I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside stylists from high to low fashion, commercial to runway fashion, and it’s time I shared some of what I’ve learned.
I think in the time between now and when I wore cotton striped whatevers from wherever, I’ve most of all learned how to put things together in a way that is interesting, dimensional; that is, to style.
To style is to piece together unrelated articles into a cohesive story. To style is to storytell.
How do you tell a story with your clothing? Let’s review the elements. Consider these the tools in your artist’s toolbox. They are there for you to put together as you wish.
1. Color. Do not be afraid of color. It can be your most powerful tool. Use it to convey emotion. Put together two solids next to one another, known as colorblocking. Or wear shades within one family to create a monochromatic look. Keep the whole look simple and then surprise with a POC, or Pop of Color. Or speak with an absence of color: consider all black, all white, B&W, or neutrals. These can also be powerful (think of Chloé!).
Brands for inspiration: Kate Spade, J.Crew, Chloé
2. Proportions. This is your chance to power play with fits and lengths and silhouettes. If you are wearing something billowy and blousy on top, tighten the look with something formfitting on bottom. If you are wearing a shapeless dress, choose the focal point with a carefully placed sash: consider the difference between an empire waist, a natural waist, and a drop waist. If your jacket features cropped sleeves and torso, elongate the body with a maxi dress or high-waisted pencil skirt. It’s like the basic elements of art & design: think lines, positive space, negative space, focal point, and that can define your look.
Brands for inspiration: Céline, Marchesa, Herve Leger
3. Patterns. I love patterns. They are so man repeller. Brocade, floral, stripes, polka dots, paisley, ikat, checkered, the list can go on… Patterns create interest and movement. Combine two patterns that work together, or let one stand out. Small tip: patterns larger than a fist can make you look bigger.
Brands for inspiration: Madewell, Missoni, Miu Miu
4. Texture. This is probably my favorite style element. If you are wearing two solids next to one another, you can easily break up the visual texture with a sheer cardigan or solid in a different textile. Silk, cotton, snakeskin, leather, faux leather, denim, waxed cotton, washed denim… I’ve worn outfits in purely one color by simply changing up the textures.
Brands for inspiration: Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen
5. Layer. This is likely the easiest element to master in order to instantly look more interesting. Think the more layers, the better. The basic rule I give myself is always: 3 pieces. Shirt, cardigan, denim. Blouse, scarf, skinnies. Tee, vest, shorts, tights. Boom, 4 pieces. Instantly more interesting. Start here if you don’t know where else to go. Personal rule #2: Never leave the house without a scarf.
Brands for inspiration: Sandro, Chanel
6. Accessories. Bag, shoes, jewelry: these can make or break your outfit. Compliment the tones in your outfit with some gold, silver, rose gold, or tri-tone jewelry. Mix your metals. Accentuate your hardware. Or, let your accessory be your guide with a statement necklace e.g. bib necklace, collar necklace, or with costume jewelry.
Brands for inspiration: DSquared, Saint Laurent, Hermès
7. Ideas. And if all else fails, start here. Start with an idea. Femme fatale? Sporty chic? Urban grunge? Boho? From the boys? Stark minimalism? Choose one and develop it. Even if no one knows the plot, it doesn’t matter. In fact, that’s kind of the point. If it were that obvious, you shouldn’t be wearing it.
Brands for inspiration: Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton
So maybe this wasn’t helpful. But I could write up a bunch of rules, and they’d be as useful as a list of rules for creating art; you can follow them but you won’t come up with anything inspired.
Fashion is art is fashion. Embrace it; make it you. ❧