If you’ve ever stood naked in front of your closet wondering what to wear, this post is for you! I’m sharing not one but TWO outfit formulas that should have you “covered” for any scenario!

What to Wear
Big closets, big decisions. Don’t stand there wondering! Read on and I’ll tell you what to wear when you don’t know what to wear.

“I Don’t Know What to Wear!”

We’ve all been there. We are headed out of the house for some event – a party, a concert, a movie, a dinner, a play date, WORK – and we have no idea what to put on our bodies. Some days, you just don’t know what to wear. You don’t know if it’s going to be a casual or fancy setting, how other people will be dressed, what the expectations will be. You want to be comfortable, you want to fit in but not blend in so much you disappear. You want to look stylish but not like you’re trying too hard. Never fear!! I have two options for what to wear when you don’t know what to wear that will save you time and energy when you’re getting ready to go out!

What to Wear – Outfit Formula 1

First, let’s deal with all scenarios where jeans are likely to be acceptable. This could be a casual work environment, an afternoon play date, brunch at a hip restaurant, mom’s night out for drinks, book club… Jeans are acceptable in many settings nowadays BUT the trick is to walk the fine line between casual and dressed up. So here is the first outfit formula for what to wear:

Jeans + Nice Top + Interesting Shoes + Accessories + Coordinating Bag

What To Wear Outfit Formula
You could easily thrift these pieces but these examples are from Amazon.

Let’s break down the style math!

Jeans – can be jean shorts, a skirt, skinny denim, bootcut denim, denim culottes, etc.. Choose whatever you are most comfortable in and let that be the foundation for this formula. The only no-no is distressed denim. If you’re not 100% sure that distressed denim will be okay wherever you’re headed, save it for another time.

Nice top – what do I mean by “nice top?” I mean not a t-shirt or plain cotton tank top. I even think graphic tees need to stay on the bench for this one unless you’re going to dress it up with a blazer but since it’s summer, I’m going to just recommend against a graphic tee for now. A nice top is anything blouse-y. It could be in a solid colour or print, it could be silk or cotton or any fabric really. It could be long sleeve, short sleeve or sleeveless. The field is wide open! If you are lacking nice tops, head to the thrift store and you ought to be able to find one for $6 or less!

Interesting shoes – basic black or brown shoes or running shoes have their place but this is not it. Instead, chose a cute pair of flats, colourful heels if you can wear them, printed or colourful sneakers – any pair of shoes that has an element of interest. Please note: they do NOT need to “match” your top. In fact, mis-matching pieces look cool and stylish. You can match your shoes to your top, I’m just saying if the only “interesting” pair of shoes you have are red and your top doesn’t have red in it, wear them anyway! Of course, literally ALL of my interesting shoes have come from the thrift store so you can also go thrifting for some!

Accessories – accessories put the finishing touch on an outfit and make you look like you are “turned out” or pulled together. They give the opposite message to “I don’t know what to wear.” They say, “I know what to wear and dang I look good! I have my life together, I know exactly what I’m doing, I am in control.” See, that’s why I wear accessories every day! It doesn’t really matter what accessories you wear as long as you wear some. Bold earrings and a bracelet. Pendant necklace and delicate earrings. Delicate necklace and simple bracelet. Earrings, necklace and arm party (AKA The Trifecta, which I wear most days). They all give the same message and are an essential part of this formula.

Coordinating bag – here is where you can go with a neutral black or brown bag or pick up a colour from your top or shoes. I don’t change my bag every day and I especially don’t change it when I wasted the morning trying on and rejecting outfits till I’m late, again. IF you have time to swap the contents into a bag that suits your outfit, great. If not, no worries. Chances are your usual will work just fine in this formula.

Here are some examples of this outfit formula in action, in no particular order from my archives:

What to Wear outfits
Top $3.50 from @goodwillhouston, Pilcro shorts $18.20, Fossil bag $2, Sigerson Morrison leather sandals $6.56 and She Does Create accessories.
what to ear outfits
I added a scarf to my accessory playlist on this chilly Canadian fall day but the base formula is the same.
What to wear outfits
Pilcro joggers $21, $6 top and the $15 flats.
What to wear outfits
$11 chambray pants with my $3.50 Lucky Brand top, $15 Korkease clogs, She Does Create accessories, and $2 reversible Fossil bag.
what to wear outfits
$4.90 @levis shorts, $4.19 Anthropologie yellow top, $6.56 Sigerson Morrison leather metallic sandals plus She Does Create yellow 🐘 pendant.
What to Wear outfits
$2.50 Levis denim skirt, $4.90 mustard print tank, She Does Create pendant, earring and bracelets, $5 Rockport sandals (because I had just had foot surgery).
What to wear outfits
Pilcro denim shorts $18.20 , $1 top, $7 loafers and She Does Create accessories.
What to Wear outfits
Fuchsia top $3, floral flats $2, J Brand jeans that I only look at now and Lord only knows why I didn’t put on a damn necklace then but I am wearing earrings and bracelets.

