Fact: Personal Style Develops As You Change and Grow

This month on Who What Wear, we’re celebrating freedom of expression through style—unpacking how women break away from what they understand as ‘normal’, and develop their own unique style. Earlier this month I opened up about my own approach to style, and why it’s so important to me. My goal is to encourage you, our readers, to feel inspired to take risks and break away from what you understand as ‘normal’. I love reading about women with great style, and my guess is I’m not the only one.

I asked some of Australia’s most stylish women to open up about their personal style—how it’s evolved, whether they feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, and how moving cities has influenced the way they dress.

Read on to discover how Elle Ferguson, Chloe Hill, Montarna McDonald (and more!) think about their personal style. My hope is that you feel inspired to start a new Pinterest board, and really think about your style story.

 

 

How has your personal style developed over the years?

I'd like to say at heart I'm still that eclectic girl that's lives by the beach, but over the years my style has found it's groove. It's a funny thing with launching the Elle Effect as I always seem to put the Elle Effect on everything I wear. If it's a long dress I make it shorter, if it's a top I'll wear it backwards—I never seem to wear anything the 'right' way. 

You’ve moved cities a few times—how does where you live affect the way you dress?

I think the weather plays a huge factor... but also when I was based primarily in the city for work surrounded by 'office people' I found I wore a lot more blazers and heels to work but always back with denim and lots of Babyanything jewellery. These days I work for myself so the best part is I can wear whatever I like. Some days I'm head-to-toe hippy and other days I'm in active gear all day!

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I lived in a coastal town growing up and commuted to school and university in Sydney so I was exposed to everything. My mum also studied fashion design and our home was filled with glossy fashion magazines so we could dress however we wanted whenever we wanted. I guess you could say we broke every rule thanks to my mum!

How do you express yourself through your style?

Style is like art—you know how I'm feeling when you see the way I dress. The other day I was head-to-toe all black, then another all florals. There are good days and bad. 

Follow Elle Ferguson of Elle Effect on Instagram.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

I think my personal style has developed alongside my  changing interests over the years. When I was studying graphic design I was really into colours and creating structure and shapes. Nowadays my style is quite relaxed. I like to stay classic with a hint of something unexpected. 

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? 

I think growing up by the coast has influenced my style quite a bit. Not really aesthetically, but rather more remaining relaxed and comfortable. I never really wear heels, I much prefer going more Mary-Kate with my jeans and thongs.

Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I remember when skinny jeans came into style, I was about 11. My mum bought me a pair and I refused to trade them in for my bedazzled blue flares. I felt naked in them. I also was part of the girl gang obsessing over Supre, I fell for for the black leggings and tight coloured singlets. I couldn’t stand walking out and seeing another cute tween dressed in the same leggings and pink singlet, so I’d layer up three or four coloured tops and style them so you’d see every colour, ha! 

I never wear what I don’t feel comfortable in—so therefore I never really do conform to a trend just for the sake of it. Why look like everyone else? As soon as I notice something coming in hot and heavy as a trend I do try and steer away from it. 

How do you express yourself through your style?

I see myself having a quiet confidence, I think  I somewhat express this through my the way I dress. I’ll always add something to my outfit that wouldn’t quite be expected. 

Follow Bella Thomas on Instagram.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

Let’s just say I used to be a lot more experimental. I’d wear crazy colours and headbands, change my hair colour and cut all the time, I had my BACK pierced… To my year 12 formal I wore a lemon-yellow cotton dress with cut-outs from Shakuhachi and a pair of bright blue pumps, in an era where everyone was still purchasing prom dresses. I thought I was so progressive…

Now, thankfully my approach to style is more refined. I wear a lot of black and neutrals in natural fabrics and denim. I know what works for my body and in the context of my life. It’s more about function, comfort and ease.

I definitely identify as a minimalist. Less is more. Though, in saying that, my favourite piece in my entire wardrobe is a Gucci Sequinned Hoodie, I wear it on every flight. So I guess my style still boasts an occasional element of EXTRA.

You’ve moved cities multiple times—how does where you live affect the way you dress?

I mean, there are the obvious seasonal factors. Before I moved to New York I didn’t own a coat and when I am at home in Australia because I live on the beach and outside of the city; bare feet, denim cut-offs and swimsuits are on high-rotation. The most obvious effect on my wardrobe of splitting time between two places is being a minimalist, not only in terms of aesthetic but in volume. I have a pretty tight edit on both, because nobody likes hauling-arse from one side of the world to the other with excess luggage.

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I’ve never felt the need to conform, and have always done my own thing when it comes to fashion. I looked outside of my postcode for style cues, and I use the word ‘style’ loosely when I say always identified with the tomboy girl in movies like It Takes Two and The Parent Trap and copied how Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins dressed, chewed their gum, and spoke. That said, I love how Australians dress. I think we have the most in-tune sense of style to lifestyle, of anywhere in the world.

How do you express yourself through your style?

To intellectualise your personal style, I think you need to take a look at your personality. I know many aspects of my personality are conflicting, for instance—I am relaxed and chill, but also ambitious and assertive—with a really strong sense of self. I think my approach to style is reflective of that, in that is considered, confident, but not fussy. I like everything to feel effortless.  

