Let’s get one thing clear: When we say fashion mistakes, we’re not talking about wearing an outfit that could land you on a worst-dressed list, if people were judging. Rather, we’re talking about long-held habits you refuse to break, fashion clichés you still believe are true, and small things you’re avoiding—or doing—that can wreak havoc on your personal style.
From not getting things tailored enough (bad!), to buying into the idea that you have to throw certain things away before you turn 30 years old (stupid!), here are 40 fashion mistakes you should start remedying right now.
You Believe White Shouldn’t Be Worn After Labor Day
Ladies, listen up: This is an antiquated rule that shouldn’t be followed. As countless designers and fashion stars have proven during the past few seasons, white is not only appropriate when the weather turns chilly, but it’s also amazingly fresh and modern. One thing to keep in mind when tackling the white-in-winter trend: It’s all about the fabric. Lighter textiles such as white cotton, linen, canvas, and seersucker will look out of place during fall and winter, so be sure you’re reaching for white wool, cashmere, fur, mohair, flannel, silk, and leather.
You Always Buy the Same Size in Clothes
As any woman who’s shopped high-fashion and fast-fashion knows, sizing can vary tremendously according to store, brand, and item. Cheaper clothing typically runs way bigger, making it common for a woman to wear, say, a size Large at Forever 21, but still be a size 2 in Stella McCartney. Don’t sweat the number—pay attention to how things look on your body instead.
You Wear Retro Pieces Without a Modern Spin
We all know that fashion is cyclical and that everything comes back around, but that doesn’t mean you should dress in full of-another-decade outfits, which could run the risk of making you look like you’re both in costume and 10 years older.
Love the look of a wild, ’80s neon sweater you found at the Salvation Army? Leave the leggings and sneakers at home, and opt for a pair of super-sleek skinny jeans, natural hair and makeup, and a great pair of ankle boots. Found a vintage swingy midi-skirt? Style it with modern staples like a cropped leather jacket and a sleek pair of pointy heels, as opposed to wearing a pussy-bow blouse and pearls.
You Think ‘Dry Clean Only’ Tags Are Always Correct
If a garment says it needs to be dry-cleaned, it won’t hurt to follow suit, but that can get pricey—especially since some items technically don’t need to be professionally cleaned. Many high-end brands that manufacture items in washable fabrics will often say “dry clean only” to keep up the higher-end vibe. Furthermore, certain fabrics, such as cashmere, actually hold up better when they’re washed by hand as opposed to getting dry-cleaned. Here’s a good guide to help you figure out what doesn’t really have to be cleaned by a pro.
You Believe Tall Women Shouldn’t Wear Heels
This mandate isn’t only silly, but a little sexist, too. Stemming from a whole bunch of antiquated notions—including abundant height isn’t feminine, and a woman shouldn’t draw extra attention to herself—this rule is one no woman should ever follow if she doesn’t want to. We know plenty of women who are six feet tall and still rock killer heels with grace (ahem, Jenna Lyons, Charlize Theron, Michelle Obama, Karlie Kloss….)
You Shop for Instagram
We hate to assume you’d buy anything simply so people know you own it, but such is the world in which we live. Are you buying that Balenciaga bag because you really, really love it, or because you want others to know you bought it? If you buy those Jimmy Choo pumps, will you be able to truly enjoy them without posting them to social media? If the answer is no, you might have some thinking to do about your shopping habits.
You Avoid Horizontal Stripes like the Plague
Buying into the notion that all horizontal lines make you look wide is a cliché mistake. Yes, we’ll admit that a skin-tight bodycon dress emblazoned with horizontal lines might only look good on a model, but pieces that are made well and fit well—think a classic cotton Breton striped shirt tucked into dark jeans, a ladylike full-skirt with horizontal stripes, or a great striped overcoat—flatters every woman.
You Think You Can Only Wear One Bold Color at a Time
If we’ve learned anything from the recent color-blocking phenom, it’s that a bold, saturated hue can look even better when paired with another bold, saturated hue. Wearing an emerald-green silk blouse? Don’t be afraid to wear those fuchsia suede heels or carry that sunny yellow leather clutch—you’ll look super-modern.
