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How to cultivate your own personal style and develop a personal brand 

(ARA) - Look at Kate Middleton, Johnny Depp or Lady Gaga. Whether classic, wacky or sometimes just bizarre, their styles say volumes about who they are, and your style can do the same for you.

  Personal style is a brand that "communicates who you are without saying a word," says Michael Watson, fashion instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte, N.C. Fashion instructors from Art Institutes schools offer tips that will put you well on your way to cultivating a style that is uniquely you.

1. What is your lifestyle? "Establishing and understanding your lifestyle is the biggest step to developing your own personal style," Watson says. "The more people understand who they are and what they value, will dictate fit, fabrications and different looks in terms of cut." In order to really understand your lifestyle and key values, Watson recommends asking yourself who you are and what you value; writing down the key points about who you are; and deciding what you want people to know about you: Are you an innovator? Are you creative?   Julie Crawley, fashion instructor at The New England Institute of Art, says, "It extends beyond style. What are your hobbies and interests?" She says a good place to start is online. Sites like, or Pinterest allow people to pull images together on mood boards and see what appeals to them. She recommends taking an inventory of not only your closet, but also your home.

2. What is your body type and skin tone? Determine your body type and skin tone. "Everybody's different," Watson says. "Everybody's got different levels of red, blue and yellow undertones to their skin." Understanding these will help "make sure the personal style is reflected the best on that individual," he says.

3. Create a signature piece or look Think Jackie Kennedy's iconic suits and sunglasses or Coco Chanel's understated style with multi-strand pearls. These ladies created memorable signature looks. Whether you are a minimalist or carry a specific style of bag, "people will remember this aspect, and it shows who you are," Watson says. When creating your own signature look, Crawley also recommends finding a designer you like. "When you find out what appeals to you, find out which retailers sell what you're looking for and stick with that brand," she says.

4. There's no room for clutter Cleaning out your closet and gathering together items to donate to charity can be a daunting task. But it can also be one that reaps rewards, including removing clutter and making space for items that better reflect your personal style. Watson and Crawley say this is an important step. "Go through your closet and purge — get rid of things that don't fit," Watson says. Crawley agrees. "If you don't like it, haven't worn it in a year, or aren't excited to put it on, don't keep it," she says.

5. Put your knowledge to work when shopping Crawley says having a distinct personal style will help make you a more educated and astute shopper. In the current economy, retailers aren't buying as much, and they know which brands are going to sell, Crawley says. Consumers are also scaling back, making better decisions and buying less. Watson says when shopping, ask yourself the following questions: "Does it fit into my lifestyle?" and "Is it appropriate for my body and skin type?" If the answers are yes, buy it. "Understanding who you are becomes a factor in your decision-making," she says.

6. Don't fall victim to trends Trends are one trap that can derail your style. According to Watson, consumers fear they are missing out on something and there is a "misconception that if it is a trend, you have to adopt it." He says at any time there are seven to 10 strong fashion trends happening, and you don't have to participate in all of them. "Understand that you can pick and choose from the trends," he says. "You can just take a piece from the trend, instead of adopting the whole look." A great example would be a bag that incorporates the trend.

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