How To Put An Outfit Together

“You always look so co-ordinated!” is something I hear a lot (and thank you: it never gets old).

But please, I was not born knowing how to dress (just ask a couple of my friends of longest standing – we never refer to each other as  “oldest” friends for obvious reasons). Back in 1996 I had hip length straggly hair (you’ve seen the photo), invariably dressed in boring grey suits for work and baggy jeans, sweatshirts and trainers for casual and was never seen out of grey, black and denim blue.

As you can imagine, discovering firstly I was a Spring (bright clear warm colours) and a Gamine (neatly fitting, tailored, fun and quirky) was more of a shock than to have suddenly found out I was an alien sleeper due to report back to the planet Vorg on 2021 (actually, on balance, given my active imagination, the latter would have been totally expected: in fact, I’m still waiting with great anticipation to wake up in a purple skin with sixteen tentacles and an IQ to rival that of Stephen Fry – oh yes, YES – well, perhaps not the skin and tentacles, but the IQ; definitely!)

That was almost 20 years ago and I think I can honestly say that I have not bought anything in black, grey or mid-blue – or indeed, anything baggy, since.

That does not mean I have not made mistakes; mistakes are part of the learning process, but I have been learning ever since and putting those lessons into practice.

So – just how do you put an outfit together and get the envious remarks about how you always look so co-ordinated (without trying), or elegant, or sophisticated, or harmonious?

The bad news is that it does take a little thought and practice. The good news is that it becomes second nature after a while, given that practice.

There’s no one best method of approach. I’ll outline three methods below and you may well find your own. If you do, please let me know!

Firstly: a bit of preparation.

One thing my clients consistently remark upon is that, once they are buying into their Season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) they miraculously find that their clothes “go together”. Not infallibly, of course: the points of red (e.g. fuchsia, scarlet, burgundy) tend to clash (which is why we recommend that you have a lipstick in each of the points of red within your season), but overall, their wardrobe tends to have an overall feel and harmony about it.

One of the disciplines I recommend is that you create a matrix for your wardrobe. On one axis plot the tops/cardigans/jackets, on the other plot the skirts, trousers and dresses. Then go through and systematically note which top goes with what skirt/trousers. (You might need to plot an additional tops against cardigans/jackets matrix). Um, if that sounds too frighteningly mathematical for you – don’t worry: I do this as a standard part of your wardrobe review: just book me for a couple of hours (£50 per hour) and it will all be sorted for you, because I’m very helpful that way.

Yes, whether you do it for yourself or with me, this will take some time, but it will be time well spent. The first result will be that you will come up with workable combinations that had not entered your mind before (apple and violet for Springs???), the second result will be you will see clearly which items in your wardrobe are simply not pulling their weight.

The most common reason for those lonely items is that they are simply not in your colour palette, no matter how hard you were trying to convince yourself that they were; or personal style (simply too frilly or loose or skimpy etc.). Occasionally, especially in the early days, they may be right in themselves, but have yet no partners to join them.

So – given that you have your matrix to hand, let’s look at the three ways of putting an outfit together:

  1. Function:You have a business meeting or a casual lunch with friends or a formal function to attend. There will be certain items in your wardrobe that will fulfil this function and certain items that will very clearly be well out of their comfort zone. For instance, my favourite purchase for this season has been my floral cropped trousers from Lands End. ImageIt will be obvious to you that, while I might wear these trousers to a casual lunch with one of those friends of longest standing, even I would not contemplate wearing them to a business meeting (tempting though it is). So, your choices will be restricted by function. Hopefully you will still have a number of items to choose from and then you might to start to think about…
  2. Colour Combinations. If you have not already done the old “Style Development” class, then I would urge you to think about booking a Colour Confidence Class (but only if you attended your Colour analysis class more than a year ago, so that you will have had time to get a grip on your colours). In this class we revisit colours and try them out in many different combinations; the result of which will give you many more options, some of which will never have occurred to you before. For instance, as a Golden Spring (my best colours are tan, coral, kerry green, corn yellow) I had not scored highly in any of the blue colours. What we discovered in the Colour Confidence Class was that, when I mix my blue colours together (e.g. Violet, Turquoise, Aquamarine; or Navy, Oxford and Aqua) that mix suddenly becomes as good for me as corn and tan i.e. double star territory.Once you know your best colour mixes, you can start to put outfits together that look fabulous. Some mixes are ones that you may not have thought of; for instance, Pine Green, Chinese Blue and Burgundy (for Winters) or Navy, Amber and Yellow Ochre (for Autumns).
  3. Starting with one piece:  I will very often wake up in the morning with an overwhelming desire to wear one particular item from my wardrobe. This may be a pair of shoes, or a particular skirt or jacket or indeed, a belt. I then build the rest of the outfit around it. Let’s take one of my more challenging pieces, my Irregular Choice pink and red polka dot shoes…Image

Now, hand on heart, these are difficult shoes to work with as (whisper it) they are probably more Summer than Spring. However, shoes are a long way away from my face and I fell in love with these shoes more deeply than with any of my bad boy biker boyfriends of former years (before I met my lovely Alastair, obviously).

