One of the biggest reasons people read my blog is that they want help with styling outfits. Many are looking for easy strategies or formulas they can use themselves. Since the moment I have started my business, this has been my goal, to make it easier for women who struggle with styling their wardrobe.
The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was explaining how I style because much of what I do is pretty instinctive. I don’t use formulas or strategies and often it’s after styling my clients that I notice consistent patterns in how I work. Also, everyone absorbs information differently. Some people are more analytical thinkers, others work by gut and then there are others who just don’t see it and can’t grab anything visual. I have also learned that there are women out there who will cling to formulas like they are gospel. So the biggest challenge in my work is translating what comes to me by instinct along with years of education and experience.
Four Easy Formulas for Styling Outfits
Despite the fact that I work in a more instinctive manner, I like to think I am pretty good at explaining styling in ways that are easy to understand. Terms like splitting wears, chicken outfits, base, accent and pop, the china syndrome, wishful wardrobing, where are you going in that?, blackcident, and more, have all be terms I have coined to make abstract concepts easier to understand with clients and with readers. So I sat down, looked through photos of outfits I have styled with clients, and really thought about some of the key ways I put an outfit together. I came up with four of them that may help you. I am sharing them along with some photos from styling sessions with clients.
Before we get started
Before we get with the styling formulas and outfits, a few things to keep in mind. First, I don’t think or style in formulas. So while these outfits may hit on a formula, they weren’t planned as such. For me, I style and assess the strategy afterward. Don’t expect any of these outfits to look formulaic despite there being a formula that came from the outfits if that makes sense. Second, these are all working photos from actual client sessions so the photos may look a bit crude. The original intent of these photos was to act as references for my clients and never publicly. It is with the permission of these clients that they allowed their photos to be shared. In cases where you see multiple shoes or accessorizing options, it was me indicating to the client they had multiple ways of accessorizing one look.
Styling Formula #1- Focal Point Styling
I have named this type of styling Focal Point because there are elements in each of the outfits that stand out and pulls the eye while the rest of the look takes more of a back seat. Focal point styling is a vivid pop that pulls the eye while making the outfit look complete. Focal points should never distract. While they stand out, they should still work with the outfit. The most common way to use Focal Point styling is through the shoes and quite often the outfit itself is neutral.
Focal Point Outfit #1
These bright red sandals offer a focal point or pop this this clean, modern look with navy pants, navy pin dot button up shirt and gold station necklace.
Focal Point Outfit #2
Similar to the look above, these shades of red shoes add focal points to this subtle snakeskin top and black pants and silver jewelry.
Focal Point Outfit #3
In this look the burgundy pumps and necklace offer focal points to the grey sheath dress and grey plaid blazer.
Focal Point Outfit #4
This deep dress and cardigan gets popped with focal points either with the necklace and red shoes together or on their own. Clearly, this client had variety.
Focal Point Outfit #5
There are quite a few focal point options here. Either the client can go bold with the red pumps or more subtly with the other shoes in cognac, burgundy, or chestnut. Whichever she chooses, they will all bounce off the tonally grey outfit and make the outfit look complete.
Focal Point Outfit #6
Focal points aren’t just found in shoes. In this case, the burgundy cardigan creates a focal point in this outfit.
Focal Point Outfit #7
Creating focal points does not require a ton of wardrobe pieces. Here the same exact same shoes are used in this outfit to create focal points as were used in Focal Point outfit #5
Focal Point Outfit #8
Using a focal point on a monochromatic look is probably the most common way to create a focal point like I did here with the yellow sandals in this outfit or more subtly with the blush pair. In the case of styling this outfit with the blue shoes, that is harmony styling, which you will learn more about below.
Focal Point Outfit #9
I created a focal point using these two-tone burgundy and red pumps with this tan cardigan and grey dress. My client had the option to go more subtle with the tan pumps if she didn’t want to create a focal point in this look.
Focal Point Outfit #10
In these looks, my client has plenty of focal point shoe options to consider.
Focal Point Outfit #11
The focal point in this outfit is through the bright tangerine jacket that pops off the navy and white base.
Focal Point Outfit #12
Focal points don’t mean the rest of the outfit has to be basic or not memorable which you can see in this look with the camel sweater and tattersall pants. A focal point means that there is one piece that takes top billing. In this case, the red pumps.
Focal Point Outfit #13
Similar to the look above (same client), instead of the shoes popping, it’s the blazer that is the focal point against this camel top and solid black pants and black pumps.
Focal Point Outfit #14
In this outfit, it is the yellow pumps that are the focal point in this look. However, given the deep hunter shade of these pants, this outfit could also fall into the Complementary Styling category which I will explain more about below.
Road Map Styling
I named this road map styling because it is something I called the concept of using prints as a guide when color combining in a past blog post. This is likely the easiest way to combine color in an outfit because you have a cheat sheet to follow. The prints are literally guiding you. Here are some examples.
Road Map Outfit #1
In this outfit, the print dictated the rest of the colors in this outfit. I picked up the pink, navy and grey to complete the look.
Road Map Outfit #2
It’s hard to imagine a soft blue and rusty orange styled together until you see it work beautifully in a scarf. This is what happened when putting this look together.
Road Map Outfit #3
It was complete luck that this client had the perfect minty blue shoes and bag to go with this dress. We could have pulled any color that appears in the print which is why prints can be such helpful road maps.
Road Map Outfit #4
In this look, it wasn’t a print but the colors found in a piece of jewelry which dictated the path of how this outfit would be styled. Don’t just rely on your prints as your road maps, try using your jewelry too.
