Formula dressing

Dee's recent thread on adopting what she called my formula of stripes and wide legs (which was itself a version of Angie's suggested "unexpected spring tweed jacket outfit -- not a formula, per se, since she gave variations) has me thinking, what actually counts as a formula? 

Is it a combination of types of pieces, i.e. jeans + tee + moto? 

Or is it more specific, yet still somewhat generic, e.g. wide legged denim plus striped tee?

Or is it more about silhouette, i.e. long over lean or short and boxy over wide? 

Or is it about picking specific items in one's own closet and wearing the outfit one creates with those multiple times a season?  

I guess in a way it's all semantics -- maybe formula dressing could be any or all of those! 

But if you asked me whether I'm a formula dresser, I'd probably say no because I don't think "okay, today I'm doing boxy over cropped" (or whatever) or "today I'm doing jeans + tee + moto."

On the other hand, I very definitely find outfits I like from the stuff I have plus whatever new piece or pieces I've added, and wear those multiple times within a season. For instance, I have already worn the outfit below at least three times in the last month-- double denim, simple navy top, floral scarf (when needed) belt. (That little rolled bundle in my arms is my packable puffer for the colder evening temps.) The jeans are new -- the rest of the stuff is seasons old. 

I know some of the capsule wardrobe people conceive of formula dressing in one or another of these ways. And it might be helpful when you are building a wardrobe to decide on certain silhouettes or type of item you've going to emphasize and think about how to make outfits from those.

I'm not sure, for me, the first version I mention (jeans + tee + moto, i.e. A type of item, + B type of item, plus C type of item) would be useful in any real way because if the devil is in the details, then you can't just throw on any jeans with any tee and any moto -- it won't work! 

One of the weaknesses or problems with my type of formula dressing, if you can call it that, is that I get quite wedded to the combos I like, and when something wears out or gets tired, I can look for a direct replacement rather than evolving to a newer shape -- usually because that newer shape won't work in the old combination. Over time, this can lead to a feeling of being in a style rut. 

How do you conceive of formula dressing and whether you consider yourself a formula dresser or not, and why?   

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Jaime replied 8 months ago

    Very philosophical Suz! You could go a lot of way with defining the formula by its components, but as you say so well: the devil is in the details, then you can't just throw on any jeans with any tee and any moto. Maybe the formula is just a jumping off point to try new things together rather than a dressing solution in itself.
    I think I tend to think in a more functional way - reliable shoes with experimental bottoms. Or else in terms of silhouette - shorter tops with higher bottoms.  Or maybe in terms of time - vintage jacket with current jeans. Or round earrings with boxy jackets. But is this really formula dressing or just hacks?
    Ok, I will come back to this later, I am going off on a tangent :) !

  • Dee replied 8 months ago

    In the case of your inspiration Suz, the formula I noted was:

    Wide leg jeans + striped top + cropped jacket + belt = great outfit

    I think that all these elements put together help create a cohesive look that anyone could use with some success when wearing say, wider jeans but its obviously not the only formula that can be used.

    And you're right, there are so many facets to a fashion formula like the colour palette, the silhouette, patterns, accessories etc .. but when I see a great outfit that I feel suits my style, then I am going to tease out those specific elements and try formulating them out so I can use them to help create the look for myself.

  • LJP replied 8 months ago

    I had been thinking about this today too , as I noted in Dee’s thread . To me it’s akin to , say , dressy pants , print blouse , modern- silhouette jacket and classic shoes . Or , denim , knitwear top , trench / anorak and sneakers . The variations come in each piece : denim can be wide , slim , cropped , whatever . Knitted too can be a sweater or a tshirt , oversize or fitted , and the sneakers can be any variation of same . That to me is uniform dressing , and any of the pieces within that uniform can be mixed and worn with others . It does remind me a bit of my old colour capsule method of dressing , where I had a rolling rack holding all of my ( for example ) olive , white and navy pieces . Same idea , two different ways to do it .

  • slim cat replied 8 months ago

    I'd say for me it's the need to have a topper in the outfit. Like for summer - midi skirt, tank top and collared shirt worn openly with cuffed 
    ( rolled ) sleeves ( maybe tired on the front ).
    Or - cropped jeans, tee and opened short sleeved shirt. 
    Or - camisole, shorts and cropped shirt ( vacation only ).
    Of course for work it's a jacket or recently - moto jacket with trouser pants with graphic tee, or wide leg jeans/silky short sleeved blouse.
    I couldn't update my pants/jeans until recent wide leg jeans that I try with my jackets - the shorter jacket the better proportions. 
    I often add new short sleeved top from inexpensive place ( like Marshall's ) to add some freshness to my repeated outfits. 

