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How To Find Your Own Style

Woah, there. Calm down with your wanna-be sultry eyes. The amount of times I deleted this photo from this post are COUNTLESS, but ultimately was convinced to keep it in. Here’s the story – Darling Magazine is a modern women’s lifestyle magazine that I love because they promote the good values of a being a modern natural, independent woman. Here’s their full mantra:


Their style (especially for this issue) is way different than my usual laughing/happy poses, as you can see. It was EXTREMELY fun to be dressed up in fashion forward clothing that I would frankly never wear on my own, and pose in ways that felt pretty darn uncomfortable. I just went with it because sometimes you get sick of being yourself and for one afternoon want to be someone else. I’m doing to do a whole other post with all the outtakes and different outfits so you judge it all for yourselves (not the magazine, just my persona in it).


For this post/feature I wrote the story about finding my own style with some tips on how to help you find yours. Of course even more of this info is in my book, which you can very simply just pick up here. A few notes: We shot this in July so I was 22 weeks pregnant (thus the ambiguous body shape) and it was before the Good Housekeeping Magazine shoot.


When I was 21 I found a gender-neutral lower half body mannequin—the type typically used to display underwear—at a thrift store. The fact that I bought it was disturbing in itself, sure, but what I did with it next was incredible and might go into the “artistically unstable” category. I proceeded to collage a year of my life onto it. I wrote different events on it with the date of the event and then added a brochure or business card to it. It was everything from art openings to a Paul Auster signing. It was a living journal of my early 20s and it was quite the conversation piece—for good or bad. It went into a closet when I turned 25 and then, when we moved to Los Angeles from New York when I was 27, I sold it in a garage sale, apparently too good for it, demoting it to a relic of my crazy New York youth.

I have very few regrets in my life, truly, but selling this piece is one of them. It represented not only some times that I’ve surely forgotten but also my style from that time. You see, I had a penchant for the funkier things in life. I grew up in a small town in Oregon, surrounded not by taste and style but by thrift stores full of weird old things—vintage or just used. This informed my style a lot and has given me both a jumping off point for my style as well as a daily battle to fight.

So how do you go from decoupaging a mannequin to designing and styling higher-end houses for totally normal (and stylish) people? It was a journey, folks—a journey that took many years and a lot of money wasted on things that were wrong on so many levels.


Having a well-curated and thought-out aesthetic is a challenge for almost all of us. And honestly those people who don’t struggle with honing their aesthetic generally just don’t have a very interesting one, trust me. For example, if you put on a perfectly curated and well-fit outfit on every single day of your life then it starts to get, well, kind of boring. The innovative curation of a home is a struggle that most creative and stylish people have, let alone non-creative and stylish people. But after working on my honing my creative aesthetic the past 15 years, I’ve got a fast-pass-CliffsNotes method to finding yours.


Decide how you want your space to feel, not just look. Knowing how you want it to feel and putting words to those feelings will help guide you through the whole process. If you want it to feel calm, quiet and serene then that is a pretty different direction from energetic, sophisticated and fun. So think about walking in your door and the emotions or adjectives that you want the space to evoke in you.

Then head to your computer and pin like crazy. Once you’ve amply pinned 30 to 40 spaces (at least), look at what everything has in common. Colors? Patterns? Styles? Is everything mostly simple and quiet or full of energy and pattern? Create a mood board of your favorites that look good together. This will become your map/guide for your purchases.


Next pick a color palette. Now, you don’t have to get crazy OCD about it and make sure that it matches particular Pantone chips, but if you don’t have a consistent color palette throughout your home, you are likely to get into trouble with things looking chaotic and just generally not pulled together. As you shop, curate or pull from what you already have in your home to make sure that everything fits within that color palette and looks good with your style board.

Ask yourself a few hard questions: Would the person that lives in my style board own this papier mache dog bust? Does this neon abstract painting make me feel calm or want to eat my own tongue? If your answers aren’t positive then you need to ask yourself why you still need to keep it. This type of process requires editing that can feel close to an emotional intervention, I know. I’ve been there. If there is sentimental value to it then OBVIOUSLY don’t pull an “Emily Henderson Mannequin” situation, just maybe relegate it into a space that is possibly less visible—but otherwise, if it doesn’t provide a much-needed function, then consider passing it on to someone whose style it might fit better, or eventually just replacing it.

Once you have edited and collected things that work within your style board and your color story then it’s time to play, style, and experiment. You can still have some regrets, and you may have to revisit that process over and over again, but having those tools should lead to fewer purchase mistakes and a better curated space, one that actually represents your aesthetic, and, more importantly, your personality.


I’m not saying that if I had these tools I would not have purchased and made my mannequin journal. I mean I hope to God that I still would have. But this journal was just one of hundreds of insane things I purchased that ultimately over-represented a tiny bit of my personality in my apartment. I have a whimsical side, sure, but it’s only a small side of me and I was just buying too many weird sculptural pieces of vases with mustaches. It was what I was initially attracted to but when I got them all together it just looked junky, stupid and like I was trying too hard. Once I analyzed the spaces that I loved, I realized that there was a bit of whimsy for sure, but also a lot of simpler shapes, solid colors and just pretty textures. Now I start with a layer of neutral simplicity and I layer on the crazy.

