How to Improve Your Personal Style (Without Going Shopping)

Today we have a guest post of a different flavor, from my friend Megan Collins, creator of the men’s lifestyle site, Style Girlfriend. As somebody who came to learn only recently how important taking a tiny bit of pride in one’s appearance can drastically alter how the day goes, I asked her to put together something for the men and women of the Rebellion and help look damn good in their battle gear without breaking the bank. Take it away Megan!

“We’re not so different, you and I…”

Yes, I’m quoting Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, but also myself. It’s something I (less creepily, I hope?) said to Steve, your Benevolent Rebel Leader, the first time we met here in New York City. My Dr. Evil line to him came from the realization that his mission with Nerd Fitness and mine with Style Girlfriend are the same – we want to help our communities on their epic quests to live better lives.

For me, and for the Style Girlfriend readers who stick around for the self-improvement journey, style is about more than clothes – it’s about empowerment and taking control of the story you tell the world; and you’ve gotta begin somewhere, right? For some, the first step to a new sense of confidence begins by overhauling their fitness regimen; for others, it’s with a closet purge.

The point is that you get started with a single change.

Let’s get this out of the way now: caring about your personal style isn’t silly, superficial, or vain – we know the domino effect that looking and feeling good can have in our lives. First you start exercising once or twice a week to lose a few pounds. You see positive changes in your stamina, your energy levels, and – yes – your body. You hear somebody ask, “did you lose weight?” or “what are you doing? You look great!”

Next thing you know you’re training for an Ironman, you’ve landed a promotion, and you asked out that cute guy/girl you’ve had your eye on for the last 1,000 lattes. What I’m saying is: little changes lead to big results.

The same domino effect is true of leveling up your personal style.

Why? Because the effort you put into your personal style impacts the first (and second, and third…) impression you make to the world.

It’s as simple, and as HUGE, as that.

Most of us don’t realize that we’re ALWAYS communicating, even when we don’t say anything – our appearance and our demeanor do the talking for us.

So what is your appearance saying about you? Taking control of your personal style matters, then, because great style is like having the best wing man or woman ever. Just as every super hero has a costume, we too have a style that conveys who we are and how we should be treated (and how we should treat ourselves!).

Great style – quite literally – makes you look good.

Before you think I’m about to go all Crazy, Stupid Love on you with a pop song-filled montage of credit card debt-inducing shopping trip and head-to-toe makeover, I’m here to tell you that it’s totally possible to improve your personal style without setting foot in the mall.

Here are three ways you can take control of your personal style and boost your confidence today – all without going shopping.

1. Work on your posture

squirrel posture

Improving your posture is a vital – and totally free – step to improving your personal style.

Standing and sitting with your shoulders back, head up, and spine straight – no slouching or hunching – gives you a proven psychological lift and appearance improvement.

Studies have shown that people have a better attitude about themselves – that they, in fact, believe more in themselves – when assuming a confident posture. In her TED talk on body language, social psychologist Amy Cuddy touted the benefits of “power posing” – standing like a superhero who just saved the day (think: hands on hips, chest puffed out), even when we don’t feel confident. Especially when we don’t feel confident.

Remember that “look good, feel good” connection we talked about? When you stand tall, your clothes hang better on you, and you’ll feel better wearing them. When you feel better, your confidence soars. Win-win-win.

So how can you improve your posture in the name of personal style? Well, the fix is two-fold.

First, practice mindfulness and be aware. When you notice yourself slouching, pull your shoulders back, tuck your pelvis underneath you, and pretend there’s an invisible string pulling from the top of your head towards the sky.

Second, don’t forget to strengthen your core when you are at the gym, which keeps your posture in check whether you’re thinking about it or not. Also, if you spend all of your time doing just chest exercises, bro, your shoulders will tend to round forward. Pulling-exercises like pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and bodyweight rows can help you pull your shoulder blades down and back and give you a healthier posture.

Thankfully, it’s easy to incorporate posture-improving exercises into your regular workouts. I like body weight resistance moves like the Cobra posture found in many yoga practices, and the “Superman” where you lay on your stomach then lift your arms and legs off the ground like you’re flying. Mostly because they both sound totally bad*ss.