You Hate Shopping, so You Rely on the Same Old Dinosaurs in Your Closet
Not that into fashion or shopping? That’s fine, but you are probably into looking presentable, so it’s not the end of the world to replace those 15-year-old, square-toe brown loafers with an updated style, or replace your boot-cut black pants from the late ’90s with a pair that fits well and has a slimmer line. Go ahead and stick to the same styles, but just give them small updates. You’ll not only appear more youthful, but you’ll probably find you enjoy getting dressed a little more when you have modern pieces that fit.
You Think Actual Menswear Is Just for Men
Obviously, you’re not going to pick up a suit at Rochester Big and Tall, but you’d be surprised by how many made-for-men pieces can work for you. This is especially true at common outposts like Forever 21, H&M, J. Crew, and Zara, whose men’s stuff—think slim-cut button-downs, sweatshirts, oversized sweaters, and utility jackets—often aren’t as trendy as their for-women counterparts, and offer a slightly slouchier fit.
You Think Sweatshirts Are Strictly Casual Wear
Once strictly for athletes, gym-goers, and errand-runners, the humble sweatshirt has risen to become a very stylish staple. Need proof? Top designers like Kenzo, Phillip Lim, Cynthia Rowley, and Karen Walker have been showcasing versions that are embellished and printed, while street-style stars started pairing their sweatshirts with swingy skirts, skinny trousers, and statement necklaces. And we’re not only taking about designer versions, either—your old heather-gray Hanes sweatshirt will do the trick nicely.
You Think Mixed Prints Are Way Too Busy
Actually, mixed prints can look extremely fresh, and elevate your look from ordinary to street-style ready in no time. Style pros know that anything goes when it comes to melding motifs (florals with stripes! polka dots with Ikat!), but beginners should start with this tip: Treating leopard or camo (or both) like neutrals is the easiest way to break into pattern mixing. Whatever colored print you choose, add a leopard or camo belt, shoe, bag, blouse, or anything else.
You Think Mixing Gold and Silver is a Faux Pas
Not only is this idea ridiculous, but it also causes you to miss out on some killer jewelry trends, like mixed-metal midi rings, delicate layered necklaces, or a seriously diverse #armparty.
You Think You Can’t Wear Red to a Wedding
This somewhat ridiculous fashion rule was put into place during more conservative times when red was thought to be a way-too-sexy, attention-stealing color. Yes, you might want to stay away from wearing a skin-tight, red plunging spandex gown to a wedding, but you probably don’t want to wear that in any color. These days, there are tons of high-style red dresses that are perfectly acceptable as formal wear, as evidenced by the runways at fashion week and red carpets, on which celebrities often wear red gowns that look elegant and classic, as opposed to tawdry.
A good rule of thumb: Choose red gowns with clean lines that are made from chiffon, silk, or organza, as opposed to shiny satin or anything too stretchy, and always keep embellishments to a minimum.
You Get Caught up in One-Season Wonders
Let’s be clear: We certainly don’t think every splurge needs to be something “classic” that’ll last until the end of time (where’s the fun in that?), but we do think dropping a ton on something that’s so obviously the “it” item from one collection is silly. Why? Because there’s an excellent chance that, after the season is up and the luster starts to fade, you might start to feel that your splurge was partially due to the immediacy of having something coveted, rather than having something you’ll adore long-term.
You Think ‘Classics’ Have to Cost a Ton of Money
Most women can’t—or prefer not to—drop a ton of cash on clothes every season, even on staples we’re told will always be in style. That’s why off-price retailers such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Century 21 are so great for scoring real designer pieces at a fraction of the cost. Even several fast-fashion stores like Zara, ASOS, and Uniqlo are upping their game and quality, offering an array of timeless pieces such as wool overcoats, leather Chelsea boots, wool and cashmere sweaters, and silk blouses at seriously wallet-friendly prices.
You Think Faux Diamonds Are a Faux Pas
While fake designer bags are a huge don’t, fake diamond studs in a reasonable size are a huge do. Why? Because faux stones are hard to spot to the untrained eye.
