Reader Request: Accessory-free Outfits

How to create outfits without accessories that still look complete

threegoodrats asked:

I’d love to see something about creating interesting outfits without accessories. Although I hope to add interesting scarves and jewelry to my wardrobe, my budget pretty much restricts me to buying garments and shoes. I’m trying to use layers, and look for more patterned garments as opposed to solid colors, but I’d love more suggestions!

Well! I dug through a LOT of my outfit shots to find some accessory-free ensembles, and could only scrape together a handful. I lean heavily on jewelry and accessories to perk up and/or tie together what I’m wearing, and believe that exploring and employing accessories can help most women build eye-catching and expressive outfits. Minimalist looks done correctly will make a small group of extremely simple, unaccessorized garments look sleek and gorgeous. But few women seek true minimalism for their own looks, and doing minimalism well is a skill I’ve yet to acquire, so I’m more inclined to push accessorization.

That said, the handful of (mostly) accessory-free outfits I found illustrate some of the keys to making such outfits appear sophisticated and chic.


Already Pretty outfit featuring gr.dano burnout tunic, skinny jeans, black ankle booties, fringe handbag

Most women are more inclined to wear simple clothing with unusual accessories. If you’re going to forgo jewelry and accessories altogether, you’re creating an opportunity to utilize funky, design-y, and unusual garments. Asymmetric detailing, draped layers, proportional play, vibrant color … any of these features help make a garment stand out. Here, my Gr.Dano tunic is the main event, supported by a patterned tee and jeggings. The tunic’s unusual cut makes it compelling enough to carry an otherwise simple outfit.


Already Pretty outfit featuring Missoni camouflage sweater, cobalt skinny jeans, longline blazer, black ankle boots

Patterned scarves make excellent bridging pieces for outfits comprised of seemingly unrelated shades, but patterned shirts, sweaters, and dresses don’t NEED any bridging! Patterns generally include multiple colors and automatically add energy and movement to any ensemble. Even a pattern as rigid and geometric as plaid can appear to sparkle with life if it is colorful enough; Its bright tones lend vibrance, and the way the sharp lines of the pattern interact with the soft folds of the fabric create a lovely tension. If you’re going accessory-free, utilizing some pattern is never a bad plan. (This is also the technique illustrated in the image at the top of this post.)



Jewelry and certain accessories will add splashes of sparkle to most outfits, but embellished garments can serve the same purpose. Sequins, studs, metallic materials and accents are the obvious choices, but even matte embellishments like embroidery and cloth appliques can pump up a piece. A group of simple garments can appear sophisticated, but one embellished piece in the mix adds interest. (Yes, I’m wearing jewelry here, but this outfit would still work without.)


Already Pretty outfit featuring cognac leather boots

Some philosophies may consider handbags to BE accessories, but in my world they stand a bit apart. And if your clothes and shoes are kept purposely accessory-free, toting a gorgeous bag will up your game instantly. Great handbags needn’t be expensive! Thrifted, hand-me-down, handmade, cloth, and canvas versions can all be elegant and chic. Pick one that suits your overall style as well as your hauling needs.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2011-05-16 06:06:52.

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39 Responses to “Reader Request: Accessory-free Outfits”

  1. Courtney

    To the original question writer – I just got a great scarf at Goodwill for $2, not for the first time; there might be more budget-friendly accessories around than you think. Or maybe you have some things you’re done with and so do some friends and you could arrange a swap and focus on jewelry or scarves. The question is great and I love Sal’s suggestions, but don’t give up on accessories!

  2. Velma

    It seems to me that threegoodrats isn’t opposed to accessories–she just thinks she can’t afford them. Scarves and jewelry are some of the easiest things to pick up on the cheap. Really nice items (silk scarves, retro bead necklaces) are commonly available at thrift stores and even at garage sales, and you can also find pretty items at local craft fairs and markets and on ebay and etsy–or make your own! Beefing up this part of your wardrobe is a great opportunity to get creative without spending a lot of money.

