Friday, February 27, 2009

At a Loss

I'm at a loss for what to say about today's outfit other than the fact that I was delighted to discover, upon turning up the cuffs of this button-down shirt, that the inside of the cuffs has a different pattern than the outside. Happy Friday everyone; I'll be back next week when hopefully my wits will have returned.

Hat: a gift from Kimberly
Shirt: thrifted
Jacket: vintage
Olive skirt: Eddie Bauer
Tulle skirt: Noa Noa
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: John Fluevog

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Here's another clothing item that's on its way out: this skirt. It has been well-loved in its time, but it now looks tired and a bit ragged, and in addition it has started to sag on one side and become asymmetrical (not in a good way either). Into the bin it goes, freeing up precious inches of closet real estate.

Sweater: Free People
Cardigan: La Redoute
Belt: came with a Noa Noa sweater
Skirt: H&M
Shoes: Fly London

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Letting Go

Perhaps you can tell that I got a new haircut and color last night. I've been wearing so many hats lately that it probably wasn't obvious what my hair looked like before, but to me it looks quite different. I went for a simple bob this time since it's easier, especially when the weather at this time of year tends to work against my hair styling efforts anyway.

I decided today that these shoes have to go. They're cracked and past their prime, and they never were that comfortable to begin with. Not that I didn't wear them a lot despite the discomfort, which makes me ok with letting them go. I've bought enough shoes recently that I need the extra space in my closet anyway. Another pair of boots that I found on eBay just arrived today, and I am absolutely delighted with them. I'm excited to incorporate them into an outfit next week.

Scarf: H&M
Shirt: vintage
Skirt: thrifted
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: Mudd

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In accordance with my usual custom, I put together all of the week's outfits on Sunday. Since it was evening and I was drinking wine at the time, I felt considerably cheerier then than I did yesterday morning when I got up and started trying to figure out which of the outfits I felt like wearing. The first outfit hanging there in the closet was this one. I asked myself, "Do I feel cheeky enough to wear the shorts today?" Of course I didn't; it was 6:30 in the morning and I was out of bed and not even caffeinated yet. But since that's the case pretty much every morning, when was I ever going to feel cheeky enough to wear it? So then I asked myself, "How cheeky do I WANT to feel today?" And thus, the shorts became the obvious choice.

These are the new Fly London boots I was telling you about on Monday. They have a retro space age vibe that I love, and were surprisingly comfy for the first wear. The calves were a bit tight at first, but they stretched as the day progressed and felt just fine after a few hours. You'll be seeing lots more of these boots, I'm sure.

Hat: Parkhurst
Shirt: thrifted
Vest: A. Byer
Shorts: Mango
Tights: Falke
Boots: Fly London
Jewelry: Betsey Johnson

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shiny Red Boots

What's not to love about shiny red boots? I found these on Amazon at a deeply discounted price, and immediately knew I needed to add them to my shoe empire. Being rain boots, they're perfect for our current drizzly weather, but I can fully imagine myself wearing them on dry days as well. Incidentally, wonderful deals still abound on Amazon -- I also picked up a fantastic pair of Fly London boots which I'll show you later in the week. Amazon carries pretty much all the same styles as Endless, but for some reason the prices are much lower right now, so go forth and be shodden!

This is one of the ways I 'cheat' when I wear button-down shirts: since I hate how they feel tucked in, I often layer something else over the top to acheive a structured, fitted look while leaving my shirttails comfortably flapping. Fitted waistcoats like this one are great for adding waist definition without having anything cinching around your midsection.

The skirt came from the Goodwill $2 sale that Mark and I went to a couple weekends ago. It's a little longer than my usual preference, but since it's a full circle skirt I actually quite like the length and was fully prepared to leave it as is until I noticed a hole near the hem. This will necessitate taking maybe an inch and a half off the length, but it will still be below-the-knee. I'd say this skirt is from the 50's; considering how old it is it's in darn good shape despite the hole, and is made of a heavy wool. Not a bad acquisition for 2 bucks!

Hat: ?
Shirt: Promod
Waistcoat: Last Kiss
Skirt: vintage
Boots: Aquatalia

Friday, February 20, 2009

Political Statement

Lately I'm loving the look of orange and green, and this little apron has proven quite valuable in bringing them together. Thankfully I don't live in Northern Ireland and need not fear making any sort of political statement with this ensemble.

