Want to learn how to find your style? There’s no need to take a personal style quiz or create a “fashion mood board” on Pinterest. All you have to do is choose 3 lil’ words.
Research shows that people are hard-wired to judge you within 3-7 seconds of meeting you, coming to your website or watching those first few frames of video. In just 3 seconds they decide whether they’re going to stick around and engage with you OR take off and never come back.
If you don’t capture someone’s attention in that tiny window of time, you’ve lost a critical opportunity. That person could have become your most lucrative customer, your best success story, a high-profile media appearance, a joint venture partnership that gives you exposure to 20,000 new prospects, or -– you name it. You never know who is going to find you and where they’ll first encounter you, so it’s mission critical to present a conscious and consistent face to the world, enabling you to transform first impressions into lasting relationships and that all starts with looking the part.
Ignore this or get it wrong and whatever credibility you might have had in the eyes of your audience will be instantly gone. Poof! Just like that. Before you’ve even had a chance to open your mouth!
How I Found My Personal Style
This is actually a mistake that I made for the first 22 years of my life. One of my first jobs out of college was as a photographer’s assistant. I’d been hired by a portrait photographer who made over $1M/year. You heard me right: over $1 M/year. Most photographers are struggling to make ends meet and this man was making millions.
I had always been a bit of a shutterbug so I was stoked to get the job, until he handed me my contract and on the first page was a clause that kind of floored me. It said that I had to wear makeup to work each day.
I had never worn makeup before in my life and the thought of being forced to wear makeup kind of disgusted me.
I wanted to be recognized for my ideas, for my smarts, for what made me who I was, and not just be another pretty face in lipstick and heels.
I started to object: Isn’t this discrimination? What is this? Hooters? Why should I have to wear makeup?
Jeff looked at me calmly and said, “Marisa, we’re in the business of creating people’s images. If you don’t look like someone they want to be, they’re not going to trust us with their image.”
Wow… That hit me hard.
I had spent my entire life trying to prove myself, my worth and my value by working hard, but I was turning people off before I could turn them on by having this childish, knee jerk reaction against makeup and being seen at face value, as if looking good objectified who I was and discredited my ideas.
I thought physical appearance was for influencers, celebs, and style icons – people who made a living with their looks and their bodies. Not for people like me. But I was wrong. Seriously wrong.
People Make Snap Judgements (Whether We Like It or Not)
So many of us put on clothes without a thought – we shlump around town or throw up any old ugly website and think it doesn’t matter because people are just going to recognize our brilliance. “They’re going to see me as a diamond in the rough,” we’ll say to ourselves.
But the tragedy is that people make snap judgments within seconds of meeting you. And you make snap judgments about them. They’re often wrong, but quick decisions based on limited information is the only way we have time to get anything done in this world.
The reality is — if you don’t look the part — if how you present yourself to the world doesn’t support your message and lend credibility to what you do, you’re dead in the water. No one’s going to trust you with their hard-earned money if you’re not sending signals that model your work and the transformation you promise.
So why do we all go around expecting other people will treat us differently, expecting other people will automatically get how important our message is and just see us for who we are, regardless of whether we’ve taken the time to really put ourselves out there in a way that commands their attention?
Jeff Lubin, the portrait photographer, was making millions of dollars for a reason. And I was a broke college grad — for a reason.
Right then and there, I realized it was time to step up and put on my “big girl pants.”
So Jeff took me to the mall and sat me down at the Clarins counter. And this woman with bright red hair and purple eyeshadow proceeded to slather me with makeup. At first it was horribly uncomfortable. I felt like a fraud, a fake, a phony. Completely inauthentic and not me at all. But once I got over that, I noticed that people started looking at me differently, treating me differently. I started getting opportunities that I never had before.
So the lesson here isn’t about makeup. The lesson is this: When you fail to model the theme and caliber of your work in the way you show up in the world — whether that’s in person, on your website or on social media — then no one believes the transformation or outcome that you promise.