Follow Chloe Brinklow of Tomboy Beauty on Instagram.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

I’ve learnt to dress more and more for myself over the years. I care so much less about what others think and instead I pick outfits based on my own comfort and enjoyment. Because of that I’ve embraced more colour and prints, also silhouettes which are wearable instead of trying hard to look cool or sexy. 

You’ve moved cities multiple times—how does where you live affect the way you dress?

I alway try to respect the local culture, so while my style remains intrinsically the same there are aspects I tweak depending on where I am living at the time. For example, in Milan I veer towards more sophisticated silhouettes like midi skirts and dressier shoes. While in New Zealand I tone it down a little with more casual combos like coloured jumpers with jeans.

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I think most teenagers try to conform to some extent, it’s human nature to want to be accepted. I recall being laughed at a few times in high school for my more outrageous outfits! The most conflicting part of getting dressed growing up was that I didn’t like overtly sexy outfits and I couldn’t achieve the uber-glam, dead-straight-hair Millennium look which was so cool at the time. I remember finding that really hard. I believe it made me stronger in the long run though—I really was forced to embrace my own look.

How do you express yourself through your style?

I wear pieces that mirror my passions, colours that make me happy and prints which convey feelings of excitement or nostalgia. I always hope when people see me the emotions rub off on them too!

Follow Chloe Hill of Cool Pretty Cool on Instagram.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

Travel has definitely influenced my personal style— different countries and cultures have exposed me to new trends and tastes. I like to think I bring back a fresh twist on my look from each destination.

Working in fashion from a very young age has hopefully rubbed off on me well, and being surrounded by beautiful clothes and incredible designs has shaped my style choices.

My friends tell me I’m a 'fashion magpie'—so I’m trying to work on being more strategic in my wardrobe rather than swooping in and buying the first thing that catches my eye.

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

Growing up I went to an all-girls school so you had to conform. We weren’t allowed to wear nail polish, hair had to be worn up, even our socks had to be the right height. When I left school it felt amazing to have the freedom to look and dress how I wanted, and my individuality grew even more when I started working in media and communications within the fashion industry. This was a working environment where rather than blending in, people were encouraged to be bold and experiment with their personal style. I had definitely found my niche. Work also gave me the financial freedom to save up for the clothes and accessories on my wish list, and this motivated me to work harder.

How do you express yourself through your style?

I dress for my mood and what I’ve got going on each day. If I’m working on a shoot at a pub I’ll wear something different to what I’d wear for a busy day in the office, or a refined look that I’ll choose for client meetings. I’d say my personal style is eclectic veering more towards the masculine side – I do take risks and I’m not afraid of wearing colour. My favourite designers are always changing but current loves are Re/Done denim, Celine, Chanel, Albus Lumen, Christopher Esber and Posse. For me, getting dressed in the morning is never just ‘throwing something on’—I love the ritual of choosing an outfit from my wardrobe and pairing it with accessories based on the day’s events. I like my outfits to look considered but understated and effortless.

Follow Montarna McDonald of The Audience Agency on Instagram

 

How has your personal style developed over the years?

Jobs I've had have definitely impacted the way I dressed, I went from PR and Comms at ModelCo, where I often wore a heel, to Stylerunner and then P.E Nation where trainers and leggings were totally acceptable—in fact, they were encouraged! I struggled with that a bit as activewear to me had always only been worn for working out. However, I soon realised I just needed to do me. I've always been pretty simple when it comes to my style—black and denim play a huge role in my wardrobe but I like to think I've become more refined as I've grown older. I'm less of a risk-taker and tend not to buy into trends—because they often don't work for my shape—and stick to what makes me feel good.

You’ve moved cities multiple times—does where you live affect the way you dress?

Absolutely! Especially this last move. I grew up by the beach in New Zealand, studied in Auckland and then Wellington, moved to Sydney and now to Byron Bay. Up here, there is a lot of linen, natural fibres and wide leg pants but I would probably describe myself as a bit more urban—lots of black, leather, shirts and denim. I love a simple tee, jeans and a pair of heeled ankle boots but anything with a heel feels a bit 'dressed up' here. The fact that I work from home has also played a huge role in the way I dress. I'm still trying to find my mojo up here.

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I feel like I was influenced a lot by my friends growing up. My mum and sister weren't ever really interested in fashion so I turned to friends for trends and style advice throughout my teenage years. Once I got to uni, I felt like my personal style developed a bit more, though my bank account never allowed me to dress how I'd really like to. Though I am a summer baby through and through, winter fashion is my jam. Jeans, jumpers and trench coats; layers and boots make me so happy! I worked in retail while I was studying and it was here that I was introduced to a lot of Australian labels—sass & bide and Ksubi were both regulars in my wardrobe. When I first moved to Sydney I found it very, well, 'Sydney'. A lot of skin, high heels and full faces of makeup. These days, there is always something new coming out—a lot of the time I see it, bookmark it and think I want it, then refer back to my Pinterest board to bring me back to what I think is my 'true self'. I've realised that having a 'signature' doesn't have to be boring. A simple tee with an unexpected detailing, like my fave Kacey Devlin Collapse Back Tee ($160) can take jeans to a more elevated level and even just nailing the right cut of jeans not only makes you look great, but brings an air of confidence with it.

