31 In Anatomy of an Outfit/ Styling Tips

Experimenting with two piece dressing in this Style School lesson

Two-piece dressing

This Margery Top teaches me something about two-piece dressing


I’ve been wanting to wear tops and pants without feeling the need to add a third piece in order to complete a look.

Why? Three-piece dressing, which I love, is being replaced by two-piece dressing, and I’ve got to change with the times. It would seem like wearing two pieces in an outfit instead of three would be a welcome transition similar to the thrill of going from a letter grading system in school to a pass/fail grading system. Your chances of getting it right would escalate.

But I don’t see it that way!

I say two-piece dressing puts pressure on one of the separates to be outstanding. For instance, eligible tops would need to have a unique shape, fun texture, or some kind of pleasing all-over print. They can’t just be plain or your outfit fails.

Something Artful Home has plenty of is unique separates with lots of personality. They have a personality-filled collection of neutral colored pieces. There are striking pieces that have great texture. As a brand ambassador for them, I get to test my style theories using their selections. In my study of tops, I chose this neutral, textured Margery Top by Lisa Bayne to experiment with.


Artful Home top

The Lisa Bayne Margery Top


I’m reporting in with my findings on two-piece dressing.

Professional women are switching to two-piece dressing

I’m a professional woman. A lot of my wardrobing clients are professional women. For the longest time working women have worn three pieces of clothing at one time—a skirt or pant, a top, and a cardigan or blazer—in order to be taken seriously in the workplace. Three pieces helps a woman look professional, polished, and put together.

But that’s changing, and I’m nervous. I don’t want a woman to be invisible and, historically, three pieces per outfit gives her a better chance of being visible. It goes for my busy retired clients, too. Many of them have stayed with three-piece dressing not because they’re worried they won’t be taken seriously, but they do worry about showing their arms. Wearing a cardigan or a jean jacket over a top takes that worry away.

However, wearing just two pieces makes more and more fashion sense. Workplaces are changing. I have a client in their fifties who is working at Twitter. I’m helping her look professional while also acknowledging her work environment. A third piece isn’t key. More and more I’m on the lookout for exciting tops or sweaters for them to wear sans jacket.


Two piece dressing for work

Reflecting on the merit of two-piece dressing


Today’s style demonstration features the Margery Top

In the past I’d buy solid colored tops, no prints, smooth textures, and have a plan that the jacket would stay on all day. Now I’m looking at doing the opposite. Could I still feel professional in just two pieces?

The Margery top is in a rippled knit—absolutely no wrinkling, which is great for the workplace. What’s totally inside my comfort zone is the fact that it’s in neutral colors and has dots. You know how much I love dots! It has a cowl neck and a crescent hem—shorter in front than in back. The cowl neck is super soft. What surprised me is that I could still wear a necklace with that neckline. I’ve never thought about adding a necklace to a cowl neck, but it just seemed right. It’s my sparkly bee pendant. I like how it brings more attention near my face.


Crescent hem on Marjory Top

The Margery Top has a crescent hem


I kept everything else simple. I’m wearing the Bumpy Belted Ring and the Crescent Ball Bangle, also from Artful Home. And I have on my gunmetal earrings with a little sparkle.

I went for shine with my patent leather Chelsea boots and my flashy quilted bag. The shiny surfaces add polish to the outfit. With my red Uber Optics frames and red lipstick, I’m ready to enjoy a day at work!


But could I bring the Margery Top into my weekend life in Sonoma?


Casual jean outfit

A planned outfit that looks thrown together effortlessly


I have to admit I thought I could only wear this top with black pants. I was being short-sighted. I didn’t see it going anywhere but work or a lecture or a class. But one day I woke up wanting to wear two things: the Margery Top and my jeans. Was it possible?


Marjory Top with blue jeans

Walking the ‘hood in my Margery Top and jeans


This is the section of today’s lesson that’s equivalent to the student in chemistry class who mixes two chemicals together and creates an explosion. I slipped on my jeans and then the top and sparks flew! I was so surprised. When I pair the knit top with jeans, it just looks cool. I wanted a casual, arty feel for the weekend so I threw on my antique Celtic cross pendant and a black and soft white, faint plaid print, sheer chiffon, oblong scarf. I liked the je ne sais quoi feel about the scarf. “Oh this little scarf? I just threw it on.”

I reached for my flat boots and an easy black tote. I look at this picture and it reminds me of how good I feel in it. I can’t wait to wear it again!

Well, actually, I wore it just last night. I came home from a massage appointment and wanted to feel cozy for the evening. I put the Margery Top on over those same jeans and added another scarf.


