Do you ever see a woman walk by wearing what is, at first glance, a very “basic” outfit, but she looks amazing. And you wonder what it is about her outfit that makes it look so chic, so put together?
This is a phenomenon I’ve been trying to decipher lately.
I follow several fashion bloggers who seem to have mastered this art of wearing simple pieces in a way that is interesting and chic, and I always look at them and think, if I wore that, I’d look like frump-city! What is her trick?
Then I started paying attention to the various elements of their outfits and how they combine them, and I started to decode a few of their tricks, and the more I play around with them, the more I like my outfits!
We all know that good fit is key, and that’s a whole other beast, but once you have that figured out, your outfits still might feel a bit… boring. That is the fashion conundrum I want to help you solve today.
In this post, I’m sharing three tricks for creating more interesting outfits.
3 Tricks for Creating More Interesting Outfits
I’ll do my best to come up with examples, but as I said, I’m still figuring this out, so bear with me here! I prefer to use my own pictures because it’s really not right to use other blogger’s pictures without permission, so I’ll do my best with what I’ve got.
#1. Focal Point
leopard vest // sweater // jeans // boots // necklace // earrings // photo credit: Alison Cornell
Just as a piece of artwork needs a focal point, and your living room needs a focal point, your outfit should also have a focal point.
The focal point of an outfit is exactly that — it is where the eye is naturally drawn, the component of the outfit that will draw the most attention.
It can be a color, a texture, an accessory, or a print; but ideally that primary point of interest will be near your face, so as to direct attention to your smile and your eyes.
In the outfit above, the focal point is clearly the leopard print vest. Your eye is drawn to the interesting print, and the bright/light colors. The rest of the outfit are wardrobe basics that support the gorgeous vest.
In the outfit below, the focal point is the gorgeous floral blouse. The pattern is eye-catching, and I paired it with black jeans and black mules to allow the blouse to take center stage.
floral blouse // jeans // mules // tote // earrings // necklace // photo credit: Alison Cornell
This next outfit is pretty basic — ivory sweater, olive jeans, and cognac boots. The color combination is a bit unusual, which is interesting, and everything each piece is fairly well balanced, but it’s still rather plain. The addition of the layer necklace gives the look a much-needed focal point.
The patterned bag also adds another point of interest… which brings me to my next question.
Is it possible to have multiple focal points?
Yes, definitely. Since I tend to prefer classic, understated pieces, I often end up with a balance of secondary focal points, which is fine, and actually good, but there is usually still one primary focal point.
In the look below, I would say the primary focal point is the gorgeous color of this dress. Because it’s a rather simple look, I added a layered station necklace, which is a secondary focal point. Both serve to bring the eye up towards my face, and I think it’s also important to point out the balance of proportions and styles in this look.
A small, diminutive necklace would look out of place on the expanse of magenta, but a large bib necklace would be overpowering. The suede OTK boots, the simple cut of the dress (with the added feature of the ruffle cuffs — another secondary focal point) and the just-right necklace all work together to create a pleasing balance of details. In my opinion, anyway!
When sharing this type of information, I suppose there is always room for disagreement, but I think this outfit is a great example of a good balance of focal points.
Here’s another outfit that has multiple focal points that I believe are very well balanced. The pink sweater draws the eye first, but the snakeskin booties definitely add an interesting and unexpected element. Then the leather moto jacket adds yet another.
I was also wearing a necklace that you can see better in this next picture.
turtleneck // grey jeans // snakeskin booties // similar leather jacket // pendant // similar tote // photo credit: Alison Cornell
Is it possible to have too many focal points?
Yes, definitely. Sometimes an outfit is simply too busy, there is too much going on and too many components competing for attention. Too many focal points can confuse and detract from the ultimate focal point — you!
I’ve probably made this mistake at times, but overall, my tendency is to err on the side of being too safe with my looks. In other words, I couldn’t find a good example in my archives, but you may beg to differ.
Because I’m such a Plain Jane, I tend to downplay my accessories and often miss having a focal point in my outfit, but I’ve been working on this! Now before I walk out the door, I try to remember to look in the mirror and ask myself, Is this outfit missing something?
