This Easy Outfit Formula Works Year Round. Here Are 3 Summer-Ready Outfit Ideas…

One of the easiest ways to create outfits that look and feel put-together is to start with a column of color. That’s no different in summer than any other time of year. Switching out darker neutrals for lighter ones will shift your look into summer, so I’ve played around with some outfit ideas starting with ecru jeans and an ivory tee.

Susan B. wears an off-white silk slub tee and ecru cropped jeans.
TEE | JEANS
My sizes: tee – Small, jeans – 28 Petite

This time of year, I’m always on the lookout for off-white tees, which are a mainstay of my summer wardrobe. (Winters can wear optic white, and Summers a soft white, but Springs and Autumns are best in cream or warm ivory tops.) Here I’m wearing a slub silk tee from Amour Vert. It’s lightweight and relaxed, but the silk knit fabric gives it a nice drape and luxurious feel. I love the longer, set-in sleeves, too.

These budget-friendly tees from Madewell and Everlane are also favorites. And if you prefer a v-neck (and longer hem), this one from Lands’ End is also really good.

When I originally ordered these “slim wide leg” jeans, I wanted to compare the fits between the Classic and Petite sizes. See how I styled the “classic” length here. But I liked both lengths for different looks, and decided to keep both. Here I’m wearing the Petite length, which has a more cropped fit on me. (I’m 5’1″, with proportionally long legs.)

This jeans style is also available in white for those of you with cool palettes.

Just a reminder that the top and bottom half in a “column of color” don’t have to match exactly. They just need to be close enough to not create a strong visual break between the pieces. So let’s style up this column to create some summer outfit ideas…

Coastal casual

Susan B. wears a striped cardigan tied over shoulders, an ivory tee, ecru jeans, straw "Paris Milano" tote and woven espadrilles.
CARDIGAN (TIED) | TEE | JEANS | BAG | ESPADRILLES

For a stroll along the boardwalk or a visit to the Saturday morning marché, I’ve added some texture with the cardigan, straw bag, and espadrilles. Add a hat and sunglasses if it’s bright out.

More striped cardigans

Monochromatic with brown accents

Susan B. wears a monochromatic look in ecru/ivory with a brown necklace, bag, and leopard print sandals.
NECKLACE (SIMILAR LOOK) | CARDIGAN | TEE | JEANS | BAG | SANDALS

I love the ease and relaxed elegance of a monochromatic look. Yes, that’s a cashmere cardigan; in our cool coastal climate I often wear my lighter weight cashmere pieces well into June. (But you could always swap out the cashmere cardi for one in linen. And here’s one in White.) Or you could go with a relaxed linen blazer, like this one.

The brown accessories “ground” the look and tie it together without being matchy. (Cool seasons, you could try gray, black, or navy accessories.)

Sunshine states

Ecru jeans outfit: Susan B. wears a light orange linen shirt over an off-white tee and wide leg ecru jeans, with gold sandals and a raffia bag.
SHIRT (SIMILAR) | TEE | JEANS | BAG | SANDALS (SIMILAR)

My linen shirt is from last year, but the same style is available this season (in different colors). When it really warms up, these shirts are great to wear on their own, over a loose and lightweight pair of pants (or shorts). And I like to pop the collar to keep the sun off my neck.

More linen shirts…

The sandals are also from last year. Here’s this year’s version. (And a similar budget-friendly style.) The bag is new-ish. I love the soft metallic gold handles.

As you can see, it’s quite easy to create outfits starting with a column of color. Whether it’s ecru jeans, or white, or any other neutral base, a matching top and bottom makes a great canvas to work from to build your outfits, no matter what the season.

What’s your go-to piece or easy outfit formula for summer?

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22 Comments

  1. Hello, Susan. I have been a reader for years and once in a while pop in with a comment. I have a suggestion for a column, if it seems doable. I find that many dresses and tops–of course, the ones with the most attractive summer boho vibe– are now cut with such a deep v-neck that I show more cleavage than I like. I have had a seamstress raise the neckline a bit, but that is not always possible. I have figured out that the answer is a camisole, but they too are often cut so low in front that they don’t cover any of the cleavage. Some camisoles read as an afterthought and look a bit dumpy. Finding a texture compatible with the fabric of the garment is a challenge too. Help, please!

    1. I’m with you, this can be a real problem! I like classic-style popover blouses, and often have the same problem. I did get some lacy covers from Amazon, which look like an abbreviated lace tube top, to wear under blouses or with a buttoned blazer, but I’ve yet to use them.

  2. I love that you showed photographic steps to creating a finished outfit. It was helpful to see how you took basics that many of us have in our wardrobe and proceeded to show the addition of items in consecutive photos, adding the zing that makes the outfit sing. I would appreciate similar posts that show the beginning to end process of styling. You are a master teacher, Susan!

  3. Year after year, I love the Eileen Fisher espadrilles and am excitedly awaiting this pair in raffia. Thanks!

    To Clarissa, reader who laments the low-cut dresses and tops — I agree. I, too, use camisoles and often wear them backwards for a higher neckline. But what a pain in summer, right?

