The Three-Word Method To Find Your Personal Style

Honing your personal style saves you money, time, and angst if you’re anything like me. For example, if you put a perfectly lovely outfit together, but something feels off, it could be that the message your outfit is sending is not in line with how you want to look. If this has ever happened to you, it may help to know how to use the three-word method to find your personal style.

This concept has been around forever with varying numbers of words. I helped my clients narrow down their style using three words over 20 years ago. Tibi founder Amy Smilovik has been putting her spin on the three words style formula for several years on her IG channel. In 2016, influencer Chriselle Lim described it as her go-to way to put her outfits together. Stylist Alison Bornstein has recently added her interpretation to the discussion on her TikTok channel.

woman wearing white buttondown and jeans on street

how does the three-word Method help you find your personal style?

Once you decide on your three words, they become the formula you use to create outfits and refer to before you add items to your closet. These three words describe not only how you like to look but also a feeling you aspire to. Knowing what will work seamlessly into your wardrobe makes it easier to put an outfit together that really feels like you.

How do you find your three style words?

Start with what you already own because it’s a good road map to discover the things you’re attracted to. Most people tend to buy multiples of what they love, and that’s a clue to your first word. Take the pieces that you always reach for out of your wardrobe and lay on the bed or hang on a rack. What do these pieces have in common? Are they structured? Floral or solids? Is the fabric woven or knit? Loose and flowy? Try to narrow down what these garments have in common. What are the silhouettes like, and how colorful are the fabrics? Find a word that describes these favorites.

It also helps to start a mood board on Pinterest and save images you’re attracted to.

If you choose a common term like classic or boho or sporty as your overreaching first word, dig deeper for more descriptive terms to modify your version of it.

Sign up to receive new posts delivered to your email with fresh style and exclusive content just for subscribers

Three-word method – your second word

Once you have your overall style word, look at your lifestyle to help choose your second word. So many of us buy garments for a lifestyle we aspire to rather than live. If your lifestyle is very casual, a wardrobe filled with structured blazers, floaty dresses, or fragile fabrics isn’t going to serve you well. Could comfortable be one of your words? How about easy or effortless, which could translate to pull-on styles without zippers and buttons?

Could buttoned-up or tidy be your second word? How about unique or striking? You’re looking for words that have feelings and meaning for you. How about whimsical, sweet, oversized?

There is no end to the words you can use to describe your style because this is very personal. Your version of classic or boho will differ from another woman’s because of how it makes you feel. For example, if you have many classic blazers and shirtdresses, one of your words could be structured or fitted.

Find Your third word

Your third word is about how you want to feel. Who do you want to be? This is the aspirational part of your style recipe and the most personal. Do you want to feel classy, pretty, or strong? Because this part is highly personal, asking your friends or family for advice isn’t helpful here. Keep digging and trying new words until it feels right. There are no rules, and you can use any words that resonate with you.

How to Use Your Three Word Style Formula

Your three-word personal style formulas will change and flow as your life, and you change. The play between these three style words makes your style unique. It keeps you from having a wardrobe full of boring pieces that don’t make you happy. When you want to add a garment to your closet, run it through the filter of your three words. Does it work for all three? If not, move on until you find something that does. Using this formula will help us all hone our style, buy less, and be happier with our wardrobe.

Brands you enjoy

The brands you like to shop can also be helpful. What words would you use to describe their esthetic?

Brands like Eileen Fisher and J. Jill are predominantly unstructured, soft, in neutral and subdued colors, relaxed, and unbuttoned. Talbots and Ann Taylor focus more on structure, color, pattern, and details. Ann Taylor is also decidely ladylike, which could be one of your words. Anthropologie is heavily creative, with patterns in structured and unstructured pieces. Fun, flowery, edgy, and textured come to mind.

The inclination to increase the number of words in your style recipe may feel irresistible, but it can also confuse the issue, and three ends up being easier in the long run.

woman wearing blazer and knit jumpsuit

You may also enjoy- How To Find Your Personal Contrast Level And Why It Matters

Where I am in this process

I love flowing shapes, asymmetry, drapey pants, and soft, unstructured knits, but that’s not what I reach for most often in my wardrobe. My body is quite structured, which may be why they aren’t worn as often as my bootcut jeans and white button-down shirts. My Pinterest board is filled with neutral outfits in simple, minimalistic shapes, so I’m mulling my words over and narrowing things down. So far, I have classic, easy, and polished…but they’re not set in stone because structured, simple, elegant, and minimalistic also appeal to me. I have more work to do.

