Style formulas for effortless looks - une femme d'un certain âge

6 simple style formulas for effortless outfits

As I shared in my post, “The truth about effortless style,” having style that looks and feels effortless takes, well…effort. 😆 Today I’m sharing another tool to help: simple style formulas.

Susan B. wears 3 outfits using a 3-piece style formula.

This is the third installment in my Effortless Style series. You can read all of the posts HERE.

Inspiration vs. reality

I follow several incredibly creative women on Instagram and other platforms. Day after day, they present unique and imaginative outfits. Some are styling gifted items as part of brand collaborations, others may have large wardrobes cultivated over years, or are in the business of fashion. And a few are just really good with re-mixing a smaller wardrobe in new combinations.

I am utterly inspired by them, and have picked up lots of new ideas. But in most cases, I wouldn’t describe their style as “effortless.” (And that’s OK.) Most days, I just want (or need) to get dressed efficiently, and in a way that looks put-together and feels authentic. I don’t have the energy to “faff about” (an expression I’ve borrowed from my British friends) in my closet coming up with something completely new.

So over the years, I’ve incorporated a few style formulas to streamline the process of putting outfits together.

In the most recent installment in my Effortless Style series, I advocated for building a capsule wardrobe of neutral basics. Having a style formula (or a few) can help you figure out how to easily create outfits with those basics and other pieces in your wardrobe.

What is a style formula?

A style formula is just a guideline or tool that helps define and provide parameters for your outfits. It can be as specific or general as suits you (on any given day). Some of the formulas I use on a regular basis are:

Your own style formula might be any one or combination of these. Or you might come up with something completely your own. The key is to find what works consistently *for you* and then adapt/adjust as needed.

Two cool-based outfits using the 3-piece style formula. More on effortless style at une femme d'un certain age.

Rethinking repeats

I believe one of the biggest stumbling blocks to developing and using a style formula is fear of boredom or repetition.

Somehow, we’ve been captured by the notion that we need to look different every day. While some may say this is driven by social media and the constant drive for novelty, I think it goes back further. I can remember my mother saying “I can’t wear that outfit again…they’ve already SEEN me in it!”

Whether or not it’s a uniquely American thing, at the same time we applaud “signature style,” we worry that someone may notice we’ve worn a favorite jacket two times already this week. I once read (sorry, can’t remember the source) that one of the main differences between US and European style is that in the US we want to look different every day, while Europeans desire to look good every day.

Having effortless style means looking and feeling comfortable in what we’re wearing. And a tried-and-true combination is one way to achieve that. There are plenty of ways to mix it up and create variety without having to start from scratch every day. And in coming installments, I’ll share some tips to help you get the most from your wardrobe with accessories and accent pieces.

Are there style formulas you use regularly?

Stay in touch.

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  1. Kelly
    February 1, 2023 / 5:05 am

    Would you be willing to share the bloggers you follow who work from a small wardrobe and remix for new combinations? I love the idea of not being wasteful or overspending while creating a great wardrobe.

    • Susan Blakey
      February 1, 2023 / 5:44 am

      They’re mostly Instagrammers, but one who comes to mind immediately is Allison Bornstein @allisonbornstein6

      • Lesley
        February 1, 2023 / 7:47 am

        Thanks for this post Susan. Could I ask which instagram posts you follow? I follow Alyssa Beltempo, and love her style and esthetic. I am always looking out for others I rarely can ‘copy’ their looks, but do find it can spark a bit of inspiration. I do really like your style, and ideas you share. I have dropped several bloggers over the last year as I felt there was so much push to buy. The clothes you link, are quite high end for me, so I am learning to be patient and wait to buy the best piece.

    • Christina
      February 2, 2023 / 9:38 am

      I am a regular reader of, a blog devoted to the creation of capsule type wardrobes where pieces can be switched around to get the most mileage out of them. I wish I’d been aware of this approach when I began building my work wardrobe in my 20s (I am now 53.)
      I highly recommend this blog, she posts M-W-F and sometimes uses scarves or pieces of art for color inspiration. I am trying to thin my closet and direct my purchases so I have a more intentional selection of clothing. The struggle is real!

    • Kris
      February 2, 2023 / 10:36 am

      Hi Kelly – you might like “Classy Yet Trendy” and “Wardrobe Oxygen”?

      • Kelly
        February 3, 2023 / 8:01 am

        Thanks Kris! I follow Classy Yet Trendy and love her posts! I’ll check out Wardrobe Oxygen.

  2. Bette
    February 1, 2023 / 7:45 am

    I follow President Obama’s style formula: Wear the same thing every day. Yes, Obama wore only blue or gray suits, a white shirt, and a solid color tie for the 8 years he was president. As he famously told Vanity Fair, he wanted to eliminate decisions about what to wear or what to eat, so he could focus on more important matters.

    Others who were not commander in chief also chose to wear a uniform of sorts — Steve Jobs comes to mind, with his black turtlenecks and denim jeans.

    With my far lesser roles and responsibilities, I still want to avoid decision fatigue and minimize the time I spend choosing clothing. Thus, I have a very simple wardrobe comprising basics, and add a little variation with scarves or jewelry. I do love shoes and will now make a point to look at Obama’s feet, LOL.