I've had this skirt for quite some time, and though the pattern is busy the colors are fairly drab. However, the subtle blend of yellow, green, pink, and brown makes the skirt very versatile in terms of what I can pair it with and which colors I choose to pull out. The soft colors make a nice backdrop for the bright orange and green.

Green silk shirt: thrifted
Scarf: import store
Cardigan: e-klah
Skirt: Mac & Jac
Apron: vintage
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: Joy Chen

Radical New Direction

I thought I was taking my look in a radical new direction yesterday with these cowboy boots, but since no one at work said jack about them I suppose they're really not that big a departure from my usual sartorial menu. To me though, they are unlike anything I've ever owned; in fact, even a year ago I'd never have imagined myself wearing a pair of cowboy boots, let alone obsessing about finding a pair as I have been for the last couple of months. I scored this well-worn pair from eBay; I don't much like the look of new cowboy boots, but I've really warmed up to the look of beat up ones. These are a soft gray leather with subtle brown, cream, and purple stitching, which makes them pretty versatile.

The tunic top is new from the Red Dress Shoppe. I originally tried this outfit without the skirt underneath, and though the tunic is certainly long enough to wear as a dress, it somehow just didn't strike me as being work-appropriate that way. Amazing how that meager inch and a half of skirt peeking out under the hem can make such a big difference. To me it really isn't about the length of the tunic, because I have other dresses that are this short; it's more the combination of the short length with the babydoll cut that make it look too youthful for me to wear as a dress, at least at work. Perhaps with the right styling I could overcome this effect, but for now I like it just fine as a top.

Hat: Monsoon
Sweater: La Redoute
Tunic: Red Dress Shoppe
Skirt: Anthropologie
Tights: American Apparel
Boots: vintage Morgan

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Sorry for not posting yesterday, but when I came home I found a not-so-nice little 'present' that Georgie left me, and after cleaning it up I was really in no mood to smile for the camera. You'll just have to take my word for it that my outfit yesterday was really cute. And since I'm sort of bummed about not posting it, this gives me an excuse to wear it again, which is something I rarely do.

Today's outfit is entirely thrifted and DIY except for the tights and boots. Last weekend Goodwill was having a sale -- all clothing items were $2! -- and this little plaid turtleneck top was one of the things I scored. It's actually a boxy, mod cut, but belted underneath this shirtdress it has a whole different look. I love the 3/4 length sleeves; for some reason if I wear full length sleeves I always end up pushing them up anyway. The shirt is from the 60's or maybe early 70's.

Hat: Hand knit by me
Shirt, dress, skirt: thrifted
Belt: Made by Mark and I
Tights: Falke
Boots: Bata

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bin of Randomness

Today's outfit is made up mainly of thrift store finds from when Jess and I went seeking our 80's Night outfits. I dug this Max Studio dress out of a bin of randomness as I was seeking the mate to a vintage shoe, and lo and behold it was in perfect condition and my size! The pattern contains a red-orange color, so today I paired it with this orange sweater and added the teal skirt and jewelery for contrast. I spotted the Nanette Lepore (!) blazer strewn across the top of a rack of jackets in the plus-size section -- this is why it really pays to scour the entire thrift store, because there are always great things that are stuck in the wrong section.

At first I thought this jacket was a little too big, and was all set to have it taken in. But once I put it on with the drapey dress, I liked the way the slight bagginess and wide shoulders gave it a Depression-era feel, like it was a hand-me-down from a slightly curvier sister. I just love the tailoring in the back, which is always a huge selling point for me when I look for jackets.

It's hard to tell because of the resolution on these digital photos, but the jacket is black with a white grid pattern. Straight lines are one of those things where digital still just isn't as good as film.

