outfit formula fashion rules

Another Easy Outfit Formula

The feedback I’m receiving from all of you, dear readers (did you catch the Bridgerton allusion there?) is that you LOVE these fashion rules! And I couldn’t be happier! However, there is a chance I may eventually run out of outfit formulas to share. But until that time comes, I’ll keep cranking them out as fast as my mind can process.

The truth is that these fashion rules are somewhat intuitive to me. They’re second nature. I see the various elements of an outfit and what needs to be added or taken away. I don’t think a lot about it; it just IS until I’m working with a client and need to step back and explain. 

When I take that step back, out of my very active brain (it works kind of like a slot machine as I’m searching for outfit combos – a great outfit is like three cherries) and simplify the steps or reasons, I’m able to create the rules. No, I’m not saying this is fashion for dummies (I hate that name, it’s so condescending) – but the breakdown often makes it easier to digest

Dressing is Just an Optical Illusion

As I’ve said before and will probably repeat a zillion times, dressing is the ultimate optical illusion. No one, NO ONE, not even Jennifer Aniston, has a perfect figure. But what people that seem to have an ideal figure do, is use clothes to their advantage to create the appearance of balance and proportion.

These outfit formulas are the foundations for creating visual harmony and making most looks work. They’re the infrastructure of the ensemble. Once these basic formulas feel comfortable, and if you’re in the mood to step it up, you can build upon them to make outfits even more multifaceted and exciting.

When working with clients, I often refer to outfits as mild, medium, and spicy. The same elements and ingredients apply – but just like in a recipe, you are more heavy handed with some aspects if you want to get really spicy. The 2 out of 3 rule is a foundational outfit formula. Consider it mild in the clothing/food analogy. But once this principle is mastered, it’s easy-peasy to add some spice.

2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad… 

Now, you are welcome; that popular Meatloaf song from the late 1970s will be going through your head on repeat! Anyway, usually the odds of 2 out of 3 are considered in the B to B+ range. But when putting polished looking outfits together, this formula will give you A+ ensembles.

The formula consists of this basic premise: two of the three elements of your outfit should be the same color. Why? Because keeping multiple aspects of your look uncluttered and coordinated, creates visual continuity. It’s that continuity that makes an outfit feel cohesive and “put together.”

The other bonus for the vertically challenged (I’m 5’4″ on a good day) is that implementing this rule makes us shorter folks appear taller



1. Top + Bottom = Same Color

When you pair a matching top and bottom, sometimes I call this a column of color, and it’s a powerful styling tool. It allows you to change out your topper (jacket, sweater) and have outfits for days. Very often people do this with black – a black silk blouse and pants for instance. But it truly works with most colors – white tee and white jeans, grey sweater, and slacks. Even brighter colors if you’re bold (or spicy). Just keep the top and bottom in the same color.


2. Topper + Bottom = Same Color

Keeping your topper and bottom the same color is basically a suit. And that’s precisely why suit dressing makes it easy to look refined. I call it a topper instead of a jacket because the same formula (Topper + Bottom) can be used with a sweater, a wrap, or even leather to achieve a put together, but less business formal look.


3. Top + Topper = Same Color

Matching your top to your jacket or sweater allows you to play around with the article of clothing on the bottom half to change up the feel of the look. For example, a camel sweater and blazer can be dressed down with denim or dressed up with black slacks. The other benefit of this trick is that you can bring attention to your top half or bottom half, depending on where you focus on the bolder color.

outfit formula fashion rules

4. Accessories: Shoe + Bag, Shoe + Belt = Same Color

Your shoes and bag do not need to match perfectly as they did in the 1950s, but knowing you have go-to shoe and bag combinations helps give your looks the finishing touch. Again, having that coherence of color makes the outfit feel perfected. I encourage my clients to have a nude shoe and bag combo (not necessarily matching but complimentary) because it goes with everything. And it’s also nice to have a belt and shoes in a similar color family. Black is a staple, of course. But adding cognac or saddle brown color to your accessories game (as in a belt and booties) can freshen things up too.


So next time you are struggling to put an outfit together, remember the 2 out of 3 rule (especially my fellow short ladies)! This simple outfit formula will keep your outfit visually cohesive and coordinated. Once you’ve mastered the 2 out of 3 rule, be sure to check out the Third Piece Rule and Rule of ONE! With these rules in the back of your mind, you can finally take the stress out of getting dressed!

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Photo: Molly Nook

All other photos via Pinterest


Cleveland-based personal stylist and fashion blogger.


  1. Kim Goldhamer Reply

    Halle I’m so impressed!! Loved reading this, and just think, I can say I knew her when she was going into high school and I was the one who showed her around BHS!!!! Congrats !

    • Hallie Abrams Reply

      Kim, thanks for reading and the love. I do think you’re thinking of a different Hallie tho, I didn’t goto BHS. But, I’m glad I know you now!!

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