Why I refuse to commit to a ‘signature style’


“The idea that there is a single style of clothing… that can define my personality or brand seems incomprehensible to me. More than incomprehensible, it seems stifling.”

If you Google ‘how to find your signature style’, approximately 631, 000, 000 results will be generated in 0.49 seconds. While I sincerely doubt that every single result generated is relevant to the question, the first page at least gives me article after article on how I can learn to cultivate and define my signature style and how this will enable me to dress better. It also suggests adopting a signature style could possibly solve a multitude of existential identity crises I never even knew I was experiencing.

The consensus seems to be that it is of vital importance to have a signature look, a uniform of sorts to don each day that serves, apparently, as a visual signifier to those around you of who you are, what you stand for and what lies at the very core of your entire being. That seems, to me, to be a lot for one type of look to be capable of telling the world.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in the power of fashion – the clothing that we choose to place on our bodies can definitely speak to different parts of ourselves, but the notion of subscribing to a ‘signature style’ has always confounded me. It is not for lack of trying.

I’ve tried to carve out a niche in fashion for myself more times than I can count. Starting as far back as high school, that pivotal time of creating an identity for yourself, I’ve latched onto different styles. A year as a ‘hippy’ with layered beads and long hair, the next as an emo with chipped black nail polish, a strange six months with dyed blonde hair and miniskirts in a desperate attempt to seem like one of the ‘cool’ girls.

It seemed normal at the time to leap from obsession to obsession and each time shout, “It’s not a phase, Mum!” like so many other teenagers before me. And, in my head, it seemed the natural progression that would follow, as I emerged from the cocoon of high school into the real world, would be to grow out of this style swapping. When I stepped into reality, I assumed I would naturally fall into some signature style that would settle nicely on my skin and make me feel complete.

That did not happen. What ensued instead was a series of years wherein my wardrobe underwent as many transformations as there are costume changes at a Katy Perry concert. Each time I would overhaul my entire wardrobe, not a single piece at a time, but all at once, purging items to the secondhand stores to then rebuild my image from the ground up.

When I came out as queer in my early twenties, my entire wardrobe became contingent on signifying my queerness to the outer world. I was the self-professed Dad-shirt queen, with Doc Martens, cuffed baggy jeans and bi-bangs to complete the look. And, lo and behold, people did begin to associate this look with me. It became my signature style. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that type of clothing, I really did.

But here’s the thing – not all the time. This is where the concept of having a signature style has always caused me so much anguish. The idea that there is a single style of clothing – be it streetwear, minimalist, structured or bohemian – that can define my personality or brand seems incomprehensible to me. More than incomprehensible, it seems stifling.

The notion that my wardrobe should align with a singular theme, a carefully selected colour palette, and possess a unifying cohesion has always escaped me. I’ve tried. Beyond my teenage phases, beyond my dressing how I thought a queer person ‘should’ dress, I’ve cultivated a smart, structured wardrobe I thought would befit someone who was 30, throwing out anything loose, flowy and ‘immature’.

I’ve been minimalist with creams and beiges and light-coloured denim. I’ve been the opposite and tried to cram as much colour into my closet as I could. And, in truth, I have liked each of these styles. I liked them equally and all at once. Which has led me to the realisation that I don’t have a signature style, and nor do I want or need one. I am, I have decided, a style chameleon.

It concerned me, at first, the idea that I could so easily switch between being a goth one day to cottagecore the next – could it be that I was being easily influenced by trends? Did I so lack a personality or mind of my own that I was being swayed by external influences?

What I’ve realised is that the opposite is true. I have a very broad and multifaceted mind that in turn has created a complex human being who, shockingly, feels different day to day, week to week and year to year. And the result of this has been to create a wardrobe that I love, but that is, to the outside eye, chaos.

There is a multitude of personalities within my closet, but each of them is mine, and when I wake in the morning I take pleasure in deciding who I will be that day. I consider how I feel and then I dress accordingly. Releasing myself from the pressure to curate some sort of signature style has been like exhaling after holding my breath for years.

I do sometimes envy people with consistent styles. They’re liked a carefully curated Instagram page – beautiful, pleasing to the eye, and utterly unattainable for me. But I’m happy, now, with my style being everything and anything, with keeping people on their toes with how I might look, and each morning tapping into that childhood joy of simply ‘dressing up’.

A signature style might work for some, and that is fantastic for them, but for those of us who like a little bit of everything, as long as we continue to purchase mindfully and with sustainability in mind, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to indulge across the board; dabble in some bohemian dresses, throw on a dark academia outfit, grunge down in Dr Martens with baggy jeans, all in a single week.

If fashion is what we use to signify what we stand for and showcase who we are to the outside world, then my chaotic wardrobe embodies who I am, and I hope anyone else who might relate finds comfort in this.

For advice on how to shop sustainably while exploring your style, try these tips.

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