This week I’ve been thinking about my three style adjectives. What adverbs I might need to modify them. Looking for synonyms and antonyms. And generally getting all caught up in the grammar of personal style. I swear, it’s been like being back in elementary school.

When I was a kid in grade school, I loved grammar. I loved to parse sentences: selecting the subject (one single neatly drawn line underneath this), the predicate (two lines), and all the modifiers. I loved trying to decide what modified what. Was it an adjective, or an adverb? A phrase or a subordinate clause? A subjective completion or an object? The elegance of a well-constructed sentence pleased me no end. Grammar was simply wrong or right, which was supremely satisfying in my increasingly confusing world.

And this week I’ve been parsing my little heart out, my friends. But with outfits, instead of sentences.

Oh, I know it’s not the same. I’ve not been wielding my little red pen and my ruler, for one thing. But it’s still been fun. Seriously, thanks to Amy Smilovic, closet rummaging has become way more satisfying lately.

Amy calls herself a “Creative Pragmatist.” Her three style adjectives are “chill, modern, and classic.” Amy says the cliché style “boxes” don’t work for real people because we’re complex, and we live complex lives. Simplistic descriptors like “boho” or “classic” cannot fully describe what we want to wear. So, putting together outfits becomes “kind of like style grammar.” source

So how do we go about exploring the grammar of personal style? Well, first off we find our three style adjectives. As you may know if you read this post a couple of weeks ago, my three style adjectives are “classic, minimal, and modern.” At least I think they’re my three words. Classic because I love classic, timeless pieces like blazers, loafers, and turtlenecks. Minimal because I hate anything fluffy or fussy. No ruffles, not too much jewellry, and nothing too feminine or girly. I didn’t like girly even when I was a girl. Ha. And modern because, although I refuse to be a slave to trends, I like to look current, and not too conservative. I like a bit of edginess, even though I don’t think I’m as chill as Amy.

Amy suggests that we add a modifier to our list of adjectives. Because sometimes three adjectives can’t cut it. And as all good students of grammar know, things which modify adjectives are called adverbs. So am I casual classic? Or conservative modern? I like my style to be lean, and a bit tough. Could one of my modifiers be ”tomboy?” Or should I apply words that describe my personality more than how I look. Funny? Ironic? Optimistic? It’s hard to imagine how any of these might apply to my style.

Maybe I should think about “effortless.” Effortlessly minimal? I do hate to look as if I’m trying too hard. For instance, I don’t like to look too dressed up. I never wear a full face of make-up with a bright lipstick. In fact, I never wear bright lipstick. I’m comfortable with groomed eyebrows, three shades of eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, bronzer, and blush. But add in a darker shade of lipstick, and I suddenly feel overly made up.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be able to hit on just the one modifier yet. It’s a process. And according to Amy we all have to decide our own words. That’s because only we know what makes us feel good, like our best selves.

Playing with antonyms.

So besides casting about for adverbs this week, I’ve been playing with another of Amy’s style grammar rules. Balancing out pieces that are clearly one thing or another with their “antonyms.” Pairing a piece with its opposite, so it doesn’t skew my style too far in one direction.

For instance, take these tailored trousers from Aritzia that I bought a year ago. They are clearly classic, menswear inspired, and loose, a la 1940s Katherine Hepburn style. In other words, just plain big. So I tried styling them with something tight, or as tight as I’m willing to go.

I hitched the pants up, added a belt, tucked in my black Everlane tank top, and added my old Michael Kors flat, strappy sandals that show a bit of skin. I like the more delicate sandals with the masculine pants. The sturdy bag and belt work well with the pants. And in my opinion, the big funky hoops with the gold chain detail add a touch of modern, and tie the black and tan together. I added my orange vintage bracelet for a small pop of colour. And because it doesn’t match anything… it “goes,” as Stacy and Clinton used to say.

I like this outfit that balances a classic, loose, menswear-inspired piece with its antonyms.

