How to dress down an outfit: advice for the always-overdressed

Woman in london wearing a white dress

 [Image: Warehouse]

So, you like to get dressed-up every now and then. Or maybe even a LOT.

That’s great: join the club. We’re big fans of the fine art of overdressing, and wish more people would indulge in it – it would certainly make life easier for those of us who like nothing more than to get all dolled up in our dresses and heels, and who’d sooner go out naked than in a pair of sweatpants.*

(*Not really.)

The problem is, though, most people DON’T love to dress-up, so those of us who do tend to face a daily barrage of questions about WHY we’re “all fancy”, whether we have a job interview, and how on EARTH we found the time to throw on that simple little dress. If you’re a fellow over-dresser we’re sure you know what we’re talking about here.

It would be wonderful if we all simply had the confidence to just not care about these comments, and to go on our over-dressed way regardless of what people say to us. But it’s not always quite that simple. Perhaps you have a working environment in which your style of dressing might be considered unprofessional, or cause people to take you less seriously. Perhaps you’re just starting to dress  up, and you’re not quite ready to unleash your new look on the world. Or maybe you’re just tired of all the comments, and want people to concentrate on your work or personality, rather than focusing on your shoes.

Whatever your reason, there are times when you might want to try and dress down your look slightly, without compromising too much of your personal style. Here are some easy ways to do it:

How to Dress Down an Outfit | Cover-up with a cardigan

Woman in purple cardigan - How to dress down an outfit

[Outfit: La Redoute]

Cardigans (and other knitwear or semi-structured jackets) won’t just keep you warm, they’ll also make a dress or fancy top look a whole  lot more casual. While bare arms can, in themselves, be a very casual kind of look, sleeveless or strapless dresses tend to look “dressier” than ones with sleeves: add a cute cardigan and you’ll still be able to see your dress, but you’ll feel a little less 2dressed-up” in it.

How to Dress Down an Outfit | Think carefully about footwear

We love heels and wear them almost everywhere. Heels have the ability to make even the most casual outfit look dressy, however, so if you’re going for the opposite effect, replace them with flats or boots for a more laid-back look.

How to Dress Down an Outfit | Add a pair of tights

How to dress down an outfit with black tights

[Image: Heatons]

As with the bare arms discussed above, bare legs can either make you look like you’re going to the beach… or like you’re going to a party. Opaque tights in a dark colour like black or navy will dress your look down, and will also help make a short dress look more “modest”. On the other hand, lace, sheer or patterned tights can have the opposite effect, so choose your hosiery with care. If you don’t want to wear tights, leggings can make a good alternative, especially in summer, if you want to wear a dress with sandals.

How to Dress Down an Outfit | Keep makeup and hair natural

We’re not saying you should neglect them altogether, but elaborate updos and/or lots of makeup will obviously create a “dressed up” effect, so if you want to downplay your outfit, you might want to consider going for a slightly more natural, unfussy look, to give your overall look a more casual feel.

Or you could just ignore all of this and dress to the nines every day. Life’s short, after all.

Are you an over-dresser? What do you do to keep your look “appropriate” for more casual occasions – or do you just dress up anyway and enjoy it?


  • January 11, 2013

    Rock Hyrax

    I’ve always had the problem of looking overdressed / “smartly dressed” even when I’m not trying. All the above help of course, but at my age (40s) I’ve found cardigans are best avoided, and have switched to unbuttoned blouses.

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  • January 11, 2013


    Yesterday I went out with a boy and we thought it was a long time we didn’t go to a bowling alley…well, I was wearing a pair of super high heels red pumps, black lace tights, high waisted black skirt and a subtle sweaterm, cateye eyeliner and red lipstick….he was wearing a wonderful blue shirt with a tie…EVERYBODY in that place was gazing at us!

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  • January 11, 2013

    annette tirette

    I keep feeling lucky for being an artist and mostly working from home… It means I can basically wear whatever the hell I want and people won’t think about it because you know, artist. I’ve been making my own clothes for a while and tend to go for crazier prints, wearing dresses and skirts 99% of the time. I do get quite a few funny looks and remarks from people who don’t know me, but not nearly enough to make me care.

    As for the dressing down tips: if you don’t feel like wearing a cardigan, try a jean jacket instead. I have a cropped one that sits right at my natural waist and looks quite nice on most of my dresses, even the fancier ones. I also tend to go for light brown shoes instead of black, sturdy lower heels instead of high, and funny details (like brooches or necklaces).

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  • January 14, 2013


    The best part of going to an art school is that I can look glamorous whenever I want, but then I go over to a friend’s who doesn’t go that school and their parents are like, “Oh, why are you all glammed up?”

    Because I’m stylish, madame. Because I’m stylish.

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  • January 19, 2013


    I tend to go from extremes – very done up to laid-back. It really depends. Sometimes inspiration hits and I write down an outfit combination for later. Sometimes I plan outfits very far in advance.

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