Just 3 Words Stand Between You & Figuring Out Your Personal Style

The pursuit of figuring out our personal style is one that feels ever-present. As the seasons change and the years pass, our desire to find an aesthetic that feels uniquely ‘us’ is something that never goes away. And while constant reinvention is neither realistic nor desirable, refining the collection of pieces that make us feel confident every day always feels like a worthy challenge. 

One place we always turn to for inspiration is TikTok — but not always in the way you might think. Yes, the app provides endless inspiration for specific outfit formulas, but what really captures our attention is the stylists and creators who not only challenge us to dig a bit deeper to figure out our own unique style, but also show us exactly how to do it. 

Just this year, the 75 Hard Style Challenge had us staring down a two-month no-buy challenge, and the 333 Method helped us with combining unexpected items in our wardrobe, cementing the idea that a small wardrobe can truly be mighty. 

Now, we’re pulling it all the way back — specifically, to Allison Bornstein’s Three-Word Method. Having amassed 5.8 million video views on TikTok, Bornstein (a New York-based stylist and the author of Wear It Well: Reclaim Your Closet & Rediscover the Joy of Getting Dressed created the Three-Word Method to help you not only identify your personal style, but also cultivate that sense of style in the long term.

Bornstein first introduced the Three-Word Method to TikTok in 2022, but it pops back up with every new season as we all predictably try to figure out who we are, sartorially speaking. The method is quite simple, where you’re trying to either define what your current style is, or what you want it to be.

“A lot of people either think they have style or they don’t,” says Bornstein in a YouTube video elaborating on her system. “But what a lot of people don’t realise is that we all have style and we can find it in our closets, and figuring out what our style is and what we are saying to the world with what we wear is just the first step.”

Essentially, the Three-Word Method challenges you to find three words to describe your style. Finding your three words can feel daunting, but Bornstein cautions against thinking too deeply about what your words will be to start, because just like you, they will evolve and change over time. Each of your three words serves a different purpose:

Word 1: Practical or Realistic

Your first word should be realistic, and to figure out what it is, Bornstein suggests going to your wardrobe and pulling out the pieces that you reach for constantly, regardless of whether or not they are your favourite pieces. Next, ask yourself how you would describe these pieces with one word, looking at similarities in silhouette, colour, print, fit, and perhaps even time period. Words like oversized, polished, classic, and casual are all good examples.

Word 2: Aspirational

Choosing your second word should be done by looking at the styles you find yourself drawn to — regardless of whether you feel like your current wardrobe embodies this vibe yet. Turn to Pinterest, your Instagram saves (I highly recommend creating a folder for this purpose, so you always have inspiration on hand), or any mood boards that you’ve created to figure out the direction you want your personal style to head in the future.

According to Bornstein, this word should help you bring your current style closer towards what you want your style to be. This means, words like vintage, ’70s, undone, playful, or any of the examples above will work here.

If your second word feels like it’s in competition with your first, that is okay. “Something that comes up a lot is that clients think that they have two totally different aesthetics, or that their words are very contrasting, and what I say is that the people with the best style are the ones who have total opposite, or contrasting, words,” she explains, adding that Mary-Kate Olsen is a great example of this.

@allisonbornstein6 Reply to @heatherklat MKA 3 words to describe their personal style! #LaurelRoad4Nurses #fashiontiktok #fyp #stylist ♬ Summer Background Jazz – Jazz Background Vibes

Word 3: Emotional

Finding your third word is seemingly simple; how do you want to feel when wearing your clothes? Sexy? Powerful? Casual? Joyful? Ensuring that our clothes makes us feel exactly how we want to feel is crucial, so of course considering this when finding your three words is equally important.

Applying Your Three Words

The big question is, how do you harness your three words to ensure you feel comfortable in your clothing and also are only adding pieces to your wardrobe that align with your current objectives? There are two key things to consider here: when putting together an outfit, ask yourself if you feel like you embody (ideally) all three of your words, and second, when buying a new item for your wardrobe, really interrogate whether it aligns with one of your words.

Adding an extra layer of consideration to any purchase is a good thing, for both our wallets and sustainability efforts. Hopefully nailing down your three words will help you with pulling together outfits daily and also with future-proofing your wardrobe.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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