My vintage bracelet, “just the right amount of wrong.”

Next I tried the loose trousers with my Vince short-sleeve tee shirt, my new Veja sneakers, and this very old suede vest of Hubby’s. I’ve always loved this vest. Hubby bought it back in the late fifties when he and his parents lived on a Canadian Air Force base in France. He says he paid what amounted to twenty-five cents in Canadian currency for this gem. I stole it from his closet in the nineties and wore it with jeans and ankle boots for years. I hauled it out the other day because I’ve been seeing vests worn with tailored trousers on Instagram for months. On IG they’re wearing their vests with tanks tops or nothing underneath. I tried a tank… and ickk. The tee is much better. In my book, the vest buttoned and the tee shirt qualify as tight to balance off the looseness of the trousers.

Wearing Hubby’s vintage suede vest.

At first I tried my brown, strappy sandals, but the vest is suede and needs a more substantial shoe to balance it. But not a boot. That would be too, too… something. The sneakers work, and mirror the white of the tee shirt. I went for slightly blingy earrings. You can’t see them very well in the photo. And now I think about it, maybe a big pair of white earrings might brighten the outfit and work as an antonym against the pants which are menswear-inspired. And the vest, which is literally menswear. Ha.

The tan suede with the white tee is not as flattering against my white hair as the black tank. But I loved this outfit. It was fun, and relaxed, and I felt great. I think I’ll wear this as a run-around outfit in the early fall with my brown Fossil hobo bag worn cross-body.

Think I need a “blingier” pair of earrings.

And since I was trying to balance menswear-inspired pants with more delicate footwear, I thought I might try my Aritzia black faux-leather pants with these old strappy, kitten-heel sandals from Stuart Weitzman. These are seriously good sandals for someone like me with very narrow feet. Everything is elastic. Plus the sole is rubber on the bottom, nice and “grippy” and super comfortable. Back in the early aughts, I taught all day in these babies. One time I was still wearing them at ten o’clock on a Friday night, after a full day at school, two hours on the train to Montreal, walking to a restaurant, eating dinner at the restaurant, and then walking back to our hotel. Not sure I could do all that now, in or out of these sandals, without a nap. Ha.

Trying tough with soft.

With the faux-leather pants which I would describe as tough, even edgy, I wore a Rag and Bone soft, floaty tank top bought back in 2015. Similar here and here. The softness of the tank balances the toughness of the pants. The tank is a bit sporty around the neck, but the floaty layers make it dressy too. I love it with leather pants. In the grammar of personal style the pants and top are definitely antonyms.

Quite pleased with myself here. Too bad about the farmer’s tan.

I struggled to find the right jewellry for this outfit. I didn’t want to wear much. Only earrings. And just the right earrings. Nothing too dainty. Or fussy. And not black. Or silver, which I always wear. Maybe something modern, like these black and blue geometric earrings. I really had to dig for these. They were stashed in the back of a drawer in a bag of costume jewellry that I don’t currently wear, but which I thought might come in handy one day. And that day has come. Ha. I love these old earrings. They’re from the eighties. They look almost Art Deco, don’t they? And Art Deco, while not current, looks modern. I have a couple of Art Deco vintage brooches, and they always look funky and edgy.

These earrings are almost 40 years old.

For someone who loves words and loves clothes, the idea of personal style having its own grammar is right up my street. It seems natural that we should use adjectives and adverbs to describe our style, how we want the world to see us. And since our style, or how we dress, always conveys something about us, it seems right to then use these words to help us figure out how to say what we want to say with our clothes. We can use our adjectives to choose what we should wear. And what we should not. Or what we should buy or not buy. Knowing our personal style and how to describe it can make us more confident shoppers. And dressers.

