How to Build Your Style from Ground Zero


My question is this: I’ll be turning 50 in a few months and still haven’t discovered my personal style – from hairstyle, clothing style, colors, fabrics.. the whole thing.
When I was young, we didn’t have finances except for hand-me-downs and thrift stores. I didn’t learn “style” when I most girls did. But at my age, with a management job in a casual, artsy business environment (book publishing company) I need to present and reflect my best. And I’m clueless what to do.
Starting at “ground zero,” what do I do first? How do I learn my personal style and finally feel confident that my image reflects who I am – and how I want others to see me?
Thanks Imogen! I’ll keep reading your blog and lovely website for more great info.

You know something?  I didn’t learn how to dress or style either as a youngster as my parents had no interest in clothing and I dressed either in hand-me-downs (not of my choice and some of them from my older brother) or in my school uniform.  That was it until I started to sew my own clothes as a teenager.  I’ve had to learn from ground zero, so I know it’s completely possible for you to do that too   😀

How to Build Your Style from Ground Zero

1. Get to Know Thyself

Who are you? How do you want to be perceived by those who you work with, play with or love?

Understanding your personality traits will assist you in understanding what you should wear as the two things are interrelated (that’s why when you try on some clothes in stores you think “it’s just not me”).

Take some time and write out a list of adjectives (yes those describing words) that express who you are as a person, on the inside.  The parts of you that you want to share with the world.  Here’s a short list of words that can start you on your journey to expressing your inside on the outside.

Creative Attractive Forward-Thinking
Dynamic Relaxed Upbeat
Reliable Powerful Considerate
Efficient Successful Credible
Sharp Elegant Approachable
Professional Dramatic Helpful
Stylish Versatile Modern
Sophisticated Easy-going Fun
Classic Alluring Unique

This list is by no means comprehensive (in the slightest) but it may help you think of words that represent who you are.  Choose 3-6 words to start with that you feel represent all of the best elements of who you are.   Then you can use these words to run any new purchases by.  For example, recently one of my clients decided that “luxurious” was one of her words that she wanted for her style recipe so when we were out shopping, every time we considered a garment or accessory, we said “would I describe this as luxurious?”  When the answer was no, the item was left behind in the store.

It’s a simple way of really whittling down the huge amount of choices in stores to finding the clothes that you will love.

Read up more about finding your style recipe in these posts:

Why you must have a style recipe

Finding your style recipe

What is your style recipe?

2. Get Some Professional Help

Yes, there are people like me (including me  😉  ) who are trained to help you understand who you are and to find your style and help you build a wardrobe.

If you feel very lost then I’d suggest that finding a good image consultant (you can find image consultants through our international professional association AICI) who is fully trained and certified (there is a difference in training and like anything, there are people with 3 days training and people with lots more out there).

Alternatively my 7 Steps to Style program is an online program that I’ve developed to help you work through your style, understand what does and doesn’t work and assist you in building that wardrobe that makes you shine.

If you’re pushed for time professional help can really assist you to cut through the noise of the plethora of shopping opportunities available (and going to the mall can be completely overwhelming for so many women).  Some of us just don’t have the “shopping gene” or ability to quickly scan a store to pick up the very few garments that express who we are, suit our bodies and colouring and make us feel fabulous.  There is nothing wrong with getting some professional assistance.

Plus, having a colour analysis as part of your professional help (and this is part of my 7 Steps to Style program) will really assist you in narrowing down the range of colours that flatter your complexion and will make building a wardrobe easier as you’ll find it so much more mix-and-matchable and versatile as you can easily put together outfits that go-together colourwise.

7 steps to style solve the style puzzle

3. Get to Know What You Love

Have you asked yourself what you do and don’t love with your current clothes an accessory choices?

Knowing how you feel in your clothes (and this post on Building Your Perfect Wardrobe has lots to think about regarding this aspect of wardrobe building) and what you do love to wear will really assist you in making excellent purchases.

One reason to do my Evolve Your Style challenge is that it’s an opportunity to get to know yourself and what you enjoy wearing (pushing you a little out of your comfort zone) so that you experience and analyse your daily outfit choices.

