The Fashion Rule Book: The Three Word Rule

The Fashion Rule Book: The Three Word Rule

Always take one one thing off, 1-2-1 fashion, there are some ‘rules’ worth ignoring. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any you should bear in mind. As part of this new series, our Fashion Editor talks through the ones to live by for great style. First up, the ‘three word’ rule…
Photography: ISABEL MARANT

The Rule

Fashion rules aren’t as scary as they sound. Rather, they’re a guide to support you through those nothing-to-wear moments, sweaty changing room panics, or hours spent trawling online. The 'Three Word Rule' isn’t one I can take credit for. Amy Smilovic, the immensely talented founder and creative director of Tibi – is the brains behind the concept. The rule, in its most basic form, is this:

"Identify three key words you want every outfit to convey. When you get dressed, look in the mirror and ask yourself if this look embodies them all. Yes? Great. If not, try to inject a little bit of what’s missing."

Amy’s words are chill, modern, classic – or the affectionately acronym-ed CMC. Every outfit she puts together has to be all of these things. That means a classic white shirt should always be slightly oversized, and if paired with straight black trousers, should be accompanied by trainers, or (in the case of Tibi) furry loafers, with rolled up sleeves and some chunky gold jewellery. Chill, modern, classic.


My Words

I’ve always lived by certain rules – readers of my ‘Dos & Don’ts’ will know I controversially have anti-icons – women who I use as a litmus test for shopping. If they’d wear it, I won’t. But homing in on what your aesthetic is, as opposed to what it isn’t, is a lengthier process. Finally, I settled on: grown-up, cool, glamorous.

Grown-up means looking like you have your life together. I eschew dungarees and hair bows, frilly tops and mismatched nail colours because I like to feel polished and like an adult. Cool, because all the women whose style I admire are quintessentially that – a little bit dishevelled, pretty androgynous, prone to boyfriend shirts, chunky slides, slouchy trousers and great tailoring. And glamorous because I like to feel womanly – that grown-up/cool combo wouldn’t feel like me without good hair, gold details and a great bag. So that’s the basic anatomy of every outfit I now put together.

Your Words

Chances are there are certain brands, designers, stylists, models or influencers who you frequently look at and think ‘that is just so me.’ Use these sources of inspiration to identify what you’re looking for in an outfit. For me, it’s the immeasurably cool @UnderVoodoo, aka French photographer/model/DJ Cate Underwood, whose innate ability to layer relaxed separates with scraped back hair and cat eye sunnies is my aspiration. There’s also every Isabel Marant campaign ever, but most notably AW20 – a grown-up colour palette of cool cuts with glamorous details, from capes to shearling. 

Jen Wonders is another idol deserving of attention. The stylist, vintage lover and creative consultant always looks polished thanks to a great repertoire of tailoring and coats, scores cool points with directional accessories (think Loewe sunnies and belt bags and baker boy hats) and gets glamorous right by adding leather, low heels and gold hoops or a red lip. It can be easier to work out the three words that best apply to your style crush first, and then work on making your own wardrobe fit the bill.

Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant

The Best Bit

This isn’t about shopping – it’s about how you wear your clothes. Naturally, you’ll want to consider your three words when investing – they will inform whether you size up or down, for example, or if you’ll wear something frequently enough. But it’s fundamentally about what you see when you look in the mirror each morning. We all know that Coco Chanel rule about taking one thing off, but if your three words are bold, maximalist, and fun, for example, then her legendary tip simply won’t apply. So, start with the basics – dress for the occasion, whether you’re after comfort or polish – and then make those tweaks to accommodate your three words. It’s the easiest way to leave your house feeling like your best self – I guarantee it.


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