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


Ellie B said...

I find your blog and your style inspiring. This "Rut" series has been SO helpful to me. Thank you! It's easy to get overwhelmed when you don't know all the "why's" behind everything, and you have a knack for explaining everything really well.

Stephanie N. said...

I love the pie chart. Geek! I mean it entirely as a compliment.

For helping Martha restyle this look: my eye is drawn first to the skirt, probably because it's the lightest color, and then down to the fun tights. I want something to bring my focus back up to her pretty face. Maybe a scarf or some other accessory to tie it all together? A belt? Something with a color in it that relates to the tights' color and the outfit's other colors a bit - nothing too matchy-matchy, though.

Also, I feel like this outfit is chopping Martha into thirds. It doesn't flow for me (am I making any sense?). Slightly shifting either the colors or the proportions or both could help the ensemble flow better from top to bottom. For example, what if the skirt was a slightly darker color? Then the shift from dark-to-light-to-bright would be gentler. Or what if the skirt was still that shade and lightness (as in color, not as in weight), but instead of a solid, it was a printed pattern? Again, it could make the shift between each of of "thirds" more fluid. Or, if I wanted to tackle the chopping-into-thirds issue by adjusting the proportions instead of adjusting the colors, I'd switch to a longer black top, more like the tunic, and make the skirt a bit shorter, so that the the part of the skirt that's showing is more like a strip, maybe 6-10" deep. Do that and add an accessory that ties all the pieces together, and I think the ensemble would be even more sassy than it is. Rock those tights, Martha!

Jean said...

This has been an excellent series of posts this week Audi, just brilliant. Thank you.

Herbee said...

Okay..I'm going to give this a shot! I agree with Stephanie that my eye is drawn the the bottom half of this outfit. The top half seems too dark, so I would like to see Martha add something as simple as just a scarf to tie it all together. I found this scarf:
The colours in it tie in with the tights and the jacket and it's lighter, so it will tie in with the skirt. I think the scarf will do a great job of breaking up the darkness of the top half and also draw a visual vertical line from the colourful tights to her beautiful face, making the outfit more cohesive and also more fun!

And, may I say, I am thrilled that you answered my questions! You explained perfectly the issue of balance and I am so grateful for that. I am a gardener and I love to design inside my home and the concept that these things can be related to dressing myself is one of those "a-HA!" moments for me.
I'm excited to go out and just start trying things on and experimenting!
Thank you Audi!!

Jaime said...

Ok, I will play - Since Martha's top half is sort of ill-defined, maybe she should switch to a a straight skirt as in part 2. A pattern that ties the blue and red with a bit of black might work. I think a bit of red near her face would bring attention up as someone said. Or she could keep the skirt and trade for a fitted shirt or shirts that play with the skirt color and red. Then she would need some black up top to balance out the shoes. There are so many possibilities when you can invent the clothes and aren't looking at your own body!

bekster said...

A Pie Chart... I love it!

I think the other commenters' suggestions for Martha have been good. I wonder what the shirt would look like tucked in? Or maybe it needs a belt... just something to help better define the waist. Maybe a different jacket could help, one that incorporates the color of the tights and the lightness of the skirt. Otherwise, it's a cute outfit.

I also wanted to say thanks again for answering my question from a while back (from the hat post). I haven't completely changed over my wardrobe or anything, but my mindset has certainly begun to shift. I realized that I do actually feel better when I put a little more creativity into my outfits. Also, I thought, "Who am I kidding? I'm kind of a weird person anyway." So, why settle for looking "normal" when that's not who I am? To be "that person who wears creative and interesting clothes" doesn't seem that bad of a thing.

Kelly said...

Wow, Audi this series has been so helpful to me!

I've always been held back style-wise by my bad eye for color, but I've finally found some tricks that work for me. Since it looks like Martha likes color and would like to play with it more, I'll share these tips now.

First is the Multicolr Search Lab:

I started by choosing the colors of stuff I wanted to wear. For example, here I started with my grey pants, brown shoes, and lavender nail polish:,502f0c,e0c8fc;

Then, I looked at the colors in the pictures and picked a new color to add that might work. I see some yellow, and figure I can use my sister's yellow purse:,502f0c,e0c8fc,f2d435;

Next, I noticed a lot of blues. I have a blue shirt that I could use, so I picked that color:,502f0c,e0c8fc,f2d435,4c97b1;

Next, I thought about jewelry. I picked the colors of my bronze-y colored necklace and my pink beaded watch:,502f0c,e0c8fc,f2d435,4c97b1,6f4d13,e0a2c5;

I thought I might wear my green jacket, so I picked that color:,502f0c,e0c8fc,f2d435,4c97b1,6f4d13,e0a2c5,4a5824;

Next, I added the charcoal scarf and black gloves I was going to wear:,502f0c,e0c8fc,f2d435,4c97b1,6f4d13,e0a2c5,4a5824,363636,000000;

The pictures that came up were nice, not crazy and garish, but not bland and icky either. They had a nice balance of light and dark and a good variance of color, so I figured I'd done alright.

