The Three-Word Method To Find Your Personal Style

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Honing your personal style saves you money, time, and angst if you’re anything like me. For example, if you put a perfectly lovely outfit together, but something feels off, it could be that the message your outfit is sending is not in line with how you want to look. If this has ever happened to you, it may help to know how to use the three-word method to find your personal style.

This concept has been around forever with varying numbers of words. I helped my clients narrow down their style using three words over 20 years ago. Tibby founder Amy Smilovik has been putting her spin on the three words style formula for several years on her IG channel. In 2016, influencer Chriselle Lim described it as her go-to way to put her outfits together. Stylist Alison Bornstein has recently added her interpretation to the discussion on her TikTok channel.

woman wearing white buttondown and jeans on street

how does the three-word Method help you find your personal style?

Once you decide on your three words, they become the formula you use to create outfits and refer to before you add items to your closet. These three words describe not only how you like to look but also a feeling you aspire to. Knowing what will work seamlessly into your wardrobe makes it easier to put an outfit together that really feels like you.

How do you find your three style words?

Start with what you already own because it’s a good road map to discover the things you’re attracted to. Most people tend to buy multiples of what they love, and that’s a clue to your first word. Take the pieces that you always reach for out of your wardrobe and lay on the bed or hang on a rack. What do these pieces have in common? Are they structured? Floral or solids? Is the fabric woven or knit? Loose and flowy? Try to narrow down what these garments have in common. What are the silhouettes like, and how colorful are the fabrics? Find a word that describes these favorites.

It also helps to start a mood board on Pinterest and save images you’re attracted to.

If you choose a common term like classic or boho or sporty as your overreaching first word, dig deeper for more descriptive terms to modify your version of it.

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Three-word method – your second word

Once you have your overall style word, look at your lifestyle to help choose your second word. So many of us buy garments for a lifestyle we aspire to rather than live. If your lifestyle is very casual, a wardrobe filled with structured blazers, floaty dresses, or fragile fabrics isn’t going to serve you well. Could comfortable be one of your words? How about easy or effortless, which could translate to pull-on styles without zippers and buttons?

Could buttoned-up or tidy be your second word? How about unique or striking? You’re looking for words that have feelings and meaning for you. How about whimsical, sweet, oversized?

There is no end to the words you can use to describe your style because this is very personal. Your version of classic or boho will differ from another woman’s because of how it makes you feel. For example, if you have many classic blazers and shirtdresses, one of your words could be structured or fitted.

Find Your third word

Your third word is about how you want to feel. Who do you want to be? This is the aspirational part of your style recipe and the most personal. Do you want to feel classy, pretty, or strong? Because this part is highly personal, asking your friends or family for advice isn’t helpful here. Keep digging and trying new words until it feels right. There are no rules, and you can use any words that resonate with you.

How to Use Your Three Word Style Formula

Your three-word personal style formulas will change and flow as your life, and you change. The play between these three style words makes your style unique. It keeps you from having a wardrobe full of boring pieces that don’t make you happy. When you want to add a garment to your closet, run it through the filter of your three words. Does it work for all three? If not, move on until you find something that does. Using this formula will help us all hone our style, buy less, and be happier with our wardrobe.

Brands you enjoy

The brands you like to shop can also be helpful. What words would you use to describe their esthetic?

Brands like Eileen Fisher and J. Jill are predominantly unstructured, soft, in neutral and subdued colors, relaxed, and unbuttoned. Talbots and Ann Taylor focus more on structure, color, pattern, and details. Ann Taylor is also decidely ladylike, which could be one of your words. Anthropologie is heavily creative, with patterns in structured and unstructured pieces. Fun, flowery, edgy, and textured come to mind.

The inclination to increase the number of words in your style recipe may feel irresistible, but it can also confuse the issue, and three ends up being easier in the long run.

woman wearing blazer and knit jumpsuit

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Where I am in this process

I love flowing shapes, asymmetry, drapey pants, and soft, unstructured knits, but that’s not what I reach for most often in my wardrobe. My body is quite structured, which may be why they aren’t worn as often as my bootcut jeans and white button-down shirts. My Pinterest board is filled with neutral outfits in simple, minimalistic shapes, so I’m mulling my words over and narrowing things down. So far, I have classic, easy, and polished…but they’re not set in stone because structured, simple, elegant, and minimalistic also appeal to me. I have more work to do.

What style words are you leaning toward that have feelings attached to them? Let’s start a list of words to help each other along this process.

Thanks for reading, and remember to wear what makes you feel confident.


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