Cowl-neck sweater: Tulle
Skirt: LA Made
Shoes: John Fluevog

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thrift Score

I can't believe I forgot to tell my blogger friends about my thrifting experience when I visited my family in Oregon last month. This little vintage suit was one of the spoils of that trip, and when I put it on today I was reminded of the whole experience. Imagine if you will the entire family, mom, dad, 3 sisters, boyfriend, aunt, and even my sister's tiny purse-sized dog, all piling into the car and touring the thrift stores of rural Oregon. I think everyone, except maybe the dog, went home with at least one item that day, but I was the big winner with this groovy 60's score, which I picked up for a mere $12. Twelve dollars! It was truly a family outing to remember.

Wearing this outfit today, I felt just like the star of a TV crime-fighting series from 1966. Can't you just picture me on a mission in South Africa? Because in those old shows, they would surely have worn a safari-inspired outfit to go along with the locale. I'm not sure what's up with the super-long belt on the jacket, but since I haven't gotten around to shortening it, I just let it hang down today. I suppose it could've doubled as a whip if I'd encountered any aggressive lions.

Suit: vintage, thrifted
Turtleneck: Laundry, also thrifted
Hat: Alternative Design Studio
Tights: Cronert
Boots: Bata

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Today I'm demonstrating another way to wear black and gray: with 'pops' of color. I first built an outfit of mostly black, then added a couple of gray pieces for contrast, pattern, and waist definition. Then I finished it off with the bright teal shoes and ruby red necklace for some colorful highlights. As luck would have it, a package arrived yesterday from the fabulous Kimberly, which contained not only some Valentine's treats, but also this adorable fuzzy dark blue beret, which tied in perfectly with the thin blue stripes in the pattern of the gray plaid jacket. Thanks Kimberly! This is the most comfy hat ever!

The nice thing about using black in this way is that it pretty much gives you free rein to pair whatever bright colors you want, and you really don't even need to have anything else to tie them together. Complementary color pairs such as purple/yellow or orange/blue work particularly well. Remember though, that the idea here is to the allow the bright spots to really stand out against the black background, so don't wreck the look by adding more than a couple of colorful pieces to the main outfit. In a spectacular convergence of fashion inspiration, the always colorful Kasmira sported a similar look today. I love how we even have on matching bright red jackets!

Hat: a gift from Kimberly!
T-shirt: H&M
Necklace, earrings: a gift from Mark
Sheer floral shirt: Noa Noa
Skirt: a cast-off from my sister
Tights: Sock Dreams
Shoes: John Fluevog
Coat: Tulle

Monday, February 9, 2009

Vintage Suit

As a follow-up to last week's Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut series, I thought I'd play around with a few neutral-color looks this week, since many of the rut-bound probably have a closet full of neutrals that could be put to better use. Today I started with this vintage 1960's suit that I bought recently from Violetteville Vintage. Though the suit is entirely black and gray, there are still a few different ways to play around with it. Today I went for an entirely neutral look, however it would also work to add some vibrant accents of color; for instance a red scarf and then a solid layer of red tights underneath these patterned gray ones. Adding color to an outfit like this one should really be done sparingly, because the overall intention is that the outfit be mainly neutral.

To add interest to the monochrome outfit, I brought in some patterns with the leopard top and knit tights. I also punctuated the black trim on the dress by adding the black scarf and boots. The top is sheer, which brings a little depth to the otherwise flat texture of the dress, and the scarf has tiny shimmery black threads throughout. With an outfit like this one, it's important not to forget the sparkle and shine; in addition to the scarf I also wore a stack of shiny bangles, a few silver rings, and the small rhinestone brooch that you can see on the scarf. There's no need to overdo it; a little goes a long way on a patternless, flat background such as this dress. Also, I didn't want to take away from the adorable mod look of the suit by piling on too many accessories.

You can create this kind of look with black as well; just make sure that black comprises most of the outfit, and offset it with accents of another neutral such as ecru or gray. The idea with this approach to wearing a neutral is to really go all the way with it and make it look intentional. Even when you're dealing with a matched suit such as this one, it's still possible to put your own unique flair on the look by bringing in texture, pattern, and contrast.