Of course, you don’t have to go into full workout mode to gain posture-improving benefits. There are plenty of simple moves you can perform while sitting (cough*slouching*cough) at your desk: Try joining your hands together behind you, lacing your fingers, and pulling them down your back. After that, lift your laced fingers up as far as you can without bending forward, keeping your chest open.

2. Clear Out your closet

closet

Quick, can you think of ten things in your closet that make you feel like a million bucks?

It pays to get clear on the contents of your closet – often we overstuff our wardrobes and drawers with so many clothes we never wear (or don’t like) that it can be difficult to put together an outfit we feel good in each morning.

Imagine if Black Widow had to decide what colors she was going to kick ass in before going to save the world. Or if Captain America had 10,000 costumes to choose from? Superheroes keep it simple; they know what works for them, and they stick with the tried and true!

So, how do we figure out what looks good, what has to go, and what would benefit from a few tailoring tweaks? I believe a good closet purge is a must. As a rule of thumb, it’s good to clean your closet at least once a year. In this amount of time, your body, your style, and your wardrobe needs can change dramatically.

Here’s how I recommend you go about the process. Take everything out of your closet and drawers – yes, everything – and stack it all where you can see it. Your bed, the living room couch, the kitchen table…

Then, sort things into three piles:

  • give away
  • tailoring
  • keep

Give Away

Donate or sell the items you know you shouldn’t be wearing anymore – t-shirts riddled with holes, the grungy goods you promise yourself you’ll “only wear around the house,” and then somehow find yourself wearing to the grocery store, and then at the bar. Get rid of ‘em.

Beyond these past-their-prime duds, get rid of clothes, shoes, and accessories you haven’t worn in a year. And I’m not talking about the last time you thought about wearing it, or the last time you remembered you even owned it – the last time you actually (a) put it on, and (b) left the house.

Not sure what you’ve worn recently? Try this: Hang all the clothes in your closet backwards and all the way to the right of the closet (hanger hook facing awkwardly open-mouthed towards you). Every time you wear an item, turn the hanger inwards. Once you wear clothes from your “I wear this” pile, put it away in a drawer. You’ll quickly notice what you wear regularly, and which clothes only keep your closet (or the floor) company.

KEEP

You may ask, “Do I really have take out the clothes I know I’m keeping?” Yes. You’ll be more discerning about what goes back into your newly-pristine closet, carefully considering what deserves a slot on your style team. Also, you may notice that an item needs to be dry cleaned or tailored before it re-enters your wardrobe.

Another benefit? Seeing all your stuff at once helps you think about new ways to wear the clothes you own, which is basically like shopping your closet (See? I told you you didn’t have to go to the mall!).

TAILOR

Having a good tailor is like inputting the Konami Code (you know it) at the beginning of Contra. You don’t NEED one, but damn it makes everything infinitely better. He or she will be your secret weapon and shortcut to great personal style.

Your closet is most likely plagued by at least one ill-fitting item. Probably more. That’s why, like a favorite pizza place or car mechanic, you want to be sure you have a local tailor you can contact. Have you ever purchased clothing off the clearance rack, thinking, “So what if it doesn’t fit perfectly – at this price, it’s a steal!” Well, it’s not such a great deal if it’s never made it out of your closet because every time you put it on, you think, “Oh, riiiiight…this doesn’t really fit.” Then go, “Ah well,” and stuff it right back where you found it.

From an off-the-rack blazer that’s a little long in the arms to a sweater with a snag in the elbow, or a dress that’s poorly fitting in the wrong places, we all own clothes we tell ourselves we’ll wear, but never do. You can’t bring yourself to get rid of the offending items, but now they sit, ignored, in the back of your closet.

Put the Konami Code in! Toss those clothes in the “Tailor” pile, spend the paltry fee to go from ill-fitting to fantastic, and see your wear increase ten-fold.

