Reader Request: Styling a Single Piece Multiple Ways


Gorgeous reader Nique popped this doozy into the suggestion box:

I would like to see how you can style a single, basic piece (ie. black pencil skirt or white button down shirt, etc.) in several different ways to expand your wardrobe options.

Right up front, I’m gonna give massive thanks to Husband Mike for making this post possible. Can we give him a big round of applause, please? I love posts like these, but they are loads of work for my wonderful husband, so I want to give credit where it’s due. He took a big chunk of time out of a weekend afternoon to do these shots with me, and I’m very grateful.

You’ll also notice that these photos were taken a while back, while our yard was still fully green. Well, it took me a while to cook up my part of this post, too, hence the lag time!

Now. Since a simple black skirt is one of the few items that I actually believe EVERY WOMAN SHOULD OWN, I took Nique up on that option.* Below you’ll find outfits that all feature the same black Banana Republic skirt – an A-line/pencil hybrid of sorts – and that range from super casual to super dressy. So without further ado:

Black pencil skirt
Lightweight graphic sweatshirt
Gray tank top
Patterned tights
Black scrunch boots

I know many of you consider jeans to be the ultimate in comfort, but I vastly prefer skirts. This ensemble would be perfect for a Casual Friday at the office, or a Saturday afternoon bumming around a coffee shop.

Black pencil skirt
Gray cowlneck sweater
Patterned tights
Moto boots

Here, the classy cowl neck takes things up a notch … but the tough-gal moto boots keep things casual overall. I’d be more likely to wear this to work than hanging out at home on the weekend. It’s got just enough fanciness to feel more like office wear.

Black pencil skirt
Black vest
Black and white dot shirt
Black opaques
Black pull-on boots

Although it errs on the casual side, this outfit is still work-appropriate … at least at my office. The vest is at once funky and formal, and keeps this otherwise plain combination interesting.

You’ll notice that, thus far, all of these outfits have stayed in the black, white, gray realm. I’ve come around to the philosophy that black goes best with other stark neutrals. Although it can also look great when deployed intentionally with color, as you’ll see in upcoming iterations.

Black pencil skirt
Brown blazer
White tank
Coral/red scarf
Patterned tights
Wedge oxfords

Although blazers are traditionally formal garments, the funky scarf and tights keep this from getting stuffy. Nevertheless, I’d consider this a medium-formal to formal work look. I’d be perfectly comfortable wearing this to an important meeting with important people.

Black pencil skirt
Black multicolored cardigan
Fuschia tights
Black skinny belt
Black patent peeptoes

This look, however, is close to my most formal of work looks. Just a notch below superfancy, but still solidly fancy. If the previous look is medium-formal, I’d call this full-formal. However …

Black pencil skirt
White button-down
Gray, maroon, and white dot tights
Maroon obi
Black Mary Janes

… this look is what I’d most likely reach for if I were scheduled to speak in front of a crowd at work, meet with my CEO, or do anything else that falls into the “super-formal work” category. It’s conservative and clean, but still has personality. Just right for making a great impression at the office.

Black pencil skirt
Beaded black shell from mom
Black fishnets
Silver wrap
Nine West platforms

And it may seem like a big leap, but here’s an outfit that’d work great for a truly formal occasion – cocktail party, work dinner, benefit concert, etc. The silvery wrap and chunky statement necklace add spice, but the microfishnets and beaded top keep it all in the “classically elegant” realm.

Every single one of these outfits was created around the very same black skirt. Clearly, it’s a piece that can take you from casual to formal in several easy moves, and works beautifully for every look in between.

When I’m considering a new purchase, I generally ask myself if I can imagine wearing the item in question multiple ways. Most items won’t even approach the versatility of a classic black skirt, of course, but I like to know that I’ll be able to craft more than one look from a new purchase. Knowing that you can style a single piece multiple ways – especially if those ways cross over seasonal or stylistic boundaries – can help you determine if that piece will have real staying power in your wardrobe.

Top image via J.Crew.

*Not a black pencil skirt, as that style doesn’t suit all bodies or tastes. Just a simple, unadorned black skirt in a 4-season fabric like twill or stretch-cotton. You’ve got one lurking in your closet, dontcha?

  • Nique

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post. As always, it is inspirational. Thanks to Mike, too. You are the best!

  • Mrs_L

    Nice tutorial, I appreciate your job done here.
    I started reading you for maybe a month ago, and use to take a look back sometimes, to see through older post, which lecture I find very interesting.
    So, thank you for sharing your thoughts wit us :)

  • Cynthia

    I love it when people post all the ways that they've worn an item. It gives a great idea of your creativity. I've been trying to at least link back to my most recent previous wear.

