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How to put an outfit together. A simple step-by-step guide and formula

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Putting an outfit together that works, that you actually like wearing, is difficult.  But , it doesn't have to be.  This comprehensive guide will show you how to put an outfit together, by giving you a step-by-step guide, a process, and a simple formula to building outfits, so that getting dressed is easy and fun!

If you have lots of clothes that don't seem to go together, you don't know what to put with what, and on the rare occasion that you do manage to put an outfit together it takes you bloody ages and you're not 100% sure that it works anyway...then I am pleased you found me!

Putting an outfit together shouldn’t feel like such a struggle. But unless you are lucky enough to have a stylish family member who passes on their outfit building wisdom; it’s not something you learn how to do growing up.

Well that ends today. Over the past 17 years I've been working as a Personal Stylist, helping thousands of women put outfits together that they love wearing, and this article draws on the knowledge and tips I’ve developed, to share a step by step guide and simple formula that you can use to put outfits together that you like wearing, easily and with confidence.

what is an outfit? 

Before we start, I want to touch on what an outfit is, and what makes an outfit an outfit and not just a collection of random clothes.  An outfit is:

"a set of usually matching or harmonious garments and accessories worn together“   Dictionary.com

The key word for me in the definition above is ‘harmonious’.  In my opinion the clothes don’t have to be matching, but the overall look should be harmonious - that is, easy or pleasant to look at.

That’s not to say that you can’t wear clashing colors or prints (I love me a clashing an outfit, especially when it's print) but even clashing outfits have something about them that is pleasing to the eye, that makes them work.  And that's exactly what I'm going to show you how to do!

here are 7 reasons why you might be struggling to put outfits together

If you find yourself opening your closet full of clothes each morning, struggling to know to put with what, and reaching for the same old outfit again and again, the chances are that you're making one or some of the following mistakes:

1

your closet is so full of clothes that you can't see what you have

If your wardrobe is so full that you can't see what you have, you'll just gravitate towards wearing the same few items that are hanging at the front of your wardrobe...or on the chair...or at the top of the laundry basket. 

If you think this might be one of your hurdles to creating outfits, I highly recommend you do a wardrobe edit to clear some space.

2

you have clothes in your closet that no longer serve you

If you have clothes in your wardrobe that no longer serve you, they will be preventing you from putting outfits together that you can wear.  Examples of this are:

  • Clothes that are too small, or too large for you
  • Clothes that don't align with your current lifestyle
  • Clothes that you don't really like but can't bear to part with because they were a gift, or you spent good money on them
  • Clothes that are tired or damaged , that you avoid wearing
  • Or clothes that you can no longer wear due to health reasons

If you have clothes that fall into one or some of these categories, remove them from your closet to free up space.

3

Your collection is missing some essential items

A wardrobe that is easy to use is built on a strong foundation of essential items, these are the clothes that form the skeleton of your collection and your outfits.  

Each of us will need a slightly different collection of essentials as they will need to work for our lifestyle, shape, and style preferences.

With the correct essentials it will be easy to build outfits.  Without them, you'll continue to struggle to build complete outfits.

If you need help identifying what your essential items could be, check out this article.  I've also written a comprehensive article about how to create a capsule wardrobe, if you want to see that, it's here.

4

You don't have the right footwear

Yes, I'm giving you permission to purchase more shoes!    Shoes are the key to every outfit - the wrong shoes will ruin an outfit, the right shoes will make it.

The best way to identify which shoes are missing is to make a note every time you put a great outfit together but can't find the right shoes.  

Sounds obvious, I know, but how many times have you hung something back in the wardrobe and forgotten about it, because you don't have the right shoes?

Next time, actively notice, make a note and (if possible) don't hang the item back in your wardrobe until you've found the right shoes to wear with it.

5

you don't have a varied enough selection of accessories

I'm not just talking jewelry here, although jewellery is important.  I'm also talking belts, bags and scarves.

In my opinion, one of the most important accessories for putting outfits together is a belt - one for your hips/jeans, and another for your waist. 

They are one of the simplest ways to:

  •  Improve the look and fit of clothing
  • Finish off a look
  • And to tie together a disjointed outfit

Take a look at what accessories you have in your collection and make a note to add anything that is missing.

