Just as there are one million ways to make a sandwich, there are one million ways to make an outfit. This contributes to "outfit overwhelm". Outfit overwhelm that feeling of dread some women experience when looking at their closet full of clothes and finding nothing to wear.
Fortunately, outfit formulas can make life easier. An outfit formula is similar to a recipe. We all know sandwiches usually contain two slices of bread and something in the middle. An outfit formula requires a top, a bottom, and shoes.
Take this concept a step further and prepare your outfits for the whole week ahead. I recommend doing this on Sundays. This level of wardrobe preparation will save you so much time, energy, and frustration. Over time, successfully implementing outfit formulas will help you craft a signature style.
Outfit Formula #1
Sleeveless Dress + Nude Shoes + Bold Earrings
Without even trying, you probably already have several "outfit formulas" in the mix. Look back through photos to see what you've been wearing recently. One of my go-to looks is a sleeveless dress, nude shoes, and bold earrings. You can make it as basic as "sleeveless dress" or as specific as "jewel-toned, solid color sleeveless dress".
Outfit Formula #2
Peplum Top + Skinny Jeans + Heels
Another one of my personal favorites, especially for photos and/or not shaving your legs is a peplum top + skinny jeans + heels. Again you can make this as specific as "light wash skinny jeans and patterned peplum top" or as broad as "skinny jeans and peplum top".
Outfit Formula #3
Button Down Shirt + Jeans + Heels
For my personal styling clients who have casual work environments, this is one of my favorite outfit formulas. Pro tip: keep a pair of sneakers in your car or tote bag. That way, if you need to take the kids to the park, a friend wants to go for a walk, or you must stop by the grocery store on your way home, you can do so comfortably. Wear a pair of studs or simple hoop earrings to keep it professional.
Outfit Formula #4
Blazer + Tank + Printed Shorts + Heels
For those of you with killer legs, this outfit formula is a surefire win. You can remove the blazer if you're making this a casual summer day look. Keep it on if you want to be dressy with your girls for a lunch date. Of course, the heels can also be swapped for sandals.
Outfit Formula #5
Blazer + Tank + Ankle Pants + Statement Necklace + Pointy Toe Shoes
Though I personally feel naked without them, not everyone can or wants to wear earrings. Statement necklaces are a great way to add personality to an otherwise boring, corporate work look. If you're in a creative environment you can make this look even more fun by wearing a printed blazer or a brightly colored heel.
Outfit Formula #6
Scarf + T-Shirt + Boyfriend Jeans
For weekend wardrobes and transitional weather, try adding a cute little scarf to basic jeans and tee ensemble. This accessory always gives personality and an air of "put-togetherness". As a bonus, you will be warm if you walk into an overly air-conditioned environment.
Outfit Formula #7
Utility Jacket + Basic Top + Jeans + Sneakers
Wearing a utility jacket completes your outfit and helps prevent sunburn. I am basically a vampire living near the beach, so I get a sunburn if my shoulders are exposed for more than 10 minutes. If you don't have a utility jacket, this outfit formula also works well with chambray button-downs.
Outfit Formula #8
Pencil Skirt + Pumps + Shell + Tweed Jacket
Work separates can be so versatile. I love pairing tweed jackets with pencil skirts and skinny jeans. A tweed jacket typically has a boxy shape, so it is important to pair it with something more streamlined on the bottom.
Do you have any favorite outfit formulas? Let me know here in the comments, or over on Instagram.
Get an Honest Friend to Help
Having been in many closets, I understand this is an emotionally charged, intimate place. Do not enter alone! You need to enlist a a warm, yet honest friend to help you determine what stays and goes in your wardrobe. You do not want your friend who thinks everything you do is amazing and every idea you've ever had is the best one ever. While she is a wonderful friend, you need the straight shooter who will tell you the truth. It should go without saying, but you also want this person to be someone whose taste level and style you respect. In the case that you don't have someone like this in your life, you can always enlist the help of a professional, like myself.