I still err on the side of minimalism in my outfits, especially right now that those looks seem to be trending; but I try to be sure if my outfit is minimal, it is by choice, not because I didn’t think it all the way through.
similar sweater // raw hem skinnies // leopard mules // tote // initial pendant // earrings // photo credit: Alison Cornell
This is the trick I’m having most fun with at the moment. You’ve heard the saying, Opposites Attract! Well, that’s the gist of juxtaposition.
The idea is to come up with unexpected combinations that mix up styles and textures to create a subtle tension (and thus, interest) in an outfit.
Here are a few examples: edgy and classic, sporty and preppy, feminine and masculine — all are great combinations that add interest to an outfit.
In the look above, the sweater is preppy/classic, the raw hem jeans are casual, and the leopard mules also add an edgy detail. They also add pattern and texture to an otherwise very simple look.
In the look below, the puffer vest is preppy, the ripped jeans are casual/edgy, and the ballet flats are feminine. The striped tee and monogram necklace are also preppy, and the leopard print is a little edgy.
This outfit also features pattern-mixing, which is another form of juxtaposition, and a great way to add interest to an outfit.
As you can see, an outfit can combine a bunch of different styles — it doesn’t have to be just two, but all the components need to work together and create that balance we talked about above.
You can definitely over-do it, but I don’t think that happened here… although maybe I should let you be the judge!
You can also create these contrasts with colors or textures. For example, knit and leather is always a good combination. I think this is why I love wearing a leather jacket over a cashmere sweater. Add jeans and pumps or boots, and you pretty much have a perfect outfit… in my opinion. At least, you have the perfect outfit for my personal style.
That is definitely something to keep in mind when creating outfits. Ultimately your outfits should express you and your personal style. You may need to tweak these looks to work for you.
Here’s why this outfit works: The leather jacket is edgy, the cashmere sweater is luxe and classy, the jeans are casual with some masculine/rugged notes, and the pumps are feminine and a little bit sexy.
Throw on a scarf or a piece of statement jewelry, and you’re ready to paint the town red! Oh, and a leopard clutch never hurts.
If I replaced the jeans in the outfit above with black dress pants, and the leather jacket with a classic seasonless blazer, the outfit would be classic and elegant, but a tad boring. See what I mean?
This is why work wear looks are so hard! I’m always trying to combine all conservative, classic elements, and without any juxtaposition, it’s kind of boring. Not to say you can’t create juxtaposition in work wear looks — I just struggle with how to do that because I’m so used to relying on jeans or a moto jacket to create contrast with the rest of my classic wardrobe.
This cardigan outfit is another great example of juxtaposition — and focal point, actually! The stripe cardigan is the focal point, of course. It’s also classic and rather conservative, so I added raw hem black jeans for an edgy component, and the white leather sneakers are sporty.
stripe cardigan // white tee // similar black jeans // sneakers // pendant // star necklace // similar tote // photo credit: Alison Cornell
Here’s the same outfit with backless loafers, which I still love, but it’s not quite as interesting. The menswear-inspired loafers still create some juxtaposition against the delicate feminine jewelry and the edgy raw hem jeans, but the sneakers really take it up a notch and give it a more modern, youthful vibe.
stripe cardigan // white tee // similar black jeans // pendant // star necklace // black mules // similar tote // photo credit: Alison Cornell
Imagine the same outfit with regular black jeans with a finished hem — then the outfit would be overall quite conservative. It would still be a nice outfit, but not terribly interesting.
#3. A Completer Piece
leopard teddie sweater // black jeans // similar pumps // similar leather jacket // earrings // bucket bag // photo credit: Alison Cornell
Another trick for creating interesting outfits is to add a completer piece — usually a layer over the foundation outfit pieces.
In the look above, the leopard sweater and black jeans and pumps make a great stand-alone outfit. They have a focal point (the leopard sweater) and some juxtaposition (jeans with pumps), but the addition of the black leather moto jacket take it to a whole other level.
In the look below, the grey cashmere turtleneck, black jeans, and black booties makes a fine outfit on their own, but the quilted vest turns it up a notch.
puffer vest // grey turtleneck // similar jeans // black booties // similar tote // earrings // silver link bracelet (budget option) // photo credit: Alison Cornell
I could have added a necklace as a secondary focal point, but I opted to keep this look more minimal. I felt the layered look jacket was interesting enough on its own.