You’ll feel like you treated yourself to an all-new wardrobe, just by investing a small amount of money into tailoring. For the price of a post-workout smoothie, you’ll bring home clothing that looks like it was made just for you.

[Note from Steve: if you learn ANYTHING in this article, let it be this one. I had never had anything tailored until a few years ago, as I was quite clueless and adamant about “I don’t care what people think about how I dress.” Oh how naive I was. I just wore things off the rack and figured that was it. However, since getting a few things tailored (inexpensively, I might add) to actually fit my body type, I am 100% on Team Tailor.

Let me put it this way: a $10,000 suit or $5,000 dress will look like garbage next to a $150 suit or dress that has been tailored to fit properly. Buy fewer clothes, and spend a few bucks on getting the things you do own to fit right. You can thank me later!]

To find a great tailor, seek out a well-dressed friend (male or female!) and ask them who they take their clothes to for tweaks. If you’re nervous or feel weird about asking an acquaintance, head to a local boutique and ask a salesperson where they send their customers. You’re sure to get a great recco.

3. Give yourself an attitude adjustment

superman-attitude

Most importantly, wrap your brain around the fact that you – yes, you! – deserve to feel good and look damn good too. It helps when you come to terms with the fact that, like it or not, appearance matters, and making a good impression matters!

So consider style through the same lens you use for fitness; namely, be psyched that you’re in 100% control of how you look and feel, and remember that making an effort (even a small one!) begets a big payoff.

Style is not about falling all over yourself for the latest trend. And it’s definitely not about spending all your money on designer labels.

Instead, style is the armor you can put on to take on the day. If you were going to march into your boss’s office and ask for a raise, would you skip your shower that morning and pull a dirty t-shirt out of the hamper? No, you’d wake up early, hit the gym so you felt your best, dress in an outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks, do a power pose in the bathroom, and then go speak confidently.

Putting effort into dressing well won’t automatically get you that raise, but the confidence that dressing well gives you? That’s what makes all the difference. That’s your armor!

Because truly having a positive attitude makes anything you wear look 1,000% better. If you’re nervous about wearing dress pants to the office when you always wear jeans, standing tall in your “power pose” helps. Knowing they fit you well helps. And the mental boost from raking in compliment after compliment from friends, co-workers, and even strangers on the street when you decide to level up your style?

These are the small changes that add up to HUGE results. Before you know it, you are jockeying for that new position, or out on a date with that girl/guy you never thought was possible.

I’ve personally seen those changes in my readers’ lives. If you feel good about yourself, you’re going to want to keep chasing that feeling – by going after a career you love, rather than one you just tolerate. To ask out the most beautiful person in the room. To get in control of your fitness. That confidence impacts your entire life.

So go out there and take control of your personal style today. Once you know how good you can look – without ever having to step foot in the mall – you won’t want to look anything but great, all the time.

To Recap:

  • Work on that posture! Be aware of how you sit and stand.
  • Audit your closet (or whatever word we use).
  • A tailor can make anything you have look good on you!
  • Attitude can be your armor

Men, women: what sort of questions do you have for me about looking damn good and feeling like you deserve it?

-Megan

Megan runs the men’s lifestyle site, Style Girlfriend. No matter your size, age, budget, or where you live, you are entitled to living with style. In a tiny town. On a tiny paycheck. Style is not reserved for those with 6-pack abs and a black Amex.  That’s why Style Girlfriend offers daily tips, tricks, and shortcuts to real guys seeking real advice on how to dress better and gain confidence.  Why? Because when you look good, you feel good.

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  • Amber

    Awesome Article! I’m definitely one of those people who shop on the clearance rack. My job requires me to meet with multiple clients on a daily basis. So I should probably take this advice 😛

    There’s a really good tailor in my area. However, I’m a bit concerned (I prefer to dress in Men’s clothing), about getting mens suits tailored to my body type. Is there certain things I should convey to the tailor when I bring in my dress pants and blazers?

  • JB

    My experience with updating my personal style and advising friends on the same is that most guys buy clothes that are too big for them. There’s a huge improvement to be found in just buying things one size smaller than you think you should. Your tailor can advise on the correct size for dress clothes, suits, etc.