Honing in on your aesthetic can feel like a contact sport, but consider it more of a slow power-walking marathon, with some twists and hills, maybe wading through a stream or two, but hopefully with these tips we can all find some shortcuts and avoid the mannequin pitfalls that I made for most of my 20s. And if you don’t avoid them, at least take a photo of those insane mistakes before you throw them away so you can see how far you’ve come.

*THANK YOU DARLING!!. If you are into this aesthetic and want to see/read more about this kind of woman, buy Darling. They are doing something a lot of magazines aren’t – they don’t photoshop faces and bodies – instead celebrating aging, and natural beauty in every way. Now THAT is a message that I’m proud to pass on to my daughter. Here’s the full spread.

Darling_Magazine_Spread_Fall_2015 Darling_Magazine_Spread_Fall_2015_Em_Henderson Darling_Magazine_Spread_Fall_2015_Emily_Henderson

*Photos by Mike Carriero for Darling Magazine, Hair & Make-up by Danielle Walch.

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8 years ago

Love this!! Hooray for not photoshopping! You look TRULY beautiful.
On a side note, my ten-year-old daughter has dubbed Charlie “Chief Wannahodet” after his desire to “hode” his sister. 🙂

8 years ago

Having just had a birthday and being on the cusp of one of those big decade birthdays, huzzah to a magazine celebrating aging and natural beauty.

And I am LOVING your new book Styled and enjoying it so much! I hoarded it, keeping it on my funky 70’s tabletop oak bookshelf, occasionally feeling like I had earned a tidbit now and then, until I binged on it on my birthday. Such a pleasure. Even though I have been an avid reader of your blog, even from Brass Petal days, I am finding it a useful focusing tool to get me inspired and fine tuning my aesthetic in my home. Looking forward to posting some Instagrams, #styled.

8 years ago

Of course you post that photo, you look beautiful!! And yes, the 20’s are embarrassing; but like you said, its a journey. My mannequin equivalent was giant scrapbooking, I can’t even…
Thanks for sharing.

Nastassja Stanton-Brown
8 years ago


8 years ago

You look STUNNING. And I love those “fancy” pants and fuzzy shawl. Amazing. Congrats on baby too!

8 years ago

You look beautiful!

8 years ago

What a lovely feature! Thank you for the great decorating advice.

8 years ago

Stunning photo! You look amazing!

8 years ago

Nice article.

It must be stressful bringing all these people into your home for photo shoots all the time. The room tidiness, the room styling, having the need to have your space look just a tad different than the last shoot…

The pictures are lovely.

8 years ago

Please,please,please stop using OCD! It”s real and it’s hard to live with. No more,please.

8 years ago

Silly gosling 🙂 But you’re beautiful. Really glad you posted your gorgeous opening portrait. The end.

8 years ago

I find it really interesting how they removed ‘Emily Henderson’ from brighter and happier and put you in a much moodier scheme. It feels like sepia tones to me. A beautiful shoot and that first picture is lovely.

8 years ago

I adore you and your natural beauty. One swipe of eyeliner and some lashes and – BOOM!- you’re a modern day Brigitte Bardot!

8 years ago

Loved this. I also loved the Darling “mantra.” I think I’m going to need to subscribe to the magazine. Obsessed with your aesthetic, too, by the way. Fabulous read.

8 years ago

Brigette BarDOt!

8 years ago

YAY for no photoshopping! You look amazing and it celebrates a realistic image of women.

And while I love that you went for a different fashion style than you normally do, I had to laugh that it was for an article on finding your own style. (I’m truly not trying to be snarky, I think it’s great to go out of your own style from time to time! Just find this particular timing humorous 🙂 )

8 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca

me too! no offense meant at all, just ironic. love the pict, too. it might be my favorite of you. not that I’ve met you or anything, but it looks like ‘real you’, not ‘always bright + bubbly’ you. its a good mood. <3

8 years ago

gorgeous PIC of you !!!!
and love the clothing etc

8 years ago

Hi Emily,
I don’t know why you would’ve wanted to delete that top picture, you look stunning, embrace it girl!

8 years ago

Um… that picture of you is gorgeous! I’m glad that you didn’t delete it!


8 years ago

You look so great in that first shot! So sultry, 70s chic…I love it!

8 years ago

In the unsolicited advice category: You should wear earth tones more often! You always look lovely, but you look especially lovely here. 🙂

Amy E Jones
8 years ago

You look gorgeous, as per usual!

I received my copy of ‘Styled’ last week and am loving it…definitely worthy of the hardcover status!

8 years ago

Love that living room! Can you share color on wall and trim?

8 years ago

I too love the picture and the article. Just bought the book and love it too.