  • Bijou replied 8 months ago

    A formula I often wear is a dress with sandals, sneakers or boots and a topper if the weather requires. This does not feel boring to me, because I appreciate the subtle changes in the types of dresses that I wear and how they work in combination with changes in the types of toppers, belts, footwear, accessories and bags that I put them with. Most people would not see a shift in my style from year to year, but it becomes more evident over a 5 year period.

    I consider myself a formula dresser as there is a consistency in my style. A recent purchase is this t-shirt dress, the drama comes from the length and cut of the dress. Adding items like this keeps the fun in dressing for me. I'll laugh with people when they say "Where's Wally". This is how I plan to wear this dress when the weather cools down.

  • Runcarla replied 8 months ago

    I think of formula dressing as similar/identical items mixed and matched to create a specific silouhette (like the example given by Dee) and…

    … I had identical style jeans in blue and in white, 4 identical V-neck t-shirts in blue, white, charcoal, and black and 2 trucker style jackets in blue and in tan.  I could pick 1 item from each clothing category and create an outfit with an identical silouhette in 16 different colour combinations.

    I see uniform dressing less about silouhette, but more about a favoured aspect of a garment like: jeans and T’s - but different silouhettes, or limited colour signiture - like black and white.  

    Just my thoughts…no right or wrong…

  • Sal replied 8 months ago

    I don’t think I am particularly a formula dresser - within a week I might wear jeans once, a dress once, trousers twice and gear all day another day.

    In mid winter I have less options and I tend to wear lots of - sweater and scarf and jeans and boots with a coat. It’s a bit boring but it works from June to August.

  • Kate replied 8 months ago

    I consider myself a formula dresser. My favorite forumulas, in no particular order: high-waisted balloon or barrel leg pants with short jackets; high-waisted skinny jeans/pants or flares + sweater in a  column of color with either a contrasting topper or possibly a triple column of color. Accessories may be contrasting...or not. Or, dress over skinny jeans or flares. Dress is always a solid color, either above the knee, or very long, like a sweater dress. Depends on my mood. 

  • rachylou replied 8 months ago

    I think I’m a formula dresser now because I like to wear the same silhouette every day, which is basically skinnies and waist-length top and mid-calf boots or sneakers and an ankle-length coat. I don’t like mixing it up with oh say a long over lean look. Although, if it weren’t so rainy and cold still, I might throw in a wide-leg look once or twice a month.

    This is entirely different from when I worked in a corporate environment, where I never wore the same silhouette twice.

    I do think to be a formula, one has to be somewhat specific about the items… like you can’t reduce things to ‘top + bottom’ and call that a formula. Ahem, which silly thought I’ve had before. Lol :)

  • Olive Green replied 8 months ago

    I think a formula, for me, is when I get a few items and duplicate, a lot like Runcarla’s formula. So I have a lot of duplicate cotton shorts and capris for summer in same or different colours, worn with tshirts that are duplicate style  in different colours, with washable sandals. This solves the long, hot, summer problem of frequent laundering and any bottlenecks. 
     If going into air conditioning or to the stores, can change out the sandals and throw a slightly oversized button down shirt on over the T”s.
    If being more formal, I just wear some light pants, also duplicated. 
    Winterit consists of 100 percent cotton wide jeans, or Uniqlo joggers, paired with long sleeve t and a quilted vest or sweatshirt. 
    What keeps it fresh for me is changing up the colours, from tone on tone to colour blocking. Hot pink and orange…olive and khaki.
    I am open to dresses and have a few long casual ones to wear over pants or capris in the summer, almost never worn alone as one piece. 
    Suz, you have very recognizable proportions in your clothes, and a strong palette and point of view, so that might be a uniform? But a lot of variation, so…

  • Star replied 8 months ago

    My formula is straight jeans/cords, tissue turtle neck, knit turtle neck and coat for winter.  The weights of the knit and the coat vary with the temperature.  This is what I wear October to April.  Boring!!

  • Tanya replied 8 months ago

    I am not a formula dresser, as I like too many different things.  However, I find thinking about formulas very helpful, especially when it comes to silhouettes, or more specifically cuts of the items that go well together.

    For example, this season I really have a sugar eye for full length wide pants/jeans, so I analyzed possible outfit combos.   To me such pants need either a short relaxed jacket, like in your formula, or a very long oversized blazer, like '90s.   If short jacket, than there are several options for tops, like a simple fitted tucked in top, like your tees, or the extreme of long top like button down worn untucked for proportion play, or maybe a short boxier top that matches the jacket.  I am actually planning to post an outfit-lab type of post for wide pants specifically.