Ask 3 Questions
As you go through your closet, you will try on every item. As you try on these pieces, you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine if the piece has earned its right to valuable real estate in your closet. This is another reason it's helpful to have a friend involved during this process--it is incredibly easy to lie to ourselves. Yes, you love that sequined, black mini-dress, even if it doesn't fit and you bought it 12 years ago. Your honest friend will tell you that it's not worth keeping. To be honest about your wardrobe, you need to ask yourself three questions.
1. Would I purchase this garment today? If the answer is "No," you need to get rid of this item. Our style, personal taste, bodies, and lives evolves over time. There is no use in hanging on to the past with items that no longer speak to you.
2. Is it comfortable? There is no reason to be uncomfortable in your clothing. If the fabric is itchy or you can't walk more than 10 feet in those heels, they need to go.
3. Where am I going in this? Aside from fitting your body, your clothing needs to fit your lifestyle. If you can't think of three occasions where the garment would be appropriate, it needs to go. Perhaps you're hanging on to that sequined mini-dress because it reminds you of your College Party days, and now you're a high powered corporate executive with three kids? That dress is no longer appropriate for your lifestyle. Not to mention, with your current station in life, you could afford an even more fabulous, sexy dress.
Categorize and Organize
Try your clothing on by category. You'll need to try on all your pants, then all your skirts, then all your dresses, then all your tops, etc. After you've tried them all on, you will separate them into 3-5 categories. The first category is "Keepers", these items go back into your closet and do not need any alterations. The second category is "Alterations", these garments may need to be hemmed, taken in, or have a zipper fixed. The third category is "Donations", these items are going to be donated to a local charity, as they no longer serve you. The other two optional categories are "Dry Cleaning" and "Consign". If you have some pieces in your closet that are great, but need to be freshened up, separate them for a trip to the dry cleaner. In San Diego, I recommend La Jolla Cleaners in UTC. They are pricey, but one of the few places that will actually does a decent job of cleaning your clothing. If you are parting with current pieces in good condition, you may consider selling them at one of the many secondhand shops throughout the region, like My Sister's Closet, Buffalo Exchange, or La Femme Chic. You can find my guide to San Diego consignment shopping here.
To organize and separate these items, I recommend using a garment rack, clothing dividers, tags for tailor notes, as well as a few shopping totes.
Organize by Item Type and Color
To efficiently organize your closet, I recommend organizing your clothing by item type and color. This means you will hang all your skirts with all your other skirts, all your long sleeve tops with all the other long sleeve tops, all your dresses with all your other dresses, etc. I also like to organize the categories by color, so all the red tops are in one place and all the black skirts are in one place, for example. This method is aesthetically pleasing and ensures you know where to find any piece in your wardrobe. The only time I deviate from this system is when I'm planning outfits for the week ahead. In that case, I will hang my outfits for the week together in "outfit sets". I leave the rest of my closet organized by item type and color.
Plan Your Outfits for the Week Ahead
To save time in the mornings, I recommend planning your outfits for the week ahead. Take a look at your calendar and see what's happening this week. Do you have an important meeting on Wednesday? Are you hosting a family dinner on Sunday? Are you going out on a date? Take some time before the week begins and plan your outfits for these occasions. Try them on and take a photo so that you'll remember the combinations. If you can, hang them up as outfit sets in your closet, or on a separate garment rack, if space allows.
Create a Shopping List
Inevitably, after going through your closet, you will find yourself in need of some new pieces. Perhaps you have an edgy tunic that needs leather leggings or a navy top that would only look right with light wash jeans? You have the tunic and the navy top, yet you don't have the pieces needed to create a proper outfit around them. Create a list for these "missing" pieces and reference it the next time you're out shopping. This is what I mean by "shopping with intention"--you aren't mindlessly adopting the next trend, you're building a cohesive wardrobe that is unique to you.
I'm Jaquelyn Wahidi. I'm a personal fashion stylist, writer, and entrepreneur in San Diego. I help women organize their closets, define their style, and shop with intention. My style blog features practical fashion advice for women everywhere. Addicted to blazers since 2004.