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: ??


Jean said...

Thanks for declaring a black trouser amnesty. I can't wait for your advice on how to make them more interesting. Don't hate me, but can I also add that I have some black and grey skirts too....

Herbee said...

Thanks for the link to You Look Fab...I just bought a skirt that came with an odd (to me, anyway) belt and I had NO idea how I was to wear it and Angie had a picture right there and cleared that up!

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!

Unknown said...

Your photos are always inspiring, but this fashion tutorial has been FANTASTIC! Thank you for answering some of my "how'd she do that?" questions. After reading yesterday's post, today I am wearing gray pants, with a plum shirt layered under an orange shirt and sage green cardigan all harmonizing together thanks to an orange, pink, purple and green paisley belt. Would never have thought of this combo and it looks great! Thank you, thank you for helping us all make the most of what's in our closets. I agree that you ought to write a book or do a TV show!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to publicly thank you, Audi, for all of the wonderful information you have provided for us throughout the week. I have learned a tremendous amount and now have the confidence to transform myself. Yesterday, I tried out my new skills and it was a hot mess. But it wasn't boring and schlumpy. Thank you for all that you've put into this.

Daisy Ross said...

Wow! Audi you look so awesome. You really have a great sense of fashion. The costume is really good and boots really matches with that outfit. Thanks for this wonderful information. This is really very helpful.