Also note the choice of the raw hem jeans — a subtle rugged/edgy detail against the luxe cashmere turtleneck and sporty vest. There’s your juxtaposition.
Taking one of the examples of focal point from above, the completer piece in this next look is clearly the black leather jacket.
The outfit does stand alone just fine due to the interest in the necklace and the booties — if I get warm inside, I can remove the jacket — but the jacket improves the outfit immensely. (And please pardon the static cling! That sweater is always super staticky. Also, the jeans look a bit tight because they ended up in the dryer. I’ve since stretched them back out again.)
See more leather jacket outfits for your fashion inspiration!
turtleneck // grey jeans // snakeskin booties // similar leather jacket // pendant // similar tote // photo credit: Alison Cornell
I also have a suede moto jacket that I like as a completer piece during fall and winter. Once again, one of my favorite my go-to outfit formulas is in play here: cashmere sweater, raw hem jeans, ankle boots, and a structured moto jacket. FYI, these Rag & Bone booties are finally on sale. Still an investment, but I think that’s about what I paid last winter. I also love this taupe suede version.
See more moto jacket outfits.
moto jacket // similar turtleneck // raw hem skinnies // booties // bag // photo credit: Alison Cornell
People often ask me if a leather or suede moto jacket is supposed to be outerwear that you remove when you get inside, or an outfit component that you wear all day. The answer is, it depends!
I usually take the moto jacket off if I’m in a restaurant or visiting a friend’s house, but if I’m going to be at the mall or running errands and going in and out a lot, I keep it on.
It also depends on what I’m wearing underneath. I sometimes wear my leather jacket over a camisole or sleeveless shell to go out for dinner with my husband, and in that case, I usually leave it on in the restaurant — unless it gets really hot!
A denim jacket is another great option for a completer piece — especially in spring and summer.
This next outfit is from last spring, and I love the dark denim jacket against the bold yellow top with white jeans. The yellow top is obviously the focal point, but adding a completer piece adds another layer of interest (quite literally!)
See more denim jacket outfits for your fashion inspiration!
similar yellow blouse // white skinnies // wedge sandals // denim jacket
Putting It All Together: Improve An Outfit
This last look is one of my attempts at work wear. Y’all know I struggle with these looks the most!
While I think it is one of my better work wear attempts, there’s definitely some room for improvement. Let’s break it down.
Working backwards, the jacket is obviously the completer piece, so at least this look has one component of an interesting outfit!
The green top, tan pants, black pumps are nice enough, but it really needs the jacket to pull it together. Plus the top is sleeveless, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for most work environments without the jacket.
It’s still a rather safe outfit because there isn’t a whole lot of juxtaposition going on here — although I suppose the bag is a tad edgy, the pumps are feminine, and the trousers are a bit masculine. The jacket has a more feminine cut to it than most blazers, and the choice of top is also a bit more feminine than, say, a button-down shirt. So maybe there’s enough juxtaposition for a work wear look.
What I think this outfit really lacks is a focal point.
The green top serves as the focal point because there’s nothing else to do the job, and I do like the balance of colors — the pine green top is pretty against the mocha-colored trousers, and the black jacket and black pumps bookend the look and keep it professional, but I think a piece of statement jewelry or a pretty printed neck scarf would take this work wear look to the next level.
I didn’t have anything that worked better than this delicate beaded necklace, and it’s better than nothing, but I’m aching to try this outfit again with a really great necklace or perhaps a silk neck scarf? This is a tough one because I wouldn’t want to interfere with the cowl neckline, but maybe something like this. What do y’all think???
pants // similar top // knit blazers // shoes // bag // necklace // earrings // photo credit: Alison Cornell
I hope that was helpful.
With a post like this, I could go on and on, analyzing outfits and showing before-and-after examples, but I will try to do some of that as I share spring outfits over the next few months!
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71 thoughts on “How to Create an Interesting Outfit”
I loved how you break down this tricky issue into a common sense “formula.” I’m going to share this with my teenage daughter. It works for all ages and helps explain why some outfits fall flat. Thanks for this great resource!
