I covered this topic last year, but the tips bear repeating and elaboration in the context of fluid and oversized fits, which are both extremely fashionable and completely mainstream. And judging by what’s coming down the runways during fashion week, they are here to stay for a while. Although larger fits are fabulous and interesting, sometimes they need to be reined in a little to make an outfit feel fabulous. That’s where structure comes in.
To recap, structure is about two main things. First, it’s about accentuating the actual shape of your body, like defining the waist and hips, the shape of your arms and legs, or the shape of your shoulders. And second, it’s about accentuating those details. Like a sharp shouldered jacket that creates an extra strong shoulder line. Or the princess seams and welted pocket positions on a jacket that draw attention to a defined waist. Structured items are often tailored and formfitting.
Here are twelve ways to add clearly defined or subtle structure to an unstructured outfit. Use one of these trouble shooting tips to make the look just flattering enough, or use them in combination for a more conventionally flattering silhouette.
- Pair a fitted top with a voluminous bottom or vice versa: Wear an oversized top with slim-fit bottoms like skinnies, straight legs, cigarette pants or a pencil skirt. Conversely, match wide-leg trousers and flared skirts with a fitted top or topper.
- Add a structured jacket to an unstructured top or dress: Tailored toppers successfully rein in the volume of the layers underneath. So layer a structured blazer or jacket over a voluminous top or dress. The jacket needn’t be strictly waist defining, but simply structured on the shoulders and the top part of the chest.
- Scrunch the sleeves: I mention that “showcasing skin creates structure” because it reveals the natural contour of the body. Baring forearms is one way of showcasing skin, and an effective way of adding a tailored element to either a dressy or casual outfit.
- Wear a V-neck: A V-neck is another way of showcasing skin to create structure, and especially effective on a shorter neck, larger bust, or a broader shoulder line. Note that on some body types — like mine — a V-neck does the opposite of creating structure. My narrow shoulders, long neck and regular size bust need coverage to create structure, which is why turtlenecks, crew necks, boat necks, shirt collars, and slash necks are my friend.
- Tuck or partially tuck the top: Fully tucking or partially tucking a fluid or oversized top provides a little or a lot of waist and hip definition. It’s amazing how a partially tucked top is all you need to create structure when pairing a roomy top with a roomy bottom.
- Wear welted tops: The welt is the band on the hem of a pullover or top that tapers the silhouette to fit more closely to the waist and hips, thereby providing structure. It does wonders to create structure for untucked tops, and works just as well faux tucked in front.
- Wear high-low hemlines: Hemlines on tops, skirts and dresses that are shorter in front and longer in the back create structure by showcasing more of the natural shape of the waist and hips, or the legs. High-low hemlines on tops that taper at the hem provide even more structure.
- Roll or cuff jeans and pants: Rolling up the hems of jeans and casual trousers showcases skin and creates a more tapered fit on the hem, both of which create effective structure. Roll and cuff pants before taking them to be tailored. It’s less expensive and often looks better too.
- Add a belt: Rein in the volume of a voluminous top by adding a waist cinching belt to create a lot of structure. Or create a more subtle effect by adding a hip slung belt to a loose top to showcase the contour of your hips.
- Wear tailored footwear: Wear sandals, booties, pumps, tall boots or loafers that are sleek and fit closely to the foot or leg. Tailored refined footwear — that means footwear that is not chunky — does an even better job of adding structure to a voluminous outfit.
- Wear a voluminous piece at a shorter length: Unstructured dresses are best at a shorter length because they expose more of the leg, and showcasing skin creates structure. Oversized tops without welts often look best cropped because they showcase the waist and hip. Voluminous sleeves that are cropped to showcase some forearm create a more structured look than voluminous sleeves that cover the entire arm.
- Wear a longer voluminous dress that tapers at the hems: Longer voluminous sack dresses that taper at the hem provide just enough structure despite their length and oversized fit. Although they cover more of the leg, they do showcase the shape of the thighs and lower legs, thereby preventing the unshapely sack look.
Feel free to use some of these tips in conjunction with the strategies for elongating an outfit when you don’t want to sport conventionally flattering proportions that are structured from head to toe. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it practical and liberating to wear, and feel great wearing, both structured outfits and outfits with just enough structure. This flexibility is what makes today’s fashion particularly empowering and fabulous.