  • Thanks for this reminder — I’m overdue for a closet cleanout.

    “Donate or sell the items you know you shouldn’t be wearing anymore – t-shirts riddled with holes, the grungy goods you promise yourself you’ll “only wear around the house,” then somehow find yourself “wearing to the grocery store” then “at the bar.” Get rid of em.”

    TBH, it’s OK — better, even! — throw away or completely repurpose things that are riddled with holes or super grungy. Thrift shops have to go through all that to get to the resellable stuff, and those of us who have to thrift don’t want to spend what little $ we have holey, grungy things.

    Things like holey-but-clean shirts can be cut up for cleaning rags, and laces from worn out sneakers might still be good for twine. But if a piece of clothing is trashed, it is totally OK to just put it out with the rest of the trash instead of having the people at Goodwill deal with it for you.

  • ElaineR

    Although I’m currently a bigger size than I would like, I find that having pieces of clothing that fit me as my body is NOW, makes me feel way better about myself. I put my skinny-jeans in a under-bed bag for the days when I know I will fit them (my weight fluctuates seasonally it seems) so they aren’t staring me in the face. The only thing that “look” at me from my closet are my current loves.

  • Kat

    This article is super helpful! I plan on going thru my closet this weekend now. I desperately need to buy more clothes since I’ve lost some weight (hooray!) So, how (totally clueless woman here) do other women seem to always have all of their clothes match with each other? Like pick anything and its just magic! With me none of the colors or styles match, I just have a few pieces that match with each other and nothing else. Any tips?

  • PositiveBlue

    I feel your pain on the clueless side of things!
    Two things work for me: 1) I only wear black slacks for work, and thus match all my shirts; 2) My husband has to give a thumbs up on my clothes. It sounds weird but he has better fashion sense than me.
    Maybe grab a friend who can be honest with you.

  • MTangel

    Kat, you might find this Wardrobe Architect blog series helpful: https://blog.colettehq.com/wardrobe-architect (no affiliation, just liked it). It goes through the whole wardrobe, so there’s info on style, shapes, etc. Weeks 5-7 are about selecting a color palette, and Week 10 talks about refining that into a smaller palette for a season/travel.

    I’m still working on this myself, but I find it’s helpful to have the basic neutrals and statement colors that I wear a lot, and then a few accents. That way nearly everything can be mixed and matched. For example, I might wear a short-sleeve navy dress with a soft pink sweater in the fall/winter, but wear it with just a coral or yellow belt in the spring/summer. I use navy as a neutral (I wear it a lot, all year), soft pink as a statement or neutral color (also worn a lot year round), but coral is an accent color – I just have a couple coral things, but they can be worn with all the different neutral colors.

  • Daniel Sheppard

    This is a great article, thank you! I’ve recently had a massive change in my life and gone from chronically fatigued depressive to gym frequenting optimist and I’m looking for anything to help maximise my increasing confidence. This not only gives me new ideas but vindicatea the progress I’ve been making recently 🙂

  • Jill

    I love this! I did a challenge publicly about 2 years ago on IG (@livfit_jill) and I called it #wearyourwardrobe. It was basically wearing everything I owned and only doing essential laundry as needed until I wore pretty much everything I owned. I have a problem where I look at things, and think “they’re still good, I can’t get rid of that” even if I don’t like the way it fits/looks/feels/etc. By forcing myself to wear everything, it made it much easier to get rid or things that no longer worked for me. By the end of the challenge I could easily part with the things that i didn’t want to wear!

  • Brian Self

    Thanks Megan – this is really great!

  • Kim

    I am in the same boat as you with matching clothes to make an outfit. I recently stumbled across Stitch Fix, they are a sort of a mail order personal stylist. They are a little pricier than I would normally buy but the pieces I have are really nice. I always get compliments when I wear something from them. Even if you don’t buy anything, they have some great fashion blogs about how to pair your pieces. Sorry this sounds like a sales pitch but I have found Stitch Fix to be helpful.

