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How to make an outfit: 6 elements of a cohesive look

How to make an outfit that wows depends entirely on your personal style! Keep these helpful dressing tips in mind next time you suit up for the day.

July 8, 2022

Coordinating a perfect, totally “you” outfit has the power to improve any occasion. Whether you’re headed to a diner with friends or to the beach with your significant other, you want to dress to impress and feel comfortably like yourself. If getting it right from head to toe every day feels impossible, these tips about how to make an outfit were made for you.

The basics of how to make an outfit 

Sometimes an outfit “fail” is downright confusing! You ask yourself, “It looked good on her, so why wouldn’t it look good on me?” There are a multitude of reasons why clothes let us down. 

But once you understand how to make an outfit an outfit that wows, the clothes in your wardrobe will disappoint far less often. Consider these things before you even side-glance that closet of yours!

Consider the day ahead 

Visualize your entire day before you set foot in your wardrobe. This is essential to choosing an outfit that is functional and showcases your personal style. 

For example, if you’re going to be outside on a hot day, be sure to consider how warm you’ll be in that sweater. If you need to do a lot of moving around, comfortable fabrics and practical shoes are necessary.

Skipping this planning step can have dire consequences on the quality of your day and your confidence while living through it! Make it part of your routine to sit and think about the plans that lie ahead of you.

Stay true to your personal style

Clothes that you choose based on someone else’s style (or opinions on your style) rarely ever feel right. Let your personality shine through all the things you wear, no matter the occasion.

Let’s say your best friend rocks pointed flats and a flowy skirt! But if you have a different body (and we all do!) that doesn’t mean her look will feel right when you wear it—even if you also love flowy skirts.

From biz casual to boho to athleisure, the most successful outfits showcase who you are—inside and out. 

Skip the “nothing outfit”

A “nothing outfit” consists of “nothing” clothes (but not no clothes!). It's an outfit that is less than the sum of its parts. It’s the tee and jeans that you pull out of your closet because you don’t know what else to wear, not because you want to wear them. They’re just clothes that are on your body because you have to wear something.

Not sure how to identify a “nothing outfit?” The rules are simple: 

  • A “nothing outfit” has no defined proportions, shape, or fit
  • There’s no clear visual interest, detail, or aesthetic  
  • Fabric quality and texture aren’t considered
  • “Nothing outfits” are less than the sum of their parts
  • It makes you feel meh

“Nothing outfits” are usually the seemingly simple looks we see on influencers all the time (like the white tee and jeans combo, or a hoodie and joggers). But they make it into a full look by paying attention to the fit and shape of each piece, adding accessories to show their personality, and choosing items with cool details or an interesting texture. 

Next time you reach for a “nothing outfit,” think about how you feel in the clothes and what you’re trying to do with this outfit. Take notice of the proportions, fabric, and shape. Then, take it a step up and make just one edit or addition to take your look from nothing to something

Ready for wardrobe ease, not just cute outfits?

Great personal style is so much more than the clothes you wear. Get the guide and discover twelve life-changing style habits you can start practicing now, so you can experience having great style, not just great outfits.

6 elements of a great outfit

Once your pre-work is done, you’re ready to jump into the real learning material! (See what I did there?) If you truly want to learn how to make an outfit, these six rules are key. 

Aesthetic consistency or contrast 

Consider these two (hypothetical) feminine figures: one with a babydoll dress and stompy boots and the other with a babydoll dress and Mary Janes. The first is showcasing contrast in her outfit, while the other is embracing aesthetic consistency.

Both outfits work! But how they work on you depends on your personal style and comfort. You may prefer a big aesthetic contrast! On the other hand, if you feel like you’re playing “dress up” when you contrast your outfit, you could be missing the mark.

Wearing athleisure leggings with “fancy” sneakers, a nice purse, and jewelry creates an effective pop! But simply throwing on your exact exercise outfit (complete with worn-in running shoes) might not end up feeling like the outfit you want it to, because it's lacking that key element of contrast.

The rule of thirds 

Human brains like things to be where we expect them to be, but with just enough visual conflict or contrast to catch our attention! People want to “see” the body underneath your outfit. 

