One of the steps of developing your own personal style is analyzing the thought process behind putting together an outfit. As much as it may seem like fashionistas don’t really have to think about what they put on, I’m here to tell you that every piece of the styling is thought through. While I understand many people don’t want to spend the time to think through an outfit, hence the T-shirt and jeans combo that we have all come to know and love, after practicing a few times, the process becomes like second nature. Instead of reaching for your jeans first, you instinctively look for a cool pair of trousers instead. Or instead of just throwing on a simple chain necklace, you might reach for a bolder earrings or scarf to amp up the look.
That’s not to say that as fashionista’s we can get ready in a flash. Sometimes I can, because luckily I already have an entire visual diary of looks that I can fall back on (because of this blog). But when I do show you a new look, I think about it a little more, which has brought me to consider the steps I take when putting together an outfit. I would love to share them with you below. Some are obvious, some are not so, but hopefully at least one of them will help you to re-think your look the next time you get dressed.
Here we go!
Step 1: Identify the Hero Piece
This is fairly obvious, but pick out the piece that is most important to you. It could really be anything- a bold t-shirt, a coat, shoes or even a scarf! This is what the outfit revolves around. I always pick one piece that I want to showcase and then work from there. Often it’s shoes!
For the look above, the hero piece is my boldly printed dress. It steals the show, but paired layered over a tee and paired with a crazy stole, the dress is highlighted even more.
In this look, the hero piece are the sneakers. They are the first item I decided to wear and worked my way up from there, pairing blue and green the entire way.
Step 2: Identify the most natural pairing to that piece and ignore it!
This is probably the most important part of my process of putting together an outfit. If the most natural pairing of my stripe shirt is jeans, I find something new. If most people at work wear a white button down shirt with their pencil skirt, I ditch that idea. If I know girls always wear heels with their mini skirts, I reach for the sneakers. I strive to mix it up.
This constant need to be different started when I worked at the Gap corporate offices. Everyone wore Gap, of course! And as much as the brand was fantastic and we had great deals, I had to find a way to stand out. I wore heels and funky belts and bold jewelry. I would shop at Urban Outfitters so that I could style my Gap pieces differently. I distinctly remember a few times when I may have strayed a bit too far from the beaten path at work, but I was still in my exploratory phase!
Nowadays when I think about alternate pairings, I think about color, pattern and silhouette. I have described some of my personal rules in this post about defining your look. I draw inspiration from Pinterest, you can follow me here to see some of my street style and color pairings. I would say that of all of the rules, silhouette is probably the most important one. If you are not a color person, then focus on balancing silhouettes and experimenting with oversize shapes, high waists and cropped hemlines. These look fresh and cool for any situation, are comfortable, and can be paired back to other, more fitted items in your closet.
If you do have fun with color, then try dressing all in one color. It actually becomes very easy to get dressed and makes a really impactful statement. I also try and mix textures- thinking lace with leather, velvet with denim, chiffon and knits. The light and soft pairing gives a more effortless feel.
It’s hard to tell in this picture, but this vest is actually black and white houndstooth. Instead of pairing it with a solid, I picked a complementary black and white Glen Plaid print, so the prints would play off each other.
In this look I started with the coat as a hero piece, but layering it with similar shades of mint turned the whole outfit into an unforgettable one.
Step 3: Throw on a third piece
I actually have an entire post on the rule of 3 here. Basically, the trick of fantastic street style is throwing on a third piece. Layer a top under a dress and carry a coordinating bag. Always think about outerwear as the final finishing third piece. Consider silk scarves and headwear as a unique choice to finish the outfit. More and more I find myself investing the “third piece” instead of new jeans or basics. We all already have those, and how much joy do they bring you? None. Not to be all Kon-Mari on you, but spending your money on a fun accessory, vest, sheer underlayer, bold tights, etc. will finish your look, make you feel more unique, and bring you joy when you get dressed. That’s what its all about!
Other tricks for when I throw on a third piece are, highlighting a specific color through and accessory to draw more out the of the hero piece, using a similar print, like different stripes on stripes, or mixing lengths, like a long coat with a mini skirt.
In this look my third piece is my bag. Instead of a boring black one, I picked bold black and white to play off the striped jeans.
A cape always makes a great third piece. This one is so easy to layer over long or short sleeves, and all lengths of pants; I use it whenever I need a little volume up top.
Step 4: Muss it up a little!
Think about how you can make the look feel easy breezy. Maybe roll up the sleeves on your shirt or untuck the hem. Maybe you roll up your pants or wear socks with heels. Maybe your hair is undone or a scarf is thrown casually around your neck as a decoration, not tightly wound for function.
These are the little details that give you that ‘just thrown this on’ vibe. I must admit that this was the hardest one for me to achieve and is something I still struggle with. As a fashion blogger, I constantly compare my hair and makeup to other bloggers, and realize that I while I love doing both, I can’t strive for the same perfection as others do. Also, in the corporate world I was always fighting upward mobility- I look younger than I am and people always thought I had much less experience than I did. Therefore I erred on the formal side, always having my shirt tucked and 10 pairs of heels at my desk. I’ve since been away to throw away a little bit of the stuffiness, and that’s ok- I have learned that a touch of casual can be more approachable and relatable.
In this look the rolled up denim, scrunched socks and haphazard throw of the stole lend a casual vibe to heels and a formal top.
Scrunching up the sleeves of this look (and mixing similar black and white patterns) give it a ‘just thrown on’ feel.
Step 5: Accessorize wisely
This really shouldn’t be the last step since we clearly have already discussed the importance of considering accessories early on when putting together an outfit. An accessory can be my hero piece. It can also be my third piece. It can also be the piece that ties it all together. One of my favorite ways to do this is with colored sunglasses. I must own 30 pairs of sunglasses; 1. because I can’t be outside at all without them, and 2. I have one in absolutely every color and finish. If I don’t, I want one. If my hero piece is a red dress, than you can bet I will up the ante with red sunglasses- its just too fun and irresistible not to.
When it comes to accessorizing, I typically stick to only one bold accessory for the face, unless its a sun hat for protection. I don’t like big earrings and sunglasses, or big earrings and necklaces, or headbands and sunglasses. Just one. For me, sunglasses typically win out.
I also always skip the black pumps. Black is fine, just buy a killer bootie, some strappy heels or a velvety flat. It is a myth that you need a great black pump. Total Myth. I have had a fantastic pair that are comfortable, made of great leather and sexy and I have maybe worn them twice because I felt I should get my money’s worth. What a waste. (For the record I feel this way about a great white button down shirt and a trench coat as well… snooze).
My theory is why play it safe? Dressing with a little more POW wakes me up and warms up others too. It starts conversations, it makes you feel happy, and makes you remember that you are your own unique person. I embrace that whenever I can.
For this look I went with all grey, and used the pop of green in my bag and sunglasses as an accent.
Matching sunglasses again! This time with white kicks (my go to) and denim on denim for an easy travel look.
I hope you enjoyed my 5 steps to putting together an outfit! I would love to hear your feedback- do you like posts like this? What are some of the things you think about when you put together an outfit?