Entries Tagged as 'Defining style'

Defining Style: my 2014 edition

posted on: February 9, 2014

Way back in July 2012 I started a series of blog posts called Defining Style. My goal was to help you readers, and myself, figure out our own personal style in a way that wasn’t decided by fashion magazines or trends, but rather came from our individual preferences. My method can be particularly helpful, I think, to those of us who aren’t easily defined by those labels often used, such as “rock chic” or “bohemian”. I even teach this method to my students at Imageakademiet, because I want them to have as many tools as possible (if you think defining your own style is hard, try having five, not to mention twenty-five, personal shopping clients who all look to you for guidance). The tricky and wonderful thing about personal style, though, is that it is constantly changing. Some stick to a defined “base” more or less their whole life (think Coco Chanel or Frida Kahlo, for instance), whereas others are drawn to completely different style types as the years pass. It doesn’t matter which of these types you are – you might even be so young that it’s too early to see a pattern – as none of them are better or more stylish than the other.

It’s been a while since I first created my three inspirational mood boards (one for clothes/outfits, one for beauty, one for details, remember?), so I wanted to show you my mood boards for 2014. Someone clever out there might notice that I’ve used more photos than the maximum six per board, but let’s not get too hung up on that. What’s also new this year is that I’ve given my mood boards a vertical layout, so I can easily view them on my phone. Ah, the joys of technology! Let’s start with my style inspiration.


Defining Style | style inspiration 2014 | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

What’s different from the last one? Well, firstly, it’s more practical, more vintage-friendly, and a bit more casual than the last one. No matter how much I love the white suit and the floor-length skirt in the previous mood board, they just don’t work with my life. This updated version also focuses much more on fit and silhouette, which seems to be my main focal point this year. What’s super-interesting, though, is that if you read the list of repeated elements I wrote in 2012, pretty much everything on the list is still applicable to my current style. Most changes seem to be related to a better understanding of my body shape and my lifestyle, not to the aesthetics themselves.

Defining Style | detail inspiration 2014 | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

As for the details and accessories, well, you know they are my kryptonite; anything more than my signature necklace and a ring or two and I feel like a little girl playing dress-up in my mother’s old stage clothes. So this year, I’ll be trying to understand them better, but also to incorporate more patterns into my wardrobe. I also find collars and necklines an intriguing topic, as they can be problematic for someone with a large bust. That uniboob shall be banished once and for all.

Defining Style | beauty inspiration 2014 | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

Back in 2012 I still had long hair, so of course the pixie had to be included in my new beauty board. As for the makeup, I tend to have two looks that I slightly adapt to my liking; the first is that 50′s, Audrey/Marilyn thing, with lipstick and strong brows, or I’ll do a 60′s thing where I make my eyes appear as big as possible. My lipstick collection has expanded since 2012 as well – I’d love to show you, but can’t help feeling very self-conscious about putting my Frida Kahlo-like facial hair in front of a macro lens. Am I just being silly? I also decided to include perfume on my beauty board, because I’m so very in love with my Chanel no5 again, and would like to learn more about different scents.

So there we have them! It’s not necessary to create new boards each year, of course, but I love playing around in PhotoShop, and I also felt I had changed so much since last time that an update was only natural. How are you all doing with defining your own style? Is there any area/topic you would like me to write about this year?

Defining Style: multiple styles

posted on: December 9, 2012

Earlier this week I got a very interesting comment from Julianne, about how she’s got more than one clearly defined style, and is having a bit of trouble merging the two. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this myself. The style I had when I was “Maria the Musician” isn’t as present as when I actually was a musician, but that rebellious part of me simply refuses to go away completely. “Maria the Fashion Consultant”, on the other hand, likes ladylike dresses, shiny hair, and sparkly jewelry, so those two Marias don’t always get along (I’ve even started to notice a third Maria, but more on that in another post). When Julianne wrote that comment, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge to blog about it, so I asked if she wanted to e-mail me a bit more about it all – which she did, huzzah!

In her own words (I simply had to quote her directly, since her phrasing was so bloody brilliant): “Basically, it boils down to something like your own dilemma; merging the elegant/cute with the rebellious/quirky. In my case, I try to merge the elegant-cutesy-Zooey Deschanel-Dita von Teese-vibe with the Gareth Pugh/Karel Appel/Luxury Comedy-ish-geeky-rocker-sprinkled-with-winklepickers-and-sequins-vibe. I honestly don’t know how to describe the second ‘style’ in any other words, I spent a good fifteen minutes coming up with this less than vague description! [...]

