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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67 comments

  1. I have never, ever heard of this before – and it’s groundbreaking! Now that you put it this way, I realize I’m a stiff-shiny person. I’ve kind of known that for awhile now, but I’d never heard it put in such simple, blunt terms. Thank you so much, both to the woman who initially shared this comment, and to Anne to sharing it in this post!

  2. Teresa B says:

    This is so helpful! All the stiff items that I love in theory but can’t pinpoint why I don’t wear are shiny, and the matte stiff items get worn all the time!

  3. Dawn says:

    OMG, eyeopening!! It explains so much. Definitely drapey and muted. Explains why i felt uncomfortable with a drapey sweater I have. It’s because it is shiney. Whoa! Even some of the button downs, I like them because they do have a bit of curve to them and aren’t shiney and stiff.

  4. AnneMcD says:

    Like Jenny said! Groundbreaking! I, too, am draped and matte. Whenever I try to “go shiny”, I find myself so uncomfortable. I also think I have a tendency ” go comfortable” when I need to go m/d. It can be comfortable and attractive. Thanks for bringing this up!

  5. K.A.L says:

    Wow, thank you! Both of you! Interesting concept or categorization of garments. This explains sooo much about what or why certain garments “work” for me or not! I’m a stiff/matte type! Explains why those shiny garments just go unused, always, in my closet. And why flimsy boho-chiq blouses just do not work on me. What I do like and work on me is a style inspired (not copied, emphasis on inspired) by 60-ies style with graphic strong shapes and monocrome or graphic prints, in soft cotton fabrics (no nylone or plastic/shiny 60-ies).
    Wow! I have adapted a capsule wardrobe of sorts and thought I had my style all pinned down but this is really so helpful & explains so much more!

  6. Katia says:

    Very interesting! I like clothes that fit well but don’t cling to my body (unless, of course, they are leggings or yoga clothes). I do prefer beautiful fabric that drapes slightly without making me look like I’m drowning in layers of fabric. As for shiny vs. matte, I would say I like both. I have several cardigans with sequins and shiny thread running through them. I have also knit several cowl necks for myself that have a beautiful silver thread. I love the colour silver and as a Leo, I like a bit of sparkle from time to time. 🙂 I would say that I like a comfortable classic style with a few kitsch elements. Audrey Hepburn is my ultimate style role model.

  7. Heather Robertson says:

    Have you ever heard of Dressing Your Truth by Carol Tuttle? She developed a system that includes 5 elements of style: design lines, texture, fabrication, pattern, and color. When I use all five elements, my clothes feel like they were created just for me! She just redid her free video–check it out. 🙂 heatherr.dressingyourtruth.com

    • Ann Perrigo says:

      Yes, Heather–I was about to say the same thing! Carol Tuttle is a force of nature, and her program, Dressing Your Truth is life-changing! Give it a try!
      annp.dressingyourtruth.com

    • I was thinking about Dressing Your Truth too. While I am NOT a fan of Carol Tuttle after having a long phone call with her, the course did help me nail down why drapey clothing feels so awful: I am a type 4 and need structure. I need things to be fitted.

      • That’s funny. I love the drapey style. It looks so laid back and comfortable, but when I try it on me, it looks sloppy and not put together at all. I wear mostly everything fitted, where you can see my curves without being vulgar or too clingy, if you know what I mean. I lost 60 pounds so that is possible now. Before when I was overweight I wore lose, baggy clothes to try to hide the fat and it always felt so yucky. :/ I’m glad I decided to go on a WFPB lifestyle. 😀

    • Guest says:

      Ha! I came to the comments to suggest Dressing Your Truth. She’s a little woo woo for me at times 🙂 BUT I learned so much from it. I’m a Type 4 and when I try to wear soft, feminine clothes I feel so uncomfortable and it’s because I’m a structured person who needs classic styling. My mom, on the other hand, is a type 2. She’s always liked her hair to be a bit soft and I can’t stand for my hair to be less than coiffed. It’s pretty interesting stuff. Her book The Child Whisperer (great book) is what introduced me to the types.

  8. Linda Stoll says:

    Fascinating!

    Draped and matte. Yes, please!

    And may I add stretchy and soft as two non-negotiables.

    The older I get {60!}, the more trim my closet, the dresser drawers less jammed with unwearables.

  9. c says:

    New way of thinking about clothing …I am definitely a matte/ stiff person…with a bit of soft draping thrown into the mix…do I wear what I like the most? Not usually, I am (as many are) dealing with self-image issues…maybe it would help if I wore the type of clothing that I am most attracted to!…;)
    Thank you for sharing

  10. Beth says:

    Wow, what a new perspective! I’m a matte/draped person as well. Maybe that explains why the times of year for which I make the most ill-advised clothing purchase are early fall and late spring. I’m trying to force textures and clothing cuts I think “should” work for me. But they don’t.

