Weekend Workshop: Translating Inspiration

February 26th, 2011 § 16 comments

For most of us, daily outfit inspiration does not spring forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head. So, where do they come from? And how do you translate a spark of inspiration into a pleasing, functional outfit created with garments from your own wardrobe? Of course, we frequently get outfit ideas from other style bloggers or street style blogs. That’s what this community is great for! But here are some other, clearly-sourced examples of daily outfits translated from a range of sources, both expected and…a little wacky.


So, it’s not a mind-blowingly surprising place to find inspiration, but that’s okay. E. has created many an outfit from looks seen in the pages of Lucky Magazine, including this “arty top + skinny jeans” outfit she wore a couple of years ago. But, she made a couple of obvious changes.

Arty Top + Skinny Jeans24 April 2009 - Evening

First, she accommodated the particularities of her preggers body, finding a top that would work with her bump rather than turning her torso into a tent. Second, she didn’t actually buy any of the recommended pieces in the article. Instead, she took the concept as a whole, purposefully shopped for a top that met her own purposes, and put the rest of the look together with staples from her closet. The result is a personalization of a “look” and an addition to her wardrobe that has subsequently seen a lot of use, even post-preggers.


Another obvious place to find inspiration is from catalogues or online lookbooks. All of us delve into the “outfits” sections of websites like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Gap, J Crew, or Anthropologie, but none of us has ever subsequently bought a head-to-toe look that way. Instead, here are some elements that we take away as inspiration:


A. tried out some unusual-for-her, slouchy proportions, making J. Crew’s “boyfriend” look into a “girlfriend” look instead.

21 April 2009 J Crew Inspiration


A hoodie and a blazer? Herringbone and polka dots? Why not? S. layered pattern and textures à la J. Crew.

J Crew inspiration 1 October 2009 - Back to School


A. created a ribbon and flower belt that could have graced a J. Crew catalogue…but without using a single item purchased from J. Crew.

14 July 2009 J Crew Inspiration

And S. went Anthropologie-esque bold with pattern and jewelry.

Patterns and colors

(Sally also has a great piece on translating elements of catalogue looks into your personal style and wardrobe.)


L. knew that minimalism was a trend for fall, and she picked just the right, high-quality, timeless pieces from her wardrobe to channel — but not imitate — the looks she saw in In Style.

Minimalism - Grey and Nude

S. found this amazing Hermes advertisement and translated the model’s fantasy hairstyle into her own boho-chic version. She then used that one element as inspiration to create the rest of her outfit, from the color scheme of pinks to the retro vibe of the thrifted vest.

10 February 2010 Hermès Inspiration picture

S. also saw this image in passing in Jolie magazine while abroad, and lifted the cuffed jeans-over-boots idea.

28 October 2009 - Cuffed + Boots Inspiration


It might not work to try and actually recreate an outfit from a Fragonard painting (though if you do, please send us a picture!), but there are lots of other ways to take inspiration from artworks, whether that be simply adopting a color scheme from a Cezanne or Rothko painting or more literally channeling the minimalism of Barnett Newman like L. did beautifully a few months ago.

Minimalism Canto XIV, Barnett Newman, 1964


Especially if that reality television happens to be Project Runway. E. can’t help herself! She recreated one of Althea’s simple looks

30 October 2009 - Slouchy Inspiration (Althea's look from Project Runway)

And her modified Mondo is one of her all-time favorite looks.

3 November 2010 - A Little Craycray


And while it’s not that unusual to garner inspiration from nature’s color palette, E. managed to put together a look prompted by making some baby food from plums.

Plum Inspiration 17 February 2010

Where do you get inspiration from? How do you translate that into your own personal style and wardrobe?

§ 16 Responses to Weekend Workshop: Translating Inspiration"

  1. ooh, this was a fun post! Thanks for sharing. Definitely makes me want to look outside of just JCrew catalogs but ads too. Often I just dismiss them, but using them as inspiration makes sense. Do you guys keep your inspiration in books, on a vision board, etc??