What style words are you leaning toward that have feelings attached to them? Let’s start a list of words to help each other along this process.

Thanks for reading, and remember to wear what makes you feel confident.

 

 

SHOP MY LOOKS

CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO SHOP THE ITEMS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

80 Comments

  1. Marlene Freelove says:

    Great article love your definition for style.

  2. My three words are: Classic (being a timeless blend of vintage and current designs) / Creative (chosen with a dash of uniqueness) / Polished (with elevated simplicity). Super exercise, Jennifer! -Brenda-

  3. Now that I’m retired with white hair I aspire to be visible, not loud with a look-at-me-vibe but I do not wish to be invisible or overlooked. Maybe visible is a subcategory of confident. Still working on this. Thanks for all your thoughtful information.

    1. Visible yes! Strong, visible, memorable, striking…lots to think about there, Nancy

  4. Thank you for a thought provoking question. I’m still processing, but currently working on:

    Classic – Cuts, neutral colors, solids.
    Easy – Easy to wear without pinching, pulling, squeezing. Easy to care for – little dry cleaning, not fragile. Easy to wardrobe with existing pieces in my closet.
    Confident – Makes me want to stand up straight, throw my shoulders back and walk into the day!

    1. Those are great. Can you drill down “confident” any further? Strong, capable, powerful…?

  5. I think my 3 words would be Timeless, Sporty and Confident. That’s what I want out of most everything I wear and how I want to feel.

  6. My words are comfortable, easygoing and classy. But not tooooo casual, so I’m also thinking classic and feminine. A work in process for sure.

    1. A work in progress for me too.

  7. I love this and I’m interested in following your journey. I have been working on this through a course online.
    I haven’t gotten down to 3 words though. My course allows 5 to 6. I have about 8! But, I like what you say above, in that our words will change and we change. My top 3 are Pretty, Polished and Comfortable.
    My dilemma is, I like so many things, but if I take a hard look at my closet full of clothes, they’re not that dissimilar.
    Favorite places to shop are Chico’s and Talbot’s. I also shop QVC; Susan Graver, Isaac Mizrahi and some pieces from Lori Goldstein. Occasionally I’ll shop at Loft/Ann Taylor, J Jill and WHBM and I’ve recently discovered I like the Nic and Zoe brand.
    I’m going to go back and click on and listen to all the links you listed! Thanks Jennifer!

    1. 8 would be too confusing for me. Get your number one, and live with it for a while before you look further. Try this….don’t look at your whole closet, just the 3-4 things you’d grab in a fire to wear for a month. Those are your core pieces

      1. Thank you!

  8. Debbie Gott says:

    Hey … I really enjoy your posts and especially the one today. I chose my 3 words pretty quickly – effortless, simple and fun. I found one of you pics at the very end of today’s post especially right for me. It was the very last pic of a block of pictures that was an all white 3 piece linen ensemble that included 2 Eileen Fisher pieces and one that wasn’t named. I found the long tunic top on EF but I don’t know which EF pants you were wearing or where the tank came from. I want it all!
    Can you give me those other two details please???

    1. They are all from Eileen Fisher. If you click that photo, it will bring up links to all three pieces.

  9. It is really hard to whittle down to 3 adjectives. I’ve been trying for awhile now to do 5 and just can’t do it. 🙄. I’m all over the place. Basically, I feel my clothes for the day’s activities. Although, my favorite places to splurge (i.e. gifts 😉) are Peruvian Connection, Sundance, and sometimes Loft. What adjectives might come from those stores?
    A process of changes…🤔😊

    1. Artistic, unique, relaxed, soft, colorful, calm? Try to get the overriding one first and then test some adverbs against it. Another tip may be to look for antonyms you know do not work for you.

  10. This is an interesting post. I have referred to my style as Restrained Boho for awhile now. I use the boho artistry for maybe one piece of an outfit. Novelty print blouse or colorful maxi skirt. I’m going to have to work on that third word. Nearly everything I own comes from JJill or Eileen Fisher or Anthropologie. I have some unique Artful Home pieces, too. I just know that whatever I wear needs to make me happy, or I will be uncomfortable the whole day.

