Seve D. Kim

Style Principle: Dress to Express

This is a series of posts providing a set of principles for developing and evolving your personal style.

Contrary to the expression “dress to impress”, the act of dressing yourself is not about the external validation or acceptance from others.

Our brains are wired from our “gatherer” instinct to be socially accepted. When we know for a fact that we won’t be ousted from the tribe (or in a less existential way “not fitting in”) we feel safe. We get a serotonin boost when someone gives you a compliment like “you look great tonight!” or “I love your outfit”.

This might seem as though you’ve successfully dressed well but in reality, compliments are vanity metrics.

Just like food or music preferences, everyone has their own idea of what “good” looks like. You’ve probably heard comments like “that’s not really my style”. This is a more accurate statement given your style isn’t another person’s, it’s yours! Personal style is a form of art and like all art, it is completely subjective. Style is neither good nor bad, you express it well or you don’t.

The objective of style is to match your external appearance to your internal identities and beliefs.

The people with the best style are the ones that are most self-aware. If you observe friends that you know really well, you probably have at least 1 friend that dresses differently than what you actually know the person to be. I have a friend who is a thoughtful, kind, and sweet person, yet he dresses in a way that gives off “unapproachable” vibes.

Before you even start to decide what piece of clothing to buy, ask yourself what qualities about yourself do you want to express?

For me, one identity I try to express is being a deep thinker and life-long learner. I had found inspiration reading books like Amatora and Take Ivy for how Japanese borrowed from American Ivy League prep looks. Although I had never attended an Ivy League school, I still felt I could incorporate iconic pieces from this style and add it to my own.

Beyond the bare necessities clothing provides us, dressing up is a medium of self-expression. Whether you’re meeting up with coworkers, going on a hot date, or simply taking a walk outside, we all have an opportunity to communicate who we are without saying a word.

First published on May 5, 2022