The 'one third ugly' rule, and 20 more style tips a fashion editor swears by.

I've worked as a fashion writer and editor my entire career.

In that time, from writing about trends for magazines like Harper's Bazaar and InStyle to hosting a fashion podcast for Mamamia, I've learnt some valuable style lessons.

Like how every trend, no matter how dated, cycles back into fashion eventually. But low-rise pants didn't suit me in 2008, and they still don't this time around.

And those fancy international editors aren't purchasing the majority of their designer wardrobes, so don't try to keep up.

Given it's literally my job to shop, I've also picked up some helpful hacks to try when you're browsing in a store or just getting dressed in the morning.

The latest tip I'm employing is one that caught my eye on TikTok, called the "One third ugly" rule.

Coined by New York based fashion designer and influencer Afaf 'Zeopatra' Seyam, who has over 100,000 followers on the platform, she shares her approach to dressing for both functionality and style using her take on the classic rule of thirds.

"You may have heard of the rules of thirds; this is my version of that," she explains in a TikTok video.

"Most outfits can be divided into three areas – top, bottom, and shoes. I allow myself to be "ugly" and comfortable in one third of my outfit – so if I'm wearing a hoodie, then I'll pair it with trousers and some chic shoes. If I'm wearing sneakers, then I'll pair it with suit trousers and a blazer.


"So if you have one ugly thing, then compensate with two stylish things to make it look like a style choice."

@officialzeopatra How to not feel ugly and still be kinda practical #personalstyle #outfitideas #outfitcheck #outfitformula ♬ original sound - zeopatra

If you think about it, this is actually genius. Zeopatra is saying that not every element of your outfit needs to be on-trend - you might be wearing the same old pair of boyfriend jeans you've had for a decade - but by updating your go-to denim with a fashion-forward jacket and flats, your outfit reads as more considered overall.

Really, this is about unpacking the 'style maths' behind those seemingly effortless looks you see in streetstyle images.

Want more practical advice? Here are 20 shopping tips and styling tidbits I swear by.

1. Make a shopping list.

Just like you don't do the groceries when you're hungry, you should try to avoid shopping when you've got no idea what you're looking for – it just leads to impulse purchases. To avoid regretful spending, in the Notes section of your phone, write down a list of the pieces you're actively on the hunt for or need to fill any gaps in your wardrobe. Then refer to it next time you hit the shops.

2. If you love something, let it go. 

Like dating, only with clothes. You'll know how much you want or need an item if you leave it where you found it (this applies to online shopping too.) My rule of thumb is to give myself a week – if I can't stop thinking about that piece and all the outfits I'd wear it with, I know it's a keeper. 


3. Don't *just* buy it because it's on sale.

Remember, there's a reason that piece has been heavily discounted. By all means snap up a bargain, but first consider if you'd pay full price for it. If you wouldn't have bought it at that price, don't part with your money just because it's cheap.

While we're talking discounts, if you want to save cash on full-price items, make sure you install the 'Honey' app on your web browser – it automatically ensures you're getting the best deal on your chosen purchase by trawling for coupon codes, and applies them instantly.


4. That said, just because it costs a lot doesn't mean it's better.

Yes, generally price is a good indicator of quality, but it's not always the case. Some brands just charge more for the cachet of buying into them – especially designer ones. A $200 t-shirt is still a $200 t-shirt, no matter what the label says. 

5. But if you are shopping designer sales online, know what you're looking for first.

Most luxury e-tailers like Net-a-Porter and MyTheresa have sales at the end of the season. As riveting as it can be to grab a designer steal, it can be overwhelming once the sales go live, and good stock gets snapped up quickly – remember, it's you and everyone else looking at the same listings and making the same mental equations. So know what you want before you go in, and have your sale filters ready to search by designer, size and category. Otherwise you'll find yourself the proud owner of Expensive S**t You Don't Need. And make sure you utilise things like Wishlists and sign up to be notified when items go on sale.


6. TikTok is like a search engine for clothes.

Next time you want to see how a specific item might look on someone with a similar body type, enter what you're looking for into the search bar on TikTok. You'll be hit with a bunch of videos of that piece being trialled and styled by real people in different ways. Genius.

Use the search function on TikTok to see what certain styles look like on similar sizes. Image: Supplied.


7. Thrift stores and op shops are a literal treasure trove.

With the rise of resale sites like Depop and Facebook Marketplace, the stigma of op-shopping is well and truly busted – but I never subscribed to it anyway. Many of my favourite finds are from Vinnies or the Salvos and secondhand markets. Look out for things like vintage athletics and motorcycle tees, sturdy '90s denim jeans you can have altered to fit, and statement jackets you literally won't find anywhere else. The handbags and belts are worth trawling through for gems too, but I generally steer clear of the shoes.


8. Buy the set, get triple the wear.

You know how matching sets are having a moment? They're not just a trend, they're a clever way to shop. Often online retailers have offers on buying the two pieces together, so you save money. You can generally dress them up or down for day or night, simply by switching out your accessories. And given they're separate pieces, you can mix and match them with the rest of your wardrobe.


