Style descriptors: a thought experiment

Of many useful things I've learned on here on this forum, one of the most valuable has to be the five words I use to describe my style.

I originally came up with these by looking at my shopping strategy, and since then I've come to realise how well they describe different aspects of my look. But there's more. I realised quite recently that each one is a response to fundamental aspects of my lived experience:

  • Timeless: approaching change
  • Urban: dressing for my environment
  • Eclectic: acknowledging diverse influences
  • Androgynous: a statement on body image
  • Individual: an assertion of selfhood
This made me wonder if this is something anyone else has noticed. When you talk about your style, or set style goals for yourself, what aspect of your life are you serving? Could it be one of these, or is it something else? 

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • minimalist replied 4 years ago

    Thank you for linking your previous posts! I was thinking about you the other day, as I tried to find descriptors for my use of menswear, and how it's generally in the essentials category for me rather than statements.

    In my case, androgynous style goes beyond body image to practicality, durability, comfort, availability, ethical sourcing, and certainly more aspects of my lifestyle and values system than come to mind at the moment. It's not purely a style choice, by any means.

    The long-term financial is also a factor. Less so than for many women, and more so than for others, what I spend on clothing now has the potential to directly impact my quality of life and options when I'm older (or should I be hit with sudden illness or disability). There's a lot that goes unaddressed in discussions of women's choices in fashion and beyond. I don't have time to find words for that at the moment, but it's an area where androgynous fashion can also be androgynous financial self-care.

  • Xtabay replied 4 years ago

    Interesting post, as always, approprio!

    I've always struggled with style descriptors.  I think I just don't want to commit to anything.  How perverse!  But lately I've been driving myself crazy when trying to get dressed.  I get worried that it looks like I'm trying too hard (read:  fashion victim).  If I correct, I feel I look like I'm not trying hard enough.  The interesting thing is that I get more positive feedback on the "not trying hard enough" outfits than I do on my more complicated efforts.  So at least one style descriptor ("restrained"?  "understated"?) may be getting forced on me.   It's probably environmental -- my city is quite casual, and yet very alert to fashion trends, which produces some eclectic looks that for the most part are all casual.  Nothing looks tortured or overdone or fussy.  Unfussy -- I think that's the descriptor I want.

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    I love this line of thought. Something similar occurred to me when I was doing my yearly style reflections. 

    The ones I posted were: 

    • Modern
    • Precise
    • Playful
    • Bright
    • Bold

    But on further reflection I adapted these to: 

    • Modern
    • Precise
    • Playful
    • Vivid
    • Practical

    Why? Well....I needed the practical! In other words -- responding to my lived experience. 

    Let's see if I can elaborate as you did. 

    Practical: acknowledging and dressing for climate and lifestyle. This is crucial for me. 
    Vivid: assertion of selfhood. (Angie has dubbed me Ms. Radiant Health and although I think she is being far too complimentary, it is true that I exude a brightness that I would like my style to reinforce.)
    Playful: valuing that which preserves and protects in difficult times. (Humour is one of the things that keeps me sane! If I can smile at my clothing, it helps to get me —and others—through the day.)
    Precise: seeking balance. (For me this is about tailoring and fit, for the most part, and about a certain refinement. My desire for refinement is often at odds with need for practicality, which is where the idea of "balance" comes in. If I combine practicality and precision I hit my happy fashion place.)
    Modern: aging with spirit versus resignation. 

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    You DO have a fabulous way with words, Liz. And your reasoning for the words you've chosen makes complete sense. LOVE what you chose and why. I'd have thrown in Avant Garde - but you have that covered with Individual and Timeless. Very nicely done.

    My moniker is Urban Pretty, because it’s important to me that my outfits are structured, refined, polished and pretty. I feel more content about my style direction than ever - thankfully. It helps when times are turbulent. 

    I want to wear outfits that are Modern, Crisp, Soft, Retro and Dressy. These are the five adjectives that I’ve chosen to describe my ideal style so they’ll be at the front of my mind throughout this leg of my style journey.