“I love dressing in pretty skater dresses, my nan’s dresses (she was so elegant, these dresses are amazing), pencil skirts and heels – cute and elegant. But I also love dressing in clothing with an edge, structured collars, studs and spikes, heavy boots, winklepickers and the occasional graphic or animal print. I think merging these two styles would be just about right for me, as dressing solely one way or the other is just a bit too much, if you catch my drift? [...] I’m convinced that a merging of these two things will make getting dressed in the morning feel like an amazing aurora borealis sandwich and make me very happy – I just don’t know how to do it without looking like a plonker :)

Oh, Julianne, you and me both. But I truly believe that the aurora borealis sandwich is within our reach! I’ve made some Polyvores specific to your case to illustrate my points. Also, I’ll try to give some useful advice for others out there with a similar problem – let me know if it is useful, will you, darlings?

All polyvores by me, and clickable

Firstly, the better you can define the two (or even three) styles you’ve got going, the easier it will be to merge them. The way I do it is that I try to list the elements I think are essential to each style. Now, as I was working with Julianne’s styles and not my own, I might not be 100% spot on, but the process should work nonetheless. Don’t worry about whether the things you list are “right” according to what you’ve read in a magazine or something – as long as you feel they belong there, everything’s all right. The more concrete/definite elements you can list, the easier it will be to find actual things that match, but you can also include a few more vague elements like movies or music. My lists for Julianne looked like this:

Style 1: romantic shapes, full skirts/dresses, glamorous accessories, lipstick, 500 days of summer, sensual fabrics, elements from the 50′s and 60′s – and femininity.

Style 2: tough shoes, leather, metal, asymmetry, bright colours, surprising colour combinations, masculine touches, creative combinations of items, The Runaways, a rebellious attitude – in short, something unexpected.

The ideal solution is to find items that somehow embody both styles. The red coat above, for instance, is “Style 1″ because it’s so classy and elegant, with soft, feminine lines, but it’s also “Style 2″ because of its bright colour and unusual silhouette. The blend of styles might not even be obvious to anyone but yourself – but as long as you can see it, it should incorporate itself into your wardrobe pretty seamlessly. These items are usually harder to track down, but usually feel even more instantly right when you happen upon them.

Such “combined” items usually don’t belong smack in the middle of either style, because there is a compromise going on. The skeleton ring above, though, can be said to be pretty much solely “Style 2″, and the floral clutch “Style 1″. Items that lean more strongly towards either side are easier to find, so you’ll definitely need some of those to fill the gaps in your wardrobe. Still, it’s the “combined” items that really pull a look together. Also, in an outfit, try to balance the number of items from each style, so you won’t end up with a fully “Style 1″-outfit with just one “Style 2″-element sticking out like a sore thumb.

I suspect many people would say that the looks in my Polyvores are a bit eccentric/rather a lot of look/slightly crazy. That might be, but probably mostly because people aren’t used to see someone dressed like this. When someone is dressed in the “rock chick”-look from head to toe, any onlooker will usually understand the look quite quickly. An outfit like that is easy to identify, we’ve seen it before and we have a name for it.

Something new or unusual, however, will attract more attention, and can often make people react more strongly. But just because an older lady on the subway looks at you in an awkward manner, doesn’t mean your style is in any way wrong or stupid. Usually, it just means you’re harder to read, and not everybody’s comfortable with that. Fortunately, we’re not put on this earth to make everybody happy, are we?

Today I went to the grocery store wearing my Dr. Martens; dark, tapered pants; a black, hooded leather jacket; slicked-back hair; red lipstick, but no other makeup; and huge headphones. In other words, very much “Maria the Musician”, with hardly a trace of “Maria the Fashion Consultant” – the jacket even completely hides my waist! Still, I felt really good. Why am I telling you this? Well, simply because although I think the whole merging-two-styles-thing is an interesting challenge, and creates a wardrobe that’s more easy to manage, I also don’t believe we absolutely have to have just one style.

