I often wonder why people choose certain garments and outfits. Like it or not, clothing is a display. It says something about the wearer, and has everything to do with image and attraction.
Stores like The Gap, for example, base ad campaigns and merchandise around this concept of one outfit or item that will suit everyone. One year they have a candy-colored striped sweater, a wool pea coat another, with the ubiquitous white, button-down oxford shirt used to fill any seasonal lulls, like a rerun shown during a rained-out baseball game. It’s strange how alluring the idea is, even to me. The fantasy of a magical garment that will bring out the best in everyone. A very stylish, sexy, and well-designed uniform for the modern human.
How often do we seek to express conformity though our clothes? More often than I would like to admit. Some is unavoidable, because fashion itself is subject to popular opinion and the taste of the masses. But what about niche styles that don’t wind up in Vogue? Take the ‘Soccer Mom’ for example: ribbed mock-turtleneck shirts, functional outerwear, modestly cut jeans never too light or too dark, sensible shoes, shoulder-length bobs just long enough to pull back when needed. The look is as iconic as any Chanel suit, and yet Karl Lagerfeld wouldn’t be caught dead sending it down a runway. Karl probably uses the thought of seeing himself in stonewashed jeans and a fleece vest gracing the front page of the New York Post as motivation not to break down and hit the Taco Bell drive through.
Snobbery aside, the ‘Soccer Mom’ points out a very real phenomenon: women dressing like each other. When done in moderation, finding style inspiration in another woman’s look is fantastic, flattering, and overall a good strategy to forming your own style. In excess, however, the result is the absolute worst of all offenses: bland. Blandness is the mortal enemy of fabulous style. Why dress to fit in when you can dress to stand out?
There are specific cases when choosing garments that won’t grab attention is appropriate and necessary. A funeral is not the place to try out teased hair if you wear it straight, for example. Your daughter’s wedding is not the time to splurge on a fire engine red Alexander McQueen gown made of feathers. But during the regular week, there is plenty of time to have fun with your look. Why not try a new style or bold accessory?
At Fashremash, I do not care if something in a store is “you” or not. Do you love it? Do you like the idea of owning it, regardless of it’s practical purpose? Does it make you feel good just to look at the garment, the handbag, or the bold earrings?
Buy it and wear it. That is the essence of all personal style: wear what you love. Screw the rest.
Many women, including myself, shudder a little at the thought of a “classic” piece. Something very stuffy and white ango-saxon protestant pops into my mind when I hear the term bandied around, even by style ‘gurus’ like Tim Gunn.
As a way to revamp the word ‘classic’ I would like to propose we use instead the term ‘flattering.’ Certain cuts, styles, and silhouettes will never truly go out of style simply because they are the most flattering to all female figures. After experimenting and playing with style, even the most outrageous trend follower comes to a point when she wants her body to look good in clothes.
What are the staple pieces that flatter a woman’s body. Here are some basics, with tips on finding the right fit.
The Belted Coat/Jacket/Trench – Any coat, single or double breasted (rule of thumb, if you don’t have much in the boobs department, get the double), in a natural fabric that falls above the knee and has belt loops with a sash will make your body look amazing. The fit, however, is critical to make this magic happen. The coat MUST be fitted but not shrunken. Fittted is the smallest size you can wear without the buttons pulling when you move your arms. I’m not talking major motion here, just everyday activity. Circling the arms around like you are doing a throwback exercise from 1910 will probably result in choosing a garment that is too loose. This jacket is meant to be a fashion statement, not protective sports gear. The belt is for accentuating the waist that is already created by the cut, not creating a ‘paper bag’ effect. When you try on a jacket, button it up and look like a perfect hourglass you have officially struck gold. Stick with a natural fabric and you will literally be able to wear it forever. Don’t be surprised when your daughter starts eying it up in a few years. But just for me, hang onto it, and wear it. Moms deserve to be fabulous too.
