How to use the third piece rule to make any outfit look stylish - Downtown Demure

Style 101: One Simple Rule that Makes Every Outfit Look More Polished

How to use the third piece rule to make any outfit look stylish - Downtown Demure

This is the final post in my Style 101 series. To view other posts in this series, click HERE.

Have you ever seen a photo of a fashion blogger or celeb wearing a simple outfit that still looks polished and thought, “Why does that outfit work SO well”? Some of those women naturally have good style game and can make anything look next level chic (*cough* Olivia Palermo *cough*). The rest of us can use a little trick called the third piece rule.

What’s the third piece rule? It’s a widely used rule of thumb in retail that encourages more nuanced and stylish outfits. It boils down to simple fashion math:

1st piece (top) + 2nd piece (pants) + 3rd layering piece = A perfectly polished look

Here’s a list of third piece items you can incorporate to a basic top + pants combination to take your outfit up a notch:

  1. Outerwear: Jackets, blazers, coats, or vests
  2. Accessories: Statement necklaces, belts, hats, or scarfs
  3. Sweaters or cardigans

(It’s important to note that this formula does not include shoes, but those are obviously critical elements of your outfit as well.)

I’m a fan of simple math, so this rule of thumb is genius to me. Better yet, it’s SUPER easy to implement. In order to illustrate the power of this style trick in real life, here are a few pics illustrating my outfit pre- and post-third piece rule:

Third Piece Rule Example Pic #2- Downtown Demure

Let’s start with a casual black and white outfit. In the before photo, my outfit isn’t very exciting apart from the western style flats with a cool design. And then boom — add a fedora as the third piece (my favorite!), and the second outfit in the after immediately has more style and intrigue. It’s still casual, but it isn’t basic.

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Third Piece Rule Example Pic #1- Downtown Demure

Again, another basic black-and-white outfit that isn’t bad, but it’s missing a little…oomph. Once I add a third piece (the statement necklace) and a fourth piece (the watch), the second outfit immediately looks more polished and office-ready.

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Third Piece Rule Example Pic #3 - Downtown Demure

Finally, here’s a business casual outfit that is heavy on the casual and lacking on the polish. By simply adding a tailored blazer as the third piece, I’m able to transform this casual outfit  into a professional outfit that is far more reflective of my personal style.

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Hopefully these amateur photos of mine show how easy it is to incorporate the third piece rule into your outfits and what a difference it makes. You absolutely do not have to use this rule every time you get dressed to create stylish outfits, but it’s a good trick to know when you need to spice up an outfit quickly!

Now it’s your turn! Try adding a third layering piece to your favorite outfit, and let me know what  you think in the comments below. Better yet, share photos!

You’re Also Going To Love:

If you loved reading tips on how to define your personal style, you’ll also love these posts full of more wardrobe building tips.

       How to Build a Stylish & Affordable Modest Wardrobe   Modest Brand Spotlight: A Review of my 1st eShakti Dress 6 Tips to Find Modest Workout Clothing

Linking up with: More Pieces of Me and On the Daily Express // Style to Inspire // Manic Mondays //Mix It Mondays // Pink Sole // Still Being Molly // Turning Heads Tuesday // Style Elixir // Garay Treasures // Pleated Poppy //Because Shanna Said So //Stylish Housewife // The Wednesday Pants // Style Me Wednesday // Happiness at Mid Life // The Red Closet Diary // Mix Match Fashion // Thursday Fashion Files // High Latitude Style //Friday Favorites // Birdie Shoots // Pumps and Pushups // Because Shanna Said So // Favorite Fashion Friday

Share Your Thoughts

The Comments

  • Avatar
    Victoria / Justice Pirate
    11/17

    I think they all look lovely but I can see how adding those items do add a touch of color and a boost of loveliness! You are gorgeous by the way!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Victoria / Justice Pirate
      11/17

      Thank you, Victoria! You are too sweet!

