Looking good. Wait, no. Looking polished.
September 21, 2015 6:54 AM   Subscribe

What "finishing touches" really pull together your look? What do you do (and what resources do you use) when you start to feel bored with your wardrobe, makeup or hair, and just need some inspiration? And what do you do to seal the deal and look "put together" if not "polished"?

I'm a cis woman, late 20's, and generally consider myself stylish. I love timeless and classic fashion (fitted blazers, pencil skirts, etc) mixed up with bold, eccentric, yet well-edited accessories. After falling into a temporary slump this summer, I'm looking for any and all inspiration and tips to help me get excited again about dressing well, accessorizing well, and having fun with hair and makeup.

I used to get a lot of "I love your outfit!" comments around the office. I noticed that how well I dress seems to be acutely tied to my confidence levels, which had dwindled for a bit. (Things are getting better now.) I want to feel unafraid to pull out the pencil skirt or wear something that's tasteful but still shows off my waist line. I'm pretty physically fit, but sometimes if I'm having a "psychological fat day" or a bad week where I wasn't able to exercise as much, I feel like I don't deserve to dress as well. Which is stupid. Especially since dressing really well would no doubt improve my confidence.

I'm a big fan of the "into mind" blog and her concept of having a style uniform (I have her workbook and am just now putting it into use); I'm also trying to "shop my closet". I just moved, so this won't be too hard as I'm going through all of my clothes as I put them away. However, I don't want to limit myself to just one resource or technique.

So, what do you do to keep your style (both clothing, as well as hair/makeup) fresh and looking pulled together? What tips do you recommend, and what books and blogs should I check out?

Note: I have straight, shoulder length hair; I prefer the au naturale makeup look but am not opposed to makeup that accentuates my eyes.

Bonus points if the style tips doesn't cost a fortune, or if I can DIY it at home!
posted by nightrecordings to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you're going to get a ton of suggestions to keep eyebrows and nails neat. I think that makes a huge difference.

One tip I like is using the rule of thirds to dress. Basically what you want to do is mentally break down your body into thirds and use clothes that cover a 1:3 or a 2:3 ratio of your body. When you break up the visual line of your body that way, the end result gives a pleasing sense of proportion. I'm explaining it horribly, but the website I linked to makes it very clear. Here is another blog post which discusses the same concept.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:27 AM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Male here, but tailored clothes always make me feel much more polished than off the rack. Also, having one accessory or item of clothing that people remark on (whether it's cool or colorful or whatever) with really classic basics to round it out seems to be a great ego-boost.
posted by xingcat at 7:40 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

My magic trick is to tap a little matte eyeshadow into my eyebrows.. Takes 5 seconds but completely makes me look finished.
posted by cakebatter at 7:48 AM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

In terms of keeping makeup style fresh, I cannot recommend ipsy enough. It's a $10/month subscription box that will send you sample (or sometimes even full-sized!) products. You can stop and start at any time. They will send you makeup according to your preferences. I told them I like natural makeup, so I get a beige eyeshadow palette once every few months. If you like what they send you, you can easily buy the product from their website.
posted by Night_owl at 7:55 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just looking at myself in the mirror and noticing that the effect of my favorite snappy outfit was marred by my really-needs-a-trim hair. And I know I always have an extra spring in my step when I finally get around to getting that done.

My new favorite makeup thing is Urban Decay All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray. I don't wear makeup every day, but when I do, a few sprays of this stuff keeps it in place All. F***ing. Day. Even under stage lights when I'm pouring sweat.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 AM on September 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

Eyebrow pencil makes a huge difference to me. Then I imagine my own picture on Instagram with hashtags about how on point my eyebrows are. Look, whatever gets you through, right?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:08 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here are a list of things that, if I have the wherewithal to complete them, make me feel much more put-together:

