Method Dressing

How do you build your outfits in the morning? Your initial reaction might be: “Well, I just pick a few items I feel like wearing and hope they look good together”, but just as for any other everyday activity, like brushing your teeth or making coffee, overtime you are likely to have developed a relatively rigid process or a couple of blueprints that you follow, subconsciously or not.

For today’s post I thought it would be fun to examine a few different techniques for creating outfits that you have probably all used at one point or another. My boyfriend is a good example of someone who is totally unaware of his own defined process. When I asked my him about his outfit building methods this morning, he said “I just put on whatever I find in my closet”. I anticipated a nonchalant response, however, a closer look at his closet revealed that the structure of his wardrobe really does allow him to just pick whatever and go: His outfits never include too many layers and he has a well-defined style and a strong preference for certain colours, which means that pretty much all of his items work well with each other. His wardrobe is perfectly tailored to his modular approach to building outfits.

Becoming aware of your own process can help you optimize the internal structure of your wardrobe and highlight both gaps and surpluses. Read through the four profiles below and see if you recognize your own approach in one or several of them.

Method Dressing: The Modular Approach

What you need:

a collection of items that all share a similar style and colour scheme. Although some combinations will work better than others, the overall defining look ensures that pretty much every top goes with every bottom and you can freely accessorize and add further layers if you want to.

How to make it work:

Your ultimate goal is to be able to mix and match most of your clothes, so the key to using this approach is to develop a refined style and concentrate on a consistent colour scheme. To maximise the versatility of your clothes, pay attention to the distribution of colours in each of your wardrobe categories and make sure they include a variety of harmonising shades, textures and patterns.

Method Dressing: The Uniform Approach

What you need:

Several different versions for each ‘ingredient’ of a certain combination of items. The uniform (or signature look) approach is essentially a more defined version of the modular approach. Instead of just having one overarching theme, the idea is to choose one specific proportion of two or more items that express the essence of your personal style and are tailored to your everyday life. In the example above I used a simple ‘shorts + t-shirt’ uniform, but of course your signature look could also be a loose-fitting dress + sandals, or a a lightweight coat + skinny jeans + tank top.

How to make it work:

Like the modular approach, the uniform approach works best if your look is well-defined and all items belong to the same colour palette, so you can mix and match and create lots of different versions of your uniform: A well-chosen set of 8 items for a two-piece uniform could give you 16 different looks (like in the example above). For more info on how to create a a signature look read this post.

statementneutralsapproach.003

What you need:

a collection of basics that go with everything (denims, tops and jackets in neutral colors, etc.) and several bolder ‘statement pieces’ and accessories. The idea is to start with a foundation of basics and then choose one or more key pieces to be the focal point of your look. The neutrals + statement pieces approach is all about balance. When you put on red lipstick because your outfit just ‘needs’ a little extra oomph or when you swap your heels for flats because heels would be ‘too much’, you are trying to find the right balance between dressed up and dressed down, between boring and too bold. There is no universal ‘ideal level’ of course, it depends entirely on your own unique personal style. A lot of people would consider most of my outfits as being too ‘plain’ but for my style they are just right. What you consider to be a statement piece because of its colour, shape or material, might be a neutral for someone else. In the example above, I included white denim jeans and black leather pants as statement pieces because I would always want to wear them with a more neutral top, but for you they might be ideal basics to balance out brighter tops and accessories.

How to make it work:

Your neutrals are your workhorses, so focus on building a strong foundation of durable basics that will last you several seasons and suit your body shape. Include a variety of shapes (longsleeve tops, t-shirts, simple skirts, denim, etc.) and neutral shades (black, white, heather grey, dark grey, ivory, navy, and so on).

Method Dressing: The Set Outfits Approach

What you need:

A set of items that you always wear together and rarely mix with other pieces. A set could consist of a whole outfit or just a combination of two items, for example your brown leather belt that you always wear with your denim shorts, or your white dress that only goes with one pair of your sandals. If you love a certain combination of separates and almost always wear them together, then you are using the set outfits approach.

How to make it work:

Instead of organising your closet by categories, consider storing your sets together. If any of your sets include items with very different life spans or laundry requirements, for example well-made leather shoes and a white tank top from H&M, it’s a good idea to buy a second version of the less durable item, so you can rotate it.

Mixing approaches

Even if you immediately identified one of the approaches as your dominant one, it is more than likely that you use a mix of all four, even within a relatively short period of time. For example, in the morning you might choose to wear your go-to daytime look (jeans and a tank top) to uni and then later, for meeting your friends you might want to wear your new statement jacket, so you pair it with a foundation of neutral basics. The next day, for a a party at the office, you might wear a set special occasion outfit consisting of a dress and heels that you bought together.

It is even possible to use multiple approaches for building the same outfit: You could start by choosing a patterned shirt to be the focal point of your look, and pair it with your neutral black jeans. You always wear those trousers with your leather belt, and to round it all off you put on your jewellery uniform as usual.

