Outfit creation is at the heart of your style. This is where it all comes together, and it is where you can achieve maximum impact because it’s not just about the item itself, but how you wear it that counts. 

I have many clients who ask me to help them only with outfit creation, because that’s where they get stuck. That means they’ve edited and reviewed their closet and shopped for items on their shopping list on their own, but find it challenging to create flattering, interesting and comfortable outfits. So we spend anywhere from several hours to the entire day putting together outfits for all aspects of their lifestyle. Along the way we document the combinations we come up with and note wardrobe gaps and surpluses.

I go into the outfit creation process with my head full of information that acts as reference point and inspiration, often very specific to my client’s needs. This makes it hard to distill general guidelines, but recently I have been thinking more about the things that my outfit creation sessions have in common. I realized that our approach often falls into one of four categories, each based on a different starting point.

1. An Item

The item could be a new pair of trousers, a dress, a skirt, a top or topper, belt, necklace, or pair of shoes. Any wardrobe item at all. Sometimes my clients will pull out an old item that they love and want to find ways to wear it more frequently. More often they have bought a new piece that they adore, but are stuck on how to use it in a fabulous outfit.

The challenge with using a single item as an outfit creating starting point is that it’s only one piece of the puzzle and you might not have much context for the rest of the picture. 

2. A Colour Palette 

You might want to create a set of outfits within a particular colour palette because it is a new-to-you colour combination that you really like, or because you already have a lot of that palette represented in your wardrobe and want to make better use of it. Sometimes the setting dictates a particular colour palette. For example, I have executive clients who prefer to work within a neutral colour palette.

The challenges with using a colour palette as an outfit creating starting point are twofold. First, it is sometimes tricky to combine hues and intensities in ways that work well together, and with your complexion. Second, I find with my clients that certain colours and colour combinations really test their comfort zone. Too bright, too flashy, too muted, too cold or too warm. Colours are very emotive, after all, so they generate strong feelings, especially when associations from the past get involved.

3. An Outfit Formula

Outfit formulas can be general, like jeans + blouse + blazer + flats. Or they can be more specific like the dressy nostalgic tee ensemble, which combines a nostalgic tee with a pencil skirt, chic dressy jacket and girly shoes. Formulas are a very effective way to simplify the outfit creation process, and they can also be a very efficient way to think of your wardrobe, creating a series of “uniforms” that you can wear in different situations.

They do also have their challenges. First, you have to know about a formula in order to use it. Second, a formula is seldom all that you need. A general formula leaves a lot of blanks to fill. And a very specific formula is hardly ever perfect for everyone and will require some substitution when it is applied. For example, in the jeans + blouse + blazer + flats formula, it can be quite effective to substitute the blouse for a layering tee or sweater, or the flats for heeled ankle boots. This is where my clients sometimes battle, not realizing the substitutions they can make, or just not having the confidence to make them.

4. A Copycat Example

The popularity of this starting point has exploded along with the growth of Pinterest, with people pinning and sharing outfits from blogs, catalogues and online style magazines. These days my clients will often show me an outfit on their Pinterest boards or in a fashion magazine and ask for my help in replicating the look.

The copycat approach is easier said than done. Seldom is the person wearing the outfit an exact match for your persona, lifestyle and body type. So the challenge is to modify and substitute, capturing the essence of what you like about the outfit, but making it work for you.

Looking back over the years of YLF I realised that I have written relatively few posts about the nuts and bolts of outfit creation. This is probably because it is so hard to give specific, tangible advice that will apply to everyone. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I’m going to use the set of starting points above as a framework and in future posts I will tackle each one in more detail.

Are there other approaches or starting points that you find useful when you set about creating outfits?