Monday, February 2, 2009

Breaking Out of a Fashion Rut, Part I

This week I'm running a special series inspired by one of my readers, the lovely Martha, who you'll meet tomorrow. Martha is in a situation that I think a lot of women find themselves in at one point or another, namely a fashion rut. A couple of excerpts from the numerous emails we exchanged describe Martha's dilemma:

"I'm just in the phase of wanting to go through my closet and would love to cultivate a style that's more like yours- interesting, artistic, feminine, etc. But, as I look in my closet, that urge is at odds with my desire to be comfy and a bit schlubby in my yoga pants and Birkenstocks. Is it okay to be both sophisticated and quirky and comfy and casual, or is that just representative of a greater disconnect?"

"...I'm interested in the mix of comfortable, sophisticated, elegant, feminine and grown up but not old. I guess I feel like I'm in a demographic that's not the cute, young, partner-hunting group, but I'm not willing to submit to a lifetime of sweatpants and ponytails either. SO, there's a psychological component about getting together the energy and inspiration to do something different, and knowing that your presentation is significant (despite what my feminist mother told me about not buying into a commercial ideal of femininity.) There's also a personality and identity element- who am I and what do I want to project to the world? And then there's a technical element, particularly for those of us who aren't so visual as we would like; how does one go about picking out an original, thoughtful and courageous outfit. I have a feeling that all of these things are pretty rudimentary for someone with your skills, but please help those of us who may be trapped in boring suburban (mom) hell."

This is a pretty tall order, and I hope I'm up to the task. My goal this week is to cover some different elements each day, sharing shopping tips as well as strategies for building outfits. In addition, Martha was kind enough to share some photos of her current rut-bound wardrobe, which I will endeavor to restyle for her as the week progresses.

The underlying theme of the week's discussion is comfort, and how to maintain it while still cultivating a stylish and interesting look. Though I've been known to suffer for fashion occasionally, I really don't subscribe to the notion that comfortable clothes can't be stylish. The outfits I'll feature this week are all selected for maximum comfort. I'll get right to the heart of the matter and start with shoes (and accompanying legwear), since they play such a huge role in how comfortable an outfit is. Here are a few things to consider with regard to shoes and legwear:

1. Chunky, substantial heels are far better suited for all-day wear than stilettos. The danger is that a chunky heel can sometimes look matronly if you're not careful. Check out today's shoes, a pair of vintage Enzo Angiolinis I found at the Goodwill over the weekend. They're on the left in the photo above, along with a few other pairs that illustrate the type of heel I prefer. Compare them with the others I've selected here. Pretty conservative, right? Pair those suckers with a calf-length skirt and a chunky cardigan, and I'm halfway to suburban momville myself. However, pair them with some duelling argyle patterns and a funky floral jacket, and all of a sudden they've crossed over to geek chic. If you don't want to think about it quite so hard, there are a few brands that I know I can count on to offer substantial heels AND interesting style. John Fluevog definitely takes top billing in this category, with their quirky retro-inspired styles and interesting color combinations. Fly London and Camper are a couple of other brands that come to mind.

2. Keep in mind that an expensive, well-constructed shoe made of quality materials is not always guaranteed to be comfortable. A beautiful shoe is a work of art, but a comfortable shoe is a work of architecture, and the two don't always go together. Whenever I'm interested in a brand I haven't worn before, I always make sure to do plenty of research and read the online reviews first. There are plenty of brands out there that offer both style and comfort, so make sure you've done your homework lest you drop a lot of cash on a pair of beautiful torture devices.

3. Make sure your shoes can accommodate your legwear. A great way to add zing to an outfit is with funky legwear, but it can sometimes be tough to find the colors and patterns you're looking for in tights, particularly if you're really going for warmth. In order to add more variety to my cold weather outfits, I wear a lot of above-the-knee and thigh high socks, which opens up loads more possibilities than tights. If you plan on wearing your shoes with socks and tights, make sure you wear a good thick pair when you go shoe shopping, or consider ordering your shoes a half size up when online shopping. A great selection of fun and interesting socks and tights can be found at Sock Dreams. While we're on the subject of legwear, I'll also add that it is well worth the price to invest in quality tights with a high percentage of wool or cotton, such as Cronert or MP. They're far warmer, more comfortable, and more durable than cheap nylon tights.

4. Give yourself some extra support. If your stylish, interesting shoes lack the arch support you need, or if your feet slip around a lot and rub blisters on your toes, consider adding some insoles. The ones I really love are Superfeet insoles, which come in all sorts of different thicknesses and for different purposes. If you find that adding the insole makes your shoes too tight, just rip out the one that's already in the shoe. Superfeet aren't cheap, but they can easily be swapped between different pairs of shoes for maximum usage, and they last at least a year or more. They can make the difference between a pair of shoes that just looks great and a pair that you really look forward to wearing all day.

Tomorrow I'll introduce Martha and help her restyle one of her outfits, as well as covering another outfit element. I'll close this post with the details of today's ensemble:

Top: I.N.C.
Cardigan: La Redoute
Skirt: thrifted
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: thrifted
Jacket: Liquid


Anonymous said...

I just bought my first pair of Fluevogs and I am absolutely in love. Having shoes like that can amp up the coolness of an outfit 10 timess.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic advice, and I couldn't agree more about chunky heels. They are the best choice for comfort, and as long as you select carefully, can add edge and style to any outfit.

Can't wait to see what you and Martha cook up together!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking on my project. I know you're up to the task and I'm looking forward to seeing all of your great ideas.

Anonymous said...

You are the queen on pattern mixing! Love this outfit and can't wait to read more of the "Martha Project" this week!

Stephanie said...

I'm so glad you are giving a tutorial for the fashion challenged! I read your blog regularly and I am always blown away by the creative and stylish way you put your wardrobe together. I love this coat!

bekster said...

Any tips on how to salvage shoes already owned that are uncomfortable? (For instance, tall, stiletto heeled boots...)

Audi said...

Bekster: There are 2 things you can try; adding insoles for arch support and stability as I mentioned in the post (which may mean tearing out the existing insoles), or taking them to a cobbler and having softer pads added to the heels. Also check out Sal's post on rescuing shoes:

Darrah said...

I worked at Nordstrom for 2 years, and I've never hated a stiletto more. Wedges and chunky heels were my life-line.

Cam said...

Thank you! Thank you!

Martha you are not alone. I too am in a fashion rut, even my SO said my clothing is boring. So I am definitely taking notes.

Like Darrah pointed out, wedges are great too. I so much prefer them to stiletto.

Eyeliah said...

Good luck with that, I would LOVE to help people with their wardrobe, it;s like a dream challenge.

Anonymous said...


Andrea Eames said...

Such a great post!