A full scarf with the Marjory Top

This might be my favorite accessory with the Margery Top


This scarf has more volume and can be wrapped around my neck for warmth. It covers the cowl neck detail, but it’s okay. Everything blends together. I love, love, love the bold pattern in the scarf with the smaller pattern in the top. I would have taken a picture of me wearing it, but you really don’t want to see my massage hairdo. No one does!

So, my friends, I believe this experiment was a success. I can wear two pieces and feel professional. I’m especially proud of not limiting this top to black bottoms. That would have been a shame. This top wants to come out and play often.

Good news: There will be no testing on this styling lesson, but you know I want to hear from you about your two-piece dressing. What do you look for in top styles? Are you a confident two-piece dresser?


P.S. I’m compensated by Artful Home for writing this blog post. All thoughts and words that go into the blog are my own, but you knew that already! Thanks, Artful Home!


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  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 5:07 am

    Oh yes. I do the 2 piece often but have to have some statement jewelry . That top would go over a skirt, long or trumpet, as I am always on the lookout for tops to amp up a skirt look. Now that it is chilly, add in boots and a scarf and good to go. I really like the top and the way it flirts over the tum and hips. Great.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 5:10 am

    P.S. Brenda, that would look interesting over your multi mix dress look from Jan.8 post.

  • Reply
    La semaine d'une gourmette
    October 18, 2018 at 5:25 am

    All my life, I’ve dressed in 2 pieces more often than 3. So now I’m fashionable, surprise! 😉
    Actually, today I’m in 1 piece: A beautiful teal gauze dress, rather long, with a slight balloon shape (very flattering on my small-bosomed, wide-buttocked shape) and lovely front details. It needs nothing else than some not-too-showy jewelry, and a pair of fifties-like middle height beige Clarks pumps.

  • Reply
    Cindy L
    October 18, 2018 at 5:30 am

    The two-piece look can be tricky for me. While I’m slim in most places, I have wider hips and therefore struggle to find tops that don’t emphasize my pear-shaped bottom half. I’m not always sure how to do this. If I wear a tunic that’s too long, it makes my legs look short or dumpy, and so on. So working with proportion is key for me.

    I usually opt for slim black pants or dark-wash jeans, and go for a top that covers my backside at just the right length. I do prefer to wear a jacket or long cardigan … but sometimes that’s too much. Any tips you have are always welcome!

    • Reply
      October 19, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      Have you tried wearing shorter tops, ending just below the waist (2″ or so)? That way, your dark slim pants can give you the slenderizing look of longer legs. Wearing attractive scarves or necklaces near your face would also draw attention upward.
      You yourself can tell best whether this approach would work for you – everyone’s proportions are different. An advantage to having the hem of your top near your waist is that it cuts you in a narrower part of your body, even though it may require that you shorten your tops or shirts.

  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    October 18, 2018 at 5:34 am

    If I say that it makes me sad that the 3rd piece isn’t always needed, does that mean I’m not keeping up with the times?? But I see the draw for only two pieces. And I can totally get behind it with the more interesting pieces like this top. Give me texture and some fun details, and I’ll be good!! Besides…isn’t adding a scarf kinda like a third piece??

    • Reply
      October 20, 2018 at 11:40 am

      I had the same thought Jodie! To me, three pieces says polish. And I thought the scarf was an excellent finish. 🙂

  • Reply
    Bobbi Ann Mouzon
    October 18, 2018 at 5:42 am

    2 pieces is hard for me! Even more so now that I am so fat. But in the summertime here on the East Coast is so humid and sweltering, 3 pieces are too much, even in the lightest of fabrics. It is difficult to find pieces that work.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 5:58 am

    You are such an inspiration! I am in need of a fashion reboot and get so many great ideas from you! Thank you and keep it up!!

  • Reply
    cindy hattersley
    October 18, 2018 at 6:31 am

    I love LIsa’s line for Artful Home. I love the texture and the fit (not quite as oversized as many of the other brands) Love the way you styled it of course! I am still on the lookout for a pair of stylish booties that are comfortable. Love those but I probably couldn’t wear them!

  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 6:37 am

    I have never liked wearing a third piece (to restricting) and my jobs have always been casual enough that I never had to and sometimes working with elementary kids it wasn’t really practical. But I also have never felt really fully dressed. Now I’m retired and really don’t want to mess,with that third piece. But feeling polished has always been my big issue. I sew a lot and am now looking for artful pieces to make and wear (If any one else sews I suggest Marcy and Katherine Tilton) . But you have let me know that I really need to invest in scarves and jewelry to amp up my look. What I really love about what you do is that everything is cohesive and subtle. Thanks for being a great teacher.

