Have you ever noticed how some outfits just seem to work while others fall flat? It’s not that they’re more expensive, or more elaborate, or even formal. There is just something about them that feels right.
From socialites wearing unexpected combinations like chunky sneakers and silk dresses to a high-rank executive wearing a perfectly curated skirt suit, every outfit needs certain elements to achieve the desired results. Designers and fashion lovers alike have spent decades deciphering what makes an outfit great — and it goes beyond pairing this skirt with that top.
These are the essential elements you need to learn when creating an outfit. Once you master these, you will discover the endless possibilities in your everyday wardrobe.
Six Elements That Make a Great Outfit
Can you think back to the last time you bought a pair of great-fitting jeans? If so, you’ll understand this point well.
Many people take fit for granted. And modern practices like online shopping prioritize convenience but prevent us from the old-school shopping experience. But how your clothes fit is the foundation of your entire outfit. Whether you like curve-hugging or loose styles, proper fit ensures your garments are beautiful and comfortable.
Take your time to try on your clothes before you buy them, and choose sizes that feel good on your body regardless of the actual number. And finally, invest in a great tailor — they will become a great friend.
The best outfits create a sense of balance regardless of the style. When you create a great outfit, you won’t find elements competing for attention. Instead, they play off each other to enhance your body.
The rule of thirds is helpful when finding a focus element. This rule divides your body into three sections: Your shoulders to waist, waist to knees, and knees to ankles. Essentially, where your body naturally breaks. You may have used this rule unknowingly by choosing high-waisted skirts with a tucked-in blouse or cigarette pants with a long trench coat.
Another example of proportion is the optical illusion of a smaller waist created by wearing shoulder pads. Playing with proportions can highlight your favorite body parts and take attention away from those you don’t like as much.
Let’s revisit an example I hinted at in the intro. Have you ever admired outfits like iconic Carry Bradshaw’s tule skirts and T-shirts and wondered how she got away with those?
Harmony means how each piece’s style complements the whole outfit. For example, Carry’s hyper-feminine tule skirt contrasts a well-worn, masculine T-shirt. And you’ve surely seen the classic model-off-duty outfit of athleisure with luxury handbags or shoes. These styles rely on contrast. They consist of two (or more) opposite styles that balance each other out. A more subtle example of contrast is a silk or lace blouse, wool trousers, and leather accessories.
On the contrary, you can choose complementary pieces like a structured suit and button-down shirt for a put-together look. Or a feminine dress and strappy sandals. Harmony and contrast make your outfit interesting and show there is an intention behind your choices.
Structure in an outfit refers to the way the garment is created. A structured jacket or coat, for example, is one that holds its shape well. On the contrary, one without structure is softer and drapes over the body. Think of a blazer compared to a cardigan.
Structure plays into proportion and harmony, and it can enhance the fit of your clothes. Coming back to the model-off-duty outfit, you’ll notice that models and celebrities tend to complement casual pieces like sweatpants and jeans with trench coats. When done well, this trick gives the illusion of a put-together outfit that’s still comfortable and easy.
Using structure in your outfit depends on your personal style. If you like a softer look, mix structured pieces like a pantsuit with flowy tops and feminine accessories like scarves or jewelry. Or create a power look by pairing the same suit with a crisp button-down shirt, a structured handbag and classic Mary Janes.
You may prefer neutrals and earthy hues or go for bold prints and jewel tones. Regardless, using color is one of the primary means of infusing personality into your style.
Color is a complex design element. And there are endless ways to combine it in your wardrobe. Choose between complementary, contrasting, or analogous combinations to elevate your garments. Look at this color wheel by Adobe to explore fun pairings, and learn more about color theory here.
Rich textures add visual interest to everyday clothes. Just imagine your favorite knit sweater with the rough surface of classic jeans and a soft, silky blouse, and you will see what I mean.
You can infuse personality into your look by adding faux fur necklines, mixing fabrics like silks and wools, or choosing textured accessories like shoes and handbags. Texture is especially helpful if you favor neutral or monochromatic looks, as it helps break the monotony and add playful twists to otherwise basic combinations.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to stand in front of the mirror on your way out feeling confident and ready to rock your day? That’s how you’ll feel when you learn how to make an outfit that reflects your style and enhances your body rather than just throwing clothes together.
Exploring your tastes and developing your personal style will increase your confidence, save you time, and improve the way you shop. Schedule a consultation. Together, we will curate a wardrobe that leaves you feeling inspired and excited to play dress-up again.