  3. Kathy

    Thanks for some great tips. I use accesories but when I’m just running around with the kids I tend to keep it pretty simple. I am a fan of the great bag, it really can make anything pop. I also pay attention to my outerwear, such as coats, capes and sweaters. I really depend on them to give my mom looks a little more polish. Thanks again for a fun and useful post!

  4. giedre

    I have to admit – without intended to, I generally avoid accessories just because I either completely forget about them (!!! and I even own oodles….how does THAT happen???) or because I’m just to lazy (no excuse, I know). Either way, time to start digging into all those scarves and jewelry pieces I own! Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  5. threegoodrats

    Thanks, Sal!

    I’m not opposed to accessories, and I know I can afford a cheap scarf or two at a thrift shop. My point is that having enough accessories to coordinate with EVERY possible outfit is a bit out of reach for me – not only in terms of expense, but also storage and just the difficulty of finding the RIGHT accessories for each outfit. My friends and I just had an accessories swap actually, which was tons of fun, but I still just don’t own a ton of jewelry or scarves nor am I likely to. I’ll continue to acquire an accessory here or there, but these are great workarounds – thanks for the suggestions!

  6. Katharine

    I have pretty much given up on accessories (after many years of relying on, in particular, giant silver rings and necklaces, and large, crazy earrings). I just don’t like the way they look or feel on me any more, for the most part; I feel overdone. (Although, today, I am wearing a long black silk thong wound round my neck six times as a necklace. It feels more like a piece of clothing, or a light scarf.)

    I think I just prefer my outfits to be simple, and the interest (at least to me) is in shape, layering, colour blocks, and shoes. I do think an unusual pair of shoes goes a LOT further to add that something to a plain outfit than a bracelet. I also have admitted, after a few years of trying, that I really don’t like most patterns in my clothes, either. I am unhappy in them, and the item always feels very rigid and non-versatile in my wardrobe.

    I agree about the impeccably designed items; however, the Cloak Hoodie was just ON SALE for what, $165? and most of the impeccably or unusually designed pieces in my own personal wardrobe are running around a similar price point or more, which is hardly the kind of thing that someone who can’t afford scarves is going to buy. You might occasionally score something like that in a thrift or consignment shop, but unless you’re in a central metro area that’s certainly not going to happen every day, or even every month.

    I think if your wardrobe is, by choice or necessity, minimal, and your goal is to be stylish, that it’s more important to figure out your personal style, or the personal style you want to project, anyway. This is not the time to get lots of things in different styles and colours, even if they are cheap. Focus, and know exactly why you’re adding an item.

    And as Courtney says, there ARE often lots of accessories available in thrift stores. Depending on your taste, you might be able to get more than you think.

    • Sal

      I’d say that a good half of my most interesting and gorgeously-designed items were thrift finds. Some from tiny towns.

      Also the hoodie is just an example. Great design may be easier to find in expensive garments, but it’s available at ALL price points! I think it all depends on your taste, your eye, and your willingness to search.

      • Katharine

        I think you might actually have better luck in tiny towns. Rumour, and acquaintances who’ve worked there, both claim that our thrift and VV stock is very extensively “picked” for the Toronto vintage boutique market, and I’m pretty sure it’s true.

    • tiny junco

      “I think if your wardrobe is, by choice or necessity, minimal, and your goal is to be stylish, that it’s more important to figure out your personal style, or the personal style you want to project, anyway. ”

      excellent point, Katharine! i’ve never had much of a budget for clothes, accessories, and so on. the more you know what you really like and want to project as your individual style & what you need (weather, lifestyle, career) the more wisely you can spend your money. i’ve spent many years where $10 was a lot to me – i couldn’t afford to ‘try out’ ten bux worth of scarves from a thrift store.

