Reader Request: Accessory Balance

Mrs.M in MI had this request:

What are your recommendations on a good balance of jewelry and accessories? How many “pops” should an outfit have? What is too much and what is too little?

Well, m’dears, THIS is an intensely personal matter. Accessorization and jewelry choices can define our style even more than clothing and shoe choices, in many cases. And how you create balance within an outfit will vary depending on your personal taste, your body shape and bone structure, the genre and overall look of the outfit, and the actual accessories you have on hand. All style rules are subject to interpretation and discard, but when it comes to accessories I’m loathe to even say that there are any loose guidelines that will apply across the board.

However! If you’re interested in how I create balance within my own outfits, and the guidelines that I use when accessorizing, those I can certainly share. And then I’d love it if you’d chime in with your own personal rules for creating jewelry and accessory balance within an ensemble!


When I put this outfit together, I pulled out a magenta belt that went beautifully with my dress. But the belt had about eight giant diamond-shaped rhinestones right in the front, and it fought with my sparkly brooch. The lavender belt is in a totally different family than the brooch and created a more harmonious pairing.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: If you divide your body up into quadrants – feet to knees, knees to waist, waist to shoulders, and shoulders to head – avoid putting more than one large, shiny, or extremely distinctive accessory in each quadrant.


I wanted the focal point of this outfit to be those amazing shoes. I wore nothing but small earrings with this plain black and white ensemble.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: It’s perfectly fine to make a single accessory the star of an outfit. Sometimes less really is more. This goes for any single statement-y piece including necklaces, scarves, shoes, hats, even bracelets and earrings.


The tiny floral print on this dress is pretty busy, so to avoid stimulation overload, I stuck to some chain drop earrings and chose some chunky and relatively unfussy shoes. Don’t wanna over-busify.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: Patterned clothing needs balance. Adding lots of shiny, clanky, or complex jewelry and accessories to the mix will just create a cacophonous hodgepodge. Consider pattern to be an accessory itself, and chose pieces that will complement instead of fight with a busy print.


I loved how the red in my necklace mirrored my sassy red shoes. And how great to inject such a vibrant color into an otherwise neutral outfit?

ROUGH GUIDELINE: Sure, it’s fun to take advantage of this brave new world where your belt and shoes and handbag aren’t supposed to be in the same color family … but picking up a color in two or more accessories can create a beautifully pulled-together look.


I’ve got on WAY more here than I generally wear. Two wood bangles, a wood necklace, and a metal-embellished leather belt. There are probably some small hoop earrings under all that hair, too. But the pieces work fantastically together because they’re all helping to create a safari-esque look.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: Unless you’re purposely aiming for a hodgepodge look, try to make sure your accessories are in the same family. Punky with punky, delicate with delicate, geometric with geometric. This goes for shoes, scarves, jewelry, belts … the works.


To me, any large expanse of exposed Sal screams for some jewelry. I seldom wear short sleeves without piling on a bracelet or two. Deep v necklines always get a big honkin’ necklace. When my hair is pulled back, I make sure to wear eye-catching earrings … even if they’re small. With this dress, the ruffle detailing precludes a necklace, but my bare arms were begging for some bangles.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: Even if it’s not exposed skin, look for the quiet spaces in your outfit and see which accessories will fill it. Use your judgment and avoid filling ALL those quiet spaces, but see if you can’t identify your outfit dead zones and liven them up.


OK, I built this particular outfit around the scarf. But I often find that when my belts and jewelry are falling flat, the perfect solution is a scarf. Scarves add depth and dimension to your outfits in ways that other accessories simply cannot.

ROUGH GUIDELINE: Befriend the scarf and learn a few creative scarf ties. Incorporating scarves into your accessory vocabulary will open up whole new worlds of outfit assembly.


  • I loathe jewelry sets. I will wear earrings, a necklace, and a set of bracelets that are all the same brushed silver tone, or pearl studs a pearl necklace and a pile of pearl bracelets … but never earrings, necklace, and bracelets that are all made from the same materials and shapes and sold as a set.

