I write my Try a Little Harder series because sometimes a small change can make a big difference. A lot of people struggle with creating outfits that they really like, feel stylish and polished, and that don’t require you to buy something brand new to complete the outfit. We see outfits that we love, but creating them within our own closet might feel impossible. It’s tempting to avoid any effort and just throw on a pair of black slacks and a colored top for work or jeans and a t-shirt or sweater for your casual wear. And if you do that and LOVE it- hey keep on doing it, no need to make a change. But if you find yourself wanting to create outfits that are more creative or polished, but you just feel overwhelmed by it, read on to find out how I create interesting outfits in a flash!
Most of the time when I really like an outfit that I see on someone else or in an ad, it’s not any one thing that’s great, but it’s that the outfit is intentional (We talk about intent a LOT on the blog… because intent makes things more awesome). It was not just “thrown together.” The idea that you should look stylish and polished and effortless with some clothes that you just “threw on” without a thought is a total myth, so quit holding yourself to that standard! You will have to think when you create an outfit using this method, but with practice you can figure it out more quickly
When I wrote the One Color, Three Times post a few weeks ago I realized that I had never worn that outfit before, which is not really my goal when I get dressed. I rarely try to create a completely new outfit, and if I do it usually takes a lot of extra planning. This one didn’t. I probably assembled the whole thing within 5 minutes, which is very fast for me.
So then I got to thinking about how I did that so quickly. And I reverse engineered my process and realized that I subconsciously use an outfit formula when I dress myself.
And then I realized that if I can make it into a formula, it means it’s not that difficult (even though I used a lot of big words to describe it!), and with a little extra thought and effort (you know, trying a little harder) anyone could use this to create awesome outfits. Using this formula to create outfits means you’ll be assembling your outfit with intent, and also gives you a guide to follow that will make that process easier and faster.
Here’s the formula:
Awesome Outfit = One Pattern + One (or 2) Bold or eye-catching Accessories + Interesting Color Combination
That’s it. And you can start from anywhere.
For the outfit above I started with the dress. I really just wanted to wear the dress, and since it had a pattern it works within this formula.
I needed something to wear with the dress, and I had lots of choices of cardigans, but I thought “teal and brown is fun,” so that’s what made me pick the teal cardigan.
The teal cardigan led me to the teal belt, which was my bold accessory.
I polished off the outfit with my rule of “one color, three times” by adding the necklace to give my outfit 3 teal items. But I never would have gotten there without the teal and brown color pairing.
Reminders for you:
This is really more of a recipe than a strict formula. If you only want to do 2 of those things- no big deal. But generally doing more than one will take your outfit from looking like “oh she wore red shoes with a black dress” to “Wow, look at her awesome red and black outfit!”
An interesting color pairing could be a lot of things: contrasting colors, a monochromatic look (all one color or shades of the same color), complementary colors, neutrals and neons… whatever, as long as it’s intentional.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a color combination or pairing, try picking colors that are present in your pattern that you’re using! That’s the easiest way to start using this formula.
Your bold accessory could really be anything: purse, shoes, scarf, necklace, earrings, cocktail ring, hairpiece. In general I think it works better (and is easier) if you keep the accessory on your torso, but that’s not a requirement. You could also have 2 bold accessories… for example maybe some colorful shoes and a geometric clutch!
When I say “pattern” I’m really just trying to get away from all solid colors. If you can’t get a pattern in your outfit then work to create patterns using statement necklaces or layering techniques or clothing with embellishments or graphics or varying textiles.
If you like this idea but don’t like this particular formula then think back about your favorite outfits. Why did you like them? Are they similar? Can you create your own formula from those outfits?
I combed through my outfit archives to give you some more examples of this formula in action. Please excuse the quality of some of these shots!
Left outfit: Striped pattern, teal, navy and white color combo, chunky scarf (the pattern provided the color combo as well as the choice in scarf)
Middle outfit: Chevron pattern in scarf, neutral and neon color combo, neon boat shoes and neon and neutral clutch (the jumping off point here was the color combo, which led to my accessory choices)
Right outfit: Another outfit formula is at play here, but the off white on white gives a monochromatic color pairing, the necklace is my accessory, and there is no pattern although I personally count the pattern the statement necklace gives the shirt.
Left: Tweed Patterned blazer, green and pink color combo, super awesome booties
Middle: Foilage pattern in heels, color scheme is primary colors (red, yellow, blue), red heels
Right: Patterned dress (worn as skirt), navy, purple, and teal color combo, teal belt
Left: Pattern is the graphic on the t-shirt, pink, teal, grey, and yellow color combo (pulled from graphic), bright shoes and bracelets.
Middle: Polka dots!, red, (off) white and blue, red belt and statement necklace.
Right: Floral, Olive and Pink (pulled from pattern), statement necklace.
What do you think of my formula? Would you use it?