Jury out for me on Darling, though. Would need to know more about their choice of the words “modesty” and “virtue” in this context. Culturally loaded words for many women.

8 years ago
Reply to  mikins


8 years ago

You are truly beautiful. That picture that starts this post is just lovely. Loved reading about the mannequin. Back in the 80s I used to collect old photo books (the ones that you peeled back the adhesive cover to place your photos), and I would cut out pictures from magazines, fashion I loved, and my own photos, and paste them into them. I had so many. I wish I had saved just one!

8 years ago

Emily, Wonderfully simple article…amusing, instructive and to the point. Your little chubby boy should be on a cereal box!!!

meanwhile, while i’m knee deep into finding/being ‘my’ style, i’d like the shoes You have on in the standing on a pillow pic – Haha!

8 years ago

This is GREAT and I wish I’d had access to it like a month ago. That’s when I decided I needed a rug for my living room and purchased a nearly $700 Karastan because I loved the simple yet somewhat mid century vibe it had going. Got it home and rolled it out and after living with it for a little over a month (just long enough that I can’t return it) I’ve realized that while I do like the rug, pairing with my almost entirely mid century furnished living room makes walking into my house feel like a time warp! I love all the pieces individually and spent a couple of years stalking Craigslist (love your trolling features, by the way) to find just the right pieces that I could restore (or pay someone to restore). I’d always heard to buy what you love and figure out how to make it work together…apparently I’ve only got the first part down. Now I feel like I need to scratch it all and start over but I’ve invested so much time and money and effort! Ugh! I like the idea of moving things around to different areas of my house. I… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Lea

Yea, why not just move some stuff around from the rest of your house and disperse the load of midcentury pieces all around? That way you don’t have to start all over or have major buyers regret! Midcentury tends to hit heavy on the walnut/teak woods so you’re probably just seeing a lot of that in one space. But if its beautiful keep it, but shove it in the hallway, bathroom or bedroom! Just IMO 🙂

8 years ago

Gah! I love this! Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

8 years ago

I don’t know why you didn’t want to post the photo…you look stunning in it! Wow!

8 years ago

That first photo is my favorite of you ever!!!

8 years ago

Love this post. I am SOOOO glad I found you and your blog. I have learned so much and awaiting your book to apply some lessons at home. Your honesty on finding your style over time and missteps is so refreshing and relatable. That picture of you is drop dead gorgeous. I hope you are framing it. And finally I LOVE the shirt and sweater /navy and brown color combo. It’s such a sophisticated cool look. I will look for Darling magazine. You’re selling it well for them!

8 years ago

Thanks for sharing! I am having trouble deciding on a color palate that is NOT just navy and tan. Going to target today to find more pillows! Can you tell me about the rug in this room? Thanks

8 years ago

You’re gorgeous!

8 years ago

Gorgeous photo of you. Loving that brown sweater!!! (where from, tell us tell us!)

Darling is a nice magazine, that’s really cool you are having opportunities to branch out into other publications besides for home deco mags. Congrats! and congrats on baby Elliot!

8 years ago

Say what?? I had to come down here and comment before I got past the first two sentences because you actually said you tried not including that pic! It’s STUNNING! Like, ridiculously stunning. Like, get over yourself and post the sultry eyes, girl! Gorg.

8 years ago

Very beautiful done and I love that they don’t photoshop the women in their magazine. I also don’t do that when I take pictures of people. I love to show the real person. I would be awesome if we could go back and take a picture of those moments that inspired us.

8 years ago

I lovelovelove the black-and-bronze pants and fuzzy shawl! If I buy the magazine, will it give clothes credits??

Dyanna Littke
8 years ago

From the moment I started scrolling down to read- I fell in love with the first photo. So pretty and real and the outfit is so elegant. I think its my favorite picture I’ve seen of you. Strange how that happens- isn’t it? I love the mission of this magazine- their statement is refreshing! Can’t wait to look into it!

8 years ago

You look stunning in the photo!

8 years ago

I like this description of how to create spaces in a home.

Also, thanks for having the courage to go without Photoshop. I looked at your photo, saw the signs of normal age, and then surprisingly applied the “label” pretty to both myself and you knowing we both wear the natural signs of our age:)

8 years ago

My goodness, you look beautiful and so wholesome. Love your style and can’t wait to purchase your book.

8 years ago

You are just so darn pretty! How awesome that you have these! Girl…getting your thang on! Nice work!

8 years ago

Thank you for sharing this advice about finding your own style. I’ve loved your blog for years now. You have such a readable writing style and this advice is completely accessible and achievable. I am going to follow it to the letter in preparation for styling my new home. Thanks for being so adorable and generous with your ideas. Your book has just arrived here on my doorstep in Australia; I can’t wait to delve into it but I am also reluctant to start reading it because I don’t want to finish it. (is that weird?)

8 years ago

I couldn’t resist saying it… you look stunning!
And congrats on your baby girl. I don’t know how you do it, but it looks like you do it all!

8 years ago

you look soooooo pretty!!