I went over to polyvore to get an idea of what this would look like (normally I would just try it on, but since I don't have a camera right now it would be hard to show you) and decided that I wanted to add the lavender blouse under the blue shirt, and the blue earrings. I don't own the blouse or earrings, but this is one way I can decide what items I need to next time I go shopping for clothes.

The second trick I use is one I learned after a lot of noodling around with graphic art. If I'm working on an image and I can't figure out why it looks weird, I switch it to black and white. This will make any issues involving color value (which I have found to be the most important factor in color matching) jump out immediately.

(Note: A color's value is how light or dark it is; for example, lavender and pale mint green are similar values, but lavender and eggplant are not. Colors of like value will be close to the same shade of grey when converted to black and white.)

When I turn this black and white (, I can see that the different values work together well and don't confuse the eye. This is a nifty trick because most camera phones and pretty much all digital cameras have a feature that allows you to view a picture in black and white, so you can just take a picture, convert it, and try to figure out the problem. Then, you can look for a darker or lighter shade of the same color you're having issues with and see if it helps.

I converted Martha's picture to black and white:
and noticed a few things about it. First, the entire outfit is one color value, except for the skirt and her hands. This cuts a big horizontal stripe across her midsection and thighs, causing the eye to stop there; not a flattering look on any woman.
However, this is easy to fix. First, I would have her swap the black turtleneck for a color closer to the value of the skirt. Bonus points for using an actual color instead of a matching grey(I picked light yellow. My sister wears grey and yellow together all the time and it always looks nice; yellow also complements the purpley tights nicely). Here's a polyvore image so you can see what I mean (the rest of the pieces I'm going to mention are in here, too):
(Ignore the brands and prices; it's just a guideline for the look. I've never payed more than 40$ for clothes that weren't a prom dress or shoes.)
The second thing to fix is the jacket. I like the dark blue color-- it complements the rest of the outfit well-- but it needs to be a little longer and more fitted. As it is, the jacket stands away from her figure, the sleeves and bodice becoming one mass of color. By putting a little separation between her torso and arms, we'll be able to see that fantastic figure we saw in the red sweater in part 4 of this series.
I picked a slim-fitting, button-front sweater in navy blue. This can be left open, allowing the grey skirt and yellow shirt to create a vertical line which will draw attention up and to her face, or can be buttoned while allowing the yellow to show through at the top. This will really show off her hourglass figure, the blue of the sweater emphasizing her curves by basically drawing an hourglass on her body, while still drawing the eye up and to her lovely face. I would recommend that while it is slim fitting, it be a little looser than the red sweater.

The second problem I see with the outfit is the proportions/fit.
For the skirt, I would suggest going a different length. I'm not saying she needs to bust out the mini skirt or cover down to the floor. However, a skirt that comes to that skinny part just below the knee is more flattering than a skirt that is a little longer or a little shorter. In fact, this is pretty much the same length as all of the skirts you've used as examples in this series, Audi; I think the plaid skirt from part 1, and the orange dress and black skirt from part 3 show this concept the best. Martha's got great legs and really cool tights, why not show them to the best advantage?
(Note: It's hard to tell the exact length of the skirt from this photo, so it may already be the length I described. If so, great job, Martha!)
I feel like the cut of the skirt is a little off, like it either needs to be fuller or skinnier. As it is, it doesn't add much to the outfit. A different cut could make it more distinct and make the outfit more interesting, rather than just being a plain ol' boring skirt (there is a difference between basic and boring).
If she goes skinnier, I would also have her go shorter. A straight skirt is basically a rectangle of color, you don't want to put too big of a rectangle there, or you're back to a big swatch of color drawing attention to a weird place. Martha's got the legs to pull off a mid-thigh length skirt, and she can still feel covered up with her opaque tights.
I like the straight skirt I found on polyvore because it has a faint vertical pinstripe through it, breaking up the shape a little.
The second skirt I picked is a little fuller than the one Martha is wearing, and it has a fun diamond pattern on it. I noticed that Martha likes patterns, so I thought that she might like to throw this into the mix.
The third skirt is the fullest of all of them. I'm not sure if this one in particular would match, but I just wanted to show that the skirt doesn't have to be plain and basic to work with all of the other basics in this ensemble.
I know I touched on the jacket's fit earlier, but I'll go back to it and the shirt for a minute. First of all, I mentioned that I like the color of the jacket earlier. Part of the reason I like it is that it is close to the same color value as Martha's hair. When done right, this makes a great frame for the face. However, the bulkiness of the jacket and turtleneck make Martha look bigger than she is, and the height of the turtleneck makes her head look smaller than it is. This mass of dark colors create a vertical line across the top of her shoulders, visually separating her head from the rest of her.
By wearing a lower-necked, lighter colored top, she brings her neck and upper chest into the frame. This gives her much better proportions on top. Think about cameo brooches- the pictures on those always incorporate the neck and upper chest into the picture, right? Martha would be framing herself in the same way. It brings the frame of her face down into the rest of her body, helping things to look more cohesive.
This is also why unbuttoning the bottom few buttons on that red sweater in part 3 worked for her; it broke up the horizontal line around her hips that would have visually separated her torso from her legs.
Lastly, the proportions on her shoes could be better. Their not bad, but a thinner strap placed a little further down the foot would be more flattering.
I threw in a coat and scarf, since it looks like Martha's expecting it to be cold wherever she's going. I like the length and color of this one; very flattering and it will match just about anything.
Now, this is a matter of taste, but I like it when someone is wearing a grey skirt or pants and has a grey coat in a different shade. Not everyone does, that's fine. I picked a scarf in the same color as the tights to keep her newly bared neck warm, and to give a little balance to her tights.
On a final note, I noticed that Martha doesn't seem to ever wear jewelry or accessories. I would encourage her to play around with them a bit and find things she likes. Accessories are a great way to add personality to an outfit. For example, I wear scrubs most days (I'm a medical assistant), and I have to wear all-white gym shoes, my hair in a ponytail, minimal makeup, and no jewelry. Since I have to wear a watch, I picked one with a really cool bracelet-like strap (It looks kind of like this one: That little accessory makes a big difference in how I feel about the way I look, believe it or not, and it gets a lot of compliments from everyone else with their boring watches.