  • If you’ve got lots of hair (like me) embrace big earrings. What’s the point of wearing earrings at all if no one can see ’em?
  • Experiment with belts and see if they work for you. If they do, make the belt your first possible accessory. Since belts cut you in half, they affect your quadrants and decisions about any further accessorization.
  • I consider a pile of layered necklaces to be a single accessory. But it’s a statement-y enough accessory to stand alone.

Just to reiterate, these are MY RULES. And while I love insanely huge statement necklaces and outrageous shoes, I tend to let those items stand alone within my outfits … which, I believe, makes me a pretty tame accessorizer. If you’re into mixing it up a bit more, extravagant looks, and mixed genres, more power to ya! In fact, regardless of your tastes and preferences, tell us all about your personal rules for creating accessory balance in the comments, won’t you?

Top image courtesy iluvrhinestones.

  • Miss Eve

    That blue dress is beautiful!

    Cheers: Evi

  • Amy

    This post was the answer to my prayers! I never know how to balance out my accessories.. whether I am wearing too much or too little. This was perfect- thank you!


  • Meli22

    I also hate jewelry sets- I think it gives a personal flair to mix it up a bit. ; )

    Don't be afraid to wear accessories that contrast from the clothing style- you don't HAVE to fit into a category box! Preppy clothes, maybe add a rocker-esq accessory!

  • Erin

    This is totally missing the point of this post, but your home looks so cozy.

  • Cary

    I have tiny wrists and usually wear glasses so bracelets and earrings are generally out. For some reason I never wear rings. So my accessories tend to be necklaces and brooches.

    That said I love the idea of layering necklaces and I've just started to wear really long flapper style necklaces doubled up.

  • futurelint

    I think these rules all make good points… I feel like I'm a bit of a lazy accessorizer… I just can't be bothered to be swapping out earrings and putting on rings everyday. I guess my outfits are usually pretty busy on their own and I'll swap out my usual necklace or throw on a brooch now and then… I'm also discovering that despite owning like 100 belts, belts are often times not my friend.

  • Lady Cardigan

    This is something I've paid very little attention to in the past, so the post is helpful! – thank you.

  • Faith J.

    Great points, all of them! Building an outfit around a scarf or pair of shoes is a great strategy.

    ( Cute grey cat! :)

  • Melissa Blake

    I love the outfit with the purple leggings! Beautiful!

  • Cecilia

    I like how you suggested to divide the body into quadrants and place only one major accessory, and also to brighten up "quiet expanses". Good rule of thumb and easy to remember that way.

  • bekster

    My accessories are usually pretty simple. I don't typically wear really statement-y pieces unless I build the entire outfit around them (which does happen sometimes). "Simple" doesn't necessarily mean small, however. Somebody told me one time that decorations (whether in a room or accessories in an outfit) need to be consistent with the proportions of what they are decorating. In a large room, use large decorations. On a small person, use small and more delicate accessories. I think I am in the medium to large category, so I generally use medium to large accessories… to great effect, I think. (Again, though, rules are made to be broken.)

    As for color and texture, I find that "matchy-matchy" works best for me. I probably wouldn't do the box set either, but that is mainly because the earrings that come in those things are usually smaller than I would like. In the past few years I have experimented more with mixing metals, but I can only get it to work if I have a very visible piece that already has both/all of the different metals in it.

    When in doubt, I just put in my trusty silver hoops and go. They are very "me" and go with just about everything I wear.

  • Mrs M. in MI

    Thanks very much for the response, Sal!

    My question was based on the fact that I just got into accessories about a year ago. Before that, I wore pearl stud earrings every day and nothing else. So I have been slowly building a small jewelry, belt, and scarf collection but I'm still confused and dealing with lingering feelings of minimalism.

    My general rule is that if I wear a necklace, I wear stud earrings and I do not wear a waist belt. Drop earrings or a belt call for no necklace but maybe a bracelet or two.

    I'll dump it all for some gorgeous bright-colored shoes, though!

  • metscan

    What a nice post! I def. believe that less is always more. If I wear my big pearl necklace, then the earrings, rings ( I´d skip the bracelet ), have to be moderate. I would wear my big diamond studs with a funky – just bought a recycled necklace. I´d also concentrate on only a great bag, shoes or belt. One of these must stand up, not all. Somehow I have created an unwritten rule for myself. If I wear rings on my left hand only, then I´ll wear my watch on the right wrist, unless I decide to wear my heavy chain bracelet. It is about balancing ; ) !

