Lessons from My Outfit Journal – Re-Working a Problematic Look

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have been maintaining an outfit journal since summer 2014.  In this journal, I write down what I wore, where I wore it, my feelings about the outfit, and what I could change in order to improve the look.  I also rate all of my outfits on a scale of 1-10, and I’ve noticed that my percentage of “9” and “10” ensembles have steadily increased over the months that I’ve been keeping my journal.  It only takes a few moments each day, but the benefits have been well worth the effort.

Style journal

Keeping an outfit journal has helped me improve my style.

The notes about what I would improve upon in future outfit iterations have proved to be the most beneficial part of the process.  Sometimes just switching out one piece can add a point or two to an outfit’s rating and have me feeling much more confident in what I’m wearing.   These changes generally happen rather organically, as I tend to remember what went wrong in a look without having to go back and refer to my journal.   The simple act of writing down my feelings has led me to make subtle shifts in how I dress that have added up to increased satisfaction over time.

Occasionally, however, I will take the time to go back and re-work lower rated outfits based upon the notes I jotted down in my outfit journal.  I thought it might be interesting and helpful for me to document this process in a blog post.  For the outfit I’ll be focusing on today, I also solicited feedback in my private Facebook group about what could be done to improve my look.  I received some excellent suggestions, many of which I tried out during my outfit re-work session.

A “Ho-Hum” Ensemble

I wore the outfit below to a doctor’s appointment last week.  I was running late, so I didn’t have much time to pull myself together.  As I often do, I selected one piece that I wanted to build my ensemble around.  In this case, it was my grey boots, which haven’t received much wear this year, as I tend to reach for my black and burgundy boots far more often.   I was also feeling bloated, so I grabbed a looser-fitting pair of boot-cut jeans in favor of my more fitted and slimmer pairs.

The resulting ensemble was what stylist Bridgette Raes refers to as a “chicken outfit,” in that it was rather bland and lacked excitement.  While the sleeves of the cardigan are embellished and provide some visual interest, I needed more than that to prevent my look from being boring and uninspired.   Also, if I got hot and removed the cardigan, the outfit was even less interesting.  For that reason, I suffered through being too warm when I ran a few errands after my appointment.

grey cardigan "chicken outfit"

I wasn’t happy with this outfit from last week, especially without the cardigan.

Outfit Journal Entry

Here’s what I wrote about the outfit in my journal later that evening:

  • I didn’t like my outfit as much as usual.
  • I like the color scheme and the accessories and even all of the individual pieces, but I felt the resulting look was too baggy and conservative.
  • I wonder if grey is not a good color for me and if perhaps it washes me out.
  • I’m getting tired of open cardigans and don’t really like them with boot-cut jeans anymore.

I rated the outfit a “7” out of 10, whereas most of my recent ensembles have been “9”s and “10”s.  I had quite a few ideas for how I could improve the look:

  • Wear slimmer jeans with the cardigan (I knew that when I put it on, but I was bloated and felt the boot-cut jeans would be more comfortable).
  • Wear a vest or a shorter jacket with the tee and jeans instead of the long cardigan.
  • Wear a necklace so the outfit would look better and more “finished” if I took off the cardigan.
  • Try my light striped cardigan instead of the grey one.
  • Try my grey Mary Jane pumps instead of the boots.

Suggestions from the Facebook Group

As I mentioned above, I also asked for feedback from my private Facebook group on how I could improve upon my outfit.  Although some of their ideas mirrored what I had written in my journal, here are some additional suggestions that I received:

  • Wear a shorter cardigan, moto jacket, or mixed media jacket instead of the long cardigan.
  • Wear a scarf so the outfit would look more exciting with or without the cardigan.
  • Try a layered look by wearing an interesting piece under the simple tee (e.g. a lace-trimmed top that would peek out below).
  • Try a textured solid top or a print that would look more interesting on its own.
  • What about a field or anorak jacket instead of the cardigan?
  • Try a light jacket that is a bit shorter than my top.
  • Incorporate more color contrast between my top and the cardigan (the grey and the green are too close in tone and neither one “pops”).
  • Try a shawl as a topper as an alternative to the long cardigan.
  • Wear attention-grabbing shoes to add visual interest to the outfit.

