Why Accessorize?

how to accessorize

At a certain point in my personal style evolution, I felt like I understood clothing. Shapes, colors, materials, combinations of pieces that worked for my style and my figure were all in my mental bank. I had long since mastered shoes, had finally landed on a hairstyle that really suited me, and still didn’t give a hoot about makeup.* When I pondered what to tackle next in order to continue to actively refine my style, there was one clear choice: Accessories.

While it’s certainly true that many a gorgeous minimalist ensemble has been assembled and worn with naught but simple earrings, most outfits benefit from a few carefully selected accessories. As I explored the vast and sometimes overwhelming world of belts, scarves, hats, jewelry, handbags, and hosiery, I quickly discovered that mastering the art of accessorization was a worthy pursuit. Here’s why:

Accessories add interest

Ever noticed how I tend to start with the glaringly obvious and work my way toward the obscure? Blame it on my genetic drive to cover all bases.

Consider some basic outfit backbones: Jeans and tee, blouse and skirt, suit and button-down. Fine on their own, but not exactly attention-grabbing. Throw on a hat with your jeans and tee and you instantly up your sass factor. Belt that button-down over your skirt and you’ve added polish. Tuck a scarf into the neckline of your suit and the entire ensemble is elevated.

Accessories enable personal expression

Clothing itself can be a tool for personal expression, but it’s often the finishing touches that really let your passions and quirks shine through. While you might opt for funky patterned tights, I might choose a solid bright. Your best friend might prefer long chain drop earrings while you stick to studs. Your sister prefers hip-slung belts while your cousin is a devotee of obis. Your boss loves cowgirl-themed boots and belts, your neighbor is all about embellished headbands, and your roomie loves skinny scarves. And, of course, these choices also have to do with figure flattery, availability, and taste. But they are also expressive and personal, and constitute and opportunity to truly customize your outfits. Often, clothes can serve as a canvas to let accessories shine.

Accessories can further your figure flattery goals

Accessories often allow us to “improve upon” outfits. Neckline a smidge too low for your comfort? Put a statement necklace in there. Dress a bit loose? Belt that sucker. Skirt cut you off at a funky spot? Like-colored tights can help with that. Top too plain on its own? A patterned scarf might be just the thing to perk it up. If you throw on a group of garments and something is just slightly off, chances are that an accessory can help make it right on.

Accessories are often objects of sentiment

Gifting clothing is challenging, but gifting accessories less so. Which means that the most sentimentally significant pieces in our wardrobes are often accessories. Heirloom jewels, birthday scarves, even pieces we’ve picked up in our travels. The wrap pictured above was purchased during our trip to Iceland, and whenever I wear it that fills me with nostalgia and joy. Few items of clothing hold that power.

Accessories provide texture

Some outfits are textured on their own, but many are composed of fairly smooth planes of cloth. Adding a leather belt, micro-fishnet tights, a woven scarf, or a chunky necklace creates depth and sophistication by lending a variety of textures to your ensemble. Texture isn’t always a priority, of course, but whenever it is adding accessories to the mix is often the fastest way to texturize.

Accessories polish an outfit

When I say “polish,” I really mean “complete.” Adding a studded belt to a 50s shirt dress isn’t going to make the outfit feel prim, proper, and polished in the old-fashioned sense of the word. But it may make it feel finished, refined, and complete. In my opinion, most outfits need an accessory or two to feel polished. Not all, but most. And tinkering with the proportions, textures, colors, and overall aesthetic of an outfit by adding and adjusting accessories can really help create a more finished-feeling look.

*At this point, I estimate that I give 1/3 of a hoot about makeup. And, of course, I’ve renovated the hair again.

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  • I like your haircut (see 9/5)! I love to accessorize, but mainly do it with jewelry and shoes. I would love to belt a top, but at my present weight, don’t feel comfortable doing that. Scarves tend to overwhelm me, but I’m getting braver.

  • Accessories can be a mine field much like mixing prints. I find that certain people have an innate ability to rock both like you and another fashion blogger I’ve been following for some time now: Vanessa from http://snappyandsavvy.blogspot.com/.
    I definitely can’t pull off pattern mixing to save my life. As for accessories I’ve befriended quirky handbags. I frequently wear pins and brooches in the most unusual places as well as scarves. But the rest would just overburden my definitely not petite frame and make me look bulky instead of chic and polished.

    • Hey, thanks for the shout-out, coffeeaddict! (Good to see you on here!)

  • Great post dear!! I love accessories!!! Sometimes accessories really make an outfit. I find accessories to be a means of expression as well, and I love me some shoes and a waist cinching belt :-).

  • I love using scarves to make an outfit look “put together” they make any outfit beautiful. I have trouble with belts sometimes though, but would love to get into them, if any advice let me know?

