Defining style: be inspired

posted on: July 21, 2012

Darlings, welcome to the start of a series of posts I call Defining style (all posts will be labeled, by the way, so you can find them by clicking here). I wanted to give you a guide on how to define your own, personal style – and, naturally, I’ll demonstrate by doing all parts myself. Each part will have different “levels”, so that, based on how experienced you feel when it comes to your own style and preferences, you can choose how hardcore you want to do this.

Level 1 is for those of you that feel rather lost when it comes to the world of fashion. You perhaps don’t spend much time thinking about clothes in general (nothing wrong with that, kitten), but sometimes realize that life would be a easier if you didn’t have to struggle with your wardrobe every time you’re getting dressed. Whenever an occasion requires more than your usual attire, frustration and/or despair sets in. Deciding what goes with what feels slightly impossible, and you’re not sure how to dress up while still feeling like you. What you need most of all is to develop a sense of who you are, sartorially speaking, and how to not feel overpowered by everything style-related.

Level 2 is great if you’re interested in fashion and style, but not a fashion super-nerd. You might have started actively looking for colours that suit you the best, which shapes will work best on your body type, or which shops that always have something you’ll like (and which ones that don’t). You think getting dressed can be a great way to express yourself, but sometimes it can be hard knowing what you want to express. Your wardrobe might have schizophrenic tendencies, which makes it hard to put together a harmonious outfit. The main task for you is to find the core of your style – which can still be spiced up with something a bit more experimental, of course.

Level 3 is for those of you who are above average fashion savvy (Maja, I’m looking at you). You’ll probably have an opinion about Raf Simons’ recent haute couture collection for Dior, even if you don’t agree with me in thinking it was magical. This means you also know the meaning of “haute couture”. That doesn’t mean you only wear designer articles, though, because who does, really? Instead you focus on items that instantly give you that tick all your boxes, often such as “of good quality” and “won’t look out of date in six months”. As your style is already quite developed, what you need is a better understanding of your style, beyond that gut-feeling. At the same time you also need to practice playing around with your style, as you can sometimes be restricted by your (otherwise excellent) discerning eye.

Remember, the goal here is definitely not that everyone must be a level 3-person by the end of this adventure! Instead, we want to discover a way to make your clothes and styling reflect you, your preferences and personality. This way, everything from shopping to putting together an outfit will be a whole lot easier. Who knows, it might even make you feel more confident, or happier with the way you look. I like to think all of you who read this blog has learned not to underestimate the power of style, and to appreciate how it can affect other areas of your life as well.


Without further ado, let’s get started on the first part! This is a very comfortable one, as you can do it all in front of a computer, or with a stack of fashion magazines, some paper and glue. It’s all about finding inspiration.

1. First, and this goes for all levels, I want you to collect images of outfits, accessories and hair/makeup that you’re instantly drawn to (you might have done this already, but spend a little time doing it anyway, just to get in the mood). You can use Pinterest/Weheartit, an image folder on your computer, or a stack of clippings from magazines.

If you want an example, I have several boards on Pinterest I use for this: Fashion inspiration, Beautiful Items, Hair/makeup, Vintage style and Fashion Photography.

  • Level 1: try not to let your critical voice take over here. It’s perfectly fine to add pictures that might not be entirely practical, or too expensive/cool/girly/whatever. Try to find at least thirty images – I know you can do it!
  • Level 2:  you probably do this a lot already, don’t you? That’s wonderful! But still, try not to get stuck here, there is more to this first step. You don’t need more than fifty images, really.
  • Level 3: I know your brain is a master at analyzing outfits (which, again, is excellent), but let’s see what you end up with if you let your gut and enthusiasm take charge. Also, try looking for images in new places. You might stumble over a few surprises.

2. Look over your images, and see if you can find any elements that are repeated. It can be as specific as a fabric, a colour or a particular item, or as vague as a mood or a feeling. Write them down; it shouldn’t take more than five to ten minutes.

