Outfit Formulas, 101

The stated goal of this blog is for all women to effortlessly pull perfect outfits out of their closets every morning, every day for the rest of their lives, and then be free get on with the important work of this world.

We may be a few months off from total success, but I have high hopes.

One key to effortless style is what Anuschka Rees calls outfit formulas. The premise, found in her lovely book The Curated Closet, is that we all have certain outfit formulas we fall back on. Other writers have called this “finding your uniform.”

Hard to get me out of boots/jeans/jacket.

Women who have their style dialed in like this are easy to spot. Google image search a few women whose style you admire and their outfit formulas become clear.

Jennifer Aniston has three formulas that she tops with a navy blazer or black moto jacket.

  • Neutral tank top/stretchy skirt
  • Neutral tank top/slim cargo pants
  • Neutral tank top/jeans.

The Duchess of Cambridge has two casual formulas. She wears these with wedge heels, boots or cute sneakers.

  • Striped Breton t-shirt/skinny jeans or pants/navy blazer
  • Printed blouse/skinny jeans or pants

Michelle Obama’s bright dress/cardigan sweater/basic pumps took her through 8 years of extreme scrutiny.

Honestly, if I had Michelle Obama’s arms, I would never, ever cover them up with a cardigan sweater.

Benefits of an outfit formula

Outfit formulas are a way of understanding and organizing your closet. They take the guesswork out of getting dressed. Here are a few of the many upsides to thinking in formulas.

They can be mixed and matched without draconian color schemes

One of my springtime outfit formulas is a printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket.

With three jackets, four tops and three pairs of jeans/pants I have 12+ ensembles, and I love all of them. Every piece doesn’t need to look good with every other piece, I just keep the jackets and pants fairly neutral and pick any crazy colored top I want.

So long as I don’t wear the olive jacket with the olive pants, or all four shirts at the same time, I’m golden.

You know they work for your life

The best thing about a well-established outfit formula is that you know it will work for pretty much anything life throws your way. In the spring I’ll be riding my bike around town, teaching, watching track meets, meeting friends, occasionally heading out to dinner or a play. My two spring outfit formulas can handle all of this easily.

Outfit formulas help you shop

When you want or need to refresh your wardrobe, having a few formulas to fall back on helps you target your purchases. You can invest in quality pieces because you know you will wear them in specific combinations. They can also keep you from purchasing closet orphans, those sad and lonely pieces that seemed like a good idea at the time but never get worn.

You will always have friends in this wardrobe.

How to use outfit formulas

Ideally, you have two or three outfit formulas per season. Items from one formula can certainly be used for another. My spring formulas are as follows

Classic top/skinny jeans or pants/ cardigan sweater

Printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket

Casual dress

Can I call it a formula if it doesn’t have to go with anything else?

I’ll wear these with boots until it warms up, then switch to tennis shoes or sandals. I’m not above mixing the formulas, either. I will certainly wear a classic top with jeans and my denim jacket. If it’s cold, I’ll pair a cardigan sweater with a dress.

I just get up, check the weather and run down my calendar for the day, then decide what to wear.*

Find your formula

The first place to look for your formula is in your closet.

What is your favorite outfit? Say you have a knee-length skirt you wear with leggings, boots and a slouchy sweater that you always feel perfect in. Find a couple of similar sweaters, another knee-length skirt and pull in a few other pairs of leggings and you have a mini-wardrobe that will feel fantastic.

Grab a couple of pairs of leggings and you could spend all winter in this mini-wardrobe.

The second place to look is on the women you see everyday. The ladies you work with, the other moms at your children’s school, women picking up groceries. Look for patterns in their style of dress. My guess is your will find a few formulas you could try.

Finally, as noted above, a google image or Pinterest search of stylish women is inspiring. Just be sure to look at the entire ensemble and know you can commit to the details. Sophia Coppola has fantastic style, but that woman always has exposed ankles. I’d love to try a few of her outfit formulas but none of them would work with socks or boots and I simple refuse to have cold ankles.

If you can wear it with flats you can wear it with ankle boots…right?

How to try a new formula

When trying out a new look, I always suggest shopping second hand. Your town probably has a few trendy resale shops (I love you, Buffalo) where you can score pieces at a fraction of the retail price and at significantly less environmental cost.

Be sure to complete the entire look when trying out something new. A few years ago, I wanted to try out an elegant pair of fluid joggers for hostessing. This involved buying a pair of flats and finding the right top to go with them. Since then, I’ve been able to bring a few pairs of casual joggers into my wardrobe using the same principles.

Currently, I’m working on how I can incorporate high waisted jeans into a formula without a crop top (because I’m 45 and I don’t ever have to wear a crop top again if I don’t want to. Sorry, 1985.) I found a pair at Buffalo exchange, and have been pairing them with things on my closet until I find something that feels perfect. If need be, I will wear them out shopping and try different tops on with them. Once I hit on a formula, I can incorporate a few auxiliary pieces into it and have a new look to enjoy. But right now, it’s a struggle…

Oh forget it…I’ll just wear plaid with everything.

Potential Problems

You can get stuck in a rut

I’ll never forget seeing a woman attend a funeral in bootcut jeans with rhinestone detailing, a plunging neckline blouse and stiletto heals. It was obviously a formula she felt very comfortable in, but really not appropriate to the situation.

I have to be careful not to fall into the black hole of puffer vest/t-shirt/jeans in the wintertime. This is an easy problem to manage, though. Just plan a few outfits in another formula and have them ready to go at the front of your closet. You will remember you love them in no time.

But it’s so warm…

Other people’s outfit formulas will not necessarily work for you

When googling Jennifer Aniston, the Duchess of Cambridge and Michelle Obama, I was seized with a desire to go buy a neutral tank top, a navy blazer and a bright colored dress, before remembering that my life might be significantly different than all of theirs. While incorporating the ideas of other, inspiring women, be sure to make the look your own. Always come back to your life, your body, and your style.

An outfit formula challenge

Your task for this afternoon, should you choose to accept it, is to head up to your closet and find a few outfit formulas you love. Let me know how it turns out!

Just hanging out, waiting for spring so I can wear my spring formulas…

* Actually, that’s not true at all, I just get dressed and hope the weather and my day fall in line with what I’m wearing.

3 thoughts on “Outfit Formulas, 101

  1. Hola! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Huffman Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

  2. On Monday, actress Chloe Grace Moretz looked effortlessly fashionable even dressed in a casual combo of a rugby shirt and black trousers, as she went for lunch with her brother Trevor.

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