The Rule of Thirds refers to your proportions. Some feminine figures carry disproportionately on top (⅔ on top and ⅓ on the bottom) while others carry heavier on the bottom (⅓ on top and ⅔ on the bottom). 

Think about where your body naturally breaks:

  • Waistlines
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • Knees 

When you're considering how to make an outfit, it helps to understand your body’s unique breakdown before you dress it! You can create some pretty effective illusions by wearing clothes that fall just above or below your natural divides. 

Fit: tightness vs. looseness 

Fit is more than whether or not you can button an item. It has to do with balancing structure and volume when you dress. Some people look stunning in just jeans and a t-shirt — that’s because their clothes fit them really well.

There’s not a “one size fits all” rule here (after all, your personal style might favor looser- or tighter-fitting designs). But generally, tightness in areas with little structure gives your body a “stuffed” appearance and makes your clothes look too small. We’re talking about features like tight sleeves around your upper arms or painted-on pairs of jeans around your hips!

Looseness to the point of bagginess allows a garment to encompass more volume than your body actually occupies, which makes you look larger than you are in that area. Looser items can totally work in an outfit, but better with contrast against something more tightly-fitted (say, a slouchy sweater and slim-fit jeans!). 

How to check Your fit

There are a few key areas to check when deciding on whether or not an item fits well. 

For starters, check your pants inseam! Observe if your pants bunch at the ankles, cover up your shoes, or drag on the floor. Which do you prefer? Seek out jeans or trousers with your desired inseam length on your next shopping trip!

Your waist-to-hip ratio drives an impact, too. Does the fabric on your clothes pull taut across the front of your hips? That’s a sign that your clothes are made for a straighter body. If you have a straighter (more rectangular) shape with a low waist-to-hip ratio, you might have the opposite problems! Take notice of the styles and silhouettes that are giving you trouble and steer clear in the future. 

Lastly, do your shoulder seams and waistline hit where you want them to? You don't need to have clothes that fit skin-tight to your body, of course! But the shoulders and waistline are often problem areas that make our clothes look too big or too small.

And remember: if you’re having a fit issue with a certain item, it’s because of the clothes, not you.

Structure vs. softness 

Comfort is huge when uncovering how to make an outfit with your existing wardrobe. But comfort should never come at the expense of fit or confidence. Turn to more structured clothing options when you want to feel comfortable but maintain a sense of put-togetherness.

When clothing is structured, it has a shape of its own (think of a peplum top or a blazer with shoulder pads). Try pairing a more structured piece with your softer pieces to see if it improves your go-to outfits.

Structure can come from fabric, volume, or shape! That’s why some wide-leg pants hold their form and others are soft and floaty. Who doesn’t love a nice puff sleeve now and then?


Your age, gender, color, or sexual orientation have nothing to do with appropriateness in my book. Rather, appropriateness means that you feel comfortable in that setting you’re in. 

Do you feel confident in your outfit for the given occasion? If you feel completely off-mark or out of your element, think about the ways your wardrobe could have better served you. 

Don’t mistake appropriateness with acceptance! Your personal style doesn’t have to conform to anyone else’s nitpicky ideals—it just has to make you feel good.

Confidence level 

If you take away only one tip from this entire post, let it be this: when deciding how to make an outfit, be sure you feel confident before you walk out the door. Confidence is at the core of your wardrobe success!

It doesn’t matter if your parents, friends, or neighbors approve of your outfits. Part of your personal comfort guidelines might be to fly beneath the public radar, but do so still with confidence. 

The second you start to feel like an imposter in your clothing, take them off and start again. You can’t expect everyone’s approval—as everyone tends to wear their personal preferences on the tips of their tongues. Ignore them and listen to your gut, babes.

How to make an outfit that wows depends entirely on you! With a little bit of time and determination (and guidance from The Unfolding coaching sessions), approaching your wardrobe will be an easy step (rather than a dreaded obstacle) every morning. Keep these helpful dressing tips in mind the next time you suit up for the day.

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How to make an outfit that wows depends entirely on your personal style! Keep these helpful dressing tips in mind next time you suit up for the day.