It’s not uncommon to think about style in the form of “phases”. That middle school phase when all you ever wanted to look like was a Delia’s catalog model. The phase post–college graduation when you bought a bunch of “professional” clothes before you were even sure what your profession was. That summer you only wore off-the-shoulder tops. What was that about, right? In retrospect, none of these single moments define you, per se, but we don’t consider any of them wrong and certainly not uncommon. They’re more of a reminder: Cultivating true personal style takes time and a bit of trial and error.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to figure out what’s most you, and if you even just start today, we’ve culled some solid advice for what to do first. In an attempt to discover what it takes to enjoy a lifetime of personal style, we asked three experts who each have a unique POV, including celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger (whose clients include Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, and Michelle Dockery), creative director Sofia Shannon of sustainable fashion brand Amur, and photographer and street style star Tamu McPherson, for their best advice on how to make changes today that have immediate and last results.
See what they have to say about living your truest, most stylish life below.
While shopping may seem like an instant form of gratification, take a step back. “Have a look in your closet,” McPherson says. “Ask yourself: What do I have too much of? What could I add? What I would never repeat?”
Shannon agrees with McPherson that the best place to start honing your style is by looking at what you already own. “Spend a weekend organizing your closet and cleansing it of pieces you have not worn in years. Decide if you can restyle them or repurpose their fabric, and if not, donate these clothes so someone else is using them or find a place where they will get recycled. It can be a lot of work, but after doing it, you will have easy access to great pieces in your wardrobe that you are probably ignoring.” The trick to evaluating what you own, our experts agree, is that it can better inform you how to shop going forward—ideally, it’s also environmentally friendly, Shannon adds.
To add to that point, Erlanger also suggests you spend some time making sure what you love looks its absolutes best. “Invest in tailoring,” the stylist tells us. “Most clothes requiring tweaking to ensure the perfect fit. When things fit properly, you instantly look better.”
Our three insiders say that to improve your style in a year, be discerning about trends that seem exciting for a season and shop with longevity in mind.
“Trends cycle in and out and last a couple of years,” McPherson says. “Today we’re all about seasonless dressing, so the pieces you buy for the fall still make sense in the spring.” Her advice is to invest in those pieces that you know will feel fresh for many seasons to come.
Shannon suggests how to go about this process as well. “Every time you buy something, ask yourself: Am I going to wear this more than 30 times? Am I still going to identify with this piece five years from now? If the answer is no, put it down and keep looking. You will slowly start to build a wardrobe that you love and that makes you happy every time you look at.”
In a similar vein, Erlanger emphasizes the importance of great, timeless basics—pieces that will have a heavy rotation in your wardrobe and therefore might deserve a bit more thought. “Freshen up your closet and replace things like tees, camisoles, and blue jeans every year. Naturally, with wear and washing, these items tend to have a one-year life cycle.”
There’s no doubt about it: Focusing on purchasing great quality pieces that you’ll wear for years is a solid approach to building a lifelong wardrobe. But if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
“Stay open-minded,” Erlanger says about exploring personal style for years to come. “I encourage clients to not be afraid to try things on, as oftentimes garments look different on the body than on the hanger! And oftentimes, you might surprise yourself.” McPherson agrees that listening to your gut (perhaps even that internal voice with a penchant for high shine, statement pieces, and lots of color) is key. “Pick and invest in pieces that strongly speak to you and which you know you could wear forever.”
Shannon also says that “keeping a good balance of basics and special pieces,” will help create a wardrobe you’ll be happy to style from for years to come. “In 10 years you will have an effective yet fashion-forward closet to work with.”