  • Avatar
    Elizabeth
    11/17

    Yes!! I describe it as “Ooh, that really pulls the whole outfit together!” lol So many times my outfit has looked “blah” and then I add a necklace or a scarf or even a cardigan, and the whole outfit takes on a new look. My mama was trying something on the other day and she said “Nope, this just doesn’t look good on me” and I said “Hang on! Put this necklace on” and it totally changed the outfit! So yes, this is tried and true advice lol

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Elizabeth
      11/17

      Exactly! I’m glad you were able to show your mom the power of the third piece. 🙂 I knew you would appreciate this rule because you already do this with your cute outfits on IG. All it takes is one notable piece to pull an otherwise “blah” outfit together!

  • Avatar
    Alecz
    11/17

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post! Hats, necklaces, and blazers always do the trick when it comes to dressing up and outfit.

    https://forsevenseasons.wordpress.com

  • Avatar
    Shea
    11/17

    You’re so right, I agree completely about a third layering piece adding polish to a look. I sometimes look at an outfit and wonder what’s missing, and my outfit feels more complete when I add a blazer or a scarf or a bold necklace. I love all 3 of these looks too!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Shea
      11/17

      Thank you, Shea! I do the same thing all the time and often land on adding a statement necklace or blazer. Seems we have similar styles!

  • Avatar
    Chelsie
    11/18

    Yessss! I totally agree! The third piece rule is what I live by when I’m looking to jazz up an outfit! It’s amazing how that can totally polish off a look!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Chelsie
      11/19

      Oh, I’ve seen your outfits and I KNOW you are a pro at third piece layering and beyond. Thanks for the love, girl!

  • Avatar
    Brittany Putman
    11/18

    Very interesting. I’ve never heard of the rule of 3 before but it really does make a difference! I’m going to keep this in mind from now on.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Brittany Putman
      11/20

      Thanks, Brittany! I’m a firm believer in this rule, and I’m so glad you agree!

  • Avatar
    Beth McIntire
    11/18

    Amazing how much a simple accessory adds to the outfit! Great photos, too.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Beth McIntire
      11/20

      Thanks, Beth! I’m all for simple accesories that complete an outfit, so thank you for noticing the details. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Chris @ Celebrations At Home
    11/18

    I never thought of that as a “rule” but you are totally right! Third piece is the charm!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Chris @ Celebrations At Home
      11/21

      You’re not alone, Chris! It’s a rule that many know naturally without even recognizing it as a “rule.” And that’s alright! I like to use this rule as a guideline for when I’m stumped on how to complete an outfit. So glad you found it useful!

  • Avatar
    Renee @ Renee Nicole's Kitchen
    11/18

    You are too cute! Thank you for simplifying this for those of us who are fashionably impaired.

  • Avatar
    LaQuinda
    11/18

    Great post. I’m a believer in your rules now!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > LaQuinda
      11/19

      Awww, thanks LaQuinda! Hope to see you back here soon!

  • Avatar
    Dia @ All The Things I Do
    11/18

    First I love any blog that tells me “hello beautiful” lol These outfts are so stylish. It is funny how much of a difference one piece can make!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Dia @ All The Things I Do
      11/19

      Haha! I like you already, Dia! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m clearly a firm believer in the 3rd piece, and I’m so glad you agree that it makes a difference. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Allison Jones
    11/18

    Let me start by saying I love all of your looks! I had never really thought about it, but you are so right! That one extra piece really does make an outfit look that much more polished and put together.

    LiveLifeWell,
    Allison Jones

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Allison Jones
      11/19

      Thanks, Allison! I’m so glad you agree! One piece can truly make (or break) and outfit.

  • Avatar
    Talitha haynes
    11/18

    My go to layer piece is all most always the statement… Whether it’s a necklace or bracelet. Great post

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Talitha haynes
      11/19

      Thanks, Talitha! I tend to default to statement necklaces as well. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Melissa
    11/19

    LOVE this post! I can’t wait to check out your whole series. Great outfits and you are so pretty!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Melissa
      11/20

      Thank you, Melissa! Your sweet comment just made my day!

  • Avatar
    Christa
    11/20

    I love simple math. I think I usually just make it all too complicated. Thanks for the great tips!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Christa
      11/20

      I love simple math (and simple fashion) too, Christa! So glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Avatar
    Sara
    11/23

    Amazing post! Really great tip! Love your outfits as well 🙂

    I recommend you take a look at the new online fashion marketplace called Stylewhile. They have very edgy and modern fashion and you can style your own outfits on a doll. The styling opportunity makes the whole experience so much more fun and you can really see what type of clothes goes with the product you like!

    Link: http://www.stylewhile.com

    xx

  • Avatar
    Unashamed Beauty
    11/25

    I’m all for the third piece rule. It can transform any simple look!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Unashamed Beauty
      11/28

      Agreed! Thanks so much for reading, dear!

  • Avatar
    Rachel
    11/28

    Love this, it is amazing what an added third piece can do (as I am learning every day I try to create an outfit).
    Thank you for linking up to “Bloggers Who Have Inspired Me”
    Rachel xo
    Garay Treasures

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Rachel
      11/28

      I can tell! You’re working the third piece rule weel, my friend. THanks for stopping by!

  • Avatar
    Lydia Dickson
    11/30

    Oh my! This seems like something everyone should know almost instinctively, yet I never thought about it before today. You seriously just blew my mind! Thank you!

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Lydia Dickson
      12/02

      Well, your sweet comment just made my day! Thank you for reading, Lydia!

  • Avatar
    Ginger Wroot
    12/01

    Wow, what a wonderful post! I think your photos clearly get across the impact of that critical “third” piece to add polish and chicness to an outfit.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Ginger Wroot
      12/02

      Thank you, Ginger! I’m delighted to hear the photos are effective!

  • Avatar
    Erin Rebar
    12/01

    What a great tip! I’m definitely trying this soon. 🙂 One problem I always have is that I have a lot of basic pieces, but have little to no layering pieces. I’m wanting to build up my collection (slowly because I’m a broke college student), but am not really sure how to start. Do you have any suggestions as to what you would consider the most essential/helpful layering pieces?

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Erin Rebar
      12/02

      I’m so glad you found this post helpful, Erin! I’d say essential layering pieces are 1) classic (not trendy) statement necklaces or dainty jewelry, 2) Hats (if fedoras are too masculine or severe for your style, consider floppy hats in neutral colors that can be worn year round), and 3) a leather jacket or blazer (I highly recommend buying quality outerwear, so you should save up for those purchases). If you live in a climate that is mostly cold year round, I also suggest investing in a sleek coat that you can wear for many years. Zara has some excellent options! Hope that helps, Erin! If you need more suggestions, check out this post I did on similar topic: https://downtowndemure.com/2015/01/08/build-stylish-modest-wardrobe-budget-70-target-gift-card-giveaway/.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth
      > Erin Rebar
      12/02

      I’m so glad you found this post helpful, Erin! I’d say essential layering pieces are 1) classic (not trendy) statement necklaces or dainty jewelry, 2) Hats (if fedoras are too masculine or severe for your style, consider floppy hats in neutral colors that can be worn year round), and 3) a leather jacket or blazer (I highly recommend buying quality outerwear, so you should save up for those purchases). If you live in a climate that is mostly cold year round, I also suggest investing in a sleek coat that you can wear for many years. Zara has some excellent options! Hope that helps, Erin! If you need more suggestions, check out this post I did on similar topic: https://downtowndemure.com/2015/01/08/build-stylish-modest-wardrobe-budget-70-target-gift-card-giveaway/.

  • Avatar
    Fébé
    02/09

    This is a really cool tip!
    After reading this I all of a sudden noticed that whenever saw an outfit that I particularly admired, it was usually following this third piece rule!

    I have one question though, what about dresses? Sometimes an outfit made up of only one piece looks really great!
    Is it perhaps more of an “odd number of pieces” rule?