How to Make Simple Outfits Sparkle

How to make simple outfits more interesting

Several years ago, I ended up working with a style consult client who intimidated me. This woman had fabulous taste, a marvelous wardrobe that included both well-edited basics and funky accent pieces, and she had already figured out how she wanted to flatter her fabulous figure. What, exactly, did she need ME for?

Well, for starters, she was bored stiff.

My sweet client had her basic style totally nailed, but she had no idea how to use her wardrobe to express her creativity. She looked polished and lovely, but she wanted to look polished, lovely, and INTERESTING. And yet, as the mom of two young kids, she had to keep her ensembles simple, comfortable, and washable. In the end, we found three techniques that she could use to spice up her pared-down outfits, and since they can be applied to just about any woman hoping to make simple outfits sparkle, I thought I’d share ’em with all of you!


Oh, I’m sorry, did you think I was going to say something über-specific like, “Wear a fez!” Or, “Invest in a plaid waistcoat and some hand-crocheted socks!” Not so much. Making your simple outfits sing will take a bit of work on your part. But it is worthwhile work! Throwing a few accessories into a simple mix can make all the difference in the world.

A blazer, tee, jeans, and flats constitutes a great base outfit. Simple, sleek, refined, and comfortable (if you pick the right blazer, that is).

simple blazer outfit

 But add a few accessories, and things start to get interesting. A fabulous necklace, scarf, or belt is all it takes to elevate this ensemble from plain to chic.

simple blazer outfit - accesorized

Gorgeous, perfectly-fitting clothes are absolutely key to building fabulous personal style. But without accessories to add interest, outfits can seem tame and subdued. One way to make simple outfits sparkle is to hone your accessorization skills.

Want more help with accessorization?
Accessorization and Figure Flattery 101
How to Wear Tights
Building Accessory Collections
What Belting Can Do for You
Flattering Hats for Every Head
Accessory Scale and Personal Style
Other Already Pretty posts on accessories


Again with the far-from-easy outfit enhancing techniques … sorry, friends, but yet again I’m recommending a skill set well worth cultivating.  Mixing colors in unexpected ways will make even the most pared-down outfits look contemporary and cool. If you’re a fan of jewel tones, try pairing at least two at a time. Go for a non-neutral monochrome look by mixing shades of one color, or pick two shades to sprinkle on a background of neutrals. And speaking of, mix your neutrals three to an outfit: Black with brown and tan, gray with black and olive green.

Want more help with color?
Color Simplified
Color Combos
Match vs. Go
Adding Color to a Neutral Wardrobe
Crafting Monochrome Looks


Ah ha! Here, my friends, is the super easy, throw-money-at-it solution to spicing up your simple ensembles. I truly believe that an eye-catching, beautifully crafted, bright or embellished pair of shoes can make the plainest outfit pretty. Now, when I say “amazing” I do NOT mean expensive, painful-to-wear, or trendy. Shoes that can transform an outfit are generally colorful, sculptural, or adorned with tasteful-but-innovative hardware. Sometimes all three. Flats, heels, boots, sandals, any old style will do so long as it is unusual, interesting, and conversation-worthy.

Want more help with shoes?
Incorporating Colorful Shoes
Casual Shoe Basics
Shoe Basics

Originally posted 2011-02-15 06:37:09.

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31 Responses to “How to Make Simple Outfits Sparkle”

  1. Cynthia

    On my last FBFF entry, one of my commenters noted that my wardrobe isn’t dominated by a particular color, it’s dominated by pattern. And honestly, I’m not even much drawn to items anymore (in that “must have that sexy thing” way) if they don’t have either pattern or some kind of texture or ornamentation. Even simple tees or shells to wear under things. I like to mix at least two textured items in an outfit, and one of the things I’m working away from (in addition to TOO MUCH BLACK) is the tendency to wear a solid color top with a solid color skirt with a solid color cardigan.

  2. Stacey

    Great post! I can completely relate, being a mom of 3, it’s definitely important to keep it pretty simple and definitely comfortable! Also, I love your outfit….totally something I would wear!

  3. T.

    After reading posts at academichic about color, I bought a color wheel, and it has helped me put together color combinations I never would have come up with on my own, using clothes I already owned. My tendency was always to wear a white or black tee under a more colorful cardigan, but with the color wheel, I could see better, more interesting combinations. I feel like I have a new wardrobe, but I’ve purchased nothing more than a $5 wheel!

  4. La Historiadora de Moda

    Dammit! I thought you were going to tell me to wear a fez and all my problems would be solved!