6

you have lots of different colors and prints in your collection

If your closet is a mish-mash of different colors and prints, it might be difficult for you to combine pieces. 

Wearing color and print is wonderful, but if you're someone who struggles to put outfits together, you might benefit from paring back your collection to a more limited color palette.  

As you become more confident putting outfits together, you can add more colors and prints.

7

And you don't know which clothes work best for your shape

If you don't know which clothes are the most and least flattering for your shape, you will keep buying clothes that you don’t wear, and you'll continue to put outfits together that look better in your head than they do on you. 

If you need some help figuring out what your shape is, or which clothes work best for you, check out some of these useful articles and guides:

4 things that will make it easier for you to put an outfit together

Putting together an outfit that works, for YOU, is down to these 4 key points:

1

if you dress to suit your shape it will be easier to put outfits together that work for you

In order for an outfit to work, you need to consider your shape and the clothes that will work best for you.

I know that dressing to flatter isn’t everyone's priority, but if you are someone who struggles to put together outfits that look as good on you as they do in your head, then I encourage you to spend some time understanding the styles and shapes that work for you, and incorporating that knowledge into your outfits.

If you build a capsule wardrobe of clothes that align with your style preferences, lifestyle AND body-shape, then your outfits will not only be instantly recognizable as ‘you’, they will look good on you and will be easy to put together.

If you don't know what your body shape is, you might want to take my free body-shape quiz to find out.

If you do know what your shape is, but don't know which clothes are the most and least flattering for you, I've created a specific guide for each elementary body-type here, that will help you confidently shop for clothes that work for you.

I also have a list of other articles that will help you:

2

having a good understanding of your personal style will make it easier to put outfits together

Having a good understanding of your personal style will help you put outfits together more easily.

This isn’t essential, BUT, if you know what you like and what you want to look like, it will make it much simpler for you to develop a capsule wardrobe that is easy to combine into outfits that you enjoy wearing.

If your closet is a confusing mix of different styles, none of which really feel like you, you will continue to struggle to put outfits together.

If you need help figuring out what your style is, you might want to check out these articles:

3

Using color theory will make it easier to put an outfit together that works

The pieces that make up your outfit need to complement each other in some way, otherwise the outfit will feel disjointed, or will jar.  

One of the simplest ways to ensure that items compliment each other in an outfit, is by using color.

using color theory to put outfits together

Before we dive into using color to put outfits together, there are 5 key terms that you'll want to understand:

  1. 1
    Hue – this is, quite simply, the name given to any color on the color wheel
  2. 2
    Shade – how light or dark the hue is (this is also known as tint) - mixing shades of one hue is a great way to build an outfit
  3. 3
    Complementary colors – These are the colors that are exactly opposite each other on the color wheel.  They look great together and when worn in combination, they make a great outfit.
A color wheel explaining how to use color to put an outfit together
  1. 4
    Undertone - some colors have a warm undertone, and others have a cool undertone. Building outfits around the same undertone will help make sure that the pieces work together.  
Animage illustrating the difference between warm and cool tones
  1. 5
    And neutrals - A neutral is the easiest hue to work with. They typically work well together in any combination, and they mix and match with most other hues and prints. A neutral could be: black, grey, white, cream, navy, khaki, tan or brown.
A neutral color palette for putting outfits together

how to put an outfit together using colour

Now you have a basic understanding of color, here are some examples of using color to put outfit together:

How to put an outfit together using a solid colour

The easiest color to pair a solid hue with is a neutral, but they also look great worn with a complimentary color, a bold stripe, a soft print, the same hue in a different shade, or a graphic tee…

Here are some examples of outfits built around a solid color:

5 ways to put an outfit together using color
  • You can team a solid hue with a colored print - here, I've chosen a teal stripe as orange and teal are opposite each other on the color wheel, so compliment each other perfectly
  • You could mix a solid color with a neutral print.  Leopard print is my go to neutral print, it works with everything!
  • If you're not into prints, opt for a neutral solid.  Orange and ecru are a perfect combination
  • You can play around with combining different shades of the same hue.  It's a modern take on the monochromatic look
  • Or, you can team a solid hue with a graphic tee.  Just make sure that the color you are matching features in the print somewhere
How to put an outfit together using a neutral hue

A neutral is a great base to work with as it will pretty much go with anything, but do consider the tone and undertone and either stick to neutrals with a cool base or a warm base.

