We’ve all done it: bought something that we later regretted, only for it to be shoved to the back of our wardrobes, with the tags still on. Often, it’s something that’s not quite aligned with our personal style and doesn’t go with what we already own. But how do we avoid making such mistakes moving forward?

Thankfully, New York-based stylist Allison Bornstein has some ideas. After launching an online consultation service during the pandemic, she developed her (now TikTok famous) three-word method – an approach that can help us all streamline our wardrobes. “Through my work, I realised that a lot of people didn’t necessarily have the language to define their style,” she tells Vogue. “As a result, they were buying a tonne of shit and trying out a bunch of different trends, without really taking the time to pause and understand: ‘Who am I? What do I like? Why do I like it? And how can I cultivate a style that feels uniquely me?’”

The method does exactly what it says on the tin, helping you to land on three words to encapsulate your personal style. The first word has a practical element. “This is a word that we find by looking at what’s actually in your closet,” Bornstein says. “Take the things out of your closet that you wear all the time – not necessarily the things that you love, but the things that you wear the most often. What words can you use to describe these things? It’s a shorthand to establish your baseline.”

On taking Bornstein’s advice, I discover that my first word is ease, via the dresses I throw on for work to the tracksuits I turn to when staying in. Bornstein’s, meanwhile, is classic. “For me, it’s a lot of blazers, a lot of jeans – it’s a classic silhouette,” she explains.

The next word is aspirational. “I usually tell clients to find this word by either looking at their Pinterest board or their saves on Instagram. Or even just thinking about a celebrity or [influencer] whose style they really love, then asking yourself what words you would use to describe that style.” My next word is minimalist (the dream is to achieve the ultimate capsule wardrobe), while Bornstein’s is ’70s. “I love flared jeans, I love corduroy,” she continues. “I find myself screenshotting a lot of ’70s references.”

The last word in Bornstein’s method is more of an emotional word. “I like to prescribe a feeling,” the stylist explains. “Some people say sexy or powerful or comfortable. Mine is elegant because I usually get almost all the way there and I just want to be a little bit more sophisticated or polished.” Polished happens to be my third word, too – that feeling of being put together.

Of course, the three-word method isn’t an exact science, but it can help us adopt a more sustainable approach to our wardrobes, avoiding waste in the process. “Mostly it’s just being intentional and smart about what you’re buying, and only buying things that you love,” Bornstein concludes.