Suit: vintage
Blouse: La Redoute
Scarf: local import store
Tights: Hue
Boots: Modern Vintage

Friday, February 6, 2009

Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut, Part 5

Here's the last of the photos sent to me by Martha, in which she shows us that she has some latent ability that has clearly been underutilized. Here she's got layers, she's showing us her shapely legs, and she's got bright, fun tights paired with those adorable mary janes. I'd consider this to be her best outfit in terms of the effort she put into it and the fun flair it has. Rather than tweaking this outfit myself, I decided to do something a little different today, and ask my readers to restyle it. This is your chance to test your skills if you've been learning alongside Martha, or show us all what a pro you already are. So let's hear it! What other ways can Martha style this look? Feel free to comment, or even better, send pictures!

So while my readers are busy coming up with ideas for Martha, I'll get going on a couple more abstract concepts I want to talk about before I finish this series. Reader Herbee set me up beautifully for this post, by asking the following question:

My question for you today, Audi, is about your tulle skirt underneath the dress. I LOVE this look every time you wear it, but is the whole skirt tulle? Is it a petticoat with the tulle attached to just the bottom? And, more importantly, can a hippy girl like me carry off a tulle under layer? I picture the fullness making me look like one of those crocheted Barbie dresses Grandmothers make!

There are two main questions here. I'll start with the first one: I have several tulle skirts, and all are tulle the whole way down. One is very thick, unlined, and made entirely of tulle in overlapping layers, one is just a single unlined layer finished with a satin ribbon around the bottom, and three are like this one, with a single layer of tulle over a matching lining. This skirt has extra panels sewn in around the hem to give it the full look without making the top part too poofy. Only the kind I have on today can be worn alone as a skirt.

On to the second question, which I think actually encompasses two very different concepts. The first one deals with the technical aspect of wearing a big full skirt, and that's a very straightforward one to answer. Wearing full skirts, or any other full or eye-catching piece of clothing requires you to think about balance. In the outfit I'm wearing today, I balanced out the full skirt with the top. I chose this top for two qualities: one, it has fluttery sleeves and a broad V neckline that widens my shoulders; two, the wrap-ties and peplum help to define my waist. When you're faced with the opposite situation, where your top half appears larger than the bottom (or actually IS larger), you can layer skirts as a way to fill out your bottom half. This is the nice thing about layering skirts and dresses; it gives you the ability to control how full they are.

Now before I leave the topic of balance, I just want to touch on it in terms of color and pattern. How you use one color or pattern in proportion to another impacts the overall effect of the look, as well as which element becomes the focal point. There are two disciplines that have informed my understanding of balancing color and pattern, and oddly enough, neither one is fashion design. The first one is landscape architecture. A good landscape architect knows not only which types of plants and flowers look good together, but also the proportions in which to use them. Another place to find inspiration, not only for color but for pattern mixing, is in interior design. I think I mentioned before that I completed a significant portion of an interior design degree before deciding I was sticking with biotech. In the process of doing that I learned a lot about color and pattern that I later started applying to my wardrobe.

I'm sure many of you read home and garden magazines, so the next time you're flipping through the pages, linger awhile and look more closely at the gardens or interiors that really catch your eye. What are the primary, secondary, and accent colors? How has texture been introduced? If it's an interior, how many different patterns are in the room, and how are they placed in relation to one another? Does it include objects that reflect light? The nice thing about looking for wardrobe inspiration in non-fashion sources is that it decouples the basic concepts of color, pattern, texture, and balance from the body image issues that creep in when we flip through fashion mags. Often it's difficult to get past the thought of, "I could never wear that." By looking for fashion inspiration in the pages of Modern Architect or Better Homes and Gardens, you can find new color combinations or pattern mixes without the hollow-eyed, underfed models staring back at you. It also doesn't demand that you buy anything, only that you create a new idea.

As much as I'm loathe to relate any sort of "rules," I will pass along the one that I learned in one of my design courses about how to proportion three colors in an interior. Please do not think I'm saying you should follow this all the time, I'm just putting it out there as a guideline. OK, enough disclaimers -- here is your 'in case of emergency, break glass' rule that you can use when you're really stuck on how much of each color to use:

According to interior design principles, the main color should occupy approximately two thirds of the total area. Of the remaining third, two thirds of that should be your secondary color. The rest is your accent. Ta-da!