It will be obvious that I can’t put my tans or greens or yellows with these shoes; these shoes necessitate a trip to the blue end of my wardrobe spectrum; but the pink is near enough my shell pink. Accordingly I wear a shell pink top, bright navy textured skirt from Kettlewell and then I debate the cardigan/jacket to finish things off. Will my scarlet Kettlewell Merino Wrap work? Yes, it will. What about the  Bright Navy Kettlewell fringed Merino Bolero? Yes, that works too – but with the textured skirt there may be a bit much “fuzziwuzzziness” going on. Could I wear that deep pink tweed Alexon jacket which has one strand in it that echos the shell pink of the top? Ah yes. So, which one of those is most appropriate to the meeting I’m attending? Oh, and don’t forget the handbag/briefcase. A handbag is easy – the Oxford Blue satchel works really well, or indeed, my Charles Jordan red bag (it was bought in a discount shop in Brussels. I hate to think what it might have cost me full price). If I need a bigger bag then it’s going to have to be the flowered big Zatchel because the dark brown Mulberry briefcase is at the other end of the colour spectrum and my lime green Varapelle business handbag (will take an A4 file easily) would only work if I added lime green accessories. I don’t want to add green; I want to stay with pink and navy/turquoise. So – it’s the turquoise butterfly pendant and the turquoise earrings that everyone thinks I bought at the same time, but it was just serendipity (again). Now, don’t forget the make-up. Because I have so much Natural in me I tend to go fairly neutral for the eye treatment during the day, so it’s only the lips that cause a choice to be made. My Coral, my pink or my red? Coral’s out so – pink or red? It will depend on the occasion: if it’s a relaxed networking meeting then it will be pink; if I’m presenting a talk then I want my red “power” lipstick. Either is fine.

All that may sound hideously complicated, especially if you are at the beginning of your journey of self-exploration in the area of colour and style. But, honestly, it’s just like driving; do you remember how much you needed to concentrate just to think about the gears, the accelerator, the brake, the clutch, the steering….? But now you get in your car, drive to your friend five miles away and have probably been thinking of the fun time you’re going to have with her rather than concentrating on actually driving by the time you get there.

Putting yourself together is just like that: it’s a challenge to begin with and then it becomes second nature.

Just one more point before I go. Just before you walk out of your bedroom/dressing room, take a long glance in a full length mirror (and if you don’t have one of these may I suggest that this is the number one priority on your “I must have” list). Take a note of how interesting you look. Count up the numbers of colours you are wearing, your jewellery, the amount of embroidery/lace/ruffles/statement buttons/patterns you are wearing. Think about bows or buckles on your shoes, patterned tights, nail varnish or visible tattoos. Are you interesting enough to look “finished” – or so cluttered up as to look “distracting”. Only you (or I, of course) can answer this. Think about your physical stature, your personality, the formality of the function you are attending (more formality means more points of interest).

Finally, walk out of that door, head held high, and prepare to garner compliments. they come from unexpected sources* and, naturally, the only appropriate reply is “Thank you”, because the person complimenting you doesn’t need to know how much work you put into looking fantastic.

Of course, if you wish to say “It’s all down to Mary at House of Colour: let me give you her details…” I won’t complain, you understand!


* Last Wednesday I was in St Ives with my brother and sister, working our way through all the banks and building societies with which our late uncle (for whom we are executors) held accounts. When we entered the last Building Society on our list the clerk said: “I’ve been watching you three all morning going up and down the High Street. I noticed your outfit first and thought it was so elegant (to me) and then thought “What a dapper gentleman” (my brother) “and another lovely lady” (my sister)… and then you came in here to ME!”.

What a great compliment! We said “Thank you” of course! Yes, we were embarrassed, but it was nice, all the same.




One thought on “How To Put An Outfit Together

  1. Oh isn’t it the hardest thing to except compliments! I say something like: ‘What? This old second hand thing?’ It’s terrible and when you think, it’s actually an insult to the compliment giver. It’s like saying they have no taste.

    I do love your advice Mary. Do you think that 3 is the limit on colours in any given outfit? I love to wear red and green together but that silly ditty about red and green ought never be seen, always rings in my head.

    Ooh that’d make a goodly post Mary: myths v truths.

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