Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why a look is or is not working—if it looks great, you want to replicate it, and if you’re not sure how you feel about it, you may want to alter an element. Luckily, for days when you don’t have time to experiment, there are some pretty easy things you can do to pull together an outfit as you’re running out the door. Here are some rules for looking coordinated even on those crazy days.
Coordinating your accessories is the strategy that gets you the most bang for your buck. Wearing accessories in the same color or color family is a subtle way to really pull a look together. Choosing all black accessories is, of course, one way to make sure everything matches, but you can also look for accessories within a color scheme or family, such as whites, tans and browns, reds, blues, or blues and purples.
To choose a color scheme, analyze your favorite colors that you have in your wardrobe: are they cool or warm? Are they bright, pastel, or muted? Pick a color scheme that will coordinate with the most colors in your wardrobe. For example, if you have cooler colors, you may decide to work with navy blue accessories. If you have warmer colors, you may choose tans or browns instead. It’s often also easy to find shoes and bags in whites, burgundies, and other shades of red.
As things wear out (or if you constantly lose gloves, like me!), replace them with items in the new color scheme you chose. (You can also consider picking two color schemes for different seasons, such as spring/summer and fall/winter, especially if you need different shoes for each.)
The accessories don’t have to be exactly the same color, just in the same color family. For example, you could wear all navy accessories, or navy shoes and gloves with a royal blue purse. You could also use patterned accessories as a bridge between two colors. If you have a leopard-print bag, for instance, you could pair it with brown or black shoes, belt, and hat.
You can see below that these simple outfits look very chic, in part because of the coordination of the accessories.
Brown shoes, a brown belt, and a brown print purse help make this simple outfit look chic.
Lupita Nyong’o accessorized her jeans-and-a-tee weekend look with a royal blue bag and slingbacks.
Victoria Beckham chose to coordinate with red. Note that the accessories don’t need to match perfectly: her shoes look to be a fire-engine red, while the purse is a more muted shade.
This fantastic pink-and-red striped jumpsuit is accessorized with animal print and black.
Styling your clothes
Another simple technique that makes a big difference is styling your clothes and making them yours. Styling your clothes is basically just a matter of fiddling with things so that they are comfortable, they hit you in the right spot, and make you feel like you’re wearing the clothes, rather than the clothes wearing you. For instance, it can look a little stuffy to wear a plain white shirt completely buttoned up. However, unbuttoning the shirt a little and scrunching or rolling the sleeves can make you look (and feel) more relaxed. You probably already do this pretty regularly anyway for comfort: if you are working with your hands, you probably cuff your sleeves; if it’s hot, you unbutton the top few buttons. Cuffing your sleeves shows your wrists and lower arms, and it is especially helpful if your shirt or sweater is a little too big. Check out Alyssa Beltempo’s videos on styling your pieces—she is an expert at it!
Here, Alyssa Beltempo scrunched her sweater sleeves and half-tucked the hem.
This model wears an unbuttoned, styled sweater.
Wearing a shirt completely buttoned up and styled with a scarf, brooch, or collar necklace is another way to personalize an outfit. Basically, you want to take a wardrobe staple and make it your own by styling it in whatever aesthetic you prefer.
This model wears a button-up shirt with a black ribbon tied in a pretty bow at the neck.
Rolling or cuffing your pants to show your ankles or shoes can also make your legs look longer and your outfit more intentional. Sometimes pants don’t hit us in the right spot on the leg, but they’re close enough that it’s not worth getting them tailored. That’s when you can try rolling them up into cropped pants that show your ankles, or folding them inside, or cuffing them so that the end of the pants hits right above the ankle. This also allows you to coordinate the style of your shoes with your pants: short or cropped pants, for example, allow you to show off higher-shaft boots (as Caitlyn Warakomski does below); longer pants are a great complement for a low ankle boot.
Jean Wang, blogger at Extra Petite, cuffs her pants so that they show her ankles and pretty heels.
You can also show boots that end higher on your foot, as Caitlyn Warakomski does here.