    So, for me, the formulas would be something like:
    wide pants+ short jacket+ simple fitted tucked in top/tee,
    wide pants + short jacket+ long untucked oversized shirt, etc.

  • RobinF replied 8 months ago

    My work day formula would be: straight leg pants, simple short sleeve top, cardigan, boots. I wear this most days, even in summer but the top would be nicer so I could remove the sweater if I get warm. Oh and not boots in the summer :)

  • cat2 replied 8 months ago

    No, I like variety in silhouette.

  • Angie replied 8 months ago

    Suz, I think this:

    "I guess in a way it's all semantics -- maybe formula dressing could be any or all of those!"

    Looking super on trend and fab in your double denim :)

    I for sure have my own outfit formulas and repeat exact outfits! But I like variety and am a mood dresser - much like Tanya. I have NO IDEA what I will wear on a day until I've showered - unless I am on a trip and my outfits are planned ahead. I love that bit of creative un-known!

    But like you Suz, I have loose formulas that showcase variety along with their similarities. For example:

    • Trendy bottoms, eyewear and toppers. More classic on top. Bags and pearls are classic too. Shoes are usually one of three things: boots, fashion sneakers, loafers. 
    • Colour-blocked: dressy pants + dressy knitwear + boots + dressy wool coat + structured bag. Jewellery is always the same. 
    Have to run! Back later....

  • Runcarla replied 8 months ago

    Still musing on the idea of formula dressing and the components that make it possible.  I’ve realized I have a lot of ‘duplicates, but not identical’ that facilitate formula dressing.  (See finds for a selection). Even things that aren’t ‘identical’ are similar - crew neck merino is similar to cotton sweaters, and fluid fit button downs in other fabrications share a silhouette with flannel tops.

    At the moment there are no duplicate pants, though there are some shared shapes (fluid fit, cropped).  Even my two skirts share a commonality - floaty pleats!  

    It’s interesting to look at the outliers and muse about what they mean for my style.  Sometimes they mix in well (like wide, fluid pants) but other times they are more of a styling challenge (like mandarin collar poplin button down).  I would say that I lean heavily into formula dressing!

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Thanks, all -- this is great food for thought! What I'm taking from this is that people do indeed mean different things when they talk about formula dressing and that some of us may dress to a formula without really planning or intending to. This might be me, in fact -- as I tend to focus on the day's mood and needs and outfit for that without consciously considering a formula. Meanwhile, others, like Tanya, think or plan in advance with seasonal or perhaps signature formulas in mind. And broadly, that's what I'm doing as well this season with my "Laid-back luminous garçonne does off-kilter utility pretty" theme -- the theme is not exactly a formula but it suggests a bunch of different formulae. 

    Meanwhile, Carla used the word "uniform" and a couple of others brought it up. I'd say "uniform" dressing is a little different from "formula" dressing in that it involves the exact same pieces repeated multiple times (maybe? or maybe not? in different colours?) 

    Dee, I think the wide legs/ striped top looks great on you! And you (or I) could (and no doubt will, lol) repeat it a bunch of different ways since we like stripes and we like wide legs and it fits our overall style. 

    OTOH, stripes are not for everyone, but a person who hated stripes could create her own version with wide legs + plain or floral or other patterned tee. As Tanya suggests,  and as your own examples demonstrate it's more the silhouette (tucked top, wide legs, short jacket) than the specifics -- e.g. stripes/ tweed. 

    OK. I am getting my head around this more. I think, in the end, I do dress in formulas in the sense that I favour specific silhouettes or proportions (thanks, Olive Green) -- even though I don't consciously think about this when dressing. But on a day to day basis I'm just going with my mood so it doesn't feel like a formula, exactly. 

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Carla, I'd agree with you on all of that. Also, great idea to look at the outliers and ask what makes them tricky to incorporate. And whether that's something to address or not. 

  • Runcarla replied 8 months ago

    Suz - I’m thinking of the outliers as experiments and growth beyond a set comfort zone.  Some work and some don’t.  

  • DonnaF replied 8 months ago

    There’s uniform dressing, formula dressing, and I guess signature looks? For me, that would be seeing an outfit and saying, “That looks like X”. For example, if I saw a colorful outfit with pearls and white flats, I’d say, “That’s Angie!”