If you simply feel like dressing like a dangerous biker babe one day and an androgynous hipster the next, I have no problem with that. There are some practical arguments against this, of course, because a very schizophrenic wardrobe can often feel chaotic and make it hard to create many different outfits. Still, there are no reasons based in fashion/style/whatever-you-want-to-call-it for having to limit yourself. You’ll still be you, no matter which clothes you wear. But when things go so far you don’t feel like yourself anymore, that’s when we have a problem. You all know that feeling, right? You’ve put on something that objectively looks perfectly fine, it might even flatter your shape and colours and everything, but it still feels wrong somehow. Well, I find that’s usually because it doesn’t match the “me” I am that day.

Hopefully my advice can help you out if you feel your wardrobe needs some mediation between several styles. Still, there’s nothing wrong with having more than one, either. After all, we’re all a bit mad here.

Defining style: how to dress for your shape

posted on: November 27, 2012

proportion |prəˈpôr sh ən| (noun):
a part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole

Whenever I’m dressing someone, be it myself or a client or a friend, one of the very first things I study are their proportions. You see, sizes and numbers really don’t matter, but if you want to create a balanced impression, proportions definitely do. Once you understand them thoroughly, choosing flattering clothes is almost child’s play. Necklines, the length of sleeves and hemlines, the shape of the shoulders, skirt style or pant legs – everything has to do with proportions. I made this little illustration to get you started:

How to understand your proportions and dress for your style | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

How to use the illustration

The best way to do this is to strip down to pretty much nothing, or at least something fitted, then stand in front of full-figure mirror (and please, throw any negative thoughts about your wonderful body out the window). Study how the areas from my illustration relate to each other on your body.

If you want, you can use a measuring tape to see how the numbers relate to each other, especially if you think it is hard to simply see it. I, for instance, have a bust of about 41″/104 cm, a waist of 33″/83 cm and hips of 44″/111 cm – but here’s the thing: the actual numbers are not what’s important here. You can’t tell, for instance, if a bust of 41″/104 cm is “large” or not purely based on the number; you need to see it in comparison to the width of the shoulders, the waist and the hips.

This is where those numbers can make things easier. In my case, we can see that my hips are slightly wider than my bust, for instance, and we can also see that my waist is smaller than my hips and bust. With a little effort and practice, though, you’ll definitely be able to see the proportions without any measurements. With that in mind, I suggest you skip the measuring tape if you tend to obsess over measurements and sizes and such. Remember, the actual number or size doesn’t matter, only how they relate to each other.

Some of the relations are easier to see than others. One of the trickier ones is between your upper and lower body (no. 4 and 8 in my illustration). The girl in the illustration is built rather like me, so her torso is rather short. If she had a long torso, it would probably look more like this:

How to understand your proportions and dress for your style | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

According to my experience, people with defined waists usually have an average or short upper body, whereas the longer torso will usually be straighter. If you’ve often complained that you have a never-ending derrière, you might simply have a short torso, making the distance between your waist and where your butt ends, larger than if you have a longer upper body.

How to dress your proportions

Fashion often plays rather dramatically with proportions, especially in magazine editorials (so there’s a tip if you need to look more edgy/avant garde/make a statement!). Still, what most people think looks best is when there is balance between the upper and lower body, and between the shoulders and hips. Most bodies aren’t perfectly balanced, but there are plenty of tricks to create that illusion. Allow me to – yet again – illustrate, with one “right” and one “wrong” outfit for our girl:

How to understand your proportions and dress for your style | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

We can all agree that the “wrong” outfit is very wrong, no? The outline for the body is the same for both looks, so what exactly is it that makes them so different? The most important answer, I think, is lines. Allow me:

How to understand your proportions and dress for your style | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

The mind is a funny thing, you see. When you see a line, your eye and mind automatically follows it, and this movement kind of enhances the line, making it, in a way, longer. Most of us knows that horizontal stripes will make something look wider, and that vertical lines do the opposite, but there are much more subtle uses of lines of which we can take advantage.

In the “right” outfit above, you can see how both the necklace and neckline of the top create a V, which makes the torso longer, prevents the dreaded uniboob, and also lengthens the neck. The flowy bottom of the skirt prevents a harsh line that cuts of the legs, and even the shoes have a V-opening to elongate the legs even more. The belt blends in with the skirt, so it doesn’t create a harsh line, but still draws attention to the waist.

