What is rhythm in dress?

Before I answer, let’s start with something you’re probably more familiar with:  rhythm in music.

Rhythm in Music

Rhythm in DressThink of your favorite song.

Of how the instruments play together in harmony.

The chorus repeats itself.

How it ebbs and flows.

The pattern is familiar, comforting.

Now imagine a grade school band trying to replicate that song after only a few months of lessons.

They’re out of sync. Pitchy. The drummer is full of himself.

They take a perfectly good piece of music and mangle is beyond recognition.

If you’re the parent of one of the kids in the band, you just have to sit there and take it.

But it’s like fingernails on a blackboard. You can’t wait for it to be over.


Because the rhythm’s off.  

It’s completely disjointed.

It becomes stressful just partaking of it.

The same thing happens dress.

Rhythm in Dress

Rhythm creates order through repetition.

Like repeating patterns, shapes, or colors.

In dress, it looks like this:

Repeating pattern, color, and shapes:Good RhythmEtro


Repeating color (monochromatic)

Good RhythmTamara Mellon


Repeating diagonal line

Good RhythmVionnet

The eye flows easily over the ensembles.

There is no clash, no stumbling over elements.

You’re able to take it all in.


No Rhythm = Chaos

But what happens when you mix patterns, shapes, and colors willy-nilly?

Or if one element calls obnoxious attention to itself like an overzealous drummer?

It becomes as hard to look at as a grade school band is to hear:

Patterns going in different directions;
a hodge-podge of color

Bad RhythmValentino


The pattern seems disjointed

Bad RhythmValentino


The shirt has a vertical pattern while
the coat has a horizontal pattern

Bad RhythmDuvetica

Too many rhythms, too many patterns.

There’s just too much to take in, too much for the eye to absorb.

It’s chaotic.

You don’t want that.

How to Create Rhythm in Dress

To create rhythm, keep the clothing and accessory elements similar so they create a pattern.

For example, the circular earrings and the coat buttons create an easy rhythm:

Repeat RhythmChadwicks

Here, the circular earrings and circular watch face echo the polka dots in the top:

Repeat RhythmChadwicks

The rectangular two drop earrings repeat the houndstooth pattern:

Repeat RhythmChadwicks

Yes, these are really subtle, but they work.

The goal is to connect the various pieces of your ensembles together through patterns, shapes, or colors.

The Bottom Line

To create rhythm in dress, match the shapes or colors of your clothing and accessories.

Wear square earrings with a checkerboard bag, for example, or a teardrop necklace with a teardrop neckline.

It will make your ensembles harmonize.

So next time you’re standing in front of the mirror, trying to figure out if an ensemble works or if it doesn’t, think about proportion, balance, and now, rhythm.

I will definitely help you dress better.

Need more help putting together harmonious outfits?

Endless Outfits can help.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Endless Outfits.

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