And taking the grammar of personal style beyond our three adjectives can help us to create outfits that say exactly what we want to say with our clothes. I figured out that one of my three style words is classic. And I know if a piece is classic, then I will probably like it. But I’m more than classic. So I should sometimes use pieces that are the opposite of classic to prevent my classic pieces from making me look… well… too classic. Too boring and conservative. Hence sometimes I should look for antonyms. Or as Amy says, “play into my antonyms.” Because I’m complex. Something I’ve been trying to tell Hubby for years. Ha.

Of course all this is just playing with words. And we shouldn’t get too anxious or impatient with the process. Discovering our personal style takes time. One could even call it a metaphorical journey. And we shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry. We’ll get there. Meanwhile let’s just rummage in our closets and enjoy the ride.

Well, that’s it for me tonight, my friends. I’ve whittered on and on as I am wont to do. Now it’s your turn. Let’s talk about you. And the grammar of your personal style. Do you see playing into your antonyms as a possible way to get dressed?

P.S. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a commission which helps to pay for the blog. Please note, the Aritzia links are not affiliate links and are included as a courtesy.


Would you like to have new posts automatically delivered to you? Sign up below, and when new content appears on the website, we’ll send the story to you via email. 

* indicates required


Would you like to have new posts automatically delivered to you? Sign up below, and when new content appears on the website, we’ll send the story to you via email. 

* indicates required

From the archives


Finding My Inner Miss Marple

I just finished reading twelve new Miss Marple stories, not written by Christie herself. And I think I've found my inner Miss Marple.

Romancing the Readers

The romance novel, the genre so many of us love to laugh at, openly scorn, and then often read in secret. Why do we love to hate romances?

On Upping My Upcycling Game

To stave off the temptation to shop this spring, I'm upping my upcycling game. Looking for thrift store or consignment shop pieces to upcycle.

53 thoughts on “The Grammar of Personal Style”

  1. Those earrings, that blue. I suddenly recalled a pair I bought in that shade in 1984, oddly enough in Canada. I also had shoes, a jumper and, for a wedding, a hat in that exact tone (didn’t wear them all at the same time…) which is one I have not worn since. Pragmatic minimal. That will do as a modifier, I believe. Were I to have a headstone (unlikely) it would probably bear the words She Could Not Be Arsed. As a style statement, it will do as well. I hope you will be able to view this cartoon which made me laugh out loud at the aptness.

      1. Not quite so jaded. And more inclined to have a drink rather than to cook chops which she always seemed to be doing.

  2. I’ve never assigned a word to describe my personal style. Many times I’ve added an accessory to only quickly remove it.
    I don’t want to be invisible but it’s way too easy to go off the rails. Do you ever wonder how other people would describe you? I overheard several people trying to describe a certain woman. One comment was that she always wears that bright lipstick.
    Maybe my favorite word to describe my overall personal style would be approachable. There seems to be so much more that determines our style than simply what we choose to wear.

    1. Oh… I don’t want to wonder how people would describe me. That would be a dark and scary rabbit hole down which to fall. And would probably make me conscious of faults I can do nothing about.

  3. I loved parsing too! For all the same reasons!
    My country public school still taught it in the sixties. When I went to the city high school, none of those students knew what parsing was as it had been dropped from the Ontario curriculum. The elegant English teacher, Archie Ross, heaved a discouraged sigh and had to start grade 9 with a crash course while I sat smugly by being bored.

    1. I only moved to Ontario in the eighties. And when I started teaching grammar was still on the curriculum. Parsing sentences… probably not.

  4. All of your outfits today are on trend but have a classic vibe. I have seen the vest trend this year and wish I had kept mine from my Annie Hall/Diane Keaton fixation days. Unfortunately they probably wouldn’t fit me but my daughter could use them. The three word versus five word adjectives to describe my style is something I still am turning over in my mind. Those words have to be revisited with regularity as we are rapidly evolving physically, mentally and spiritually in response to aging and factors in our environment such as Covid and retirement. Putting myself in a category is not comfortable for me as I hate labels. I’m thinking more of a pool which equates movement. If that makes sense. Regardless , love your outfits and the process behind the selection. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I like the idea of a pool. But a multi-faceted style description is also open to lots of interpretation. So maybe a series of labels can be useful… rather than restricting. And if we decide that the labels are not applicable any longer we can change them.

