The Third Piece Rule: How to Make Your Outfits Feel More Complete

Have you ever wondered how some people always seem to look polished and put together, even when they’re just running errands? Or maybe you’re looking in the mirror and feeling like your outfit is missing something.

One of the best kept secrets by stylists and fashionistas is the “third piece” rule. This rule is simple but incredibly effective: when putting together an outfit, always add a third piece to elevate the look. It’s a simple principle that can make even the most basic outfits go from good to great. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore how following the third piece rule can instantly transform your outfits to make you look and feel more confident.

Third Piece Rule in fashion

What is The Third Piece Rule?

The third piece rule is a styling principle that can take an outfit from basic to polished. It’s exactly how it sounds: adding in a third element to your outfit. By doing so, you can add interest, texture, or dimension to your look, beyond your top and bottom. 

For example, your third piece could be any of the following: 

  • A blazer
  • A cardigan
  • A button-down shirt
  • A silk scarf or bandana
  • A headband
  • A statement necklace or other jewelry
  • A belt
  • A hat
  • A layering tee
  • Sunglasses

If you’re unfamiliar with this style rule, don’t worry, I had no clue this was a thing – and probably still wouldn’t know about it today – if it weren’t for the few years I spent working at Nordstrom. That’s where I learned about this game-changing style hack, and I’ve been trying to practice it ever since.

The third piece rule isn’t something you have to practice religiously; in the summer when it’s extra hot, I’ll skip any unnecessary layer if I don’t need it. But if you have some place to go or want to make your outfit have that *little* extra something, adding a third piece to your look truly elevates and completes it. 

Third Piece Fashion Tips

Consider the occasion

When choosing a third piece, it’s important to consider the occasion and dress accordingly. A blazer might be a great third piece for a business meeting, while a denim jacket might be more appropriate for a casual brunch with friends.

Try a pop of color

Your third piece doesn’t have to be completely matchy-matchy. Pick an item with a pop of color to add some contrast to your outfit.

Add Interest with textures

Another way to make your third piece stand out is by playing with different textures. This is an exceptionally helpful tip if you’re a color person but still want to keep your outfit interesting.

Try leather, silk, shearling, linen, and other fabrics to give added dimension to your looks.

The Third Piece Rule in Summer

I don’t always follow the third piece rule, particularly in the summer. However, there are a few key pieces you can add to your summer dress outfit without adding heavy layers.

Try wearing an open linen or crisp poplin button down shirt as a “jacket” then add a bandana or hat as your final, finishing touch. 

Experiment with layering

The third piece doesn’t have to be a traditional outerwear item like a jacket or sweater. Experiment with layering different pieces. One of my favorite ways to add a layer is wearing a turtleneck under a dress during the fall. For more black turtleneck outfit ideas, check out this post.

My Favorite Third Piece Outfit Finishers

5 Third Piece Outfit Ideas 

Dress with a Statement Belt and Neck Scarf

Dress with a Statement Belt and Neck Scarf

First piece: A black midi shirt dress | Second piece: Silk neck scarf | Third piece: A pop of color with this purple suede belt

All Black Outfit with Vest

All Black Outfit with Vest

First piece: Black skinny jeans | Second piece: A black turtleneck (shop my favorites here) | Third piece: Faux fur shearling vest

Floral Dress and Cardigan

Floral Dress and Cardigan Third Piece Rule

First piece: A floral midi dress | Second piece: Thin brown belt | Third piece: A cardigan, worn open

Jeans and a Utility Jacket

Jeans and a Utility Jacket Third Piece Rule

First piece: Black straight leg jeans | Second piece: A striped shirt | Third piece: A green utility jacket

Trench Coat and Leggings

Trench Coat and Leggings Third Piece Rule

First piece: Black leggings | Second piece: Graphic tee | Third piece: A trench coat

Incorporating the third piece rule into your fashion choices can have a significant impact on your overall look and personal style. By adding a third piece, you can instantly elevate your outfit. Try it and let me know how it goes for you!

Nice to Meet You

Hi, I'm Camille! I'm a bi-coastal blogger splitting my time between LA and NYC and sharing elevated, yet relatable ideas so that you can achieve your most stylish life.

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  1. 3.7.23
    Jessica Camerata said:

    I learned this lesson when I was a sales associate at Nordstrom. It was required we always had a third piece on. As an 18 year old figuring out her style, it was a challenge! But now it’s my hard rule for completing looks.

    xo Jessica
    an indigo day

    • 3.7.23
      Camille said:

      That’s where I learned it, too! I don’t do this all time, especially not in summer, but it totally helps when I feel like I’m missing something!

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