I'm going to move on to the other concept Herbee touched on, because I think it relates nicely to Martha's original question. It's the concept of fashion identity. Is it ok for a hippy girl to rock a tulle skirt? Well that really depends on how much you want to define yourself as a hippy girl. I chose this skirt today because it's the most hippy thing I have, and in the end the outfit came out part Boho, part girly, part Parisian, and part motorcycle chic. Does it work? There's no one answer to this; that's up to each person who views it to decide. What I know is that I like it, and that's really the only thing that matters.

Try not to worry so much about defining yourself by any one particular style. Why not allow yourself to be Boho Chic one day, and Sexy Secretary the next? We are all multi-faceted individuals, and unless you're wearing a uniform to work, you wake up every morning with a body that's a blank canvas on which to paint whatever you like. Sure it's fine to have some signature looks; I mean, I'm Mod Hat Girl, right? But dismissing items of clothing as 'not my style' is a fairly limited way of exploring fashion. Next time you're considering a piece, rather than asking whether it's your style, ask whether it will flatter your figure and whether you like it. If the answer is yes to both of those, why not give it a try? Maybe it's stylistically different from the rest of your wardrobe right now, but it also might be a direction you ought to be exploring.

Top: La Redoute
Jacket: Zadig & Voltaire
Skirt: Ralph Lauren
Tulle skirt: Noa Noa
Boots: Modern Vintage

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut, Part 4

Today is going to be a mixed bag of topics, since I've covered a lot of the major ideas already. With this post I'm going to get into some more abstract ideas such as texture and theme, as well as a discussion of how to define your waist.

Looking back over the last few days' worth of Martha's outfits, which of the ones I've shown so far do you think she liked the best? My money's on this one. She looks great. Her posture, her expression, her hands placed cheekily on her hips all indicate that she knows she looks great. The cut of the dress is fantastic, and those boots! We're really getting somewhere with this one. At the risk of reading too much into a single photo, I'd say Martha feels confident in this outfit; that's the way we're trying to get her to feel every day.

So what's missing from this look? The thing that really jumps out at me is the lack of waist definition. Martha has well-proportioned bust and hips combined with a small waist, which puts her in the enviable position of being able to wear just about any type of belt she wants. She could do something as simple as use a thin, solid color belt in the same shade as the dress to bring more emphasis to her waist. She could use a wider belt for a more exaggerated look; it could stay on the subtle side and match the dress, or for higher contrast she could go with a dark brown belt for this particular outfit. The thing about dresses such as this one is that the long expanse of continuous pattern doesn't cause your eye to rest anywhere; it just continues straight on down to the boots. The advantage of this situation is that you have the opportunity to easily draw the eye wherever you want to with minimal accessorizing. Depending on where you position the belt and how wide it is, you can create any sort of shape you want.

For my take on Martha's outfit I chose this blue and white dress to work with. First I'll strip it down of some of the accessories I wore today and just show it with and without the belt so that you can see the difference it makes. This belt is obviously designed to accentuate my waist in the most dramatic way; it fits snugly at my smallest circumference, and flares slightly as it reaches towards my hips. Since I don't have much bust to work with, I wear a lot of these wide belts to bring definition to my small waist. Another type of belt I love for versatility and comfort are wide elastic belts, such as my black corset belt. Elastic belts are awesome because they fit comfortably even if you feel bloated or just had a big meal, they can be worn high, low, or in the middle, and they stay put. Be careful with wide belts if you're short-waisted though, as they do have a tendency to shorten your torso. Angie over at You Look Fab is an excellent resource for all sorts of advice for different figures.

Belts are not the only way to bring waist definition to an outfit. A fitted waistcoat would be another great way to polish up Martha's look (By the way, I realize a lot of people use 'waistcoat' and 'vest' interchangeably, but I tend to use waistcoat to refer to the button-down variety, while a vest is a knitted, pullover piece.). The outfit I wore yesterday used a tiny wisp of a fitted cardigan to define my waist. A cardigan worn buttoned only in the center and allowed to form a 'V' from the neck down and from the bottom up also has the same effect (like Martha's red cardigan outfit I showed yesterday). You can also use a sharply-contrasting longer layer underneath a shorter one to add a thin (or thick, if you like) strip of color at the part you want to emphasize. And then there are plenty of garments that have waist definition built right in, via contrasting stripes or piping, gathers, peplums, etc.