Here are some examples of outfits that are built around a neutral hue:

5 ways to put an outfit together using a neutral color
  • Neutrals look chic when combined with other neutrals.  Go for a lighter neutral for a relaxed look
  • Denim is a great staple for teaming with a neutral.  Keep an eye on the undertone of the denim and the neutral and try to keep them in the same family
  • you can team a neutral with a solid hue.  Again, keep an eye on the undertone and make sure they are similar
  • A neutral works effortlessly with a neutral print. Snakeskin is another versatile print if you're not into leopard prints
  • And another option is to team the neutral with another, darker, neutral.  Black always looks chic, but chocolate brown or khaki green look great too
how to put an outfit together using a print

There are two types of prints - multicolored prints and neutral prints -prints that are in neutral hues.

When it comes to prints try not to get overwhelmed by all the color options within the print.  Pick out one or two colors in the print and focus on finding clothes that match those colors.

Prints look great when teamed with a neutral, a graphic tee, another print, or a block color.

Here are some examples of outfits that are built around a neutral print

5 ways to put an outfit together using a neutral print
  • You can mix a neutral print with another neutral.  Pick one of the neutral hues that is in the print to help tie the look together
  • Neutral prints look great when worn with a graphic tee.  Again, try to pick a graphic that has one of the colors in the print piece
  • You can mix a neutral print with a multicolored print – just make sure one color features in both prints as this is what will tie them together.  They also want to be in the same undertone, so cool or warm.
  • You can mix a neutral print with a complimentary color - to do this, pick one of the colors from the print and team it with a piece in a complimentary color.  In this instance I've chosen lilac as it sits opposite orange
  • And another option is to team your neutral print with denim

Here are some examples of outfits that are built around a multicolored print:

5 ways to put an outfit together using a colorful print
  • You can team a multi-color print with denim for a super simple look
  • You can mix a colorful print with a neutral
  • You can mix your prints! Just make sure that the prints have a similar undertone, and that there is one hue that features in all prints.  I also recommend that the prints are in different scales.  For more tips on print mixing head over here
  • Multicolored prints work well when teamed with a solid hue that features in the print
  • And you can mix a print with a stripe

4

Getting the proportions correct is key to putting an outfit together

If you’ve ever looked at your outfit and felt something looked 'off', or maybe that you looked a little frumpy, or dumpy, then the chances are the proportions of your outfit are wrong.

The rule of thirds will help with that!

The rule of thirds is most commonly used by photographers and artists to create the perfect composition.  It involves breaking your canvas, or viewfinder into a grid of nine - 3 columns along and 3 columns down.  You then place the focal point of your image or painting in the left or right third of the frame, or the top or bottom third of the frame, as illustrated below:

An image illustrating using the rule of thirds in photography

Focal point in middle looks OK but nothing special

An image illustrating using the rule of thirds in photography

Focal point in bottom 3rd is more aesthetically pleasing

using the rule of thirds to put an outfit together that works

In outfit terms, we can use the rule of thirds to break our outfits into three, more aesthetically pleasing parts.  You can break your outfit into the following parts:

  • 1:1:1
  • 1:2
  • 2:1

Check out the outfits below to see what I mean.

1:2 proportioned outfit
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together

Tucking the tee into a high waist skirt gives this outfit the correct proportions

1:1:1 proportioned outfit
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together

There are 3 distinct portions to this outfit.

1:1:1, 1:2 and 2:1 proportioned outfit
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together

This outfit is the holy grail of outfits!  It covers all 3 options for the rule of thirds!

2:1 proportioned outfit:
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together
An image of an outfit illustrating how to use the rule of thirds to put an outfit together

The scarf in this outfit breaks the proportions into 2:1.  Without the addition of the scarf, the outfit would be split in half which is much less attractive.

If you struggle to get your head round this, or are unsure about an outfit and what the proportions should be, a simple tip is to grab your phone, go to the camera settings and put ‘grid-lines on’, then take a mirror selfie of your outfit with your phone.  

