When it comes to accessorizing, sometimes the easiest way to show you what to do is by showing you what NOT to do.

Because fashion styling, like food styling and home styling, is a visual art. When all the elements come together correctly, you stand back and admire the whole picture. But when one of the elements is off, you either focus on what’s wrong, or you get an unsettled, “What’s wrong with this picture?” feeling.

So to help you put together more visually appealing ensembles, let’s look at some of the things that can easily derail you when it comes to accessorizing.

More Than One Focal Point

Alexander McQueen DressStyleBop
Alexander McQueen

On the top, we have a beautiful cocktail dress with feathers. On the bottom, we have amazing gladiator sandals. Where do you look first? THAT’S the problem.

When you have two standout pieces and you pair them together, it dilutes both of them because people don’t know where to look first. If you have one focal point – one standout piece – then others know exactly where to look and can ooh and aah appropriately.

Here’s the same dress shown with simpler sandals (though still a bit too eye-catching to do full justice to the dress, IMO). See the difference?

Alexander McQueen DressStyleBop
Alexander McQueen

Here’s another example:

Elie Saab DressStyleBop
Elie Saab

Your eyes go from the beautiful lace top to the leg slit to the shoes. That’s too much to look at. Had the dress been paired with nude or silver sandals, your eyes would have taken in the slit then gone back to the lace around the face – particularly if the hair and makeup were amazing.

Your goal should always be to showcase your best feature, whether it’s your face, your waist, your legs, or whatever. So don’t create confusion by wearing more than one standout piece.

Shoes are Out of Season With the Clothing

Michael KorsStyleBop
Michael Kors

Winter on top, summer on bottom. While sandals are acceptable as evening shoes year ’round, they’re only appropriate with day wear in the summer. As anyone who grew up with lots of snow will tell you (I’m from Colorado), keeping your feet warm in winter is more important than following fashion – because frostbite is NEVER a good look. If it’s cold enough to wear long sleeves, it’s cold enough to cover your feet. Save sandals for warm weather.

Clothing/Shoe Imbalance

Maison MargielaStyleBop
Maison Margiela

All business ankle up, weekend errands ankle down. This also fits in with the next issue (mixing moods), but I’m showing this so you can see the visual balance.

Generally, if you wear long sleeves, your toes should be covered:

Michael KorsStyleBop
Michael Kors

If you go sleeveless, your toes (or at least part of your feet) should be uncovered:


If you wear short sleeves, your toes can be covered or uncovered, whichever you prefer:


The goal is to visually balance the amount of skin shown between the arms and feet. Otherwise, it’s not symmetrical.

The Mood of the Accessories Doesn’t Match the Mood of the Clothing

Philosophy Di Lorenzo SerafiniStyleBop
Philosophy Di Lorenzo Serafini

This silk dress has a vintage 1930s vibe. It’s feminine and ladylike and calls for feminine, ladylike accessories…which these chunky platforms are not. The last line of the dress description even suggests to “style with pin-thin heels and a glossy up-do,” which the stylist ignored:

Philosophy Di Lorenzo Serafini

The end result? The shoes detract from the dress. Delicate sandals or open-toe slingbacks would have worked better, as would small earrings, a small clutch, and red lipstick.

Here’s another:

Philosophy Di Lorenzo SerafiniStyleBop
Philosophy Di Lorenzo Serafini

Sweater, skirt, and tennis shoes. If you swapped out the skirt for a pair of jeans or yoga pants, this would be an acceptable informal combination. But the skirt elevates it to the casual level, which means the shoes need to be casual as well. Ballerina flats, booties, or kitten heels would have worked better here.

And another:

Red ValentinoStyleBop
Red Valentino

Delicate sweater with feathers, cotton skirt, and…loafers. It’s like having a dainty fruit tart…with oatmeal. The shoes are just too heavy. Ballerina flats, booties, or kitten heels would have worked better here as well.

Accessories Out of Proportion

Bag is too small

Emilio PucciEmilio Pucci
Bag is too big

If you’re big, you need big accessories. If you’re small, you need small accessories. Otherwise, you’ll look bigger or smaller than you are because it’s out of proportion. Keep your size in mind when choosing accessories, and you should be set.

Now I love StyleBop, where these clothes are from, because they have beautiful clothes that they typically style really well. But even their style team gets tripped up sometimes, as you see above. My guess is they’re trying to “push the envelope” and be a little avant guard by mixing moods and formality levels. But the reality is, the rules of proportion, balance, harmony, symmetry, etc., haven’t changed for millennia, so trying to reinvent the wheel doesn’t look cutting edge – it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. There are TONS of great looks to be had by mixing new styles using the old rules; if you follow them, you’ll be a fashion plate. If not, you’ll be a fashion victim.

Don’t do that. Don’t be an “Accessories Gone Bad” cautionary tale.

Instead, use the advice here to create your own signature look using accessories. You’ll be delighted by the results.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton Sikes is an image consultant and author of Accessory Magic. Want to stretch your budget yet create a style that’s distinctly you? Accessory Magic can help.

    2 replies to "Accessories Gone Wrong"

    • Elizabeth

      Diana, thank you for making these points. I find it so interesting that stylists for expensive designer items are so out of touch with long established and proven truths of design. With your permission, I would like to adapt your post on my blog with acknowlegment to this link.

      • Diana

        Hi Elizabeth,

        Glad you enjoyed the article! I think the stylists are trying to “push the envelope” and “rewrite the rules,” which is what creative people do. But they need to do it within the long-established framework of balance, harmony, symmetry, etc., or it just looks wrong – like adding a Tutor-style roof to a contemporary skyscraper. It doesn’t fit. As for using the material on your blog, yes, you may – so long as you attribute me as the author. Thanks for asking!

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