  • Jo Weiss

    I don’t see how this would work.. sure its fine if you have already gotten in shape.. but right now there is nothing that is going to make me look good no matter how much i want it to

  • Syed H

    up, up down, down, left, right, left, right B, A, B, A Start!

  • Lindsay Wilcox

    Good question! I totally want to know too!

  • GhostWolf

    This topic is of interest to me, mostly because I don’t understand it.

    I understand all of the individual arguments above, but what stops me is this:

    To thine own self be true.

    I look good okay in a suit or in a button shirt and jacket, but it’s not me — I’m not that kind of guy. I am the guy in the band t-shirt and jeans (or cargo pants, or shorts).

    I’ve heard many many arguments about first impressions, and I know the benefit of dressing nicely for those once-off occurrences (job interviews, dates, etc.) — but it always feels disingenuous to me. I’m creating an impression (this is who I am and these are the clothes I wear) that is not true (they’re not really the clothes I wear).

    I have never been able to find the balance between those concepts.

  • Ryan

    This is often my stumbling block too. As a compromise, I’m working on at least making sure my band/geek t-shirts fit properly (sometimes this means buying a size down for the ones that are cut baggy) and my jeans are smart and rip-free. Throw in a couple of plaid button-down shirts and some leather boots, and you’re good to go. Although I do the whole shirt-and-slacks thing for the office, but that’s not necessarily disingenuous, more like wearing a uniform.

  • GhostWolf

    I chose my career (IT, non customer-facing — I’m a Software Test Manager), in part because it didn’t require a uniform, and no one cared about what you were wearing. What mattered was what you brought to the table, not what you wore to get there.

    My clothes are clean, and they fit (mostly — still working on the body shape there…), but you won’t catch me dressing up except for a special occasion, and even that only goes so far — if something requires a tie, I will boycott.

  • BaldV

    Definitely a different flavor, but a great piece of information that belongs here in Nerd Fitness for sure.
    After all, a fit body would really benefit from fit clothings. Nerds getting fit in all facades of life!

  • Rowan Weber

    I know Purple Heart accepts all clothing because they sell the less impressive clothes by weight for rag content.

  • Eric J. Griffin

    For shirts I need a size that’s halfway in between Medium and Large. Large is too big and Medium is too small. :/

  • JB

    Have you tried different clothing companies? An American Apparel large is smaller (slimmer) than a Hanes large, which might be just right for you. The trend is currently for slimmer fitting clothes, but there’s still a lot of variation. Companies that make looser (classic fit) clothes: Merona and Mossimo (Target’s brands), Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, GAP. Companies that make slimmer clothes: H&M, Express (oh God Express shirts are tight), Abercrombie & Fitch.

    For dress clothes, buy based on the neck and get them tailored. A button up shirt collar should be large enough that you can fit two fingers flat against your neck under the collar. Anything more can start to look a bit 70s.

  • thohan

    I’m a chronic huncher. I’m considering getting one of those anti-hunch fitbit-like things. Or I could just train myself a bit. Ah, we’ll see. I need to give it some thought.

  • It’s important to note that tailoring and dressmaking are two completely different skill sets. Do not take your men’s trousers to a dressmaker for hemming, for instance, or they will come back with a far too narrow hem and hang funny.

  • Also check out different fits. Dress shirts for instance come in fitted, athletic, and classic. The classic is the roomiest, athletic is cut for broad chest and shoulders and a narrow waist, and fitted (some companies call it slim) works best for the more wiry body type.

    I work in the men’s department of the only department store in the tri-county area, and five school districts come to me for their high school dances. I sell a lot of fitted shirts to fifteen-year-old boys who haven’t grown into their height yet.

    For stuff that doesn’t come in different fits, buy the larger size and take it to a tailor to be taken in.

  • Old t-shirts are just about the best thing for cleaning windows. (They work great for cleaning glasses, too.)

    If you’ve got good quality, good condition stuff from nice brands that is the wrong color or could never be made to fit again, take it to a consignment shop and get some of your investment back.