    Great advice, as always! I’m trying to work on accessorizing more. I have tons of jewelry and scarves, but I feel like I don’t utilize them nearly as much as I should.

  5. Chalkdust and Boots

    I have to admit that I’m also a little disappointed that you haven’t ordered us all to buy a fez.

    But this is wonderful. I feel as if I’m capable of doing all the things you mention: I have good accessories and great shoes, so… we’ll see!

  6. Mardel

    And I was really hoping you were going to show me what to do with that *#@%! fez. Oh well.

    I think this is a great post because taking great pieces and great style and making it interesting takes work and practice, and I also requires building up a collection of things accessories you love even if you don’t quite know what to do with them at first, and that is frightening to many of us. But if you don’t have them you can’t play.

  7. Grace

    I’m using the 30for30 challenge to really work on #1. The fewer actual wardrobe pieces I have to choose from, the more I am forced to focus on accessories to keep things interesting.

  8. jentine

    You smart lady… shoes change everything! That is my #1 trick when I buy a very vintage dress… I wear some modern shoes to pull it into this decade.
    P.S. Everytime I open your page, the first thing I keep thinking is how ‘bam’ your hair is. The new cut just looks so good.

  9. tiny junco

    Hey Sal – congrats on landing and nailing that gig! way to go!

    Cynthia (first comments) makes a great point – adding some texture/pattern contrast will ‘wake up’ even monochromatic outfits. for more great color/texture combos visit Cynthia’s site:

    Terri at RAGS Against the MACHINE uses simple but well-chosen accessories to add wonderful interest to incredibly spare outfits. her site:

    if you’re bored with color, pick one you know looks great on you and goes well with the other clothes in your wardrobe. then go to your color wheel and find out it’s opposite or complementary color. also, make a ‘triad’ using your color and find the two other colors in this ‘triad’. all three of these colors (the opposite and the two others in the triad) will also look great on you and go with the colors you already have in your wardrobe. it’s an easy way to hone in on new colors that you can work with with less risk.

    how to find opposites and triads here:
    from – a good resource on color theory basics. if color is your thing, the more you learn about color theory and art history the more confidence you’ll have working with your wardrobe. steph

  10. Georgina

    Anyone that watches Dr Who will know that “fezzes are cool”! Here’s a 17 second clip to prove it:

    My style saver is my embroidered coat. I can throw it over anything and look like I’ve made a huge effort. We ended up nicknaming it ‘the coat of many compliments’ because pretty much everytime that I wear it someone asks where it came from. I’ve been wearing it for about 5 years and it only cost me £55 in a sale. It was a bold choice (and a little scary the first time that I wore it) but it works wonders. It is a simple cut and the base colour is a soft mid brown – it’s not that outlandish, just beautiful and unusual. It’s worth making a daring choice…

  11. Gracey

    This is a great post, Sal. I have to say that I tend more towards tip one and two. I love to accessorize, mostly with scarves, and I love using color. I do wear neutrals, but when I do, I usually pair them with an interesting or brightly colored scarf. I’m not much of a shoe girl but I do agree that an interesting shoe can make the outfit.

  12. lisa

    Yes, yes and yes to all three tips! Great advice as always. Lately I haven’t been as attracted to buying clothes, but I can’t seem to get enough of accessories. They’re small, easy to store, more affordable, and do so much to change the look of an outfit.

  13. Eleanorjane

    Ooh, now I’m feeling boring for sticking to black and dusty grey-blue today!

    Must try harder! 🙂

  14. joann, sidewalk chic

    Sal, you are a great resource! I used to buy a lot of accessories and then shy away from actually experimenting with them. Over the last couple years, I’ve slowly brought scarves into the fray. Your posts are inspiring me to step it up a little more.

  15. Anne @ The Frump Factor

    What a wonderful post. Between those tips and all the fabulous links, I feel like everything I need to know is in one place. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  16. Liz Remus

    I really liked this post and the pictures that accompanied the accessorize section. The visual really helped. Thanks!

  17. Cynthia

    Combining with colors I have down……how about a post on combining textures? I still get trapped there more often than I’d like to admit.

  18. Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    These are great tips, Sal. I normally find I go to far the other way on the accessorising and have to remove a couple of things. But that’s just me. 🙂

    One extra thing is something I picked up from Audi which is, when buying basics, look for something with a bit extra, like an unusual cut or detail. Then your basic item itself becomes something special.

  19. Abby Perry

    I used this post today on the blog that I run for the store where I work. (That was complicated!) 🙂 Just wanted you to know that I love your blog and have followed it for several years. Thanks for all the work you put into it! :)You can check out my post by going here: