Have you ever found yourself staring at your wardrobe, looking at all those pieces hanging in there that just don’t seem to go together at all? And you ask yourself, “How do I put an outfit together without spending hours getting ready so I look good and can get on with my day.”
As a personal stylist working 1-on-1 with women, this is such a common challenge that I hear about repeatedly.
These women have a simple desire to look good, but they can’t figure out how to do it quickly and easily. They feel like they have to put in 2 hours to look just ok.
I was in a similar situation when I started working in the fashion industry about 8 years ago. I would regularly go on shopping sprees, buying all these beautiful pieces that seemed to look so amazing in the shops but when I brought them home, they never seemed to look good on me the same way. Consequently, I more or less ended up looking overdressed whenever I’d wear them.
At some stage, I ended up with 20 overtly dressy pieces that were only fit for a black-tie event. And let me tell you, a 20-something-me rarely went to black-tie events.
You know what the problem was?
I thought that if I wore exceptionally stylish pieces, I will always look good. I was wrong.
So, how do you look good without looking overdressed?
How do you wear those “special event” clothes without looking over the top?
How do you look put-together and stylish every day without spending hours trying out 24 different outfits?
Let me introduce you to the High-Low Style Mix technique.
WHAT IS THE HIGH-LOW STYLE MIX
Simply put, it is mixing one part fancy and one part plain to achieve an unexpectedly cohesive look.
If you want to look good, you don’t have to wear expensive clothes top to bottom. You don’t even need to go on a full wardrobe revamp just yet. All you need right now is to learn how to work with the clothes you already have.
Let me explain it further.
The High-Low Style Mix is a simple formula in which you take one part crazy like an embellished silk skirt and one part plain like a plain t-shirt and team them together to give your outfit an unexpected twist.
Let’s look at an example to understand it better:
Flowy Silk Dress (high) + Leather Jacket (low)
Notice how one part of the outfit is a casual printed flowy, frilly dress; something you’d probably not wear with another casual piece to someplace proper. Wear a leather jacket and see the whole outlook change.
When you pair two items of opposing elements, it balances the highs and the lows of both pieces. The raw masculine vibe of the leather jacket balances out the sexy, feminine feel of the flowy silk dress. And you don’t end up looking too rock-chic or too girlish.
The mix of a fancy item with a basic wardrobe piece brings a surprise element that looks considered but not calculated. And this is one of the best-kept secret styling technique of fashion stylists all over the world.
This is a great trick to have under your belt because this will allow you to get extra wear out of those pieces you bought for special occasions.
3 TIPS ON PERFECTING THE HIGH-LOW STYLE MIX
SO YOU ALWAYS LOOK GOOD
Ok, I understand this can get overwhelming because you are thinking how do you figure out what to pair with what. What is fancy and what is casual and how do you know if the outfit you put together will look good?
To help you get started, I put together 3 quick tips you can follow, so you don’t end up looking odd or feeling out of place.
Pick just one of these at a time and practice until you get the hang of it.
1. YOUR 2 FOOLPROOF LOWS
When you can’t figure out what your “low” should be, always opt for a white button-front shirt or a plain white t-shirt. Either of these two will dial your outfit down to a level which is still chic and doesn’t make you look like a fashion disaster.
To learn more about what white shirt to buy and how you can wear the same white shirt to create 5 completely different looks (some of them are perfect High-Low outfits), read my full post here.
A leather jacket is your second foolproof low. Just like a white shirt or a t-shirt, a black leather jacket will always serve as your fallback option for a “low”.
It works exceptionally well with “high” fabrics such as lace, silk, brocade, and velvet. Think of dresses such a satin evening gown, a cocktail dress or a silk slip dress, silk camisoles, brocade or embellished skirts. A leather jacket perfectly balances out the delicate, feminine feel of the soft fabrics and the flowy silhouette of the piece with its worn-out, rough and don’t-mess-with-me vibe.
The above examples are quite extreme. But I have picked them deliberately to show you that these 2 foolproof “lows” will work with even the most extravagantly ornate pieces. So, don’t be scared to pair these with any of your “highs” that you think are over the top. They can’t be more over the top than the gold embroidery and mirror work dress!