1. Shape and fill in eyebrows (especially if you have glasses!)
2. Jewelry- either earrings and bracelet, or a nice necklace.
3. Inspect clothes for any loose threads, inspect shoes for scuffs.
4. Nails shaped and polished with clear or very subtle 'skin-tone' color. Very dark or striking vampy color for fall can be great too, depending on your office. No chipping or flaking polish!
5. Have some simple hairstyles in your arsenal that aren't just 'hair laying flat' or 'ponytail.' Those little Goody spin pins are great for a simple updo, or you can buy a curling wand with a wide barrel and put some waves in your hair. Takes just a few minutes, even with my very thick, long hair.
6. 'MLBB' (my lips but better) lipstick or lip balm color. Basically, usually a dusty rose color that's 1-2 shades darker than your actual lip color. Subtle, but looks professional/polished.
7. If you wear pants, have them properly hemmed. No hem tape, no safety pins, no pants dragging under your heels.
8. You say you like classic style like blazers, pencil skirts- buy a few high-quality pieces and then get them tailored exactly to you. Clothes that fit properly will make you look phenomenal and feel even better.
9. One killer pair of heels (or, if you're me, five pairs of the same style in different colors/materials/finishes so I always have something that I know looks good and can match virtually any outfit.)
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:34 AM on September 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

Makeup, manicured nails, threaded eyebrows, washed and defrizzed hair. I'm finding that using some high end makeup with good technique makes a huge difference, especially in its application (using a beauty blender sponge, highlighting, blending, brushing on finishing powder using a fan brush).

Eyebrow gel (Anastasia's pomade) is very good, in my opinion .
posted by discopolo at 8:38 AM on September 21, 2015

A cute broach/pin would be a nice idea, especially if you're feeling blah about "oh this skirt and this top again" on a Wednesday.

There's lots of choices on etsy and basically every antique store ever, and they can be cheap or expensive and still look good. You can go nerdy or classic or whatever.

Abstract or Geometric or Fanciful
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find the two things that really amp up good basics are belts and shoes. Also of course scarves but belts and shoes. I was just looking through this pinterest and am pretty much in love with the styles of Carine Roitfeld and Tiffany Hsu. They wear a lot of blazers and pencil skirts in various lengths and styles and take the polish to another level with belts and their choices of boots or shoes. Very simple, really. And Tiffany has a gorgeous haircut, which always makes a difference.
posted by the webmistress at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Finishing touches:
- Groomed and filled in brows
- Curled lashes (even without mascara)
- A light touch of highlighter high on the cheekbones and down the nose
- Clear lip gloss or a slick of creamy nude lipstick, but imo not at the same time unless you're going out
- Shoes that are not scuffed
- Put a lint roller by your door, make it a habit to use on your way out
- No wrinkled clothing
- If you are having a bad hair day, put some volume on the top of your head with a pompadour ponytail

What I do when I'm getting bored with my look and in need of inspiration
- Makeup binge at a drugstore, like a huge Boots, lets me experiment on the cheap (I particularly like No. 17, Sleek, and Barry M for this)
- For outfits, Instagram. I have curated and culled who I follow over several months so that most of the fashion accounts I follow are for a certain 'look' that I like for myself.
posted by like_neon at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I posted this similar question some time ago and got some really great answers. Maybe it'll help?
posted by yawper at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2015

This is kind of a broad question, I think.

Since I don't know where to start, I will suggest that you start with the absolute basics: underwear. If your underwear isn't solid and well-fitting, everything else is going to be lumpy.

So, now every day is going to be a best-underwear day!!! Throw out all your scrungy old panties and - no, wait, buy new ones and then throw out the old ones.

I'm not talking about getting fancy underwear - you can do that another time, but let's start with the plain underwear you wear every day.

You must get panties in a boyshort style, laser-cut so there isn't a VPL in sight, and low-waisted so they don't creep up into view. Ideally there should be a flat lace embellishment somewhere, maybe on the waistband, but flat and VPL-free is the priority. You want 7 pairs in a colour that's reasonably close to your skintone, and it's best to get 14 pairs.

