Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut, Part 2

Without further ado, I'd like to introduce the subject of this week's posts, Martha:

I'm going to tackle these 3 outfits at once today, because I feel they all have a common thread. I'm going to dub this look, "Martha Hides Her Figure." Now I happen to know from some of the other photos she sent that Martha has a terrific figure; however, my readers would be hard pressed to know it from these outfits. It occurred to me earlier today that although there was a long list of qualities Martha mentioned she was looking for in a wardrobe, 'sexy' was not among them. I'm going to take the liberty of adding it to the list, and try to gently steer this look in a more flirty direction.

I fully understand the appeal of these tops from a comfort standpoint: they don't constrict at all around your midsection, and they have the added benefit of masking any perceived flaws in that region. But they also do a gross disservice to your poor waist, which is completely obliterated by that A-line shape. In order to counteract the effect of the top, there needs to be a sexier look in the bottom half of the outfit. For this I'm going to suggest a skirt, which will be the subject of my shopping tips today.

I'm just going to sidetrack for a moment here and talk about the black slacks in the two photos above. While there is nothing inherently wrong with black dress slacks, I feel they stifle creativity for someone who's having difficulty getting out of a fashion rut, because they have limited potential for building really imaginitive outfits. So Martha, I'm going to present to you a little challenge, because I get the sense that you may rely on these slacks a little too much: I'm going to challenge you to not wear them for an entire month. It's tough love, folks, but I think Martha will thank me in the end. In fact, I'll play this challenge right along with you and build my next month's worth of outfits without my black slacks (although I'll fully admit to cheating here because I rarely wear them anyway), and when the month is up I'll showcase a couple of different looks with them. I'd hate for any items in your wardrobe to go to waste on my account, but I want to get you thinking in a new direction by setting some of your standby pieces aside for the time being.

OK, back to the skirts. A flirty, figure-hugging skirt that shows a little leg will give you back your feminine curves without sacrificing comfort. For today's outfit I chose my swingiest, most comfortable A-line top as a starting point to illustrate what I mean. The skirt I selected to counteract the loose-fitting top was this pencil skirt, which hugs my hips and does wonders for my bum. Though my actual hips aren't visible under the long top, the line of the skirt continues to taper where it emerges beneath the top's hem, which hints at the shape that's going on underneath. Sure, if you're 21 years old you can just throw on a micro miniskirt and you're done, but the over 30 crowd needs to be a little more subtle in our approach. So what you're looking for are skirts that suggest your shape without suggesting too much else.

In order to keep your fitted skirts comfy and fun to wear, keep these factors in mind:

1. Choose your waistband wisely. For non-elastic waistbands, look for ones that are wide (let's say an inch or more) and that rest on the hips rather than constricting your natural waist. You can always artificially create a high-waisted look with a wide belt, which I'll discuss later in this series. For elastic waistbands, test the elastic to make sure it's nice and stretchy, and that it still has plenty of give even when you have the skirt on.

2. Go for pleats over slits. Pleated hems, whether they be kick pleats, fishtails, box pleats, or any other type, are more comfortable than a simple slit. They also add an element of movement to the skirt that looks more interesting when you're walking. As an added bonus, the pleats can become a focal point that sets the skirt apart from plainer cuts.

3. Look for stretchy fabrics. Fabrics that have even a small percentage of lycra (the skirt I have on today has just 3%) have significantly more give than those without. A little stretch can make the difference between 'fitted' and 'tight.' There's certainly no point in wearing a comfy empire top if you're stuffed into your skirt.

There were a couple more tricks I employed today to slim down the line of this top; one was adding the long scarf. I tied it in a simple Windsor knot (like you'd tie a man's tie) to make it hang straight down the middle, drawing the eye up and down, rather than letting it get "stuck" on the baggy top. The second trick was to add the eye-catching socks. From the bright patterned scarf, the eye makes the natural transition down to the socks, which relate to the scarf in color but add a contrasting pattern. I'll go more into more detail about accessories such as scarves later this week.

I should point out that a pencil skirt is by no means the only way to offset a loose-fitting top. Here are a few other ways I've worn A-line and empire tops:

Finally, the details on today's outfit:
Brown top: Noa Noa
Black top: Max Studio
Scarf: Promod
Skirt: Sunhee Moon (this skirt, the Maren style, is still available on the website, but I'll warn you that the sateen fabric version is not at all as stretchy as the plaid)
Socks: Sock Dreams
Boots: Bata


Passion4Fashion said...

I love how you rocked the jeans in your examples. I know you are a skirt/dress girl but I love what you did with the denim. You are an inspiration.

Jean said...

Audi, I love these advice posts you do, they're always so brilliant. I might send in a couple of questions of my own...

Anonymous said...

Sound advice, all. And fascinating point about pleats versus slits ... I'd never even thought about it.

Jessica said...

I love your advice. I too tend rely heavily upon my black and gray dress pants as my wardrobe staple.

My issue with skirts, however, is that my legs constantly stick together and become sweaty and I have a tendancy to fold my leg underneath me when I'm sitting at my desk all day. lol Seriously, the whole sticky leg thing has kept me from wearing skirts for a number of years.

bekster said...

Jessica, my suggestion to help with the sticky leg issue is to get a slip that is cut like shorts. Just that little bit of fabric in between the inner thighs makes a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

I accept your challenge, as I sit here today, reading your blog in my black dress pants. They'll go into a box tonight.

I've already learned so much and I'm going to take my treatment plan seriously!

Herbee said...

I have been lurking here for months, but I finally have to come out in the open and say THANK YOU, Audi for all the wonderful advice, ideas and suggestions! As someone who is also trying to crawl out of a "mom" fashion rut, I can't wait for the rest of this series!
Someone should give you your own tv show, seriously!

Eyeliah said...

So so great, I love that she cannot wear anyblack pants, I wish I could tell that to sooooo many people too!

Audi said...

Bekster: Slips that are like shorts?!? Where might one find these wonderful undergarments of which you speak??

Herbee: Welcome! I'm glad I could draw you out of the woodwork with the series!

Anonymous said...

A light bulb went off inside me when I read your thoughts on "how to wear A-line tops". I am sewing a maternity wardrobe for myself just now, with tops that fit above catagory and know now how to wear them. A comparison picture is to be found here: http://morzel.blogspot.com/2009/02/much-better.html
Thanks again for your nice explanations on "breaking out of a fashion rut".

Emily Kennedy said...

Huzzah! A Sunhee Moon link! Wow, I never googled the brand because you said you got their stuff at a tiny boutique. This is wondrous!