    1. It’s a fun exercise. Restained is an interesting word. Could that be drilled down? You sound fun, Kay.

      1. I loved this exercise and carried it around in my head for a day before choosing words. I will probably change them again because the definitions I use are too personal. For example, “movable” is the second word because i like clothes I can move in easily. Few belts, no tailored jackets. Perhaps that could be “unstructured “ but that word makes me think of kids on summer vacation.

      2. Lol, I see what you mean by unstructured. My words are shifting too as I get a better fit and feeling for them. I love this process.

  11. Janice in Ky says:

    Classic, Unique, Feminine would be my three words. I’m a cool winter according to that exercise. My closet is very colorful but also contains the basic black, navy and white. I add very colorful inexpensive statement necklaces, jewelry and scarves to my outfits.
    At 73, I’m old school, I have to have things match or blend. When we do get to go out, I’m usually the most dressed up one in the place. That is ok, I’ve have these nice things and I want to wear them.

    1. Always being the most dressed up is one of my things too. To me, that may mean polished, meticulous, or formal; many words come to mind.

  12. Thank you for this post. I retired in the early days of COVID and and went on to complete a weight loss journey. With all that I got rid of most of my clothes and have been starting over from scratch. It’s been slow going to figure out what I want with my lifestyle changes, and this post will definitely help me.

    1. I’m so glad this helps. How you want to feel and look is such an important component.

  13. I think this will be a good exercise for me, but not a simple as I first thought. One problem is I have too many cloths and it seems like my style random. So far I come up with “feminine” . I’ll keep working at this.

    1. It’s not easy, and I am struggling with mine too. What type of feminine? Try to distill that further. Is it delicate, girly, soft, sexy, gentle?

  14. Thank you, Jennifer. Great post. I am leaning toward:
    1. Vibrant
    2. Active
    3. Elegant
    That probably sounds contradictory, although the brands in my closet break down into REI, Patagonia, LL Bean alongside Cabi, Habitat, Joules, and a few other brands that are both pretty and elegant. And yes, probably to the horror of both sides of those aisles, I do mix and match pieces from each side. Also, regardless of whether I am reaching for active or elegant, it is always colorful — another contradiction.
    This has been fun to ponder. Thank you again.

    1. Contradictory is a good thing because it will give your look more punch…if that makes sense.

  15. Thanks Jennifer. I find the “Brands you Enjoy” paragraph helpful. I see the Talbots label on repeat in my closet .
    I guess leaning me toward CLASSIC, Also
    NATURAL perhaps as I have some Eddie Bauer for my outdoor activities and hiking that I have increased since retiring…….
    Hmmm

  16. This is a really great way to start figuring out my style. I’ve always known casual and classic styles are usually what I reach for. I like neutral outfits too. Guess I have more work to do!

  17. Off the top of my head, I would have to say Casual, Minimal and Classic. I wear mostly jeans or chinos with a simple top ( white button down, simple tee, sweater). I rarely wear the third piece ( blazer, kimono, cardigan) although I do like scarves when the weather cools. I owe multiple coats/jackets because during cold periods that is what most people see. I love footwear and own way too many pairs.
    I’ll have to give this more thought. 🤔

    1. It’s a fun exercise. Minimal certainly sounds like it works in to your description. I’m wondering if that works for me too because of the way my taste is changing.

  18. Grandma Judy says:

    Great idea!! This will keep my brain busy for the next few days! Lol!

  19. Thanks for this exercise, Jennifer.
    I am in my seventies and about 15 lbs overweight. Working on it!
    I often find that I am guilty of buying things that end up hanging in my closet without
    ever being worn. I put them on but, take them off again.
    I am hoping this exercise will help me with this.
    So far I have come up with Comfortable. Easy and Classy.
    I know…they need more work, they seem to contradict each other. lol

    1. It’s good to have them contradict each other. That makes your style more dynamic and unique! I totally see those three words working together

  20. I like that idea of actually thinking about and then writing down the three words .

    Casual chic , classic, ageless
    If I stay with what I truly like ,I will be happy with the clothes and actually wear them .

  21. Catherine says:

    I have tried to do this so many times but I am trying again! I went with relaxed, colourful, classy. I have this image in my head of how a classy pant suit wearing woman dresses for a the weekend in the country. Only I want the weekend look for the work week too! Still working on those three words! Thanks. It is so important for us to really learn our unique style!