Now, to wear under black clothes, get 7-14 similar pairs in black.

Everyone extols the virtues of getting a bra fitting, and screams DID YOU KNOW 80 PERCENT OF WOMEN ARE WEARING THE WRONG SIZE BRA? ARE THEY STUPID, OR WHAT?!? To which I am tempted to reply WELL WHY DON'T YOU MAKE BRAS IN THE RIGHT SHAPE, THEN, IF IT'S THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU because I have been fitted for bras and then had to take them home and fold over the baggy part and stitch it down so it'd lie flat. Anyway, that rant is neither here nor there. I don't suppose it will hurt to get a bra fitting. What you want is something with straps, with a good amount of coverage and a moulded cup, nice and smooth so it doesn't show through clothing either. Get two, in a colour reasonably close to your skin tone, and two in black.

Strapless, backless and u-plunge bras are important too, but that's a problem for another day. We'll just be getting you basic bras for now. I personally favour Playtex but, since everybody's different, there's no point in my specifying a make and model.

Are you going to say "but what if my bra straps show?" They won't, because you're always going to be wearing sleeves, or otherwise have your shoulders covered, at least until you do your more advanced bra shopping which we won't be dealing with here. If you want to wear tank tops or sleeveless dresses, and you can't go braless, haberdashery shops sell little loops that you can sew into your clothes and keep the bra straps securely in place.

You will need to wash your bras after about three wearings and you can do this by soaking them overnight in a pan of warm water and shower cream. Why shower cream? Because it's good at removing body oils, so will help to stave off the dinginess that haunts the straps. If you need extra help, get a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from the drugstore and soak the dingy areas of the bra in that for 20 minutes as a prewash (disclaimer: I have not tried this on black bras, and I don't see that going well).

As for hosiery, for the warmer months I recommend fine-gauge fishnets in a colour close to your skin tone. You will be able to wear these with open-toed shoes as well. If they are comfortable for you, hold-ups are the best because you don't have to pull them up and down to go to the bathroom so they don't undergo too much stress. When you get a hole in your fishnets, as soon as you get home take a needle and thread and stitch it back together and your fishnets will last you for years. You can get black ones, but you don't really need them.

For the cooler months, get 70 denier opaque tights - the most comfortable are from Marks and Spencer - in colours that match your footwear. Also get socks in the same colour, to wear over the tights when you are wearing boots.

Footwear is a question for another day, but broadly speaking, an absolutely minimal set would consist of one pair black closed-toe patent pumps (heels 3 inches or less), one pair in brown leather, and one pair in beige or pale pink leather. The black patent pumps can take you from day to evening. Add one pair of casual flats (as in: sneakers or skimmers) and, at a pinch, this minimal set will get you through an entire year, albeit not always comfortably. Unless you have ethical objections, all the shoes should be leather, or a natural fabric, or microfibre. Faux leather will tear up your feet. Suede, well, maybe you're less clumsy than me but suede comes to me to die. I STRONGLY advise you to get the "comfort" type shoe such as Aerosoles or M&S Footglove - you usually can find some that look elegant and I personally recommend Footglove (and Clarks SoftWear for sandals, but ONLY for sandals).

After you get your shoes, go to the cobbler and buy a shoe polish in each colour, or neutral if shoe polish doesn't come in that colour; and one shoe brush per colour of polish. You can apply the polish with cotton wool so you don't really need the cloths. Also get a can of suede and leather protector and spray the shoes with it as soon as you get home. Buy shoe trees or puffs to keep your shoes in shape between wearings, and never wear the same pair of shoes two days running. As soon as the heels wear down, take them to be reheeled with metal heels if possible, and also get a rubber sole glued on. In this way, you will be able to make your shoes last a very long time.

As soon as you get home and take your shoes off, wipe them down with a baby wipe to make sure dirt doesn't stick.