Road Map Outfit #5
In this look, this beautifully printed blouse directed accessory direction.
Road Map Outfit #6
In this outfit, it is the printed scarf that sets the tone to add the burgundy pumps and earrings to the olive dress. Alternatively, the jeweled multi-color necklace dictates the direction for the dress to add the deep blush solid colored scarf and burgundy colored pumps. It’s two road maps in one look.
Road Map Outfit #7
The scarf in this outfit determined the color combination in this outfit of styling the blue or burgundy shoes with the rusty colored pants. Alternatively, the scarf can be swapped out for the necklace and accessorized with the same shoes.
Road Map Outfit #8
As in look #4, the necklace acts as a road map for color combining of either adding the mind or the navy shoes to this outfit.
Road Map Outfit #9
In this outfit, the scarf acts as a road map for color combining.
Road Map #10
The print in these pumps act as a road map for creating the colors in this outfit and earrings choice.
Obviously, we want harmony in all the outfits we create, but in this case, harmony means combining colors in a harmonious way. The most common way to style this way is to work tonally but harmony styling is not exclusive to tonal dressing. Basically, you want to think of all the pieces in one outfit blending together and where not one piece takes center stage. Styling this way shares some similarities with road map styling if the print you are working with is more tonal.
Harmony Outfit #1
In this outfit, the grey sweater, muted pink tone of the jacket and necklace harmonize with each other while the burgundy boots and jacket tonally harmonize.
Harmony Outfit #2
This look contains shades of burgundy and blush that work tonally and complement the chocolate brown.
Harmony Outfit #3
This outfit could be categorized into the road map category given the print of the scarf but because the outfit is more harmonious in appearance, I put it in this grouping. Remember, I don’t style by formula, I create the formulas from what I style.
Harmony Outfit #4
With the colors in this necklace, I created a harmonious look using different shades of green in the cardigan and the shoes.
Harmony Outfit #5
Using shades of blue, I styled this shirtdress in a harmonious way.
Harmony Outfit #6
Shades of burgundy and pink were used here to create a harmonious look.
Complementary styling is the opposite of harmony styling because it uses two colors that work together but don’t blend like harmony outfits do. In fact, may Complentary styled outfits consist of complementary colors and colors that fall opposite the color wheel. This styling formula is different than Focal Point styling because in Focal Point Styling, there is one piece that is popping and in Complementary Styling, the different colors are working together and there isn’t one that necessarily steals focus. Out of all the styling formulas, I would consider this the one that takes the most skill. These examples will help.
Complementary Outfit #1
This outfit is bold with the bright yellow cardigan, olive base, and terra cotta scarf. Adding in all the different shoe and jewelry shades, this outfit is full of colors that all complement each other.
Complementary Outfit #2
Teal is a fantastic color to use when complementary styling. It’s easy to play lots of shades off of it to create some dynamic looks.
Complementary Styling #3
The terra cotta shade and jeweled green shade complement each other and work with either navy or taupe pants.
Complementary Outfit #4
Same sweater as in look 1 and top in look 4 to create a stunning combination of shades that complement one another. Yellow is another easy shade to work with in a complementary manner.
Complementary Outfit #5
Teal and orange. Not for the wallflower. Orange and blue are opposite each other and work well together. This outfit doesn’t fall into Road Map Style because the print was used as an accent, not as a guide for putting this combination together as there is no teal in the scarf.
Complementary Outfit #6
Mustard and burgundy isn’t a combination many consider but they work.
Complementary Outfit #7
Here is chartreuse and olive working in a harmonious way with burgundy added to make it a complementary outfit.
Complementary Outfit #8
The same mustard cardigan with terra cotta scarf and burgundy shoes or brown boots all work with this taupe dress.
Complementary Outfit #9
Complementary styling doesn’t just work for bold colors, here I am using it with peach and mint to create this outfit. However, it could be argued that this is a Road Map styled outfit given the necklace. But what I do remember about this was styling the outfit and adding the necklace last, so I’ll categorize it under Complementary.
Complementary Outfit #10
Here burgundy and soft blue (one of my favorite color combos) work to create a great complementary outfit. Using the shoes on the left, the outfit is more of a harmony style.
Complementary Outfit #11
Olive and and a rusty orange create the complementary outfit.
Complementary Outfit #12
Mustard yellow, ink blue and a burgundy or rust create this complementary look.
Complementary Outfit #13
Here is yellow and burgundy working together again.
Complementary Outfit #14
And lastly, that stunning teal and burgundy combination.
Create your Own Outfit using one of these formulas and enter to win!
Have you found these styling formulas helpful? Want to give it a try for yourself? Choose one of the four formulas I created and create using pieces from your wardrobe and enter to win a $50 gift card. I will select the first round of winners and the finalists will be posted in an upcoming blog post where you all can vote for your favorite. Click here for more info and to enter your outfit!
My special thanks to my clients who over the years have so generously allowed me to share photos from our sessions.
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That was INSANELY helpful- love all the examples! Already submitted my first picture- the shot was grainier than I’d like for some reason though. Hopefully I can fix that Issue before I send in my 2nd outfit shot.
The opportunity to play in my closet was such a welcome relief to just putting on the same pandemic outfits week after week. Thanks so much!
Submission received! I am so happy to hear how helpful you found this post. Who knew that I was using strategies I didn’t even have names for? Have fun playing in your closet!
What an amazing article – so helpful to pick apart what works without being too specific and narrow. Thank you Bridgette!
Thank you, Elizabeth! I am thrilled to hear how helpful this was for you!