MFA has a lot of resources for newbies who are trying to dress better. But most of the advice catered here is focused on what pieces you should buy and not on how these pieces interact. We have great guides on creating wardrobes, but I feel we lack a guide that adresses how to create outfits. The result is that many newcomers end up not knowing how to avail the full potential of their wardrobe or how to take advantage of the clothes they already own.
Of course, building wardrobes and outfits go hand in hand. It’s a lot easier to create nice outfits if you have a wardrobe full of pieces that fit you both physically and stylistically. At the same time, it’s good to think what kind of outfit you want to create when you’re buying stuff.
Now, I should warn you, I’m not an expert on this. I have little more than a year’s experience in fashion and most of what I learned comes from MFA itself. So what I want here is to discuss a few guidelines on how to put together individual pieces so that they come together to form something good, as well as avoiding common pitfalls for beginners. I’m sure it’s not complete though. There is much more to that than I could possibly explain. I would appreciate very very much if someone more knowledgeable (or more skilled with the english language) than me wants to complement my text in the comments.
The basic principles of design
To achieve visual unity is a main goal of graphic design. When all elements are in agreement, a design is considered unified. No individual part is viewed as more important than the whole design.
-Alex White, in The Elements of Graphic Design.
I stumbled upon this link a while ago here in MFA. This small list of principles of design helped me understand better what makes an outfit work or not.
The first of them is unity (aka cohesion or synergy). Lack of it is one of the main reasons some outfits in the WAYWT or OFFC threads don’t work. If your shoes say something and your jacket says something else, the whole outfit won’t look right. Basically, the outfit should be seen as a whole, not as a sum individual parts. This is probably the most important “lesson” in this guide, and I will return to it before the text is over. This applies to many elements in the outfit: fit, colour, level of formality, style, etc.
That is not to say that there can’t be a hierarchy between different pieces from an outfit. It’s ok to have one of the pieces as the focal point, as long as the outfit is designed to support it instead of clashing with it. In this example
(thanks, disby), the eye is drawn first to the camo shorts, because of the busy pattern, then to the shoes, because of the bright colour, and lastly to the muted t-shirt. So there is a hierarchy here in which the shorts are the “strongest” element and the tshirt is the “weakest” one. What I mean here as a “strong” element is something that draws attention to itself, either because it has a heavy pattern
, or because the color
 stands out, or because the fit
 is different, etc. (thanks Balloons_lol, fucks_mulder and huhwot)When putting together an outfit with items that have different “strengths”, it is important to be careful in order to maintain a certain balance. What that means is that putting too many “strong” elements in one part of the outfit (top, bottom, left, right) usually won’t look good as distributing them along the outfit. Take this fit
 (thanks, only56), for example. The tie and the shoes are the strong elements, while the shirt and pants are relatively muted. It would look a lot worse if he had gone with strong tie and shirt and muted shoes and pants, because the strong elements would clash and the outfit would look unbalanced. When an element is just TOO strong [RES ignored duplicate image] it’s usually advised to keep the rest of the outfit relatively muted.
The importance of context and creating an image
Actors seek to fulfill the obligations encapsulated in a role, an identity, a membership in a political community or group, and the ethos, practices and expectations of its institutions. Embedded in a social collectivity, they do what they see as appropriate for themselves in a specific type of situation.
-James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, in The logic of appropriateness.
This recent thread teaches us something that is actually pretty obvious: for most people fashion isn’t interesting just because of the clothes, it’s interesting because of it affects how people perceive you. This is the reason most people get into fashion – they are unsatisfied by how they present themselves to others, and are captivated by the idea of being able to choose how their peers will perceive them. In that way, fashion is empowering. (there’s been another recent thread by milky_funk that has something to do with this)
So when you ask yourself what clothes you want to wear, keep in mind that the actual question is how do I want to look? You’re not just using pieces of fabric to cover your body, you’re trying to create an image for yourself. And just how appropriate or “good” this image is depends entirely on the context it’s inserted.
Context here means many things: where (in the world, in your country, in your city) you’re from, how old you are, what you do, what’s the occasion, etc. Fashion varies wildly across the globe, and what is expected from a 16 year old high-schooler is different from what is expected from a 50 year-old businessman. Keep that in mind: who you are and where you live also play a role in the image I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
This is why sometimes getting fashion advice and inspiration from the internet may feel disconnected from the reality. Fashion blogs will tell you that every man needs a navy blazer, or raw denim, and that just isn’t true. These “essential pieces for a man’s wardrobe” lists take clothes out of their context and strip them of their meaning.