Here is my list, based on those Pinterest boards of mine:

Defining Style – repeated elements 2012 | from

  • Level 1: you don’t need to use fancy words or notice every little detail (nobody but you need to see your list anyway). Instead, play detective and see if you can figure out why you’re so drawn to that particular item, or what makes that particular outfit appeal to you.
  • Level 2: your list will be more helpful if it isn’t too long. If this seems to be the case (you can compare it to mine below here), see if you can group certain things together. For instance, instead of writing “flowers”, “girly”, “braids”, “lace” and “pastels”, perhaps the word “romantic” can encompass all these aspects?
  • Level 3: try to work from the images themselves, and not from that list you have in your head already (we both know it’s there). See if you can discover some elements you weren’t aware of already; perhaps you like a lot of all-black outfits, for example, but if you really think about it, you might also realize that your images of such ensembles also are rather minimalistic, or full of different textures, or always are paired with a bright red lip. Dig deeper.

3. Words are great, but when it comes to style, we need some visuals as well. Which is why step three is to create mood boards. A mood board is basically multiple images put together, usually to demonstrate a particular mood or atmosphere. Polyvore is great for this, or you can print/cut your images and do it the old-fashioned way with glue. I used PhotoShop, simply because I’m a nerd and it allows me to do pretty much anything (such as transform a boring brown coat into a lush, raspberry version).

Now, we’re making three mood boards. One will be for fashion (preferably images of full outfits/looks, not just a single garment), one for accessories/textiles/details, and one for hair and makeup. Here’s the tricky bit, though: you can have maximum six images on each mood board. This means you’ll have to choose with care, and play it smart. The more you each picture looks, the better. Allow me to demonstrate, and then I’ll give you some level-appropriate tips.

Defining Style – style inspiration 2012 | from

My fashion board. Do you see the connection between my list from our previous step and the mood board?

Defining Style – detail inspiration 2012 | from

My mood board for accessories and such. You can see that while I like my clothes simple, I like them to have small, interesting details. I also like accessories that draw attention, and preferably mix feminine and masculine elements.

Defining Style – beauty inspiration 2012 | from

As for hair and makeup, I don’t think you’ll be very surprised. Bright lips, defined brows and glossy, soft hair. Put all these three mood boards together, and I think we can agree that they represent me quite well. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get some surprises along the way; I hadn’t, for instance, realized just how much I love all black-and-white outfits, but it was rather obvious once I’d chosen and put together my favourite images.

Some tips:

  • Level 1:t he whole point of these mood boards are that they should excite and inspire you. Naturally, if you spend most of your days walking in the forest or playing with children, then super-glamorous, high-maintenance mood boards aren’t really what you need, so you’re only smart to take your lifestyle into consideration. Still, “realistic” does not have to equal “boring”.
  • Level 2: try to make sure that your mood boards tie in with your list from step 2. What we want is one definition that’s based on words, and one that’s visual, but it’s important they say the same thing.
  • Level 3: as with the first level, you need to remember that the mood boards are supposed to make you genuinely excited. The core of your taste should of course dominate the impression, but try to sneak in something that inspires you to challenge yourself as well.

Phew. If you got this far, you get brownie points and gold stars and kisses and hugs and puppies. The next Defining style post will be all about how you can use your mood boards to something practical, and also how to “translate inspiration” from an image to an outfit of your own (without buying a whole lot of stuff). Until next time, chéries – I hope this was useful!

  • drifterqueen

    WOW. This post is absolutely fantastic! <3

    I've done my bit of browsing Pinterest and saving images I like in a special folder…but I've never done any properly organized moodboarding before! Love your suggestions :)

    I'm really looking to the translating bit of this series! Fantasy + reality = ???

    It'll be magic, I bet ;)

    • Maria

      You know me, I like lists and organization and mindful learning an’ all that jazz ;) I hope you’ll find the posts useful!

  • Anne-Line

    Så morro!!! Jeg er definitivt level 2 med schizofreniske tendenser og jeg tro nettopp du kan hjelpe meg ut av jungelen, Maria! Tusen takk – gleder meg til fortsettelsen!!

