Two questions to refine your personal style.

Two questions to refine your personal style.

Several months ago I wrote about fashion in the thirty-something years, and how surprised I was at the significant changes my personal style has undergone over the past five years. Just when I thought I had my style nailed down, it shifted. Significantly.

The comments on that post are wonderful, but I’ve been thinking about one comment in particular ever since, five mornings a week, as I face my closet and choose my outfit for the day. Because of it, I’ve purged items from my wardrobe that never felt completely right, although they seemed like they should be perfect for me. And I’ve changed my criteria for what I buy.

In the comments, Brenda shared a bit of advice she’d picked up, one of those offhanded comments that changes the way you think forever more. She wrote:

“I was taking a class on sweater knitting and the teacher talked about people fitting into different categories for clothing and fabrics, and I thought this would be the same-old classic vs trendy. But then she said people were either “stiff” vs “draped” and “shiny” vs “matte.” I was a bit floored. I realized almost immediately that I am a draped/matte person in terms of fabrics looking flattering and being comfortable on me, and therefore, I should probably stop buying polished-cotton, buttoned shirts in the vain hope I would find something I like. It was the most informative styling advice I’ve ever gotten.”

The first question, “stiff” vs “draped,” was familiar territory. About five years ago I realized that while I like a bit of structure in my clothes, I need a drape to feel comfortable, and my wardrobe benefited from this realization immediately. (My friend is the exact opposite: she says if we switched wardrobes we would both look ridiculous and feel horribly uncomfortable.)

But “matte” vs “shiny” has been a game changer these past few months. It explains why a Stitch Fix blouse that seems practically perfect for me (great color, great fabric, nice drape, perfect accents) never looks quite right to me. It explains why I feel compelled to keep putting a certain button down through the washer and dryer even when it’s already clean: I was wanted it to look a little more “worn.” In other words, I was trying to mute the sheen.

It explains why those coated black skinnies that go with everything and fit great are dusty from never being worn—”coated” is just another word for “shiny.” And it even explains why I hate to wear my latest swimsuit purchase, even though the fit is good and the color is great: it is shiny, shiny, shiny.

Maybe you’ve been asking yourself these questions for years. But to me they were a revelation, and I’m grateful for any question—any framework—that helps me see something familiar in a new way, and take better action because of it.

I’d love to hear your answers in comments: are you stiff or draped? Matte or shiny? Can you share any other simple questions that have helped you refine your personal style? Don’t hold back!

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  1. Renee says:

    I always thought I was “stiff”, but at least at this point in my life I think I’m definitely a little more “drapey” (thank you Stitch fix!) I’m absolutely Matte– that makes perfect sense & absolutely explains why I don’t wear some things that I theoretically really like! Revelation!

  2. Katherine says:

    I know I’m automatically drawn to stiff and not drape – I think it looks better on my body. Not sure about the other, though. I’m tempted to say matte, because I think that’s most of my closet, but I’ll have to do some more research to figure out what I like. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Cathy Zavodny says:

    I lean toward structured/ fitted but hate button downs and blazers. I am probably more shiny/ brighter colors. It’s interesting someone mentioned patterns and textures. I love patterns and alway gravitate toward those. I will buy neutral
    solids thinking I “should” but never wear them. Overall, an interesting concept in thinking about style

  4. Erin says:

    About a year ago my daughter lent me her book, ‘Dressing Your Truth’ it was a game changer for me. Now I understand why some fabrics appeal and some don’t, actually more why I’m drawn to some fabrics but they just don’t feel right on me. I also understand more about what colours to take a second look at and what to bypass.
    Check out the website and see what you think, I do think the 4 groups are a bit too simplistic but still lots to take away.

  5. I loved this post. I am a drape, mid-shiny. I love the look of tailored shirts, but I’m not liking how they look on me these days. These two ideas help sift through a whole lot of aspects of our wardrobes. This is golden advice!

  6. Vanessa says:

    I read once that we shouldn’t wear “two tights.” Go with either tight on top OR tight on bottom. Even very thin people need to balance this out. Shiny, however, is not something I have considered before although I do like matte.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I like the concept, but I don’t love the word “stiff” – too many negative connotations (i.e. stuffy, uptight, inflexible). For a more neutral term to contrast with “draped,” how about “tailored?” I’m a “tailored / matte.”

  8. brooke says:

    It’s already been said several times, but the Dressing Your Truth program was life changing for me a few years ago. In fact, your simple tip of stiff vs. drape, and shiny vs. matte, totally applies to this program but it goes into so much more empowering detail 🙂 If you love myers briggs you’ll also like that the DYT program philosophy is about so much more than how to dress. It’s foundation is based off of energy profiling (slightly different than personality profiling, but that’s the closest thing to relate it to). This information has strengthened my marriage, helped me be a better parent, improved struggling relationships in my life, helped me forgive other people, and has even influenced my career path. I know that sounds over the top, but it’s true. I love that I know how to dress in what looks and feels best for me, but even more so, I love that I know have a better understanding of who I am, and who other people are in my life. The free course is amazing. The paid course was worth every single penny and beyond.

    • Tammy says:

      This is a year after the original post, but I agree with everything Brooke said about Dressing Your Truth.

  9. Jenna says:

    I love this! I’m working on creating a capsule wardrobe and this post added a few more things to the donate pile. I’m a draped/matte person and those button down shirts, no matter how much I love them on others, just don’t work for me. Thank you!

  10. Tara says:

    This is eyeopening! I would characterize myself as stiff and matte, which sounds incredibly boring. I prefer fitted clothes and hate clothes that sparkle. I don’t mind a fun pattern or color, but for some reason shine just doesn’t do it for me.

  11. Ashley says:

    I’m in the process of shopping for summer clothing and I’ve been thinking of your advice. I hate shopping so this is never fun for me, but I think part of it is I haven’t quite figured out my style or maybe even what works. Not to mention, I’m always trying to juggle price, quality, and how the item was made. It’s enough to make a person crazy….I always think of your comment that you figured things out in your 30s so I’m hoping things will start to fall into place soon. 😉

  12. Alethea says:

    I’d never considered these questions before but I’m definitely stiff and matt. My aunt used to insist that ‘everyone needed sparkle’ but it never worked for me and now I get why. Thanks for sharing these questions!

  13. Sarah says:

    My two favorite shirts are a butter soft t-shirt and a tank top literally covered in gold sequins, so shiny vs matte doesn’t really help. I tend to like more structured dresses and bottoms with more drapey shirts. The big thing for me is I realized I don’t like wearing anything more patents than a stripe, no matter how pretty I think it looks I just won’t end up wearing it.

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