These were all such great ideas!   I also received some very specific styling options from a group member who is shaped similarly to me, which I appreciated as well.

The “Outfit Lab”

Armed with my own notes and the suggestions from the group, I spent some time in my closet last Saturday putting together alternate looks.   I started by adding a necklace, switching the jeans or shoes for something else, or both.   Here are a few of the outfits I created through those simple substitutions, all of which I liked better than my original ensemble:

simple substitution outfits

       I made a few simple swaps to create these new and better outfits. 

I then got more creative and changed out additional items from the original outfit.   In many cases, I eliminated the grey altogether in favor of my most loved neutral, black. Although I definitely could have switched out the green tee for another color as well, for the purposes of this experiment I kept the base of the outfit the same, the tee and jeans (although I did use a slimmer pair of jeans in some of the new looks).

I didn’t love all of the outfits I put together in the “outfit lab,” but many of them were a lot better than my original look.   What’s more, I tried out some new silhouettes that I haven’t really worn before and found that I liked a lot of them.   Here are some of the new combinations that I put together (please ignore the wrinkled tee in some of the pictures – I was making changes quickly and didn’t always straighten it out!):

alternate outfits 1-4

alternate outfits 5-8

alternate outfits 9-12

I definitely like some of the above looks more than others. I prefer the outfits with the slimmer jeans over the boot-cuts and I like the other cardigans more than the original.  I also like the vest ensembles, as well as the one which incorporates the mixed-media jacket.   I look forward to wearing some of these new outfits soon.

What About Scarves?

While I didn’t try on any outfits with scarves, here are a few recent ensembles that I liked which included solid tops with scarves, three of which also feature wider-legged pants. The second outfit includes a jacket that’s a bit shorter than the tee, which was another suggestion from a group member.

solid tops with scarves outfits

Here are some solid tops with scarves outfits I’ve worn and liked recently.

The Problem of Oversaturation

My less loved outfit and the resulting re-work session in my closet confirmed that it’s not a good idea to buy too many of the same types of items.  There are at least two important reasons for this. First, we can become tired of a particular style or silhouette and then not know what to do with the many such pieces we own.  Secondly, we often end up with outfits that are too similar looking, which can lead to wardrobe boredom and dissatisfaction.

Another blogger, Mo of MOderate Wardrobe, came up with what she calls the “rule of three” to help mitigate the oversaturation that many of us experience. She suggests that for new trends or silhouettes, we stick to one dark neutral, one light neutral, and one color or pattern.  In my case, I might vary that a bit and select one dark neutral, one color, and one pattern, but the basic rule is the same. I really wish I would have done this with my long waterfall-style cardigans, as I definitely have oversaturation going on there.  Live and learn, but I’m sharing this tip here so that some of you won’t have to learn this lesson the hard way.

Conclusion and Your Thoughts

I know it can be hard to find the time to “play” in our closets like I did last weekend, but a little can go a long way.  I think it’s valuable to invest some effort in shopping our own wardrobes before immediately running out to buy new pieces whenever we experience closet ennui.  Although I did end up making notes of a few things to buy (e.g. an anorak jacket and a few textured or asymmetrical tops), I found that I already own many of the necessary components for improving upon a ho-hum look.   I finished my “outfit lab” time feeling more satisfied with my wardrobe and less compelled to shop right away.  As a result of playing in my closet, I feel better able to put together highly rated outfits and more prepared to shop for the right key pieces to vary my look moving forward.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

  • Do you keep an outfit journal and/or take photos of your ensembles?
  • If so, what do you learn from that process?
  • Do you periodically take time to “play” in your closet and put new outfits together?
  • What do you do in order to maximize your wardrobe and improve upon your style?