  5. Beautiful combinations,great idea:vest with t-shirt! I was thinking in this direction last spring,but have no vest and,finaly, didn’t want to buy one. But,I need wide(r) trousers for autumn,thinking about the type,pleats or not, colours and tops…Maybe I need a west after all?
    Lovely earings,love the colour.
    I’m more an impressionistic person re fashion. I feel what’s going well with something (colour,proportions,interest,current or not…… ) for me and what is not and make a decision (sometimes a mistake,too,but rarely). Will the grammar help? I must think about it….

    1. I have liked the vest thing for months but didn’t want to buy one either. I may look for a black or pinstriped men’s vintage one in the fall.

  6. If I may paraphrase you, grammar is simply wrong or right, which is supremely satisfying in my increasingly confusing world. Like ironing 🙂
    Thanks to your post I might have stumbled upon my style grammar: minimal, deceptively edgy and accidentally classic.
    Thank you!

  7. You are so good at this! I’m so much more haphazard — I’d love to say I am, like Dottoressa, “impressionistic,” but I think even that might be too generous. I do, however, recognize the principles of balance represented by your antonyms — and I think that your “pragmatic minimalism” makes these balancing opposites so clear in all these outfits. If I were marking your fashion grammar, I’d give you 10/10! 😉

    1. I think you are way too hard on yourself, Frances. You always dress like you, and always look “right” in your outfits. I find the grammar thing just helps me understand why I like something, while something else seems not quite right.

  8. Great photo on IG, Sue of you with the black background, black tank and gorgeous blue/ black earrings.
    Thank you for mentioning Amy Smilovic. Her idea of ” big, slim , skin” is now helping to make sense of an outfit that isn’t quite right in the mirror. She mentioned that we aren’t sure what to tweak so we end of with more purchases trying to ” fix the problem” . Guilty . There have been so many things mentioned in fashion about shapes ( pears, apples, etc) and how to make a person ” look slimmer” that I have gotten lost trying to do all those things and not ending up being “me”. Amy has simplified things. I am actually looking forward to pulling things our of my closet to try.
    Another great blog posting, Sue. Thank You!

    1. I love the “big, slim, skin” idea. As well as “good strange.” That one reminds me of a quote I cut out of a fashion magazine and stuck on my bulletin board… “Just the right amount of wrong.”

  9. You are putting into words those instincts we follow . Like the one unmatching item to avoid the neat matchy look . Your blue earrings are lovely . My ears won’t tolerate earrings now . I seem to have developed an allergy . It’s a nuisance.
    I think what you term parsing was called sentence analysis at my school & I really enjoyed it , like solving puzzles . Tell me , do you find yourself getting exasperated with newspaper articles etc when the grammar is haywire – I do .

    1. That’s what I thought. Now I know how to explain why I love one outfit pairing and not another similar one. I do get exasperated, mostly with online writing. And people who make fancy, time-consuming posters for their social media account and write “their” or “there” when they mean “they’re.” Arg.

  10. Another fun post, and I absolutely love the trouser/vest/white tee/sneakers on you! Casually classic perfection!
    Maybe big-ish gold hoops to repeat the warm tones and match the buttons? Thank you for always inspiring.

  11. I was at first put off by the 3 word method, but, as usual, the things I fight the hardest in life often turn out to be the most helpful/insightful. There have been several times this week that I have revisited your first post on the method, and have been picking up and discarding my words. The concept of having one that seems contradictory to the others has helped me the most. Also while embracing that narrowing to 3 is the most helpful, I am still choosing to have the third one rotating in and out due to the season. My summer word and style is in distinct contrast with my winter due to our very distinct seasons. When it is so hot, I just cannot be bothered to wear anything but cool and wafty clothing, whereas in the winter, my edginess comes out in leather jackets and boots like my Blundstones. I have to say, when I saw that lovely vest, my mind’s eye immediately saw you in one of your black turtlenecks, that vest and wider leg jeans, you would totally rock that look. Thank you for all the hard work that you put in to these posts. They really do give us something to think about, and this has especially been a useful tool for me to narrow down my shopping. Much appreciated!

