Rule of Thirds: Explained for Clothing Style

Written by Janell McPhail


Posted on July 02 2024

If you've followed the boutique a while, you've heard me talk about the "Rule of Thirds." Hopefully today in this blog post I can explain it to everyone who needs to understand better what this means.

First off, it's not really fair it's called a Rule. We've talked about fashion rules and boundaries and this isn't really in that category. It's neither a rule or a boundary that you either break or you follow. It's really a principle in design that can be applied to many things, especially in styling and in fashion.

If you've ever taken a photography or an art class, you will learn what the Rule of Thirds and how appyllng it will allow you to achieve better, more eye appealing art. The same principle is used in interior design and several other creative clothing and clothing style.

In short, it is taking a subject or composition and breaking it into 1/3 parts. Then finishing out the composition in either those 1/3 parts, or 1/3 - 2/3 parts. The Rule encouragers one to break subjects into thirds instead of halves.

Here's a quick photography example of the store using the Rule. 


I've added a 9 grid overlay over this picture of the graphic tee table at the store. There is nothing interesting about this picture and the reason is because it is out of balance and there's no focal point. The Rule of Thirds isn't being applied above.

When you retake the photo and determine the mannequin on the table will be the focal point, you can then measure with the photography grids to make the photo within the Rule of Thirds.

Our eyes and brain prefer the 2nd photo because it's in balance and has a focal point. 

Whether we realize it or not, our brains like balance and symmetry. When it comes to our own style, the same rule applies. Our brains prefer balance and symmetry on ourselves and on others.

I guarantee if you take a deep look at someone who you admire their style, it's most likely because the style is balanced. Balance creates interest because whether we realize it or not, in order to create that balance, we start with a focal point, even with our style and start to work the balance around that area. It's no different than retaking the photo with the mannequin within the grid correctly and then the photo itself is more interesting.

The exact same principle applies to how you get dressed and how you finish off your style.

So here is a jumpsuit we currently have in stock in the store. Without any extra styling, it actually looks pretty basic and only certain curvy body shapes can pull it off because you need to be able to create interest with those curves. There's no focal point to help with the balance.

Example #1 Rule of Thirds

Technically this is an outfit that is "whole". BUT, if you apply the Rule of Thirds and break the piece up into thirds, you get a much more interesting outfit. 

Here is the same outfit breaking it up into 1/3 to 2/3 ratios. Adding a belt is an easy to way to bring an outfit into the Rule of Thirds. The belt helps the outfit because it lacks a defined focal point and therefore balance.

Another way to create balance with an outfit that is already "whole" is to add a layer. In this example, the kimono creates the visual 2/3 and the area beneath the kimono creates the 1/3 to finish off the visual balance.

Here are all the outfits side by side and broken up so you can visually see the difference adding different items to break out the Thirds makes the outfit more balanced and appealing visually.

Example #2 Rule of Thirds

Sometimes you just want to have pieces of an outfit and/or wear a short skirt or shorts. That is completely OK as long as you finish the style within the balance principles. If you are choosing to wear shorts for an outfit, you will want to balance the outfit in 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 break downs.

The image above are some items in the store that I see styled all the time this way. Shorts, cute sandals, great earrings and then a top that is untucked and gives the outfit no shape.

It's important to realize visual balance in Thirds also comes with matching up showing skin. So if you are going to show your legs by wearing shorts, you also want to show more skin on the top half of the outfit. AND this top is cutting me in half. That does me no good and shows no shape. But see how making two tweaks really makes the outfit pop and puts it within the Rule of Third Balance.

Just tying the oversized shirt and pulling up the sleeves to reveal more skin makes all the difference in this outfit. It goes from frumpy to super cute.

Rule of Thirds Example #3

So in Example #2, I know what you're thinking. I have been doing this a long time and I have heard or read all the things from ladies..."You can do that with your shirt because you're young." "You can wear that because you're skinny. I am not skinny." "You can wear that because you don't have a pooch." So here's how I respond to all of that... it does not matter what size you are, if you have on well fitting clothes for your body shape and style them appropriately, you can put any outfit in balance with the Rule of Thirds. I have seen the above outfit on ladies of all sizes and it works, period.

In case you don't believe me, I put on this traditional jeans and top to prove a point. This outfit below is how I see most women dress 95% of the time. Maybe not in 100 degree heat like we're experiencing right now, but most of the time.



Women, all over the country are wearing a great pair of jeans and even prettier top but they're wearing it untucked and/or oversized. Women tell me it's because they're covering their mom pooch, or pasta belly or whatever you call that area that we women all despise.

I'm here to tell you that is not doing you any favors. When you wear outfits styled like the above, you are adding 10-20 pounds visually in just fabric. Covering up your figure is not the answer. The answer is finding clothes that fit properly and then styling them to your body shape and within balance.



All I did was tie this shirt in the back and tuck to expose my waistline. I still have some extra fabric to cover up any imperfection in the my tummy region, BUT allowing my jeans to be the 2/3 of this outfit and the top to be the 1/3 of this outfit puts it all in balance and just makes me look better visually. The first image literally cuts me in half. The Rule of Thirds means you don't want to cut anything in halves, only thirds.




 In these 3 examples I have shown you different ways to apply the Rule of Thirds. It is not difficult once you can get the hang of it! I challenge you to stop and think about your outfit in the mirror before you leave your house tomorrow. Really break your body into 1/3s and make sure it's within the Rule. If it is not and you need help, reach out. We're always here to help all the Sweetlifers with style. 




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