Earlier this summer, I dropped a tiny reference in a blog post to a personal guideline I rely on practically every day. Apparently, it spurred an aha! moment for many of you—my inbox has been full all summer of messages saying what a big difference this tiny rule of thumb has made to your mornings and your outfits.
Some of you do this intuitively (yay, you!), but some of us need to have our fashion tips spelled out for us (here here), so here goes.
When I’m getting dressed in the morning, I almost always grab a top and a bottom—two pieces. But if I take the time to add a third piece, I can turn my articles of clothing into an actual outfit. Three pieces look more complete than just a top and a bottom. It constantly surprises me how adding a simple third piece changes the look, making it feel more stylish and more put-together. It looks like I tried. And while some days I might not care much about how I look, I actually feel better when I know I tried.
The rule of three gives you a lot of bang for the buck: that third piece is an easy addition, and an easy habit to form, but it can make a big difference in the way you look and feel throughout the day. (Evidence of the rule’s effectiveness: rumor has it that some of my favorite stores, like Nordstrom and Banana Republic, either require or strongly encourage their employees to always wear a third piece while at work.)
You’ll notice style bloggers and fashion mags often add fourth and fifth pieces to take outfits to the next level. (I leave this to the experts—five pieces and I don’t look put together; I look like I’m trying too hard. That’s not the effect I’m going for.)
If you’d like to look and feel nice without a lot of extra effort, your options for that third piece are extensive. You could add another layer, like a sweater, blazer, vest, or jacket. You could add an all-day accessory, like a belt or a great piece of jewelry. (Tiny studs don’t count as a third piece, but a statement piece sure does. Everyday flats don’t count, but fuschia Hunters absolutely do.)
Some effective third pieces won’t be immediately obvious: this woman considers her long blonde hair her main accessory. (I love her uniform.)
Have you noticed that people often look more put-together on their way out the door than they do at home, or in the office? It’s not just mood—it’s the extra pieces. When you’re carrying a tote or handbag, or a cute umbrella, or wearing a well-fitting coat or bright wellies you’re not just braving the elements; you’re adding pieces to your outfit. This is one reason street style photos are so eye-catching.
Weather matters, of course. If you’re in the midst of a heat wave, try adding a statement necklace to a tank top and shorts, or a big cuff, or a straw tote. Layering it up is easier in the winter—go wild with the scarves and sweaters to feel cozy and fashionable.
Is the rule of three unbreakable? Absolutely not. But if you, like me, appreciate a shortcut to looking and feeling put together, it’s a good one to keep in your pocket.
Maybe you already do this. Tell us your third piece in comments? Maybe you’re giving it a try for the first time. If that’s you, tell us what you’re thinking, and how it goes, if you try it? Maybe you have an everyday uniform. Whether it’s one piece or seven, we’d love to hear all about it.