    • Modern because I enjoy injecting a few very current trends into my seasonal look.
    • Crisp because I love wearing shades of white, and have a strong need to create a polished appearance. 
    • Soft because I do not enjoy wearing hard-edged outfits. 
    • Retro because of my fondness for looks from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but wearing them with a good dose of Modern. 
    • Dressy because that’s what I prefer.

    My adjectives are focused on the visual, although there's a lot of emotion in there too. 

    Modern = Feminist
    Crisp = Control Freak
    Soft =  Sensitive
    Retro = Fantasy
    Dressy = Discipline 

    That was fun. Thank you. 

    Suz, LOVE YOUR WORDS and reasons too. A pleasure to read. Relaxed Radiance, FTW.  

  • approprio replied 4 years ago

    Thanks for your wisdom. So much to think about, as usual. 

    minimalist: totally agree with you on shopping the men's department. It goes beyond androgynous style for me too, and for the same reasons, but the possibility encourages a certain fluidity of gender presentation. You're right, we should get a thread going about it. Thanks for the reminder :)

    Xtabay: I think this theme of effortless practicality is one that we all strive for one way or another, such as Angie's "forgettable" outfits. I've been trying to frame it as "unconscious competence", but fashion being what it is, I wonder if any of us could ever achieve that. 

    Angie, Suz: so many great words here! I was initially disappointed that my own description was so very ambiguous, but it's since served me well as a frame of reference. And you're quite right, it seems timeless and individual are the two most important, although I'd maybe lay claim to a dose of retro as well. I particularly like crisp and precise, because they capture something I like to aim for. Not every day (my RATE nature resists it) but sometimes the look needs it. And dressy. The world definitely needs more of that right now.

  • Runcarla replied 4 years ago

    Gosh, you folks are making me work hard! I've managed to figure out Modern Casual Romance as a moniker for where I aim to go for 2017. Maybe I should use them as descriptors and alter my moniker? If so, I would add 'Bright, and Natural'. So that would be:

    MODERN - because a trend or two signals that I'm engaged with the world around me

    CASUAL - because there is a certain lack of structure and softness that I gravitate towards.*

    ROMANCE - because that is what my heart (and soul) is needing

    BRIGHT - because I crave light IRL, and why not generate some of my own?

    NATURAL - for acceptance of things that are beautiful without conforming

    * I might need a different word for this. I had an epiphany when I was doing my formal Christmas outfit, and instead of a crisp shirt I ended up with a drapey button down. It was a softer look, but was still successful - and importantly, felt like 'me.'

    This leaves me without a moniker, though. You can call me out on avoiding using 'sporty' as well. Though fitness activities are a big part of my life and who I am, I'm NOT interested in activewear as day wear or even athleisure as fashion (other than sneakers). Maybe, I protest too much!

  • Greenjeans replied 4 years ago

    Love this!  I haven't articulated any style goals yet though sorely need. 

    I love your thought about dressing for your environment.  I see the word "urban" come up a lot here but it hasn't felt terribly relevant to where I live.  But you know what, it doesn't have to!  And now I get to set about thinking up words that do work for my place.

    Thank you! 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Ooh. I love the juxtaposition of "timeless" and "individual" for you, Liz -- it does get at something deep. The androgyny is timeless (to me) and the individual also captures the urban flair and the avant garde sensibility. 

    Angie, thank you for those kind words. You are sweet. Relaxed Radiance it is -- for now, anyway! And yes, on the hunt for silver jeans. :) 

    Love reading everyone's comments here. Carla, I love modern casual romance for your style direction! Romance will add femininity to counter the sporty (which is also "you" though I understand you don't want it in daily life). 

  • Barbara Diane replied 4 years ago

    Thanks for this exercise. I think I'm adding practical to my list. As key to my outfits is a consideration of the weather, the activities of the day, especially the amount of walking.