    My current wardrobe issue is trying to upgrade to dressier clothes as I’m working on a career change and want to present a more professional image. As a musician my work clothes are either concert black for a performance or jeans for rehearsal. This post made me realize why I’ve had such a hard time creating a dressier wardrobe that works for me. The clothes I prefer for concert dress are much different than what I wear on a daily basis or what I’d want to wear to an office every day. Different fit, different fabric, etc.. Also more formal. Maybe because I’m a cellist, and broad shouldered at that, so fitted jackets and skirts aren’t going to work. Nor is stage attire generally appropriate for a day time meeting.

    I’m babbling but this has given me so much to think about. Thanks!

  11. Sarah says:

    Draped/mid-shiny! Guess this means I can stop being dressing-room-disappointed in the ‘classic’ chambray shirtdresses that are out again this summer….I always feel so boxy and blah in them. Interesting, though…velvet doesn’t come across to me as ‘matte’. Why is that? Maybe because it’s a luxury fabric? I suppose when it bends, it has a bit of shine…

  12. Emily Ruth says:

    Love this!
    I’m definitely draped & matte. Comfort & cute.

    The thing I have figured out, that changed everything for me was accepting my size (which is decidedly & happily Plus) but not accepting every Plus sized fashion element presented. This means that I don’t buy something just because it fits. Three quarter sleeves (which is rampant in the Plus community but are really uncomfortable to me)? Would I wear them if I was smaller? Nope & nope!
    It’s amazing how much better I feel about my clothes, fashion & life in general when I’m not settling just because I’m bigger. & with this mindset I have found so many great things! I really think I could work even if you’re not Plus (but it REALLY works if you are :))

    I love your blog & podcast! Thanks for all you do!

    • Beth says:

      Good for you! I was plus sized for a lot of years and I completely relate to this comment! Even now that I’m in regular sizes fit is tricky so it’s sometimes hard not to buy something based on fit alone A few years ago I dropped about 30lbs and had to replace my entire wardrobe. Not a sympathetic problem, I know! I made a lot of bad purchases both because I was happy to get into a certain size and because there were several times when I absolutely needed something to wear and couldn’t find good options. Overlaps in season and such. I had the same problem after both my pregnancies too.

  13. Kathleen says:

    110% matte and drapey. I don’t own even one button-down shirt or anything shiny. Looking back at pieces I’ve bought and then decided they didn’t work, many were too stiff. Thanks for the insight!

  14. Katie says:

    But how do you knooooooow? I’ve been thinking about that comment since the first post, too, and I think I just need someone to come tell me what to wear, because I have no idea what looks good on me and what doesn’t. Things only feel good insofar as they’re comfortable/uncomfortable. I really do not have a sense of whether things feel good as in look good. Or maybe it’s that what I “feel” looks good is actually really uncomfortable and so I don’t want to wear it. Blah.

  15. Charlotte says:

    I’ve never looked at styling like that! I’m definitely draped, but I don’t know about the shiny/matte. Maybe a bit of both. I love a matte look with some small shiny elements I think.

  16. Ashley says:

    Gosh, this is a tough one! I know that I need a certain amount of structure to feel like myself, but not so much that my clothing feels confining. The super-relaxed boho style doesn’t feel right for me.

    If I look at my closet, it’s full of mattes. Almost nothing is shiny, although I do enjoy a shiny accessory. I’d never thought about it in those terms, though.

    • Brenda says:

      I never thought of this with regard to my sense of style and I really like it.

      I’d have to say that I’m a drapey-matte person, although I do prefer a pair of leggings over a pair of dress pants, and I will also take a pair of leggings over jeans. I also like the reponse that said they’d like to add in a category of soft and stretchy because I feel that best suits me.

      I’m definitely no shiney. Being a larger lady, I feel shiney fabrics add pounds so I stick with matte fabrics. Even though I’ve lost weight over the past year, I still don’t need to look any heavier than I already do.

      Great topic!

    • amanda june says:

      Yes! This. I think “stiff” sounds not at all appealing — uncomfortable and confining/clingy — but on the other end I hate that in recent years clothing is so oversized and bulky. Super-drapey/flowy clothes are just not flattering on me (I always wonder who exactly are they flattering on? But I guess there are people?). So somewhere in between: comfortable, but fitted enough to be flattering.

      And matte for sure for me — I guess in my mind there are not that many shiny clothes, or not that many that I’d purchase 😉

  17. beth says:

    I think I am 2 different people at different times!
    My casual wear is quite the drapey/matte. On top at least. I am all about structured on the bottom. But when I need to give a professional presentation I definitely feel better in structured (and somewhat shiny). It’s like the casual vs professional aspects of my personality have their own preferred way of dressing.
    My handbag is always structured.