    • Linda Henderson
      February 1, 2023 / 8:05 am

      Love this idea. Thanks.

    • Anne
      February 1, 2023 / 2:09 pm

      “People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit.”
      -David Byrne

    • Jana
      February 1, 2023 / 3:43 pm

      Have you forgotten about Tan Suit-gate? I’m nostalgic for that kind of scandal vs. the type we’ve had to endure since Obama.

  3. MJ
    February 1, 2023 / 8:37 am

    Remember that saying that if you like a piece of clothing, buy it in multiples? Forget it. How about turning that saying on its head? If it’s a T-shirt, what about changing things up with a different sleeve length: cap, elbow length, long? Or how about a puff sleeve? Colors, patterns, linen, cotton — variety is the spice of life!

    Jeans are jeans, but how many different cuts and hem lengths are there, and different washes and colors? Life is too short to wear the same thing every day.

    A formula of jeans and a T-shirt can be anything but formulaic. For those of us who tire of minimalism but don’t want OOTD maximalism either, adding a few spicy pieces to wear in combination with our existing pieces can add some excitement.

    This is the year of only adding pieces that bring change to my wardrobe. If I already own something similar, I don’t need it or want it. The world is changing and so am I. I’m leaving room in my wardrobe for change.

    • JB
      February 1, 2023 / 12:32 pm

      I like what you’re saying. My new mantra toward life is “try new things”. This applies not simply to clothing choices but life in general. Why not try?

  4. Kendall
    February 1, 2023 / 9:16 am

    Wearing the “third piece” is something I ascribe to, as well. I don’t think anyone taught me that – it was just instinct for me. Sometimes, just a statement scarf can be the third piece that makes the outfit more interesting. The “column of color” idea is something I learned from you, Susan, and I like that a lot. I also love your “core basics” philosophy.

    My fear of wearing the same thing twice dates back to 7th grade! There was a girl I barely knew who wore something new and fabulous every single day, and she would look you up and down to check out what you were wearing. You could read it on her face if she did not approve. Amazing how childhood experiences are so hard to shake.

      • Ann
        February 2, 2023 / 9:13 am

        Thanks for the link to that article. Very interesting. Her approach appeals to me. I would add silk scarves to the mix. I have several beautiful scarves and that could add a bit of variety. I am going to have to seriously think about this approach for my style formula.

      • Chris
        February 2, 2023 / 10:35 am

        Loved that article – thank you!

  5. Ann in Missouri
    February 1, 2023 / 1:57 pm

    I am pitifully sorry to report that my favorite retirement daytime three-piece combo is:

    * 501s (which I fringed myself years ago)
    * white button-down blouse (preferably Brooks Brothers)
    * navy or black three-season wool blazer (usually Pendleton)

    Shoes could be loafers, ankle boots, or tennies of some kind

    If I get fancy, I add an Hermes scarf.

    It’s not imaginative, but that outfit just makes me feel like ME!

    Ann in Missouri

    • Susan Blakey
      February 1, 2023 / 2:11 pm

      Why sorry? I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found a reliable formula that works well for you and makes you feel good!

    • Kendall
      February 1, 2023 / 2:34 pm

      Sounds very cute to me!

    • Marian
      February 1, 2023 / 8:28 pm

      This sounds quite stylish!

    • sf-dre
      February 2, 2023 / 12:45 pm

      Sounds great and not far off from my own work wardrobe of dark jeans and different colored t-shirts, mix in an occasional lightweight wool sweater. I’ve been eyeing the sweater blazers posted here and own a couple of Aran/fisherman knit sweaters from Ireland.

  6. Jana
    February 1, 2023 / 3:41 pm

    I have always done the third piece rule, but lately working from home I’m more of a pullover sweater + pants/jeans wearer. I like to break the sweater up with a scarf or by wearing a not-too-puffy puffer style vest over it. I tend to only have jeans/pants in one of my neutrals (navy or charcoal, this time of year) and have matching sweaters, but I prefer to wear a more vibrant color in the sweater.

  7. No Fear of Fashion
    February 1, 2023 / 11:21 pm

    There are also Europeans who want to look good and different every day. Me for instance .

    • Susan Blakey
      February 2, 2023 / 7:08 am

      That’s true. And I think these generalities become less true over time as style becomes more globalized.

  8. Robyn
    February 2, 2023 / 2:38 am

    I love a formula too. It changes with season as the weather does. Others have suggested mixing things up and I do, but I usually regret it and it up with purchases I won’t and don’t wear. When I want to incorporate a new trend I’ll purchase a less expensive piece and try it out first. One thing I did to help find my three words is; I asked my husband, daughter and friend to describe the style that they think is flattering on me. Their words were very helpful and probably more accurate than my own.

  9. Eileen Ternullo
    February 2, 2023 / 7:52 am

    My summer uniform is a a line shirt dress in cotton, espridrilles, and straw bag. My winter uniform is cashmere or merino turtleneck , high waist trousers, waterproof riding boots, and wool pea coat or down coat.
    I don’t prefer separates on my pear shape actually, I would love to switch to jumpsuits or wool dresses, I prefer waisted styles.

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