Outfit formulas are having a bit of a moment right now. You may have come across them when looking for help developing your personal style or sorting out your wardrobe. In this post I’m going to run through what they are, how to create them, their benefits, along with some of the challenges associated with making them work.
What are outfit formulas?
Outfit formulas are simply written formulas that break down an outfit into its individual parts. A simple one may be:
It can then be used as a ‘formula’ to create outfits from your wardrobe. Because each item in the formula is interchangeable it makes it super easy to mix and match, meaning you don’t run out of things to wear. So let’s use the formula above as an example. We’re making the assumption you love this outfit, you wouldn’t want to do it for an outfit you felt ‘meh’ about.
For this formula you’d need to make sure you had the following:
- 2 pairs of skinny jeans
- 2-3 tees
- 2 pairs of sliders
By making sure you have two to three variations of the same piece, it allows you to mix them creating variations of that outfit. Each item needs to be slightly different, depending on your own personal aesthetic e.g. you wouldn’t want two pairs of identical jeans. Perhaps the fit or the wash would be different in each one. The same goes for the tees, they could be different colours, prints, necklines, details etc. And again the same for the sliders.
With those items, you’d then have twelve possible outfits, all slight variations on an outfit you love. That’s before you start to add accessories and jewellery to tweak them even further. Every piece in your wardrobe doesn’t have to be a part of an outfit formula, but having a few formulas can give you a really solid core wardrobe that won’t let you down.
Let’s use the example above again and flesh it out. I’ve intentionally kept things simple so you can see how having just seven items will give you twelve different outfits.
How to create outfit formulas
A great starting point is to consider whether you have any outfit formulas you currently use. Maybe for work you’re always drawn to loafers, cotton trousers, and a blouse:
There, you’re already using formulas without you consciously knowing it! At which point you can then start to look at how many of each piece in the formula you own, and whether you need to invest in anymore.
Let’s say you have:
- 1x cotton trousers
- 2 x blouses
- 1x loafers
You might want to invest in another pair of trousers, a blouse, and another pair of loafers. But this is working on the assumption that you actually like that formula. Just because you wear it often doesn’t mean it excites you or that you want to make it a permanent part of your wardrobe. And if you don’t love it… don’t stick with the formula.
If you can’t think of any outfit formulas you currently use, it’s time to start going through your wardrobe. Start by looking for any outfits you love. Consider what pieces go into that outfit and also decide when you’d wear it. It should ideally be an outfit you could wear at least a couple of times a week.
Let’s say you found the following:
But you only had one of each piece in your wardrobe. Ideally, you need two versions of each piece in an outfit to create a formula.
So you’d need:
- 2 x Monk strap shoes
- 2 x Cropped skinny jeans
- 2 x Tees
- 2 x Long line cardigan
If you don’t have two versions of each piece in an outfit, you’re going to have to add the items to a shopping list. Alternatively, you could skip this outfit and look for a different one where you have two versions of each piece or almost two versions of each piece.
So using the outfit from above again:
- 1 x Monk strap shoes
- 2 x Cropped Skinny Jeans
- 2 x Tees
- 1 x Long line cardigan
Would give you a better starting point and leave you with less to add to a shopping list. Continue to work through your wardrobe, starting with any outfits you love first. Then any individual pieces you love.
Individual pieces as a starting point
Let’s say you pick out an A-Line skirt you love. Go through the other items in your wardrobe and try and build a formula, by selecting other items you think would go with your A-Line skirt to form a complete outfit. It’s easy to use this exercise as an excuse to add lots of additional clothing to your wardrobe that you don’t already own. That might not be necessary so try and stick to using the pieces you do have. If you’re really stuck then think about adding the bits you’re missing to a shopping list.
So, let’s say with that A-Line you find a cotton shirt to go with it, but you can’t find the right footwear in your wardrobe to finish the formula off. You at least have part of an outfit formula and can use the next step to help you complete it by deciding what footwear you’ll need to invest in.
You may not have any outfits you love in your wardrobe or struggle to find individual pieces you want to use as a starting point for an outfit formula. So probably the easiest place to get ideas for outfit formulas are sites like Pinterest, LookBook Nu, blogs, magazines etc.
If you are choosing this option, it’s important to focus on the actual cuts and style of the pieces in the outfits as opposed to their print or colour. It may give you inspiration or remind you of some pieces you already have in your wardrobe that you could use. It’s also worth noting to pick outfits that you think would look great on you, rather than just picking those you like the picture of or the mood of the photo, or because you think they look good on that particular person.
What are the challenges with outfit formulas?
There are no doubts that outfit formulas can be a useful tool to help you wear more of your wardrobe. But they do take time and to set up, potentially require a bit of an investment in your wardrobe. They can be challenging, depending on the individual. So here are some additional things to watch out for and alternative approaches.
Build a Lookbook – If you have outfits you already wear and actually love, it’s much easier to use those as your outfit formulas. Then simply make sure you double up on each item in a different style to enable you to mix and match and create interesting new variations.
But if you’ve looked through your wardrobe and you can’t find anything you love, you may want to spend some time building up a lookbook. This allows you to experiment and get a collection of outfits you’re happy with, which you can then use as your starting point. Simply take your favorite two or three outfits from your lookbook and use those as your outfit formulas.
It takes time – It can take a while if you’ve got no initial outfits to draw upon and you’re working through your wardrobe looking for individual pieces you might want to use as your starting point. Likewise, spending time searching for inspiration can rack up the hours. That’s before you’ve even gone back to your wardrobe, wrote a shopping list, or hit the high street/online stores.
It’s not very visual – If you’re a visual person again, you may find yourself struggling at certain points. Particularly if you struggle to picture how different pieces will work together. This may cause issues when pulling out individual items from your wardrobe, or when you’re out shopping and trying to decide whether that shirt you’ve picked will work with your navy chinos.
It can be difficult for some – If I think about the people I work with on an individual basis many of them face some or all of the following challenges:
- Not being able to put together an outfit without feeling ‘meh’ about it
- Not knowing whether an outfit they’ve put together looks good on them/not being 100% convinced by it
- Being able to pick out individual pieces they love, but struggling to understand what would work with that piece to make a complete outfit
- Being able to find stylish looks on the internet, or point them out on other people, but not knowing whether those outfits are right for them
- Being unsure of bolder cuts, styles, or prints
If you’re coming from this place, or any of the points above resonate with you, trying to put together outfit formulas could be really tricky. To start with I’d suggest looking at building a lookbook, before advancing to creating outfit formulas. Alternatively, you can get in touch on Twitter or drop me an email and I can help with anything you’re struggling with.
Outfit formulas are a great way of making sure your wardrobe keeps serving you up outfits with minimal effort. But depending where you’re at in your own personal style journey, you could find them tricky to create. For others, they’ll be a breeze. Hopefully, where ever you’re at you’ll give them a go and if you run into trouble you can always revert to building a lookbook until you feel ready to get stuck into them.
I’d love to hear whether you’ve started using outfit formulas for your wardrobe?