      swapping is genius. you can also drop heavy hints among your primo gift-givers re: investment pieces (shoes, bags, etc.) “Focus, and know exactly why you’re adding an item.” lists, spending time in your closet so you know what you have and what it does for you, remixing, repeating great looks, saving up for better quality in your core items – these are the strategies that help me look put together even when my budget is tiny. (then, people wonder why you’re complaining about $$$ for clothes ‘you always look so nice!’ ah, well……;) steph

  7. Elissa

    Thank you for such great tips! I’ll admit that I rarely, if ever, leave the house without piling on the accessories – usually armloads of bracelets. But I like the thought of letting my clothes speak for themselves. There’s something beautifully simple and elegant about avoiding accessories. And I really like the idea of using a great bag as a statement piece on its on to elevate an outfit. Terrific advice, as always!

  8. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Yes! Color, patterns, sparkles – they are all looking great on you and more accessories aren’t needed. I would add ruffles to the list – no need for a necklace. I completely agree with Velma on the affordability of many accessories – hello thrift shop! : >

  9. Cynthia

    I sometimes go accessory-free, but even when I don’t, I am very minimalist about accessories. I do wear a lot of patterned and embellished clothes so simple silver jewelry works well for me. I’ve been wearing the same silver wrap bracelet and small hoop earrings since February. Threegoodrats, you definitely do not need to have different accessories that coordinate with every outfit! You could pick a few striking items and make them signature pieces that basically go with everything in your wardrobe. I once bought an enormous labradorite pendant necklace (known on my blog as the “Real Heart of the Ocean”) that cost almost half a mortgage payment, but it’s been worth it because I wear it all the time and it coordinates with so many of my outfits that it’s down to <$1/wear. And you probably do not have to go that expensive to find a nice signature item. I recently got an antique filigree necklace that looks like it's shaping up to be very versatile and it was nowhere near that expensive. The key thing is that your jewelry should fit you and lay perfectly and not get in the way of your job, or interfere with your clothes. In addition to my current daily-wear wrap bracelet, I have a silver bearclaw cuff that a boy from the west gave me 20 years ago and it's still a near daily-wear item because it sits perfectly on my arm and doesn't bother when I'm typing. Save up a bit if you can, be very choosy and patient, and don't buy a piece of jewelry unless it speaks to you so clearly that you can tell it is a talisman. What do I mean by that, hell, I don't know but I know when I hear it.

  10. angie

    Glorified Bag Lady here! I think a bag becomes so much more part of your outfit when you’re out and about during the day. As a fashion stylist who is out in stores a lot of the time and often commuting on foot, my handbag is 100% part of my look. It wouldn’t make as much of a statement if I had a desk job.

    I also think that when you have a strong eye catching hairstyle, accessories play less of a role.

    Lastly, I consider my watch and specs accessories and I wear them every day – and often with no other accessories but a killer handbag. I LOVE that look. If you wear clothing made up of strong simple lines in good fabrications, I think you make more a statement leaving off the accessories.

    That being said, I do love my scarves and necklaces!

  11. Anat

    ….and yet another perfect shirtdress makes an appearance…!

    As to the issue, I also think that accessories are the cheap way to make a wardrobe more varied and interesting, as accessories are much easier to acquire (no fussing with fit/size, etc), and if you willing to buy the cheap stuff ( I am), then you can really increase your selection even on a modest budget.

  12. FutureLint

    I used to avoid accessories as I worked with special needs kids and a few of them loved to grab on to earrings, necklaces, and scarves… I just wore a lot of color and patterns to make up for the lack of accessories!

  13. L of Avid Accents

    As a certified Accessories fanatic i have to chime in 🙂 I’ve found while trying to stay fashionable on a budget, accessories have been my best friend. If you can’t have accessories to match every outfit (i know i can’t afford that) try thinking outside the box with the accessories you have. here’s a link to where i turned an old chain belt into 4 other accessories.
    just have fun with it.

    and great tips Sal for my non-accessory days 🙂

  14. Andi

    Thanks for this! I have sensory issues and often can’t wear accessories. I love them — on other people. They end up irritating my skin or getting in my way, so I’m pretty much limited to earrings and my wedding ring. Even shoes have to be basic and comfortable — many times my options are between Converse and Docs because I know I’ll have to be on my feet all day. I often wear funky colors or patterns to make up for it.