How do you express yourself through your style?

The environment I'm in definitely changes how I express myself. If I'm down in Sydney on a work trip then meeting up with my friends for dinner, I always like to make a bit of an effort. I'll always throw on a statement piece—whether it's a detailed blazer, boot or heel, earring or a red lip. I like to feel comfortable and fairly minimal, but polished. I feel like style for me has also moved on from just fashion and is more centred around my home. The trouble is, I'm back in that limbo stage that I felt at uni—I know what my style is but I can't quite afford it just yet, haha!

Follow Kelly Muller of Kelly Muller Consulting on Instagram 

How has your personal style developed over the years?

It’s developed pretty significantly, in terms of how I put myself together, caring about quality pieces etc. However, it really is still always changing. I think I’ve said before, my style is so dependent on so many things. What I have access to, the weather, who I am around, what’s clean. It’s always kind of stayed on the same trajectory of lived-in, but considered, to a certain degree.

You’ve moved cities—how does where you live affect the way you dress?

This is a big one for me. I grew up in Byron Bay, so throughout adolescence I basically lived in denim cut-offs and swimwear for the majority of the year. I loved winter because I felt it gave me more space to experiment with layering. (Now I’d rather not endure the cold at any cost). When I left Byron, I spent time in Europe and New York, being young and in environments where people were a lot more experimental and vocal with their dressing, really gave me a lot more space to figure out what I was truly comfortable in. Now that I live in Sydney, I can get away with a different jeans/t-shirt combo pretty much every day and still somehow be considered stylish—which is a win in my eyes.

Did your upbringing or where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

Byron Bay is an extremely insular town, when you are part of the community, and there isn’t really a strong direction or interest in 'fashion' outside of vintage clothing and very casual dressing. I think I blended in because I didn’t really want to wear much that strayed from that at that time. It’s just easy. Growing up and constantly being at the beach, in a swimsuit, never wearing shoes, going to a non-uniform high school, for me it wasn’t about fitting in, I was just stoked I could get away with being that comfortable, I wore pyjamas to school on multiple occasions.

How do you express yourself through your style? 

This is a question that I am still trying to figure out. My style is pretty laid back, as am I. I don't like to take myself too seriously and I think the way that I dress often reflects that. I think that there is so much identity attached to personal style these days, that can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Personally, it’s just mood-dependent. Sometimes I want to feel more androgynous, other times all I want to wear is tiny dresses and sneakers. I think that as long as you’re wearing what you feel comfortable in, in whatever point in time, you’re likely expressing yourself fairly well. 

Follow Ella Jane of Tomboy Beauty on Instagram.

How has your personal style developed over the years?

My personal style has developed dramatically over the years. I have been through a number of ‘stages’ one might say—some great, some not so much! One thing I have always done is dress for my body shape. I love trends (of course, it is my job after all) however, not every trend suits me. I was lucky enough to grasp this understanding at an early age. I have also always had the mindset of just wearing what I want, not feeling the need to conform to anything. I have always loved and invested in classic, timeless pieces—that would be the one constant I have maintained over the years.

You’ve moved cities multiple times – how does where you live affect the way you dress?

I never really noticed it dramatically until I moved to LA. I always adjusted certain things about my style living in each city; I found I would dress up far more in London and New York compared to dressing down in Auckland. The climate in LA really impacts the way I dress. I’m traditionally more of a blazer kind of girl, but LA is far too hot to even think about a jacket for nine months of the year! I have also found the overall dress sense in LA is far more casual than cities like NYC and London. It’s taking some getting used to to be entirely honest, but I am loving exploring new brands like Reformation that I typically wouldn’t have worn until now.

I have also found that living overseas has had a great impact on the way I consume goods. The mass consumption and waste of the fashion industry is something I am becoming more and more passionate about, so investing in pieces and not purchasing garments I’ll just wear for the season is huge focus of mine. Sustainability is always top of mind when I’m shopping these days. Each purchase I make I have promised myself it has to stay in my wardrobe and be worn for at least two years. It’s making me think a lot harder about the things I really need, rather than just purchasing things for the sake of it.

Did your upbringing / where you grew up hinder how your personal style developed? Did you feel a need to conform to ‘fit in’, or did you break free and dress how you pleased?

I have never felt the need to conform, to be honest! When you love clothes like I do, and appreciate every single aspect of them, worrying about conforming or fitting in doesn’t cross my mind. I’m lucky like that! My parents always let me explore fashion and express myself through the way I dressed so I’m very fortunate to have always had an explosive relationship with fashion.

How do you express yourself through your style?

In every way possible! I look at the way I dress as an outlet to who I am as a creative person. My clothing often reflects my mood and what I want out of each day. The way I dress and the the pieces that make up my wardrobe play a crucial role in who I am as a person. My job is fashion, my love is fashion and I’m just so lucky enough to be able to live and breathe it each and every single day!

Follow Jaime Ridge on Instagram