The grid on your phone is the same grid used in the rule of thirds so you’ll be able to see how your outfit lines up.

The more you practice the better you’ll get, and eventually it will just become ingrained -you’ll just know if an outfit's proportions look right or not.

3 simple ways to correct the proportions of an outfit

  1. 1
    The simplest styling technique to help you get the correct proportions in your outfit are to tuck your top in - fully, on one side, or just at the front. Or to tie a knot in your top to bring the length up.  These techniques both have the added bonus of highlighting and defining your waistline to create a curvier silhouette.  They will also lengthen your legs.
  2. 2
    Another option is to break up your outfit into the correct proportions using a belt
  3. 3
    You can use layering to alter the proportions of an outfit
  4. 4
    And you can use color to correct the proportions of your outfit
Using tucking in to correct the proportions of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit

The sweatshirt cuts me right across the middle which looks unattractive. By tucking it in and swapping the sneakers for black boots I have altered the proportions so they are a much better looking 1:2

Using knotting to correct the proportions of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit

Knotting this tee shortens my torso and lengthens my legs to improve the proportions of the outfit.

Using a belt to correct the proportions of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit

Without the belt, the jacket cuts me in half making the proportions wrong.  The addition of the belt breaks the outfit into 1:2 proportions which is far more flattering.

Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit
Using the rule of thirds to improve the look of an outfit

This outfit is another example of using a belt to correct the proportions of an outfit.  Without it the leather jacket cuts the outfit in half.  Add it and the proportions are a far more attractive 1:2.

how to put an outfit together

Now you know the 4 key points to putting an outfit together, and you have a basic grasp of color and how to use it to build outfits, you’re almost good to go!

All you need now, is a simple formula to help you choose the pieces for your outfit.

the simple formula that will help you put an outfit together

It’s long been believed that odd numbers are more aesthetically pleasing in design terms, especially the number 3…

“Even numbers create symmetry, but odd numbers create interest. An odd number of details is more effective at capturing your gaze. Odd numbers force your eyes to move around the grouping…That forced movement is the heart of visual interest. It’s for that reason that a set of three is more appealing and memorable than something paired off in two’s”.  -  www.apartmenttherapy.com

So, using that as the guide, the simple formula for putting an outfit together is to build it from 3 pieces of clothing.  And add 3 finishing touches:

  1. 1
    Pick your hero piece - the item you want to build your outfit around
  2. 2
    Choose 2 other items to complete the outfit
  3. 3
    Style it up...aka primp and preen
  4. 4
    And add 3 finishing touches - one of which is footwear
A simple formula for putting together an outfit

1

pick your hero piece

Instead of trying to choose a complete outfit from the get go.  Just pick one item that you’d like to wear and build your outfit up from there.Be guided by how you feel and what you’re doing that day -work, play etc…

2

choose 2 other items to complete the outfit

I know the tendency is to grab a top and bottom and be done, but push yourself to choose a 3rd item.  Building an outfit with 3 items of clothing encourages you to be more considerate when putting an outfit together, and it adds that 'je ne se quoi' that a well thought out outfit has.

It will also help you to simply break up your outfit into that aesthetically pleasing thirds (link to rule of 3 above).

Outfits that combine 3 pieces could be as follows:

  • 1 top + 1 pants or jeans + 1 layering item (jacket/cardigan/kimono…)
  • 1 top + 1 skirt + 1 layering item
  • 1 dress or jumpsuit + 1 layering item underneath + 1 layering item on top

Using what you learnt earlier, make sure that the 3 items you build your outfit around do the following:

3

style it up

This is one a part of the process that most people don't bother with, but it's important to include this step if you want your outfit to look finished.

Simply putting 3 items of clothing together isn't enough.  You need to primp and preen - it's what I refer to as styling:  Tucking a top in (fully, half or just at the front), cuffing the sleeves, playing around with the layers so some of them are seen and some are hidden, buttoning or unbuttoning till it looks just right. 

The more you style your looks, the more it will become second nature to you.  That front tuck that's so hard to get right?  It will start to be something you do without thinking.

4

add three finishing touches

The finishing touches are the items that will tie your outfit together, polish it off, and add some personality to your look.