    I’d love a post on dressing for those of us who have sensory issues. I already picked up some tips from other posts of yours — namely tailored items in knits and jewelry in leather or fabric rather than metals.

  15. patni

    I am very minimal with accessories. I have learned belts in the last few years, and am figuring out scarves. But for the most part, I just don’t like all kinds of stuff hanging off me. I also really like loud loud prints, sparkly stuff, and really high end tailed stuff, all which looks best on me i feel with out a lot of extra stuff.
    That said I think if you have no money and a limited wardrobe, the cheapest way to make things different is by thrifted accessories. Vintage scarves and necklaces and bangles are cheap.

  16. The Waves

    I used to skip accessories, just because they didn’t seem important. I had a couple of necklaces I wore all the time, and that was about it. And there is nothing wrong with *not* wearing accessories. Sometimes a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a sharp jacket is all you need to look pulled-together and sophisticated. I think all of your suggestions, Sal, are very spot on. A sequined tank top or a stripy navy tee don’t really even “need” anything else.

    Having said that, these days I am much more into jewelry and other accessories than I’ve ever been before; I think I’ve always been a magpie at heart, I just didn’t know it before! But also have to say to the person who asked the question that wearing accessories successfully doesn’t mean that you have to have a gazillion pieces of jewelry or scarves. Maybe it is worth it to just invest in one standout pendant or a bracelet, or a boldly patterned scarf that goes with the general colouring or style of your wardrobe; something that says “signature style” rather than “she wears the same thing every day”.

  17. Nickie

    Wow, you’re so good at dressing without accessories; I need my security blanket-er i mean scarf, with everything; but I guess with a megawatt smile like yours, its the best accessory ever right? I could probably take some cues from you on the smile thing 🙂 haha

  18. Silvia

    I love that last outfit.
    I normally don’t acessorize. Mostly because I just forget about it. I only remember when I see somebody else rocking a scarf.
    And then… it needs to be practically, otherwise I won’t bother.

  19. Megan Mae

    I definitely shirk accessories in favor of unique design. In fact I’m more likely to pay more for interesting cuts/patterns/etc, but often pay less and thrift funky things.

    I live in a one room situation, sharing a closet and set of drawers with my husband. All my few accessories get stashed all over my desk, in the closet, on top of other things. I don’t usually go for accessories because I know I have no system or place to store them. One day that may change, but for now I’m happy just playing with color, cut and belts. Belts are my one accessory obsession.

  20. Anonymous

    although i always wear an insane amount of accessories, i’m loving your looks! they are fun, flirty, and have lots of style to them!

  21. Maura

    Thanks for this post!

    I am not much of an accessorizer; for many reasons (mostly it boils down to “fuss”) I just don’t get into accessories and thus I am quite unskilled at their use. I feel pretty fancy when I put on a necklace! My lack of attention to accessories has always made me feel a little bit juvenile, or unsophisticated, or “less-than” because of what I perceive as a personal shortcoming.

    After seeing the outfits you posted (thank you for that – it must have been a hunt!), I realize I am totally comfortable and happy with the look. Many of your outfits reminded me of the things in my own closet. I adore the happy colors and prints, worn casually and simply. A lot of accessories would be too much with this style of dressing. I’m going to stop worrying about my accessory blindness and be happy. 🙂

  22. pretty (face)

    While I don’t shirk accessories intentionally, and I love buying them, I rarely remember to wear them. I have no idea why! So my outfits tend to be pretty ‘minimalist’ I guess

  23. Eleanorjane

    I accessorise like a fiend! I find it a good way of pepping up boring clothes and ringing the fashion changes. I never spend much money, but a new pair of earrings or whatever is a treat. That said, I do make sure that I’m not completely dripping with accessories i.e. today I’m wearing earrings, scarf and belt (no necklace or bracelets).

