How to focus your style with this 3-word formula

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Have you read or heard about the “3 style words” formula to help define personal style? It’s a concept that’s been around for a few years, but has been getting a lot of buzz in recent months.

Having a fine-tuned personal style can help us build a cohesive wardrobe, get dressed with greater ease, and avoid costly shopping mistakes. Some people are able to do this almost intuitively from the get-go. But for the rest of us, some tools and guidelines can help us pull our style into focus. The “3 style words” formula is one tool I’ve been playing with recently, and find quite helpful.

The 3-word formula to bring your style into focus

Influencers like Allison Bornstein (@allisonbornstein6) and Amy Smilovic (founder of clothing brand Tibi) have both embraced and used this 3 style word concept. And some of my blogger friends have been doing deep dives as well. (Jennifer at A Well Styled Life, and Sue at High Heels in the Wilderness are two that immediately come to mind.)

I love the idea of a style mantra, and have used versions of them periodically. Early on in writing this blog, I came up with “would I wear it in Paris?” That eventually morphed into “L.A. meets Left Bank.” I’m one of those analytical types, and like to be able to define and categorize in order to understand and replicate good results. But sometimes we can get bogged down in too many words, so a simple catchphrase that evokes (for us) something specific can be helpful.

So what is the concept behind 3 style words? The idea is to create a simple, easy-to-remember formula that both describes and directs personal style from the inside out. It can help us to find (or re-discover) our style “voice” among a myriad of choices and influences. It’s another tool that can make getting dressed easier, and help us steer around potential shopping mistakes.

If you’ve flailed around and have a closet full of clothes that aren’t quite IT, or don’t feel that you fit neatly into any style categories, this formula may help you sift through the noise and bring your best, authentic personal style into focus.

I’ve seen various methods suggested for choosing your three words, but here’s how I came up with mine:

  • the first word describes the current go-to’s in my wardrobe. What do I reach for and wear most often, and feel most comfortable in?
  • I’ve used the second word as a modifier for the first, to refine and distill a bit more
  • and the third word is more aspirational: how do I want to feel? What do I want to project?

Here are the 3 style words I’m currently using:


Not to be confused with the Classic style personality, (small-c) classic best describes my go-to pieces. I’m not looking to re-invent the wheel, style-wise. I feel most at home in jeans, sweaters, tees, jackets, trousers. These neat, functional, timeless pieces are the backbone of my wardrobe. Anything that’s overly complicated or gimmicky gets a pass.


I’ve often shared that I want to look current, rather than trendy. (That doesn’t mean I eschew all trends, just that I add them selectively.) I periodically update cuts, silhouettes, and details to keep my style looking current. “Modern” to me incorporates that concept, but additionally evokes a more clean, streamlined aesthetic. For example, ruffled and tiered dresses are trendy and current, but I don’t think of them as “modern.”

(Other modifiers for classic you might consider: Preppy, elegant, tailored, relaxed, structured, feminine)


“Cool” might mean different things to different people. When applied to style, it can incorporate any or all of the following: effortless, quirky, un-fussy, laid-back, understated, androgynous, strong, relaxed, confident. Maybe even a little edgy at times. It’s like the seasoning that makes the dish.

These 3 style words are helpful when putting outfits together or considering new purchases. (Especially when I’m trying something new or stepping outside my comfort zone.) They help to refine and further personalize my “Natural Gamine” style personality profile.

Choosing your 3 style words

Another way to find your style words is to take a look at your own style icons. What words do you use to describe their style? What words do they have in common? (Linda Rodin @linkdaandwinks is one of my style icons. She manages to combine classic with modern, quirky, and cool.)

It doesn’t matter if the words you choose don’t have the same meaning for someone else. What’s important is what they mean to you, and that they evoke a clear image that you can use as a guideline.

It’s OK if your style words seem contradictory…that’s where you can build some interesting tension or juxtaposition in your outfits that makes your look unique.

And yes, your style words can change from time to time. We all evolve and our style should as well.

Have you used this 3-word concept? What words “clicked” for you?

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