Wardrobe compass: Fitted/loose vs structured/unstructured

Continuing on from my color palettes post, I’ve been thinking more about some more concrete ways to describe style preferences (vs the more standard preppy/boho/artsy/alternative etc – those can mean different such things to different people). I much prefer visualizing personal style as a distribution across a spectrum of various style descriptors, such as muted/bold, extra/low-key, textured/sleek rather than just through a few adjectives, which I tend to envision more as points that can feel either too restrictive or too vague. (Although having a few words for your style can be helpful too! And we don’t always have time to explain a whole Theory of My Wardrobe when a friend or a shop associate asks us what kind of clothes we like).

Not that I have a literal graph of my own wardrobe – the idea is mostly to get in the habit of thinking of your personal style as a distribution across the space of fashion. The stuff you like will most likely have a “center of gravity” that you can come back to and is easiest for you to get dressed with, but you also aren’t stuck on any one thing. It’s a representation of where your current wardrobe/preferences are. A description of the state of your closet, not a box to put your style into.

As I’ve been going through my own closet clean out these last few weeks, I’ve found thinking of my preferences across the scales of fitted/loose and structured/unstructured (with a little bit of formal/informal thrown in) as I’ve already thought so much about my preferred fabrics and colors that they’ve become more of a no-brainer when evaluating what parts of any given piece work or don’t work for me. In this post I’ll go through some examples on how I apply that sort of thinking to help me style outfits or decide what clothes are likely to be a hit in my own wardrobe.

Wardrobe examples

Of course, what anyone needs from day to day or per activity is going to change. Even someone who loves suits is probably not going to wear one to the beach. And you might generally love a matching set of sweats but occasionally have a desire to don something swooshy and dramatic. But in general, I think that the majority of people will err towards one end or the other for each of structured/unstructured and fitted/loose. While a cut and dried description can help, let’s start out with a more fun example and see how this all might look in different wardrobes!

Adina of the bluecollarredlipstick blog wears a lot of looks that are more fitted, structured, and dressy.

In general, Adina’s outfits strike me as quite physically sharp. She wears a lot of woven fabrics with tailoring, and often incorporates pointy shoes. And she can definitely rock a trapeze silhouette or drapey pants, when I scroll through her Instagram the overall impression I get is more structured and close-fitting silhouettes, and the energy is very much an off-the-couch vibe, even when she’s wearing jeans or sneakers or has a more eclectic/artsy/alt vibe (I rarely think of Adina’s outfits as stuffy!)

Gracia of therosenrot tends to wear outfits that are loose, structured, and dressy.

Gracia’s Instagram outfits formality spans red-carpet worth dresses through gym wear, but while there is a lot of drape and not a lot of fully form fitting silhouettes, the outfits rarely feel soft. The drapier pieces tend to be made of a more formal woven wool fabric, or are more ‘hard’ athletic techwear pieces. Similarly to Adina, the outfits she shares have a very off-the-couch feel, even if they’re athleisure.

Janea of jnaydaily tends to go for more loose, unstructured, and casual looks.

While Janea’s outfits often include a fitted item, like the bike shorts, the overall impression of the clothes is usually more loose. For example in the bike shorts outfit, she has an oversized flannel around her waist, adding a flowing element to the lower half. And drapey doesn’t just mean stretch fabrics. But when she does include something like a button down shirt, it’s usually loose enough or styled in a way that feels like you could comfortably lounge around in it. Or for more dressy looks, I tend to see them as like, dressy for a cute picnic or a wine tasting – more easygoing and relaxed even if they’re more on the extra side.

Item Examples

Okay sure, but what does that look like for all the combinations? If you’re having some trouble visualizing what some of those might look like, this section I have some examples for all the permutations.

Structured/Unstructured: How much of its own shape does a garment hold? e.g. a blazer holds its shape more on its own than a cotton terry hoodie.

Fitted/loose: Well, you know what this means. But the point is to remember that it’s a different axis from structured/unstructured!

Some examples, although in retrospect I should have chosen a drapier poncho for the cape graphic as that one is actually looking rather tailored.

And as discussed in more detail in the original wardrobe compass post, “dressy” is a messy adjective because I tend to view it as made up of two elements: formal/informal and extra/low-key. Here I mean it more in the sense of “formal/informal”, but I’m using “dressy” because I feel “formal” tends to make people think of only things at the extreme end of that scale, vs “dressy” I think people tend to start picturing it from say, “office casual” or “brunch dressy” and not just “wedding guest” or “job interview”.

But anyway, here are some examples of items that fall into each category.

  • fitted + dressy + structured
    • pencil skirt, tailored blazer
  • fitted + dressy + unstructured
    • bias cut gown/skirt
  • fitted + casual + structured
    • nonstretch mom jeans
  • fitted + casual + unstructured
    • leggings, baby tee
  • loose + dressy + structured
    • mod dress, boyfriend fit blazer, cape jacket
  • loose + dressy + unstructured
    • cowl neck fine knit sweater, plisse pants
  • loose + casual + structured
    • non-fitted waist anorak (woven technical fabrics), overalls
  • loose + casual + unstructured
    • drop shoulder chunky sweater, ruana/poncho

Usage examples

You have a handle on whether you lean more structured/unstructured or fitted/loose. But what can you actually do with that knowledge?