Now I'll show you the finished outfit today. To the blue and white dress I added more blue and a whole lot of brown, brown, and more brown. But what I didn't add in color, I made up for in texture. Texture is another tool you have at your disposal for bringing interesting depth to your outfits. Texture causes light to reflect in different ways and creates a rich, tactile look.
In my version, I have several different textures at work: the soft fur stole, the coarse herringbone jacket, and the fluffy tulle skirt. The simple patterns of both of our dresses are great backdrops for highlighting textures, because their subtleties don't get lost like they would against a busy, multicolored pattern. That's not to say that either of these dresses couldn't be used as a starting point for an interesting, bold color and/or pattern mix as well; this is why I think dresses can be just as versatile as any other piece.

Note how the herringbone jacket and Western-inspired boots give an equestrian flair to the outfit. Using themes is a great way to get inspired. Take Martha's red cardigan outfit I showed yesterday. When I see the stripes against the vibrant red, two ideas come to mind: nautical and Parisian. Either of these ideas could be used as a starting point to give flavor to the outfit. Add some wide-leg trousers and maybe a scarf with an anchor motif, and you've got a nautical theme; wear it with slim-fitting jeans and a beret, and you've taken it in a Parisian direction. Be careful not to overdo it with any sort of theme; use it as a place to start, but don't allow it to become costumey. If you're going to add something literal like an anchor motif to a nautical-themed outfit, make sure it's something small and subtle, especially if you have other nautical-esque pieces in the outfit.

You can also fool with proportions and fit to give a hint of a different era. A high-waisted trouser with a crisp shirt tucked in recalls Katherine Hepburn from the 40's; a short A-line dress has a mod feel, and a long tunic over a mid-length or short skirt hints at a 20's style.

I'll close today's post by going back to the subject of black pants again, since this seemed to touch a nerve with a lot of readers. I was amused by the fact that a few people seemed to think they got busted harboring that offesive garment in their wardrobe, as if I had rifled through their closets. Fear not, black pants have a place in everyone's wardrobe. My feeling though is that for someone stuck in a rut, they're a bit like a dose of methadone; they'll get you through the day, and they're a lesser evil than say, track pants and a sweatshirt, but in the end you really only trade one addiction for a slightly less unpleasant one. While you're "recovering," try to stick with color as much as possible, and save the black pants for funerals and tax audits. Later on I'll do a follow-up post with some ideas for using black pants in a more creative way. In the meantime, I'll give you a few instances where using black in your outfit is perfectly fine:

1. As an accent. Black belts, shoes, hats, and scarves are all great ways to add a little punch to an outfit that might otherwise look washed out. It helps if at least one item in your outfit has a little bit of black in it, such as thin stripes or outlines around a pattern.

2. As a layer. Put a black turtleneck under a brightly patterned top,and the colors will really stand out. This also has the advantage, if you're light-skinned, of putting some distance between loud colors and your skin, where they may be a little too much. Black in this case has a grounding effect, and tones down colors that are very bright.

There are plenty of other ways to wear it, of course, but years ago when I was in my own fashion rut, I found that quitting cold turkey was the best policy. I actually grew to detest black so much that I had to force myself to start buying it again. But as a result, when I use it now I'm far more careful to make sure the outfit is still interesting.

Dress, tights, skirt: Noa Noa
Stole: vintage
Jacket: La Redoute
Boots: ??

Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut, Part 3

Today I'm going to get to the real meat of breaking a fashion rut: color and pattern. I'll warn you right now that this is going to be a very long post, but this is where I feel a lot of people need the most help. I'll start by showing you another category of outfits from our new friend Martha:

I'm going to put these outfits into the 'Conflicted' category. On the one hand, the variations on a 'jeans & a shirt' theme is indicative of Martha's tendency to "schlump," as she puts it. Unless you're actually wearing sleepwear or gym clothes, it really doesn't get any more comfortable or less fussy than this. But on the other hand, these outfits have an advantage over the ones I showed yesterday because now we can at least see Martha's figure. And did I tell you, or what? She has an amazing figure.