The Boot Cut Pant/Jean – Some concepts seem like no-brainers when presented via TV or web in the comfort of home, but in the heat of a cramped dressing room at the mall become virtually useless. Advice about finding flattering pants and jeans falls into this category. Much of the frustration comes from misjudging the clothing in the store. If you have never worn a garment from a particular manufacturer or label, do NOT try on any pant that is folded up in a pile. Look at the clothing on hangers. A label reading ‘flared’ or ‘bootcut’ slapped on a shelf of tucked away pants is useless. When a pair of pants is hanging, you can look at the proportions and judge for yourself. Maybe the leg looks too wide or the rise is so low only a 5 foot anorexic would be able to shimmy her ass bones in and actually zip. Already you have spared yourself from the clown pant and the one-size-fits-none pant.
Bottom line: seek balance. If the flare is noticeably bigger than your hips, you’re in bell-bottom territory. If the leg is narrower than your hips, you run the risk of looking like you have a big ass and/or short legs. If you are tall and narrow-hipped, this can work in your favor. If you are under 5’9″, I wouldn’t even go there. Evaluate the front view based on balancing width of hips with width of pant leg. Evaluate the back based on fit and pockets. If you’ve got ‘back’ avoid side pockets like the plague. If you have a straight figure, front and back detail, like flap pockets with buttons can keep you from getting lost in a loose cut style.
The Perfect Top – Here is an area where goal-setting is necessary. Many times the bust size is over-emphasized in choosing a flattering top. Forget the bust. There is only one thing to consider when deciding which style is right for you: how much do you want to narrow your waist? A voluptuous chest and nipped-in waist have never in the history of civilization ruined a look. A visible spare tire, however, can compromise your outfit. Once again, it’s all about proportion. The goal is an hourglass. Even if you are a size 22, if you have a comparatively small waist and hourglass shape with no bulges in the middle, you can pretty much wear any style of shirt you want and look great. Go fitted but not shrunken, that is all I ask.
If one wants to create a narrow waist, a plain cotton t-shirt is not going to do the job. A stiffer fabric and tailoring, specifically darts at the waist, will serve you much better. Blouses with belts are easy to find, and the right one will look amazing. For those times when you don’t want to be stuck in a button-down shirt, go for a v-neck or polo, in a heavy weight fabric with stretch. You want to create shape. Even if the shirt doesn’t hide every flaw, the thick fabric will give the top structure, and structure is the absolute BFF of any woman trying to narrow her waist. If all else fails, go buy some Spanx. We’re women, we reserve the right to be vein. If you can’t get the look you want with clothing alone, go for the shape wear. Just carry a bag large enough to stash it if clothes start coming off.
The High Heel – I cannot emphasize enough that the most stylish body enhancing garment in existence is a sleek, high heeled shoe. They make the body look taller, thinner, shapelier and the shoes themselves look good on your feet. The eternal debate, one of comfort vs. style, has raged on for centuries. Podiatrists, god love ’em, don’t help us on the ‘style’ side of the argument make our case when they condemn any narrow, high heeled shoe as damaging to the foot. Now, for those swayed by these appeals, have you seen the shoes they offer as alternatives? Do you want to wear crocks in public? Sure, it’s fine for those days you just don’t care. Even the most stylish have days they just want to lounge in comfy clothes. By all means, do so. This is a sign you are not insane. But don’t build a wardrobe around stuff you would wear just to run in the gas station.
I will argue as a woman who wears athletic, heeled and flat shoes alternately, that a heel is more comfortable than a dress flat. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. A dress flat gives no arch support, most have no cushioning to speak of, and their awkward shape will rub some part of your foot raw after eight hours. A high heel is actually closer to the natural shape of the foot, cut to fit the foot better, and much less likely to result in aches and pains associated with no shock absorption in the shoe. Since the heels defy gravity, your arches are not pounding the pavement with each step. Sure, they are contorted. I like to think of it as a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, as opposed to, say, the bound foot of an aging geisha. A pretty contort practiced and used appropriately, not too much or too seldom. As far as the Podiatrists’ stance on the issue: as long as you wear the correct size, do not sleep in them or wear while running the New York Marathon, I think the high heel is a perfectly safe shoe in your rotation. It may even benefit the foot. Ok, probably not, but you won’t need a hip replacement at age forty if you wear a cute pair of heels out on Saturday night.