  • jill

    wonderful post, sal! i love the scarf buttoned under the blazer. all the looks are inspiring. thank you for taking the time to do it! :)

  • Charlie

    good job lady! great post, very inspirational.

  • angie

    I loved this post.I'm into remixing my clothes and I love to see the same pieces in all sorts of different sessions.

  • La Belette Rouge

    A black skirt has more personalities than Sybil. I love how hard it works for me. And you are an inspiration in terms of trying new ways of working this work horse of an item.

  • Sheila

    An awesome guideline to some classic looks – thanks Sal (and HM!)!

    Of course, my fave looks are the ones with loads of colour!

  • Rosie Unknown

    You have made me realized that I NEED a black skirt. I've never really thought about one before, because they always seemed so boring.

  • tinyjunco

    oof! that's a LOT of work! and a lot of really great looks!

    i'm a big believer in the 'small, highly-edited, versatile wardrobe' approach. i practice this approach as well! i want to see new 'stuff' as much as the next person, but i don't have the time, budget, or inclination to be acquiring new things all the time. it seems that with the popularity of the GAAD there's more focus on 'remixing' and getting more use out of fewer clothes. i'm really happy to see this happening! i've also found that sticking with fewer pieces can help in projecting a distinctive personal style. nice post! steph

  • Sidewalk Chalk

    Love this, Sal. You are so creative in coming up with these combinations! It's inspiring me to look at some of my skirts in a different light…

  • Faith J.

    So cool. Great outfits!

  • WendyB

    What timing… you can just send all the people who want to wear a skirt the same way every time over to my blog.

  • lisa

    You and HM have done such a great job of illustrating how versatile a black skirt can be. You can hardly tell that it's the same piece in all these outfits!

  • Lori

    My black skirt is my favorite go to piece and has been for years. After all this time I have never styled it a more casual way that you illustrated here – never thought of it. Thanks for opening my eyes and inspiring new outfits! I love it when I can use items I already own in new ways. Great post!!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post! (And thanks to all involved.)

  • Arya

    I really enjoyed this post, thanks for taking the time to do it (husband Mike, as well)!

  • Chelsea

    New favorite AP post, Sal! This is the bomb… thank you, thank Husband Mike, thank that darling skirt for its existence. I feel so full of ideas right now!

  • Fashion Flirt

    This reminds me of the blog where she wears an LBD differently every Monday. Can't remember it for the LIFE of me, but there you go!

  • Lady K

    Can you please tell us where you got the items in your first look? I have always loved that look, and it is the kind of style that I like the most, but have trouble finding the separates for it.

  • myedit

    High five to Mike…
    I love posts like this… I think remixing is the best part of dressing!!

  • Sal

    Lady K: Sweatshirt is from a local boutique called I Like You, tank from Walgreens, skirt from BR, tights from Anthropologie, boots are Diesel Go-go from 2008.

  • Lady K

    Hi Sal –

    Thanks for the info on the pieces. Do you know of an on-line version? I don't live locally, so both of the pieces I'm interested in — the sweatshirt and the tee, I can't get … :-( the sweatshirt doesn't look heavy). Sorry, I guess I am kind of anal, but so tired of getting things that aren't exactly what I wanted after all.

  • Lady K

    oh, and Thanks!

  • Linda W

    Wonderful. My fella is always asking me to get more pencil skirts – if he sees this, there will be no stopping him until I get one. You've done a great job showing the many, many ways to wear this – all beautiful and all so different. I love these kinds of posts.

    The Auspicious Life

  • Sal

    Lady K: This is the company but I don't see that shirt: http://www.etsy.com/shop/happify

  • Future Lint

    Too funny, yesterday I was thinking about my wool camel skirt from Banana Republic and how much I wear it and how versatile it is! I don't wear much black, so that might be my "staple" skirt! I decided to wear it every day this week, just for fun!

  • orchidsinbuttonholes

    One of my favorite posts, Sal – this is so helpful, and a great way to demonstrate how versatile one piece can be. And your husband is awesome for helping you out with this post (and takes great shots, too) – lucky, lucky lady!

  • Fiona

    I just started reading your blog last week and I've already shared it with several friends.
    I'm now on my own search for the perfect pencil skirt since I've now learned from this entry so many neat way to dress it up or down:)

    Thanks!!!
    Fiona
    Edmonton AB

  • Audi

    This is brilliant, Sal — I love seeing all the variations side by side. I wouldn't have thought of a black pencil skirt as evening wear, but you nailed it!

  • Jen Friedman

    For anyone who hasn't seen it, the Uniform Project site is a treasure trove of ideas for styling a basic wardrobe item, as well as an interesting charitable project. You can even buy your own "uniform" dress…

    https://theuniformproject.com/year1/