How to Create Balance Within an Outfit

how to create balance in outfits

Sometimes you want to wear something that’s intentionally off-kilter. Sometimes it can be tough to create visual balance in a figure that has extremes. Sometimes balance just isn’t a priority. But for many women, balance is a key concept in dressing, and there are many ways to approach it so I’d like to examine a few common practices!

Balancing clothing volume

Already Pretty outfit featuring Yigal Azrouel leather jacket, asymmetric tunic, skinny gray jeans, Clarks Fernwood ankle boots, Alexis Bittar necklace

When I first became truly interested in style and dressing theory, one of the first things I learned was to balance voluminous clothing with fitted clothing. Wanna wear a loose, drapey, voluminous top? You might consider balancing that volume with a close-fitting bottom garment. This also works in reverse: A voluminous bottom can be balanced by a fitted top. If you do volume all over, the observing eye fills in body fullness where there is none. By wearing a voluminous top with voluminous bottoms, you mask the curves and contours of your figure and may make yourself look big all over. By pairing loose with fitted, more of your true figure shape is revealed.

Balancing figure volume

kokoon2_outfit1

Volume can also create visual balance within the figure itself. For instance, if you carry much of your weight in your top or bottom half – or if you have a pronounced bust or hips that you wish to balance – adding volume to the OPPOSITE half can have the intended effect. Above, I’ve used the pussybow blouse to add some subtle volume to my slimmer top half which, in turn, balances my hips. This tactic can backfire, especially on the short-waisted! Don’t feel like you must add lots of exaggerated volume to create balance. In many cases, a little dab will do ya.

Balancing color

graywooldesig_outfit

You’ve undoubtedly heard people talk about “pops of color,” and colors can certainly function as isolated accents within outfits. The color blocking trend seems to have some staying power, and mixing large swaths of solid colors can look artful and modern. But for balance and a cohesive whole, repeating colors within outfits works beautifully. In this outfit, the echoing is subtle but the bright red of my tights is echoed in the scarf. These two elements bracket the ensemble and unify it. Without the scarf, the tights would become the sole color in the outfit resting its very bottom creating visual imbalance.

Some imbalanced outfits are superb. Some figures will never be successfully balanced by the implementation of carefully chosen garments. None of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you and discard the rest!

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  • Excellent post Sally – I really do like how you use your own style and wardrobe to give advice, not just pictures of models or things like that. It feels more realistic, I think.

    I LOVE volume in clothing, by the way. That and texture are my key areas; I always try and include varied volume and texture in each outfit I create. I’m drawn to 80s silhouettes of large shoulders and voluminous jumpers, which aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but they do mean a short skirt looks less ‘short’ and more ‘showing off your legs as a contrast’.

    As for balance, I think it is incredibly important to balance your outfit, but it’s a fine line between balance and too much ‘symmetry’. For example, traditional dressing of matching a hat, bag and gloves in the same dark hue (like navy, brown or black) feels as if it creates a dull symmetry in an outfit – it’s all a bit ‘samey’. But balancing similar toned accessories, or picking up similar colours as you’ve done, feels a lot more successful and visually interesting.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on balancing clothing with accessories, makeup and hair – for example, a dramatic make up look might be ‘balanced’ with a minimalist, simple outfit.

    Elly

  • Great post and examples, Sal. I have learned to trust my eye for balance, but have committed some spectacular faux-pas along the way. BTW, I love volume in clothing too, and when I err, I think it’s on the side of too much vol. without definition.

  • Dee

    I think I am pretty conscious of this, creating balance in an outfit. For me I have to be careful not to overdo my top half which is larger than my bottom half. For example if I wear a heavy necklace then I probably won’t wear heavy earrings or a belt. If I do it draws too much attention to the torso/neck area on me and looks too closed in. As I am sure many of us do, when I am out and about, I might “critique” someone’s outfit (in my head only, of course!) and balance is one of the things that can make an outfit seem off kilter! I am not sure if its this same principle that applies when you keep attention grabbing items in an outfit to just one, but I like to follow that “rule”.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve decided I should start complimenting your outfits that I especially like… The one above with the green skirt and blue top is one of my favorites. I’d love to wear that outfit.