I’d love to get your thoughts on the above questions, as well as on anything else you’d like to share.   Have a wonderful weekend!  I’ll be back next week with my “useful links” for March (see previous installments here), as well as a fun guest post on an alternate approach to capsule wardrobe dressing.

28 thoughts on “Lessons from My Outfit Journal – Re-Working a Problematic Look

  1. I do keep an outfit journal of some sort – only by rating and noting what would have worked better. I have found that wearing too many colours look confusing on me (with a low-medium colour contrast). I play all the time and hardly ever wear the same outfit twice. And never oversaturate thanks to my calendar since my buys are so scattered I’m not likely to want a similar item once it comes around.

    One thing puzzles me about your first outfit, Debbie – not once have you tucked your t-shirt? That is a great way to change things up…

    • I’m not one to tuck my shirts, Mette, as I am very short-waisted and it always seems to make me look like I have very little torso. It could work with lower-rise jeans and a belt, though. I tried on my friend’s belt once and she thought it looked good (my eye often takes a while to adjust to new looks). I don’t have a jeans belt, but was planning on getting one and trying to make tucking work. I often like the look on others and I know I should take advantage of my smaller waist while I have it!

      I know you are very adventurous with your outfits and I think that’s great and your very varied wardrobe that is not too large is an inspiration to me. I can tell that your calendar is really helping you, plus your attention to detail and paying attention to what might work better is paying off. I found it helpful to do this type of troubleshooting exercise and I will likely do it again. I decided to show a bunch of outfits, including some that I didn’t like, as an illustration of how helpful it can be to play in our closets and try out different looks.

  2. This is very interesting. I don’t take much time to do this myself and clearly I should. I personally like the outfits with more contrast like the striped and leopard cardigans as the others feel very dark to me (the shoes/sandals lighten it up some). I also noticed all your necklaces are short – a longer necklace, or even some layered ones could work, particularly with the longer toppers. (It would mimic the scarf shape in jewelry form). You can also change up the way you tie your scarves to mix it up even more. I have several cardigans like your gray one, but am finding I’m now preferring things that are more fitted. You’ve done a lot of the work for me as I have similar pieces in my own closet. This was a very timely and helpful post – again!

    • I think you should definitely give this type of exercise a try, Lisa, as I found it very helpful. I prefer things to be more fitted these days, too, at least on one half of the outfit. The original outfit was too baggy all over and I felt like it drowned me a bit. I actually have quite a few long necklaces, too, and took a few pictures with those as well. I just didn’t show everything I tried in this post (I think I had over 40 photos of various alternatives!). I agree that a long necklace would look nice with the outfit. As for scarves, I need to vary the way I wear them more. I am often in a hurry, so I resort to a few standard ties, but I know there are literally hundreds of variations out there. Another thing to play with! I’m glad you found this post helpful.

  3. I love the cardigan with the green/black color block. It fits you so well. You don’t need to always wear the long cardis.
    It would be confusing to have too many similar things; I would give some away so that you do match the three’s a charm idea. You exhibit a lot of patience in these journals and comparison try-ons. We would all benefit from that, but maybe doing it in the dressing room before buying would help even more. I wish I had your patience and persistence. Keep up the good work. You are looking good and I hope feeling well. I am positive you are helping many readers, and I suspect that alone could keep you going smilingly {:o).

    • I like the green and black combination better than the green and grey, too, Helen. I’m definitely trying to mix it up more and not wear the long cardis so often. They were a stand-by for me for a long time, but I grew tired of wearing them so often. I agree that the best place to watch out for over-saturation is in the store, which is part of why I shared the link, so that others could avoid buying too much of the same. I hope I am helping a lot of people. I certainly try to. I am still having a lot of health issues and don’t feel very well, but I appreciate your saying that I look good. I’m happy for that…

  4. I don’t keep track of my outfits (am very terrible at taking my own outfit selfies), but love the idea of journaling & rating them and also trying different versions of an outfit. You’ve inspired me to remix some outfits so that I can have “new looks” without shopping. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your learnings so that we can benefit!