I personally lean towards loose, casual, unstructured outfits. Keeping that in mind, I can identify that…

….I will be a sucker for a lot of the stuff jnaydaily and other influencers with similar preferences on structure and fit share! If you’re looking for more outfit inspiration, keep an eye out for people whose wardrobes have more overlap with your ideals. Or when appreciating outfits from people who fall outside what you’re most comfortable in, you can keep in mind that while something might look bomb on them, it would be less likely to be a hit in your outfits if it doesn’t fall into your structure/fit preferences.

….jackets are usually structured by nature, and can be more difficult for me to integrate into my style. But I can look for pieces with specific details that take them more towards unstructured or loose, which will help them blend more into my base outfits. For example I can look for raglan sleeves which will soften the shoulder silhouette, slightly oversized fits, or drapey coats. Below are some coats that I have which are slightly dressier styles, double breasted, collared, woven fabrics and all that. But they’ve got a lot of ease to them rather than being belted, having a lot of tailoring around the waist, or strong shoulders or collars. Sure, I’m most comfortable in a fleece jacket, but sometimes I do want more of a proper coat, and these feel more “me”.

…some outfit combos are more likely to be a hit than others. For example, if I have some structured dressier item like this corduroy midi a-line skirt, it’s not quite so dressy as to be formal, but it is structured and leans more fitted than my usual staple babydoll dresses or overalls (on another note – an item is unlikely to become a personal wardrobe staple if it isn’t easy to style unstructured/loose/casual). For me, I would typically style it with a loose fit top like a peasant blouse or a chunkier sweater. But if I’ve decided I want to go with a shirt, if I’m picking between the two equally viable styles of top below, I’d go for the ruffle wrap blouse instead of button down collared blouse. A button down collared shirt with this style of dress is the more common styling you see in catalogs and the like, but that’s just too much of a preppy/buttoned-up look for me. So I can save myself a cycle of “well it’s not wrong but I don’t like it, guess I’ll try something else”.

Or if I’m styling a high neckline fitted crop top sort of deal, if I’m going more casual, I know it’ll feel more comfortable for me to pair with loose running shorts instead of bike shorts. Or if I go with bike shorts, to have a flannel or cardigan or the like to bring back some of the relaxed fit element. If I want to try dressing it up a little, again, between the two choices below, I think the fitted rib knit skirt is currently more popular (and it’s also just more casual!), but I’m more comfortable with the flowier mesh skirt even if it’s more formal, since that’s just one item in the whole outfit that would be dressier and the overall silhouette is more my style.

Styled below on a warmer day! Kept my hair down as well and used more casual accessories.

Fun! Or every October when all the Wednesday Addams inspired looks start coming around, I always start craving an outfit with a sedate white collar layered under a short black dress sort of deal like @roseybeeme (one of my favorite fashion accounts!) is wearing below.

But the classic Wednesday look is structured and fitted – it could look just as cool on me as anyone else, but it wouldn’t feel like me. So my version of this is one of my usual stretchier babydoll dresses with a fine knit sweater with spooky-adjacent ruffles, rounded out with more traditionally witchy tights and boots. Not the epitome or on the extremes of ‘unstructured, loose, casual’, but definitely more in that direction, and it lets me use that inspiration in a way that doesn’t feel like a costume.

So tl;dr, once you identify whether you lean unstructured or fitted and the like, you can keep that in mind

  • when shopping (what’s going to be easier to integrate into your style?)
  • choosing between pieces when getting dressed (even if the outfit isn’t obviously in your preferred area, you can choose details that make it lean that way and feel less awkward)
  • or informing an outfit that takes inspiration by a look that falls outside your comfort zone

Same as identifying any other personal preferences when it comes to fashion. But it does take practice – if you haven’t really looked at what you wear day to day and how you feel about it, it’s going to be harder to just pick out “oh yeah, I tend to prefer a semi-fitted silhouette but am most comfortable with at least one structured element”. If you haven’t done so recently, I recommend snapping a quick photo of your outfits every day for 3-4 weeks and using those to more easily and objectively see your wardrobe from a higher level view. Or if your outfits in practice just aren’t anywhere near what you love, you can apply the same lens to a style board on Pinterest of outfits that you do like and then build out your closet to go towards there.

🌻

If you need a hand to guide you through a wardrobe overhaul or a third party to help you identify what exactly is or isn’t making your outfits tick, I offer styling services! See details over on the style coaching page.

1 Comment

  1. Great observations as always! I really love your ‘wardrobe compass’ formalizations – it’s a much more useful and precise way of specifying what’s going on with outfits.

    I also particularly like your “on the couch” / “off the couch” descriptor. Helps me realize I’m definitely an “off the couch” person, but secretly wanting “on the couch” comfiness.

    Like

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