Just last week a reader asked me for help understanding third pieces as a tool for finishing an outfit. I went through my phone pics today and have rounded up some examples of third pieces. As a bonus, I’m going to share why the third piece is important, relevant, and useful even in casual dressing. ESPECIALLY in casual dressing!
Let’s take a trip down memory lane when third pieces were easy to find in stores and they made getting dressed as easy as eating apple pie and ice cream on July 4th.
Remember the 80’s? Many of you were wearing suits to work. The formula had three pieces: Skirt, blouse, blazer. Or trouser, knit shell, and matching suit jacket. To get more mileage out of your suit you got a coordinating print jacket that worked back to both the skirt and pant that came with it. Simple. Finished. Easy peasy. Done and done and done.
I was talking to a new client yesterday and she was fondly remembering that decade. Oh, I remember that too. I’d get a new Ellen Tracy capsule wardrobe twice a year. There’d be a solid jacket and a novelty jacket to go with a skirt or pant. I’d change the look with different tops. What a delicious, uncomplicated time to be getting dressed.
That third piece gave everyone reassurance
Those three pieces put us together. We looked present and ready for the day. We looked capable of meeting our responsibilities and getting things done. People could trust us.
Two pieces never stood a chance of conveying all that.
I remember taking my youngest to a new doctor once. The doctor was dressed in two pieces. The lab coat must have been in the closet so my impression was based on black elastic waist polyester pants and a tucked in oversized short-sleeved loud print blouse . She looked like she could have been a clown’s assistant at a child’s birthday party in someone’s backyard. I am not exaggerating. As a mother, I was frantic to find clues that she was a real doctor. I started scanning the walls of her office to find a framed degree from a college I’d heard of. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and never went back.
I also remember interviewing therapists while I was going through my divorce. One name came highly recommended. I went to meet her at her office at 4 pm in San Anselmo. She met me at the door and ushered me in. She was in violet velour pants with a drawstring waist and a loose-fitting sweatshirt. Really? I didn’t hire her.
Are third pieces just for people who work?
A women wearing a third piece looks like she respects herself, is smart and aware. You wouldn’t need to be employed to want to reap those non-verbal benefits.
The third piece helps you look put together. In these casual times, that’s a real benefit. Looking put together is great for dating, shopping, dining, going to the doctor’s office, advocating for a family member in a health crisis, strutting your stuff, being noticed and visible. Pretty good stuff!
So that’s why I’m a huge fan of the third piece. What’s been so fun career-wise for me is to demonstrate with my clients and readers how third pieces can be anything but a blazer if you so wish. Although Cheryl Tucker (@northwestmountainliving) was wearing a white blazer with her jeans, striped v-neck tee and sandals today on Instagram and it looked divine!
Ready? Let’s look at the parade of third pieces!
Print jackets as third piece
I love print jackets. They’re friendly and engaging. They can be playful or creative or dramatic. They are excellent conversation starters. This tribal jacket from Chico’s always draws a comment. A cute young guy couldn’t stop complimenting me in line at a French pastry shop in Los Gatos.
Another Chico’s jacket, this is in a classic navy and white striped knit blazer. It’s gosh darn fun with my striped t-shirt and jeans. Want to go to the movies?
This is my Dries Von Noten linen blend jacket that I found at a consignment store in Santa Fe. Another conversation starter! I love wearing this third piece over a column of white but I’ve worn it with jeans as well. It’s such a rich print. I feel like I’m at the sea and in the woods at the same time. It sure adds interest to a column of white!
This is probably my most splashy third piece. It’s an Etro jacket and originally I bought it to wear with wide-leg satin pants for a summer wedding. Mostly this third piece gets worn over tees and paired with jeans because that’s my lifestyle.
I saw this jacket five minutes after it had arrived at my girls’ consignment store, SAX in San Anselmo. That’s what happens when Mom stops by delivering treats! It was so me and I insisted on taking it home. I love wearing it over an asymmetrical sleeveless tunic. Russ and I were headed out on a Saturday afternoon for a late lunch at the bar at Oso on the Sonoma Square. The third piece turns this into a casual chic look.