  12. Those earrings! Sometimes metallic bling is tooo much. These are perfect. I love your outfit..leather leggings with a cashmere tunic is a cool weather go to for me, usually with a ‘daintier’ suede bootie but I could see a pair of strappy heels or more feminine flats working too. Matchy, matchy isn’t just about colour it also applies to the overall look. Deliver me from the ‘column of colour’ trop. Think matching end tables, lamps, fabrics in a room. Ok, it’s safe but…yawn! In design terms antonyms could be referred to as ‘tension’. It’s about that item that shouldn’t ‘go’ but does! Mixing the antique and the contemporary, using something old in a new way! Finding that tension in one’s home or wardrobe is getting to the heart of personal style. It’s putting the effort in to find our ‘style’. I must confess when I first started reading this I thought OMG, some people have WAY too much time on their hands. After reading through I thought ‘ Why not? ‘
    Why not have a rifle through the closet and make those $$ garments work for their keep? Come up with new ways to mix up what we already have and in doing so possibly reinvent ourselves or at least find a new approach to dressing.

    1. I laughed when you said that about having “WAY too much time.” I do have lots of time on my hands. But because I love to analyse things, I just find it fun and interesting. Plus the time spent works in two ways… new outfits for me.. and topics for blog posts. Win, win. 🙂

  13. What color are your Aritzia trousers? It’s hard to tell on line. Would love to buy them if your shade is available. Lovely post and outfits!

    1. I cannot tell you the name of the colour of my trousers. It’s not printed on any tags etc on the pants. I know that I thought I was getting a tan colour and was surprised that they were darker than I thought they would be. I will go to the Aritzia website and see if my account has a list of old orders. If I find it I’ll let you know.

  14. My words will definitely change with the seasons.
    I need at least two sets – but currently I am having trouble coming up with one set for fall/winter. I have whittled my list down to nine.
    Love the vest.

  15. You brought back happy memories (really and truly!) of hours and hours of parsing sentences in Grade 7 and 8. I had a teacher who felt this was a really important skill, even though my impression is that it had largely fallen by the wayside in the Ontario curriculum by that time. (I’m just a few years younger than you are.)

    What a huge advantage this framework gave me in further language learning! I remember a high school French teacher asking me where my knowledge of grammar came from since it was unusual in his experience of other students my age. I continued my language studies at university.

    As a young adult, I happened to bump into my Grade 7/8 teacher and told her how much I valued all of that grammar instruction. She gave me a big hug!

    Anyway, this isn’t directly related to fashion grammar (interesting concept!), but you have brought back pleasant memories of single underlines, double underlines, wavy underlines, assorted parentheses … :o)

    1. The language teachers with whom I worked always bemoaned the fact that grammar was not universally taught in elementary school anymore. Ha. I remember the wavy underlines and the various parentheses!

  16. This was a fun post. I like your bracelet and the earrings, and especially like the vest. Thumbs up.

    I have a love hate relationship with wide-leg pants. A few years ago I was on a kick and sewed some nice ones using a YSL pattern from the 1970s. They work well, but I tripped over the pant legs a few times, and generally I’m not feeling the proportions this year. I think I’m leaning towards a pleated pant with a more tapered pants leg. I did sew a waistcoat/vest last year, however, so I am definitely giving a thumbs up to that addition. Mine is in a subtle two-colour plaid.

    I was an excellent student in school, but being almost a generation younger and from Ontario, by the time I hit school parsing had been eliminated from the curriculum for the most part. One of my most embarrassing moments was moving to a new town and landing in the class of an old school English teacher, who couldn’t understand why I didn’t know how to do this sort of exercise. Not my fault! I’ve long wished I’d had more rigorous formal training in grammar and writing, rather than that goofy “whole language” curriculum of the 1970s. Ugh.

