How to Dress Well
Ready to upgrade your wardrobe? Dressing well makes many people feel more confident and energetic. No matter what your budget is, you can take steps to improve your look. Note: this article is aimed primarily at women. Tips on how to dress well for men are available here.
Part I: Knowing What Flatters
Focus on fit. If your clothes don’t fit right, it won’t matter how attractive or fashionable they are; you won’t look well dressed. Clothes that are too small will look cheap and make you seem heavier; clothes that are too big will make you look sloppy.
- Dresses can be difficult to fit properly since many women wear different sizes in tops and bottoms. In general, you'll know a dress fits well if the neckline lies flat whether you are sitting or standing, if all the seams are flat and straight, if the material doesn't pull or pucker around your chest or hips, and if the garment fits closely but not tightly.
- If you’ve gained or lost weight recently, it’s especially important to discard or alter anything that no longer fits correctly. Take the time to evaluate your wardrobe and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Know the best ways to flatter your figure. Every individual is different, and there are tremendous variations within each group, but most women fall into the apple, pear, banana, or hourglass categories.
- Apple-shaped women tend to carry weight around their middles. These women typically look best in A-line dresses and clothing that emphasizes the bust and legs while deemphasizing the waist.
- Pear-shaped women are smaller on top but larger in the hips and thighs. They usually look best in A-line dresses, layered tops, and simple, darker-colored bottoms.
- Banana-shaped women are slim all over. These women typically look good in most clothing, but they can make the most of their shape by wearing clothes that create curves. Flared pants, cinched waistlines, and tapered jackets can help accomplish that goal.
- Hourglass-shaped women have slim waists with fuller hips and breasts. They look great in tailored pieces and wrap dresses.
Determine which colors look best on you. Try looking at the veins inside your wrist. Do they look more green or more blue?
- If they look green, you have a skin tone with a yellow base. Warmer colors will look better on you, so try off-white, red, yellow, orange, and brown, as well as yellow-tinted greens and blues. Avoid pastels.
- If they look blue, you have a skin tone with a pink base. Cooler colors will look better on you, so try white, pastels, and jewel tones.
- When in doubt, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to mostly neutral colors. Black, gray, and brown look great on nearly everyone. Add pops of brighter color here and there – a bright blue necklace or a deep red belt, for example – to keep your outfits looking interesting.
Assess the areas of your body that you are uncomfortable showing. For example, if you aren’t comfortable showing too much of your legs, or are self-conscious about your midsection, keep this in mind as you look for clothes, and avoid buying mini-skirts or shirts that are tight around the stomach.
Focus on classic, rather than trendy, styles. It’s more important to dress your body in attractive, flattering clothes that work for your figure than to follow every trend as it develops. Forcing yourself into certain colors, cuts, and styles just because the fashion magazines are featuring them won’t make you well dressed. Stick to what suits you.
- At the same time, don’t define what works for you so narrowly that you miss opportunities to branch out and try something new. Be willing to experiment! You may be surprised by how flattering a new style can be.
Consider comfort. Your efforts to look put together will be undermined if your shoes are so uncomfortable that you’re teetering around in pain or your clothes are so constrictive that you’re constantly shifting and adjusting. Wear clothes that make you feel great, and you’ll likely look great, too.
Take great care of your clothing. Always read labels and follow the instructions for laundering your clothes properly – doing so will keep them looking good for much longer.
- In addition, take the time to iron your clothes when needed. No one looks well dressed in wrinkly clothes.
Part 2: Developing a Personal Style
Express yourself. For every personal style, there are choices that look great. If you’re a girly girl, feel free to wear dresses every day; if you’re not, choose flattering trousers instead. If you see yourself as preppy, dress that way; if you see yourself as more bohemian, stick to that instead. Authenticity tends to be attractive.
Add interest with accessories. Once you have a general sense of what looks good on you, you can focus on enhancing your look with fun choices that express your individuality.
