A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

16 Outfit Mistakes That Make You Look Messy

Updated: Sep. 26, 2023

On ordinary days, you can let these clothing mishaps slide (maybe). But when you want to make a good impression, avoid them at all costs.

Fashionable woman in yellow dress choosing from clothes rack

Easy fixes for big wardrobe problems

Warning: You can ruin even the easiest fashion ideas or the best capsule wardrobe more quickly than you think. From pilled sweaters to chipped nail polish to visible panty lines, these messy mistakes can have a big negative impact on your appearance. Mistakes like these can also diminish your confidence: You don’t want people to think your personal style is sloppy!  Luckily, these style tips will help ensure that you always look put together, regardless of where your day takes you.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for fashion, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

woman trying on shorts that are too big
bymuratdeniz/getty images

Wearing the wrong size

If you think you know your size, think again. “Each brand, designer and item fits differently,” says fashion expert Allison McNamara. “You might be a large in one pair of Zara pants, a 38 in Philip Lims and then a size 27 in denim.” Her fix? “Shop for the fit rather than the size, and don’t freak out if you’re wearing a bigger size than usual—it’s them, not you,” she says. Too-small clothes you’ve been holding on to because you’re self-conscious about the numbers on those little tags should be your No. 1 candidate for clothing pieces to toss.

For a cheap, quick hack, buy a seamstress-style measuring tape. That way, the next time you’re considering a purchase online, you can review the sizing guide, whip out the tape measure and go by your actual measurement numbers, not the retailer’s size.

Two middle-aged women standing in front of mirror in fashionable boutique fitting new blazer
Tatsiana Volkava/Getty Images

Not tailoring items for the perfect fit

Tailoring your clothes to custom fit is an easy shortcut to how to look expensive. Splurging on a high-end suit or dress but not setting aside a few bucks to tailor it is easily one of the biggest fashion mistakes a person can make, according to fashion publicist and buyer Andrea Burman.

“Everyone is built differently—petite, pear, hourglass, straight, narrow. So how can mass-produced clothing fit us all the same way? It can’t,” she asserts. “Having an experienced tailor tweak sleeve lengths, adjust shoulders, change or add buttons, shorten hemlines and take in wide garments can be the difference between looking just OK and looking ravishing.”

If your budget doesn’t permit frequent trips to the tailor, take things into your own hands on the easier stuff, like hems and buttons, with a sewing kit.

So many to choose from
PeopleImages/Getty Images

Wearing the wrong shoes

Playing with proportions is what professional stylists do for their celebrity clients. The easiest way to make your outfit unflattering is to pair the wrong shoe or boot with the wrong bottom, according to fashion publicist Jill Ormand.

“A long pencil skirt with mid-length boots will shorten your whole stem, making you look less lean,” she says. “If your legs are already short, opt for stilettos that are cut to show the front of your foot.” And don’t forget to find out your personal style, according to your zodiac sign.

woman wearing long pants that are dragging on the floor
triocean/getty images

Wearing pants that drag

This one can be tricky, especially when you don’t have the time or budget to hem and re-hem pants based on every heel height in your closet. (And honestly, who does?)

“The easiest way to look disheveled is to wear pants that drag on the floor,” says Ormand. “It’s an easy mistake to fix but one that can cost your appearance a lot if left alone.” Decide which shoes you’ll wear with a certain pair of pants most often, and bring them with you to the tailor. If you’re worried you might go too short, ask your tailor to leave a bit of room on the hem. That way, you can always drop it later.

If you need to fix your hem for cheap in a pinch, using double-sided tape will do the trick. Fold up the pant leg at the necessary length and affix it with double-sided tape on the inside so it’s invisible to others. Try these other TikTok style hacks for more easy tips and tricks.

Side View Of A Businesswoman
Pedro Merino/Getty Images

Wearing discolored clothing

Faded black pants are a common culprit. Other discoloration issues include runny patterns on silk, tinted lights that got put in with a bright load of laundry, and run-of-the-mill stains. Before heading out for a big event, do a careful once-over to check for anything funky.

“Our favorite dark clothes can become a fashion disaster in no time if you don’t take the correct precautions,” says Ormand. To keep black pants from fading, wash them inside-out on a short and cold wash cycle. You can also consider re-dyeing your clothes with a product like Rit Liquid Dye so their original color comes back. Make sure you know the right way to launder your clothes, like how often to wash jeans, to make sure you aren’t fading your clothes by overwashing them.

overwhelmed working mother ready to leave for work
Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

Owning too many bags

Don’t pack for work like you’re leaving on a two-week trip. Instead, pare your things down to the essentials, and find a structured bag that’s big enough to fit them. For example, if you tote your laptop back and forth to work, look for a laptop bag to accommodate it. If you like to carry a large makeup bag inside your purse, make sure it fits.

The goal is to make your outfit look deliberate. Carrying a plastic bag with you everywhere shows that you tried to fit everything into your purse but fell a bit short. A quilted tote pulls a look together and is roomy enough to fit all your must-haves.

pulling at sleeve of shirt
ahnsungdai/getty images

Pulling and prodding at your outfit

If you know you’ll spend an entire day hoisting up a strapless dress or repeatedly tucking in your shirt, look into another option for now and figure out why the original piece didn’t work. Can you take it to a tailor to remedy the problem? Do that. Is it in a state of disrepair? Toss it. Shapewear can help you minimize this common problem by making you feel more supported and, in turn, more comfortable in your own skin.

