Outfit post: Inspiration or copycat?

The other day I stood in front of closet, index finger tapping my forehead impatiently, and could not come up with something to wear. It was a stiflingly hot day and I longed for an outfit that was cool and comfortable. I also had some rather Picasso-like abstract tan lines around my shoulders I needed to conceal. I wasn't feeling especially confident about my body, and didn't want to reveal too much skin. Furthermore, my family and I were going out to dinner, and my clothes needed to be appropriate for public viewing. So I did what has become habitual when I'm struggling for style inspiration: I turned on my laptop, cruised a few blogs that I follow, and duplicated an outfit right down to the style of shoes and amount of jewelry.

Initially, I felt fantastic - stylish and attractive. Even - dare I say it? - hot. But as the day wore on I became increasingly uncomfortable. I couldn't keep my shirt tied at the waist like my favorite blogger did. I became self-conscious of the amount of jewelry I had piled on. My skirt felt too short, heels too high, and top itchy and tight. And, worst of all, I felt as if I had betrayed my own sense of personal style. As soon as I got home I ripped the entire outfit off, sat on the corner of my bed, and tried to figure out what went wrong. I had long admired the blogger whose outfit I had duplicated. We had similar senses of personal style and common pieces in our wardrobes. Her outfit photos showed a confident, stylish woman, one many would want to emulate just as I had. So why did I feel so uncomfortable and traitorous? And then a scary thought hit me. Was I a copycat?

So many of us turn to magazines, blogs, and even catalogs (wave to the whimsically layered J Crew outfits) for style advice and instruction. In the aftermath of my style fail, I was left wondering about the difference between being a copycat, and being inspired by a certain look. We all take inspiration from the things we see around us, but at what point does inspiration become copying?

The Free Dictionary defines a copycat as this:

One that closely imitates or mimics another.
To act as an imitator or mimic.
To imitate closely; mimic.
Closely imitating or following another: a copycat version of a successful product; a copycat crime.

We are all living in what Lawrence Lessig calls "remix culture." It is a time when there is literally nothing new under the sun. You're very seldom going to get an opportunity to do something that does not build on some cultural, artistic, or technical precedent. Copying is what you're going to be accused of it you produce a design that differentiates only in small or superficial details from someone's work. I personally define copying as creating something absolutely identical to what already exists.

Here’s the problem with copying: Copying skips understanding. You have to be able to understand something in order to personally relate to it. When you copy it, you miss that. You simply recycle an idea which someone else generated, based on their own personal life experience. You have no real connection to it, and will always be removed. For this reason, the copy typically lacks depth and detail. It’s usually pretty close, but there’s something not right about it. Which explains why I felt so uncomfortable in my duplicated look.

Inspiration is when you see possibilities no one has seen before. Inspiration comes when we translate a certain concept into something unique and individual. Developing a style further through the use of different accessories, colors, material, and even proportions immediately makes it personal. When you're inspired by a certain design, look or object, your creativity rises. You have energy to put your own twist on it, and make it your own.

At this point in fashion, so little is truly new or original. In order to be unique, you need to exercise your creative muscles and test the boundaries. This might mean branching out from your usual style and trying new looks. While I forgive myself for being a copycat, that doesn't mean I am forbidden from being inspired by other bloggers.  I simply need to have the courage to blend their style with my own perspective, in order to create my own look.

How do you define the difference between inspiration and copycatting? How strong an influence do other fashion bloggers, magazines and catalogs have on your own style? Do you ever feel like a copycat? 

Vintage thrifted white shirt; vintage thrifted denim skirt; vintage thrifted petticoat; Old Navy espadrilles; eBay bracelet

This outfit made me so, so happy. It feels like me. And the petticoat made twirling a requirement.


  1. I really like your outfit, even though you may not have felt comfortable after awhile. You look confident, none the less!

    I've heard that "copy catting" is form of flattery. If I do copy cat someone's outfit from a blog, I try to give them credit. Really though, I think by just looking at photos of other bloggers and magazines you gain inspiration and can put a spin on it in your own way.

  2. The idea of a remix culture sounds scarily true. Emphasis on the scary. Surely there are still ways to be original? Although admittedly I'm stumped!

    I do feel like a copycat sometimes but I enjoy taking inspiration from other bloggers, just not a whole outfit. Maybe the way they pair two colours I wouldn't have considered for example, or as you say tying a shirt a certain way.

    I love your 'you' outfit by the way!


  3. I try to be different and avoid copycat looks, but it's inescapable...so really, I just put my own spin on different looks and incorporate certain elements into my own look. In the process, I discover my own style and what works for me.