    • Maria

      Det var meg en glede, kjære :) Jeg er både level 2 OG 3, jeg, en slags supermotenerd med en del schizofreniske trekk. Stakkars klesskapet mitt for tiden (men det skal det bli en slutt på når jobben starter igjen ;).

  • Maja H

    Hahahaha, oh honey! You know me, I have an intense (although, in light of recent events, rather shameful) love for Galliano’s Dior ;)

    This guide is spectacularly well written – a new personal best for you, in my opinion! I absolutely adore it, and you know I will take you advice as soon as I’m back in Bergen. My closet needs mood boards inside its doors!

  • Ulrikke

    Super post, Maria! You’ve done it again! :D

  • Annette

    How exiting! Will definitively be on board for this one :D

  • Irene

    For ein fantastisk stilguide! Skal definitivt setje meg ned og finne inspirerande bilete og lage “mood boards”. Gler meg til fortsetjinga!

    • Maria

      Det var akkurat den reaksjonen jeg hadde håpet på: at dere blir så ivrige at dere begynner å tenke på deres egen stil. Tusen takk <3

  • Egwene

    One word: brilliant!

  • Cindy

    Bra æ ikkje e aleina om d, Maja;) Han e jo genial på design sælv om han virke som en usympatisk å rasistisk *sensurere* ehm…mann.

    Bra bloggpost som alltid, Maria:) Bruke å tægne antrækksidea som dokke opp i hode i Fashionary-boka, men nu bei æ frista t å kose mæ me å lage moodboard.

    • Maria

      Moodboard e undervurdert. Æ sku ønske æ kunne lage moodboard tel ALT i livet mitt. Handleliste, middagsplana, spilleliste i Spotify, leiligheta, jobbantrekk… you get the picture :p

  • Lu

    Super post! Det er slike gode, kunnskapsrike innlegg som gjør så jeg kommer tilbake hit til bloggen din. Det er savnet i det av bloggosfæren jeg kjenner til. Virkelig kjempeflott! Jeg er usikker på hvor jeg hører hjemme blant disse kategoriene, men siden stilen min er såpass “fast” regner jeg med at jeg er mellom to og tre. Jeg kunne nok ha tjent på noe mer eksprimentering, og særlig se “mer” på bilder, altså utover det åpenbare. Nå skal jeg sette igang med å utforske. Jeg har allerede en tumblr, (og mood-board av magasinutklipp klesskapet) så får utforske og analysere litt der.

    Gleder meg til resten av denne serien!

    • Maria

      *lagre kommentar i hjertet og huske på den når jeg og bloggen ikke forstår hverandre helt*

      Takk! Man kan fint være både level 2 OG level 3, jeg er definitivt det i perioder (og definitivt DEFINITIVT nå for tiden). Håper “opplegget” mitt er nyttig for deg :)

  • Cindy

    Du e genial. E enda ikkje færdi å samle sammen bilda, å allerede bynne æ å se ka som e gjængangeran når d jell ka æ syns e kult. Å d kommer snikanes idéa t antrekk, ting æ kan kvitte mæ me, ting æ burde kjøpe å ting æ burde sy.


  • Trajena

    Nice! This is reminiscent of your “Fabrics for Dummies” series. I love posts like these: fun but extremely educational.

    Once again, printing this out to mount on my wall.

    • Maria

      I’m so glad you like my new series! “Fun, but extremely educational” is exactly what I aim for when writing posts of this kind – I can’t really turn off the teacher in me, so it’s wonderful to hear I’m not a boring one :D

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  • Ida

    I would be very happy if I was your student, you explain things so well. I think am almost a level 3, but still have a rather scizophrenic wardrobe…

    I just wanted to tell you that you inspired me to make mood boards on pinterest yesterday. I caught myself thinking “this person will think that this outfit is ugly” on more than one occasion, but I told myself to just have fun with it and so I did. I also felt as though everything I pinned was completely random and incoherent, but it all really did make sense in the end. A lot of breton stripes… Anyway, I used a few of my pins as inspiration for my outfit this morning, and I think I ended up with my favourite outfit ever. I also managed to buy a pair of trousers and a silk blouse that, upon examining my wardrobe, I discovered I could instantly make several outfits (that NEVER happens).