Great examples and food for thought! Now to remember the tips. 😉
This is very helpful
While I was reading the post I remembered that I forgot to put on the scarf that was to be my focal point today (not that I would have called it that before reading the post). My boss gave it to me, so I really try to remember to wear it, but I don’t have much lavender….
Yep, this is the reason sometimes I’m like “what’s wrong with this?” it looked better in my head….
Great post! Very informative. You look beautiful and put together in every shot!
Love this!! I’m like Lisa though, if I can only remember it!
LOL! It takes practice. 🙂
Excellent post – my problem is with the completer piece – I will have to work on that! For the work wear look I think a small tied scarf that picks up the mocha or green would be perfect. Would you consider a large brooch on the lapel of the jacket? I know I wear them, but is that an option – ie are those aging me?? The ones I have are all Celtic pins from Ireland/Scotland.
Me too, I think b/c I don’t love layers, and find them kind of uncomfortable, I often leave off a completer piece. Which is okay a lot of the time b/c my life is casual, but when I really want to ramp it up, adding that 3rd piece usually does the trick.
Oh, and I’m not a brooch girl, but it definitely another accessory to add interest if it works for your style aesthetic.
I think I will concentrate on one of these “tricks” at a time. I know I won’t remember all 3 each day as I get ready for work (or even the night before when I usually choose what I will wear.) I think that if I do just one of these, I will be way ahead of where I am now 🙂 Thanks for these great ideas (and great examples.)
Yeah, and that’s kind of the idea. We all go to our closets and start pulling an outfit together based on the weather or an item we want to wear or whatever. The idea is, if the outfit seems to be falling flat, to be able to look at it critically and figure out what it’s missing… and then add it. Ya know? 🙂
Definitely going to try this because I feel that way so often. I like what I am wearing, but something is missing. Thanks again! Really good ideas here.
What size do you wear in the J Crew floral blouse?
It’s a small.
Wow..that was a lot of work but very much appreciated.
Great post! It really gives me a lot to think about……..
Very informative.. I didn’t realize there was truly so much to consider when putting an outfit together but it all makes sense. Great tips to remember. I also find the outfits with the least effort seem to be the best ones and most comfortable as long as you’ve got the one focal point😉.
Just a thought about the work wear outfit.. What about a textured blazer that would have brought all the colors together? And or a statement earring?
I think a textured blazer – plaid or tweed or something like that? – would be PERFECT. I did also consider an earring, but they don’t really show in my hair.
I don’t think most people really think this hard when putting outfits together – I think it comes naturally to the ones who really do it effortlessly, but the rest of us can learn from them.
I don’t usually think each outfit through in this way either – but when I pick apart the outfits I like best, I realize I have all 3 of these elements going on.
Such a great and informative post!!! Can you share where you purchased your camel cashmere sweater??
It’s the Halogen one: https://shopstyle.it/l/ZeNU
Thanks for the hard work on this post. This will be really helpful. I’ll have to post notes in my closet to make sure I remember everything! Ha.
It’s funny because we are kinda opposites. At least now. I used to be more plain especially when I was working. I always wore work pants, and blazers. I did add in fun shoes but that was about it.
It’s only with blogging and more birthdays that I’ve branched out more to try to have fun with my outfits. Needless to say ,I’m sure that means I’ve overdone it at time. And while in the past that would have made me so embarrassed, I just chalk it up to experience now. Heck, they are only clothes. And I feel like I learn more from my mistakes than my successes anyways.
It’s always so interesting to hear you walk through your outfits this way.
Yes, at the end of the day, they’re just clothes. 🙂 I totally agree with that. I feel like I should end every post with that disclaimer. It’s interesting to me to analyze outfits, but at the end of the day, who cares if we over do it or under do it a bit…. the most important thing is that we’re having fun. Life is too short to get too serious about clothes. 🙂
Great Tips! Thank-you!
One of my all time favorite posts JoLynne! Thank you for all the time and effort you put in breaking it all down. Really helpful and of course I pinned quite a few of those outfits today. Nice job 👍
I loved this post today…I think we all see someone’s outfit and wonder why it looks so amazing. Thanks for all the great information…..this was very informative.
