In this article, we discuss how style relates to personal and brand identity and offer advice on how to create your own unique style.
Whether fashion is important to you or not, personal style can undoubtedly be a useful tool for self-expression. If we so desire, our clothes can be used to reveal things about us, including our personality, hobbies, or mood. Of course, not everyone wants their clothing to hold such meaning – but people often feel most comfortable when their outward appearances reflect their inner selves.
While style is an important part of self-expression, it is also an essential part of creating a fashion brand. The most successful fashion designers and brands have created their own signature styles, and you can do the same.
So why exactly is style an important part of personal and brand identity? And do we need to discuss important style considerations such as sustainability and fashion trends as we curate a signature style? We’ll answer these questions below, as well as offer tips on how to create your own style as a brand or individual.
What is personal style?
You may have heard people say, “they’ve got good style”, or seen magazines write about celebrities with “bad style”. However, it’s not really for anyone else besides yourself to comment on your sense of style, as it’s a deeply personal thing.
In our open step about personal style by The Hopenclass and Art Comes First (ACF), myths about style are debunked. It’s got nothing to do with matching clothes in a certain way, following specific dress codes or listening to pre-approved fashion advice.
Instead, style is the sum total of your life experiences and expressions. There are two main components of personal style – items and ideas – and these things communicate who you are to the world. With that in mind, style can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you feel it truly expresses who you are.
For more advice and information about personal style from The Hopenclass and Art Comes First, join our Art Comes First: Exploring the Intersection of Style and Identity course. The Hopenclass is a cultural and creative space aiming to help you (un)learn, and Art Comes First is an art collective focusing on freedom of expression and sustainable development within the fashion industry, amongst other things.
How style relates to identity
As established, style is a way of expressing one’s identity. But how exactly do style and identity interlink, and what’s the difference between reflecting a personal identity and a brand identity? Keep reading to find the answers.
It’s hardly a new thing that we use fashion as a form of self-expression. Even the earliest human communities used clothing, accessories and make-up to differentiate themselves from different social groups and achieve a sense of belonging.
In our open step about the origins of power dressing by The Hopenclass, we discuss how humans utilised all kinds of things to achieve this differentiation – rare wildlife and plant elements, a range of fabrics, precious metals and stones, and garment silhouettes. Style has also historically been a way to project certain statuses, including military rank, royalty and religious authority.
Today, in many countries, we can be more expressive than ever with our style. While we can still use it to signify rank and authority, we also use it to express other things about ourselves. In our open step about what makes a style your own, the Hopenclass and ACF suggest a long list of things that might inspire your style.
The list includes
- Cultural Ancestry: People may feel more connected to their culture and ancestors by wearing cultural dress, or it may be considered a sign of respect.
- Spirituality: While spirituality can take many different forms, some people may choose to wear signs, symbols and materials that express their spiritual beliefs.
- Athleticism: If someone is an athlete or sports fan, they may wear sportswear to highlight their interest and to feel comfortable while exercising.
- Justice Movements: Fashion can be a great way to show solidarity with justice movements and rebel against the status quo, often through symbolism and slogans.
- Music & Literary Genres: Music taste can have a huge influence on style – take punk music, for example – the combination of music, fashion and politics created a whole punk movement. Learn more in our Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78 course by the University of Reading.
- Travel & Wanderlust: Style can easily be influenced by different cultures when travelling abroad – and travel itself often lends itself to a more relaxed style, particularly when it comes to backpackers and nomads.
- Politics: People often use style as a way of presenting their values, so conservative people may want to dress more modestly, while liberal people may want to dress more extravagantly.
Despite holding similarities, the style of a brand serves a different purpose to personal style. Essentially, a brand’s style is an important part of brand identity: the visible elements of a brand that make it uniquely identifiable. This can include things such as the brand logo, choice of colours, and design.
Some important things to consider when creating a brand identity are what your brand stands for, how it’ll be perceived, and your brand’s point of view. Once you have a clear understanding of your brand identity, you’ll be able to create a style for your brand that expresses what it’s all about.
Like personal style, the style of a brand can also be influenced by things like music, film, historical movements, influential figures, and cultural ancestry. However, it’s more important for a brand to show why they’re influenced by different things, and how those influences are an important part of their identity.
To learn more about expressing yourself through brand identity, why not try our Personal Branding: How to Brand Yourself Professionally, Authentically, and with Passion course? With guidance from branding expert Professor Jonathan A.J. Wilson, you’ll learn how to embrace your uniqueness to develop a successful personal brand.
Things to consider when creating a style
So, you’ve now got a solid understanding of how style can express identity. But what are the next steps? Let’s go through some considerations you might make before pinpointing your style.
You may already have a clear idea of your favourite styles. But have you thought about how to match your style to your values? As we explored in our article about how sustainable the fashion industry is, fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
If you care about the planet and the living creatures we share it with, you may want to consider sustainability when thinking about your style. Sustainable fashion has been described by Sarah Ditty, editor in chief at Ethical Fashion Forum, as “fashion that maximises benefits to people and minimises impact on the environment”.
With that in mind, you should think about things like the shops you buy from, the fabrics you wear, the number of clothing items you purchase, and how you get rid of unwanted garments. From a brand perspective, you should consider your choice of fabrics, your production model, and how many collections you create.
For more information, take a look at our guide to sustainable fabrics, our selection of sustainable design techniques, or our open step detailing the different fashion standards, certifications and schemes available.
These might help you if you’re thinking about starting your own sustainable fashion brand or looking to curate a more sustainable personal style.