    This has gotten rather long, I just wanted to say thank you for making me look the way I want to and probably also saving me tons of money on things that don’t fit into my wardrobe (although it might be equalled out by the fac that I now feel like I can dare invest in more expensive items, ooops).

    Have a great evening, can’t wait for more defining style posts!

    • Maria

      This is so wonderful to hear, you have no idea, Ida! Being useful/helpful is the best feeling ever. I’m so glad it sounds like your wardrobe is heading in the right direction :)

  • Ida

    PS I am a bit miffed that I have a foodie/health blog as I so want to blog about this and show people my list, ha ha.

    • Maria

      I’d love to see your list (and mood boards, if you’ve made them)! It’s so much fun to see what you all come up with, and how different the results are :)

  • Kali

    I just discovered your blog and although i’m not a comment person I really wanted to point out how nice it is to find actual “personal style” tips and not just “what to wear to be in the latest trend” kind of articles.

    Thank you very much for this refreshing approach to style! Just in case you are curious, here is the link to the page where I posted my own mood board exercise:

    • Maria

      Your mood boards look wonderful, Kali :) I’m so glad you found my post useful – the focus on PERSONAL style, not just FASHION, is very important to me, so I’m glad it comes across in my blog!

  • Annabella Freeman

    My wardrobe consists of whatever fits (for now) after I get to my goal weight which my take a few years, you are coming shopping with me!

  • Anna

    Nevnt at jeg elsker bloggen din? Har sittet og jobbet med stildefinering noen timer nå :)

  • Nina

    I finally got around to making mood boards/defining my style!:) It was surprisingly easy to find the repeated elements in the pictures I gathered, apparently my style isn’t as random as I thought. Now to follow this the next time I go shopping..

    Here’s my post if you wanna check it out!:)

    • Maria

      Isn’t it interesting how we can all feel very undefined and “lost” about our style, but once we make an actual mood board, the connections are almost obvious? Your mood boards look lovely, by the way :)

  • Adrianna

    This post is so awesomely helpful– I’ve books, tonnes and tonnes from Ines de la Fressange’s ‘Parisian Chic’, to Isaac Mizrahi’s ‘How to have style’, looking for something and something, and finally i’ve found it. *_____*

    Seriously though, I always read fashion books (for the eyecandy and the advice) but i’ve never felt like “this is what i needed!” so I’m so happy to have found this post by way of a tumblr post. I’ve forgotten where I was linked from, but whoever they are, thank you <3

    I've a question though, because for my inspiration, there are some elements that I love, but just… aren't for me. For example, androgynous silhouettes. I cannot pull it off at all/ I will not look good in it. Do I remove these from my board?

    Also, I love draping -and- architectural clothes– is that being too schizo? Should I choose one over the other?

    Ah… It's nice to be given direction, this is so helpful, but I'm still floundering… *flails*



    • Maria

      Adrianna, darling, you have no idea how happy your comment made me! I’m also an avid reader of fashion books, but, like you, can’t really find one that applies to ME. I’m thrilled my blog post was so helpful to you :)

      About your question: I know JUST what you mean. I have the same problem – I love androgynous clothing, the fashion in the 20s, a long, slim silhouette… but making those elements work for me can be really hard. The best solution I’ve found so far is to minimize the appearance of these things in my “main” mood boards, and instead focus on other ways to indulge in the tricky element. My love for the 20s, for instance, means I can wear hair/makeup/fabrics/details from that era, while avoiding the typical 20s silhouette (hello, drop waist) that makes me look like a brick. Also, I like to generally keep my eyes open, because sometimes I’ll magically stumble over an item that both fits that difficult aspect of my taste AND makes me look good. In general, though, I try to avoid things that straight out make me look awful, simply because I know I won’t feel good wearing them, no matter how much I love them on the hanger or someone else.

