Plain to Polished: Pulling Together Outfits With the Power of Shoes

Yayyyy, another Plain to Polished!  In case you’re new to Plain to Polished, it’s a series where we break down style by looking at plain outfits and talking about SIMPLE ways to make them polished.  Simple is the name of the game.

Today I’m going to share one thing that I totally used to overlook that is so simple, but so significant: If you want to polish up outfits, try wearing a pair of “real” shoes.  Yep, that’s it!  This is one thing we talk about in my online style course Simply Put Together, which gives you the step-by-step guidance for easy and effortless style.  If you want to know how to pull together outfits, all you might need to do is change your shoes!

Almost two decades ago (yes I know I don’t look it but I’m closer to 40 years old than 30!), for years, I was a flip flop junkie.  I was living in San Diego, California (and still do), with its laid back, beach-life vibe, and fully loving the heck out of my Rainbow sandals.

Out of college, I started a great job that was super casual.  Everyone wore flip flops, and in our line of work, it was totally fine.  I wore Rainbows with everything–tees, nicer blouses, dresses.  BUT, one day, I put on a jersey dress, and instead of Rainbows, I put on flats.  Nothing fancy.  Wanna guess what happened, though?  Compliments started rolling in about how nice I looked that day!  Besides all that of course making me feel great, my mind was BLOWN.  Here was an outfit I had worn many times before, except with flip flops.  All I did was change the flip flops to flats, and the compliments rolled in.  That’s all I had to do??? 🤯 WOW, the power of shoes is subtle but strong!

Now, don’t get me wrong: You can wear whatever shoes you want.  Just like with any other tips I share, I’m not trying to be any type of fashion police.  Rather, I’m writing this to help anyone who is desiring but struggling to create more polished and put-together looks.  This is one super simple thing that I think gets overlooked but makes a HUGE impact.

Through out this post, I’ll be using flip flops as the example for the plain outfits.  But, your go-to’s could be something other than flip flops, like running sneakers or an old pair of UGGs.  Another thing I don’t want you to misunderstand: Those are all have a place in our wardrobes.  But, when worn in the wrong context, they can be barriers to you having that put-together look.  I still wear my Rainbows to the beach, running sneakers are necessary for athletic and athleisure, and UGGs are a warm and fuzzy necessity in the world. 😜 But, if you wear them out of context like I was, with nicer blouses and nicer dresses, they become a barrier to a polished look.  Hope we’re clear on that!

Alright, let’s see how easy this can be with some outfit examples!

SIZING: I’m 5’6″ and usually S/M or 6 in clothes, 8.5 to 9 in shoes.


Using Shoes to Finish Outfits

striped tee + denim jacket + black skinny jeans + flip flops + how to pull together an outfit

First outfit: black jeans, a striped tee, and denim jacket.  It’s not bad, right?  Everything fits well and goes together.

I’ve actually shown this outfit to you before, but with different shoes.  The NON-flip-flop version (which I’ll show below) is an outfit that a bunch of you have fallen in love with, pinned on Pinterest, and worn yourself.  But, I have to wonder–would this flip-flop version have been an outfit you wanted to pin on Pinterest and replicate?  Probably not.  How many outfits do you pin on Pinterest that have Rainbow sandals in them?  Unless they’re beach outfits, I’m gonna bet the answer is not many.

This outfit is *almost* there.  Again, it’s actually pretty decent.  It just doesn’t look fully finished or fully put-together with flip flops.  And if we just switch that ONE thing, it’ll elevate the entire outfit:

black skinny jeans + striped tee + denim jacket + wedges + how to pull together an outfit

Voila!  Here’s the outfit I’ve shown in the past–the one you’ve pinned.  These wedges are not a huge departure from flip flops, but now the outfit looks finished.  Do you see what I mean?  The difference is subtle, but significant.