Sorry I wrote a whole novel here in your comments!

Eyeliah said...

These posts have been so fabulous, I'm reading them over and over. I featured it on my blog today here I hope that's okay.

To quickly change this outfit I would switch out for a dressier top blouse and add a bold statement necklace, like lime green beads and add a bold lipstick and hairpiece (feather ideally).

Kate Tatar said...

I think the problem with the picture is that there isn't enough going on in the top. I think a belt or some bright necklaces could balance out the solid black and denim. Also, the top shirt kinda just hangs off the body, and isn't particularly flattering.

I love the skirt and tights though! :)

Now I have my own question for you Audi!

How do you go about wearing skirts? I'm still in school, and those miniskirts aren't fantastic when you're sitting in a desk all day. On the other hand, I can't think of a way of wearing skirts without it looking too formal or just plain silly. Also, how can one wear skirts in the cold cold New England winters?

Thanks! :)

Herbee said...

Hey Kate! I can answer one of your questions. I live in the snow belt in Ohio and we've had a lot of snow and a lot of below freezing temps this year! I've been wearing skirts with tights and boots all winter and I actually feel warmer than when I wear pants! The tights must offer some kind of insulating layer against my skin, compared to loose-fitting pant legs, I guess!

Darrah said...

You're definitely getting her out of a "rut." She looks so much younger simply by mixing in some fun color! I love that you layer skirts by the way. I read an article in a magazine about layering a skirt under a dress, and I've been meaning to ever since.

Audi said...

Wow, there are some great suggestions here for Martha's outfit re-mix! Kelly, you get an A+! That was a seriously well thought out comment; thank you for the visual accompaniments. I think any of the suggestions here would work well, from something as simple as adding a bit of color near the face, to changing up the skirt and shape of the jacket. Bekster, I also liked the idea of just tucking in the shirt and adding a belt -- a contrasting belt even under the boxy jacket would add a lot of shape. Martha, I hope you're inspired!

Kate: Skirts can be just as informal as jeans or anything else depending on what you pair them with. A fun pair of tights or socks is a great way to dress down a skirt, as is a pair of low-heeled shoes or boots. Denim skirts or even flirty floral patterns can be paired with basic tees and hoodies to keep the look relaxed. Use skirts just the same way you'd use jeans. For warmth in the winter, I'll add a couple of ideas to Herbee's comment above. One is that a good pair of wool or wool-blend tights is really worth the extra money (you'll spend around $35-40 for a good thick pair). A good pair of wool tights is easily as warm as a pair of pants. Also, you can try wearing heavy leggings with knee high or thigh high socks. The extra layer over your calves is great for extra warmth, and since the bottom layer stops at the foot, you don't end up with too much bulk for your shoes to accommodate.

Anonymous said...

This post and the following comments were so incredibly helpful and thoughtful. I am so lucky! I thought it was on the verge of being a cute outfit (but knew something was off) before this series, but Audi's explanations and readers' suggestions were useful in figuring out what went wrong with it. I have since put together a couple of outfits based on the suggestions that I thought were great, and my husband thought were sexy. People have even asked if I lost weight now that I'm trying to wear things that fit.(what a concept!) And I'm having so much fun thinking about this. Thank you to all of you for helping me through this transformation. I have so much more to learn, but I feel like I have now been rescued from frump-dom and may even be a schlump-in-recovery.

Anonymous said...

So well said Audi.

Stephanie N. said...

I want to see the new outifts you have come up with, Martha!

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