3 Is a Magic Number


In You Suck at Getting Dressed, I mentioned that wearing too many colors, patterns, or textures is confusing, but not enough can be boring.  How are you supposed to know when you’re getting it right?

Here’s my rule: the rule of threes.  In any outfit, you can play with three different elements: COLOR, PATTERN, and TEXTURE.  In my experience, three different elements from these categories is usually perfect – any less and you run the risk of being boring, any more and you’re pushing the boundary of tastelessness.

It’s important to note that what you are counting is CONTRASTS, and not the number of items.  Obviously all fabrics have texture, so you start counting with the first one that’s obviously different from the others you’re wearing.  Same with color – neutrals don’t count, only the contrasts.

The Rule of Threes


Let’s say you are wearing an outfit in all one color, with no patterns or prints.  You need 3 different textures to make it work.  For example, a fuzzy angora sweater, shiny patent leather boots, and sparkly jewelry.  Or maybe a knobbly tweed jacket with a leather skirt and a satin blouse.


Mixing up patterns is a frightening prospect for most people (and frankly who can blame them after last season’s awful “trend” of wearing clashing patterns?), but it’s easier than it sounds. The trick is to combine contrasting prints or patterns in matching colors.  In the picture above, I’ve used the easiest one of all, black and white: a checked dress, a zebra hairband, and a houndstooth bag.  The shirt and necklace don’t count as separate elements because they’re black and white – no pattern, no contrasting texture, and they are the colors used in the prints.  The shoes don’t count either, even though they’re 2-tone, for the same reason.


You may have noticed that the example above actually uses FOUR different colors.  The trick is that only 3 of them count because the 4th one is a neutral.  You’re counting the number of contrasts which catch the eye, so colors like beige, white, ivory, camel, grey, taupe, navy, and black don’t count.  Of course, even with the neutrals, you don’t want to wear too many of them or it will look sloppy – stick to 1 or 2, like a white shirt with beige trousers, or a grey t-shirt with black jeans.  Keep your contrasting colors in similar tones – e.g. all brights or all pastels, unless you are very confident with color.  Now, once you’ve added a contrasting color, you can add more of it – as long as the extra piece doesn’t introduce new patterns or textures.  For example, you could add a turquoise ring to the outfit above, or yellow earrings.  They won’t count.

Combining all three

Here’s where it gets fun!  For the more adventurous among you, you can mix all three elements together.  Again, you’re counting the number of contrasts.  In the example above, I’ve mixed two different black-and-white patterns with a contrasting color, red.  Once red is introduced, you can repeat it, so I’ve used a red belt, tights, and shoes.  Now that you’re at the maximum number of contrasts, you must be careful with any additional accessories – jewelry should be minimal (nothing too shiny or sparkly or big), and only in the existing colors of black, white, or red.

A Note on Gold and Silver Jewelry

We usually think of gold or silver jewelry as neutral, and it IS, if it’s small or discreet.  If it catches the eye – say, a charm bracelet or a thick gold chain, then it counts as a texture.  You can always add more of it, like a big gold ring, a gold buckle on your handbag, gold buttons on your jacket to go with the thick gold chain, or long silver earrings and lots of silver rings to go with the silver charm bracelet, but try not to use up your magic 3 with contrasting jewelry.

Voila!  Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or if I haven’t made something clear.  I’d love to see photos of any outfits inspired by this post – you can post them on the facebook page.  Pretty please?  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!



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2 Comments on “3 Is a Magic Number
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