    • admin says:

      Lauren – I used to have a cork board with images torn out of magazines but now I mostly keep things in a folder on my computer titled ‘Inspiration’. I save images and screenshots of things I see that catch my eye in there. I tend to look through every once in a while when I’m in search of fresh ideas.


  2. Katia says:

    I mostly use street style blogs, and just imitate the look or take what I like about it and make an outfit out of that. I also use lookbook.nu for style inspiration.

  3. Amaranta says:

    Thanks! I used to recreate looks from magazines with I was doing my BA. Once in graduate school I didn’t take fashion into account at all. It all started to change last year when I discovered this blog. Now I’m inspired by this and other fashion blogs. Keep up the good work!

  4. Amanda B. says:

    This is great! I love the bit on translating catalogue looks into inspiration. I love catalogues, but don’t have the money to buy a bunch of new things this year- so I’m taking it as a challenge to be creative and look for inspiration, rather than lusting after new stuff I can’t afford.

    I have a file folders full of pictures I’ve ripped out of magazines because they appealed to me. One for makeup and hair inspiration, and one for clothing. Every now and then when I get bored I’ll flip through them for some inspiration and then go play in my closet. I also save pictures out of blogs- I have quite a few academichic pictures floating around in my inspiration file ;)


  5. maryeb says:

    This is one fabulous post with a lot of useful ideas. I really like when you explain your thought process in putting the outfits together. There have been many times when I’ve loved an outfit in a catalog and thought I needed to buy all the pieces in order to achieve the look. Ha! Now I know better. Thanks.

  6. SE says:

    Many thanks for this post! It’s really helpful for me to see how you all translate inspiration- I’m struggling with that, and this was perfect timing. And… I want to make the point that you have to have a pretty decent wardrobe in place before you can do much “translating”. I was trying to make a sadly small wardrobe work and finally realized I had too many missing pieces. With just a few key pieces, I can finally join in the fun!

    • admin says:

      SE – I think that’s a great point! I also think that it can be helpful to use ideas from blogs, catalogues, or other print media to form a shopping list. If I find myself being drawn to outfits over and over again that use, say, a floral print top, then the next time I see one in my price point, in colors that mesh with my aesthetic, and in a flattering cut…I’ll scoop it up! I went purposefully thrifting for a brightly colored pencil skirt, for example, after seeing A., Kendi, and others rock them.

      - E

  7. Marie says:

    Great post! I often have trouble translating looks from pictures, maybe because I flip through too fast without really figuring out what I can make work for me. I tend to observe the outfit as a whole, and get hung up on the fact that I don’t have any of those types of pieces in my closet. Of course these ideas do sometimes work their way into my own outfits, but in general I’m better about translating looks from my friends and people around me.

  8. deanna says:

    i live in a NYC, where fashion can be equal parts crazy, awesome and blaaaaaah. i definitely get a lot of inspiration from people i see when im out and about. sometimes someone will put together an outfit that looks really great and i’ll mentally file through my wardrobe and realize that i have some similar pieces that i could wear in a similar way. its usually a “why didnt i think of that?” kinda moment. there is inspiration all around. you just have to remember to look!

  9. Mel says:

    Great post – thanks! I really love the way you describe drawing from art as an inspiration. It’s an inspiration to me

  10. Meg says:

    I love this weekend workshop!! I have a lot of trouble putting outfits together and figuring out (in advance) what I need to create multiple and stylish outfits. This may spark subscriptions to magazines..

  11. Rachael says:

    I spend a lot of time staring at the mannequins in the H&M where I live, because they put together really basic pieces into fabulous looks that I never would have come up with on my own. And I love the baby food one!

  12. I am consistently in love with J.Crew’s fall catalog each year, and usually keep them in a big purse hung in my closet for reference and inspiration. Reinventing my old wardrobe with inspiration from the season’s looks makes me (and my wallet) oh so happy.

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