This black and white bold print collarless jacket with bell sleeves is paired with that same asymmetrical black tunic. Collarless jackets are less formal. I like that. This was on an Office Tuesday with Caitlin, my youngest, who is the boss of me on Tuesdays. I love the playful nature of this patterned piece.
Solid colored jackets as third pieces
If third pieces with print are fun and creative and engaging, solid colored jackets can be more refined and sophisticated even if you’re wearing them with jeans. These next two jackets have sheen to them so that makes them appear more dressy. Sometimes you just want your third piece to be more elegant.
This yellow silk one is by Lilith and I bought it at J.James in Sonoma.
This black cropped jacket has been in my closet for y-e-a-r-s! Sometimes it goes dormant for long periods. But I have put it in a few outfits recently that I really like. The sheen makes it a bit dressy but I like how I used a cotton gingham check shirt to tone it down.
Modern jackets in classic styles
In these next two jean outfits I’m wearing a blouse. This first jacket is a modern take on a classic style. This light gray jacket with three-quarter sleeves (because I had them altered that way) is so lightweight and great for summer. I love how it “finishes” this Sunday brunch outfit at Boonfly Cafe. Russ and I go there a lot. Always brunch. It’s a casual date with my sweetie and I want to look put together. From Boonfly we went to di Rosa which is a contemporary art gallery with beautiful grounds. It’s on a hill right near Boonfly. It’s such an inspiring place to visit.
I love this Chanel-like jacket which is actually by Talbot’s. I had it altered last year and the alterations person kept swooning over it. “It’s so Chanel,” she said. I wore this jacket and a white t-shirt and jeans to a Sunday backyard birthday party for one of Russ’ oldest friends. It makes a simple white t-shirt more chic, that’s for sure! Imagine a t-shirt and jeans without the jacket. Not too special.
Cardigans and shawls as third pieces
Third pieces don’t have to be jackets. They can be shawls like in this picture. I was doing some Saturday shopping for myself. Erin must have been with me because she took the picture! Oh I remember, we had been to the Gem Faire and then we ran over to Nordstrom to play with lipsticks. It’s one of the things we love to do together.
Anyway, I’m wearing a navy sweater but adding this gray shawl creates some uplift to my outfit. Simple. Easy. Finished. Third piece.
Here’s another knit third piece. It’s a loosely woven linen cardigan. I’ve used decorative pins as closures. Underneath it is a straight white tee. Not too exciting. But with the third piece, it’s looking like a real outfit.
Here’s another linen knit semi-sheer drapy black cardigan with a wide draped shawl detail. It’s by Eileen Fisher. She does great third pieces that women “our” age find friendly to wear.
Jean jackets as third pieces
You knew I’d have to bring up the jean jacket! It’s such a practical third piece for many women. These first two jackets are classic denim. The third one is a “jean” jacket that’s actually a black linen Eileen Fisher piece. I love and wear them all!
Jean jackets are fun to accessorize. In both these examples of denim jackets I’ve decorated them with pins. The pins personalize them and add flavor to the outfit.
This Eileen Fisher linen jacket in black is my most used summer-month third piece. It goes over everything. It’s so lightweight. I roll up the sleeves, leave it open so it stays all breezy. It protects my arms from the sun but also covers them which I still prefer. I brought it with me on one of my trips last summer to visit Dad in Minnesota. This is in Perham at a building that was once the library. They built a modern version with the same materials right next door.
Shirt as third piece
I could go on and probably will in another post in a couple of months but I had to end with the shirt. This is a loose, long, big shirt by Oska. I love using shirts as third pieces. This was a Saturday afternoon outfit. It was an Open Studios weekend in Marin County and we were visiting one of our artist friends. I bought a watercolor from her that you see first walk in the house. We hung out with her and her husband that day and had wine and strawberries. When we left, we decided to have an early dinner at a thai restaurant in Larkspur before heading back to Sonoma. This shirt/third piece added a little somethin’ somethin’ to this simple outfit.
The parade of third pieces is coming to a close. Time to disperse to your closets and pull out great candidates for third pieces. How does it look in there? Are you spotting some pieces that you could turn into outfits? Do share your thoughts on third pieces!