So now I’m going to tackle one piece of how you present yourself — which is how you dress. It may sound like a simple thing, but a lot of people struggle with this, get it wrong or just don’t even try to figure it out.
Everyone, even those diamond-in-the-rough types, have their own personal style — even if they don’t know it. And what I’m going to do now is show you how to define your personal style in a way that makes you instantly recognizable, memorable and seen as a leader, someone to listen to, someone with natural authority.
And by doing this, you’re going to know exactly what to wear and what not to wear regardless of the occasion…
The Super-Simple Hack for Finding YOUR Personal Style
This one’s courtesy of my friend Mary Kincaid, a thought leader on style and image and founder of the lifestyle blog Zuburbia.
Mary recommends developing a 3-word personal style statement to guide you in selecting clothes and accessories and making choices about your appearance. You’re going to want to choose 3 words that support your brand and feel like you.
Her words are classic, polished, edge, which means her hairstyle and everything she wears has to have all 3 qualities.
My style is modern, creative and natural. Which means that everything I wear has all 3 of these qualities. And you’ll notice that my website has these qualities too.
So whenever I buy something that ends up sitting in the closet, it invariably doesn’t fit my 3-word style statement. A lot of time it captures two of the words — such as natural and creative — but it’s hippie instead of modern. Or it’s modern and creative, but feels a little too shiny or blingy for me. Something’s off. But when I find something that fits all 3 words — that’s modern, creative and natural, it feels just right. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
I feel congruent. I feel like my brand. I feel like me. And this gives me confidence.
One other ninja trick that I’ve realized is that I actually have two variations on my 3-word style statement. A shlump version for when I want to be causal and a stage version for when I want to really do it up.
Modern, creative and natural is my shlump style… and when I step on stage, “natural” turns into “bold.” So my 3-word style statement for stage is modern, creative and bold.
Now, guys, don’t think this exercise is just for women.
I’ve run my friend Ryan Geist through the style statement exercise and he came up with preppy, dandy and extravagant. Yes, he’s quite a character! 🙂
It sounds simple, but dialing into these words has really given him a way to become much more aware of his style so he filters all his choices through “is this preppy, dandy and extravagant”?
It really does make shopping and dressing a whole lot easier, guiding your everyday choices so you can show up in a way that supports your message and reaffirms your status as a leader, a messenger, and perhaps even an icon.
Ideally you want at least one word that creates distinction. You don’t want all 3 words to have the same tone and texture or it doesn’t make for a unique style.
Once you get the hang of your 3-word style statement, you’ll know what to wear for your photo shoot or on your next video.
One caveat here, make sure your style statement complements your business and your core personal attributes.
For example, if you’re a financial consultant for Fortune 100 companies, a style statement that’s outrageous, flirty, grunge may undermine your credibility or at least raise a few eyebrows. And if you’re a spiritual leader you probably wouldn’t want a style statement that’s corporate, sexy and luxurious, suggesting you’re more about image than depth. But, then again, anything goes when you wear it with confidence and I know plenty of corporate speakers or consultants that are fully expressed.
Ready to Find Your Sense of Style? Let’s Choose Your 3 Words
So now let’s talk about you. Here’s a list of 50+ fashion and style words. Choose the 3 that really express you!
How did you do? If you think you’ve hit on your 3 words, paste them in the comments below so we can imagine you!
If you’re anything like me, at this point, you may want to throw out half your wardrobe and go shopping! It’s amazing how long I hung onto my clothing styles from college and high school that no longer supported the image I wanted to send into the world. And how confident I began to feel when I put on quality clothes that really matched the person I had evolved into.
Now, for those of you who hate shopping, don’t worry. Let me tell you a secret that not a lot of people know about:
Most mid-tier department stores such as Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s offer free shopping services where you can call one of their in-house stylists, tell them your 3-word style statement and what you’re looking for, then show up and have a rack full of clothes ready for you to try on.
