A Few Words About Style Rules

I love rules. As a Capricorn, I crave the structure that rules provide. They help guide my decisions and allow me to make sense of an overwhelming world.

And I write a lot of posts about rules because I get a lot of requests about rules. Rules for pant length, rules for Casual Friday, rules for pairing tights and sandals, rules for interview garb. I love writing those posts, and believe that you gorgeous readers find them to be useful. But in light of some feedback, I feel compelled to give this disclaimer. Many of you will find this redundant, but for those who won’t:

You can feel free to take or leave ANY style “rule,” regardless of its source. Latch on to the ones that resonate with you, and discard the ones that jar you. This has always been true, no matter how militant the various style gurus seem when they issue their lists of must-haves and proclaim their stylistic “don’ts.” But, in many ways, it has never been truer than it is right now. The world of style has been busted open, and things that are “daring” and “different” have tremendous value. At least, that’s my perception. Don’t be afraid to ignore anything I say, anything Angie says, hell, anything Tim Gunn says if you disagree with us. Or if what we’re saying doesn’t work with your figure, aesthetic, lifestyle. You are in charge.

Find out what you like.
Find out what makes you look good.
Find out what makes you feel good.
Then do it.

I am always happy to weigh in on when I think you should tuck your jeans into your boots and when I think it’s OK to wear pastels … but I trust you to make those calls on your own. Personal style is personal, and it can feel tremendously empowering to exercise control over your physical appearance. But in order to truly cash in on that empowerment, you have to trust yourself.

That can be challenging, with shows like What Not to Wear yammering at women about doing things “wrong.” And yes, some garments will be more flattering and stylish than others. And yes, I’ve built this blog on giving style advice to those who want it. But I just wanted to be sure you knew something: You can wear a ballgown to work if you know how to accessorize it, you can wear jeans to the opera if you’ve got the right attitude, and you can wear a sheath dress to your daughter’s soccer game if it makes you feel your best.

Trust yourself. You’re a smart cookie and you know what you want. I’ll always give you my two cents, honestly and earnestly … but at the end of the day, you’re in charge.

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40 Responses to “A Few Words About Style Rules”

  1. slavetofashion

    LOVE this post! I just did 2 blogs about rules- throwing out all the style rules and breaking my own little mini-rules. The only rule for me is "Wear what you like. If you feel good in it, you'll look good in it." Love that dress in the picture!

  2. Christina Lee

    Hmm this post makes me wonder what kind of "feedback" you got…snarky feedback? I hope not Sal b/c you ROCK!!

  3. Cupcakes and Cashmere

    i think there are certain guidelines that should be followed, but there are always exceptions. my mom is barely 5 feet tall and she insists that cropped pants are not only comfortable, but also flattering. and it's also nice to be reminded that deep down, we always know what works best for us. i often try and make things work that aren't really meant for me and it never ends well…i need to trust my instincts!

  4. e.

    great post! (and i love those shoes!) i think if i wore what was really most flattering on me all the time, i'd end up wearing all black every day. recently i've gotten into color, and i love colored tights. my legs may look longer in black, but color is much more fun. đŸ™‚

  5. Nadine

    I don't really think about rules for dressing :). I just wear what I want. Sometimes I fail but I think even this is important for finding your own style.

  6. Lemondrop Marie

    I love the rules, and love your advice on them. I am a Leo- go figure. Fashion rules help guide me to the right purchases when my heart is screaming that I can wear those crop hammer pants but my height is challenging that idea. That said, I broke the rules this weekend and blogged about doing so! But the rules help me be dress my best when I really need to- and that's why I am so glad you blog about them.
    I love that green dress, and I must say that I think it follows lots of rules, you look so ladylike and lovely!
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

  7. AsianCajuns (Lauren)

    I feel the same about rules, Sal! I like my structure, but I do like the liberating feel of wearing something that breaks all the rules. It's a good reminder too because a lot of people give "fashion advice" who know a lot less than you and Tim Gunn, and it's a good tool to have to know how to block some of the less helpful feedback.
    ps- You look awesome in the turquoise dress!!! Happy Monday!

  8. Oranges And Apples

    Couldn't agree more! I have rules but they're MY rules, they work for me and I make no claim that they will work for anyone else. Successful dressing is all about self-knowledge. Noone can do that work for you.

  9. Jane Winkler

    Preach it! One the one hand, T&S have transformed my views of how to wear color. On the other hand, I am now petrified of wearing black accessories with my charcoal pants and skirts. I think I might need a little de-programming.

  10. SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-yes, a great post with fab tips, I'm getting more self confident with clothes as I get older, so I will wear what I like more!!

  11. Make Do Style

    I think your right to go with what works for you – I love that you love rules! They terrify me x

  12. Courtney L.

    While this is redundant, it is something that bears repeating on a regular basis (both for new readers to your awesome blog and to existing readers who may have gotten swept away in trying to follow rules who don't work for them since the last time you wrote this.)

