A Simple Trick to Look More Stylish

When I’m working with styling clients, I like to create fashion rules, like the third piece rule, to make the process more manageable. Looking put together and polished can feel overwhelming at times. There are societal norms, fashion trends, and on top of that, everyone has their own mishegoss (long legs, short legs, big bum, not a big enough bum, loves to wear heels, can’t wear heels…you get the picture).

My job description may be that of a wardrobe consultant. But in some ways, I am more of a coach or tutor, maybe even a quasi therapist. My mission is to take what may seem like fashion babble and help translate it in an understandable and easy to execute way.

I equate fashion rules to the study tricks teachers would create to help us remember subject matter in school. To this day, when I hear HOMES, I recall the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. It’s ingrained in my brain, which means the acronym rule works!!

The Third Piece Rule

Do you know those people that always look put together? It can be kind of annoying, right? Well, next time you see one of them, check. I bet they’re using the third piece rule.

The trick of adding a third piece is pretty darn magical because it’s easy to implement and instantly elevates your outfit. Rumor has it that retailers like Nordstrom and Banana Republic started using the third piece rule in their training sessions to help their store associates achieve a more refined, stylish appearance. And the cool thing is that the formula works for both women and men.

Here’s how it works.

The idea behind the third piece rule is that for an outfit to go from good to great, it needs three key elements. Your top and bottom (pants or skirt) are your first and second elements. The third piece is that extra something that finishes off the whole look. It could be a sweater, blazer, vest, scarf, hat, or even a statement piece of jewelry. And for a man, the third piece can be a sport coat, vest, sweater, tie, or pocket square.

The third piece adds the finishing touches to the outfit. It takes a rather ordinary outfit, jazzes it up, and makes it look like there was some extra effort put in. But in a very je ne sais quoi kind of way. 

Now I know you may be thinking, “Hallie, what about shoes?” However, shoes are not part of the formula with this particular rule. Yes, shoes certainly add something to an outfit. And they can be added elements of interest that make an ensemble even more exciting. But with this trick, the first two pieces are just the top and bottom. The third piece is an added detail, on the top half of the body that makes the outfit shine. In my humble opinion, that’s the beauty of the rule. It’s simple, straightforward, and easy to implement.

Third Piece Outfit Combinations

One of my personal tried and true outfit combinations consists of jeans, a graphic t-shirt, and either a blazer, cardigan, or leather jacket. There’s an 80% chance if you run into me at the grocery store, this is what I’ll be wearing. I tend to wear this combo pretty much everywhere; on the airplane (but swap out jeans for joggers), out to dinner (swap out flats for heels), to work (pair it with fashion sneakers because I’m on my feet all the time). Adding that third piece is what makes all the difference and takes the outfit from meh to yay!

Adding a third piece is a fool-proof formula that my clients are probably sick of me droning on about. But it never disappoints and always makes outfits feel finished. If it’s summer and too hot to wear a jacket or sweater (although with cranking a/c we often need that extra layer), you can throw on a necklace or bandanna or even a hat to give the outfit some warm weather pizzazz. 

Third Piece Toppers I’m Loving

Third Piece Accessories I’m Loving

Third Pieces I’m Loving for GUYS

It’s really about taking the basics up a notch. You need to wear a top and a bottom. The third piece is a love note to yourself, saying that you care about how you’re presenting yourself to the world and that you’re worth the extra effort.

You know how a room can have all the necessary elements a room needs like a rug and couch and chair and table? However, until there are some window treatments or art on the wall, it doesn’t feel finished? THAT my friends IS the third piece.

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Photo: Molly Nook

Post Updated 4/7/21


Cleveland-based personal stylist and fashion blogger.

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