In the novel ‘High Fidelity’ protagonist Rob describes his appeal to women as based not on the traits he has, but those he lacks. He may not be a genius, rich, or extremely handsome. As he points out, however, he also does not have a drinking problem, anger issue, awful taste in music/movies, or any other outstandingly bad trait. So, his appeal lies in his lack of truly heinous turn-offs, the ones that serve as the real deal-breakers.
Personal style is often based on this same logic. Many times the people admired as having the best style simply know what trends to avoid.
Here is my own personal list of fashion deal-breakers. No matter how popular, how widespread, or who is seen wearing it, some looks simply should not be worn by the general population.
Legible Text – I could spend an hour going over the ultra-specific exceptions to this rule, but the bottom line is: if someone can read an article of clothing, get rid of it as soon as possible. Logos have been dead since the early nineties, and in their graves they should stay. I am skeptical that slogans have ever been stylish, and while they are fun at a Boise State kegger, worn anywhere else is pretty tragic. Beware the new trend of common texting abbreviations on clothing (such as WTF). Even in a nerd chic world that is style suicide.
Ripped T-Shirt – If you purchase a t-shirt that is pre-ripped, it’s time to take a long look in the mirror. This look has been the target of mockery since 1980s teen movies. The ripped effect is not completely hopeless, but for the love of all things holy (or unholy) just rip the shirt yourself. Trust me, it will yield a better result and you will save about ninety dollars.
Denim on Denim – To my shock and dismay, certain retailers are still trying to pass off the legendary ‘denim tuxedo’ as stylish. To put it bluntly: no. Don’t wear denim with denim. It isn’t worth pondering, just erase the very thought from your mind and move on. Even high fashion designers make mistakes, but do not be swayed by propaganda or glossy ads. Denim on top + denim jeans = tragic.
Round-toed Flat – I realize this shoe is quite popular, and I’m in no way condemning all flats. The bottom line is, if you are under 5’10” this shoe is simply not flattering (height is a notable exception here–the tall, thin and leggy can pull off the round toe flat). Let’s consider the options for how to wear this shoe. Wear a skinny pant and the shoe adds nothing. Wear a boot cut pant and the foot disappears under the fabric. Wear a skirt and you have effectively shortened your legs as much as modern fashion allows. Nearly any shoe is a better investment than this one. If you find yourself about to use the c-word (comfort) just stop. Do you want to be stylish or a soccer mom? Okay, then.
Ankle-length Skirt – Assuming you are not trying on a mermaid-style Yves Saint Laurent in a sleek knit, put that monstrosity back on the rack from whence it came. Can the long skirt be pulled off? Yes. Can it be done at Macy’s? No. If you must try it, the outfit absolutely must be monochromatic, fitted, and made with knits. Anything else makes a gal look like she should either be at a square dance or teleported to 1993.
Skinny Jean – First, allow me to clarify what I mean by ‘skinny jean.’ I do not mean a straight leg pant, a skinny cigarette pant, or even a legging. I am referring to the stretchy denim-esque garment masquerading as pants by virtue of a cosmetic zip-fly and occasional pocket, not narrowed by tailoring but sticking to the leg like flexible glue. A Frankenstein of lycra and cotton blend, ending at the ankle to ensure any attempt to lengthen the leg is thwarted. With enough guile one can cover these pants effectively enough to make them work in an outfit, even look good. But when the attractiveness of an article of clothing directly increases with the percentage of said garment that is hidden by another garment, accessory, bag, or boot, why bother in the first place? Ugly-on-purpose works in the Betsy Johnson tent at Fashion Week, but translated to everyday wear I deem this a fail.