And here's something nice: get a spray can of 4711, the original cologne, and spray your feet with it as soon as you take off your shoes. They also make little wrapped towelettes, so you might want to put a couple of these in your gym bag or anywhere you might happen to go that involves taking your shoes off, and then you will not inflict stinkfoot upon your neighbour and it will be all very lovely.

And here, here is the pro tip to end all pro tips, right? Listen carefully because this is the absolute key to all happiness. Get a pair of Topshop Vibrant shoes, in a size bigger than usual. Take a craft knife and score along the sole so that you can fold them in half. Get a foldy shopping bag with an interior pocket. Tuck the folded shoes into the pocket and fold them into the bag, then carry the folded bag in your purse. When your feet start to hurt, you can change into the ballet flats, and unfurl the shopping bag to carry your street shoes. And why not add a foil-wrapped 4711 towelette in there too? This, combined with wearing comfort shoes, will give you a quality of sprezzatura and people will say, nightrecordings, how do you manage to walk lightly in heels over cobbled streets and still be so sweet-natured? Why are you not frazzled and distraught, like the rest of us hoi polloi? What is your secret? And you shall laugh, and small woodland creatures shall gather round you, which is odd in an urban environment but you'll get used to it. Only you will know that it is because of your comfort shoes, your indestructible hosiery, your folding slippers, and most of all your well-fitting and consistently appropriate undergarments.
posted by tel3path at 10:29 AM on September 21, 2015 [65 favorites]

tel3path is wise and speaks truth, listen to her.

One thing that I don't see come up often in these threads: it's not just about what clothes look good on you, it's also about clothes you love and feel good in. It doesn't matter if you're wearing a perfectly tailored designer dress with 100% supportive undergarments, nylons that match exactly, and shoes that feel like you're walking on clouds, unless those align with your personal sense of style, you will feel miserable and look worse.

Also, accessories matter. Make sure your shoes are in good condition (and that you can walk in them. Striding along in flats looks more polished than tottering about in heels any day.) Wear a watch, it looks much classier than checking the time on your phone and is more discreet besides. A simple watch is fine, but make sure it fits - I wear a sub-$100 Casio which looks great because the size goes with the size of my wrists/hands. Jewellery doesn't need to be expensive - I have tons of earrings that cost me less than $5 - but it does need to be in decent condition and coordinate with your outfit.
posted by Tamanna at 11:11 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I hate when I start my answers with "This isn't really what you asked but"... but here goes.

When I think polished I think posture. One can have everything covered but a lousy posture takes so much away from it.
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

ReluctantViking: actually, that's exactly what I'm asking for (among other things). Posture is a finishing touch. Ensuring that your clothing is not only to your taste, but appropriate and tailored to your body type, is a similar finishing touch. I'd say the same thing about hygiene but that's really more of a foundation than a finishing touch. Still. I'm open to anything that adds style, grace and purpose to one's personal look and presence; as well as advice on what can potentially detract from or destroy an otherwise stylish look.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2015

Wear woven instead of knitted fabrics, make sure they are not too loose or tight (or they stop looking crisp), and iron them. Crisp smooth fabric looks wonderful on everyone.
Wear a different belt than the one that came with the dress.
Wear fitted, silky fabric (like a slip, spanx, or tight silky camisole) under any fabric that tends to cling.
Remove pet hair from clothing.
Style your hair off your face.
Always wear antiperspirant and be very sparing with perfume/cologne.
Wear fabrics and colours with some richness and punch, avoid muddy watery colours or thin, weak fabrics.
Leather shoes and bags usually look better than shoes made of other materials, if you're ok with wearing leather.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:05 PM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I recently, in a fit of spendy, bought me and my love high class scents for nice days. (he got chanel platinum egoiste, I got Prada Candy) and they make me feel pretty fancy when I'm wearing mine.

Also, big earrings with omega backs instead of stud backs or hooks. They're kind of 80s, but reasonably in style right now, and they feel fancy on your ears. Pearls also feel polished.