Sit down and analyse your favourites and it will pull into focus those elements of clothing and accessorizing that make you happy, that you can replicate to ensure that you have a wardrobe full of clothes that you love.

You may find these posts on My Style (where I analyse what I love) useful to help you think about your style.

4. Get to Know What You Don’t Love

(Cos some of us work better from the negative and if you can ensure that you don’t wear/buy/keep what doesn’t float your boat you can figure out what you do love).

If you do Evolve Your Style you will also discover more about what you don’t love (you’re not supposed to love every challenge).  You will realise that there are some elements of style that are just not for you, from fit to fabric, pattern to detail.

If you do find it easier to create a list of “don’t wants” than “wants” in your wardrobe (though it’s good to know about both), when you eliminate the “don’t wants” you may then discover what it is that you do want.

Create a Wardrobe Capsule (or Two) for different parts of your life

If you are building yourself a new wardrobe, then use the capsule wardrobe concept and start building a few capsules that work for different parts of your lifestyle.  You may have a couple of work capsules, then a casual capsule to start with.

You can then expand on these capsules or create new ones as required, but they will form the basis of your wardrobe plan (and create a really versatile wardrobe with lots of mix and match options).

Why not download my capsule wardrobe guide (printable for helping you plan and purchase a capsule).

You can also read up on my 10 most popular wardrobe capsule blog posts to get inspiration and ideas for creating your own.

Plus here are a few more posts to inspire you:

Secrets to mixing prints in a capsule

5 excellent reasons to build a wardrobe capsule

How to create a capsule around a patterned garment

5. Play, Try and Create

Now that you’ve got a plan, know more about what suits you (colours, styles, preferences etc.) have an idea about building your wardrobe and know what elements of clothing you do and don’t love, it’s time to play dress ups.

Rather than sticking with your same-old, same-old ways of dressing.  Playing dress-ups in your closet can really assist you in sorting out your style.

I recommend highly taking photos of your outfits (and if you’re not convinced this will help you, then read this post with the reasons my readers believe it’s such a powerful tool in developing your style).

And if you hate how you look in photos, then get my tips on how to pose so you look better (always a handy thing to know for when anyone brings out a camera), and tips on technology to use taking your photos (so you can do it yourself).

Honing your style takes time and effort (as with anything good or worthwhile in life).  For some it comes more naturally than others, but everyone can learn the science behind style (that’s why I started and keep on writing Inside Out Style) and with a little time, patience and practice, a few selfies and self-analysis (and even some professional assistance) you too can build your style from ground zero.

Just remember, some of us prefer more options and wearing varied styles of clothes, others like a smaller wardrobe that is more like a uniform.  Neither is right nor wrong. Only you can know which you prefer, as you discover more about your personal style.


I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • First of all, you’re lucky to be working in a creative, artsy environment: it will allow you more freedom to express yourself in what you wear at work. Please don’t let your age limit your choices. I’m saying that as someone who has just turned 69 but still enjoys buying the odd item from shops such as Zara and H&M!

    I would definitely recommend doing 7 Steps as it has made a huge difference to my wardrobe and I now enjoy wearing clothes that really suit my colouring, shape, colour & value contrast, lifestyle and personal style. There are of course numerous posts on Imogen’s blog to help you as well.

  • Hi Imogen, what lovely and practical advice.

    Hi Dana – you are not alone. I had a part time job from 14 which I was free to spend on fashion but I still haven’t developed style at 47. Your query could have been written by me – except I work in management in a relaxed IT environment. Lots of people are a work in progress 🙂 good luck.

  • I would like to point out that in choosing a professional to work with, an image consultant is different from a personal shopper in the store. A personal shopper can help you find merchandise in the store, but they don’t necessarily choose what is best for you. It is up to you to know yourself. And image consultant will get to know you and even more important, help you know yourself. I have learned this self-knowledge and technical knowledge from Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style. The online format has been important to me because it has allowed me to work at my own pace and internalize the information as I went along. Plus I can access it at any time in any place.

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