Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Makes it Special?

With this outfit I wanted to try out a military/utility look, which I've seen cropping up all over the place lately. The one thing I really wanted to avoid, though, was having the outfit look too uniform-ish, so I added my asymmetric, ruffled tunic and left the jacket hanging open for a more relaxed look. To keep the tunic in place and give me some waist definition while still keeping the look less structured, I put a belt under the jacket rather than over it. I liked the added interest of having the jacket ties hanging down.

These pants are some I've had for quite some time, but they're generally only used for casual weekend outfits because they're too short to be worn with heels. Tucking them into boots made them a great alternative to the incomprehensibly popular cargo pants. I simply cannot understand the appeal of pants that make your thighs look bigger and your legs shorter, and frankly, the idea of carrying cargo in your pants is sort of gross. This pair, on the other hand, has cute, buttoned pockets in the back, and the bottom hem (if you could see it) of each leg has a button tab detail, which is more than enough utility styling without a hint of load-carrying capacity.

The tunic and jacket are both fairly basic pieces, but I want to call attention to them because they meet a particular criteria that I try to apply to all my clothing purchases. Whenever I'm considering buying something, I always ask myself, "What makes it special?" The something special could be really minor; on the jacket it's the fact that the buttons on the pockets are offset, and on the tunic it's that asymmetric ruffle. But whatever the something is, it should set the item apart from similar ones, so that you can always point to that detail as the reason you bought it.

Asking what makes it special is a great way to keep yourself interested in your wardrobe, and also a great way to scrutinize a potential purchase. Because if you can't point to at least one feature that makes the item unique, then you should really keep looking. Now obviously I'm not talking about true basics such as layering shirts, which only need to fit well and be comfortable to do the job. This is about items which have the potential to be the main focal points of an outfit, because they're the ones that are going to get noticed. And I'm not even talking about buying pieces that are overtly unique and one-of-a-kind, such as my Attila skirt; the 'What makes it special?" approach can be applied even to simple wardrobe staples. Here are a few ideas for looking for a little bit of 'special' even in your basics:

  • Pencil skirts: Look for interesting pleats rather than a simple slit, topstitching or button details, or textured fabrics. A uniquely-cut pencil skirt is also a great find; look for gathers up one side or an asymmetric hemline, for instance.
  • Dress pants: Try fabrics that have textural stripes rather than a solid color. Buttons and topstitching will also add interest.
  • Shift dresses: Neckline details, pockets, and piping can jazz up this wardrobe basic.
  • Jeans: Look for jeans that have an interesting wash or unique hardware. Some jeans also have colored stitching at the hem that's only visible when the cuffs are turned up.
  • Blazers: Again, buttons can make all the difference, as can lace-trimmed cuffs, detailing in the back, or a textured fabric. And like pencil skirts, look for blazers that have a unique cut.
  • Anything striped or plaid: Look for an interesting arrangement of the pattern, such as perpendicular panels, a bias cut, or a mixture of different stripe sizes.
These are just a few details I've come across that can elevate an item to special. Think about your favorite pieces; what details make them special to you?

Jacket: thifted
Tunic: Free People
Belt: thrifted
Pants: La Redoute
Boots: Dr. Marten's


Diana said...

I love it when items of clothing have special, unique details in them too. That asymmetric ruffle rocks!

Lisa said...

Is there a blogger award for least snarky blogger? Because you would win. Your blog always cheers me up! I learn so much and get great ideas too. I love military-styled items but I fear overdoing it so your post helped fix that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of "what makes this special" - my new shopping mantra! And obviously that's what sets your style apart from many others. One in particular is the skirt you wore on 3/17 - the back detail of what looks like (from the front) a standard wrap skirt.

And I agree with Lisa - your posts are always positive & are a bright spot in my day.


Marie said...

It's all in the details- too true! I am super picky about purses- always looking for that unique factor. Love that jacket and the belt worn under instead of over.

WendyB said...

I used to hate army I love it.

fröken lila said...

a nice detail which i like a lot is a clearly visible metallic zipper instead of a hidden plastic one. it gives some extra edgyness to dresses or skirts, and can also give some extra structure.

Anonymous said...

Very wise! A great way to prevent the accidental purchase of doubles AND buyer's remorse.

Kasmira said...

I actually wore cargo pants (camouflage utilities) everyday when I was in the Marines. And, in the field, I DID store "cargo" in those pockets. Not only is it gross and unflattering, but very uncomfortable when you sit. Those pockets are just a stupid idea. But they do add interest (unfilled!)

Kelly said...

Oh man. I found a jacket a little similar to this at Old Navy this week. It even had a way to cinch in the waist so you could have a womanly figure amid all that military/manly influence. I passed it up because I didn't want to pay the full price, but seeing this outfit makes me want to run back and get it...

Louise said...

Lately, I have been drawn to absolutely plain plain plain pieces. I started simplifying my wardrobe down to almost a uniform: solid color, no embellishment tops, a couple skirts and jean trousers that fit me perfectly, etc.

For me, the question, "What makes it unique?" must be answered with, "After all these years, this is one of the handful of items that work just right, every day, for me. It is well made, easy to care for, and appropriate for the occasion."

I live full-time in my motorhome and have four small drawers and 24 inches of closet rod to store all my clothes for all four seasons. Simplification and uniformity works best in such a limited space for me and my lifestyle.

I now own just a few pieces that I love, and when I shop, my big question is, "If I bring this home, what must be moved out? Do I love this more than that other piece?" If the answer to the latter is yes, what joy! If no, then I still love what's at home. Win-win.

I LOVE looking at your clothes and remembering a time when I collected the fun and the funky. So cute! So edgy! So no longer me. How unique we all are :-)

Anonymous said...

I love love LOVE this post! It was one of my favorites of the week. You articulated how I feel about my closet favorites so perfectly - it's those details, those special things that I notice even if nobody else does, that makes it special. My tuxedo blazer has slightly puffed sleeves and some ruffling in the back, which is longer than the front. And it's lined with the softest satin. And it's got chunky buttons at the cuffs. I just love it!

And I think you're so right that, when shopping, this question should always be asked. It makes the love last longer, doesn't it?

And you look fantastic! I love the textures (you mix textures so well - I always notice that about your outfits), and I love the play of olives and black.

jessica said...

Personally, cargo pants are about the only pants that I really like wearing. I usually stuff my passport, ID, or tickets into them when traveling. They're just super comfortable and I seem to have an easier time finding ones that fit, as opposed to jeans or khakis or dress pants. I try to offset them with a fitted tee or something that accentuates my shoulders to give more of an hourglass effect.

I can never find anything at Forever21 or H&M that actually fits my proportions, which is too bad because your F21 military jacket has me wanting one of my own :-).

Thanks to your blog I tried out the dress-under-skirt yesterday! It was a full cotton red polka dot dress under a gray plaid wool pencil skirt with a hint of red in it ... the cotton kind of bunched up when I walked, but when I stood still it was pretty cute [to me, anyways]. So thanks for helping me push my style in new directions!

Unknown said...

Hiya! As always you look great and your fashion ideas excite me. In defense of cargo pants -- I am bigger on the top than on the bottom and not so baggy but nicely rivited cargos can be my best friend :) A nice pair, without cargo that is :) I have a tote for the cargo.

sanjeet said...

I think you're so right that, when shopping, this question should always be asked. It makes the love last longer, doesn't it?
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