Style: Nature Or Nurture? (Encore)

vintage fashion photo of woman with hat and champagne from Christian Dior exhibition in Paris. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

One of those quips that has always bugged me is, “you’re either born with style or you’re not.” It bugs because there’s a kernel of truth to it, but even more so because it’s often used dismissively. And it’s not the last word.

Sure, we’ve all known that person who seems to have the “style gene.” They’ve just always had a good eye, and perhaps a healthy disregard for rules or what anyone else thinks. They know what they like, they can visualize how two (or more) colors or patterns or pieces will work together. I’ve always been in awe of those  people.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us are doomed to flounder. Style can be learned, at least to a certain degree. And personal style is inherently subjective. One person’s sublime is another’s horror show. Style has become more democratic and inclusive over the last decade or so. It’s no longer dictated from On High by magazine editors and fashion columnists. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t make our own judgements about what styles appeal to us. In fact, discernment is key to finding our own style voice.

I also believe style can and should evolve over time as our bodies, tastes and lifestyles change. It’s key to keeping one’s style authentic, workable, and relevant.

Building Blocks of Style

It’s a wild world out there, with so many competing voices and visions. If you feel as though you’re still developing or evolving your style, here are a few elements of good style that I would argue are universal.

Fit, fit, fit. Regardless of your size and shape, getting the fit right will go a long way toward a more stylish appearance. Alter whatever you can to get a good fit. Even just adjusting a sleeve length can make a huge difference. (I plead guilty to not doing this as much as I should.) I’m not saying everything has to be tailored to the nth degree, just that your clothes should follow the lines of your body rather than fight with them. Even more unstructured or oversized pieces might benefit from a tweak here and there.

Educate your eye (and your hand). Shop above your budget from time to time. You don’t have to buy, just look, feel and maybe try on. Get a sense of quality fabrics and construction details that make a difference. Give fabrics the crunch test. See how the garment drapes.

Know yourself. Get familiar with your shape and coloring, yes, but also with your temperament and sense of aesthetics. Do you crave ease and simplicity? Or lots of color, splashy prints, interesting details? If you aren’t sure, I’ve found that looking at art, or even just scrolling through Pinterest is a great way to get some direction. Pay attention to what you respond to viscerally. Trust your taste. Don’t succumb to anyone else’s “must have” lists.

And I’ve come to believe that ultimately much of what we consider “style” comes from confidence. Feel good in what you’re wearing, and people will pick up on that.

What tips have helped you to develop your style?

My Personal Style Stalwarts

little black pants | the easy topper | ankle boots | the tee | the satchel

Image above from the Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve exhibition in Paris. More from the exhibition HERE

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for unefemme.net. See my complete disclosure policy here.

21 Comments

  1. Ann
    August 13, 2018 / 4:20 am

    Susan –
    Great post! I don’t think I’ve responded to you yet after subscribing for quite a long time, and want to take this opportunity to thank you for your blog. I appreciate your thoughts, advise and photos.
    My best to you, Ann

  2. Holly
    August 13, 2018 / 6:07 am

    You have mentioned previously that you are short in stature, as I am. I’m curious… Do you hem your own garment sleeves & clothing? I usually just push up the sleeves or tack them under. Except with heavier material & then I have it professionallly tailored. Also I have that same JCrew jacket on my wish list….can’t decide which color!

    • Susan B
      Author
      August 13, 2018 / 6:11 am

      Hi Holly, yes, I’m 5’1″. I rarely have shirt sleeves shortened, prefer to just roll or push up. I’ve occasionally had jacket sleeves shortened. I tend to look for jackets that either are offered in Petite sizes, or have bracelet sleeves.

      • August 13, 2018 / 6:17 am

        I’m smiling at your response, Sue, because I do the same thing for the opposite problem. Long arms. I always wondered as a kid why my mum pushed up her sleeves all the time, then I grew up and found out…long arms, and too short sleeves. Great post, as always:)

  3. Meg
    August 13, 2018 / 7:11 am

    I agree that style can be learned. I grew up with a mom who was anything but interested in fashion and beauty. “as long as you are clean and mended, what difference do the clothes make?” Hhahah..But I devoured the fashion magazines, made many an unfortunate style mistake in my day and learned lessons which I now apply happily. I avoid what makes me look silly or uncomfortable , and some seasons ( this one perhaps? ) there is not much out there I will part with money for. I am not a boho romantic Stevie Nicks type with flowing floral ruffles. I am not a cowgirl with boots and Southwestern motif sweaters.
    I agree that following the lines of the body is critical and have no love for the big , thick , oversized or droopy. My clothes have to do a lot of the work, since my body is (ahem) leaning more toward retirement.