I probably create 70% of my outfits with the modular/uniform approach and 25% with the neutrals + statement pieces approach. So far, I only use the set outfits approach for components of my looks, e.g. I always a light grey shirt with the same lavender top underneath just because I love the colour combo.

Figuring out your dominant approach can also give you pointers on how to resorganise your closet to match the structure of your wardrobe. Read this post for more ideas.

Note: Most of the example items are from & Other Stories and COS. If you want links, click here.

How do you build outfits? Do you use one approach more often than the others? Tell me in the comments!

18 comments

  1. When I read the post about organizing your wardrobe to match how you create outfits I was thinking I used neither of the methods you mentioned but reading this post reallty enligthened me. I definetely am a modular approach dresser. I want as many things in my wardrobe as possible to go together to be able to make as many outfits as I possibly can.

    I just discovered your blog and I am impressed. So many inspiring posts.

  2. Hi, thank you for the nice post! I see I’m not the only one spending time on clothing and optimizing my wardrobe. I like to create new outfits out of my existing closet and have always gotten the ideas for new pieces and outfits from movies (classics: 20’s, 40’s, 60’s, 70’s and somehow never liked the 80’s), rather than buying and consuming fashion magazines. I’ve been through different approaches in creating my outfits: colors, materials, layers, occasions. I really like versatile styles, including the very masculine way of dressing. In 2006 I really got into realizing my idea of creating a virtual copy of my growing closet. I’m software engineer by profession and programmed a couple of versions of a web application, which I use for myself. It was very rewarding to do so and, recently, I even started reimplementing the app. It helped me reflect on my taste changes through the years, revive very old (forgotten) pieces in combinations with items I’d bought recently… even that part of preparing the suitcase efficiently for a trip. It’s the best thing! Naturally, I spent a lot of time of doing research on emerging questions in this process. I even went through the color theory in order to understand my tastes. Into mind ;-) My personal closet is now private, but if you’d like to have a quick look, you’ll find this fetish of mine on a page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GirlsAndClothes. There are a few screenshots in the albums. The web app, is on the web and free to use, and eventually will be replaced with a new and better version. Technologically speaking. :-). It’s good to always have something to look forward to!

  3. I’m definitely a modular dresser – I have a strict colour palette and don’t own a lot of shoes or accessories. Most of my stuff matches, so it’s really easy to dress. The only time this doesn’t work is with more formal outfits – I have a good selection of silk blouses that I can dress up or down for these occasions, with one pair of silky black tapered trousers.

    • It’s the same for me, special occasion wear is the one section in my wardrobe that I use the set outfits approach with, mainly because it’s so small and doesn’t really match with the rest of my stuff.

  4. thanks for posting this. i am pretty much the same with you in terms of the ratio of the different methods i use. i wish more people were more aware of how they approached dressing themselves from their wardrobe. it would solve a lot of what/how to wear problems.

    • yes, being consciously aware of the techniques, even though they are common sense, helps me a lot when I don’t know what to wear. I will choose e.g. one key piece and then just pick a couple of neutrals to create a look.

  5. I’m definitely follow the modular/ uniform too. I love the clothes that you picked and your sense of style. I hope that you do another personal style post soon! I was wondering whether you stick to some sort of monthly clothing budget? There are so may items in my wardrobe that need replacing, and gaps that really do need to be filled and I don’t know where to start! I also probably need to buy my summer items soon before the shops start replacing their stock with winter items… xxx

    • oh wow, you’ve given me like at least three ideas for new posts :) I am working on a new personal style post at the moment, so you can expect that to be up soon. I’m also in the process of creating a summer wardrobe and I will definitely share my results in May or June. Thanks for your comment!

  6. It is true that it is mostly a subconscious process. I had never thought about it, but now that you put words on it I guess I’d be more of a uniform + modular combination of approach.

    I have a few variations of “top + bottom” that work well together (skinny + draped top, or loose shorts + fitted top for example), so I first choose which variation I want to go for, then pick up any top and bottom that match in a modular way, as the colours are quite consistent in my wardrobe.

    Sometimes, I adopt an approach close to the “neutral + key piece” only it is not with a key piece (all of them are quite neutral in the end), but with a piece I haven’t worn in a while. In the morning I decide I am going to wear that particular item at the bottom of the pile, and work an outfit around it.

    But thanks for the post, very useful :)

    • Your approach sounds a lot like mine. I guess the key piece in a look with a foundation of basics does not necessarily have to be bold or colourful at all if your personal style is relatively neutral in general, but rather one piece to focus on and around which the outfit is built.

  7. This is so interesting, I really do use all approaches but have never thought about it. Btw I looove all the clothes you chose for the examples!

  8. I love how you deconstruct everything and present it in a very visual way. I think I tend to use the neutrals and key pieces approach, but I am also trying to create a uniform so my process will hopefully shift soon

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