    • I’m awful at taking selfies, too, Angela. My photos were either taken by my husband or using a timer. I have found the journal actually MORE helpful than the photos, though, and this troubleshooting session was the most helpful of all. Why not try the journal for a month or two to see how it works for you? It’s made a world of difference for me. I’m glad you are finding my posts helpful and are benefiting from what I’m learning in my journey.

  5. Hi Debbie. I really like the outfits with a shorter jacket, they look very Parisian which is a look I really like on you (Ines de la fressange ). I don’t have a wardrobe journal but do have a spreadsheet which I think really helps making better informed purchases. I adapt a lot of my clothes to ensure maximum wear. I had a lot of sleeveless dresses which I no longer liked pared with cardigans, jackets. I’ve bought long sleeved tees in complementary colours which effectively transform these dresses into long sleeved ones. I also had the heels lowered on a number of sandals following a leg injury. I always remove extraneous details from clothing as I prefer simple clothing & add interest with accessories.

    • Thanks, Sharon. I’m liking the outfits with shorter jackets more now, too. It’s a nice change and if I look Parisian, that’s great! It seems like your wardrobe spreadsheet is really working well for you and I applaud you for finding some new ways to wear your sleeveless dresses so you can get more wear from them. I lowered the heels on two pairs of shoes myself and it has made a big difference even though it was only about half an inch. It can be very helpful to figure out some ways to make our clothing work better for us. You’re doing great!

  6. I love this kind of post! It’s great how changing a few items can make a huge difference!
    I really like your green and black outfits, especially the one with the mixed jacket and the sleeveless vests. It changes from your usual silhouette and it looks modern and edgy to me. In my opinion, long cardis are more leisure wear items? It’s comfortable but I find it hard to wear them in a “polished” way. Maybe it’s because my mom wear them a lot when she’s at home.
    Anyway, as previously said, I think wear long and/or layered necklaces could really help making your tshirt less “empty”.
    The caged sandals are also a better option than peeptoe or flats, it adds something visually interesting to the overall silhouette.

    Now that I have much less clothes and that I know the ones I’ve left all go together, I’ve stopped tracking and rating my outfits but when I was still unclear about my style and preferences it was extremely helpful!

    • I’m glad you liked this post, Cedrique. I intend to do more like this in the future. I like the green and black outfits better than the green and grey ones, too. They are more “me” and I think more flattering as well. As for the open cardigans, I like them for casual wear and I do wear them at home sometimes, too. But they really do need to be paired with slimmer bottoms, as I’ve learned. I love my caged sandals and look forward to wearing them more when it warms up a bit. I think I will get to the point when I don’t need to track and rate my outfits, too. It’s been very helpful for me, but I don’t think it’s a lifelong activity necessarily. I will do it as long as it feels beneficial for me. It’s great that you are in a much better place with your wardrobe.

  7. I like these kinds of posts, and agree with cedrique – really like the black sleeveless vest looks, much more modern (especially the long vest, very unusual).
    I list outfits worn in a spreadsheet (columns for coat, blazer, knitwear, t-shirt, trousers, shoes, and each row an outfit). in the last column I put the month, event and e.g. ‘good’ or ‘ok’. No detailed notes, but it’s enough to give an overall picture of what has worked and what didn’t. A couple of hours trying out ideas is really helpful and pays off later when I am getting ready in a hurry. It’s fun to experiment with quite different combinations. I don’t take photos but do list things that work. However I don’t like feeling rushed – so it doesn’t happen very often!

    • I’m definitely loving wearing vests this season, Alice. It makes my outfits feel newer and more special, even if the other pieces are the same as before. Your outfit spreadsheet sounds very helpful. We don’t need to be very detailed or take a lot of time in order to learn from our good and not so good outfits. I don’t like to feel rushed, either. That is often when bad outfits happen if I don’t have some good stand-by looks in mind that I can easily put on. Hopefully the fact that I took the time to do my “outfit lab” will help to prevent another bad outfit day from happening anytime soon.

