This article explores five easy and free tips and tricks to guide you in your fashion journey. I have worked hard to make sure these tips entail no monetary cost, so they are perfect for beginners and/or those who are budget conscious.
Note down your fashion and style inspiration
When discussing fashion, ‘inspiration’ is one of the fundamentals. The first step in the process is to find ‘inspiration’ – be it television or film, videogames, celebrities and influencers, artwork, etc. By focusing on inspiration, we can conceptualise and develop our aesthetic sense. In layman’s terms, ‘this is cool’. Being able to pinpoint why or how something is intriguing can, very often, come further down the line, especially for beginners. I believe that misunderstanding this process is the source of one of the most clichéd types of questions on fashion forums – the fixation voiced when someone asks a community to ‘please identify this SPECIFIC item that this person is wearing, I want the brand and where you can buy it!’. Rather than learning the parameters necessary for deciding themselves, learning how to look good and how looking good works in practice, there is the temptation to have the instant gratification of imitating someone directly. An understandable line of thinking for a newcomer, perhaps, who just wants to look good. But the case is that through inspiration alone you can pick up knowledge and ways of seeing through osmosis, and thus it is best to be deliberate in order to be effective in the finding and curating of such inspiration.
Which comes to the second step: try and make your inspiration general. Take, for example, a post on my first fashion blog (imported here) about the character Donald Draper’s blue bomber jacket, as worn in the final episodes of Mad Men. Not long after, I got a similar item that was (to be fair) fairly close to what Draper wore in these scenes. It was, undoubtedly, a decision influenced and inspired by the brilliant costume design by Janie Bryant. The key is that I did not get fixated on the unnecessary details – what brand? What size? What cut? Where is a jacket with these exact details (e.g. the cuffs and collar being a darker fabric)? Instead, I identified that I loved the colour (blue has always been my favourite colour) and the general aesthetic. I could very easily bought a mid blue chore jacket instead. However, I happen to like bomber jackets, and so when I saw one from Topman in a similar blue, I jumped at it. In the end I gained a versatile item, and got to engage in the very casual cosplaying that such inspiration encourages. And, to be fair, I would follow this inspiration again if I saw the right item, and in my post (linked above) I do the work of deconstructing why I find the item inspirational. Another way of making this inspiration general would be to think in terms of a mood board: colours and tones, general aesthetics, categories of items, etc.
Thirdly, you must keep a record of your inspiration. This way you can identify patterns in your inspiration, and keep a track of your moods. The simplest ways are through services such as Pinterest, which can be a brilliant tool when used critically, notes apps on smartphones and word processing (a free option would be Google Docs or an open source suite like Libre Office), and the other option being a physical notebook. Perhaps you have a free one to hand that has not been used, or you can invest in a good quality notebook for this very purpose (I recommend the brand LEUCHTTURM1917 – they have good quality paper, are well made in both hard- and softcovers, and come in a variety of minimal designs/colours).
- Find inspiration.
- Focus on the general elements of the inspiration, not necessarily the exact specifics.
- Keep track via notebooks, word processors, and social media such as Pinterest.
Discuss fashion and style with others
Without a doubt, one of the most rewarding and encouraging ways of exploring fashion is by learning through discussion. Whether it’s a friend in conversation to start with who you trust, or a helpful community like Reddit’s MaleFashionAdvice, discussing fashion will allow you to verbalise and explore your ideas. YouTube is another good venue for the topic these days, which did not used to be the case – especially for learning about designers and specialist aesthetics. For a beginner, this can even be someone receptive but with less knowledge than yourself – you can learn a great deal from teaching others. Try not to get caught up in the superficial parts of fashion discussion – e.g. about the cost of something, and explore the topic as you would with other aesthetic topics (you know, TV, music, film, games, etc.). For a full account of my own journey and how it can serve as an example for any beginner, please consider reading my autobiographical account of my own start in fashion discussion, a period of my life that – on reflection – very much consider to be the crucial stage in my evolution from being a person with a bit of an interest to having a mastery and embedded knowledge of the subject.
Another tip, here, is in online communities consider doing the groundwork by simply reading and observing the community (aka ‘lurking’). You will pick up plenty passively, learn the rules and social mores, and find yourself able to contribute more effectively. Please do not be that bolshy outsider who comes in thinking they can pronounce judgment on everything, for example, decrying the spending habits of fellow members – it doesn’t impress.
And remember, reading a thread or watching a good fashion video can provide all important +1s to your charm and knowledge! (Please look forward to a future Play Style video on Persona 5 Royal).
Take outfit photos – even just for yourself
This very much links with the prior step. When I began thinking about and discussing fashion and style, Instagram was nowhere. I always found the taking of outfit photos and their posting online the most sensitive of topics – and, I am not going to sugarcoat it, some anonymous internet commenters are downright rude and mean. Some communities are better than others – MFA is one positive community (although ignore users on Imgur), as is Instagram on the whole. The way around this, of course, is to take outfit photos just for yourself. All you need, really, is a mirror and a camera phone. Once you gain a visual record of what you have worn it is possible to critique and be more honest with yourself and about your relationship with your clothes.
Being ‘slow’ is fine: enjoy your items, including what you already have
When you get into a new interest or hobby, the temptation can be to go ‘all in’. Fashion and style, however, can be a very expensive interest indeed. You can even be encouraged by the psychological thrill of ‘fast’ fashion, where small purchases add up big. Only you can really decide what the right speed is, but going ‘slow’, taking things at a low tempo so you can make more informed decisions, is always a good strategy. Try to catalogue what you have in your possession and track your purchases. Otherwise, you could be like Harry Potter in The Philosopher’s Stone, when asked whether he would like anything from the Hogwarts Express sweets cart: “I’ll take the lot!” And in the end you may have the wardrobe equivalent of “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”!
There’s no harm in scouting and admiring from afar.
Finally, this is something I wish I had learnt at the beginning. The problem with taking an interest in fashion and style, and the seemingly Sisyphean task of building your own wardrobe, is that trial and error can be very important. Of course, that can be very costly – something this list of tips is supposed to help mitigate. If you follow all the tips above to the letter: find inspiration through a mixture of research and reflection while developing your own “readings” of forms of inspiration (“close reading” in the sense of literary criticism); discuss fashion and style with fellow enthusiasts and learn through conversation; take an interest in what you look like, even for yourself, and be able to learn from and love your sense of style; to take things slow and not follow the easy compulsion to “take the lot!”…. You will, hopefully, have a good and solid grounding in the current state of fashion and the various sub-cultures and aesthetics. You will see plenty of things that you will, justifiably, want to imitate. But we can’t imitate everything. You may love the Ivy League style – but does it fit your life? You may find the brutalism and avant-garde looks of Rick Owens an intoxicating aesthetic, but in trying to imitate it you may just be unable to make it work, etc.
In the end, simply admiring what we see and doing nothing more is a valid option. After-all, learning something or seeing something new may help bring new realisations in the long run, or it may help you decide what doesn’t work for you. You may learn about colour palettes and the role of textures and materials…. And, as all these tips show, it is possible to learn and grow at a minimal cost.
Featured image: non-attribution, free image from pixabay