    1. Can you drill down the relaxed? Unstructured, fitted, loose, knit? Your “image” sounds like it might involve polished, classic. Pantsuit wearing is very interesting.

  22. Jennifer, this is a great starting point for helping me get a handle on my closet organizing and future purchases. Thank you for sharing this. I’m ready to pull out my favs, then on to the words!

    1. That’s fun! I’m really enjoying this process too

  23. What fun! My three words are: Elegant, Feminine, Serene.
    Thanks for sharing this great exercise. Looking forward to reading other people’s words.

    1. Serene is lovely! How does that look for you. Is your elegant-refined, simple, clean,put together, luxurious? It’s so fun to dig in deeper.

  24. Perfect timing for me as our life has changed dramatically. We’re now actively helping raise our grandchildren— very different from my corporate job. So far I’ve got 1) Comfortable 2) Casual 3) Polished. Still working on it! Please keep helping us this way!

    1. That is a big change! Bless you for taking that on at this time of life. Can you drill down the casual any further? Relaxed, easy care, detail-free, simple?

      1. I can’t let this exercise go 😎. You challenged me to rethink casual and I now think Versatile makes more sense. I have Comfortable Versatile and Polished. I’m rethinking Polished as I read through others comments and words. I’m looking for something that describes ‘put together’ and feminine. This is a great exercise!

      2. I love versatile. I’m digging deeper into my version of “casual” because it doesn’t tell enough of my story. This is really fun.

  25. This was a fun exercise. I think I did find my 3 words which I am happy with.
    Styles are very casual today but still can be dressed up or down. This is definitely the me.
    Thanks Jennifer for this exercise.
    1. Traditional, 2. Casual and 3. Classy

    1. Can you drill traditional down further? That’s pretty generic. I think if traditional as subdued, familiar, common, conventional. What makes it traditional?

      1. Something that is in style always. And always looks fabulous. Maybe should have said classic.

  26. I love this article and will start on my 3 words today. I have recently moved and have a different a better walk in closet set up so this should help me. But I live alone and have my other clothes in the other guest bedroom closet as well. I do like classic fits and I understand about picking out the same styles again & again. Time for some change! Thanks for the tips!

    1. Have fun! We’ll talk about this more.

  27. This is a very interesting and timely article. I’ve been playing with what I want my style to be for the future for the last 2 years, and it is still evolving.
    My hair (now white and curly) has changed the way I feel I should dress and what I feel suits me. I craved bright colours for the last 2 years (thank you Covid and cancer) but now I am leaning towards a more elegant (black & white, greys with colour as an accent) wardrobe. Not surprising as this is how I have dressed most of my life. I have always loved unique and bold pieces and will continue with that. If I think back over all the white shirts I’ve bought, there has always been something a bit different, whether it’s an asymmetric or cuff detail. Pure classic is too boring for me, so I always need something to add a bit of drama. My friends have always described me as elegant.
    If I had to choose 3 words today it would be CLASSIC, UNIQUE, SOPHISTICATED. But that could change LOL.
    Other words to consider… Elegant, bold, dramatic, modern, minimalist, timeless.

    1. Your whites shirts are an interesting point. I love all the terms you mentioned. How do the shirts make you feel? Special? Striking? Strong?

      1. Striking is a good word. Also Confident. I like to stand out and be noticed. Must go back to my early days modelling 🙂

      2. I love those!

  28. Jeanne Claire says:

    This is fabulous advice! We just finished some remodeling and I now have a walk in closet just for me. It’s not large so I’ve been going through clothes keeping only what I love that will fit in the closet. It’s been a great exercise and I can’t wait to really look at what I’ve put in there to help me determine my three words. Thanks so much for this blog!

    1. I have a tiny closet too. I’m sort of excited about narrowing mine down as well. Being a fashion blogger has really moved my style all over the map!

  29. I’ve been mulling this over for quite a while now, since I retired. I think I have finally settled on casual, comfortable and creative.

    1. Are they working for your wardrobe?

  30. Gwen Ewing says:

    Great points! I definitely buy clothes for a lifestyle I don’t really have! Although I can dress this way, I seem eccentric to people. But, sometimes I love dressing up! Boring and frumpy really gets me down.