In the “wrong” outfit, the top is… well, Cookie and I simply couldn’t think of any body that would look good in this. The high neckline shortens the neck considerably. The raglan sleeves make the bust look huge (especially paired with all that ruching), and it certainly doesn’t help that they cut off the arm at its widest point. The wide cuff bracelets divide the arms even more. From the bust down, the top hides the waist completely, and ends at the widest point of the hips. This line is even more enhanced by the shorts and their cuffs. The boots continue to create horizontal lines, chopping up the legs and making everything wider and shorter.

You might also have noticed that the “right” lines for this girl have a slight curve to them, whereas the “wrong” ones are all very blunt. Still, what’s wrong for Illustration Girl (and me), might be right for someone else. Here’s the thing: you need to know what you want. I want an even smaller waist, clean lines without fuss, to make my neck appear longer and prevent that uniboob. But you might want your hips to appear wider, or to make your arms look shorter, or to make your bust larger, and that means you’ll have to find the lines that help you achieve that.

Other tricks

Once you understand how it’s usually all about creating balance, and doing this with optical illusions, a whole new world tends to open up. Personally, I think the most important idea is to create the right lines in an outfit, but there are some more things you can do to trick the eye, making areas look larger/come towards you, or smaller/shrink away. Here are some examples:

How to understand your proportions and dress for your style | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

1. A dark, plain top and a bottom with a busy, colourful print will enlarge the hips.

2. The color gradient that pales towards the top will make the shoulders seem bigger. The wide, shallow neckline widens the shoulders, and the decor draws attention to the widest part of the shoulder.

3. A busy pattern with strong contrasts will make the whole dress (and thus the body) seem larger. This pattern also accentuates the hourglass shape, because it follows the same lines, just in a more exaggerated manner.

4. A sweetheart neckline with sparkly decoration will draw attention to the bust.

5. A patterned top and plain skirt in a darker colour makes the hips seem smaller.

6. All the lines on the upper body go from up close to the neck and down towards the waist, which will make the shoulders more narrow. The lapels are very narrow, which also makes the upper body more narrow. The gold buttons draw the attention away from the shoulders.

7. The white, slightly unusual collar draws the attention up towards the face and collarbones. The rest of the body becomes more of a background due to the dark colour and the body-skimming shape.

8. A deep v-neck that starts close to the neck will make the bust appear smaller. Lace details draw the attention away from the bust area.

As you can see, there are more “tricks” for drawing attention to something than to hide something. I’ve seen some people who seem to want to hide everything about their appearance, but as there is nowhere to direct the attention, nothing is really hidden anyway. Whenever I work with someone’s style, I always focus on bringing attention to the positive, because if you do that, the bits they’re less pleased with will automatically become a background.

When people become conscious of the concept of proportions and lines and optical illusions, there are some who at first find it a bit restrictive. I can’t wear patterned skirts anymore? I shouldn’t wear belts because my waist isn’t my best area? Well, first: you absolutely can dress in whatever you desire, no matter if it’s “right” or “wrong” for your shape. But if you’re struggling with your wardrobe, if you feel like nothing you put on makes you look the way you want, then perhaps thinking about proportions and lines can change that. Because once you know how to work your proportions, you’ll always know how to achieve the shape you want. It’s a bit like magic, really.

Defining Style: dress rehearsal

posted on: October 15, 2012

Time for another post in my Defining Style series! So far I’ve written about my thoughts about defining style, how to find inspiration and create your own mood boards, how to “translate” inspiration into actual outfits, and how to deal with the transition period when you’re working on your style. This time, I want to show you how you can fine-tune your style skills and your shopping skills.


I do spend a lot of time browsing online shops. 99% of the time, though, I don’t buy anything – I’m simply practicing. As many of you know, I’m a fashion consultant and do all sorts of jobs in that field, so I do need to know what’s going on out there, and I also need to ponder and understand a lot about cuts, shapes, fabrics, body types and such. Still, I think this is one of the best things anyone can do when developing their style, it’s not just for us professionals.