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Yes, Donna, that's absolutely true. So a signature for me would be striped top, floral or paisley scarf, silver accessories. Also, blue and white. For you, black and white and silver. Of course we both wear outfits that include none of those components but we often wear a look that includes those. Our short hair is also signature to us. Your cool specs to you. 

    Carla, I agree -- the outliers tend to be experiments that either take off and become wildcard workhorses (and help us evolve our style...) or duds that we just can't work in, no matter how much we want to or how much we try. That's for people like us, with a fairly classic style overall, I guess. I don't know if this would be true for those whose style is less rooted in modern classics. 

  • Runcarla replied 8 months ago

    I think Donna nailed it with her first sentence.  

  • Bonnie replied 8 months ago

    I love Angie's Outfit Formula series and it is so interesting to see how people use the formula and come up with "unique to them" outfits. I use formulas but have lots of them for variety. 

  • jussie replied 8 months ago

    That’s a beautiful outfit Suz.
    I love the idea of formulas, and sometimes try to create them. My old , now retired, winter formula was a slim jean, print tee tucked in, long open cardi over the top, with a statement shoe. Then I would have a long puffer for outdoors that co-ordinated with the colours. It worked quite well.
    However that formula is not my go to anymore, as I’ve passed on my slim fit jeans, and several of my cardis.
    Sometimes now I like wearing a balloon sleeve top or shirt (long balloon sleeve I mean) with a gilet over the top. I have a couple of variations of this, and wear it with simple jean or trouser bottoms, and a statement shoe. It’s a nice statement and a good silhouette.

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Ooh, I like the sounds of that, Jussie. 

    As you reported, I just realized that a former formula of mine was just like yours -- slim jean, long cardigan, statement shoe, and either tee or in my case, more often, button front shirt. Hmmm. I guess maybe the wide legs/ cropped jacket is my update. 

  • Jonesy replied 8 months ago

    Interesting, and I love the WIW you posted, Suz! I guess I sometimes dress in a formulaic kind of way (e.g., I've been very into blazer + button down + slouchy pants + booties this fall and winter) but I don't think of it as a formula, lol.

  • Dee replied 8 months ago

    I too don’t see formula dressing as the same as uniform dressing. 

    To me, uniform dressing would be creating a wardrobe that is worn in pretty much the same way all the time, like Steve Jobs did, or President Obama with his grey and blue suits.

    With formula dressing, you combine specific clothes in a particular way order to create a certain look, such as a  column of colour, long over lean or layers on layers.

    ETA: However, if you wear the same formula all the time, I would consider that uniform dressing.

  • Irina replied 8 months ago

    How I think of the difference:
    I used to wear a uniform of a turtleneck cashmere sweater and wool dress pants. My second uniform was a crew neck cashmere sweater and wool dress pants. The sweaters were in the same cut but in different colors. The pants were in a similar cut. I got bored after a couple of seasons. 

    I now wear a formula of an oversized sweater and shorter wide leg bottoms. The sweaters are long, average or cropped. The bottoms are cropped or culottes.  It is a same silhouette - volume over volume achieved by different means. 
    Another example - my summer formula is oversized, long dresses. Two of them are shirt dresses and although they have different length sleeves, they could be considered a uniform. 

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Irina, that is interesting. Thank you. I do see the distinction you are trying to draw. The formula allows for slightly more variation than the uniform. Makes sense. 

    That's more or less what you are saying, too, Dee

    That makes a lot of sense. 

    And Jonesy, maybe we are similar that way -- we are dressing to a formula without necessarily calling it that or being conscious of it. Hmmm. 

    I guess in the past my winter formula might have been slim crops, semi-tucked sweater, boots, scarf, (blazer, maybe) and topper (coat) with scarf (probably). 

    I'm not sure I have as clear a formula now and my summer formula has never been as clear or consistent. 

    Well, more thinking to do! 

  • Zaeobi replied 8 months ago

    I have not yet read the other replies but everyone has a formula of some sort - unless their wardrobe consists solely of closet orphans & statement pieces!

    The exact nature of your formula will depend on which parameters you keep constant or not in your closet (the dependent & independent variables, if you will :P Ok ok maybe I need to lay off my MA readings, now that I'm applying them to fashion lol...) But hear me out!

    I like to vary my colours but my silhouettes are much more static (sure, I may have a few wildcards in my closet, but I generally do a cropped/ slim top(per) with high-rise fuller bottoms OR long over lean). So my formula would usually start with the colours I want to wear that day (e.g. neutral + midtone for work VS (neutral/ 2 midtones + pop of colour for less formal occasions).