  8. It’s amazing the difference just adding a necklace makes. I really like the ones with the short black vest. Very stylish!

    • Thanks for reminding me of the green stone necklace in the group, Tonya. I often forget about it and it works very well with the green tee. That short black vest is a favorite of mine and I’m so glad I bought it. Being the slow adopter that I can be, I didn’t even wear it for over 4 months after I bought it, but I’m very happy to have it in my closet now.

  9. Having lurked a little while, I’ve noticed that you definitely are moving away from dark gray. In the original outfit, I think the dark gray open cardigan washes you out and saps the richness of the dark green – maybe it’s too warm a charcoal? It’s okay if you just don’t want to do gray for a while. I’m currently not wearing brown, even though it’s a good neutral for me; I’m just not feeling it! In my opinion, the most successful combinations you showed were the black mixed media jacket, the cropped black tie-waist cardigan, and the striped light gray cardigan.

    • Yes, I am definitely moving away from dark grey, Anna. I do think the cardigan is too warm a grey, but I have worn it more successfully with very bright colors underneath. I am gradually getting rid of all my grey pieces, except for bottoms and prints. I like the embellishment on the cardi and may opt to dye it a different color if I continue to be “off” of grey. I have been off brown for a while and was off navy, too, but I’m starting to like it again. I think that light grey might be better for me, as I prefer the look of the striped cardigan, too. Someone in the “End Closet Chaos” group suggested trying the cropped tie-waist cardigan and I liked that look, too. Sometimes it can be very helpful to get advice from others.

  10. I love this post! So fun to see all the different looks. I, too, like the vest look. And the striped sweater.

    Interestingly, it’s the shoes that caught my eye. All outfits looked better when you had some skin showing on your feet, the caged sandals being the best, the boots being the least. Realizing that it’s not always practical to wear shoes with skin showing. 🙂

    I don’t keep a log or anything. I hate being rushed, so I always plan my outfits at least a day ahead of time. I love shopping in my closet. I also never wear the exact same outfit twice. I never purchase fad items because they’re ‘in’. I only purchase them if they love my body and are a good color and price (says the lady who only buys if it’s on sale *and* she has a coupon). Lots of fads/colors I pass up.

    Recently I was required to appear in court for something. I had my very best outfit on. Of course, the court thing was delayed 2 weeks at the last moment. My distress wasn’t from the delay; it was because now I was going to have to wear the same outfit twice. Sad, huh.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mel. I see what you mean about the shoes. Changing the shoes can make a really big difference and I agree that the open shoes are better in this case, although I wear boots a lot in general. I think it’s great that you plan your outfits in advance and vary your looks so much. I think a lot of us can get into ruts with our clothes and keep wearing the same things over and over. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having favorites and wearing them, but if we take some time to try things on and plan alternate looks, we’re often happy with them. Sorry about the court delay, but maybe you will find a way to tweak the outfit a bit if you prefer to change things up. It seems like you are very adept at doing so!

  11. Hi Debbie. I don’t like to be critical as I’m not perfect myself, but I would like to make this comment and I hope you don’t mind.
    You seem to favour the jersey T-shirt. I see what you mean about it being a “chicken outfit.” Its a lovely colour and there’s nothing wrong with it. BUT, It’s the ubiquitous “mom” outfit – throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, chuck on a necklace and run out the door. I like the cardigan but again it’s very fluid and t-shirt jersey style throw-it-on and run.
    Now, if you swapped the T-shirt for a (long sleeved) blouse it’s a whole different look. And feeling. A t-shirt is a t-shirt is a t-shirt, no matter the fabric, the label or the price tag. It always looks casual and “mom” running errands in between housework, tennis and picking up the kids. I don’t think the shoes matter so much at all – it’s what’s near your face that matters. A silk or cotton voile blouse or top looks so much more dressed and FEELS so much more dressed.

