How to Find Style Inspiration

Fashion is about self expression. It’s a way to show people who you are without speaking. When you’re dressed well, you can walk into a room and give a clear first impression before you even open your mouth.

When you first start learning the fundamentals of good style, fashion seems like a science. There are many technical aspects to learn and master such as color matching, proper fit and sizing, how to pair different pieces together, and more. This can all seem a bit dry and overwhelming, but with time it becomes second nature and the real fun begins.

After you’ve had enough practice, fashion becomes an art form and you can set the technical aspects aside and focus more on creativity and self expression. Your style becomes an extension of your personality.

Decide What You Want to Communicate

The first step to sourcing fashion inspiration is to figure out what your goals are in terms of self expression.

As I mentioned earlier, fashion is a form of self expression. Just as painters and musicians try to tell a story with their works, you can communicate specific aspects of your personality with fashion. During his “blue period”, Picasso painted many works in monochrome blue and green shades, aiming to give a sense of despair and sadness. When you look at these paintings, you can see how well he was able to capture his moods in his artwork.

You should think about your personal style as being a way to express key aspects of your personality. How do you want people to see you? Which features are most attractive? What makes you an interesting person? Answer these questions and then think about how you might be able to express those things by using clothing and accessories.

Johnny Depp is a great example of someone who has a very creative bohemian / artist image as part of his style. You can get a pretty clear picture of what he’s about just by seeing the way he dresses.

Building a Visual Library

Once you get to this point, it’s important to build a large visual library to fuel this creative side of your fashion. A visual library is exactly what it sounds like: a large collection of reference material and inspiration to give you sources to draw from when you build outfits and expand your wardrobe.

When I first started getting into fashion, I subscribed to a number of men’s magazines including GQ and Men’s Health. Each month, I would go through the magazines and cut out all of the advertisements and images of models with fashion I liked or found inspirational, then I would pin the most inspiring photos up on my wall. With time, the wall began to fill out and I started keeping a binder packed with various male fashion inspiration photos.

I still keep a visual library now, but it’s almost all digital at this point. Sites like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram make it super easy to save and collect photos relevant to your interests. I have accounts on all three websites and spend 10 – 15 minutes each day browsing my feed and saving or liking fashion images that inspire me. On Pinterest, I segment my pins into different different folders titled with the styles they contain (ex. Female Streetwear, Male Casual, Male Formal). Then I take some time every month to copy my favorite picks to my computer and Dropbox for use in my personal coaching or live seminars.

Outfit grids have become very popular on Pinterest and Instagram recently. Style bloggers and fashion enthusiasts will compile an outfit into a grid like the one below and post it online.

You can also follow individual fashion bloggers like Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist for interesting street fashion from all over the world. Forums like Hypebeast, Style Forum and Style Zeitgeist also offer great What Are You Wearing Today threads where people can post their daily outfits and get feedback. Some of the coolest outfits I’ve seen have come from daily look threads like these.

I highly recommend creating some sort of visual library collection when you’re new to fashion. It’s one of the best ways to train your eye to be able to identify good style. If you make a regular habit of looking at and collecting fashion images, you’ll start to pay attention to subtle details and things you would have never noticed before. Then you can start implementing those things with your own outfits.

Other Sources of Inspiration

Most people think that fashion inspiration has to come from common fashion sources like magazines, blogs, runway shows or the way you see people dressing on the streets. But, you can find inspiration everywhere. In fact, the wider and more varied your sources of inspiration, the more unique your style will be. For example: anime, movies, games and music can all be excellent sources of inspiration for fashion that others aren’t often using.

Anime and Games

Game companies and animation studios employ very skilled concept artists to help them develop their character designs. In movies and games, it’s important to design characters with clothing and features that help convey their personalities. Of course, you usually shouldn’t try to perfectly mimic the wild characters from anime and video games, but studying these outfits can offer a lot of insight into visual communication with your own outfit design. Just remember to use them as inspiration instead of copying them exactly!

You can see some very creative asymmetrical designs on the character art from Final Fantasy shown above. The character Kaneda from Akira (red outfit in the top right above) has a very unique cyberpunk look that communicates a rebellious attitude with a bit of technical flair.

Music and Bands

Western glam rock and Japanese visual kei bands often have a very unique image, with their members sporting flashy and flamboyant outfits designed to draw attention with lots of accessories and makeup help them stand out. Bands like X-Japan and Versailles are great examples of complex and well-crafted visual kei outfits.

You obviously don’t have to be this extreme with your image, but outfits like the one above can provide lots of ideas that you can work into your own outfits (ex. dyed hair, bright accessories or gold trim on a blazer). You can search Pinterest or Google Images for terms like visual kei, ヴィジュアル系 or ホスト系 to find similar outfit inspirations.

Conclusion

Fashion should be a creative and fun form of self-expression. Don’t feel limited to what you see out on the streets. Search for inspiration in all different places. The more unconventional, the better.

Let me know where you find your fashion inspiration in the comments. I’m always curious to know where people get their outfit ideas from 🙂