“Pulling and readjusting your clothes signals that you feel uncomfortable and makes you appear less confident,” says Nicole Zabal, designer and founder of Nicole Alex, a clothing line with built-in shapewear. She recommends investing in pieces that have built-in support and make you feel comfortable from the first wear. For those pieces already in your closet, undergarments from brands like Spanx can work miracles. For a handy cheat sheet, this is the best shapewear for every type of dress.

woman with lint on black pants
LENblR/getty images

Leaving noticeable lint

“Noticeable lint is a huge offender,” says McNamara. “I have a mini lint roller in my car at all times to make sure I’m lint-free before meetings.” Another tip? Take your lint brush outside. In addition to making this touch-up the last thing you do before heading out (and therefore preventing new lint from accumulating), the natural light will give you a better picture of your outfit’s lint situation.

Woman Wearing High Black Shoes
aire images/Getty Images

Stumbling in poorly fitted shoes

When you fall in love with a pair of shoes at the store, it’s tempting to buy them even if they’re not your exact size. “I think it’s crazy that people buy and keep shoes that don’t fit,” says McNamara. Aside from, you know, not actually fitting, a too-big or too-small pair of shoes will wear out faster than shoes that fit well. The result? A disheveled look.

If you went ahead and splurged on the shoes, shoe pads may help you adjust sizing. They will also provide cushion and comfort for those long nights in heels.

Pills on the gray tee-shirt cotton knit fabric
photohampster/Getty Images

Wearing a pilled shirt or sweater

Nothing feels better than a well-worn sweater. But when fuzzy pills take over, it’s time to take action. “If you have a pilling shirt or sweater you really love and don’t want to get rid of, keep it for your comfy clothes at home,” advises McNamara. And if you do want to wear it out, use a shaving razor to remove pills from fabric. Simply stroke pills with the blade and watch them disappear.

frayed jeans
evergreentree/Getty Images

Sporting frayed cuffs and hems

While this could be the result of a poorly tailored item, it can also be the result of routine wear and tear. For a quick fix, tame tiny flyaways with a brush of clear nail polish.

If you purchase items with intentional frayed cuffs and hems, take a tip from fashion entrepreneur Amy Voloshin: “I always love a frayed edge, but even purposefully frayed edges need to be maintained. I always have to remind myself to give my frayed-edge denim and gauzy shirts a trim after a wash—it helps it look intentional and relaxed.”

underwear lines in pants
vitranc/Getty Images

Showing underwear lines

Nothing can ruin a pair of tight pants or a pencil skirt like distinct underwear lines. “If you have a bodycon look, make sure you invest in seamless underwear so you don’t fall victim to tacky underwear lines,” says McNamara. Wearing the correct garments underneath can guarantee that your outfit, not your lines, is garnering the attention.

Chipped Nail Polish
mheim3011/getty images

Leaving chipped nail polish

No nail polish is better than some nail polish. “A woman should never walk around with chipped nail polish,” says Philippa Brenninkmeyer, founder of Indigo Swimwear. “The best way to avoid this is to keep the color of polish on your nails nearby so that you can quickly fill in the chipped spot on the go until you’re able to completely remove or change polish.” For low-maintenance nails, try a coat of clear polish.

If you’re looking to keep your manicure fresh for more than 10 days, opt for a chip-resistant nail polish. If you don’t have a budget for new colors, consider a long-lasting topcoat that you can use with your existing collection. By the way, this is what your nail color reveals about your personality.

black hair tie on woman's wrist
Karl Tapales/getty images

Forgetting hair ties around your wrist

Yes, it’s convenient, but it can really torpedo a put-together appearance. Do a quick check before you leave the house and make sure to remove hair accessories from your wrists. Stash a few in your purse in case you need hair help on the go. “The CEO of my last company would go nuts if she caught anyone on a red carpet with hair ties on their wrists,” says Ormand. “And for good reason! It’s an easily preventable offense that we often overlook.”

The woman wore a rumpled shirt.
Mukhina1/Getty Images

Ironing haphazardly (or not at all)

Pay special attention to the collars and buttons of dress shirts for job interviews and special events. These features frame your face and are generally made of cotton, a fabric that is notoriously unforgiving when it comes to wrinkles. Remove cotton shirts from the dryer while they’re still moist, and set your iron to high. Begin with the collar, and iron both the inside and outside. Add steam to make the collar extra crisp. If any wrinkles form, push them toward the base of the collar. Iron sleeves by unbuttoning the cuff and following the seam on the shirt. Remove any arm creases by steaming the shirt.

Iron and steam other items of clothing with the same amount of care, and make sure you never fall prey to this easily solvable mistake. The one-piece you can be more casual with? Anything made of linen. This summer fabric was made to be worn with minimal effort.

woman wearing an Off White Shirt
Westend61/getty images

Wearing off-white whites

Diligently sort your laundry by color, and remember that whites must be washed in their own load. Any other way and you’ll wind up with dingy, gray whites. Additionally, if your towels and sheets are white, wash them separately from your everyday wear. Towels are more likely to give off lint, which could stick to items made of corduroy, permanent-press clothing and velvet. And try one of these handy tricks to eliminate underarm sweat marks—the bane of a white shirt’s existence.

Next, read up on the right way to do laundry.

About the experts

  • Allison McNamara is a television host, producer and fashion and beauty journalist. She is the founder of MARA, a line of algae-infused skin-care products.
  • Amy Voloshin is a fashion entrepreneur and the creator of Printfresh, a luxury stationery and loungewear line.
  • Philippa Brenninkmeyer founded Indigo Swimwear, a line of sustainable swimwear made from recycled nylon from ocean waste.
  • Nicole Zabal is the designer and founder of Nicole Alex, a clothing line with built-in shapewear.


  • Andrea Burman, fashion publicist and buyer
  • Jill Ormand, fashion publicist