Friday, March 18, 2011

Reader Question: Help me build an Outfit!

Yesterday I talked about how to build a basic work wardrobe. Today I'm going to try to answer Lauren's question about how to put together an outfit. Please keep in mind that I'm not terribly trendy or adventurous with how I dress. I'm hesitant to do much pattern mixing or push too many boundaries. My main goal is to look polished and put-together but still have my personal style show through.

Okay! So Lauren specifically mentioned not knowing how to build an outfit around, say, a crazy patterned top. Here's what I do:
  • Start with the piece you want to build an outfit around (crazy patterned top)
  • Pair with a neutral basic (pants or jeans or a skirt)
  • Chose shoes that either complements/matches a color in the top or are neutral
  • Add a layer in the form of a cardigan or jacket, also in a neutral (grey, tan, brown, navy, black) but not the same as the pants/jeans/skirt OR if your shoes are neutral, pick a color in the top and add a layer in that color.
  • Chose a bag that doesn't compete with all the above (but it doesn't have to match your shoes or anything)
It sounds complicated, but once you start building, it'll work itself out. The trick is to have well-fitting neutral basics to work around. I think this is a good example of what I'm talking about:

patterned top
navy cardigan
brown pants
eggplant shoes
colorful bag 


patterned top
navy pants
red shoes
fun necklace
eggplant bag

Another example of how to build around a crazy pattern is this more recent outfit:

Leopard is a pattern, but a neutral one, so I kept everything else pretty simple to let the print be the focus. I wanted a little color, so the red layer takes care of that, and I also wore a circular pattern necklace to reflect the pattern in the skirt. 

This recent post of mine also reflects my build-an-outfit method. 

And please, I do not always follow my own advice and I often screw it all up. Like here:

I mean, technically I'm following my usual method but could I be more boring? The tights are great, but in an effort to not over-do the rest of it I ended up with a meh, muted outfit. And here:

I think this wins for Worst Thing I've Ever Worn on the Blog. Seriously, WTF. The dress is fine, but by pairing it with another bright color AND nude fishnets AND patent shoes AND a (different shade of) purple bag, I look like a hot mess. If I wore it again, I'd probably pair it with my dark purple t-straps, a charcoal cardigan and maybe a black bag. (Or if it were summer I'd wear gold sandals and carry my cream bag.) I'd play it a little less crazy-cat-lady, is what I'm saying. 

Hopefully this helps and doesn't confuse anyone. I honestly didn't even realize I had a method until I started writing it out! Again, not the most adventurous approach, but one that will help you not be late for work everyday. 


  1. Really great tips!

    I know you think the 2nd to last pick is boring but I really like it. I also wear A LOT of black and grey so... but seriously, with tights like that, you truly do have to tone down the rest of the outfit. Maybe a brighter bag? Still love it.

  2. Great post, and laughed my head off at your comments on the last outfit (plus I've worn waaaaay worse). Also, think your 'boring' outfit wasn't even. Thanks for the advice.