  • Sal replied 4 years ago

    I will have to give this some thought.  When I read others it makes sense (although I have not met you in person) but obviously how we dress is often in sync with our personality, values, view on the world... however I do know people where there is a disconnect for one reason or another.

    My Style statement is Bold Elegance, but descriptors for me could well include


    In my case I am sporty, modern, casual and practical but I am aspiring to be bolder (in my appearance and actions) and more elegant (an easy confidence and grace).  I have not been as Bold as I would like over recent years in some decisions, and I feel some of this aspect of my personality has diminished over time....

    Interesting, how androgynous fashion empowers Approprio and Minimalist - yet feminine dressing makes me feel strong.  I do not feel my best in revealing clothing, but confident feminine pieces (a pink jacket, a tailored dress, a stunning pair of heels, a sparkly ring) make me feel ready to take on the world.  

  • shevia replied 4 years ago

    Love this! Hmm, I didn't list five words on the original post, but I feel like I must have done so lately. Will be back.

  • minimalist replied 4 years ago

    Kiwigal, I don't experience that as an either / or thing. My undergarments and some footwear choices are in line with the same experience you describe. Hair, mani/pedi, and accessories as well. This facet is inseparable from the menswear one. No idea how to work these into style descriptors, though. :-)

  • shevia replied 4 years ago

    Did some procrastination serving googling and found these.
    Unexpected - I am always happy to include something in my outfit which is unexpected in terms of the piece (avant garde, vintage, unusual all work for me) or the combination (unusual juxtapositions, androgyny, etc.), but I am also:
    Restrained - I don't my outfits to be so out there that they draw scrutiny from afar, I prefer them to be subtly interesting (this is an ideal obviously, not necessarily an accomplishment!)
    Aware - I do pick up on a lot of trends lately (thanks to Angie) but I don't feel the need to jump on everything that comes down the pike, so I am will say I like to look like my finger is to the wind but not that I am being blown about.
    Pleasing - Well l think there could be a better word there, but in the end I want the whole effect to look good, at least to me.

    Ultimately I think these are my way of asserting my personality nonverbally:
    Unexpected - I see myself as an unconventional thinker (in terms of gender stereotypes and social norms) and that is reflected in my outward style as well. 
    Restrained - I don't want to shout though. Actually I am terribly self-conscious about talking about myself with people I don't know well.
    Aware - I am somewhat oblivious and aloof to social groups and various forms of signaling but do not want to give the impression I am completely clueless
    Pleasing - underneath it all I am quite vain ;) !

    Thanks for the mental exercise Liz - I will reread later when I am also Awake.

  • Joy replied 4 years ago

    What a wonderful, interesting thread. I need to think about this more. I think that what I want from my outfits is changing a bit.

  • Style Fan replied 4 years ago

    This is a great thread.  Thanks for starting it.  I am still working on my 5 style descriptors.  This has given me some motivation to finish that project. 
    I am loving what others have written. 

  • approprio replied 4 years ago

    Sorry guys, internet's been patchy today and I'll admit I'm overthinking again. I'm particularly intrigued by some recurring themes - the desire for romance and glamour superseding functional requirements for instance. I suppose that falls into the grab-bag I call eclectic.

    KG, minimalist: we should unpack the implications of androgynous style in another thread. I've been wearing menswear all my life mostly because I have the body shape for it and it never occurred to me not to do it. I'm certain this has consequences for my self-image and the expectations I bring to clothing, rather than the other way around. 

    Runcarla: may I say I really like your list, because it seems to me that it aligns your desires and aspirations with your reality very well. Excluding "sporty" is probably the right thing to do - why state the obvious if it doesn't further the goal? I'm cribbing the bomber jacket with the lace skirt by the way - love it!

    shevia: Aware. Excellent word. Captures something very fundamental, along with Pleasing. When I put the two of them together, they evoke that feeling I get when I'm out and about and I get talking to a total stranger about what they're wearing, or what I'm wearing, or both, and all those things we don't need to say because a really good outfit will say them for us. Thank you!

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