9. You need a bit of filler.

You'll never regret investing in quality basics – I get so much wear out of things like linen shirts from Assembly Label and neutral layering pieces from Uniqlo. Even if you're a total maximalist when it comes to your style, you need those anchor pieces to pair the bolder items back with. If your wardrobe is all killer no filler, you're going to have days when you've legitimately got nothing to wear. We don't want that for you.


10. Use your Instagram Saved folders for reference.

Instagram isn't just a source of inspiration for me, it's where I collate references for the outfits I want to either shop or recreate. If you're looking for an easy way to organise your style inspo for that wedding you're going to in September or your next holiday, start categorising it into Saved folders. This hack has quite seriously changed how I shop forever.

My "Style" saved folder helps me get inspired (and get dressed). Image: Supplied.


11. It's okay if shopping is your happy place.

I long ago shed the guilt associated with shopping for fun. At this point I've fully embraced that it's one of my favourite hobbies. Just because you're "going shopping" doesn't mean you need to buy things – window shopping can make you feel excited about fashion and inspire you to try new things. If you love it, lean into it.

12. But if you're desperate to buy stuff *just because*, something else is going on.

They don't call it retail therapy for nothing. If you find yourself feeling a deep need to purchase something – anything – whatever you buy will be a temporary fix for what's going on under the surface. It's a bit like walking into a hairdresser and desperately wanting a fringe for no reason.

But sometimes we just need a pick-me-up, and that's alright too. That's how we end up with those fabulous sparkly boots we never wear. And fringes.


13. You can, and should, shop in whatever section you please.

There are no rules to how or where you can shop: I've bought beanies from LOWES, knitwear from a boutique for "mature women", a men's t-shirt from a tourist shop in Greece and hair accessories from Seed Kids.

It's great to see brands working towards degendering their clothing (like Bonds, which committed to having a genderless range) and hopefully we see much more of this as retailers realise that in this day and age, people want to shop and dress by their own rules.


14. Always take a belt into the changeroom.

You just never know when you need to rein something in, and a belt can bring out the versatility of an item by showing you different ways to style it. Think blazers, coats and maxi dresses which can all drastically change shape with a little cinching. Take a belt with you and thank me later.

15. A great tailor will change your life.

Something the most stylish people I know have in common is that they have their clothes tailored. And not the odd jacket or bridesmaid dress – all of them. Spending an extra 20 to 50 bucks on having a garment altered to fit your body is an inexpensive way to make clothes look expensive.


16. There are fashion finds hiding everywhere.

From those high-waisted jeans everyone's obsessed with, to that time I found the perfect pink shirt at Target for 15 bucks – you never know where you'll find your next stylish score. It's a tip Tina Abeysekara from the popular Instagram account Trash To Treasured shared with us – keep your eyes peeled everywhere, and don't disregard a store just because it doesn't look trendy or it caters to a wide demographic. You're only missing out.


17. Australia really has some of the best designers in the world.

There's a reason so many Australian labels are cult favourites in Hollywood and stocked on the likes of Net-a-Porter and Matches. Global fashion buyers know what's up, and our designers stack up to the best of the overseas market. Dion Lee, Bec and Bridge, Blanca, Zimmermann, SIR, Seafolly, Twoobs – the list goes on. Support Aussie made where you can, because it's just really good.


18. Lady Startups know what you want.

On that note, shop from Lady Startups. They have often literally started with a woman solving a problem she found when shopping for herself – like Brianna, founder of boutique Australian denim label Hera Denim. When she couldn't find jeans that fit her smaller waist and curvier hips, she made them herself, from the best quality denim she could source. She kindly sent me a pair to test out and I'm addicted – they're the most comfortable, well-made jeans I've ever owned. She's one of thousands like her.


19. Remember the first wear.

You know that feeling when you wear a new thing for the first time? The instant, good-day-guaranteed confidence boost? The new outfit energy is real – and it's a valid reason many people become addicted to buying new clothes. It's like constantly chasing that high after the lustre wears off.

Next time you're faced with a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear, a good tip is to take out any garment and try to tap into the feeling of the first wear. Think about it: the item hasn't changed, and you're the same person. Can you conjure that little bit of feel-good magic the second, third, or 10th time you put it on, rather than seeking to replace it? 

20. Slow fashion and fast fashion can co-exist.

It doesn't have to be strictly one or the other – let's just abolish that notion right here. The reality is that slow fashion is more expensive (for good reason), and many people can't afford to only shop slow.

You might save up for months to afford a dress from a sustainable brand, then wear it to death. But if your favourite jacket is from Zara and you use it on high rotation, that's not a "bad" thing.


About a third of my wardrobe is now reclaimed or vintage, a third is investment pieces or 'slow fashion', and the rest is made up of considered pieces from high street retailers. Sustainability isn't just about being environmentally friendly –it's about ensuring the clothes you do buy serve you well and last the distance.

Tamara is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle and host of Mamamia's 'What Are You Wearing?' podcast. For more fashion tips, follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Supplied.