An account of my personal style in my 30s.

The final moments of my 20s were slightly terrifying I must confess.

It came with a sense of finality that I couldn’t shake off – thanks to numerous online articles listing the  “ten things you must do/know/see before 30…” and so on.

I was terrified, but at the same time grateful to mark my 30th birthday.

After taking digs at some of my colleagues when they turned 40, they in turn gleefully rejoiced at my terror with very expressive notes on my birthday card (all in loving jest of course!)

But did I remain terrified after 30? No.

Rather, a sweet calm washed over me.

I reflected on my 20s with newfound wisdom, and a lot became clearer. This included a process of interrogating my identity personally, professionally and more.

An offshoot of that “interrogation” involved how I wanted to carry on presenting myself to the world around me – by “dress” and other devices.

This is an account of how my personal style is evolving in the 30s -club.

I have noticed a couple of changes in how I select and put my outfits together.


I’ve become a more confident dresser

Note that I didn’t say a “better dresser”, just a more confident one.

After spending the last thirty years with this body of mine, I’ve come to understand what rocks on it, and what looks bleeh.

It was a journey, however, and I had to make conscious effort to take how I presented myself in “dress” more seriously.

Like some, I also struggled with the notion that I would be perceived as being vain, frivolous, and be misidentified as a bubble-head.

But I still loved to see people dress well, and I wanted to be one; so I did what I do best, research.

Stylish Academic was born out of my desire to say to the world it’s okay to embrace intellectual rigour and style at the same time.

Imagine my joy when you began to read the website and engage with Stylish Academic on social media. I realised, I am not alone!

The more I read about style, body shapes, and types, and so on, I knew I had to start experimenting to properly nail my personal style.

For instance, an early discovery for me was that my pants had to be high-waist or nothing. I could get away with mid-rise if I wanted to push the envelope a little, but low-rise was a no-no.

Overall, I am no longer afraid to experiment with my personal style in my 30s. I just think about it like ethnography.


I am a more careful shopper when it comes to style in my 30s

I can now go months without shopping, and it’s painless.
Blame adulthood, but there is more to life than new clothes, shoes, and handbags.

I say to people that being stylish doesn’t have to break the bank.

Only buy quality items.
Only buy items you can match with at least three other items in your wardrobe.
Carefully select colours that will flow more with your existing wardrobe palette than clash with it.
Develop an eye for unique items.
Don’t underestimate the power of basics – they are the foundation of your style.


I shop pre-loved items without shame

I love pre-loved items, and I am a vintage enthusiast.
Tell me where there’s a Fair, and you’ll find me there.

They are affordable, a haven of unique items you may not find anywhere else, and are usually of great quality (I mean, they’ve lasted long enough to be re-sold).

I have become less concerned about what anyone thinks of my shopping preferences.

I’ll stroll into a vintage fair or thrift shop, in the same manner, I’ll saunter into a Reiss store.


I began to understand that style was more about what’s on the inside

Style is about you.

I love this tweet on Stylish Academic that says…

You can’t buy style (unlike fashion), you cultivate it instead.

Kate Hogg in More Dash Than Cash (1989) begins by saying…

…not that clothes should ever dominate character, but they should be used to an advantage. What you wear creates an image that is an extension of your personality. Of course, the person inside the clothes counts far more, but people may not discover your character, humour, intellect, or warmth if they are not drawn by your appearance in the first place…

And below lies the difference between Fashion and Style…

Hogg goes on,

…clothes should be something to have fun with, not to be tyrannized by. Fashion is notoriously fickle and the yardstick of what is considered beautiful or chic shifts from one season to the next. What does remain constant is the criteria for looking good – the confidence to be yourself and establish a personal style that makes you stand out.

tjp photography - style in my 30s

My personal style is still evolving, and I am having fun with it.

I have begun to curate my personal style on my Instagram page, @teeola_SA.

When I am 60-70, and I look back on my style in my 30s, I see a gentle smile cross my face as these words escape my lips, “what a long way I have come…”.

Style is about confidence, when you feel like it and when you don’t.

What changed about you when you turned 30 (or what are you looking forward to in your 30s)?

You may also like to read:

Personal branding for academics – Tee Ola (for

An essay on my personal and scholarly style  – Dr Madeleine Seys (Fashion Editor, Stylish Academic)

How I discovered my personal style – Natmari (for Stylish Academic)

Tee Ola (Tomi Ola) is the managing editor at Stylish Academic. She completed her PhD in Digital Media and the culture of democracy in 2015. And although she works full-time in digital marketing in higherEd, she is never faraway from the lecture theatre or some conference for academics.

Photography: Timothy James Photography 

Outfit: Black Blazer – Topshop | T-shirt – Warwick Uni Tee (merchandise store) | Black Trousers – Apricot | Striped Jumpsuit – TK Maxx.