  • poodletail

    Great post, Sally. Outfit no.1 is stunning!

    • Lauren

      I second that! I opened the page and my eyes popped “Wow!!” I *do* have a thing for wide-leg trousers, it must be said, but that ensemble is so striking!

      • Susan

        I third that. That outfit is sooooo flattering on you and really chic!

  • Karen

    Hi Sally,

    How do you keep your unbuttoned cardigans looking so neat over your dresses? The pink one above for example?

    P.S. I discovered your blog a couple of months ago and I’m a big fan of the way you wear dresses and use colour.

    • Lynn

      I’d like to know about the cardigans too. Mine always fly in different directions and look messy unbuttoned.

    • Moira

      I agree about the cardigans – and I’d love an Insomniac Sale Picks for some cute cropped ones that will drape well!

  • When I put an outfit together, I do use the guidelines you explained above, for color, volume, and top half vs. bottom half. In the past I have erred on the side of being too matchy-matchy, so now I’m trying to find a new balance where the repetition is more interesting.

    One thing that I have always wondered about is how stylists assemble outfits with lots of different colors, with shoes that don’t seem to coordinate with anything else (to my eye, at least). For example, there might be an emerald green blouse, cobalt blue pants, a red belt, and then bright mustard shoes. Or, an orange blouse with black skirt, patterned tights, and then purple shoes. Is this color blocking? Using opposites on the color wheel? Or just, these shoes look really fun so let’s wear them? I really want to understand how they “work” with the outfit, but am at a loss.

    • Debby, I thought your comment was really interesting so wanted to reply. I wonder if it’s sometimes to do where the image is placed. For example, when an editorial in a magazine uses colour/balancing in that way, is it more ‘convincing’ than if it was on our own, or a friend’s, outfit, because we trust the magazine? I don’t know if that sounds weird but I definitely approach how stylists style models and collections differently to how I style myself regarding colour and balance, because only one of those has to exist in the real world 🙂

      • E.B.,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I know what you are saying; I think when I see those sorts of outfits I’m wondering what the artistic thinking was…out of all the shoes a magazine has to choose, why those particular ones? Promotion aside, the shoes still have to look right and good to the editorial team (even if I don’t agree with their choice), or else they would have chosen something else. I definitely agree with you though that I style myself differently than what a magazine stylist might choose!

  • Sarah

    I worry a lot about balance. I am rather bottom-heavy and I hate tight/skinny pants. I wish I could wear them but every pair I have ever tried on makes me look like an ice cream cone. I like to wear pants that fit perfectly at the waist (no muffin top) and then flow in a straight line to my feet. Since most of my bottoms have that cut, I try to keep the volume up top to a minimum. I hate clothes that cling to my skin – especially my belly – so I don’t wear tight tops but I do wear ones that at least cinch my waist in.

    Once of the reasons I don’t wear skirts very often is because I feel like my calves are too skinny for the rest of my body. I know that sounds weird but when I wear skirts with my calves showing, I feel like I look like a big Lego block with tiny twigs sticking out at the bottom. Maxi skirts I can get away with, my shorter skirts make me feel completely out of balance.

  • Shaye

    I almost never pull off color blocking successfully. It always feels unfinished or disjointed to me – like I just threw on a few different colors and called it good.

    I love wearing contrasting colors, but am almost always looking for a bridging piece – usually a scarf – that will tie them together.

  • BelindieG

    I think the first one is the most successful, as your waist is accentuated perfectly. Those proportions are the most flattering to you. I don’t think that “balancing figure volume actually works–the print on the dress disguises hips pretty well, and the pink top doesn’t actually do much. . And pale legs and pale shoes don’t really help when balancing color either–bright tights in a shade that matches the shoes would have really been a wow! look.

    Sarah– you can always wear boots if you think your calves throw the look off. But I’d say if you have great legs, show ’em off!