I’ve been confused about colors. My complication is that I have 2 older sisters with radically different coloring, and was subjected to hand-me-downs in a variety of tones. For a long time, I was unable to discern what colors looked good with my medium-fair complexion and (sans coloring) muddy blonde hair. Hence, experimentation. Often, with rather ugly results.
I never had my colors done professionally, but a coworker labeled me an Autumn. I have believed her, and after some trials with colors in that range I think she is correct. For example, black is definitely NOT a good match for me, and neither is a wintry white. Some pale blues are fine while others lend me a rather cadaverous look. Jewel tones are risky.
I think the trick is playing with color and, in time, narrowing down to what looks good and feels good. This might be a matter of sneaking selfies in the dressing room, or doing a closet dive and snapping shots in a variety of outfits including a broad range of hues. For me it was rather accidental and gradual, in that I experienced insights when viewing photos of myself over a period of years (some of us are not quick studies in the color arts). Viewing a photo works because when we look good in the picture and recall a pleasant memory, we make a connection between the emotional state we are in and the color we are wearing.
That’s the process I used to develop my preferred neutral bases and neutral highlights. I’ve completely invented my neutral taxonomy, so the terminology is probably quite different in the fashion world. But I like these terms because I understand them.
A neutral base is the dominant neutral in the outfit. For example, brown would be the dominant color if the trousers, shoes and a belt are all in this color family.
I’ve chosen these as my neutral bases: grey, brown and navy.
Why these colors work: these colors go with pretty much any other color and I believe they look good on me
A neutral highlight is the secondary neutral in an outfit. An example would be an ivory blouse with a navy suit – ivory would be the neutral highlight.
I’ve selected ivory, plum and green as my neutral highlights for fall and winter.
Why these colors work: each goes with the neutral bases I selected, function as neutrals on their own in my wardrobe, and I believe they look good on me.
Patterned or solid?
My attempt to simplify is leading me toward solids, though I admittedly still have a few patterned blouses and an overtly patterned tweed jacket. However, I am making the effort in coming weeks to use those patterned pieces and cull them if they don’t work with everything else.
The reason I believe solids work for me is that I prefer to accessorize with scarves and have a heavily curated collection I want to frequently use. Scarves allow for a quick change-up in the look of an outfit, and because they can be tied in myriad ways I am hoping they will prevent me from becoming bored with a smaller wardrobe.
Here is my closet after I purged garments that are worn out or too small, and stored warm weather clothing. The left side contains outerwear, scarves, belts, a garment bag with my few fancies, and a hanging organizer for my cashmere pullovers, oversize scarves, handbags, and lingerie box.
The right side contains a 2-tier hanging system for tops and bottoms, blazers, cardigans, and a rolling rack for my jewelry, tote bag and pjs. The low racks on casters hold current-season shoes; sandals and fancy shoes are stored with my warm weather gear in a cupboard above the closet.
I’m not a sports person. However, I’ve picked up enough sports phrases over many years of marriage to a football fan that I can hold my own in brief sports-related conversations, and comprehend a few sport-based analogies. And at times, I can coin my own twist on a sports analogy when appropriate. This is such a time. I am in fact rather excited to share it because the realization dropped on me like a sudden hailstorm, and I’d like to get it down on virtual paper before the moment passes.
False start. I moved before the whistle. And that hailstorm of insight was the whistle.
I had gone into the intellectual exercise of planning my wardrobe from a what’s appropriate for work perspective. I had begun jotting on paper the lists of core pieces, and each time I reached the point of finally listing out what this set of foundation pieces ought to consist of I experienced a strong sense of dissatisfaction.
I stopped and filed the dissatisfaction away for processing, and while tidying up at the end of the evening the insight arrived:
my style is defined by what I pick out of the closet on those days when I am not obligated to work. What do I wear when I am not at work?
Taking this a shuffle further, I began to understand a few rather odd habits I have developed.
First, I segregate my clothes based on activity. This is fine for extreme situations; I’m not going to have a run down the trail wearing gold strappy sandals and a ballgown, of course. However, I realized that on weekends I preserve clothes for work that I would otherwise want to wear when meeting my friend for a stroll in the farmer’s market or heading out for a movie. I won’t slip on a tweed jacket because that’s for work. I won’t wear a skirt and tights because that is for the office.
What would happen if I simply picked what I wanted to wear? Would the earth open beneath me and swallow me up? Would the universe and all I care about cease to exist? Why in the world do I compartmentalize when doing so is draconian?
Yes, definitely falls into the category of first world problem.
Secondly, I play little mind games with myself about my clothes. I make deals with … God? Myself? Whatever and whomever, I squirrel away things I love to save for special occasions, and then these pieces gravitate into an upstairs closet where they remain idled inside a garment bag. Why? Because they were expensive, and – God forbid! – I can’t wear expensive clothes unless there is a reason to wear them. And inevitably, those special occasions are so rare that these lovely items live in a far-off land filled with unicorns and rainbows.
Wouldn’t I like to live in a land with unicorns and rainbows? Why do I not deserve to live in that land too?
My project for the next 2 weeks will be desegregating my clothes and returning those exiled, expensive pieces to my everyday closet.
Discovering one’s style is an evolution, and for me this will be an effort filled with attempts and failures. Winter fast descending, I am itching to boost my collection of warm layers but am holding myself back in order to evaluate my sartorial direction so that I refrain from repeating the mistakes that have brought me to this discontented moment. So, I start with a look to the past.