  • Almost nothing requires a tie anymore, unless you’re in someone else’s wedding and they tell you you have to wear one. Even then you wear it for the ceremony and the pictures and then are free to take it off at the reception.

    There’s no shame in being a casual sort of person and leading a casual lifestyle. Casual clothes in the right colors and cuts will make you look every bit as good as a three-piece suit.

  • Chicago Teacher

    Having clothes that fit properly, no matter your size, will make you look and feel better. I know this from personal experience. A lot of bigger people think that wearing baggy clothes masks their size, but doing that just makes you look bigger. Fortunately, today there are a lot of stores which have larger sizes that are stylish and not expensive. You are worthwhile no matter what your size, and you deserve to look the best you can today. Don’t wait until you have gotten in shape.

  • Stuart Blessman

    Do you have any advice on dealing with incongruity with style? As you can see from my avatar, I tend to look more lumberjacky but doughy, having gone from 335 to 280 in the past year while starting heavy lifting, and I find my look and style does not reflect at all who I am inside, someone who is into rock music, tats (but doesn’t have a single one), heavy lifting, nerd stuff like video games and scifi, cooking, urban exploration and trail hiking, etc.

    Finding myself at a bit of a crossroads now that I have so many more clothing options (46w to 38w, 3XL to XL), a little money each month for clothes, and need to basically rebuy my entire wardrobe so it fits properly for the next few months til it gets too loose again. I’d say my basic look up til now has been “fits and cheap”, mostly jeans, tshirts, and hoodies, and all dark muted colors…of which I’m tired of.

  • Jo Weiss

    its not easy finding bigger girl clothes that fit properly, especially on a budget. I don’t live in a big city, and i am in canada…there is only one ‘fat ladies store’in our city lol… so that means ordering alot online.. which is a bit of a guessing game. if i get a pair of jeans that even remotely fit i wear them until they fall apart

  • Jo Weiss

    very much agree.. i am happiest in my hobbit t-shirt and jeans.. i don’t think i have worn a skirt since highschool

  • Deborah

    Thank you for this article. I didn’t think of a tailor to fix things up. I’ve been doing the closet cleanse. I started on Ash Wednesday, giving away a piece of clothing every day. It actually feels cleansing. I can donate the close to help other people and then right it off on my taxes. Win, win.

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  • Omee

    This sure is helpful! But its also very much important to improve confidence as it plays a huge role in your personal style! To be honest no confidence means that you don’t have the heart to keep your style alive! Here are 10 Awesome Ways To Gain Confidence: http://goo.gl/aiVKGq

  • Eric J. Griffin

    Thanks for the tips. I’m tall and lanky but a little on the muscular side (broad shoulders, big chest). I haven’t shopped much at those stores. I will check them out. I like to wear band shirts, but they don’t always fit well. I think a medium fits me well up top, but after it shrinks in the wash, the shirt tail is too short and doesn’t fully cover my lower torso. I don’t have that problem with the Large, but it usually flares out at the bottom and looks too baggy. It’s like I am wearing a mini baby doll dress. I guess I just need to drink more beer until my beer gut pokes out enough to fill out the shirt. 😉

  • Eric J. Griffin

    Thanks for the tips, guys. I’m tall and lanky but a little on the muscular side (broad shoulders, big chest). I haven’t shopped much at those stores. I will check them out. I like to wear band shirts, but they don’t always fit well. I think a medium fits me well up top, but after it shrinks in the wash, the shirt tail is too short and doesn’t fully cover my lower torso. I don’t have that problem with the Large, but it usually flares out at the bottom and looks too baggy. It’s like I am wearing a mini baby doll dress. I guess I just need to drink more beer until my beer gut pokes out enough to fill out the shirt. 😉

  • Hi Amber, for some reason I never made it to the comments section here! I would bring in photos of people wearing clothing the way you like it to be tailored. Similar to taking a picture of a celebrity haircut to the hair salon, this will give the tailor a good sense of exactly what you’re looking for. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Link, I made a comment to Amber above. Be sure to check it out!

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