So let's take these outfits one by one, left to right. The first one is what I'd consider to be the least amount of effort possible: pants and a shirt (presumably Martha also put on some shoes before she left the house). There's not too much to say about this one, because I think it's fairly obvious that this is exactly the kind of rut Martha's trying to break out of. Let's move on to the second outfit, where Martha has added a layering element with the black turtleneck. OK, this is a start; it shows us that she's not afraid to wear some color, and also that she understands how to layer a larger top under a smaller one. This is actually the outfit I chose to work up today. The last outfit has some real potential, since not only do we have some color, but there's pattern in there as well. Also, the fit of that long red cardigan is absolutely beautiful. After this week's posts I'd like to see Martha go back and rework that outfit herself, using the striped top and cardigan as the starting point.

First I'll talk about color and show you what I did to the purple top and jeans outfit. Purple is a color I love to work with because it can be paired in so many unexpected ways. Today I mixed it with teal and yellow, with some small accents of green. There is probably a complicated explanation from color theory as to why this works, but really you can just take a cue from good old Mother Nature. Whatever bizarre color combination you're thinking of trying, there's a good chance nature tried it first. This is a great way to find inspiration for adding color to your wardrobe; whether it's your garden, a local park, or the aviary at the zoo, all you have to do is look around to find color in an astounding variety of combinations and forms. So why limit yourself to wearing black and gray?

The first thing to do if you want to build a truly adventurous wardrobe is to take all the rules you know about what "goes" with what, and forget them. Honestly, there are so many different hues in each color family that you can't make any sweeping generalizations. Remember also that the success of a color pairing greatly depends upon the proportion of one color to another. For instance, I might hesitate to pair a solid purple top with a solid orange skirt, but let's say the skirt is orange flowers on a white background? Or what if I also have a scarf that's a mixture of purple and orange? This brings in the related topic of pattern.

If you have too many solid-color items in your wardrobe, you face the difficult challenge of having to mix different colors without having anything with which to relate them to one another. I think this is why I see an awful lot of women sporting a look which is truly lamentable: a solid-color top with black pants or skirt. There's a reason why Trinny and Susannah claim that black with anything other than white is a no-no, and while I don't agree with that rule in every single case, I wholeheartedly agree that a solid block of color is left floating in space if the other half of the outfit is solid black. Think of your outfit as having a beginning, middle, and end, like a movie or a piece of music (though don't take it too literally and assume the beginning is a hat and the end is shoes). A colorful top with black pants is like a romantic comedy that abruptly switches to an action flick halfway through; it doesn't make any sense. A truly foolproof outfit will have a 'beginning,' or major piece, that relates to the 'end,' or secondary piece, with minor interludes in between. Again, try not to take this too literally. The major piece need not be the largest one; it is simply the piece you choose to make the focal point. It should become obvious how to make one item the focal point as this discussion continues.

Don't think for a moment that I analyze all my outfits to this degree. I experiment a lot and eventually I hit on something I like. But when I'm trying to figure out if certain combinations work, particularly when I'm playing with an unusual color or pattern mix, I do make sure to ask myself how the pieces relate to one another. Let's focus on color again for a moment. The reason I added this scarf today was because it has a mix of all the colors in the outfit. When you're going through this exercise, it's important to keep an open mind and not expect the colors to match too precisely. Look at the detail of the scarf next to the purple top. There's no yellow in the pattern, right? But put it next to the yellow cardigan and you see that there's a shade of green in the scarf that has a lot of yellow in it. So for my purposes the scarf I chose is teal, purple, and yellow. If I'd worn a green cardigan it would've worked just as well. This is the power that patterns have to bring colors together.

So what if I didn't happen to have a conveniently-matched scarf lying around, but I still wanted to mix these 3 colors? All is not lost, because there are any number of ways to add additional layers or change up the bottom half to bring that other color in there. I could've added a long-sleeved teal t-shirt underneath everything, or perhaps a teal belt on top. Or if I had a skirt with teal and at least one of the other colors in it, that would've worked too. What wouldn't work, in my opinion, would be to have the mix of purple and yellow on the top, and then randomly wear teal shoes for no good reason. Even a small accessory like a brooch with some teal in it would be enough to tie everything together.