Emphasizing your waist
Tucking in a shirt, wearing a belt, or tying a sash can highlight the waist, which shows your shape in a tasteful way that’s appropriate for any occasion. Emphasizing your waist is especially helpful with multiple layers or with clothes that are looser or boxier on you, because it makes it look like the looseness or boxiness is the vibe you are going for, rather than the clothes just being too big. Wearing a belt also adds structure to an outfit.
Folake Kuye Huntoon of Style Pantry always uses a belt to create a gorgeous hourglass shape.
Adding a belt over a blazer is one popular way to create an hourglass shape.
This dark leather draws the eye to the model’s cinched-in waist.
Adding a structured item or mixing high/low pieces
Wearing structured items makes outfits look more coordinated and thoughtful, as well. Generally, any item of clothing with more structure looks more chic. Think about it: the most formal and professional clothing is all structure. Suits and ball gowns are crafted to project a certain shape on the body wearing them, while pajamas and workout gear have little to no structure and conform to the shape of the wearer’s body. Not every single piece of an outfit needs to be structured, though. Adding just one structured piece elevates an outfit and can create contrast that will pull a look together.
This belt gives shape and structure to two softer pieces.
A structured item can be anything with a little stiffness or a defined shape to it, such as a blouse, dress, blazer, or jacket with details like shoulder pads, buttons, or a collar; a dress or blouse with darts or princess seams; a pleated skirt or a skirt with stiff panels; jeans or trousers, especially those with buttons or pockets, or jeans made of 100 percent cotton; a leather belt or one made of stiff fabric; a bag or purse with square corners or a defined shape rather than one that shows the shape or weight of the contents; or a cloche, fedora, trilby, or other structured hat.
Mary Orton adds a structured bag, hat, and belt to this flowy dress.
If you are putting together an outfit with a lot of soft, flowy clothing that conforms to your shape, add a structured item for contrast. For example, adding a belt to a soft sweater and a flowy A-line skirt adds structure and emphasizes the waist. (A belt would look better than a sash here, because a sash would be more of the same—something soft with no defined shape.)
This belt adds structure and makes an hourglass shape out of the loose blouse and dress.
Adding a structured piece to something very casual also creates a high/low contrast—this is why leather jackets over sweatshirts look so great!
Adding a third item
There’s something about the number three! Writers talk about the “The Rule of Three”—that a list of three things, three events, or three characters feels more complete than another number such as two or four. In photography, painting, and design, artists work with “The Rule of Thirds,” which is the method of using a grid to find harmonious proportions. Similarly, wearing three identifiable items is another easy way to coordinate simple, everyday looks. A blazer added to jeans and a tee looks very put-together, but your third piece doesn’t have to be another large item of clothing: statement earrings, a pendant necklace, a scarf, hairband, or fun shoes can also work.
The three are easy to find here: leather leggings, leopard-print blouse, and red blazer.
We can find three here with the jeans, white shirt, and big earrings.
This model looks fabulous in this shirt dress, jacket, and necklace.
In the summer, a hair accessory can pull together shorts and a tee.
Developing a uniform
Generally, it’s not realistic to try to put together a brand-new, creative outfit every time you leave the house—most people don’t have enough time in the morning to do that. That’s why creating a uniform for yourself is a great way to make sure you look coordinated going out.
To create a uniform, analyze what you like in your closet and what looks good on you, then make a mental note (or a written one!) about pieces that you like to wear together. You can create different uniforms for different days or activities, as well. For instance, your work uniform could be trousers and a button-up shirt. Rather than pulling together a new look every weekday, you can just grab a button-up and trousers and know that it will look great on you. Similarly, you could decide that your weekend look will be jeans and a tee with a necklace—simple! For more tips, read Verily’s guide to creating your own uniform.
Check out all the different looks you could achieve with a casual uniform of high-waisted jeans and a tee!
Even when you don’t have time for style experimentation, practicing one of these styling methods can get you out the door quickly while still looking polished and put together.