  24. rb

    I don’t shirk accessories – I live for them. But I do force myself to choose between necklace and earrings just about every day. One or the other. It’s tough but must be done. If it leaves me feeling a little bare, I feel perfectly fine piling on more bracelets. (but only on one wrist) And I’m always OK adding a scarf, but it comes off and on during the day.

    I think I would feel better without the jewelry if my clothing weren’t so very basic.

    I remember Rachel Zoe, during her show, saying, “I’m not a minimalist. I’m, like, the opposite of a minimalist.” haha

  25. Lisa

    Absolutely the way I approach getting dressed. Accessories are kind of scary:).

  26. Sandra, aka madam0wl

    I rarely wear accessories. Actually I wore them a lot a few years ago when I was a TA… I guess I thought they made me look more pulled together. Also I had just inherited my grandmother’s jewelry and was having fun trying out her vintage pieces.

    I do wear belts often, but that is about it. Necklaces and earrings and bracelets and brooches just seem to get heavy and/or be in the way a lot when I’m working around the house. I don’t even wear a watch, or any rings other than my engagement ring / wedding band.

    In lieu of those type of embellishments, I DO wear a lot patterned garments. Also odd combinations of color and texture can make an outfit pop. Or unexpected layers / proportions.

    When I do wear belts, if I want to look polished, I try to coordinate them with my shoes… and bag if possible. Otherwise, if I’m just going casual, I don’t really care if belt/bag/shoes match, and that can keep things interesting too.

  27. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    I sometimes avoid accessories when the outfit has a lot of texture &/or pattern going on. Not just like the prints you mention, Sal, but garments with extra texture or even bulk in them. They’re not common — usually a statement blouse / jacket / sweater that draws attention to itself & would compete w/a necklace or scarf or even earrings. Today, I’m wearing a blouse covered w/3D fabric roses (hard to describe!) so I’m wearing minimal accessories, just my wedding/engagement ring & tiny earrings.

  28. christine

    hi sal!
    I totally love the dress in the first pic . where did you get it? Is it a liberty of london print?

    • Sal

      Yep, it’s from the Liberty/Target collaboration that was released last spring.

  29. threegoodrats

    I think part of the reason I have such a tough time with accessories is that many of them are so big and chunky. I have a really small head, fine hair, and small features, so many accessories can be overpowering. (Plus my short torso means that belts make me look like a hobbit) In addition, I have a job where I can’t have things hanging off me (like long scarves, etc) because I’m always schlepping around piles of books or leaning over a table working on stuff. But since I commute without a car I need to carry tons of stuff with me and I think investing in some great bags is a worthy goal, as is finding some decent non-chunky jewelry. Combining that with some of the ideas above is probably the best thing for me. Thanks for everybody’s thoughts and suggestions – it’s so helpful!

  30. Lisa

    I’m often guilty of going out completely naked of accessories of any kind, not even a purse slung over my shoulder (I stick my wallet in my sweater or jacket). I know it looks bland but frequently I just don’t give a hoot, I don’t have anybody I’m trying impress. I feel good when I feel comfortable and that frequently means I skip the accessory step.

  31. Sheila

    I’ve been thinking about this post all week, and today I did an outfit that – aside from a pair of stud earrings – was accessory free! I’m usually a “more is more” kind of person when it comes to accessories – I think it comes from raiding my mom’s jewelry boxes when I was a kid/teen. I usually have at least 1 or 2 other things (not including a belt) going on as my “stuff” with my outfits.

    I loved the ideas in this, Sal! I had such fun playing with already-embellished articles of clothing, pattern and texture – I didn’t even miss my usualy jangly bits. Thank you!