  • Christine

    Accessorizing is something I’m not so good at, but always wish to be better. Reading this post this morning inspired me to tuck in my shirt & add a cute belt to my skirt, a risk* I’m not usually willing to take. And you know what? I kinda like it :-). So thanks Sal!

    *And to think, only a few short months ago I thought tucking in shirts was only for women older than 30 and important work meetings. How silly was that :P.

  • Katharine

    I used to be an accessory maniac… came of being a young punk, after the age of sixteen or so I got progressively more clanky. I had multiply pierced ears and I’d wear careful arrangements of dangly and not-dangly earrings in them; there were the studded and buckly belts, the piles of necklaces or dangerous-looking bracelets. And years of wearing gigantic rings.

    At the time, I enjoyed it. My clothing items were all relatively cheap and plain (all I could afford), and I only ever owned two or three pairs of staple shoes (again, all I could afford), so accessories WERE the way to take it to the next level — or any level at all.

    But I’m finding myself more and more drawn to clear and purposeful clothing. My accessories these days are layering, texture, and a wide variety of really excellent shoes — and mostly, I don’t feel I need anything else. I’ll put jewellery on, and take it off; it is too much now, it’s too fussy. Sometimes I need a belt, to get a specific drape or silhouette, but if the belt’s not doing anything functional — I take it off. Scarves I do use, but I feel as if they are more part of the draping and layering than anything else.

    It’s funny what you say about accessories as presents, though — I have ALWAYS been super-picky about my accessories and jewellery, and almost every piece that someone else has given me has not only been wrong, but DRAMATICALLY wrong, as in “something I would never wear, not ever”. And I hate those things; some of them are quite expensive, and years later they’re still hanging around my jewellery box, unworn, but un-get-riddable-of because I still like the giver. The only person who really had the knack of my taste was my ex-husband, and those pieces are also difficult for me to wear happily, now….

  • JB

    When you use a scarf as belt, how do you fasten it? I usually knot mine and tuck the ends under, but yours seem so nice and flat. Are they knotted in the back? (I’m particularly interested in how you did this for the awesome belt-over-scarf look of last week.)

    • Sal

      Mentioned this in the comments on yesterday’s outfit post: I usually just tie my scarves in front but if I want the scarf to look sash-like, I do a square knot in back. If you don’t like the look – or feel, since a big knot in the small of the back can be annoying – you can pin it closed with a small brooch, clip shut with a clip-on earring, or use a few safety pins on the inside of the sash. Pin/adjust the closure up front, then just slide it around to your back. Doing a layer over the scarf can conceal, too, of course – blazer, vest, or cardi.

      The belt-over-scarf had a square knot in back since that scarf was too small to tuck. Looked far better in front than back!

      • JB

        Thanks – and sorry for the repeat question!

  • Very helpful and well-done, Sal. I think the addition of a simple leather belt, or pendant, or textured hose, makes me feel so much more put-together and confident. Even when just going out for a yogurt with my husband, I like to throw on a cuff, or a hat. Feels better!

  • Yes, I’ve noticed lately that it does make a difference and I’m paying more attention to it now. It’s definitely a fun way to make clothes more interesting and wear them in different ways.

  • Angela

    I love accessories, especially necklaces, I am good at that. Slowly trying belts, deathly afraid of scarves, although I have about 10, I only like them under a casual jacket. I have to master that, otherwise I look like a big old school marm…none of my outfits would be noticeable without accessories

  • I completely agree with you! I’m fairly new to the world of accessories – in fact I really bought my first belt just last year! (Now I have quite a few). I think accessories make an outfit unique and more “you” as well. You and a friend could show up in the same exact outfit whether it be jeans and a tank or a little black dress but the outfit can look completely different just with accessories. Accessories also stretch your wardrobe in this same reason. An outfit can go from girly by adding pearls to funky by adding a chain necklace.

  • I still worry about being “overdecorated” if I’m wearing too many accessories, but I agree, adding a little something is often good. I wish I could figure out how to wear belts on my strange body, because I like how they look on others, but for me they’re so difficult.

  • Anne

    I Love accessories. I’ve been hooked ever since college when my mother unloaded a bunch of old belts and costume jewelry on me. I am rarely out with out a statement necklace , belt or scarf. They just make me happy and they are great conversation starters.

  • Mel

    You know that saying about look in the mirror when you’re finished dressing and take 2 things off?

    I’m such a plain dressing person that when I’m done dressing and look in the mirror, I need to ADD two things!

  • Sonja

    Accesorizing is something I still haven’t mastered. My problem: I often feel that accessories make it look as if I was trying too hard. My style has always been about simplicity, and I sometimes just feel overloaded. But I have started to experiment with these things, in part due to your example, Sal. Thanks for that!