What to Wear – Option 2

Next, let’s deal with the potentially “fancier” occasions – first day on the job, theatre performance, symphony concert, dinner party, Haunted Pub Tour (!). Whenever you think jeans would not be appropriate, here is what to wear:

Black Dress + Classic Shoes + Accessories + Small bag + Emergency Scarf

What To Wear Outfits
I have thrifted pieces like these but these particular ones are all from Amazon.

Let’s talk about why she who loves colourful interesting dresses would recommend this fashion formula!

Black dress – Let’s face it, black is a safe colour. The “little black dress” can be considered dressed up or dressed down, it’s a classic. If you’re not sure what to wear, black is the go-to. Why a dress? Again, a dress is a good fit for most occasions. I’m not talking about a cocktail dress or anything fancy here. I’m talking about a basic black dress that you are comfortable in. It’s the switch player of your closet and can act fancy if your event turns out to be fancy or it can act classic casual if it doesn’t. One thing is for sure: you don’t want to be under dressed for an event and the black dress ensures you won’t be.

Classic shoes – Be they sandals, pumps or flats, classic shoes help keep this outfit in the neutral zone, ready to play up or down. Whatever you choose, ensure you are comfortable walking in them. Now is not the time for those black stilettos.

Accessories – In keeping with the overall vibe of this outfit, keep your accessories simple and classic BUT still wear them because just with Formula One, they finish your ensemble.

Small bag – For this outfit, do take the time to switch to a small-ish classic bag. If you end up having to mingle or store your purse under your seat, you don’t want to be lugging around a large tote, and anything to bright or bold will interfere with the aesthetic.

Emergency scarf – I like to keep a lightweight scarf in my bag just in case. Just in case the restaurant is freezing. Just in case you want to cover your arms. Just in case you spill on your boobs. Just in case you want to dress down your outfit. The emergency scarf is the security blanket of what to wear. You may never use it but you’ll be glad you have it all the same.

Here are some examples of this outfit formula in action:

What to Wear Outfit Formula -2
$8.40 Lord & Taylor dress WITH POCKETS, $10 leather cross body bag, $22 Salt Water sandals and vintage Accessorize necklace. Taken by my friend Karlynn during our Houston Haunted Pub tour which was so much fun!
What To Wear
Fossil black leather cross body bag $21, $11 Miz Mooz shoes, $1.75 Theory dress plus She Does Create accessories.
What to Wear Outfit formula
Slight variation in the formula for a cold day – Aquatalia boots plus a vintage velvet blazer atop my $6 Theory dress for the spouses’ Christmas luncheon when I had NO IDEA WHAT TO WEAR. Also $10 vintage bag and necklace from a Tomball antique shop.
What to Wear outfit formula
That same Theory dress with tights and Miz Mooz ankle booties and a thrifted necklace for a ladie’s function at church on a chilly fall day.
What to Wear outfits
Recently in Austin, I wore my $10 Maeve dress and considered my brown Salt Water sandals “interesting” because of mixing neutrals. Longchamp bag from Poshmark and She Does Create accessories. Worn for a hot rainy day of sight-seeing.

I could go on. I have several black dresses and routinely use Formula Two when I don’t know what to wear. I have several jeans bottoms and wear them all the time using Formula One. Stay tuned on Instagram to see examples on the regular! And if you don’t have the formula basics, add them to your thrifting wish list then gather them over time!

I hope this helps you to know what to wear when you don’t know what to wear! I would love to see your examples of these outfit formulas so when you take a photo (which you’ll have time to do because you’ll KNOW what to wear and won’t waste two hours trying to figure it out!), tag me on Instagram @thespiritedthrifter or Facebook!

xoxo Nicole

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What to Wear Outfit Formulas


  1. Karen Diaz

    Nice to see these rules “codified “. I basically follow them but hadn’t considered the small bag for the “dressier” rules. I’m lazy and use the same red Target crossbody for every outfit be it dressy or casual but will now make the extra effort to put essentials into a smaller clutch or shoulder bag.
    Thank heavens for the LBD!!

    • nicole

      I found the same thing looking back – I unwittingly follow those outfit formulas most of the time with a few more in the loop. I’m glad it’s helpful and hope that the little changes make you feel great! Thanks for commenting!