No more wandering the aisles aimlessly looking for the perfect t-shirt or button-down blazer… this makes it super easy!
Finding Your Personal Style is Only Part of the Equation
Now, before we go, there’s one last point I want to make.
Remember, it’s not just about having the right clothes and the right appearance, it’s about projecting your energy into the world with confidence.
My friend Natalie Ledwell, the face and voice of multi-million dollar personal development company Mind Movies, hires a personal stylist to do all her shopping. She always looks good but she also knows how to carry herself and “strut her stuff” as they say.
The other day she posted on Facebook: “I just had a guy on the street thank me for brightening his day because he loves the way I walk. I’m not sure what to do about that!” This one post got 48 comments and 146 likes because Natalie’s the kind of woman who models her work and can brighten anyone’s day with her presence, her style, and her walk.
You too have the power to light up any room and turn heads the moment you walk in. It’s not about being beautiful, it’s about being confident. And confidence comes from clarity. We all have different styles — when you find your authentic personal style and dial into the top 3-5 elements of your personal brand, it’s a lot easier to find your inner confidence.
This post is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to a Powerful Personal Brand.
And if you want to really craft a personal brand that stands out from the noise and stands the test of time, your best bet is to look at successful personal brands! And you’re in luck, because I’ve compiled 13 awesome personal brand examples you can use to inspire your own.
Love it? Hate it? Let me know...
Thanks Marisa, this is a great post and just what I needed to get rid of some old stuff I collected over the years. My three words from must be “Sporty, Daring, and Natural”.
So nice to see a guy in on this exercise, Frank! And your descriptive words really show.
Thanks. Succinctly put and easy to follow advice. I will have another look in my wardrobe and in the mirror. it is easier to follow this advise when we are “on” in meetings or on stage, and we forget to continue it in quieter moments around the office etc.
Love this article – your 3 words sound just like me. If possible, can you post some of your wardrobe choices? Thanks
Comfortable, casual and natural for me.
Marisa, you have prompted an overhaul of the stuffed closet that no longer serves me. Clearing the clutter with a purpose…revealing the “now” me. I have learned so much from you, in such a short time and it just keeps getting better. You are the complete package and you go above and beyond to share it all with us…AMAZING!!!
Great article! I love that you include more than just your personal appearance. So many people don’t realize that they need to pay attention to their virtual presence even if they don’t have an online business. My three words are Earthy, Fun, Classic (I had a hard time narrowing it down to three, probably because I am in a process of creating a new version of me)
Thanks for this Marisa!
Bold, creative, stylish
Comfortable, Bold, and Simple. Or Sporty. Or Smart. Or something softer, more feminin. Have a hard time making up my mind. I hate shopping, though, because it is so hard to find clothes that fit me … I am tall with long arms and legs and after four kids gained a little too much weight, so there simply is (almost) no standart that fits me … no such shopping services in Germany, either. Many times, I just have to take what fits me and be happy I found something at all. After a long search, that is.
Love this, Thank you~
Comfortable, Radiant, Spiritual
Natural, designer, flair. Thank you! Just what I needed to figure out to pare down my closet!
One-of-a-kind, Bohemian, Understated
I pay special attention to my appearance like most men. As a painter and vision philosopher I’m very conscious of first impressions. I like to dress in a style ‘for the occasion’; a style which enables me to blend in with whoever I’m going to meet. I have an extensive wardrobe, it consists of one pair of wellington boots, one bright pink shirt with nice frills, two pairs of maroon cord trousers and a purple trilby hat.
Thanks, Marisa. My three words would be Professional, Classic and Comfortable
Hmmm comfortable, original and practical I think are my words:)
Elegant, Professional, Sexy. I’m with you on the challenges of dressing a petite and curvy physique, Marisa, and I strive to choose outfits that I can really “walk” into any room with confidence, gravitas and a wicked smile!
That was a helpful article! Mine were: alluring, artistic, and elegant.