      As for draping vs. architectural clothes, I say go for both! For one, I think they can complement each other wonderfully. Second, strangely enough, the whole idea of something being “too shizo” can be kind of limiting. Unless you want a super-strickt, minimalistic approach to your wardrobe, I don’t see anything wrong with branching out. As you can tell from my own mood boards, I’m much about elegance and class and feminine touches, but I wore jeans, a t-shirt with a sailor skull and messy hair the other day, and I still felt great – and, more importantly, I still felt like myself.

      I think it ultimately comes down to whether or not you feel like YOU in something. If you do, then your body language and personality will make the outfit seem natural on you, even if it doesn’t stricktly match your mood boards. It is only clothes, in the end, and it’s supposed to be fun/creative/interesting, not a science.

      Phew, that was kind of a rant, but hopefully it made sense in a way? :)

      (also, my post is on Tumblr? That’s awesome!)

  • Ida Therese


    Jeg ble utrolig inspirert av dette innlegget, men jeg har ikke fått summet meg til å gjennomføre det før nå! Men nå som det er gjort må du jo få se resultatet:)

  • Aleksandra

    Your tips were AMAZING. I had a lot of fun creating my boards and they inspire me so much now :)
    I kinda know what style I like but you helped me define it better and think for a while what things I enjoy the most. Thank you so much!
    And check them out at :)

    • Maria

      Oh, my, I completely forgot to reply to your comment – but I read it the moment you wrote it, and also visited your blog post. Your mood boards are wonderful, and the funny thing is that it seems we have rather similar taste :D

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  • Chio

    Hi, it’s my first time posting here and I just wanted to say that your guide has been really helpful in letting me clearly see what I kinda always knew but just couldn’t define it easily. I still don’t think I can define my style under a certain label buuuut I know exactly what things I liked and I’ve been working on getting rid of all the clothes that just doesn’t do the trick anymore. I did the mood boards and I’ll soon post it on my blog to encourage other people to do the same (though it’ll be in Spanish). I’m so glad I found your blog, I’ve been scanning it and you have some great pieces of writing here :) keep on with this series!

    • Maria

      Hi Chio!

      Welcome to my blog, it’s great to hear that you like it :D I wrote this post (or, series of posts) precicely because I couldn’t find a “label” that defined my style either, so I’m glad you found this helpful. I’ve tagged all the Defining Style-posts here:

      Future Defining Style-posts will also end up there, so they should all be easy to find :) I can’t wait to see your mood boards!

  • Trine Lykke

    Jeg skriver på dansk, håber du forstår.

    Jeg er netop blevet færdig med denne øvelse, og vil bare sige tak for inspiration. Jeg elsker din blog, og har fulgt dig længe!

    Hvis du vil kan du se mit indlæg her:

    • Maria

      Dansk går fint (skriftlig i alle fall, jeg må innrømme jeg har litt mer problemer med den muntlige!). Jeg var innom bloggposten din da du nettopp hadde skrevet kommentaren, det tar bare litt tid å få svart her av og til. Men innlegget ditt er kjempefint, rett og slett, og jeg liker moodboardene dine! Well done, kitten :D

  • rosee

    …late to the party… but I still want to play.

    This is all 3 mood boards in one Pinterest board (6 images each):

    I hope it helps me to narrow down my style and become more efficient at making purchases (I love being practical and efficient). Belated thanks for a great post!

    (sorry, I posted on the wrong post, it is this post that I wanted to post this comment.)

    • Maria

      I love to see what you readers make of this post, so no shame in being “late” :D Your mood boards look great, I hope you’ll find them helpful!

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  • Ingrid S

    Har tenkt på dette prosjektet en stund og sett flere andre som har gitt seg i kast med det og nå var det min tur. Har nå fullført del 1, og skal til å begynne på del 2. Gleder meg til å se hva som skjer i de andre delene. Har “lært” så mye om meg selv og min stil bare gjennom del 1, og det var jo egentlig ikke så revolusjonerene oppgaver, men du verden hvor effektivt!

    • Maria

      Hei Ingrid! Så gøy å se hvordan du har løst “oppgavene” mine, det ser kjempeflott ut :) Takk for fine ord om opplegget mitt, jeg er glad det er nyttig for deg.

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