is a way that we can stay connected to who we are, who we’ve been, and what’s going on in the world around us. I hope you’ll join me for the second part of this series, where we will talk about the practical aspects of developing personal style.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming next week!
Katelyn lives in Chicago with her husband and two boys. She writes at katelynelan.com and shares some of her life on instagram @katelynelan