Owning your individuality and shopping sustainably go hand in hand

Does a glance through your closet bring you inspiration? Or does it spark anxiety over clutter and unused pieces? If you’re working toward your dream closet, consider one of the most sustainable techniques: identifying your personal style.

Nailing down a personalized style and shopping exclusively within that framework might sound a little too adjacent to the fast fashion appeal to curate and recreate your look on a whim with practically no repercussions. But finding your personal style can actually be at the core of sustainability. That’s because once you can clearly articulate your own style (even if it’s only to yourself), you begin to shop more consciously. 

“We’ve taught ourselves that our clothing can only bring a sense of joy the first time we wear it,” says Rachel Tashjian in her GQ article The Most Sustainable Idea In Fashion Is Personal Style. “But there are ways to train yourself to love something every time you put it on. The real test for me is: can I put it on, forget about it for most of the day, remember I’m wearing it at 4 p.m., and grin?”

Finding personal style goes hand in hand with curating a more sustainable lifestyle and embracing slow fashion. Below, you’ll find tips for cutting out the noise of trend cycles and self-doubt and leaning into what clothes make you feel good.

1. Go through your closet

The journey starts in your bedroom. Go through your wardrobe, piece by piece, and identify what you love, what you wear most often, and what you hardly wear. This is a great decluttering exercise, but it’ll also help you engage with your clothing intimately—rather than throwing on an outfit for a certain event, think about what you’re wearing and what you like about it.

This shouldn’t be a one-day process, either. Engage with your clothing while you wear it, and keep in mind Tashjian’s 4 p.m. benchmark. What makes you excited to put on, and what makes you still excited by the end of the day?

Apps like Whering and Save Your Wardrobe let you digitize your closet, helping you mix and match pieces and see where you have gaps. They’ll also help you plan outfits according to the weather and your own style, and Save Your Wardrobe can connect you with tailors for mending, and upcycling centers for responsibility disposing of the pieces that no longer serve you.

2. Find inspiration

Pinterest is a go-to here—save looks you like in a board on Pinterest, or create a fashion folder in your saved Instagram posts. Save anything that catches your eye or gives you that butterfly feeling, even if you don’t necessarily see yourself buying it. This is just to get the juices flowing. 

Prefer screenless inspiration? Have a magazine collage session, and maybe invite a few friends over, too. Gather any magazines you have lying around and clip out anything that inspires you—colors, landscapes, and patterns can help you figure out what you like. Follow these tips to put together a fashion mood board

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and movies and TV shows are also great sources. Remember, this can be a slow process. Save inspiring photos as you find them online, and snag screenshots of cute movie outfits as you come across them.

3. Keep a running list of wants/needs

As you hone into your style and take a look at your closet, you’ll start to learn both what you like and what you need. Keep a running list of pieces you’re on the hunt for to stay on the right track. I keep mine in my notes app, which ends up being a hodgepodge of pieces I dream about and places where my wardrobe has gaps.

This way, you can go out shopping for inspiration without the risk of buying what you don’t need. Take a look at Depop and Poshmark, too. Aside from making it super easy to shop more sustainability, these apps let you browse clothes like a catalog and save pieces to return to later, helping you avoid impulse buys.

4. Borrow clothes

You might dream of having the perfect capsule wardrobe full of carefully sourced, sustainably made pieces—but to help hone your style without that commitment, borrow pieces from friends and family. Maybe you saw your friend wearing a dreamy midi dress in a recent post that you’d love to try, or maybe you want to host a clothing swap with a few pals.

If you have a lot of events in the coming months, consider clothing rental sites like Style Lend, Rent the Runway, or Le Tote. You’ll save closet space and money by not purchasing garments you’ll only wear once or twice, and you can experiment with new styles, too.

5. Learn to sew

One of the most sustainable ways to modify your style is mending clothes yourself. When you can modify your own clothes, you can hem skirts and sleeves to your liking, take in waistlines, crop shirts, change necklines, and dye garments a different color. Once you identify silhouettes and colors that feel like you, mending opens up new doors for personalizing your wardrobe. And, when shopping secondhand, you’ll have a wider range of garments available to you when you can see the potential in a piece.

Identifying personal style is for everyone, not just the fashion-obsessed.

Identifying personal style is for everyone, not just the fashion-obsessed. We all wake up and get dressed in the morning, and what you wear can “help you build your identity, your mystique, your confidence,” says Tashjian.

“But to give yourself over to [fashion] completely—and to the impulsive churn that says something is suddenly uncool—is to forgo your individuality,” she says. “You must exert control over your clothing if you want to use it to define yourself.”

My control is my iPhone note titled “things to buy 👗” and a boatload of saved pins. I’ll never have the perfect wardrobe, but that’s the point—we’re always evolving, and our personal style does as well.


Natalie Gale is a Boston-based freelance journalist. When she’s not writing about art, food, or sustainability, you can find her biking to the farmers’ market, baking, sewing, or planning her next Halloween costume. Say hi on Instagram!