    This is such a great post and I think copying can be a form of flattery, but when everything one does is "copying" where is their own personal style? We should find our own looks and what makes us feel the most confident. There's nothing wrong with finding inspiration in others but the danger becomes when you adopt someone else's look in replace of your own. =)

  4. This outfit is absolutely gorgeous on you!!

    You know, I have pondered this same thing; copycat vs. inspiration. You make some great points here! Being inspired is taking the look and molding it into your own. great post, dear!


  5. You're so right with the whole inspiration vs. copying. I always have the hardest time with turning an outfit that I see on someone else into inspiration instead of copying. I'm always trying to put my own spin on stuff, but it's kinda hard sometimes when you like so many different things so it's hard to say what your style is!

    I'm absolutely in love with this outfit by the way. How do you have the best thirfting luck!?


  6. What an incredible post! I love the way you view it- there is a big dif between inspirational use and copycatting. And the key is understanding- learn the rules and break them so to speak. I can't say that I've copycatted except deliberately and on purpose...my early 20's in which I was finding my sartorial voice and increase my sense of self and style by blatantly copying styles that were so NOT me. But nowadays, there is ZERO copycatting. I'm too self absorbed. Side effect of being a personal style blogger I suppose, lol.

    Your outfit is fun and fresh and a perfect example of while there is nothing new under the sun there is always a new way to spin it.

  7. The petticoat is to-die-for. Sometimes I intentionally mimic outifts in magazines, right down to the details, but I think that's just me collecting ideas that I like which I can turn into something original. Great post, very thought-provoking!

  8. I absolutely understand what you mean. Too many times have I tried to wear something that is simply not me. The discomfort is so repelling that I end up doing the same, getting home and just ripping off the clothes. I am at a point where I know that some looks are just not for me.

    I admire bloggers for their interpretation of current fashion and the ways they can show their own style. I think it's inevitable to be inspired and to want to recreate looks that we've seen before. But we have to find the balance in which we can both achieve that complete look we see in our minds but manage not to feel(and look) like a stranger in it.

    However, I do think that if it weren't for bloggers, magazines or catalogs I wouldn't push myself to try something other than a good ol' t-shirt and jeans.

    Personal style is evident whether you found inspiration or copied someone's shoes.

    Great pictures of you twirling!

  9. You look great! Love that skirt, you're having lot's of fun twirling in it :p


  10. I think this is a very interesting post. On the one hand, I wouldn't beat myself up about copying. I think there's a difference between copying for the day (who else knows that blogger anyway) and copying for your blog, which is just a bit sad, though many people do it. On the other hand, I can certainly relate to not feeling comfortable in something. Just this morning, while wearing heels, I was wondering "what on earth am I doing going for breakfast in heels? This is so not me...." I've certainly introduced more heels into my life as a result of blog reading, and while I don't think this is a terrible thing (and it's more inspiration than imitation since they're not the same heels), it does often make me uncomfortable that I've stopped being the girl synonymous with brightly coloured sneakers. So yes, I think there is some rethinking to be done.

    P.S. I'm not sure there's ever been "something new under the sun"--until there is. People throughout history have always thought that everything's been done. And then someone comes along and does it differently!

  11. This is a really great post! I work at a lawfirm so I can't really copy most of the styles worn by my favorite bloggers. Some of the styles are either too cutting edge, casual or sexy for my office. I still look at the blogs though because sometimes it's a shoe or scarf or skirt which gets the creative juices going in my head for me to arrive at my daily outfit which is true to me and my own personal style.

  12. I think we should aim to be the inspiration, not always search for inspiration through others. Find it within yourself, that way you'll always be true to who you are :)

  13. Firstly...how have I not discovered you until now?
    It looks like we blog for very similar reasons...A new mom in my THIRTIES who was feeling less than inspired by the 20 something blogs (not that they are NOT stylish) it just didn't translate to real life for me...as a new stay at home mom.
    Very excited to have found your blog...following along now...can't wait to read more posts!
    As for this particular post.....Generally I try to evoke the same FEELING that the inspiration gave me...if something I saw inspired me because it was soft and feminine, than I will go to my closet and try to find the prettiest, frilliest most feminine item...to create that same feeling...but still have it be my creation.
    Be back soon.

  14. Such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. It is certainly something to think about - when something doesn't work, style-wise, it often gives rise to reflection over why it didn't work, or didn't feel like it worked! I think you are right that there is likely a thin line between being inspired by an outfit and copying one. You found that line, I think, when you copied it down to the minute detail that you did. That is copying - being inspired would be allowing yourself to choose pieces that are similar but that you feel comfortable in. If the outfit that inspires you has 4-inch heels but you never wear heels, don't start now. If the outfit has bangles up both arms but you only ever wear a few on one arm, do that! It won't take away from your outfit - no one will be judging you on how well you copied the outfit that inspired you!!

    Great post :)

  15. Well it should make you happy ...it's a happy outfit! happy friday! :)


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