    • Lyn
      August 13, 2018 / 10:57 am

      The “silly or uncomfortable” comment resonates with me. I have bought countless clothes over the years in an attempt to become more “stylish” only to feel both silly and uncomfortable. My “true” self wears a cardigan. Every day. Same cardigan style. But a riot of colors and prints. No matter how bold they are, I’m in my comfort zone. (It’s definitely a “style,” but defintely not “stylish.”)

  4. Jan Whichard
    August 13, 2018 / 8:03 am

    Love the blue shirt but the link to it still isn’t working. Links on the bottom of your post work great. Can you provide a link to the shirt, glasses etc above?
    Thanks as ever.

    • Susan B
      Author
      August 13, 2018 / 8:09 am

      Hi Jan, here’s a link to the blue shirt: http://shopstyle.it/l/Qm63
      Glasses here: http://shopstyle.it/l/Qm7b

      The links do work for me. What happens when you click on the links? Let me know and I’ll pass along the information. Thanks!

      • Jan Whichard
        August 13, 2018 / 7:37 pm

        Hi Susan. Nothing happened. No link to the product. All your links over the years have worked! Also my name and email don’t auto load anymore!

  5. Marta Suarez
    August 13, 2018 / 9:10 am

    Great post Susan! Thanks!

  6. Janine
    August 13, 2018 / 9:27 am

    I completely agree that style can be learned. I love your blog.

  7. sophia montgomery
    August 13, 2018 / 11:11 am

    Style can certainly be learned with time and attention. So many great resources out there. Your blog included!!

  8. SuD
    August 13, 2018 / 11:22 am

    Yes, I think some people naturally have a discerning eye for style, and we can all learn to a certain extent. I also believe we veer to what’s naturally appealing or works well with our body type. I tend towards simple lines and comfort. When I add patterns or avante garde they must somehow fit my natural aesthetic, not too contrasting in color, lots of negative space in prints, and narrow silhouettes. I have the runway body type (broad shoulders, slim hips), but lack the height so I keep the shapes simple and frou frou free. I may jazz it up with accessories from time to time; keeps it interesting.

  9. Ann
    August 13, 2018 / 2:46 pm

    Hi there, really enjoyed your post today. Some people do just naturally have a certain flair. I was in my 30s before I felt like I might be getting the hang of it after a off handed complement about my lovely scarves. It was like a light going on…accessories!

  10. Rondi
    August 14, 2018 / 7:31 am

    I think a sense of style comes from a person’s desire to look put together and feel confident about their appearance. If those are your goals then you naturally develop a sense of style. It just comes easier for some then others. I really liked your point about clothes fitting well. Recent health issues have resulted in weight loss for me. I realize now that I have been wearing my clothes a little snug because I was always going to lose those few extra pounds! Although the way I lost the weight may not be ideal I am enjoying the results. Even the most perfect outfit does not really look good if its snug or uncomfortable.

  11. Rita
    August 14, 2018 / 2:00 pm

    A good way to educate yourself is to visit high-end shops and try on clothing that you could never afford. Notice the fabric quality, construction details, and the way the garments fit. Usually high-quality clothing is cut more generously than less expensive clothing.

  12. August 15, 2018 / 1:11 pm

    I wonder what kind of suitcase you use when you travel.
    Any recommendations?
    LJ

    • Susan B
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 1:19 pm

      Hi Linda, it depends on the length of trip and destination. You can see all of my luggage recommendations and reviews HERE.

  13. August 16, 2018 / 12:28 am

    I love your more discursive posts and indeed it was one on “classic style” that got me hooked on your blog. Yes, some people have a flair for putting outfits together just as others have a flair for flower arranging or interior decor, but we can all learn. I’m good on colour (with an Art History degree you’d hope so, really wouldn’t you!) but I have to work at getting proportions right. And just like any other skill you have to practice it.
    I’m an actor and so I’m acutely aware of the importance of how clothes make you feel, stand, move etc. I’m also committed to comfort AND style in my own clothes. I’m almost 60 and it makes me sad that so many women of my age use comfort as a reason for giving up on style. In fact it is usually lack of confidence about themselves and their aging bodies and feeling unsure of their place in the world that is behind their retreat into a melange of ill fitting beige and unfortunate florals.

  14. August 18, 2018 / 1:45 am

    I have a few friends who always seem to hit their right note and it has long fascinated me. How do they do it? It took me years and years to finally sort my own style out and now I am quite comfortable with it. Thank the Maker for black trousers and for lovely handbags.

  15. Cindy Gagliano
    August 20, 2018 / 5:22 pm

    We have to evolve our style otherwise we look dated. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject

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