    I am relatively new to learning what works best with my figure, and I find myself falling into multiple categories that sometimes have conflicting rules. (Short, plus-sized, hourglass figure with a very large bust.) I have to pick and choose what rules to follow because I *can't* follow all of them. When in doubt, I try things on in different ways and pick the version that makes me feel the best.

    I do love the rules as a guideline. They have made shopping so much less painful for me. I still get frustrated at the lack of options for women over size 12, but with some guidelines about what is likely to work on my figure, I no longer waste time (and emotional energy) trying on items that are never, ever going to flatter my figure.

  13. pretty face

    Or, if you want to get all philosophical on it, relativise the absolute or create an absolute rule of relativism. mmm.

  14. Lady Cardigan

    I'd rather know what the rules are before I break them, and no one ever told me anything about what I should or shouldn't wear, how, where, or with what! — so I appreciate hearing some firm style guidelines, even if I can't always live up to them.

  15. The Budget Babe

    you've compelled me to consider writing my own disclaimer because i show a lot of celebs on my blog, but i certainly wouldnt want readers to copy them outright. what they wear is simply meant to be taken as inspiration. ill have to work on writing that soon!

  16. Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    So true – rules are made to be broken – it's about knowing the rules and deciding if you are happy with the result of breaking then rather than being unaware.

    Personality style outranks any 'style rule' in my book.

    I love teaching my clients the rules, then how to break them.

  17. Taylor Sterling

    Love this posst! "Find out what you like.
    Find out what makes you look good.
    Find out what makes you feel good.
    Then do it." –perfect!

  18. Anonymous

    I'm with Courtney L., I can't follow all the style rules because they conflict! I need to wear one type of skirt for my bizarrely long torso and another for my short, squat legs. Square shoulders and a near complete lack of chest make fitting tops difficult. Forget about finding pants that fit a round behind… I end up trying everything on and just eliminating whatever makes me look more disproportionate than usual.

    One of my favorite household books follows up the section on clothing rules with some sage advice, "It may well make you feel like somebody's aunt too, and if it does, you should leave it alone. It is better to look round and happy than lean and miserable." This was published in 1962!

  19. Hanako66

    I totally agree….plus everything looks better when the person wearing it FEELS good about it!

  20. adressandabike


    I like having a set of rules that inform my style that make sense, e.g. no skirts past my knee because I'm short enough as it is, and I reject most rules which don't make any sense to me. I then dress with certain rules in mind but willing to bend them.

  21. Linda

    Is it wrong that I can recognize a quote from Peg Bracken at 40 paces?

    I do bristle at "rules," I guess. I prefer them more in the format of "science," like "This is why if most people do X the result will look more like Y." Do you know what I'm talking about? Like "If you don't seem to find empire waists flattering, maybe it's because they don't leave enough room above for your boobs, and they may have gathers underneath that poof out annoyingly. An empire waist without these features may look better." But rules that All People, sight unseen, look best in knee-length skirts are silly. (Not saying you have ever declared such a rule, just an example.)

  22. bekster

    It's that dress again! (Yay!)

    Amen to rule breakage. Sometimes the phrase "style rules" may be better used, "I love style. Style RULES!"

    Still, it's true, rules have their place.

  23. LPC

    Only thing I would add is, don't let the side down, i.e. don't embarrass anyone else you care about.

  24. The Seeker

    As a fellow Capricorn I like rules, sometimes I need rules…. and I love to break them!!!!
    And I agree with Nadine.
    Love this post, Sal.


  25. Audi

    Rules can be a great place to start for people who are just learning what works for them and what doesn't. While I love to break the rules at every opportunity, I think they do still have an important place in our stylistic lives.

  26. Luinae

    Yes, someone else who loathes What Not to Wear telling people you can NEVER do this or that!

  27. budget chic

    Beautiful suit, I love that rich, vibrant color. I can not stand Stacey London and that "What Not to Wear" show, which is total crap. She is a such a style hypocrite. I don't even watch that show. I agree that women should just discover their own personal style and make it work for them, no rules or questions asked (especially that age appropriate mess). Just wear what makes you happy. It ain't that serious. LOL

  28. Rosie Unknown

    Thank you for once again vocalizing a subject I fully support, but have trouble explaining!

  29. Miss Peregrin

    Everyone should read this post! I think the most important thing for people to remember about style is to have fun with it, and only do what they think is best for themselves.

  30. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    This is one awesome set of rules that I have NO problem abiding to!


    Sal, sometimes I do feel like wearing a ball gown to work… Cinderella costume minus the glass slipper?!
    Great post as usual…empowering*


    oooh, forgot to compliment you on that color on you…so fresh!

  33. myedit

    True story.
    Truth is, I love my fashion rulse but since I've started this blogging thing, I find I've had to ease up on a lot of them and open my mind.

  34. lisa

    This post reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean and the code of Parlay: "They're not rules so much as guidelines."

  35. Diana

    I can't agree with you more. Style rules can be helpful guidelines, but it's so very important for individuals to stay true to their own personal sense of style. That's always been my biggest beef with What Not to Wear: they try to fit everyone into their own stylistic box, while forgetting that some rules are meant to be ignored.