The Rule of Thirds Is All You Need to Know to Take Your Outfit from Meh to Fab

Have you ever wondered why, exactly, high-waist jeans are so flattering? Or why knee-high boots feel much easier to style than booties or thigh-high boots? The reason has a lot to do with the Rule of Thirds, and even if you’re not planning on wearing jeans or boots, it’s an incredibly important fashion hack to know if you want to transform your outfits from merely cute to completely fabulous.

What’s the Rule of Thirds, you ask? It’s actually a term borrowed from the art world. It refers to a theory of composition (i.e., how you frame a painting or photograph) that suggests the most interesting images have their focal points anywhere but the middle of the frame. Specifically, it posits that the most compelling images can be broken into thirds, either vertically or horizontally, rather than cut in half. Steven Spielberg actually dedicated an entire scene of his 2022 hit The Fabelmans to explaining the Rule of Thirds. In the scene, John Ford (played by David Lynch) tells a young Spielberg, “When the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit.”

So, what does this have to do with fashion? Well, the exact same rule can be applied to outfits, breaking the body down into thirds, rather than halves. Fashion stylist Liz Teich explains it well in the above Instagram post, noting that tucking a top into high-waist pants or belting a dress at your waist is much more visually appealing than cutting your body in half. For many of us, the very middle of our bodies is our widest point, so dividing your outfit evenly between top and bottom doesn’t do much by way of giving our figures some shape. But by drawing the eye upward toward your natural waist (or down with some fabulous knee-high boots), you give yourself a more interesting silhouette.

rule of thirds
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Here's another example of a look that embraces the Rule of Thirds. She’s got her top tucked into a pair of bootcut jeans so that the top third of her look is white and the bottom two thirds are blue. But she’s also wearing a long jacket that, when belted closed, colors the top two thirds of her outfit beige, with just the bottom third left blue.

Of course, when testing this out for yourself, you don’t need to be too strict about breaking up your figure into exact thirds. If you have a shorter torso or a biggest bust, you may find that mid-rise jeans are actually more flattering than high-rise, as they more evenly break up you proportions. Have some fun and play around with different clothing combinations to find the best Rule of Thirds ‘fits in your wardrobe. The remember to snap a photo so you can reference your new no-fail looks on mornings when you just don’t know what to wear.



Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...