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How Do I Fix This Outfit? Understanding the Rule of Thirds and Visual Balance

Written by Janell McPhail


Posted on December 12 2023

One of the most common questions we get from customers and clients is "I really just need help learning how to fix this outfit..."

The answer to "fixing outfits" is understanding, 1) Your body shape and what looks best on your shape, and then 2) understanding balance through applying what's called the Rule of Thirds. (We will go over Body Shapes in another blog post later.)


What is the Rule of Thirds?
The Rule of Thirds, in the context of clothing style, is a visual guideline that involves dividing the body into three equal vertical parts to create a visually balanced and aesthetically pleasing look. This rule is derived from principles commonly used in photography and art and has been adapted for fashion and styling purposes.

Applying the Rule of Thirds in fashion involves strategic choices in clothing, accessories, and overall outfit visual balance, vertically. For example, if an outfit appears top-heavy, drawing attention to the lower third through the use of statement shoes, a patterned skirt, or a bold belt can help achieve balance. If an outfit seems bottom-heavy, focusing on the upper third with eye-catching accessories, a statement neckline, or unique jewelry can create visual balance.

There are 3 ways to break up an outfit into "thirds". Ideally, when putting an outfit together you want to keep these divisions in mind.

Also, please note, the overall break downs depend on your height and proportions. You take your body as it is, and break up the best you can to create the Rule of Thirds visual balance.


The next best way for us to explain when an outfit is out of balance is to show you some of the most common mistakes we see from ladies when they come in to the store.


Example #1

Common mistake: Wearing long cardigans and flat shoes.

When you wear a long cardigan, even one that is not as long as the one in the example, it is important that you visually balance the top of the outfit, otherwise the eye only looks downward and visually you will look "short".

How does one fix this common mistake? Switch flat shoes for a nice knee high boot to draw the eye up. Also, adding a hat or accessories to the top part of the outfit, helps draw the eye up as well. Next, in the first example, the shirt is untucked. This only is making no Rule of Thirds balance and it makes it hard for the eye to figure out where to focus. When you pull the shirt up to your waistline, it elongates the body visually and balances out the outfit according to the Rule of Thirds.


Example #2

Common mistake: attempting to make an outfit look more "winter" by covering up the leg with tights or leggings.

In this example, it is very easy to get caught up in wanting to cover the knees because you either don't like your knees or you want it to look "wintery". Because this sweater is short sleeved, you either want to show your knees, or wear a jacket or a shirt underneath. The skin showing has to be part of the visual balance when you're putting this outfit together.

Also, often ladies don't tuck in sweaters like this. See how much more appealing it looks with even the slightest front tuck. Showing your waistline is key here to creating balance within the Rule of Thirds.

Finally, adding earrings to the top portion of this outfit creates more interest up high toward the eye which balances the overall "heaviness" of the boot at the bottom.


Example #3

Common Mistake: Wearing the correct jeans and shoes with tunics.

In example #3, there is not very much "wrong" with the style, but it can be so much better when the Rule of Thirds is taken into account. First of all, when you wear a tunic and plan on wearing it untucked, it's very important to wear jeans/bottoms that are closer to the body like a skinny jean. Taking away any bulk with a tunic with more bulk will help streamline an outfit.

Last, changing out the shoe to balance the weight of the sweater is a better choice for helping balance. The sweater is a heavier piece and therefore visually creates "heaviness". When you add a boot that also has heavy qualities, it helps balance the bottom section to the top section.


So how do you fix your outfit?

Take a look in a full length mirror to really see why it's not working. Ask yourself first, is it working for your body shape? If it is, move on to the next question. Is the outfit is out of balance both literally (by not breaking up your body properly) or out of balance visually with textures and or weight of items chosen (like the boot example above).

After you've figured out what is out of balance, start "fixing" it by bringing it into the right proportions of the Rule of Thirds and start playing with materials and accessories to create the visual balance.

We hope these tips are helpful to you and give you the confidence you need to fix your next outfit!



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