At a certain point in my personal style evolution, I felt like I understood clothing. Shapes, colors, materials, combinations of pieces that worked for my style and my figure were all in my mental bank. I had long since mastered shoes, had finally landed on a hairstyle that really suited me, and still didn't give a hoot about makeup.* When I pondered what to tackle next in order to continue to actively refine my style, there was one clear choice: Accessories.

While it's certainly true that many a gorgeous minimalist ensemble has been assembled and worn with naught but simple earrings, most outfits benefit from a few tastefully deployed accessories. As I explored the vast and sometimes overwhelming world of belts, scarves, hats, jewelry, handbags, and hosiery, I quickly discovered that mastering the art of accessorization was a worthy pursuit. Here's why:

Accessories add interest

Consider some basic outfit backbones: Jeans and tee, blouse and skirt, suit and button-down. Fine on their own, but not exactly attention-grabbing. Throw on a hat with your jeans and tee and you instantly up your sass factor. Belt that button-down over your skirt and you've added polish. Tuck a scarf into the neckline of your suit and the entire ensemble is elevated.

Accessories enable personal expression

Clothing itself can be a tool for personal expression, but it's often the finishing touches that really let your passions and quirks shine through. While you might opt for funky patterned tights, I might choose a solid bright. Your best friend might prefer long chain drop earrings while you stick to studs. Your sister prefers hip-slung belts while your cousin is a devotee of obis. Your boss loves cowgirl-themed boots and belts, your neighbor is all about embellished headbands, and your roomie loves skinny scarves. And, of course, these choices also have to do with figure flattery, availability, and taste. But they are also expressive and personal, and constitute and opportunity to truly customize your outfits. Often, clothes can serve as a canvas to let accessories shine.

Accessories can further your figure flattery goals

Accessories often allow us to "improve upon" outfits. Neckline a smidge too low for your comfort? Put a statement necklace in there. Dress a bit loose? Belt that sucker. Skirt cut you off at a funky spot? Like-colored tights can help with that. Top too plain on its own? A patterned scarf might be just the thing to perk it up. If you throw on a group of garments and something is just slightly off, chances are that an accessory can help make it right on.

Accessories are often objects of sentiment

Gifting clothing is challenging, but gifting accessories less so. Which means that the most sentimentally significant pieces in our wardrobes are often accessories. Heirloom jewels, birthday scarves, even pieces we've picked up in our travels. The wrap pictured above was purchased during our trip to Iceland, and whenever I wear it that fills me with nostalgia and joy. Few items of clothing hold that power.

Accessories provide texture

Some outfits are textured on their own, but many are composed of fairly smooth planes of cloth. Adding a leather belt, micro-fishnet tights, a woven scarf, or a chunky necklace creates depth and sophistication by lending a variety of textures to your ensemble. Texture isn't always a priority, of course, but whenever it is adding accessories to the mix is often the fastest way to texturize.

Accessories polish an outfit

When I say "polish," I really mean "complete." Adding a studded belt to a 50s shirt dress isn't going to make the outfit feel prim, proper, and polished in the old-fashioned sense of the word. But it may make it feel finished, refined, and complete. In my opinion, most outfits need an accessory or two to feel polished. Not all, but most. And tinkering with the proportions, textures, colors, and overall aesthetic of an outfit by adding and adjusting accessories can really help create a more finished-feeling look.

What do you think? Do you agree that honing your accessorization skills might help bring your personal style up to the next level? Any specific accessories you feel you've mastered? Which ones are the hardest? Do you agree that accessories can add enable personal expression? Polish off an outfit? Do tell!

*At this point, I estimate that I give 1/3 of a hoot about makeup. And I've recently renovated the hair again.

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.

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