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March 4, 2012 / ilegirl

More on discovery

The recent Fancy Pants outing created the opportunity to help myself hone in on specific style preferences – all, based on the outfit I chose to wear for the day.

First, I’d gone to sleep Friday evening confident that I would wear a certain mildly-pattern knit top with a denim straight skirt and wedges, all topped with a kimono-sleeve cardigan.  In the morning, however, a check of the weather predicted a distinct chill in the air (a bogus report, as it turns out), so I was at ends to assemble something rapidly which would be comfortable and practical for a morning of trying on clothing and shoes.

I opted for some army-green chinos, a long-sleeve fitted tee, and a short-sleeve taupe surplice knit top, adding my favorite cotton fleece jacket. I briefly debated on the shoes, then opted for bone-and-yellow saddle oxfords.

I’ll admit it: I don’t love the specifics of this look.  What I do love, however, is the concept.  In reflecting, I discovered a few key personal truths, which I’ll share below.

1.  Shoes are the most important element of the outfit.

2.  Layered works for me.

3.  Fitted on top, straight trousers on the bottom.

4.  Trousers need some give.

5.  Hair ties it together.

A retro-style shoe such as this makes a huge difference in the way I feel about an outfit.  I own a couple such pair – the aforementioned oxfords, and some round-toe black pumps – and ordered these Jeffrey Campbell spin-on-a-retro-look a few nights ago.

Jeffrey Campbell 'Kelley' in grey and ivory

The difference has little or nothing to do with how the shoe embellishes, accessorizes or completes a look; I like these shoes for what they are rather than what they add.  There is a big difference here between matching shoes to an outfit and wearing shoes which make me feel good.  Ultimately, this can be extended to include the pleasure of interesting details, pretty patterns, rich texture.  If I look down to my shoes I am gratified when I see something glance-worthy such as faux-snakeskin, a soft and pretty toe shape, wingtip details, an engaging color.  So this instructs me in two ways: (1) my preference is that a shoe is the driving factor behind the success of an outfit; and (2) I need to stop buying shoes to simply match my wardrobe and begin seeking shoes which engage my interest based on their own merits.

I prefer the other details of my outfit to remain simple.  Layering solid colors is not only functional for me, it’s comfortable as well.  In fact, I did something yesterday that I now slightly regret: I bought tights which are obviously patterned.  It’s much more interesting for me to layer varying weights and textures, and soft colors in flattering hues – working with individual, high-quality pieces – than it is for me to play with obvious patterns.  This was somewhat of a revelation to me.

It’s funny – I do like patterns on other people, and admire pattern-mixing.  But I also had what felt to me an odd inner resistance to wearing a perfectly nice zig-zag pattern wrap dress, and understand better now that even though the dress is in my colors and it fits very well, it’s not  my style.  And my current style is around layering.  The lesson I derive from this is that I need to listen to my own inner guidance and trust that my preference for solid-color or subtly-patterned pieces is based on solid intuition about what makes me feel comfortable and as attractive as possible given the constraints of nature.

Likewise, I’ve struggled with some of the recent fashionable silhouettes such as the tunic and empire-waist tops.  The latter make me feel as if I am wearing maternity clothes – though I see other women wearing them to lovely effect.  I realized that I felt more comfortable and more confident when I wear tops emphasizing my waist, and with straight-leg trousers.  I have a relatively small waist, and short legs.  Bulk or length on top obfuscates my waist, and makes my legs look even shorter.  I see this effect regularly in fact in fashion photos: the clearly long-legged models’ legs don’t look quite so lengthy in the tunic-and-leggings outfits, nor with ultra-low-rise trousers.

For me, there are two components to this analysis.  First, I do wish to look as well-proportioned as I can because I don’t want to stick out as something who is … well, ill-proportioned.  It does matter to me that I look as good as I can to other people.  And to me that’s okay.  (It’s also okay if other people don’t care how their outfits are perceived by others; I’m not in a position nor of an inclination to judge other people.)  At any rate, the straight trouser leg also contributes to the perception of a longer, lean line.  The exception here is that my body type tolerates a slight bit of trouser taper in the leg – but only if it’s still fitted in the hip.

Second, I am physically more comfortable when the waistband of my trousers is not too far below my natural waist, and there’s not too much fabric.  Very practical reasons here:  I don’t get as chilly in cold weather, I am adequately protected from the sun in warm weather, and I don’t have to fuss with undergarment issues.  The less objective reasons include feeling  a wide leg is fussy.  So while I like the idea of a flared trouser, I actively avoid reaching for those pieces when dressing – even if I’ve assembled the outfit in advance so it’s hanging ready to wear in my closet, I find myself making last-minute substitutions to incorporate straight legs.

Trousers with a bit of stretch, too, make a big difference.  I noticed this yesterday quite specifically, as the chinos I’d selected are mostly cotton but contain 6% elastane – enough to sit and stride with comfort.  I have a few all-cotton chinos, and in reflecting on the fit I recall that I am frequently making adjustments to accommodate the lack of stretch; yesterday, I required no such adjustments.

Finally, hair is a bigger deal than I would have previously admitted.  I have fine hair, but lots of it, and while it’s generally straight there’s a bit of bend at the neckline.  It also grows extraordinarily fast; I’d cut it just 4 weeks ago, and it’s already grown nearly an inch.  It’s beginning to be distracting and somewhat annoying, and the lesson for me here is that I require more frequent haircuts.  For the shopping day, I didn’t put any effort into my hair – and it shows.  When it’s at the right length, it doesn’t require attention, but when it is beginning to grow out I need to spend some time taming it.  It’s not much time – really, just a few minutes with a blow-dryer and round brush – but it makes a tremendous difference.  Just look at the photo above, which shows me with unstyled hair, and any other – it’s pretty apparent.

  • Chinos: Larry Levine
  • Tee: Old Navy
  • Short-sleeve top: BCX
  • Jacket: Tweeds
  • Shoes: Duck Head
  • Pin:  Laura Friedman – lsf Designs in Metal through Custom Made
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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Shelley / Apr 7 2012 5:27 am

    The photo is too small to tell anything about your messy hair! 🙂 So, might you build your outfits starting with your shoes – from the ground up, so to speak? If the shoes clash with your clothes it might not let their true personality shine through, but clearly shoes are important to your enjoyment so they should get to shine!

  2. ilegirl / Apr 7 2012 7:58 am

    Indeed, building my outfits from the shoe up may be what I do, for now. My long-term objective, though, is to have a harmonious wardrobe so that I can pick a focal piece and assemble around it. To me, this is a fun concept.

    I’m curious about how other people select the pieces constituting an outfit. So Shelley, where do you start when you’re looking into the closet in the morning?

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