    1. I bought my pants because while wide through the leg they are not terribly wide at the bottom. I may be hard to see this in my photos due to the pooling at the bottom when I’m wearing my sandals. I am not a fan of the super wide leg. Reminds me too much of palazzo pants.

      1. Oh yes – I didn’t mean that yours were too wide. They look great on you. I like them with the sandals.

  17. The vest and tee shirt combination conjure for me Art Carney as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. I recall that look being popular some years ago as well. Loved it then and now. I struggle with the idea of super long, wide leg trousers, although I like the look. Do we need tripping hazards (or excess laundering) at our age? What length would you say is safe AND on trend?

    These are great looks on you, and it was a helpful lesson in how to discover one’s descriptives.

    We called parsing “diagramming.” It was the great love of my young life.

    1. Ha. Art Carney… I hadn’t thought of him. It struck me that the outfit looks slightly like Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire. I have no idea of the correct hem length. It just has to look right. How’s that for fudging an answer? Ha. I had my pants professionally hemmed last summer, and they were great. But they are now too long for my flat sandals. It’s so hard to hem for multiple pairs of shoes.

  18. I enjoyed reading your post and all the comments. And I really admire those blue/black earrings on you. That bright blue looks lovely. Love every one of your outfits and especially your choice of accessories. Perfect combinations. Perfectly discussed.

  19. More food for thought here😊
    Thanks again, Sue! Also some really interesting insights from fellow readers so thank you all.

  20. Sue, I have the Aritzia pants like yours but mine are linen. They have been worn on repeat with a button shirt to tee. I’m broad then go narrow so pants like these balance my shape. The style words articles has been fun. Like you, I don’t care for fussy. I prefer men inspired clothes. In many ways men’s wear is so much more practical and to the point than women’s wear. In addition to words thinking about what you want to project- maybe a feeling or attitude-for lack of better words, and how does this align with your lifestyle is a good guideline too. At 63 I like simple classic clothing. I no longer feel the need to make a statement with my style. My aspiration in dressing is to be put together with the least amount of effort possible.

  21. Sue, I’ve been following you for a couple of months now and wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoy your posts. We are so different in many ways, yet so similar in others. Some of your words resonate so strongly with me as they seem to reflect my own thoughts (so much so I’ve shed the odd tear knowing that someone else feels the same feels). I’m 63, in my 4th year of retirement from a busy sales/marketing in science career, and now live in the Sunshine Coast, Australia. I love clothes! I aspire to a wardrobe like yours made up of fewer, carefully selected, quality items and am currently doing a ‘nothing new in 2022’ to curb what had become a bad habit of buying lots of cheap and cheerful items as I didn’t really know what my new(ish) non-working life living in a much warmer climate required. It’s a good time for me to try and select my 3 style adjectives to help get me back on track, edit my wardrobe and make a list of what I need to buy in 2023! My word selection task is underway!
    With your passion for clothes and words I can only imagine how much fun you are having with all this – I thought only scientists were this analytical!
    Thank you so much, I am very happy to have found you.

  22. I come back here again and again, mainly because you use phrases like, “I’ve whittered on and on…” You never stop entertaining me with your writing, and it is all so interesting whether you are writing about the weather, canoeing, or fashion.

  23. From what I have seen of the outfits that you curate, you certainly have a sound sense of your adjectives. I think that you have to have those antonyms to round out your personality and your outfits. Those blue and black earrings are perfect!
    I have a cross of classic and bohemian. I love a classic look (blazer, silk blouse, nice trousers), but I also am drawn to a floaty colorful dress or a denim shirt with a small ruffle at the cuff or color. I haven’t tried to come up with my adjectives yet, but I they might swing in very opposite directions.

Comments are closed.