What we want it to develop the skills to instantly notice various aspects of a garment; the fabric, the shape, the colour and the style, for instance, and then match these to the criteria we’re working with. If you’re only looking for your own sake, that means figuring out how the garment will fit your body, if the colour will look good on you, if it matches your style, if it works with the rest of your wardrobe (and also if you’re trying to fill a need for something besides a gap in your wardrobe, but that’s a whole other post). The more skilled you get, the quicker you will notice these things, and it might take just a few seconds to decide if a garment is right or not – and why.

Here’s a little exercise I did to illustrate my point. I looked at the newest dresses at ASOS.com (no, I’m not in any way connected to ASOS, I just wanted a shop with a lot of variation in the clothes), and wrote down my instant thoughts so you could see what was going on in my head. Remember, I’m judging the dresses based on me as a customer, so even if I’ve written that “the shape is bad”, that only means it’s bad for me.

A quick reminder: I’m 26, about 1.60 meters high, about a size 16 (sometimes plus size, depending on the brand and the garment), very much hourglass shaped, and my bra size is somewhere around a 75D/34D. As for my style, the key words are feminine shapes, always a defined waist, simplicity, vintage elements, and generally an elegant feel to things. All dresses are linked to their respective ASOS pages. Let the games begin!

Phew! When it comes down to it, I think the last green dress is the only one I’d consider buying, because it’s so very much my style. In fact, if it was made in a matte fabric without the horizontal pleats, I don’t think I’d have much choice.

In short: the quicker you can figure out if a garment is right or not, the better you know what suits your body and your style. I like how it prevents me from buying almost-right items, and how I usually know deep in my bones when a garment is so right I’ll regret not buying it. Fortunately, I’m so picky that this doesn’t happen that often any more, and when it does, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.


I’d love to hear what goes on in your heads when you’re looking at clothes! How picky are you? Do you buy many things that turn out to be mistakes? And what are your “holy grails” when it comes to garments?

Defining style: the transition period

posted on: August 22, 2012

Illustration by me – click to see a larger version

I’m so glad you all seem to like my Defining style series! A lot of you have already done the previous steps, and linked to your results in my comments. I must say you’re doing an excellent job. Hopefully you’re all beginning to get a better sense of who you are, style-wise. So far, though, things have been mostly theoretical. It’s time to get real.


What do you feel when you look into your wardrobe every morning? Are you mostly pleased with what you see? Do you look forwards to getting dressed? Do the items in it suit you well, in terms of shape, colour and style? Is it easy to put together a complete outfit? Is it tidy and inviting? Or perhaps even inspiring? And, if you’ve done the mood boards from my previous posts, does your wardrobe reflect them? For me, the answer was no.

It’s a bit shocking, I know; I’m a fashion consultant, after all, and I spend very much of my time thinking about clothes, style and fashion. And yet my wardrobe wasn’t really functional at all. There were several reasons for this, I think. During the last two years I’d moved to a different city, and gotten a new life and a new job. I’d been dumped. I lost weight, then gained a lot. I became depressed, for a whole number of reasons, and with that came a whole mountain of insecurities and anxieties. I didn’t really know who I wanted to be any more, which was almost a first for me. Clothes and style says a lot about a person, and as I was rather without direction, my wardrobe was the same.

A few weeks ago I looked in my closet, completely fed up with the state of things. I couldn’t “snap out of it” and stop being sick just because I wanted to, but I could do something about my wardrobe. So I took absolutely everything out of the closet and piled it on the couch and coffee table. You know, ever since I moved to Oslo, I’d thought of myself as a girl who didn’t really have a lot of clothes. That was true when I’d just moved, but now, two years later? Boy, was I delusional. Watching it all laid out like that, the amount of clothes I had accumulated was straight out shocking, like a bucket of freezing water over my head.

The other day one of my students described my manner of teaching as kind, but strict (thank you, darling!). I think those two personality traits were equally important in my closet revolution. I looked at everything, and before I was allowed to put anything back into the closet, it had to pass a series of tests. Do I love this? Does it fit me? Is it flattering? Does it make me feel good? Am I excited to put this on? Do I wear it reasonably often? Only if all the answers were yes, was the garment approved.

