Defining style: “translating” inspiration and using the mood boards

posted on: July 30, 2012

Time for the second post in my Defining style series (if you haven’t read the first one, you might want to do that to understand what I’m talking about here). This time I want to talk about inspiration. Magazines, websites and blogs are overflowing with images and articles that are created to inspire us in some way. Yet nobody tells us how we’re supposed to use all this inspiration, and I don’t think it’s obvious at all.

And I believe I’m right in thinking so, because I’ve had it proven to me by countless of fashion students. For most of our styling assignments at Imageakademiet, the students do research and look for inspiration to come up with a concept and a mood board, which are supposed to be the basis for a resulting look. Many students find this surprisingly difficult, at least in the beginning of their studies, because they aren’t used to putting together an outfit with a specific thought behind it. The process of “being inspired” is thought of by most as something a bit mysterious, and many believe it’s an ability a person either have had since they were born, or never will. In my opinion, this is very, very wrong; I think you can be born with more or less instinct for this, but absolutely everyone can develop it and become better. The key is the connection between the source of inspiration and the final product.

To explain what we teachers are looking for in a good assignment, we say that if you were to hold up the mood board and the photo of the final look next to each other, there should be a clear relationship between the two. In some way, it should be possible to see how one could go from finding those first, inspiring images, to ending up with a complete outfit. Now, we’re not doing a fashion school assignment each time we get dressed, but we do stand in front of our mirrors wondering what on earth to wear sometimes. That is precisely when we need inspiration, and to know how to use it.

So, you log on to Pinterest to look at your inspiration board, or you flip open a magazine, turn on some music, browse Google Images for stills from a movie/TV show, or simply look out your window. Inspiration can be found pretty much anywhere, as long as you remember to pay attention (yeah, that was a bit movie-Dumbledore of me, I know). Finding that inspiration shouldn’t be so much intellectual as an instant gut reaction: “Oh, I love that!”. The next step, though, is where it’s useful to use your head: what, exactly is it that you love about it? You need to find that one, or several, element(s) that excited you, and then try to recreate it in some way. To help you along, I made a little visual:

This is just a brief brainstorm of elements, I’m sure you can come up with plenty more. To illustrate even further, I wanted to tell you about how I put together my Hunger Games outfit. I’d been reading all the books over a short time period, seen some stills from the movie, plus listened to the soundtrack on repeat ever since it became available on Spotify, so I guess it wasn’t surprising that it affected me a bit. I imagine when I got dressed that day, in my head, it must have looked something like this:

Do you see the “translation” of the elements? There are even more, actually, such as how Katniss’ dress is very feminine, like my outfit, or how the fabric of her dress is very smooth and hangs nicely, like mine.

Now, let’s do a bit of level talk. You see, some of the elements are easier to “translate” than others, and therefore well suited for you Level 1 readers. Colours, for instance, are fairly straightforward; you see an outfit with a bright red top and a pink skirt, then try to find a red top and pink bottom in your own closet. Particular hair styles or makeup looks are also rather easy, because you can simply copy them to the best of your ability (or even choose a simplified version to recreate). If you watched the movie Mamma Mia and feel super-inspired, you know that the dominating style will be bohemian-like. In general, look for elements that make it easy for you to “translate” the inspiration into something you’ve actually got in your closet.

For Level 2, a suitable challenge can be to train your eye to notice, and then your brain to understand, even more elements than are immediately apparent to you. This has a lot to do with simply (well, I do know it isn’t simple, at least not in the beginning) keeping your eyes open. Save that list of mine above on your phone, or, even better, write your own list of as many elements as you can. Keep it in mind when you see someone well dressed, or while browsing a magazine, or when watching your favourite TV show. Subtle details such as textures and fabrics have great importance, for instance, but they aren’t as in-your-face as a colour. When you feel inspired by something, really twist your brain to find out which elements you’re drawn to. It might even be a combination of several, and realizing this will enable you to make even better use your inspiration.

As for Level 3, I think I’ll give you the same mission as I give myself many mornings: look for inspiration in new and strange places. You might decide that tomorrow you’re going to open a random page in one of your cook books/photography books, and devil-be-damned you’re going to find a way to translate that into an outfit. Perhaps one day you’re so in love with that Susanne Sundfør record, and you realize that while you might not be able to wear the music itself, you can definitely mimic the mood with murky colours, interesting layers and textures, and that an asymmetric silhouette goes nicely with her unpredictable rhythms and chord changes. Or, one morning before you put in your contacts, the bottle of makeup remover on your shelf has a similar silhouette to a skirt in the back of your closet, reminding you that it’s still there, longing to be worn with that top in the same blue as that of your bathroom tiles.

Fortunately for us, nobody but ourselves have to see, understand, or even know about the original inspiration for your outfit. The goal is to get us dressed in something that makes us feel good; maybe because it’s particularly creative, maybe because it makes you look fantastic, maybe because it tells the world how you’re feeling that day (or maybe just because it got you out the door in time to make your appointment, saving your from that vicious  I-have-nothing-to-wear-cycle). For all levels, though, I have an important little formula I want you to remember:

Inspiration + my own, personal mood boards = outfit that relates both to the inspiration and to the core of my style

Yeah, don’t think I’ve forgotten all that hard work you did after my previous lecture (darling Egwene even blogged hers, which I think are excellent). In this never-ending world of inspiration, we still need to keep our own personal style in mind. If you think about my Hunger Games outfit again, you’ll notice how it’s got a very defined waist, big hair, feminine shapes, a cool colour palette and a simpleness to it – all elements that I consider part of the very core of my style. If you want, check them against the list and the mood boards I made for myself in the previous Defining style-post; I think you’ll see the connection.