- If you love bright colors, use them! Wear the charcoal skirt and cream-colored top that look fabulous and work-appropriate, but add red kitten heels or a multi-colored bracelet.
- If you love the look of bold jewelry, wear something amazing every day! Big hoop earrings can add interest to jeans and a t-shirt; a statement necklace can quickly make a basic work outfit look fabulous.
Spend some time looking at fashion magazines or apparel websites. The point isn’t to pick an image and emulate it; it’s to see the tremendous variety that’s available and find some inspiration. If you find yourself consistently loving certain styles or colors, then you’ll know what to look for – you just need to be willing to adapt whatever you love to suit your figure and coloring.
Develop standard looks for various aspects of your life. Having a repertoire of outfits that fit well and suit your style will serve you well. Take the time to develop a rotation of looks for work, for the weekend, for dressy events, and for anything else that you need regularly. Then you’ll be able to approach all of these situations with confidence.
Dress appropriately for your age. Most people find that women who dress much too old or much too young look poorly dressed or inappropriate. Whatever you age, embrace it! Instead of aiming to look older or younger, aim to look like the most fabulous version of someone your exact age.
Take calculated risks. It’s best not to mix all kinds of crazy patterns and colors into a single outfit, but it’s fine to try something new and different. The key is to wear it with confidence.
- Try, for example, combining neutral colors with one animal-print item -- something like a bright leopard-print blouse under a black cardigan.
- Alternatively, you can try wearing a risky-seeming, fashion-forward item, but keeping the rest of your look comparatively understated. If you're in love with the enormous shoulder pads you saw featured at fashion week, try them! Just pair them with something slim and neutral on the bottom, and stay away from bold accessories.
Part 3: Updating Your Wardrobe
Clean out your closet. Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit, anything you haven’t worn in two years, and anything that’s in poor condition. Doing so will free up space for new and more functional pieces.
- Don’t just toss these clothes into a dumpster. Donate them to charity or hand them over to friends or relatives, or, if they are in decent condition, consider trying to sell them.
Figure out what you need. Once you’ve gotten rid of all the junk, you should be able to evaluate your wardrobe clearly and identify what’s missing. Your needs will depend on your individual lifestyle, but in general, you want to make sure you have:
- blouses and casual shirts
- button-down shirts
- pull-over sweaters
- pants – at least one pair of jeans and at least one pair of trousers
- casual dresses
- casual skirts
- a jacket for cool weather (and one for even colder weather, if you live where it gets cold)
- at least one or two semi-formal or formal dresses
- shoes – at least one pair for workouts and one or two each for casual, business, and dressy outfits
Make a game plan. Once you know what you need, it’s time to shop! But don’t just head out to the mall; you’ll save yourself time and headaches if you research some stores online first. Look at the websites of a few popular stores and see what’s on offer. If you don’t see much that you like, move on – save your time for stores that fit your style.
Try on clothing whenever possible. It’s tempting to simply order clothes online, but you’ll have better luck if you head out to the stores that seem promising and try clothes on. Sizes vary considerably from retailer to retailer, and it’s hard to know what will flatter you without seeing a garment on your body.
Spend your money wisely. If your budget is smaller, start browsing at lower-priced retailers. There’s no reason to spend too much – as long as a garment is well made and fits properly, you will look fantastic. That said, you don’t necessarily want the cheapest clothing available. If it wears out after two weeks or falls apart in the washing machine, it’s no bargain.
- Do some additional research online and try to hit stores when they are having sales. This can allow you to pick up higher-end items for bargain-basement prices.
- Consider investing in a few key pieces that you will get a lot of mileage from – a great pencil skirt for work, a classic black dress. Spend less on trendier items that you won’t wear for long.
- Don’t be afraid to comparison shop. Before you buy something, check to see if an online retailer has the same item for a lower price.
- If you’re feeling lost about what to wear, consult a close friend or relative. The people who know you best will usually have ideas about what looks best on you.