When I refer to my old OOTD posts I see many losers but also a few winners. The winners are simple layers embellished with a detail – turtleneck and a pullover with pearls, as an example. It isn’t that this look is particularly striking in itself, though the argyle makes me smile. It is that I look at the outfit and feel familiar and comfortable: this is me.
Clues like this help me to articulate my style. I call it classic because though this photo was from 3 or 4 years ago I could wear the same pieces without feeling like a fashion faux pas. Too bad I’ve gained too much weight since then to fit into any of these particular garments.
Not everyone needs to put a name to their style, but it works for me. Some have a much more organic process, and seem to effortlessly find their flow with beautiful results. Me – I’m a moderate rule-follower, which means I like having a general framework, and will periodically push against the definition to express my creativity. Plus, my innate minimalist tendencies compel me to endlessly categorize and refine.
I’ve done a bit of reading (including perusing delightful lists such as this one by Studio Alexandra), and have decided to begin my wardrobe afresh. Well, almost; I can’t reasonably toss my entire closet immediately as I must wear clothes to work (in fact, it’s the written dress policy: you must wear clothes). With a focus on quality and an understanding of my personal style, I plan to pare down the noise while building up the core pieces.
I’ve learned quite a lot over the two decades I’ve spent acquiring and discarding many articles of clothing. But perhaps the biggest lesson is that a style I may like isn’t necessarily a good choice for me. The most vivid example are shoes – I love the look of heels, but neither my damaged feet nor my active lifestyle can accommodate these symbols of femininity. I love them, I admire them, and yet they bring me nothing but pain. Quite reminiscent of some boys I dated in my youth. They are forever banished from my life.
Another example is the menswear style. I am drawn to menswear details, but I find myself terribly uncomfortable and self-conscious when actually wearing these styles because when I appear androgynous I am disconcerted. I like and admire the edginess of others whose style veers in this direction, but for myself – it’s just not for me.
Because beginning afresh means investing, I’m spending time understanding what I want to achieve before shopping. My fantasyland is a closet of highly curated pieces, each of which goes with the others. It is a closet of garments that are comfortable, attractive, and versatile. It’s a closet I can open in the morning and easily build an outfit that fits well, looks good, and lends a bit of fun and radiance to my day. It is, in fact, a capsule wardrobe.
I like to think of myself as a unique individual, but I share something with millions of other women (and quite a few men, too): I own too many clothes. I have seen walk-in closets packed to the gills, and wardrobe overflowing into guest rooms, kids’ rooms, and have an acquaintance who went so far as to have an addition built for her substantial collection of designer garments and shoes. I am no where near that level, and yet I acknowledge all the same that I have purchased far too many things, and several of these are clothes.
I wish for, and espouse, a life of greater simplicity. My professional life is complicated and often messy, and the details of everyday living – ranging from commuting in traffic to running errands – can be stressful. I long for a counterbalance at home. I fantasize about opening a cupboard to see a collection of well-used, clean, and neatly organized items; this includes both my kitchen and my closet.
The reality is that I open my closet and I cannot find the beloved 3-ply green cashmere sweater I wear like a sweatshirt because there is a cascade of seldom worn pullovers, tee shirts and blouses obstructing my view. Worse, much of my wardrobe seems to wear out quickly.
Why do we acquire stuff to fill our closets? What is it that drives everyday people like myself to behave as if we are constantly on the red carpet, to be shamed if we repeat an outfit?
I suspect that for some people (including myself) the act of buying clothes is an attempt to fill an emptiness. I fear that void, because it can be rather dark. I don’t just fill it by buying clothes; I also fill my calendar with meetings and events, and make to-do lists that would break a master organizer’s spirit. A lot of the noise in my life is created to construct an excuse for not attending to this emptiness.
Ironically, I’ve confronted this void in the past and while it is indeed daunting, it’s also an opportunity. The emptiness itself isn’t a bad thing. In fact, some traditions embrace the emptiness as a pause, a selah, between phases, seasons, stages of life. It’s the silence inside the poem, the moment between stanzas. It creates space for something new.
With Morton’s neuroma, hyper mobility, a recently sprained ankle and a bout of tendinitis, my peds are going through a challenging phase. With only the one pair designed to serve me for a lifetime, I’ve reached the reasonable conclusion that health and comfort must take precedence.
In my case, this means that heels of any kind are anathema, and stability a must. The hyper mobility issue may sound benign, but sadly excludes many sneakers, espadrilles, and woven styles like the adorable Bernie Mevs I wore when traipsing through Taiwan and Singapore last fall. Being interested in style and ill-equipped to design and build my own shoes, I’m relying on the marketplace to supply my needs. And fortunately, there are several comfort brands which recognize that a needy foot is frequently attached to a person who enjoys style.
My feet require shoes that meet these criteria:
- Rigid sole
- Rear foot control
- Mid foot support
- Cushioned footbed
Here are some shoes on my latest wish list.
The upside: I have a good experience with Naot.
The downside: Zappos only offers these in black.
Steve Madden Babe
The upside: with the current trends in business casual, I can get away with wearing these to work
The downside: these ar only available in grey and white, so not a lot of options
The upside: this is a maryjane that marries sporty and sweet so I can wear with both jeans and skirts
The down side is that like the Naots above, Zappos only offers this in black