A nice pedicure goes pretty far for me when I'm feeling blah, and have you ever had eyelash extensions? Fancy. Cat-eye eyeliner. Big trendy sunglasses.

Heels make me feel sexy and classy, as does carrying a clutch instead of a bag with straps.

I recently had all my pencil skirts hemmed like between 1 and 3 inches because I'm short and their length has always been just SLIGHTLY wrong. It wasn't too expensive, and it's nice.

I know this one is NOT GOOD FOR ANYONE, but sometimes I get really pale and wan, and I will do some tanning bed. like.. 5 minutes, three times a week or something, just to pop up my freckles and take away a little of my death pallor. I know it's very unhealthy to go in a tanning bed, but it really brightens my mood (especially here it's been rain rain rain for weeks) and gives me a bit more healthy glow.
posted by euphoria066 at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2015

If you wear them, know how to walk gracefully in heels. You might be wearing the most fabulous pair of Brian Atwood pumps, but if you're wobbling along or clutching onto other people/objects for support, it spoils the effect.
posted by evoque at 1:06 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Decent sunglasses
posted by suprenant at 4:40 PM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lipstick/lipgloss. You can have the rest of your face made up, but without the lips being done it's not quite "finished".
posted by lizbunny at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2015

If posture is on the table, then I will suggest bringing in a toothbrush set to work and brushing your teeth after lunch. It helps you feel sort of reset and fresh for the rest of the day.

A silk scarf on your purse/tote/briefcase can make a big impact, if that's your sort of thing.

Emergency purse jewelry. (I keep a delicate short necklace and a longer heavier necklace in my makeup bag, tucked inside those extra button bags you get when buying cardigans and jackets and things). This is more because I'm disorganized and frequently leave the house without remembering to accessorize, but still. Blam! Surprise jewelry intervention!

I also keep "redness remover" eyedrops at work. They make a big difference when you want to look your best, for those of us with allergies and small children. I don't use them every day, since an optometrist once told me they should be used sparingly.
posted by chocotaco at 5:02 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Posture and composure.

I also wear a lot of Hermès scarves which are something of a signature thing for me. (Hermès are beautiful, but you don't need to go at that price point at all.) Scarves are one of the few things that I collect. A scarf can take some pretty basic pieces and ramp it up a bit. The thing is you can't fiddle with your accessories. If you are uncomfortable with what you're wearing you're constantly adjusting. Not fiddling and adjusting is part of the composure thing.
posted by 26.2 at 9:19 PM on September 21, 2015

I was reading your question, all set to recommend a nice strong lip, when I got to

"I prefer the au naturale makeup look but am not opposed to makeup that accentuates my eyes"

I actually do not wear any other makeup at all (mostly because I know that I'm not good at taking it off at the end of the day, and I don't want to ruin my skin), but I always put on lipstick/lipgloss, and I tend to prefer stronger colors that read "YES! I put on makeup today!". There's nothing like a good red lipstick.
posted by timepiece at 9:46 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice upthread.

One thing that I do is separate my wardrobe by color, and only wear certain colors per season. Obviously for fall it's reds, purples, tans. In January I do winter pastels, in March/April I switch to greens /blues for the spring and summer. Sounds silly, or maybe just obviius, right? But I constantly get complimented on very basic outfits, simply because they look "festive". Really, they are just meeting people's expectations, based on all of the marketing they see around them. Meet people's expectations, and they are very soothed.
posted by vignettist at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Meet people's expectations, and they are very soothed.

I want this on a needlepoint pillow.
posted by TenaciousB at 9:19 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

My new favorite makeup thing is Urban Decay All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray. I don't wear makeup every day, but when I do, a few sprays of this stuff keeps it in place All. F***ing. Day. Even under stage lights when I'm pouring sweat.

Just as an FYI: Urban Decay and L'oreal are owned by the same company, and L'oreal just put out the exact same setting spray with the exact same ingredients for about $10-$15 cheaper.
posted by all about eevee at 11:48 AM on October 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

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