  • Audi

    These are great guidelines, Sal! You seem to be very wary of handing down any "rules," but many of these would make very solid ones.

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    I don't tend to wear bracelets as much as I do necklaces, rings, earrings, and scarves because they get in my way while I'm typing and talking (massive hand gestures with jangling bracelets cause distraction). I usually tend toward what you called "let it shine" or "all in the family" styles of accessorizing, but every now and then, if I feel like I've been dressing conservatively several days in a row, I just like to throw on a bunch of different funky pieces.

  • Hammie

    I'm a chanel girl. If you look in the mirror – take off the first thing that catches your eye. You should be the focal point – don't let your accessories wear you.

    because next they will be taking over the neighborhood, taking our jobs, starting their own accessory themed restaurants……


  • Vix

    Hey, a person can't go wrong sharing *their* rules, right? If nothing else, I think your categories can help people identify what resonates with them.

    I've realized I'm a Minimalist Magpie; I don't like a lot of "stuff" but I don't mind having something bold and/or shiny on me. I skew towards flashier necklaces of semi-precious stones (aka the Chicos Choker) and funky pendants. Lately I'm thinking I could probably use more than two scarves, ha.

    Your Keep It Simple method is my preference, and generally if I'm wearing a more eye-catching necklace I'll skip earrings or wear simple silver drops. No necklace or scarf = funkier drops.

    [No studs of the earring variety for me…as I've got Dumbo ears, studs draw the eye riiiiight to 'em!]

  • AsianCajuns (Lauren)

    Spot-on guidelines as usual, Sally!
    I have big hair too and always gravitate towards large earrings- the louder, the better 😉 And then I usually for go most other kinds of jewelry.

  • Stephanie

    I love the idea of quadrants – I am going to look at myself in a whole new way …


    I love you with those pops of color in your shoes Sal…should be your signature look i think! …still waiting for your own calendar!!
    xo as always*

  • WendyB

    And the #1 rule is…don't use the word POPS in my presence! Please! Thank you! Good night! Tip your waitress!

  • Eliza

    Great post! For everyday wear, I'm obsessed with silk scarves worn as belts,headbands, or around the neck. I keep them in a tote in the bottom of my closet, (no way to keep them all organized and folded) and almost always have to hold up five or six to choose the best. My clothing tends to be quite a blank canvas, so I like to layer accessories, letting a delicate strand of coral beads peek beneath heavier scarves.
    I don't wear metalic jewelry much during the day, unless I'm in the mood for piling on over the top costume stuff. Otherwise,I usually wear a fairly understated, non-sparkly necklace and/or bracelet. I do wear silver barrettes in my hair ocaisionally, though I'm still looking for great hair clips/sticks/other ways to put it up.

  • The Marketing Mama

    I'm so amazed at how accessories can make or break an oufit. The entire time I was reading this, I was wondering "BUT WHAT ABOUT MATCHING JEWELRY"…. I breathed a sigh of relief when you finally stated your opinion at the end. Because I totally agree with you! I'm walking away feeling validated.


  • Missa

    With so many variables, what a difficult topic to come up with rules for! Nice job Sal :)

    I've actually been thinking about accessories lately and how lazy I've become with them over the years. Little charm necklaces are always a staple for me and sometimes I layer a couple of varying lengths together but lately I've been wanting to experiment more.

  • Elissa

    I have to say that the khaki skirt number is mega-hawt!

  • SR@MyStyle

    great tips, an inspirational post and I also love scarves too!

  • Meetzorp

    I sometimes use tights as statement pieces. I have and regularly wear some really wild printed tights, or just bright colored opaque tights. Since I am now firmly in the Over-30 category, I wear them with a knee-length skirt, and the rest of the outfit is usually somewhat subdued, so the whacky tights can take center stage, so to speak.

  • What Would a Nerd Wear

    i just LOVE this post and the guidelines are terrific. i often have trouble figuring out what is the right amount of pop (and since i tend toward the conservative, it's good to know how much i can add).

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