In case going from flip flops to wedges is too huge of a jump for you, you can also do the outfit with white slip on sneakers, like below.  They keep the outfit casual, but give the outfit that finished vibe.

casual mom outfit: striped tee + black jeans + denim jacket

It’s super casual, but looks WAY more finished than the outfit with flip flops.  Doing that LAST piece of putting on some “real” shoes will take the outfit from decent/good/fine to a put-together compliment magnet!

Shop the Outfit
Top: H&M (similar, similar)
Jacket: Nordstrom (exact–wearing size M)
Jeans: Nordstrom (exact–wearing size 6)
Wedges: Old Navy (similar)
Necklace: Dear Mushka (exact)
Earrings: Nickel & Suede (exact-wearing size M)


striped jersey dress + denim jacket + flip flops + how to pull together an outfit

Here’s another example.  This is a jersey dress, denim jacket, jewelry, and flip flops.  Again, it’s mostly pretty good, but doesn’t quiiiiiite feel finished.  Because it’s not.  With just ONE change, we can polish it off and take it to 100%.  Why wouldn’t we?

striped jersey dress + denim jacket + sandals + how to pull together an outfit

You can barely notice this change from flip flops to t-strap sandals, but it matters!  It matters in cleaning up the outfit and making the outfit feel finished.

See how easy that is?  Just change the shoes!

Shop the Outfit
Dress: Target (similar)
Jacket: Nordstrom (exact–wearing size M)
Sandals: (similar)
Necklace: Dear Mushka (exact)
Earrings: Nickel & Suede (exact-wearing size M)


Using Shoes to Define Outfits

You can also use shoes to define outfits.  One way shoes define outfits is by taking them from casual to elevated casual to dressy casual, all depending on your shoe choice.  I showed that above with the black jeans outfit. It’s a fantastic little magic trick!

Another way shoes can define outfits is by helping outfits transition between seasons, like going from summer to fall.  Remember the outfit above with the striped dress and braided thong sandals?  I wear that a ton in the summer, but once we hit the transition into fall, there comes a point where sandals don’t feel right anymore.  When that happens, we can swap the sandals for booties:

striped jersey dress + denim jacket + booties + how to pull together an outfit

Again, not a mind-blowing difference.  But, the booties anchor the look with their heavier texture, which helps the outfit feel a little more like fall.

Shop the Outfit
Dress: Target (similar)
Jacket: Nordstrom (exact–wearing size )

Booties: Sole Society (similar)
Necklace: Dear Mushka (exact)
Earrings: Nickel & Suede (exact-wearing size M)


Lastly, shoes can define outfits by allowing you to put your own twist on the outfit.  Example below:

striped jersey dress + denim jacket + yellow flats + how to pull together an outfit

My twist?  Yellow, of course!  You all know yellow is my #1 choice for accessories, and yellow flats infuse a bit more of my personality into this look.

The shoe possibilities with this outfit are endless.  You could wear it with slip on sneakers or those wedges from above too, or you could simply wear some tan flats.  Use any of those options to define your outfit!

Shop the Outfit
Dress: Target (similar)
Jacket: Nordstrom (exact–wearing size )

Flats: Amazon (exact–wearing size 9)
Necklace: Dear Mushka (exact)
Earrings: Nickel & Suede (exact-wearing size M)

Wear some real shoes to finish and define your outfits.  It’s really that simple.  So many times I walk around seeing women in the same jersey dress I own (you know, those Old Navy and Target ones), pairing them with flip flops.  And because I own those exact dresses, I know the power of switching those flip flops to something else.  It’s magical, and it will get you compliments!  So, do the last 5% and put on real shoes.  Whether we’re talking a simple pair of flats, slip on sneakers, thong sandals, or wedges, they will all make a HUGE difference!

If you don’t even know where to start with shoes, check out Part 6 from my Wardrobe From Scratch Series on How to Choose Shoes.  I just updated it with a brand new shopping widget full of great shoes!

Also, check out the rest of the Plain to Polished series!

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