How to Communicate Your Personal Style

The clothing you wear tells the world a little story about who you are at that moment, it may or may not be an accurate story or even anything profound or memorable, but the message is clear. Clothing is non-verbal communication and it can be used to your advantage. Your clothing is only the wrapper not the substance, and in this day of being time starved sometimes the wrapper is the first message that signals people to engage with us or move on. The good news is that the message can be controlled in a natural way, without pretense or becoming the fashion victim.



If I wore a green apron over a white polo shirt and khakis, you might think I work at Starbucks or some other corporate food service company. If I wore over-the-knee boots with high-waist denim shorts and a crop top you may have another impression of me altogether. The mind can’t help but try to make sense of it all and create a judgement, not necessarily good or bad, just one that makes sense to the receiver.

Regardless the message, when dressing and choosing what you wear it only has to make sense to you. Common sense would tell us jeans or sweats are okay for grocery shopping. What if you’re meeting someone you wanted to impress? well then your choice of clothing would depend on what image or ideals you want to send out.

This is where you get to create the narrative of you through wardrobe. If you ever get stuck trying to figure out what to wear, there are some strategies you can use for when you want to convey a specific message about yourself.

First understand what this is NOT about:

  • trends
  • name brand clothing
  • high-end designer clothing
  • ideal body image

What this IS about:

  • sense of self
  • sense of ideals, goals, values and passions
  • sense of well-being
  • personal ideals of aesthetics and beauty

Having a sense of self is important as the clearest messages come from a source that is solid and clear in itself. Clothing is the subtle message behind those ideals, just keep in mind that interpretation will vary according to people’s background and culture.

Here’s an example of how this strategy is used:

  • My ideals and values include, creativity, independence, health, community and spirit.
  • My goals include, making a positive impact, and always learning.
  • My sense of well-being comes from family, spirituality, being creative, health conscious, and humor.

Sounds great, huh? but what to wear? what to wear? Okay now consider the occasion, time of day, and people you will be interacting with, for example: I’m going to an evening cocktail networking event and there will be a mix of creatives and administrators.

This is where I look to personal ideals of aesthetics and beauty to translate the inside out, such as art, films, music, people, fashion, etc… anything that visually inspires me. To make it simple, I usually pick one aesthetic ideal that is best for the occasion. One of my favorite fashion eras is the mid to late 60’s where Mod dressing reigned supreme, it was both clean and modern, yet bold and fun. I want to include these qualities into my outfit for the event, keeping in mind that it is a professional event, I will just choose one or two main signifiers of this Mod message.


My outfit for the evening then would be a simple A-Line black dress (a 60’s silhouette) with a bold modern style necklace with hair in a high bun (a’la Hepburn).

Another option can be a black blazer and slim pants (60’s silhouette and style) with bold earrings.

Another option can be a colorful paisley (60’s print style) maxi-dress with no jewelry, or natural stone jewelry like turquoise (late 60’s hippie).

or I can go straight up vintage and wear an authentic cocktail dress from the mid-60’s

There’s many ways to go with this, and you can use this strategy with any occasion from job hunting to holiday party. Of course have fun with it and the minute you start to get overwhelmed or are over thinking it, just step back and visualize yourself in your favorite outfit regardless of what occasion its for. If it’s pajama pants you love, that can be easily translated into palazzo pants or wide leg trousers for evening events. More than likely you already have items you love in your closet.


This is not necessarily an everyday strategy, but one that will work to your benefit in controlling the message you send out to others. It’s not what you wear but what you want to say. It’s important that the ideals behind the message are clear and ring true to yourself first, so your outward appearance can reflect your inner ideals, then sending a consistent message. Have you ever deliberately dressed a certain way to send out a message of how you wanted to be perceived?


7 thoughts on “How to Communicate Your Personal Style

  1. Work clothes really demonstrate deliberately dressing for a certain effect. But is there a point when there’s too much control of the message and this prevents the inner spirit and spontaneity from shining through? How does one balance controlling the message others receive and dress in a way that is true to oneself?

    • I agree that too much control of the message takes from the spirit of the individual, especially work clothes. Balance is a good thing to strive for, as for how, it depends on work environment, for example if all employees must wear the same uniform, individuality can be expressed within dress code through details such as jewelry, hair style/color, or shoes. I think sometimes these subtle details are the strongest expressions of individuality because they show the contrast between work uniform (social group id) versus personal style (individuality). Striking a balance is definitely key here.

  2. Your premise leaves me wondering “what am I communication by the way I dress”. It reminds me of a line from Aladdin:
    “First, that fez-and-vest combo is much too third-century. These patches. What are we trying to say? Beggar? No. Let’s work with me here”

    I am a guy, a big guy. I dress as work requires it, jeans and a tee-shirt if it is to be dirty, button down shirt, Dockers and a tie if I interact with customers. Casual, it is the ubiquitous “professors jacket” replete with suede elbow patches, Dockers and a button down oxford shirt. Does my lack of attention to style reflect no care or an attempt at “anti-style”. Interesting…

    • Lol on the Alladin quote! It sounds like you have your style down, you have multiple looks for work that communicate different things. The first message is professionalism even if it is jeans and a t-shirt, because you recognize it as appropriate for the nature of your work. When working with customers the message there is an approachable professionalism and trust, dockers and a collared shirt with tie or jacket, convey structure and order, this look is familiar, and Dockers is such a well-known brand for khakis that by just naming the brand I already get the idea of the look and as a customer would recognize it as workplace casual.
      Although I’ve made the mistake before while at a store asking the first person I saw in khakis and a white polo shirt for help only to be told that they didn’t work there. In my experience I frequent many places in which that was the uniform and I mistakenly interpreted this person’s clothing as uniform. These messages are subtle and they are visual cues being sent out whether intentional or not….and yes anti-style is another message.

  3. Probably my favorite part of this, as an extremely lazy person who wishes she could exist perpetually in pajamas, was translating pajama pants into something more upscale. I think it sets up this idea of not boxing trends in with their limitations and thinking about the options that are beyond the obvious.

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