My preferred approach is different (/fa/’s website preaches a similar idea ). Pay attention to the ones around you. What do people in your environment wear? Ask yourself how you want to look in contrast to them. Do you want to fit in and look attractive? Do you want to look rebellious and make people uncomfortable? Do you want to look professional and respectable? Do you want to look older? Younger? These are all valid desires and they should guide how you approach fashion. The choice of how you want to look should be a conscious one, based on your desires and expectations to the context that surrounds you. (More on this subject )
Applying all that: fit, colour, formality, style, etc.
This question goes far beyond what you wear. It points to how you engage with life and how life unfolds through you. This is a question of perceiving something that is already happening, not about trying to find the ‘right’ idea. It’s about seeing into an organic process rather than deciding something out of the blue.
-TheHeartOfTuxes, in his magnificent comment about finding your own style.
I want here demonstrate how the principles (particularly cohesion) mentioned so far can be applied to different outfit elements.
- First of all, fit (and silhouette). Although MFA has a skinny bias, there is some variation in what is considered an acceptable fit. You should, however try to achieve a certain unity and balance through the outfit. A looser fit all around can
(thanks huhwot and lobstertainment), as does
a full blown skinny
(thanks LeTigreLeTigre and sweetjesusonfire). Another way to achieve balance is to contrast
with a skinnier bottom
(thanks Pokesteve and freench). I know this section is terribly incomplete, if somebody wants to expand this subject, please do so. For now, I’ll just leave a link here to the wonderful guide on fit and proportions by Schiaparelli for FFA.
- Colour is next. Colour is hard to explain, but you usually want to have a colour scheme for an outfit. That means a limited combination of colours that work together in a cohesive way. Blue, gray, white and brown is perhaps the most classic and the easiest scheme to work with in male fashion and usually loooks great on both casual
outfits (thanks desmigalhation and skinniouschinnious). Monochromatic schemes are harder to make work
, but can look very awesome
(thanks Azurewrath and milky_funk!). For more info on colour, these guides are useful: the seasonal approach , the biomimicry theory and FFA’s guide .
- Common mistake when starting to dress: formality clash. Many clueless newcomers, based on the common but erroneous notion that dressing up is dressing better, try to “class up” a casual outfit by throwing a single, isolated formal piece on top of it. Usually a fedora, a waistcoat, a tie or a suit jacket. It usually ends up looking terrible
 . See how the jacket says “formal” while the other pieces say “casual”, ruining any hope of unity this outfit might have achieved otherwise? (disclaimer: this was posted with the consent of the subject in the picture)
- It’s usually advisable to have some style unity in an outfit as well. What I mean here is that an outfit should say one single message instead of mixing different messages together. If you look rugged from head to toe, the “concept” will be easily understood. If you put on a dress shirt, a pair of slacks, dress shoes and a military field jacket, the concept is lost and the outfit is confusing.
- The fedora is a great example of something that tends to not look good. But is it possible to work a fedora into an outfit? I put together a few pics
hats that may or may not work01 of 04
 of outfits with fedoras that maybe don’t look quite as bad as the ones you usually see. The point is that here the hat is cohesive with the outfit, something that is quite hard to do nowadays. You may not like them, though, as I said it’s quite hard to make it work.
A short note on “breaking the rules”
John Cage didn’t simply stick a bunch of spoons inside a piano and compose avant-garde masterpieces – his prepared piano pieces were an organic development out of years of studying, performing, experimenting and the influence of Indian musical forms and philosophy.
-Syeknom, in Fashion and a Cup of Tea .
Keep in mind that these guidelines are just here to help you understand fashion better, with the ultimate purpose of achieving control over your image. These aren’t unbreakable laws, just some loose recommendations based mainly on my personal experience and observation. It is, of course, possible to look good even if you break some of these rules, for example wearing formal pieces
in casual outfits (thanks veroz). The thing is that, if you try this as a beginner, you’re most likely to fail.
Original source :http://www.reddit.com/r/malefashionadvice/comments/19qc8c/a_rudimentary_guide_on_creating_outfits_that_work/