2. KEEP IT 50-50
To make sure you do the High-Low Style Mix like a pro, remember to keep a 50:50 ratio for a perfectly balanced outfit.
This simply means that if you are wearing 2 lows, then add 2 highs and vice versa. If you’re wearing a “super high” piece (like the gold-black dress in the above image), keep the rest of your outfit “low”.
Now don’t get too caught up in the exact numbers of how many lows and highs there should be in an outfit. As long as your overall outfit doesn’t outright favour one over the other, you’ll be fine.
Remember to apply this for accessories and footwear too because a crazy shoe with a fancy outfit can throw the whole outfit out of proportion and you will end up looking like you’re trying too hard.
Here’s an example:
In the above image, the maxi dress and the Balenciaga handbag are the “highs”, and the leather jacket and the sneakers are the “lows”. It’s a perfectly balanced outfit that exudes an impossibly cool vibe.
Here’s another example that you could probably try out right now:
White T-shirt & Jeans (Low) + Strappy High Heels & Jewel-trimmed Clutch (High)
3. MIXING PRINTS
This is a topic that calls for its own dedicated post, but there is a simple rule for mixing prints that falls under the High-Low Style Mix that I feel is important to inject some creativity into your style.
When mixing prints, the fail-safe way to look chic is to combine small print (low) with large print (high).
Ideally, you should opt for a solid colour (low) with a printed piece (high). But if you’re feeling bold and adventurous, you can opt for a print on print if they have the same base shade and/or the patterns are of contrasting sizes.
Here are a few examples:
Notice in the first image, the base colour is the same, and the prints are of different size. In the second image, the base colours and the prints are contrasting. And in the last image, the print is the same, and the colour of the top is one of the base colours in the skirt. Even with all their contrasts, all the outfits have a cohesiveness that exudes an element of personal style but is also not over the top.
Quick tip: Polka dot and striped tops are very versatile and would almost always go with most prints and patterns as long as you keep colour contrasts in mind.
Sometimes, leaving out an accessory is also counted as a “low”. You may decide not to carry a handbag or not wear any jewellery, and this is perfectly fine because you are simply dialling down your “high” outfit by going “low” with no accessories.
High-Low Style Mix = Fancy + Plain = Look Amazing!
OUTFIT INSPIRATIONS TO MAKE YOU LOOK AMAZING EVERY DAY
Below are a few combinations to give you a starting point in trying out the High-Low Style Mix.
If you like any of these outfits and would like to wear them as they are, I have provided my recommendations on where to buy similar items from. Style them like the reference images to nail the look. All the pieces are quite versatile, and with the High-Low Style Mix technique, you can be sure that you will get a lot of wear out of each piece. No buyer’s remorse here!
White T-shirt (low) + Leopard-print Skirt (high)
Depending on where you are going or what you’ll be doing, you can either wear sneakers or classic pumps to complete your look.
Satin top (high) + Blue Jeans (low) + Brocade Flats (high) + Mini Shoulder Bag (low)
For a daytime look, I’d recommend opting for flat shoes, so you are comfortable walking around. Throw on a pair of understated strappy heels for an elegant yet effortless style.
Slip Dress (high) + Denim Jacket (low)
I am not a big fan of satin slip dresses in dark colours as such because they feel a bit like nightwear to me. So instead, I’d opt for one in black and white stripes which makes it a bit more casual for day wear.
Notice how there are “highs” and “lows” within the dress: satin and lace being the “high” and classic black and white stripes being the “low”. Pair it with a raw-look denim jacket to achieve that cool-girl vibe.
“ Fashion is what you buy,
Style is what you do with it.”
Ladies, I’m going to repeat myself as many times as I have to but I really want to make sure that you don’t waste any more money on clothes you’d never wear. Looking good is not about wearing expensive or “in” clothes. It’s all about learning how to dress well using the clothes you already have so you look good and feel good.
Have you got a piece that you thought you could never wear again but with this trick you can wear it more often now?
Let me know in the comments below.