If I was to be inspired by Mamma Mia, for instance, I might choose elements such as the bright colours, or the happy and summery feel to it, to inspire an outfit for myself. I would not, however, wear anything too bohemian, with fringes or a lot of fuss, nor anything without a waist, because it doesn’t work with who I am. If you forget your stylish core, you might still have a great-looking outfit, but you’ll feel a bit weird, like you’ve wearing a costume. I’ve done this so many times, particularly if I’m with a friend who’s got great style, but one that’s just not very compatible with my own. To others I might look perfectly fine like that, but give me a cinched waist and some bright lipstick, and I’ll feel ten times better, and ready for anything.

If I’ve done this post right, you’re all now feeling very inspired to be even more inspired, and ready to be inspired in a conscious way inspired by my (hopefully) inspirational tips. Thank you for reading, kittens!

  • Maja H

    Another top quality post, honey! I feel like this one applies especially well to me, as I have an overflowing “My style” board on pinterest but not really a clearly defined set of qualities that explain why it is I like those particular items. Not in the shape of a handy, wallet/filofax-friendly list, anyway, and you know how much I like lists!

    Also, Egwene, terrific job! I wonder if I’m going to have to do something similar myself soon. We have to seize the opportunity when we’ve got the supervision of a trained professional, after all ;)

    • Maria

      Thank you, gorgeous! I, too, suffer from that collect-a-lot-of-inspiration-without-using-it-enough-disease, but we can change for the better, right? Especially when it involves lists ;)

  • Ida Sundae

    Digger de to postene dine. Kommer det flere?

    Hva skal man gjøre når man liker flere type stiler? Jeg liker feks bohem, rocka/punk og romantisk. Det virker som om du og mange flere har én type stil dere går for hver gang. Må man velge for å få en særegen stil? Det er sikkert mye enklere å kle seg om morgenen da…

    • Maria

      Det kommer flere, ja, så jeg er glad du liker dem :D

      Som jeg nevnte i introduksjonen til denne serien med poster (, så er jeg ikke så begeistret for de stereotypiske stilene, da jeg synes de begrenser oss, og dessuten gjør at mange tviholder på en av dem fordi de er “godkjente” av magasiner og slikt.

      Hvis jeg skulle beskrive min klesstil ved hjelp av en av de vanlige begrepene, så vet jeg rett og slett ikke hva jeg skulle valgt. Klassisk? Nei, jeg eier verken en blazer, et blyantskjørt, en hvit skjorte eller bruker perlesmykker/-øredobber. 50-talls? Tja, jeg er ganske glad i silhuetten fra 50-tallet, men jeg liker ikke den tydelige pinup-stilen, og foretrekker 30- og 40-tallets typiske farger, detaljer og styling. Romantisk? Vel, jeg liker _feminine_ klær, og en del av antrekkene mine kan nok oppfattes som litt romantiske. Men jeg er ikke særlig glad i rysjer, pastellfarger, sløyfer, mye blonder, eller små blomstermønstre. Jeg tror vi alle kan være enige i at jeg ikke er særlig bohemsk, og selv om musikeren i meg innimellom krever å rocke ting opp litt (barske boots til en ellers feminin og elegant kjole), så vil jeg ikke si jeg er spesielt rocka heller.

      Men her er det interessante: jeg kan likevel scrolle meg gjennom en hvilken som helst nettbutikk, og på maks fem sekunder si om et plagg er “meg” eller ikke. Jeg har altså definitivt en mening om hva som er “meg”, stilmessig sett, og hva som absolutt ikke er det.

      Det her ble et langt svar, men det jeg prøver å si er at jeg ikke synes man _må_ velge mellom en av de “tradisjonelle” stiltypene for å få en særegen eller gjennomført stil. Hvis jeg skal være brutalt ærlig, så synes jeg egentlig de mest interessante personene (stilmessig sett!), er nettopp de som ikke passer inn i en tydelig, tradisjonell stil. Det er derfor jeg skriver Defining style-serien nå, fordi jeg ønsker å gi dere et alternativ til hvordan man kan få en helhetlig og personlig stil basert på deres egen smak, preferanser og utgangspunkt (kroppsfasong og farger), ikke på en slags karikatur som man må passe inn i.

      Uansett tror jeg det blir enklere å finne ut av dette med klær og stil hvis man tenker litt bevisst over ting, hva man liker og hvorfor, og så bruker den informasjonen når man kjøper nye klær. Da burde det meste i klesskapet være “deg”, og dermed føles bra å kle på seg om morgenen.

      Håper det var forståelig, og at det kanskje gjorde ting litt klarere for deg – hvis ikke er det bare å spørre igjen, så skal jeg se om jeg kan hjelpe :)

      • Ida Sundae

        Takk for langt og grundig svar! Jeg er enig i at man ikke MÅ velge én type stil, men var bare litt usikker på hva du mente. Og jeg synes stilen din er såpass gjennomført, men når du sier det så ser jeg at du trekker inn elementer fra forskjellige stiler/tider. Jeg vet som regel hva som kler meg (form og fasong), men har ennå ikke helt funnet ut hvilken “stil” jeg skal gå for, altså hva jeg liker best.. og jeg synes ofte det er vanskelig å kombinere klærne mine. Så kanskje jeg må lage meg et moodboard da ;)

        • Maria

          Det er nettopp derfor jeg synes moodboards er så nyttige, fordi da SER man hva man egentlig bare tenker/føler. Lettere å se ting utenfra ;)

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