    • I don’t mind your comment, Carolyn, but I don’t think that t-shirts in general make outfits “chicken outfits.” It’s the whole way that things are mixed and matched and accessorized (or not) that can lead to that characterization. A blouse can be part of a chicken outfit, too, especially if it’s plain and worn with other plain pieces. I would actually like to get a couple of blouses, but they are a very difficult fit for me given my proportions (broad shoulders, narrow torso, long arms). I also wouldn’t want to wear them every day. I like wearing my t-shirts and not just moms wear them around here. T-shirts and jeans are very much what is worn in Southern California, where pretty much everyone dresses casually. I like to dress up a bit more sometimes, but I don’t really see myself as a blouse kind of person on a daily basis.

  12. Hi Debbie,

    I am not a fan of the gray cardigan on you. I think part of the issue is that the gray cardigan and green t-shirt to too similar in texture to be very interesting. Perhaps a gray cardigan that is in some sort of marled yarn or has some texture might be better over the green top? Since the boots are gray and so close to the color of your jeans, I would not be too concerned about bringing in more gray into your outfit.

    I like the leopard cardigan buttoned just at the top over the green top. I saw someone wearing a cardigan this way, more like a little jacket, over a tunic a few months ago and started to wear this look. I like it because it doesn’t add too much bulk on top but still adds a pattern since my cardigan has abstract flowers in dark colors. I forgo a scarf when I wear this look.

    FYI – the fleece herringbone zip moto that I bought on QVC from Isaac Mizrahi which I mentioned a few posts ago is very comfortable. Ut is very soft and warm. It looks good unzipped a little or a lot. There are four layers of fleece in the front when zipped so I kept the XS over the XXS for a looser fit across the chest. (I typically wear an XS in his tops.)

    • By the way, I do not work for QVC or any other retailer and am not a stylist. I am just a woman who likes fashion and likes to help other people look their best!

    • I never thought you worked for QVC, Maggie, and I appreciate the moto jacket recommendation. I looked and they mostly just had pastel colors now (presumably for spring), but I don’t like pastels and they don’t look good on me. I will check back again later to see if they get more colors in. I also hesitate to order things online without free shipping, as I am not an easy fit (for one, sleeves are often too short on me, as well as jackets in general), which is why I order so much from Nordstrom.

      I have liked the grey cardigan more with contrasting pieces, but I don’t feel it’s the best color for me overall. I’m not sure about grey in general anymore, but I will try on different shades to see if another one might be better. I think this one may be too warm in tone for me. I like the leopard cardigan with the green top combination, too. That cardigan has been in my wardrobe for almost 10 years now, but I didn’t wear it very much at first. I love it now. Narrowing down my color palette has helped a lot to make getting dressed easier. I guess I am still narrowing it down.

  13. Hi Debbie

    Sorry to respond so late to a post from a week or so back but it is what it is…sitting here with a man and he immediately said he liked the looks best with the slim jeans at the bottom. I personally really noticed the outfits with a hint of skin. And since I live in a colder environment, a way to make the skin show without resorting to low vamp shoes could be rolling the jeans over your booties, and showing a slice of skin above the bootie.

    After reading the comments and agreeing with you and most posters, I see the general consensus is that the black and green looked best. I wonder, is that because it is more high contrast, dramatic, than the grey version. Which maybe suits your coloring, being dark haired with relatively pale skin. Dramatic also. Just thoughts from an observer. Thanks for taking the incredible time to vary and photograph all those changes. A real effort of determination which is impressive alone!

    • Thanks for your comment, jburd, and no worries about it being a bit late. I like the outfits with the slimmer jeans better, too. It took me a while to warm up to that silhouette, but now I prefer it, especially if I’m wearing something looser on top. I have never been one to roll up my pants, but I have seen the look done well on other people. I do prefer the way I look in black over grey and I have gradually been purging grey pieces from my wardrobe. It helped me a lot to try out different combinations for changing the look and to take photos of them. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s beneficial to do this type of thing every so often.

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