The extent of my ‘personal style’ until the age of about 20 was wearing a smart shirt, preferably with stripes, and a band or geeky t-shirt when casual. Changing your personal style is an exercise in intentional living, yes. But for most it is not about that at all. The current milieu in streetwear is very different to the preppy, smart look that dominated when I became interested.
Brands like Jack Wills, Topman and Reiss all catered to my needs. For me, being stylish was always about looking smarter. Looking more dapper. It is no coincidence that this was also the time that the TV show Mad Men was incredibly influential. The men in the show, led by Don Draper (see featured image), are pillars of dapper personal style, troubled psychology aside.
In this article I will use outfits from my past and contrast with where I am now. From #menswear cliches to minimalist style. Part of forming a capsule wardrobe is about changing your personal style. So grab your Old Fashioned, play some Joni Mitchell and scroll.
1. #Details (2014)
In this photo I am standing in a museum recreating a court room, a building which is now sadly closed because of cuts to my town’s local government funding (not my kind of minimalism). I remember it clearly because it was my birthday (aged 24, I think?), and we had just moved to the town. This time was around the peak of my phase of wearing “heritage”, very British-style clothing. There’s not much wrong with this outfit per se. I appreciate this style, and I would wear it. But to me this does not epitomise the height of personal style anymore. I assume I am wearing brogues, out of shot.
There are some key things that have changed then to now:
- I don’t do the whole ‘fully buttoned up shirt’ look. This was very stylish at the time. Instead now I tend to wear a shirt with a couple of buttons undone. I have definitely “relaxed”.
- I am pretty sure I am wearing chinos. It is hard to tell from the photograph. Changing your personal style definitely involves rethinking what fabrics you wear – at this time I only own jeans and smart trousers.
- Colour. I was very reliant on wearing navy. Grey and black are my go-to base colours nowadays.
2. “Bonfire night” (November 2014)
This outfit was worn as part of an outfit challenge on a fashion forum. I did pretty well, coming second in the voting. I pinpoint this outfit as the true peak of my heritage/smart obsession:
- Oxford button down shirt ✔
- Wool blazer ✔
- Chinos ✔
- Goodyear welt smart shoes ✔
- Heritage knitwear ✔
See, I was blazing. I still love the Chelsea Boots and the knit from this photo. Both are brilliant in the correct situation, which is why I still own them. There’s only so much you can do with this style to truly vary things, which is why my blazer is a rich green colour (I was mildly obsessed with wearing green at this point).
And barring the fact this outfit was composed for a challenge, rather than a real life situation, I think the problem with it is that there is too much going on. It is a visually cluttered look, despite it being a pretty good example of this aesthetic. As you can see with this reflection, the process of changing your personal style can be greatly helped by chronicling what you wear. Even if it is for your benefit alone, the before and after process is made more concrete with photos.
As far as formality goes, this one is pretty much in the “smart casual” range. It is smart in the sense that it is professorial rather than business wear.
3. The results of changing your personal style: minimaldrobe (2017)
Pocket square – Liberty London x Topman
What I like about this outfit is that it retains the essential parts of the Mad Men-inspired, mid-century style that I once obsessed over (links to my previous fashion blog included). Indeed, while it is a total cliche to follow the lead of Draper and co., the essence of that style for me is the epitome of cool when it comes to looking smart:
- Attention is paid constantly to the construction of items, from smart shoes to the architecture of suit jackets.
- As opposed to the craziness of 1970s style, the 1960s was all about a more pared back, muted aesthetic.
- The roll-neck is a classic 1960s-70s item of clothing. It was a style I liked before I “got into fashion”; before I decided to change my personal style from knowing nothing to… well, now.
This blazer is now one of only two in my wardrobe, a huge reduction from my previous #menswear hoarder ways. It has a subtle gold thread and a partially unstructured shape, which makes it very comfortable to wear. I have worn this item to dinners, to weddings, and other such formal and semi-formal occasions. I truly appreciate the jacket, whereas before I had far too much variety (as epitomised by the examples above).
The trousers are a comfortable tapered fit from Zara, which I intend to have cropped by a tailor, to be worn with something like sneakers or loafers (the latter is on my “wish list” long term). My shoes feature in my YouTube video below.
Reflection on the process of changing your personal style, over time.
As you can see, changing your personal style, and your relationship to fashion, is very much a long-term process. Or at least it was for me. If I could go back in time and give myself some sage advice, it would be to be prepared to explore the hobby with a focus on having less, rather than constantly expanding my collection. The key example here is the blazer.
Buying a smart blazer like this was one of the first moves I made when learning about how to change your personal style during university. My advice here is that it is a law of diminishing returns, if once you find a “game changing” item you continually add more items like it. Better to have one or two dope items than 4, 6 or 10 mediocre ones.