Style and Styling

Dynamite Style Hack: TnT

Top ‘n Tail

Happy day, reader dear!

This post is begging for all the bad puns. On that note, are there good puns? Isn’t that the point of a pun? To be bad?

Want to know why your outfit doesn’t look like all the fabulous ones you have saved on Pinterest?

No, it’s not that you don’t have a 36″ inseam. Not even that you aren’t 25 or wear a size 00. Nor is it that she bought that outfit on credit and is returning it after the photo shoot.

It’s more likely that your top and tail don’t align!

I can hear you already! What? What tail? I’m not a dog. Or cat. Or hamster. Or guinea pig. Well, maybe not a guinea pig. They don’t have tails… Well, they do, but not really. (Okay. Maybe your brain doesn’t jump around that way, but mine certainly does!)

Topping and Tailing is a term used to describe repeating the color at your feet (tail) again at your portrait area (top). It’s why the Power of Three works so well. It’s why buying metallic shoes the same color as your hair is a great addition to a Special Occasion Capsule. It’s why a handbag in your haircolor is the most verstatile and why shoes in your haircolor go with every outfit. AKA: It’s not the cute buff suede booties that make the outfit, it’s the fact that they tie together with her blonde hair.

Topping and Tailing is the basis for much of what works in style. Why? Well, come join me down a biology rabbit hole… Because I’m that nerd. If you aren’t, please skip down to Match Your Top and Tail.

Style and Biology

Let’s wander back to our prehistoric days… You are scrounging about looking for nuts, roots and berries. The sun is high in the sky and there are hungry people back at the cave. You hear a sound in the brush. Your head snaps up to look at the creature stepping out of the bracken. Your senses are in overdrive. In less than an instant you have looked this being over from head to toe. Literally. No weapon. Dead animal in her hands. Goodie! Looks like rather than hitting you over the head and eating you for lunch, she might sit down and share hers with you…

That head to toe (Or Top to Tail) visual path is hardwired into the oldest reptilian part of our brains. It’s job is to keep us alive. Assessing friend or foe isn’t something to be left to the frontal lobe. It needs to be done in less than an instant. The frontal lobe may be smart, but it’s slow. Fast forward a few hundred thousand years, and yes, we don’t often worry about gathering lunch (from anywhere but the fridge or drive-through) and whether someone is going to eat us. But our biology doesn’t know that. It still looks someone from head to toe. Instinctively.

Match your Top and Tail

Sometimes Called: Connecting the Dots

Since our biology determines where our eyes will travel, we can take advantage of that biology to draw the eye where we WANT it to go. The eye wants to connect things that are similar. The eye travels between connected points. (Another part of keeping us alive. Think about hunting for berries.) In a modern context: From red shoes (tail), to red watchband, to red lip (top). If I don’t create the connection, the eye will focus on whatever is most out of context. Only red shoes? The eye will stay there. Again, the eye wants to travel and loves a visual loop. Hence, this is why wearing shoes in your hair color always works. You always wear your hair. That creates a loop from top to tail and back again! The same goes for your bag. A hair colored bag will always harmonize.

Which brings us back to–AKA: It’s not the cute buff suede booties that make the outfit, it’s the fact that they tie together with her blonde hair. If you have light hair similar to those cute buff suede booties, great! On the other hand, if your hair is dark, your cute buff booties just make your feet shout HERE WE ARE! (Unless you Top that color.)

Take a quick peek at Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. That cute young blonde thing in the big black boots? She’s wearing A: A Dark Hat, B: Big Black Sunglasses, C: Tons of Black Eyeliner or D: Any Combination of A/B/C to balance those boots. What some people do instinctively, you can do intentionally. And the best part? The more you do it intentionally, the more instinctive that action becomes… YASSSS. Habit is powerful.

In Real Life?

How do you make this work IRL?

I wish I had moved the doormat. The effect would be even more obvious without the checks! In the first look, my head seems to be floating. The necklace is better; it ties the shoes to something else in the outfit. The neckerchief does the same. I chose the neckerchief because that’s my style. Not yours? Choose another Top element. When I was younger and my hair was much darker, black shoes were fine. As a matter of fact, almost all my shoes were black then… I was in a black phase. It was long. And dark.

How About You?

Were you aware of the Top and Tail style phenomenon? Do you use it? Are you suprised that there’s biology behind it? Do you wear shoes in your haircolor? Carry a bag? What color is your everyday bag? Does it relate to you or your outfit? Did this post make you go Aha? If so, do let me know about what! I love to hear from you…

Stylishly yours,



    Interesting. I wanted to wear some black peep-toe booties today with a green 2 piece knit hoodie and skirt. But they stood out like a sore thumb (or sore big toe??). I should have tried adding a black necklace or black headband maybe? Will keep that in mind. Thought the booties were really cute with the look but they became the focal point. Great tips.