As you might expect, a lot of clothes didn’t pass the test. Things were too small, worn beyond repair, the wrong shape, the wrong style, or just… not right. Into a garbage bag they all went – not to be thrown away or donated, mind, but to be stored in our attic for an unknown period of time. It is very easy, isn’t it, to feel attached to clothing. You might know that a dress isn’t perfect for you, yet somehow it is almost impossible to let it go. Because I knew I wasn’t actually getting rid of anything, I felt a lot more free to pack things away; if I missed it terribly, I could just climb up and find it. In the end, I put away a full garbage bag of clothes, about two thirds of everything I had in my closet.

Since then, my wardrobe and I have a much better relationship. I know that everything in there fits me, is ready to be worn and makes me feel good. The emptiness feels like an improvement, not like something is missing. There are things I’m missing, of course, like a waist-length cardigan or two, and the perfect pair of black trousers. The important thing is that I can’t find these items in the attic, because I never owned them. Getting rid of all the extra, merely adequate items made me see oh-so-clearly what I actually want and need.

The things in the attic can stay there for a few months more, I think. The important thing was getting them out of my closet, out of circulation. Truly, I can’t think of anything there that I’ve missed. In fact, I can hardly remember most of the items. Any new purchase is now carefully considered. It has to fit perfectly, be the right size, colour and material, and it has to make me feel good. Not to mention: it has to work with my style mood boards.

This isn’t a fast process, of course. There are some items that aren’t the way I want them. I do, for instance, possess a couple of “lazy pants” (they aren’t straight-out sweatpants, but almost) that I wear pretty much all the time I’m at home. I’m on the lookout for pants that are just as comfortable, but also look great and can be worn in public as well. Finding such pants is no easy feat (I might just have to make them myself), but I’m in no rush. I didn’t pack away things that I truly depend on, even if they aren’t perfect style-wise. I’m just not the kind of person who will sacrifice a reasonable amount of comfort just for a principle, and I have no problem admitting that.

My wardrobe isn’t perfect. Yet. I honestly don’t know it will ever feel completely perfect. That’s alright, though. The important thing is that it now functions properly, and I’m constantly improving it. When working on defining your style, a transition period is pretty much unavoidable. Hardly anyone has enough money to get rid of everything they own and just buy new stuff. Really, I don’t think this is a good solution even if you can afford it. Time, and the understanding it gives, is vital when it comes to building a great wardrobe. Which is precisely why I’m so pleased with my method: it allows for time, it doesn’t involve the kind of purging where you get rid of things permanently, and it can hopefully provide some insight to how your style works in practical terms.


Want to give it a go? No permanent harm will be done, you know! It will be wise to set aside some hours for this, though, so you don’t get stressed halfway through and panic. Here are the rules:

1. Take everything out of your closet. Look at it en mass, as a whole. What does it say about you, about your style? The point isn’t to be judgemental or think badly about yourself, but simply to realize some facts you might not have seen before.

2. Scrutinize every single item individually. Do you love it? Do you wear it often (“often” being relative, as a pair of pants will usually be worn more frequently than an evening gown)? Does it fit? Does it make you look good? Does it make you feel good? Does it fit in with your personal style, and your lifestyle? If no, put it in a box or bag. There should be no in-betweens, each item is either a yes or a no.

3. Gather all the nos, and put them somewhere out of sight. If you need to store it in your closet due to space issues, make sure to tie some string or tape around it so you can’t just reach in every time you’re tempted.

4. All the yeses go back in your wardrobe. Preferably clean and nicely folded/hung.

5. Over the next couple of weeks, pay attention. Is it easier to get dressed? Do you lack any specific item(s)? Did you pack away anything and later realize you truly needed it (and if so, for what reasons did you pack it away)?. During this time, you’re allowed to purchase new items only if they have been carefully considered, fill a gap in your wardrobe and help express your tastes and style. If you’re a compulsive shopper, a couple of weeks with a total shopping ban might be a good idea, but it’s not a must.

6. After a not-so-short amount of time (I’d say at least a month), you’re allowed to look at your nos again. Try to remember why you packed them away, and if you truly need them any more. If not, the time has come to get rid of the things for real.


We all know the saying “kill your darlings”. This process isn’t quite as brutal, but the result should be just as good – it just takes a bit more time. As Cindy so brilliantly put it when I told her about this post:

You don’t have to kill your darlings. Just let them sleep for a while.

Chances are, by the time they wake up, you’re ready to wave them goodbye with a smile.

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!