    I'm sure many other people start with the silhouette first, but not me because I know that's not my weakness - instead I have to watch out for my innate need to dress like a colourful, jangling magpie on days when I shouldn't be blinding everyone inside a classroom or constantly clacking against a keyboard whenever I type, lol :P

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Sooo interesting, Zaeobi! I wonder if Angie is a bit similar...she dresses by mood and colour is often the first thing on her mind. Hmmm. Worth pondering....

    My wardrobe is more neutrals heavy (denim, navy, white, grey/ silver) and while I respond emotionally to colour and crave it, and keep saying I want to incorporate more into my closet, I tend to use neutral + neutral + ONE colour in almost all outfits except where there is a patterned item that includes more than one colour. But even there, it usually includes my neutral background. Hmmmm. 

  • phoebe replied 8 months ago

    I think of myself as a true formula dresser because with each season, of which I count at least six, I create a complete outfit that I will enjoy wearing for a couple months, with enough variation provided by color and fabric.

    Activity + preferences = outfit

    To me, you are more of a "recurring theme" dresser

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Phoebe, that is fascinating and an interesting distinction! 

    So you prepare in advance, and wear essentially the same outfit (or silhouette, I guess? ) for the season! Wow. I'm finding it so interesting how different people manage their closets. I am not that organized in advance....

  • Jenni NZ replied 8 months ago

    I’m not sure if I have a formula, unless slim pants and top and cardigan or jacket and shoes counts? I have never got into the wide leg pants and can’t see it happening.
    I certainly don’t plan that way. I am much more driven by colour and also comfort. I mostly choose my daily outfit in the morning after my shower, like Angie. Occasionally I think about it the night before.
    Do you think I have a formula?

  • Suz replied 8 months ago

    Jenni, that's a good question. I guess in the past it might have been long over lean (if you go by silhouette) or a dress/ skirt outfit. 

    Another way of thinking of your formula (if you have one) might be eclectic/ interesting shoe plus -- whatever! 

    I do think you like to include several items with significant detailing in them, so maybe your shoe and a patterned pant or top or a top with some textural interest. That might count as some kind of formula. 

    I guess even that old mantra: colour/ pattern/ texture/ shine might be a formula of sorts. 

    Hmmm. It's tricky, right? 

    I feel like you -- I don't think I have a formula. -- i just get up in the morning and put on what feels best -- but then again, I do tend to wear a few core silhouettes, as Jonesy said she does. The silhouettes do vary over time (in my case) because I like to play with proportions more than colour. I stick with a fairly limited palette. 

  • Jenni NZ replied 8 months ago

    Thank you Suz! I think your insight into my penchant for detail is absolutely right and I had not realised it myself.
    I don’t usually choose the shoes first, although I have sometimes done so. I bear in mind which shoes I am trying to increase wears on. But that’s getting off the topic of formula dressing :)

  • suntiger replied 8 months ago

    I can think of a couple formulas/uniforms I've been wearing a lot this winter.
    Jeans, black top, black booties, black leather jacket.
    Black pants, black top, snake booties, camel maxi coat.

    A typical summer one would be- column of black (dress or sleeveless top + skirt), cognac sandals, cognac bag

    Yes it's a lot of black- but I have a variety of silouettes and some of the pieces have texture.
    TBH I have not found a non neutral combo that works that well for me lately.

  • Janet replied 8 months ago


    I don’t think of myself as a formula dresser, as I have a large wardrobe and enjoy variety. However, if I sat and looked at a collection of what I wear from day to day, I expect that certain formulas would emerge. I think these sort of unconscious formulas that we may not even be aware of are the key to our fast fallback, tried and true outfits that we can grab and assemble in a hurry. For instance, for me: wide or flare jeans with sneakers or boots, a tee and a jacket, when I want to feel polished and refined but casual.

  • Zaeobi replied 8 months ago

    Ahh, now see your 'neutral + neutral' may be the same as my 'neutral + midtone' (since technically chocolate & camel browns are the only true neutrals in my closet, but I'll pair them with plum/ teal/ orange midtones without feeling that counts as a 'colour'). I have to remind myself not everyone is quite that zany & limit it to just that at work!) :P

    The fact that you don't plan your outfits ahead of time means you have more freedom to frequently change up your silhouettes than I do - I hang my outfits for the week on the back of my door. Even if I don't stick to all of those exact pieces each day (I might swap parts out depending on weather/ laundry etc), I usually don't change the entire outfit on each hook. In other words, the new pieces have to work with what's already there (which usually means it has to fit a predetermined silhouette - unless I have extra time that morning...)

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