    I did have a brilliant seamstress, in another city, sadly, who I paid to remove pockets in dresses. She used the pocket fabric to create a v-shaped inset in the v-neckline of my casual summer dresses. It worked perfectly. Anyone who sews could probably do the same.

  4. Those outfits were terrific and your instructions very helpful. I am really tempted by that silk tee and jeans!

  5. Susan – I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks now and really love your style. I’m quite a bit heavier than you with most of my weight in my stomach. I don’t like to tuck in my tops because of my “pooch” so I’m wondering your thoughts on how to wear shorter jackets over t-shirts…is it okay if the t-shirt is longer than the jacket? For example, if the jacket ends at the top of hip but the t-shirt falls to my lower hip? Thanks!

    1. Hi Leslie, thanks so much! I’m planning to do a demo soon, but yes, you can wear tops that are longer than the hem of a jacket or cardigan. What we want to avoid is having the top and jacket exactly the same length, as it tends to create a visual horizontal line at the hem. By breaking up those lines, the look will be less boxy.

  6. Susan: I agree with Lou that you are a master teacher! I like this ‘step by step’ visual as well and keep learning wonderful fashion tricks from you and Annie! (just did a dupe of Annie’s belt trick for those who hate belts–very clever!). In the meantime, I’m also trying to figure out Amy Smilovic’s take on seasonal wear and travel wear remaining true to your own sensibilities–while still looking modern. I admit, I’m slow to learn 😉
    I have dinner out at a newish edgy French bistro here in Petaluma and it will be 90 degrees. Trying to decide what to wear (edgy modern relaxed) and still be comfortable and not too warm. XO

    1. What is the belt trick? I also hate belts. I must have missed it?? Most interested in knowing this magic.

      1. I’m not sure if I can describe the belt trick very well but essentially you have the belt half on your blouse and half off. I put my belt through 3 loops on one side and loose on the other side. I kept the belt loose so it could be askew (but still visible. I have a photo but there’s no place to post it here

        1. Hmmm….can’t quite visualize it. Might have to play around with this idea. Thank you for your response.

          1. Deanna: sorry I couldn’t describe it better! Maybe I could email Susan a photo…

  7. Love your column of colour outfit ideas! When it begins to get really hot, I like to throw on a wafty linen or cotton dress, add cute accessories and go.

  8. For Clarissa — I agree that too many tops and dresses are cut far too low. I find Kettlewell camisoles to be of a higher quality than most, and they come in colors for all seasons.
    Does anyone know if Quince linen blouses are soft or scratchy?

  9. Some great ideas. And I agree with others….seeing the steps is really helpful.
    I’ve been thinking about the ruti jeans you showed. I wonder if occasionally you could take a pix or two straight on rather than turned slightly and/or with your leg forward. I had a hard time seeing the cut of those jeans…the fit, how wide, the drape. Loved the look, btw.
    Anyway, Thanks!

  10. This was a fun post, thanks! I like how you took a simple, familiar concept and added that something extra to make it special.

  11. Susan, I love the length of this tee on you. As a petite, I struggle with finding good tees that aren’t too long or aren’t specifically cropped and boxy. I’d love for you to keep featuring tees that fit the bill for petites without the French tuck, as they come up for you. Thank you!

  12. You featured some really lovely outfits today. I have been reading your blog for 2 or 3 years now and really like your style. I wear similar colors – I would be described as a spring in seasonal color systems, though I call myself bright, warm, medium, a la your Color Style. It is nice to see a blogger wearing my colors. I have a harder time relating to influencers who sport cool or muted colors.
    I must thank you for inspiring me to try barrel-leg or balloon jeans. You looked so stylish in yours that I wanted to try the look. I did not want to spend much, in case the jeans did not suit me, so I bought a pair of Universal Thread (Target brand) jeans on Poshmark. I am 69 and have put on an extra 5 pounds or so smack on my middle in the past couple of years. I found that the high waist on my balloon jeans plus the wide legs de-emphasize my stomach and with a fitted top, give me an hourglass shape. Hurray! I really like the quirkiness of the silhouette. I also bought the Paris straw bag from Amazon that you are featuring (again) today. Thanks for being such a great fashion role model.

    P.S. To those struggling with low cut dresses, check out Half Tees. They are just what they sound like – tees that end right under the bust.

  13. Susan – I purchased the Rag and Bone cardigan in April and I have gotten so much wear out of it (cost per wear justified the price). We were traveling in Japan where I wore it with dark denim and a navy shell as well as over a black dress. Saturday night I wore it out to dinner with ecru jeans, an off white tee and gold sneakers. I’ll be wearing the same outfit to a luncheon today. I was so happy to see you wearing it in this post. I will have to try it over my shoulders at some point!

  14. Very nicely put together! My style “uniform” in the warmer months are drawstring linen, cotton or a blend pants with cami and gauze or linen or cotton (or blend) long sleeve button down tied at waist. I usually tuck the drawstring from the pant inside the pant. I have many variations of bottoms, tops and camis that I use for this simple and covered up but cool outfit formula.