I thought this was a joke or something to redirect people to some other idea… You were serious. You had a valuable experience at the right time in your life. How we affect others may change the direction of their lives. I am not looking to have three words define me, but for those who may want to get more in this post modern impression driven world, you hit a home run for at least most of them! Good article. Thank you.
Polished, Classy, and Unexpected. Thanks for a thoughtful exercise that I can apply to clothes and life.
This was really interesting. I couldn’t settle on just 3 words. I suppose I really have some thinking to do!
Hi Marisa, I dont like shopping for clothes much due to the fact that alot of things look awesome in the shop and the temptation to buy just about everything you see doesn’t do me any favours. I actually enjoyed this exercise my three words i chose creative practical and naturàl
I came up with Classic, elegant and fitted. Are those too much the same?
Interesting article with lots of food for thought. I can up with 6 possibilities that I narrowed down to the three that I think would represent my branding style……”Creative, Original and Natural-” my every day me and “Innovative, Bold and Unique” my professional performance me.
Expensive, Original, Professional. (casual: Expensive, Original, Adventure) *_*
Stylish, glamorous and timeless. I want/have stuff that I can pull out of my wardrobe in 2o years and still look great.
Thought I knew myself pretty well, but had a harder time to decide than I thought. It was difficult to decide because of the fact that some words describe my personality but that is not always the way I dress. I can be bold and adventurous in feminine clothing. Decided on one-of-a-kind, feminine, flair
Glad I came back to this exercise. It’s a different way of looking at oneself. For me, the first word was easy for some reason. The second was harder and the third finally popped out. Elegant, Professional, Quality. And, as others are noting, we have on and off personas. My off persona changes Professional to Comfortable, so Elegant, Comfortable, Quality. I don’t think this is just about clothing, either. It includes accessories hair, makeup and aura. You definitely have a bright aura, Marisa. Thank you for the fun.
Thanks for providing such a list. It is an interesting exercise, although i found that my way of clothing my body change somewhat with my mood of the day. Nevertheless I could qualify me as a Modern (with flair) creative (at time daring) and unique (while keeping a natural flair)
Clarity will give more success .
I just took 2 hours relooking the items in my closet to figure out my words. Wow! Now I know why I like certain things and never wear the others. I found a lot of stuff that doesn’t match the best ME. I have 2 style statements. My usual style is: Comfortable, Easy, Youthful. The other one, more for formal or business occasions is Simple, Classic, Elegant (or Simple, Classic, Casual for less formal meet-ups).
Thank you for reminding us about showing up properly for the occasion.
Dear Marisa, you have such a way of pinpointing people’s needs! Thank you for sharing that skill, and this wonderful list. Mine are: Stage, Tailored, Elegant, Refined. For Casual, Spiritual, Practical, Tailored. I already lean toward natural in my fabric choices, so that is a given. You are much appreciated!
Hi. Thanks for the list. My 3 words are Quality, Comfotable, Fashion. Warm greetings. Michael
casual – Bohemian, Spiritual, Natural
professional – Asian Inspired, Artistic, Spiritual
I love this! My three words are comfortable sexy spiritual 💜
Thank you for this article! It is awesome!
My personal style is edgy, elegant and fitted.
Thank you Marisa for having this for us.
My 3 but could be more are: Creative, Designer and One of a kind.
Classic, elegant, smart
My personal style is classic, feminine, and professional. This narrows my focus at a time when I have to sort through my closets and choose which clothes to keep and.which ones to toss! Thank you for simplifying what was a dreaded task for.too long! So timely!
Creative * Elegant * Unique | Personal style
Black * White * Red | Wardrobe colors
Terrific article, although I’m working on my business branding. I imagine the same principles apply there. I always had too many clothes since my Mom’s hobby was sewing, and she only had one child Yes, in many ways, I was spoiled, but not rotten or with things. Spoiled sweet can only be the best way to describe it LOVE was the operative word in our house.