  • Reply
    Briar Gregory
    October 18, 2018 at 10:15 am

    You always inspire me, Brenda. I’ve noticed this trend too, but I get cold! Having that third piece means being able to adjust to different temperatures. Does a coat over the top count as a third piece?

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    October 18, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I’m comfortable in either 2 or 3 piece outfits. Here in Canada, especially with winter coming on, the 3rd piece is often necessary for warmth.

    • Reply
      October 18, 2018 at 3:15 pm

      Exactly. The third piece is a necessity for warmth, a cozy bit of hygge. In summer, two pieces are just fine.

  • Reply
    MK Craig
    October 18, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    Brenda, I love the Margery top and the ways you have styled it. You are always an inspiration!
    My only problem is that I can’t afford Artful Home’s apparel. Do you have suggestions for other sources of creatively designed styles that aren’t so pricey?

  • Reply
    Gill Hall
    October 18, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Fabulous top and I particularly love it with the jeans. Classy casual and the patent boots and scarf finish the outfit beautifully. I agree it would look fab over a straight shirt with textured tights. Love two piece dressing and us Aussies do it often. Thanks as always for the inspiration.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I’m a knitter and a sewer – I specialize in third pieces. Cardigans and little jackets. I’m never giving up the third piece. But you look so great Brenda. You’re a constant inspiration.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I think 2 piece dressing only works if there is an element of interest somewhere, otherwise it looks dull. It could be shape or texture, or statement jewellery and scarves, or footwear and bags. I’ve always considered those items to be third pieces, especially when the weather is warm.

    • Reply
      October 22, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      I agree, Linda. I’ve always considered my scarf a third piece. Come winter I’ll wear sweaters with a scarf to punch up the look of an otherwise plain two piece outfit.

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    October 18, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    Ohh, I love the look of that fab top with the blue jeans and accessories. Lovely ! Yes, I agree With Gill. Always inspiring Brenda. Sending much love from Oz x

  • Reply
    October 19, 2018 at 5:59 am

    The third piece is difficult when you work in an overheated office. Especially if you are menopausal! I definitely favor 2 pieces and am always on the lookout for interesting tops.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2018 at 6:28 am

    I would love to hear more of your observations about the two pieces trend. Is it just because workplaces are getting more casual? Or do you see something more than that?

  • Reply
    Lynn Larkin
    October 19, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    While I love some of these designs I find them too expensive for every day budgets. Janska has quite a few similar in lightweight fleece, made in USA, great colors.

  • Reply
    Tea With Jennifer
    October 20, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    How lovely to find you Brenda, I must confess I have lost a lot of my style over the last decade, as I have chronic ill health, but I am coming up to a milestone birthday & am determined to get my style out there again!
    I’m a casual kinda gal & need comfort for the pain… But I have an hour glass figure & casual doesn’t always look stylish on me.
    I love your tips & outfits.

  • Reply
    October 21, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    You have rocked it. Love the top with both scarves and the jeans.

  • Reply
    Gail Guinn
    October 22, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I live in the desert and do a lot of two piece dressing because of the heat. I choose shirts or pants that have some stand-out feature: an unusual hemline or buttons, attractive patterns, interesting necklines or special details. With a plainer shirt I always wear either one of my statement necklaces or larger earrings with perhaps a couple of smaller necklaces. I have found that carrying a handbag that is interesting also helps…..Plus I need comfy but cool and artesian shoes…HA!

  • Reply
    October 22, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    I’m a bit of a traditionalist who is always cold. A jacket or cardigan are essentials. Men (for the most part) continue to wear suits here in the Midwest. The third piece is part of a woman’s power statement in the work place in most local industries. I agree with everyone noting above that adding a scarf or jacket elevates a work outfit. Kathy

  • Reply
    October 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Two piece dressing feels odd although like those above I agree a substantial scarf can serve as your third piece. Not sure I would feel totally put together with only two pieces! It’s another learning cure and change I’ll have to adapt to!

    • Reply
      October 27, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      One way that I deal with new things in fashion is to people watch. I’ve totally resisted two-piece dressing but seeing others do it and liking what I see gives me the idea to try it myself. And yes, I do believe a scarf or a statement necklace can act as a third piece. It does usually make me feel more confident. Cheers!

  • Reply
    Gloria S Blankenship
    February 16, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Can you describe the black pants you are wearing? They look really nice with the Margery top.

    • Reply
      February 19, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      HI Gloria. They are a stretch microfiber fabric. This one is by Missok. Another place I’d try is White House/Black Market for a slim black knit pant like that. It is a pull-on pant, doesn’t wrinkle.

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