Yesterday, I wrote about style; today I’m going to write about putting it all together.

Some people have a knack for throwing outfits together – look at Kate Moss. For most of us, it takes time and practice to develop an “eye” for putting together a look. One of the key elements of that is understanding proportions. Harmony of proportions is one of the most important aspects of a flattering outfit.

Perhaps the simplest principle of proportion is to balance your halves. If you’ve got volume on top (say, a chunky knit, boxy jacket or babydoll top), the bottom should generally be streamlined (a pencil skirt, straight or skinny cut pant, etc.) – and vice versa.



And yes:

The same principle generally applies when it comes to showing skin – the more bare skin is visible on top, the less should be visible on the bottom. Unless you’re Blake Lively, who has never met a mini skirt/ plunging neckline combo she didn’t like.

A bit much:

Much better:

Also works:

Another principle of proportions concerns lengths. I recall that Tim Gunn, on his sadly now-defunct (?) show Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, discussed the idea of thinking of the body as being made up of thirds: head to waist (or hips, depending on how long your torso is); waist to knees; and knees to feet. A good way to ensure that you never look stumpified is to make sure that the lengths of your clothes respect the rule of thirds. For someone with a short torso (high waist), that might mean wearing a jacket that cuts to the hips, which will visually elongate the upper third of the body, placing it in proportion with the bottom two thirds. Conversely, someone with proportionally shorter legs might try wearing a cropped jacket and high waisted skirt that ends at the knees. Of course, the rule of thirds isn’t an inflexible rule (there is no such thing in fashion) – it shouldn’t necessarily stop you from wearing mid-calf skirts or cropped pants, for example. Although it might explain why these lengths can be tricky for people. [What to do if you do want to wear them, but are afraid you might look stumpified? Compensate the visual loss of length in the legs by wearing high heels; another option is to pair mid-calf skirts with cropped jackets or tops in order to draw the eye upwards.]

It also pays to be careful about embellishments – avoid having them placed on areas or parts of the body which you don’t necessarily want to emphasize (or where you don’t want attention to be drawn). For example, someone with already broad shoulders probably doesn’t need shoulder pads or puffed sleeves. Unless you’re Joan Crawford, who wanted to draw attention away from her hips.  Similarly, unless you want all eyes to be drawn straight to your cleavage, an open, jeweled neckline is probably not the best idea. At the same time, embellishments can often also add extra volume – not always a good thing. The placement of pockets, especially can be tricky; I tend to stay away from pants with pockets cut diagonally on the hip because they will almost always gape and add an inch or two where I don’t need it. A blouse with big ruffles down the front may not be the best friend of someone with a generous bust.

Proportions are also important when it comes to jewelry. No one should be afraid of “big” jewelry … though piling it all on at the same time should probably be reserved for extra special occasions. Having said that, jewelry should not compete with the rest of your outfit – it should complement it. If, for example, you’re wearing a bright patterned blouse, your necklace should borrow from the colour scheme of the blouse (though you can think of silver and gold as “neutrals” when it comes to jewelry). If your blouse has a bow or ruffles on it, your necklace can be a little more discreet – or you can forgo a necklace altogether in favour of earrings. A statement necklace paired with big, dangly earrings is strictly an evening look; for day time, pick one or the other, and pair with more subtle pieces. For many years, I avoided wearing earrings, other than plain studs, whenever I wore my glasses. While this works, it’s not mandatory. Longer earrings can work with glasses, though it’s best if the earrings don’t have a complicated design (e.g. mid-sized hoops work better than sparkly chandelier earrings). 

A whole lotta look:

Much better:
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2 Comments on Style math

  1. This is very helpful – I like the instructive yes and no pictures. As we now know, proportion seems to be my biggest problem, so this is a useful guide.