A lot of the different styles we see in magazines and on social media are inspired by current fashion trends. A fashion trend is a particular look, garment, or expression that quickly spreads across a large group of people in a certain area.
While fashion trends used to relate to seasonal fashion shows, the trend cycle is accelerating more quickly than ever. This is partly due to the rise of fast fashion brands, who now produce trendy clothes faster than should be possible. They only manage it due to having unrealistic and unsustainable production models that fail to adequately protect workers.
It may be very tempting to get sucked into fashion trends when trying to decide on a personal style or brand identity – but you should try to remember your own personal taste. You don’t need to jump on every fashion trend – it’ll only go out of fashion a few weeks later.
A more sustainable and personal approach is to take inspiration from fashion trends that you really love, but not to let them dictate your choices.
How to create a personal style
It’s time to think practically. What can you do to create a personal style that feels authentic, comfortable and exciting for you? Below we’ve got five easy steps on how to come up with your own personal style.
1. Create a mood board
Mood boards are a fantastic way to get visual inspiration for your style. Whether you create a physical collage with pictures from magazines or a digital mood board on Pinterest, you’ll be brimming with ideas by the end.
As you add images of clothes, colours, celebrities, fashion shows, architecture, art, and whatever else inspires you, you may be able to recognise common themes and eventually pinpoint your desired style.
Even if you don’t really like fashion, a mood board of your favourite things might still help you decide on an aesthetic or clothing style that feels like it reflects your hobbies and personality. For example, if you love nature and plants, you might be inspired to dress in earthy tones and interesting textures.
2. Figure out your colour palette
Hopefully, creating a mood board will help you decide on the colours you want to wear, but if not, it’s something to consider. Knowing which colours you like will make it easier to buy clothes that you’ll actually wear.
Maybe you feel best in neutral colours like black, white, beige and brown – this works particularly well if you have a more classic fashion sense. Perhaps, you like wearing pastel colours like pale blue and pink, or even jewel tones like emerald green and dark purple. Or, maybe you don’t want to restrict yourself at all – you’re happy to wear every colour under the sun!
3. Find what makes you confident
It’s one thing looking at pictures of clothes online, and quite another thing wearing them. It’s important that you feel comfortable in your personal style and feel like it reflects who you are.
This means you may have to try some things on before you know what feels like you. Try different outfit combinations at home or in store changing rooms. Confidence is key – you should feel comfortable in your body and like you’re not aiming to please anyone else.
4. Audit your wardrobe
Now you know what you like – but does your current wardrobe reflect your style? We’re not by any means encouraging you to throw away your clothes, but perhaps consider whether anything could serve you better. Are there a few items you need to fix? Could you dye something a different colour? Or could you maybe style some garments in a new way?
If there are some items that you know you’ll never wear because they don’t fit or are not to your taste, consider getting rid of them. This will help you declutter your wardrobe and stick to your style.
Try organising a clothes swap, call up your local charity shop to see if they want donations, or try selling your old clothes online. Check out our guide to recommerce for more information on reselling used goods.
5. Be experimental
You don’t have to stick to just one style. If you want, you can even change your style every day! It’s okay to dress in 90’s grunge one day and then businesswear the next. Although we’ve offered advice for finding a style, you don’t need to follow any particular rules, as long as you feel comfortable, confident, and authentically yourself.
How to create a style that fits your brand essence and identity
The above advice may also help you create a style for your brand, but there are some additional things to consider when thinking about brand identity.
1. Know your brand strategy
You need to have a complete understanding of your brand strategy before you can create a brand style. In our open step about the anatomy of a brand, ethical brand consultant Sarah Greenaway suggests that you need to know the brand heart: your purpose, mission, vision and values.
Once you understand what your brand is really about, it’ll be so much easier to create a style that feels authentic and appeals to the right audience. You can discover more about defining brand purpose and values with Sarah Greenaway in our open step.
2. Understand your target audience
It’s essential that you know who you’re selling to. Once you know your dream audience, you can use their likes and dislikes to create a signature style that you know will appeal to them. The best way to do this is to create brand personas, where you imagine exactly what kind of person they are. However, keep in mind that you might want to appeal to more than one kind of person.
Of course, you don’t have to use your target audience to create a style if you already have a clear idea of what you want your style to look like. Instead, just think about who will want to wear your designs, and how you can adjust your brand strategy and marketing to draw them in.
3. Decide on visuals
Before you start designing clothes, you need to know what your brand visuals are. This includes colour schemes, your logo, and other elements of design such as typography and website imagery. It’s up to you whether you want to incorporate brand visuals into your fashion designs, but it makes sense for them to at least be aligned.
4. Create a rulebook
While coming up with your signature style, it might help to come up with a set of rules and guidelines. For example, maybe you don’t want any floral fabrics, you want to focus on outerwear, you’re sticking to a monochrome palette, or you want to avoid current fashion trends. Having a clear set of rules can also help colleagues to come up with ideas that fit your desired vibe.
5. Get creative!
It’s a trial and error process. But it can be a fun one! Doodle in your sketchbook, create mood boards, sew test garments by hand, and ultimately you’ll start creating designs that feel in line with your brand purpose and values.
Hopefully, you feel invigorated and ready to find your own style. Whether you’re in the process of setting up your own fashion brand or you merely want to start expressing yourself more, we hope you’ve found the advice in this article useful. Everyone deserves to feel like their true authentic selves, and fashion can empower people to do just that.