Shopping… Outfits vs Separates?

I’ve been Personal Shopping for over six years now and had many different clients during that time; some on a budget, one who was driven around in a Bentley Continental whilst being followed by fake paparazzi (a 50th birthday treat!!)… Many need something for a specific event or several “looks” for a capsule work wardrobe – but most want versatile pieces that mix and match and can be easily dressed up or down… adding depth and more interest to their existing wardrobes.

A select few on the other-hand aren’t sure about having separate items to mix and match in this way as there’s too much margin for error (they don’t want to put the wrong necklace with the wrong top for example and often aren’t happy simply wearing something “with your jeans”). They want to know exactly what goes with what – i.e. they want an “outfit” on a hanger and the items making up said outfit will only be worn with each other!

Which gets me thinking about the word “outfit”… In my mind an outfit is made up of individual items which can be combined to compliment each other, but are not limited to being worn only one way. To others, items are bought with the intention of being worn solely together and not looked at as separates in their own right…

Top and trousers from Oasis, necklace from Topshop

Personally, the matchy-matchy “outfit” look reminds me of the days when my mother used to take me to Benetton to buy crazy printed leggings with a perfectly colour matched t-shirt and cardigan (and Benetton Bear with the same colour t-shirt! I was about eight please forgive me!). These days we’re encouraged rather than just picking up the matching dress, cardigan, handbag AND shoes from LK Bennett that we should at least nip to Accessorize and see if there’s a different bag that could add a bit more interest (whilst keeping in the same colour palette of course). Aside from not loving the matchy-matchy thing, I want to get more wear out of the pieces I buy, combining them in different ways and not looking at them so rigidly.

For example, I have the above floral pajama style trousers from Oasis. To wear them in a smart-ish way for work, I have a blush top (picking out one of the colours from the flower print) and a necklace in a similar colour – but I’ve got far more wear out of them with a black t-shirt or white vest top and flip-flops. However, I know some people aren’t comfortable with the whole dress up and down concept because they wouldn’t want to waste the trousers for every day – they want to keep them as a smart option, but in my head I’m getting more “wears” for my money.

Put simply, some feel most at home with the below equation:

A + B = One “perfect” outfit

They can’t get their heads around the fact that “A” can also work with “C” and “D”! This is possibly because they doubt their own ability in putting things together in different ways and lack confidence in their personal style and outfit decision making process. I try to encourage my customers to be more playful and bold in combining things together, especially with accessories, which seem to cause the most stress.

© Featureflash |

I believe a lot of this comes down to the fact that we see perfectly quaffed celebs on a daily basis wearing fabulous ensembles and we want our lifestyles and clothes to be the same. I’m thinking of a certain client who’s style icon was Victoria Beckham. In her eyes Mrs. B spends her whole time trotting through life in 10 inch boots, looking exquisite in perfected outfits without a hair out of place (which she probably does 95% of the time).

However, I tried to explain to my client that we only see the “done” Victoria who’s ready for the worlds prying eyes, aware that any wardrobe malfunction or fashion faux-pas will be flashed around the word in seconds. Plus, she has fabulous shoes, stunning handbags, jackets and jewellery in every desired shade enabling her to make anything “seem” like an outfit. But the point is, Victoria doesn’t actually dress in “outfits” in the old fashioned sense (notice she wears a LOT of dresses which make this kind of “perfected” look a whole lot easier… With a dress you’re not worried about which top/skirt/cardigan/jacket combo to wear – and does it all go???). She simply has great pieces which work together making her look “put together” – even making a pair of black trousers or skinny jeans appear like a considered outfit (for her more casual outings). Therefore gone are the days of buying twin-sets and identically matching this and that… It’s much more fashionable to have different pieces that compliment each other – looking far more individual and chic.  Adding different textures, tones, prints and layers brings a look to life, instead of looking flat.

© Featureflash |

Someone with an incredible knack for this is Olivia Palermo who appears to make walking her dog “Mr. Butler”, look like she’s on the catwalk, but in the most wonderfully laid-back and effortless manner (which is beyond annoying!). She combines pieces so creatively and makes them her own… and that’s the key. I’ve noticed that Olivia wears lots of big statement necklaces, which suddenly make a casual sweater and skirt look fabulous.

In summary, style is an individual and very personal thing which you can’t buy off the shelf using a set formula. People need vision to see how simple items can be combined to make something special. Seek inspiration from magazines and websites to see how they put looks together. Confidence is paramount, don’t play it safe – fashion is meant to fun… so get out there and buy some pieces with their own personality that you actually look forward to putting on!

Shopping tips:

1. Buy statement necklaces which can make even a simple t-shirt look a million dollars (if you choose wisely you can keep them for years and they don’t have to be expensive) – on a budget try Topshop, Zara and ASOS but for more of an investment consider Mawi, Tom Binns and Swarovski, especially their designer collections from Swarovski Crystallized.

2. Look out for “trophy” jackets – I head to Zara and Topshop or Sandro and Iro for more expensive options, which can add so much to a simple pair of jeans or trousers.

3. Buy the best handbag you can in good quality leather to finish off your outfit – ideally having one in black and tan gives you more options.

4. Don’t be afraid of prints – see how Olivia Palermo combines seemingly mis-matched pieces to create her look. Over time you will build a collection of things to rotate so you’re not wearing the same items again and again, as printed pieces are more memorable.

5. Many of my clients dread the “school run” – get an “investment” across the body bag, that is practical but looks good. Probably your best buy is a pair of trainers (white-sporty things are not allowed in ANY circumstances) – head to Office for a great selection of Converse, try Ash trainer-style wedges for a bit more height (or go for the real deal and get an Isabel Marant pair from MyTheresa if you’re really lucky! Then grab a big pair of sunglasses and throw on a quirky printed scarf… and your jeans and t-shirt will seem like so much more!

Some useful websites and magazine’s for inspiration:

I recommend looking at InStyle, Grazia and Red magazine as they generally put outfits together in a slightly less “edgy” way than Elle and Vogue, which can be intimidating to some. Net-A-Porter and Matches below  put outfits together brilliantly, just click on any piece and they have photos of what to put with what, including their own online magazines.

For any questions leave me a comment and I’ll try and get back to you.

Some of my favourite statement necklaces – the first 2 are from Topshop and the other is Zara (from their new collection, in store now)
Flats don’t have to be boring – these crazy shoes add fun to simple pieces, from Office

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