  18. This is an interesting take on style- one I’ve not thought of before. AKA, precisely why I love your blog… I always leaving pondering. I think I myself am a stiff, matte human who can go for shiny every once in a while.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I took a class once where the instructor mentioned that some people are “pattern” people and some people are “solids” people. A lightbulb went off! Although I love certain patterns, I always feel really uncomfortable wearing them! Now I just skip the patterns and go straight to the solids. Texture can add interest if necessary but forget the pattern for me! Your post gave good food for thought too! I am definitely a “matte” person, but I can’t quite figure out the drapey vs structured. I feel awful in cotton button down shirts with collars, but also don’t feel right in really drapey blouses. I think I might be in between – soft but slightly structured – I wonder if that is an option?

    • Brittney says:

      Lightbulb going on here!! I’ve always wondered about my fashion sense because I seriously avoid wearing anything with a pattern… I just feel so silly in patterned clothing.

    • Lari Hall says:

      Yes! I love patterns too but always feel uncomfortable wearing them. I’ve learned I’m a solid girl. 😉 I’m also in between structured and drapey. I definitely prefer things to have a soft edge though.

  20. Wow, I love this, Anne! I am also a draped/matte kind of woman, and that totally explains why I LOVE my cardigans and haven’t managed to find a button down blouse that I like. As you compare shiny vs. matte do you find that affects your color choices as well (primary colors vs. muted/heather shades)?

    • Ana says:

      I’m pretty sure I’m a draped/matte, but I do like dark saturated colors best (skin tone probably has something to do with it, I look ill in pastels)

  21. Jill Foley says:

    I discovered Dressing Your Truth this past year and it’s been a game changer for me. I’m a type 4 – so I love shiny and structured. My colors need to be crisp and highly saturated…if it looks worn or faded, it’s got to go. I also love high contrast. When I wear something that doesn’t quite fit into my “type” in terms of color, fabrication, design line or pattern, I feel “off”.

  22. Kate says:

    I’m definitely a matte/drapey person. I just need to stop trying to convince myself that *this time*, that crisp button-down will work…

  23. Ana says:

    Wow. This NAILED it. And explains why the blazers & button downs I bought when trying for a more structured, mature & professional look are just cluttering up my closet. I am draped & matte, too! I think this is giving me the conviction to just let go of the stiff/shiny stuff even though they are perfectly nice & I get compliments when I do wear them—I don’t feel like MYSELF.

  24. Kathryn says:

    Ah! I hadn’t ever heard of this distinction either, but it explains why I feel unhappy about my style right now! My (4th) baby is 5 months old, and although I’m a “stiff/shiny” person, the extra weight I’m still carrying is forcing me to wear everything draped (and to some extent, matte) to camouflage the extra bulge around my middle. At first I thought it was not being at my “happy weight” that was making me feel frustrated, but I’m actually content with my current size–it’s the style of my clothes (the only ones in my closet that currently fit) that’s getting me down! Thanks for this eye-opener! Maybe I need to buy a few stiff/shiny things in a larger size…

    As to “shiny,” I don’t have a lot of sparkly or sequined clothes, but the more subtle shiny elements always excite me–I was just admiring the reflective logo and piping on my new running shorts this morning, twisting as I looked in the mirror so that I could see the shine! I also love black patent shoes and metallic finishes. Just thinking about them makes me happy!

  25. Danielle says:

    I’m definitely a drapey and muted! But I would also add, fitted vs loose! I like my clothing to feel like pajamas but with a bit of fit! Does that make sense? Some people can do the flowey sweaters, those odd caftans, but I need my drapey to be fitted! And I agree that shine can be in the accessories.

  26. Ellen S. says:

    I’m definitely a matte but I’d put myself on a drape-stiff continuum more towards stiff but not too stiff. LOL.

  27. This has given me so much to think about! I know I look better in matte clothes, but I’m stumped on structured vs drapey. I would’ve said I preferred more tailored, fitted clothes a few years ago, but I’ve been all about drapey tops since having my first baby. Loose cardigans make me look like a bag lady, but structured button-ups don’t fit right either. I wonder if it has to be either/or or if there’s a bit of a spectrum? Super interesting either way!

  28. Ruth-Anne Hayes says:

    I’m draped and shiny! I knew instinctively as I read your description first time through. Thanks for taking the time to expound on the comment. I’m about to go through my closet and now I have more definers. Excited! ♡

  29. 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!

  30. 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!

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

  35. 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.”

  36. 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. https://my.liveyourtruth.com/dyt/energy-profiling/chapter1/

    • Tammy says:

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

  37. 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!

  38. 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.

  39. 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. 😉

  40. 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!

  41. 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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