You Believe Loose Styles Flatter Plus-Size Women Most
It’s a myth that loose, flowy styles flatter a large bust or a plus-size woman. The area just under the bust is a woman’s smallest torso measurement, so emphasizing it with a structured waistband that hits higher than your natural waist will make you look a size smaller.
You Think Jeans Should Be Washed as Much as Your Other Clothing
Denim aficionados know that raw denim can take up to six months to break in and shouldn’t be washed until then.Why? Jeans really do conform to our bodies, and when you wash them, most of the shape is lost. Most jeans today, however, are treated (pre-washed to achieve a faded look) and don’t need to be broken in. These you can wash more often, but only when they’re stained or when they start to sag. To zap odors, hang them in the bathroom while you’re showering or freeze them in a plastic bag for a day or two.
You Think High-Waisted Pants Are Always Unflattering
High-waist bottoms get a bad rap, probably thanks to an unfortunate Jessica Simpson style mishap, but when worn correctly, they can trick the eye into thinking you’re taller and leaner by elongating your lower body. The most slimming item to choose are slightly high-rise slim-fitting jeans that hit your ankle, or simple high-black black trousers.
You Think Sequins Can’t Be Worn During the Day
A modern trick to looking like the most effortlessly stylish girl on the street: Pair dressy bottoms like a beaded skirt, or sequin pants) with casual staples like a white shirt, a gray crew-neck sweatshirt, or a black blazer. Likewise, choose tops with sequin detailing, and pair them with boyfriend jeans.
You Don’t Store Your Pricey Shoes Correctly
Haphazardly throwing your shoes into the closet is one of the worst things you can do, so if you’re going to keep them outside of a box or bag, nearly line them up in pairs on your closet’s floor or on a shelf with ample breathing room between pairs. Also, don’t store good shoes near direct sunlight, which can cause fading and major discoloration. Here are more tips on how to care for those designer shoes!
You Never Get Anything Tailored
This is undoubtedly one of the biggest fashion mistakes a person can make. Think about it: We’re all built differently, so mass-produced clothing won’t fit us all the same way. Having a tailor tweak hemlines, seams, sleeve lengths, even taking in too-wide garments can be the difference between looking fine and looking absolutely impeccable all the time.
You Think Sexy Means Showing Tons of Skin
If you truly believe that sexy means dressing for stereotypical men—teeny-tiny skirts, skintight dresses, low-cut tops—you’re doing yourself (and your style) a giant disservice. Love your body and want to show it off? Great! Do it in ways that are truly sexy, as opposed to flashy—tight jeans and a silky top, a long-sleeve mini-dress with ankle boots, or a great pair of heels paired with a curve-hugging pencil skirt.
You Swore You’d Never Wear Sweatpants Outside the House
As recent sportif trends have showcased, a well-fitting pair of track pants can actually look very cool when paired with things like peep-toe booties or heels, and a structured blazer. See how to style yours here.
You Hoard Certain Items, Instead of Owning One Good One
Obviously, we all have our staples, and we gravitate toward the same types of items when we shop—it’s called having taste. However, if you find yourself quite literally buying a cheap striped shirt every single time you shop, it might be time to cut back. Not only does that mean you’re not satisfied with the shirts crammed into your closet, but it’s a known fact that the more you own, the less you wear.
If you’re still on the hunt for the perfect Breton stripe shirt (or black button down, white jeans, Chelsea boots, or whatever you buy over and over), take all the versions you own out and give them a good, hard look. Donate or sell the ones you’re not in love with, and take some time to hunt down the perfect one, as opposed to stocking up on a bunch of mediocre ones.
You Buy into the ‘Take One Accessory’ off School of Thought
We hate when women regurgitate the dated rule that we should always remove an accessory before leaving the house. Why? Because fabulous women like Iris Apfel and a host of fashion bloggers, jewelry designers, and street-style stars have proven time and time again that piling on the bling can be fabulous and totally idiosyncratic.
