How to Make Peace with Your Personal Style

Tuesday: J. Crew City Mini and striped teeTuesday: J. Crew City Mini and striped teeI have spent years cultivating a distinct personal style. My look - pixie cut, striped tees, ballet flats - is perfect for me; it fits my features and my shape and my lifestyle. My look is Jean Seberg meets Sophia Coppola, as styled by Jenna Lyons. But if I am being totally honest, my particular look is driven by one specific thing: Laziness. I love clothes, but I hate shopping. I like having cute hair, but I have no patience with styling tools. I like looking pretty but I am hopelessly makeup challenged. And, most significantly, I refuse to spend more than 20 minutes getting ready for any event, no matter how fancy. And that includes the time it takes me to shower.

See? Laaaaaaaazy.

Ok, so that's a little bit of a misstatement. I'm not really lazy - I run between 25 and 30 miles a week, and I swim, and I'm this close to buying a bike because cycling is fun! I work full time and read voraciously. I shuttle my kids to karate and baseball and do endless loads of laundry and stop at the grocery every 48 hours for milk. I'm not lazy, really, but I am busy, and I don't have the time or the patience to agonize over how I look.

But I do want to look nice, every day. I want to look like I have it all together, like I've got a grip on my super busy life. And so I've pared my closet down to a collection of pieces that all work together, and have created a specific, repeatable look. These days, getting dressed requires virtually no thought. Perfect.

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Creating a signature style requires thinking carefully about your priorities. I'm willing to devote two hours to running a half marathon but I am not willing to spend more than five minutes styling my hair, which is why the pixie cut works for me. Of course, super short hair requires super frequent hair cuts, but an hour at the salon is something I'm willing to do once every five weeks if the trade off is no fuss on a normal Wednesday. See? Priorities.

Lifestyle is also an important consideration. I would love to be the girl who wears a pencil skirt and pretty heels every day, but that's not a look that works for my life right now. On a normal day, I'm taking one kid to karate and the other to baseball; the karate gym is hot, the ball field is cold, and both involve scrambling up a set of bleachers to find a seat. My clothes need to be practical and pretty at the same time. And comfortable. Let's not forget comfortable.

This all sounds great, right? So easy, knowing exactly what you're going to wear every day! But how on earth do you even start doing that? It's simple. Here are three ways to develop your own signature style:

1. Assess what you're really wearing
The easiest way to do this is to pay attention to the laundry. If you find that you have a small selection of pieces that go directly from the dryer to your body, you are already editing your closet and cultivating a look. If the pieces you are pulling out of the dryer are all of the yoga pants variety, we need to talk. Comfort and practicality are an important part of a functional wardrobe, but you can have those things without resorting to workout wear.

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2. Identify your everyday style
Take a look at your closet - what do you see? Lots of dresses that never get worn? Tees that are worn out? Pieces that you never put on, no matter how pretty, are not part of a look; pieces that are falling apart, on the other hand, may very well be the key to your style. If you're always buying dry clean only sweaters and then never wearing them because they will have to be dry cleaned, it's time to stop. Replace them with sweaters and tops that can go in the laundry - and then wear them!

3. Find the pattern
I have a little bit of an obsession with stripes. Ok a big obsession. I tried to fight it, but the truth is that, with the exception of a couple of polka dotted pieces, I won't wear other patterns. Eventually I just gave up trying to introduce new and different things into my closet and stuck with my stripes, and now I have a closet full of pieces I love and feel good in. And - bonus! - everything works together, which means no scrambling to assemble outfits. Look at what you already own and think about what gets worn and what doesn't. Maybe you keep buying corduroys or pencil skirts or button downs because you think you will love them - and then you don't wear them. Get rid of them and focus on what you're really putting on.

Which gets us back to where we started, with the laundry basket.

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Having a distinct style doesn't mean creating a new look every day; it doesn't mean sacrificing comfort and practicality for fashion. I'm walking proof that a signature look can make life easier. Now we just need to find yours. We'll start with what to wear instead of those yoga pants.

-By Susan Wagner

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For tips on how to make the most of your wardrobe, visit Babble!

Susan Wagner is a personal stylist who believes that less is always more, particularly when it comes to your wardrobe. She loves cashmere, ballet flats and anything with stripes; she is less enthusiastic about workout wear as clothing (save it for the gym!). Susan lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and their two sons. You can find her on the Internet at The Working Closet.

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