    • Eleanorjane

      What about trying one statement accessory per outfit? I.e. a dramatic belt or a big chunky necklace or some cool coloured shoes and keep everything else minimal i.e. no earrings or other jewellery with the necklace, a plain outfit with the funky shoes etc.?

  • FANTASTIC post – I am all about different accessories. I still haven’t mastered the belt and can’t quite get over the fact that I have never had an hourglass figure….I know…get over it.
    My hub will say I could wear different jewelry every day and never repeat in 5 years. So that just means that I need to switch in the morning aft and night!!! ha!

  • I’ve often joked that the ability to accessorize is what sets us apart from the lower primates. Hats, purses, belts, scarves, shoes, jewelry, etc., these are the things that take something from merely clothes to an outfit. Doesn’t have to be much, just a well-chosen pair of shoes or a great necklace or a belt that makes the top fit better.

  • Susan

    I just started to accessorize this year. I’m working on necklaces, belts, shoes and tights. Scarves still intimidate me. I can’t wear earrings, but I’m interested to try other types of jewelry, such as bracelets and brooches. Thrift stores are very helpful — I can spend a few bucks on something and not feel too bad if it doesn’t work out. By playing around, I’m figuring out which kinds of [belts, necklaces, whatever] are best for me.

  • Kris10

    I have been trying to create a smaller wardrobe of versatile basics that fit well and feel good (maybe 40% there–it’s a slow process!), so accessories are really important to making me feel like I’m not wearing the same outfits over and over. Which I tend to do anyway. Since I feel better with outfits on the minimal side, I have weird personal rules about which accessories can be worn together. I’ve always had a thing for great earrings so I often just stick to those!

    Also, I like clothes from certain stores but don’t often buy there due to fit or price (J. Crew and Banana Republic, for example). Similar accessories are a cheaper way to make an outfit look like it came from another (more expensive) place, whether they came from that store or someplace else.

    Lastly, accessories always fit!

  • crst

    Accessories are tricky because they depend upon so many things: color and fit of the clothing they are worn with, figure type, height, the coloring of the person wearing them, etc. It is almost an art. So I think it is good to read and see pictures of how others do it and then practice, practice, practice. It often takes me longer to determine which accessories to add to an outfit than to pick out the outfit itself.

    I love them myself and feel incomplete without them. But my comfort zone is very narrow. Too little and I feel incomplete, but one too many and I feel overdone.

  • The more I see great accessorizing on blogs the more I am encouraged to try them myself. I love that they can be figure enhancing. Great accessorizes A to Z list!
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

  • CarolN

    Sal this is very interesting. I love accessories and had a ton of them. Had being the operative word in that our home was robbed about a month ago and in addition to my very small amount of good jewelry, all of my costume jewelry, belts and scarves were taken. Very strange, but maybe one of the thieves was into accessorizing. All I have left is the diamond studs in my ears and wedding band and engagement ring. Every morning I get up and think about what to add to my plain outfits and there isn’t anything! And I’ve not had the time or money to replace them yet. I did not realize there was a limit to the amount of jewelry that was covered on your insurance. We have a rider for the good jewelry but there is (on our policy) a $3000 limit on jewelry otherwise. And those cute necklaces, pins, scarves and belts add up quickly. The worst part was the sentimental value but I also had about 60 brooches that I had collected over the last 30 years and all those are long gone. I wear a lot of jackets to work and those brooches were my ‘thing’ to kind of inject my personality into my work wear.

    • Sal

      Oh Carol, that is completely awful. I’ve had my house robbed and it’s such a violation regardless, but to have objects of sentimental value taken is utterly horrible. I’m so sorry.

  • Accessories are so essential for me! Like today, I was wearing a floral maxi skirt and a grey t-shirt, and that would have been fine, but a cute necklace, some earrings and a couple of rings made it an outfit instead of clothing I was wearing.

    I love them because although they can help with figure flattery, they are also far more universal and things like fit and cut are far less important.

  • I love your bold color choices and I totally agree with your advice on why we all should accessorize!

  • My best friend sent me your site and commanded me to read it daily.

    She is a very wise woman.

    Also a bit commanding. Apparently.

    Regardless, you’ve convinced me. So today? I went out and bought a belt. Or two. And not the “it holds my pants up and if I wear a long enough shirt over it then no one has to know” belt.

    Thank You.

  • I love accessories (and likely own too many). That having been said, it is very hard for me to break away from my core accessories of watch, signature simple necklace (gold and silver sliding disc on box chain, choker length), and my wedding and engagement rings. I often belt but other than that, despite great choices, I tend to be rather lazy/unmotivated/comfortable.

  • Cel

    I’ve only recently really started accessorizing but I’ve definitely noticed that it takes my outfits a step up, kicks things into the next gear. I’m just wary of owning accessories I can only wear with a few things… this will be a long path of learning for me hah.