Earlier this year, I had the absolute pleasure of working with a private client who happened to be an interior designer. We scheduled a session to dive into the topic of dressing to flatter her figure. And when I opened up this conversation, as I always do, I explained that a major component to dressing well is incorporating some basic design principles. Her eyes lit up and I saw a lightbulb go off. She had never thought about applying her interior design skills to the art of creating outfits.
Now, to be fair, people often assume that as an image consultant, I’m great with interior design. But I really don’t feel like that’s the case. I can pinpoint what I like and I can recreate spaces in my home based on a design sample I see. But I’m NOT an interior designer –at all. There are plenty of nuances to that field that I would need to study. Just like my client still had a lot to uncover about image consulting.
I would equate this to any field. A doctor can’t be a phenomenal heart surgeon and pediatrician and orthopedist even though they all start with the same basic training in anatomy. They had to begin by taking a lot of the same classes and fundamentals and then they specialized. It was the same way for my client and me. But when she realized she could apply many of the design principles she uses every day in her interior design application, it all started to come together.
You’ve heard me equate your closet to an art gallery before. I’m on a mission to help you thoughtfully curate a collection of clothes that are both beautiful individually and that work together as a cohesive unit. And I think I’ve touched on various design elements in past episodes as well. We’ve talked about contrast and proportion, movement and pattern.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t usually think about putting outfits together like an artist. Your priorities are realistically more about matching your socks than making a masterpiece. And you might think of your body as something to cover up rather than as a blank canvas waiting to be decorated and displayed.
I want you to remember that fashion is an art form. And good style is all about design!
If you want to up-level your look, it’s time to start thinking about creating outfits like you would decorating a room in your home or designing an invitation. No matter your style, the goal when getting dressed should be to put together looks that are visually pleasing, have a key focal point, keep the eye moving up and down, and compliment your inherent features to bring out your best.
And today, I want to break down my 3 favorite design principles that I always come back to when teaching my clients how to put outfits together: Balance, Repetition, and Harmony
Let’s explore each one and talk about some ways you can incorporate them when getting dressed.
First up is Balance: We can define this as the way visual elements are arranged so their weight compliments the other elements in your outfit and creates ideal distribution from top to bottom and left to right.
It’s important to think about balancing the weight of the visual elements in your outfit. (Please note: this has zero to do with your physical weight!)
Just like you wouldn’t shove all your furniture to one side of the room, don’t put all the ruffles, statement jewelry, accent colors, and draping in the same area of your outfit. I want you to think about your favorite painting or work of art. It likely holds your attention and keeps your eyes moving around effortlessly because it’s well-balanced. The visual interest is spread out in an engaging way. Your eyes don’t get stuck in one place. You can create a similar effect with your style by balancing out the areas of interest in your outfit.
Let me give you a few examples:
- Use color placement to balance the upper and lower halves of your outfit
- Keep the weight of your outfit balanced
- Let your bone structure dictate the weight or scale of your accessories
Your outfits don’t need to be perfectly symmetrical. But you do want to make sure they’re dynamic, that they keep the eye moving, and that they have a feeling of completeness. Balance is the key here.
The next design principle I want to review with you is Repetition – which is reusing the same or similar elements throughout your ensemble to create unity and visual interest.
This is one of my go-to styling tricks. The best place to start with repetition is by looking at your favorite physical features. As an example, you can repeat the texture of your hair in the fabrics you choose or echo the shape of your eyes in your earrings. The options are endless! This is a really fun and easy way to get creative with your style and make your outfits more thoughtful and cohesive.
Plus, you can actually use repetition to create balance! You can repeat patterns, colors, and accents throughout your outfit to keep the eye moving up and down. If you have a pair of shoes with a bow accent on the back heel, you can tie a ribbon into a bow around your ponytail. The visual repetition of the bow creates interest from the top-to-the-bottom of your outfit. If you’re wearing a cherry red skirt, add a pop of cherry on your lips for eye-catching color repetition. This can help tie everything together.
My recommendation is to limit the repetition to 1-2 touches of the same element, otherwise your look can quickly crossover into over-the-top or matchy matchy territory. We want to look chic, not cheesy!
Finally, let’s talk about the last design principle to start incorporating when getting dressed, Harmony – harmony is creating a feeling of cohesiveness between you and your outfit. I always want YOU to wear your clothes, rather than your clothes wearing (or overpowering) you. Harmony is an essential component to doing this well.
All the elements of your outfit should fit together comfortably. You want to feel at home and at ease in your clothing.
Best case scenario: the colors you wear are going to be in harmony with your personal colors (think skin tone, eye and hair colors), exactly what I hand over to you with my Personal Color Palette service. You can choose the weight or scale of your accessories to compliment your body’s stature and bone structure and ensure that the overall read of your outfit suits your frame and your personality.
You know I’m all about embracing and working with what you’ve got! When you try to force yourself into styles, silhouettes, and fabrics that feel uncomfortable or unnatural to you, you’re going to disrupt the harmony of your outfit. This can be an excellent strategy if you have a Dramatic style and you want to create that contrast. But otherwise, let your features dictate your fashion, not the other way around.
When your outfit has perfect harmony, the elements not only work together but work to bring out your best.
You can use any or all of these 3 basic design principles when putting your looks together to create more visually interesting outfits and more easily highlight your favorite features.
I think you’ll find that you’ll prefer outfits that have some of these design elements and that you look better in photos, too. Who doesn’t want that??
If you loved this episode, would you please let me know? Leave a written review over on Apple Podcasts, because seeing your positive feedback about the content here gives me so much life and helps me create more of the content you love the most! I’d also love to know which of these design principles is your favorite or which one you feel most excited to try out first.
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