Developing a Signature Look: The Complete Guide {Part I}

How to create your own signature look: The complete guide
How to create your own signature look: The complete guide

A signature look is the holy grail of personal style. It is the icing on a refined, well-curated wardrobe, but at the same time the best starting point for any style journey. Whether you are a complete beginner or a curating pro, this guide will show you how to design, shape and refine your signature look from the ground up.

After the 17 Iconic Signature Looks post you guys sent me a lot of questions and also requests for a more hands-on guide on finding your own signature look. Signature looks are really such a key concept - they deserve more than just a quick round-up post, they need a proper introduction. To answer all of your questions I've prepared a little two-part mini series: A complete guide to signature looks and how to create them. This first post will cover the WHY: Why should you create a signature look and what qualifies as a signature? The second part will be all about the HOW: A 4-step guide to designing your own, unique signature look. To illustrate the steps a bit better, I will also show you a complete example of the process: From the initial style concept to the final look. On we go...


What is a signature look?

Your signature look (or uniform) is the flagship look of your own personal style. It should represent its core elements, the essence of your style, all in one outfit. Your signature look is the outfit people picture you wearing when they think of you, and your one and only look if you were a cartoon/fairytale/pixar character.

Having a signature look is not a new concept. Pretty much every single style icon, from Cleopatra to Jackie O to Sophia Coppola had or has a strong signature, one that emphasizes their public persona and expresses their aesthetic ideals. In fact, except for Kate Moss who is a total chameleon and a clear exception, having a defined signature look is very much a prerequisite to becoming a style icon. Think Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Jones, Carine Roitfeld, Diane von Fürstenberg, Frida Kahlo and countless others.

So... why is a signature look such a clear sign of great personal style?

Reason 1: When it comes to concepts, be it a style concept, a character in a book/film, a story line, a brand identity or an art installation: Definition equals quality. You want a clear, razor-sharp definition of what concept/character/brand X stands for. Not a wishy-washy concept that is a little bit of everything and therefore not really anything.

Reason 2: Having a signature look signifies a considerable amount of self-knowledge: you know what you like, who you are and what suits you. This confidence or rather, authenticity, enhances what you are trying to express through your look and makes it all the more powerful.

Even if you have no aspiration to be a style icon, creating a signature look is an important step on any curating journey, whether you want to refine your own personal style because you love fashion as a creative outlet or are just trying to build a more functional wardrobe. Let me repeat what I said in the intro of this post because it is super important:

You do not need a fully developed, stable personal style concept in order to create a signature look - so don’t worry if you are not 100% or even 30% sure about what you like and what your style is. The mere process of designing your look will catapult you miles forward it’s the best shortcut to style and a functional wardrobe that I know of.

Here’s why:


Why create a signature look?

FORM: As a shortcut to personal style

To develop a signature look you really have to dig deep into your aesthetic preferences and likes and separate essential components from those that just dilute or distract. All of this digging will not only help you refine your overall personal style, but also improve your own creative awareness and confidence.

FUNCTION: As a shortcut to a functional wardrobe

Ever heard of the 80/20 principal? We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Even if your own wardrobe situation is a little more balanced than that, having a signature look will help you get that crucial 20% 100% right. It is the ultimate fast-track to a functional wardrobe because once you have found a look that you truly love, you can focus on optimizing that section of your wardrobe and create a versatile mix-and-match system. Of course, having a signature look is also the perfect remedy for hectic mornings and makes packing for trips a lot easier!

- One common response I get from readers when I rave about signature looks is this: "I prefer simple, understated clothes. My style is far too boring to create a signature look and I also don't want to commit to wearing the same outfit over and over again." If that sounds like you, read on:


Two misconceptions about Signature Looks

Scroll back up to the top of this post and look at the main image again. The quadrant represents the four possible combinations of the extremes of two often misunderstood features of signature looks: Their level of boldness vs understatement and their level of definition.

Misconception 1: Signature looks are bold

Misconception 2: Having a signature looks means wearing the same exact outfit over and over again

Although either of the above can be true, neither is a must. If that’s your style then your signature look can definitely be bold and expressive (like Isabella Blow's and Janelle Monae's), but it can also be understated, minimalist and casual (like Grace Coddington's and Charlotte Gainsbourg's). You can also decide how closely you want to define your signature look: be super specific and create your signature look around a specific set of items that you wear a lot with only minor variations (like Isabella and Grace) or come up with a more loose formula that you can implement with a few different items for greater variety (like Janelle and Charlotte)- it’s up to you! Be an Isabella Blow or a Charlotte Gainsbourg or anything in between.


Click here to read Part II of 'Developing a Signature Look: The Complete Guide': How to create your own unique signature look in four steps.