Jo-Lynne, I’ve been following you daily for a couple of years now (stalker!) and I have to say this is now my FAVORITE post you have ever written! Like you, I am a self-declared classic “plain jane”. I understand the concept of layering and accessorizing, but this post really puts it all together and explains the idea of focal point like no other! I think I need to bring this post into my closet with me and use it as I combine outfits. And have it open on my phone when I’m shopping. Just really, really helpful! Thanks!
I love all these tips! This so much easier to pull off when it’s cooler outside. I find it more difficult to look pulled together in the summer.
I learn so much from you!!! I need to print this and put it somewhere I can easily refer to it.
Loved this article so much! Would enjoy reading more about this as you post your upcoming outfits, in less detail of course. I think that would help me to remember the formula. 😉
Such a great post, JoLynne! I loved reading this and seeing your examples. You and Amy Ann both have a knack for putting the fashion tips/tricks and dos/don’ts into words that I really admire! It’s making me look forward to your upcoming joint series!
Another exceptional informative post! You have given me so much to think about as I was really clueless in this area. In fact, I’ve never even thought that a coloured top would be considered a “focal point.” In my mind a focal point was a necklace or scarf. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this post, Jo-Lynne!
Thanks for these tips! They make so much sense and don’t seem the least “contrived” or overly difficult to understand. One tip I find helpful is to use a mannequin in my bedroom to plan my outfits. Somehow that works better for me than simply standing in front of the mirror. Anyone else find that to be helpful?
Love this post! This is very helpful when trying to really put together a great looking outfit. When I really try (which I’ll admit is not every day!) I’ll have to remember these tips! I’m taking the Adore Your Wardrobe class and this week the lesson was about the “Rule of 4” – this reminds me of that lesson! By the way, I think a before and after session as a follow-up to this could be wonderful for all of us! It would be great to see how you might leave the house and the outfit looks fine, but with the addition of that one extra piece, either a “completer” piece or even swapping out a “plain” top for a printed one demonstrates what you’re illustrating here. Thank you, Jo-Lynne! 🙂
Great post! Its really informative about how to build an interesting outfit. There are so many things I never thought about while trying to figure out an outfit. I loved the necklace you linked to for the last outfit. It is more substantial than the one in the original post. Thanks for the tips.
Thank you so much for this post. It is so helpful to see examples (pictures) of what you are sharing about each of the elements of a great outfit. I have followed you for a long time and rarely comment but today wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all the work you put into your posts. The explanations you share in your posts are very helpful.
Great post today. I know it took alot of extra time and studying to get the appropriate outfits together for our viewing pleasure. You did a great job describing better ways to make us all look our best. Thanks again. You rock!
Great post, JoLynne! I too look at some of these style influencers and wonder why simple pieces put together look so great on them. I now know I need to add edgy pieces to my outfits. That little something that takes it from boring to 💥.
Just yesterday I was reading an IG post and the wardrobe was SO boring, but this blogger looks amazing ALL the time. So hmmmm….thanks for clarifying why a look can go from neutral/boring to *zing* with just a few tricks! Super informative and interesting post! THANK YOU! And I thought it was because I wasn’t skinny enough or had good brows!! hahahahaha
Well, being 5’10” and 120 lbs certainly helps. 🤣 I actually had that written in the intro to the post and deleted it because I thought it might not come off right to some people.
I have a friend who struggles to put on weight, and she gets hurt by comments like that. But I do think it helps look less frumpy.
Still, with proper fit and good quality and the tips in this post, it’s definitely possible to look beautiful and put together at any age or size.
This has been one of my favorite post so far. I have several summilar pieces and now I see how to update by mixing for that focal point. I have done some multiple focal points in the past couple of weeks – usually just 2.
Another great post! I learned about completer pieces from What Not to Wear back in the day. Ha Ha I really missed that show, until I found your blog! You are such a great reminder for me in how to try to put outfits together. I am pretty good about the completer pieces with Fall/Winter and early Spring clothes now, but the summer clothes are harder when it’s hot and you don’t want to layer. I guess that’s where the focal point would come in and I never thought about that. Now, I will have a better sense for how to put a warmer weather outfit together. Thanks for all your hard work!