One of the 3 will need to be your footwear, but it's entirely up to you what the other 2 items are.  They could be accessories, or an extra layer of clothing like a coat or jacket

By only adding 3 finishing touches, you'll find you can put together an outfit that looks finished, but isn't too much.  

Some examples of 3 finishing touches are:

  • A pair of earrings + a belt + a pair of boots
  • A necklace + a purse + a pair of shoes
  • A scarf + pair of shoes + a hair accessory
  • A hat + a second layer + a pair of shoes

The potential combinations are endless really, but the important thing is to make this work for your style - the 3 items could be bold statement pieces, or they could be minimal and understated. The key here is that you’re taking your outfit from bland to interesting.

Here are some examples of using the fomrula to put an outfit together

How to put outfits together
How to put outfits together
How to put outfits together
How to put outfits together
How to put outfits together
How to put outfits together


frequently asked questions about how to put an outfit together

how do you make an outfit look put together?

It’s all in the finishing touches - the styling and the accessories you choose.

Don’t just put an outfit on and go; style it up.
If it’s a top and bottom, tuck the top in - either fully, just at the front, or just on one side.
Play around with the sleeve length by cuffing them
If your outfit has buttons, see what they look like done up in different combinations - Undo some of the buttons of a dress to show some leg, or cleavage.  Or do up the buttons of a button.
And if you’re in jeans, maybe a turned up ankle works?

And be considerate when deciding which accessories to put with your outfit.  Don’t just throw them on, think about how they can tie your look together and finish it off.

how do you put outfits together with clothes you already have?

I wrote an extensive article here about how to put outfits together with clothes you already have.  There's also a free PDF you can download that will give you 20 prompts to help you build outfits with your clothes.

how do you put layered looks together?

Layering is so much fun!  It offers the ability to create unique outfits, but it can be tricky to master.  It's a subject that I felt was worthy of it's own blog post, so I wrote one here.

What makes a good outfit?

A good outfit, in my opinion, is an outfit that fits well, shows your shape off to it’s best, and looks like you didn’t spend too long thinking about how to put it together.    

An outfit will also look good if you feel comfortable in it, as it doesn’t matter how good the outfit is, if you don’t look comfortable or feel good in it, it will show!

If you follow these 4 key points, and use my simple formula for putting an outfit together, your outfits will always look good!

how can I make my outfit unique?

The best way to make your outfit unique, is to dress for YOU.

That means choosing clothes that work for your shape, lifestyle and style preferences.  And if you need to take inspiration from others, do so, but don’t just copy and paste their look, adapt it so it works for you.  If you carbon copy someone else's look it won’t feel unique to you.  

Another key point is to develop a strong collection of shoes and accessories that you can draw on to subtly change the look of your outfits.  For example, if you have a dress that came with a belt or tie, remove that and replace it with one of your own. It will instantly make the outfit look more unique.

how do you make a boring outfit more interesting?

There are 4 simple ways to instantly make a boring outfit look more interesting:

  1. The first is to style it up - this means tucking your tops in, cuffing your sleeves, experimenting with how you button an item, etc...
  2. The second way is to play around with layering: layering can alter the proportions of an outfit to make it look more interesting, and it can add interest and dimension to a dull look.
  3. Wear contrasting textures - one of my favorite combinations is chunky knits contrasted with soft silk.
  4. And lastly, use accessories and footwear to add interest to a boring outfit.

Putting outfits together easily, takes practice.  But it is worth the effort.  When you can quickly and easily put together an outfit that you enjoy wearing, that looks and feels good, life just feels a little easier, and you feel a little happier.

Let me know how you get on!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product via these links I will earn a small commission. I NEVER link to products that I wouldn’t recommend to my clients, or purchase myself, in fact I own many of the styles linked here so can vouch for them! To find out more CLICK HERE

Hi, I'm Niki

author and personal stylist

Over the past 17 years I’ve freed thousands of women from the frustration of disappointing outfits, by showing them how to dress to make the most of their shape, and helping them build a closet that's easy to use and fun to wear.  My blog shares the tried and true tips and knowledge I've developed, to help you stop wasting money on disappointing clothes, and build a closet you enjoy wearing.


You can find out more about Niki here

And you can get in touch with Niki here