    • Liz K

      Did I see that cute hoodie and skirt on Insta? I can see how those black booties would have dragged the eye down! That’s why all those cute young things on Pinterest are wearing dark sunnies or hats. Glad to help!


    Liz, Just recieved this post in my social box. Not sure hy!! So, Are you saying I should buy a good handbag & shoes in my haircolor(arm bron) and ear these ith all my outfits regardless of hat else I’m earing? Or that I should also ear arm bron near my face more? I may have some taupe suede tall boots I need to have dyed arm bron!!??

    • Liz K

      Odd that the post just showed up now, Natalie! No, I’m not saying you should buy a bag and shoes in your hair color. I’m saying that IF you are looking to invest in shoes or a special bag, your hair color is a great choice. From what you’ve shared in the past, it sounds like you have plenty of shoes and bags! Someone with medium to light brown hair would TnT better with a lighter brown shoe. Very dark brown to black would look better with a deeper brown. Think Color Value (Lightness vs. Darkness) first. (If you color your hair all bets are off since that often changes from season to season and as the color fades!)

  • Sarah

    I skimmed this when you first posted it. This time I read it though and looked closely at the photos. I see it! Makes total sense, and fascinating to boot. Thanks Liz!

  • carolkarl

    This is such good advice. When I started wearing lighter coloured shoes to match my blonde hair, it all came together. I also know that if I wear darker shoes I need to repeat in my necklace. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Liz K

      You are most welcome, Carol! I popped on a black and white polka dot neckerchief to balance my black flats today. It’s such an easy fix!

  • Sally in St Paul

    I have heard of this before using the term “bookends” for matching shoes to hair color, but it’s interesting to see it play out by aligning any part of the portrait area and shoe color, not just matching the hair. I am fond of matching accent color tops and shoes (e.g., bright pink T and bright pink ballet flats), which makes sense by this TNT idea. As a medium blonde, I find it easier to match shoes to hair in the summer than the winter because it’s not very easy to wear light colored boots. I am not big on the look of light colored beige-y tights, which look like a kind of uncanny valley version of my skin (though grey is fine). Dark tights with light boots is strange looking, and that whole dress-and-bare-legs-with-ankle-boots thing is just not happening in Minnesota (I get PLENTY of time in boots when it’s actually cold and don’t need to play with ankle boots in bare legs weather). So an immediate takeaway for me is that when I am wearing tights/boots in the winter, repeating that color in the portrait area will help the outfit look balanced.

    What are your thoughts on the stand-alone “pop of color” shoe that is beloved by some stylists? Is the idea that by refusing to conform to the creation of a visual loop that the “pop of color” shoe presents an interesting kind of tension in the look? Because it seems like it would shift focus away from you and onto your shoes…which might make sense in a few contexts (like an advertisement for shoes or a time you want to impress someone with your $$$ shoes or whatever) but could be counter-productive much of the time. I guess it depends on what you’re going for with your styling in a given situation.

    • Liz K

      You are spot on, Sally! Repeating your shoe color anywhere in your portrait helps create balance. As for the single pop, it’s about purpose. For me, I always want the focus to be on my clients, so creating that balance is key. In advertising photo shoots and paid shoots for social media, the focus is on the shoes and selling them. The wearer is just window dressing. When I see the single pop, I’m looking for a buying link…

    • Melissa Atkins

      Liz this does make me think! Again!
      I too have gray, really more white with some pepper, hair. Your explanation makes me understand why I like the gray loafers with my dresses and shorts. I’m thinking about buying dress flats from Vionic in Pewter for a wedding in the Fall. After reading this article, I think I’ll pull the trigger on those.

      I’m carrying a neutral tan straw purse this summer but I’m going to start looking for gray, pewter or maybe charcoal for Fall/winter. I’ve been wearing white gold or silver jewelry for a while, now I know why it looks better. Passed the yellow gold to my daughter!

      • Liz K

        Glad to help! Pewter shoes for the wedding sound wonderful! It’s funny how once we hear and see these kind of principles in action, they make all kinds of things fall into place. For me it was sleeve length… Some day I’ll have to blog about sleeve length!

  • Gail McKelvey

    Love your thoughts on this! Now I know why the tan/nude/beige shoes I have been buying lately make me wonder why I haven’t been doing this for years! I’m blond(ish)! Thank you for all of your wonderful suggestions!

    • Liz K

      You are most welcome, Gail! Enjoy those light shoes… You are lucky. It’s harder for us grey ladies to find tails!

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