In my opinion, the first and most important step to a great outfit is fit. Something as simple as jeans and a basic t shirt can look amazing if they fit your body appropriately or completely sloppy and frumpy if the fit is wrong. Inappropriate fit includes too big and two small. If your clothes don’t fit properly , you’re going to have a hard time creating a great outfit, not matter what you do.
Absolutely! That’s why I put that in the intro to the post. ☺️ This was intended to go beyond fit and proportion.
Oh my! So much to love about this post. And I am very excited that you are pairing up with Amy Ann and Deborah. I just subscribed to Amy’s blog and I love it.
This was a great tutorial. I am actually going to print it so that I can highlight things and keep it as a quick reference.
Jo-Lynne – this is such a great post! So informative and lots to think about! Thank you always for taking the time to show and explain! You are a great teacher! Have a blessed day!
Great post! Very informative!
I follow a few fashion blogs, but yours is one of my favorites, and this is exactly why: you are excellent at including the “why” of whether an outfit works or does not. In my quest to fight the frump, I have learned from you, and I love that!
I have always thought that you looked put together, each outfit you wear has that statement look, which I find my self coping as close as I can with what I have. I do have to say that I have purchased several necklaces to get some of the looks you have with some of your tops. I usually don’t wear nothing but my cross and it stays inside my shirt, I never take it off, but the look of the longer necklaces is something I really like. Oh also shoes and purses I always tried to be matchi with shoes and purses but after watching your looks that happens no more. Thank you for the all the great looks
This a great post! I loved the pictures as examples. That really helps to understand what you are explaining. My biggest struggle is the juxtaposition. You are correct though. That is really what takes an outfit to the next level. Thank you and keep showing the examples!
JoLynne I have been following your post for almost 6 months – I have enjoyed hearing about your life, family, home and of course, your love of clothes and fashion. I have gained much insight from today’s post. have had this question for a while and just now have enough courage to ask !! with all of the great photos Allison and you create, is there a way for me to pick out some and go to walgreens or somewhere and print them? I believe I could make myself an “idea board” to have right at my fingertips and closet? any ideas? thanks so much for your hard work helping us with our fashion!
Hey Alice, you can right click on them and save to your computer. I’m glad it’s helpful!
This was great. Thanks for the outfit tips. You are certainly not a plain Jane in the way you dress. I think you always look great without going overboard. 🙂
Thanks for such a great informative post. I appreciate how you laid it out and showed great examples to visualize the concept. Right now I struggle with completer pieces because I get too hot in them, like many of my heavier sweaters. Waiting for the day that’s not an issue!
Yeah, that is the issue with summer outfits. And you don’t HAVE to have all 3 of these components in every outfit. They are just 3 different things to consider adding if you’re wearing an outfit that you feel may be falling short somehow. 🙂
Hi jolynne I found this post really useful thank you! I think your work outfit could go up a bit with some leopard pumps instead of the black ones what do you reckon? Or perhaps a statement necklace?
Totally! I’m not even sure why I didn’t photograph this with leopard pumps. They would be awesome with it.
So informative and great food for thought. Great post!
Thank you so much for all of this information. I can’t wait to use it!!!!!
Great info! I’d love to read more posts like this.
Such an informative post, Jo-Lynne! I am a bit of a “Plain Jane”, too, when it comes to outfits and I think that’s why I don’t like dressing in the hot summer weather. I find it difficult to create an interesting outfit when I’m really only wearing a lightweight top and a lightweight bottom. I feel so “blah”. I need to try to incorporate these tips into summer outfits as well! Thanks for all your ideas- you always look fabulous!
It’s definitely harder in the summertime! I definitely don’t wear “completer pieces” when it’s hot outside.
WOW! What a great post Jo-Lynne! It’s just taken me several days to be able to sit down and read it without interruption. This is one I am going to save for future reference. I really appreciate all of the time and research it took you to put it together for us. When I wore my jean jacket the other day with my boyfriend jeans, I liked them together, but the shades of denim were more similar than I wanted, but it’s what I have in my closet so I had to make it work. I did feel like the jean jacket completed the outfit. Thanks again!
Thank you SOOO much for this extremely informative post! I know it took a lot of time and I think we all appreciate it! I will be referencing it often. If would be helpful if you continue to explain the whys and hows of creating interesting outfits as we transition to other seasons. Thank you so much!