Today’s topic is an umbrella for a bunch of questions we get asked frequently, as well as challenges I saw women struggle with when I was styling clients in person. They all have to do with looking finished, or put together. We get asked all the time for a guide to know when to roll your sleeves, or cuff your jeans, or layer your accessories, or wear accessories.
If we were to create a guide to cover every item of clothing out there, every fit, every fabric, every style, every body shape, and the millions of combinations you could make out of those things, it would be a million pages long. I could never write all those rules down, you could never remember them all, and even if we could, by the time either of us did, the trends and rules would change, and we’d have to start all over.
So instead of a step-by-step rulebook that sucks all the joy out of getting dressed, let’s talk about some basic things you can do to look more put together every single day.
WEAR CLOTHES THAT ACTUALLY FIT
In the words of Stacy and Clinton from “What Not to Wear”, “if you don’t have fit, you don’t have style”. Friends, I can not stress this one enough. It is impossible to look put together when your clothes don’t fit you.
There’s a cultural myth that has us believing women wear their clothes too tight, but friends, in my real-life experience with thousands of real-life women, that is not the case at all. Most of the women I’ve worked with are wearing clothes that are too big.
I think there are a lot of reasons for this.
First, women feel like big clothes hide stuff and make us look smaller. We need to put this to bed once and for all because the extra fabric does you no favors. It does the opposite of what you’re hoping to do. People don’t know that all that extra fabric isn’t your body–you just visually look bigger.
The second reason women are wearing too-big clothes is we don’t understand the difference between fit and fitted. We get this idea that clothes that fit have to be cut close to the body, showing it all off. Not true. Most women size up when they want a more relaxed cut. Sizing up gives you the flowiness or drape you were going for, but on a top, for example, the shoulder is in the wrong place, the neckline gets sloppy, the sleeves are too long. You can’t fix a silhouette issue with size. You need to buy the correct size in the silhouette you want, and stop confusing the two.
The third reason women are wearing clothes that are too big is laziness. Sorry, but it’s true. We’ve become morally opposed to tailoring anything that doesn’t fit us 100% perfectly off the rack. We just live with it. I’m constantly seeing sleeves that are too long, and pants that are bunching at the ankles, and while the outfits are cute, they’ll never look polished.
If you really want to look put together, focus on your fit. I’ve got a couple of resources for you–the first is our episode on The Basics of Proper Fit–it will help you understand how clothes are supposed to fit. So many clients have told me that they didn’t really understand fit, but once they got it, they got it, and they couldn’t unsee it. The second resource is Whitney Luckenbill of Tomkat Stitchery. She’s an amazing example of how clothes of all different silhouettes should fit.
ENSURE YOUR CLOTHES ARE IN GOOD CONDITION
The second thing you can do to help you look more put together is to simply wear clothes that are in good condition. Clothes that are faded, stretched out, wrinkled, or covered in pills don’t look put together.
My husband, back before he lived with a wardrobe stylist for many years, used to honestly believe that faded black was the same as gray. It’s not. It’s faded black. There are some cases where faded black might be a thing, like jeans. But for pretty much everything else, faded black just looks sad. It’s the same thing with stretched-out clothes–that’s not a cool new fit, it’s a sad old one.
The same goes for pilled and wrinkled fabrics. They bring down your look so much. Today’s knit fabrics are terrible when it comes to pilling, but both pills and wrinkles are easy to get rid of with a great defuzzer and/or steamer.
Pro Tip: Steaming your clothes is so much faster than ironing. I keep my cheap little steamer in my bathroom and steam almost everything I wear. It takes less than a minute but goes a long way in looking polished.
Keep your clothes in top condition by taking care of them properly, but if it’s already too late, you’ve got a couple of choices–repair them or let them go. You can dye fabrics, you can resole shoes, you can mend small holes, or you can say goodbye to those pieces that have served you well.
WEAR FLATTERING CLOTHES
The next way to look more put together is to wear clothes that are flattering to your personal characteristics, meaning: your body shape, your proportions, and your coloring.
I struggle with this one, because I’ve seen women get so tied to these “dress your best” rules that it takes all the fun out of getting dressed.
In my perfect world, women would use body shape and color information to make it easy to shop and get dressed, to narrow their choices, and to highlight things they love…but then stop short of feeling like they can’t wear anything that isn’t on their approved list of best cuts or colors. Know the rules, but bend them or break them when it suits you.