So where does black fit into the picture? I prefer to use black in one of two ways: either count it as a color and make it a major focus of the outfit, or use it only as an accent to make the other colors pop and to add contrast. If I'm going to use black as a color, then I tend to do a couple of things: one, I mix it up a lot in the outfit, and don't allow a half-and-half split between top and bottom; two, I often use it in classically 'against-the-rules' combinations like black and brown, or black and navy blue, because I think they're more interesting pairings. The only exception I'll mention here is a colorblock effect, where you might intentionally pair it with blocks of very bright color for a high contrast look. As with any of the other combinations though, you should always try to make it look deliberate, and don't fall back on black simply because you can't think of anything else that "goes" with your shirt. One final note: a colorblock look works best when all the pieces are crisp and tailored, so don't think you're going to throw on that baggy neon green sweater that you couldn't resist buying because it was $4.99 on sale, pair it with a black skirt, and call it colorblock. You might be able to fool your myopic grandmother, but you won't fool me.

Now I'm going to switch gears a little and give you some shopping strategies for bringing color and pattern into your wardrobe.

1. Stop buying black. Or white. Or gray. Just stop it right now; I mean it. The reasons should be pretty obvious by now, and anyway, if you're stuck in a rut, chances are you have plenty of neutrals already, and very little else. The ONE exception I'll make is that if you don't have a crisp, white button-down shirt, you should probably get yourself one.

2. Don't just buy colorful tops. This is not the way to add color to your wardrobe, which should also be pretty obvious by now. What are you going to wear all those colorful tops with? Surely not your black pants?? The best way to get started is to pick a few colors you like, and that you'll wear together. I'm going to use orange and blue as an example, since these are colors I wear a lot. Let me show you a few ways I've worn this combination:

Look at my top and bottom halves. You could pretty much slice these outfits through the middle and mix any of them together (I'm imagining one of those flip books where you can mix different heads with different bodies). Do you need to have every single item in every single permutation? No. But if you have a decent variety of color and pattern for each element of your wardrobe, then you'll truly have a wardrobe you can mix and match. To get started, pick a particular color combination and then try to buy at least a top and bottom in each of the colors, at least 2 related accessories, and a pair of shoes in one or the other color. Also make sure that at least 2 or 3 of the pieces are patterned (i.e., one of the tops, one skirt, and a scarf); if the pattern includes a third color even in very small proportions, so much the better. Make that new color one of the next pair you select. Once you get a big enough variety you can stop strategizing so much and just buy what you like, provided you're not just duplicating things you already have in your closet.

3. Start building your supply of accessories. I have a TON of scarves; solid colors and patterns, long and short, silky and woven. I tend not to spend very much on scarves and go for quantity, because I'm never quite sure what I'm going to need. If you're just building your collection, look for scarves that have interesting mixtures of color to build around. Don't worry if you have anything specific to go with them; remember that with an open mind you can pair things that are related, but not identical, in hue. The same principles can be applied to jewelry, although it's less critical to look for mixtures of color and just focus on having different pieces of jewlery in a wide variety of colors. Brooches are the one area where it's fairly easy to find a mixture of colors in one piece.

I'll wrap up this post by going back to today's outfit. Besides the colors and accessorizing, there is one other element here that kicks this outfit up a level from Martha's, and that is the dark wash, wide leg dressy jeans. It's great to have at least 2 pairs of dressy jeans in your wardrobe: a wide-legged one, and a slender pair that can be tucked into boots (the over-30 crowd can call these 'cigarette pants' and leave the less sophisticated 'skinny jeans' to the 20-somethings). Your wide-leg dressy pants of all types should be long enough to almost skim the floor when you're wearing heels; this elongates your legs for a more elegant look. It will also limit which pairs of shoes you can wear with the pants, so decide how high a heel you want in advance.

Look for dressy jeans that have little or no embellishment, unless you want to look like you're planning on going straight from work to the nightclub. Plain pockets, or preferably no pockets, have a sexier look, as do the darker washes, and definitely stay away from any sort of sparkly or embroidered detailing. Finally, wash your dressy jeans as little as possible (or even dry clean) to preserve the crispness and new-looking color. Save your well-worn, faded pairs for relaxed weekend looks.

Top: A cast-off from my sister
Cardigan: Solemio
Scarf: Express (early 90's)
Jeans: Level 99
Shoes: John Fluevog