You Think Short Girls Can’t Wear Maxi Skirts
It’s common fashion folklore that small women simply can’t wear floor-grazing skirts and dresses, but luckily that’s been proven entirely false. In fact, a well-cut maxi skirt can actually give you the appearance of looking taller, as evidenced by petite gals, like Rachel Bilson, Rachel Zoe, and Mary-Kate Olsen. Choose solid versions that skim the length of your body, which will create a long, vertical line (forego anything with thick pleats or too many layers). Be sure to keep your top fitted—a tucked-in T-shirt and a cropped leather jacket, for example—so as to not drown in fabric. Also, make sure the skirt’s hemline is as long as you can go without tripping, and add a pair of wedges or heels underneath.
You Think Denim on Denim Is a Fashion Don’t
Also known as a Canadian tuxedo, the easiest trick to rocking double denim without looking like you got lost on the way to the cattle ranch: Pair pieces of varying washes together, such as a light denim shirt with dark denim jeans, or a dark denim jacket with a light-wash pair of boyfriend jeans.
You Stay Away from Black and Navy
This fashion rule still has its fair share of subscribers, but let us make it clear: Navy and black look extremely fresh together, as evidenced by recent collections from designers like Carolina Herrera, Miu Miu, Gucci, Prabal Gurung, and Céline. Plus, It-gals like Alexa Chung, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen can’t get enough of mixing the hues. Even if it’s only adding a pair of opaque black tights to a navy blue dress, it’s a mistake to not try it out.
You Think Clutches Are Only for Nighttime
It seems the after-hours staple is fast moving into daylight, as we’ve been spotting countless influencers using small, strap-free bags during the day at Fashion Week, on various style blogs, and right here in New York City on any given day. While some are fairly casual, like oversized leather clutches, others are dressy (i.e., shiny gold clutches and beaded clutch bags), and all look fabulous with things like faded boyfriend jeans.
You Think Sneakers Are Only for the Gym
As recent trends have proven, the right pair of sneakers can take you way beyond the gym. Between wedge sneakers, slip-on sneakers (a huge trend for fall), and the rise of top bloggers and fashion insiders rocking sporty Nikes, New Balance, and Adidas kicks with everything from sleek skirts to leather pants, it’s clear that when styled with dressier pieces, sneakers can add a modern twist to an outfit that’s not comprised solely of sweats.
You Believe Shorts Have No Place on the Fall and Winter
There’s something incredibly cool and fuss-free about rocking a pair of shorts in the winter paired with opaque black tights and ankle booties. Stay away from shorts in summery fabrics like eyelet and cotton, but go ahead and rock shorts made from leather, wool, jacquard, even denim cutoffs, which offer a nice change of pace from skirts when paired with boots, tights, and a chunky sweater come fall and winter.
You Think Long Hair Makes You More Attractive
This is a biggie: Far too many independent women want to experiment with new hairstyles, but believe that a mane of long hair makes them more attractive to themselves and to men. First of all, some of the most beautiful women in the world, including Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé, and supermodel Jourdan Dunn have embraced sexy chops. Secondly, not every woman was born to have super-long hair. In fact, many women end up looking better with a cut that better showcases her features. Not to mention, shorter lengths can also make petite girls look taller, and curvier girls slimmer.
You Always Look like You’re Dressed as ‘Fashion’ for Halloween
Meaning: You’re a walking advertisement for trends and/or labels to the point where it looks like you have no point of view of your own. Before blogs, before street style, and before Fashion Week became a competition for who has the most attention-grabbing labels, young women shopped for themselves, their lifestyle, and what looked best on them.
Next time you’re shopping, really look at each item and decide if you really love it, or if you’re supposed to love it this season.
You Take Fashion Lists to Heart
This particular list is meant to be empowering. Lists that tell you all the things you need to throw away before you hit 30 are just a cheap ploy. And they’re untrue! A list like that might say you can’t wear ultra low-rise jeans in your ’30s, but hello—look as Isabel Marant! The French designer pretty much exclusively sends super-low jeans down the runway. Sure, they’re styled in a more modern way than the low-riders of the early aughts, but they’re still low-waisted jeans; so doesn’t it seem silly to rule them out because a list tells you to?
Age-appropriate styling is really what you should be following, which means knowing how to take pieces you like and making them look chic without being trendy, comfy without being messy, and vaguely sexy without being overt.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2014.