With that said, when you wear colors that are traditionally best for you, and silhouettes that highlight the parts you love, and cleverly dress the parts you don’t, you look more put together.
My advice is to know how to flatter your personal characteristics but stop short of becoming obsessed with getting it right. If you need help getting started, check out body shape basics and the episode with The Color Guru.
INCLUDE YOUR PERSONALITY
Now, let’s talk about putting a little personality into your wardrobe to look more put together.
True style becomes effortless when you’re not trying to be someone else, or dress like someone else, but when you give yourself permission to like what you like and wear what you like. When clothes say something about the woman wearing them, the look is instantly elevated and more polished.
Take a look at your closet and ask yourself, what someone would be able to infer just by looking at my wardrobe.
If the answer is “nothing”, maybe it’s time to figure out who you are style-wise, and what you like, and create a wardrobe that reflects that.
If you need help getting started in this area, check out our free quiz to help you discover your Signature Style.
ADD FINISHING DETAILS
Ok, now comes the part that causes so much confusion, and that is, the finishing touches. Style details such as jewelry, accessories, as well as techniques like cuffing, tucking, scrunching, and popping elevate the whole look.
Women often ask me, when should I tuck or half-tuck my top? Should I cuff my pants, or leave them long? Should I roll up my sleeves, or should I scrunch them? Should I wear the collar of my blazer turned up like I see on J Crew’s Website? Should I wear a necklace and earrings, or do I have to choose one or the other?
This is where the million-page rule book would come in, and we’re not doing that.
What I find interesting about these questions is when I respond with, “Well, when you tried, which did you like best?”, the answer is usually “I haven’t tried yet”. Friends, it is free to tuck your top when you are standing in your bedroom looking in the mirror. It is free to layer on the necklaces, and then take them off when you start feeling like Mr. T. It’s free to turn up the collar of your blazer and keep it that way if you like it. These are really low-cost learning opportunities that most women are missing out on because they just want the answer.
When you’re looking for the answer before you’ve ever tried anything, you’re really looking for a rule so that you can get it right, and you’re going to be very disappointed to find out that there are no rules, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to style.
But, because I do like to give concrete advice, here are a few things to consider when it comes to finishing touches.
Does this work for the garment or the outfit? For example, cuffing your sleeves in a silky shirt, or something you’re going to be layering over doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it might make sense if you want to highlight your watch or bracelets.
Is this my style? Classic and preppy aesthetics show a lot of popped collars, on blazers, jackets, and shirts, so if that’s the look you’re going for, great! If your look is relaxed and earthy, it doesn’t make as much sense.
Does this work for my body shape? Friends, you’re never going to find me in a full tuck. Ever. But I’m a big fan of a tiny half-tuck, as it balances out my long torso and shorter legs, and kind of defines a waist. But, if you’ve got super long legs and a short torso, you may not want to tuck.
Do I like this? Have you ever done the flamingo when trying on shoes? Where you put different shoes on and then stand on one foot at a time, comparing them? This is the secret to just about any finishing detail question. Sleeves scrunched or rolled? Collar up or down, pants cuffed or not? Earrings and necklace, or just necklace. Just try it and see what you like best.
Challenge yourself to incorporate just one or two finishing details each day.
The last way to look more put together is to carry yourself with confidence. Confidence covers just about any style mistake you think you’re making. When you walk in like you look amazing, people catch that energy.
When you step out of the house in whatever you’ve chosen to wear, and however you’ve chosen to style it, own it! Put your shoulders back, your head up, and walk tall.
So many women are afraid to push the style envelope a little and go all-in on a Signature Style because of that stupid voice that says “what will people think?”
The reality is, most people don’t think anything of it. They’re too busy worrying about their own stuff. But when people do think about it, most of the time they think “She always looks so put together”. Even if your style is not their style, people recognize when other people have style, and they want it too.
Stop not being put together because you’re afraid people will judge you for being put together. Don’t dull your sparkle because other people might call you sparkly.
I want to challenge you to wear something you love, that’s outside of your comfort zone, but go through your day like you own the world.
See what people say–I bet it will surprise you!
I hope these tips help you feel more put together and polished. As always, start with one area–don’t try to tackle them all at once. If there’s one that resonated with you a little more, start there. If they all resonated with you, start with fit.