08 March 2010

Fashion and bravery

I started getting going on this subject when I expounded on my undying loathing for black trousers. I soon realized it needed a post of its very own.

Far too often, I hear women say, "I'd love to dress like x, or wear y, if only..." If only I was richer. If only I had a different job. If only... if you fall into that trap, it'll be "if only" for the rest of your life, and you'll be stuck in the clothes that don't really feel right, that don't suit your body or your personality.

We know that fashion cannot exist without societal consensus. Our notions of what looks "good" and "bad," what's "appropriate" and "inappropriate," are not absolutes: they're shaped by the combined opinion of everyone around us.  Sometimes it's a good idea to go along with that consensus, at least to a degree. Showing up at your office in a bikini (usually) will result in unpleasant consequences.
I have always thought that in order to skirt the careful line between an unusual personal style and going overboard into social unacceptability, you need to be more in tune with what is and isn't OK, just like a tightrope walker needs a better sense of balance than someone walking on flat ground.

How do you get that sense of equilibrium, find that place of balance between the quirks of your personal style and society's norms? It's not an inborn, have-it-or-don't ability: although I think some people are born with a better sense of it than others, fashion intrepidity is for most of us a learned behavior - something we can work to develop and improve upon. Finding it takes a trifecta of skills: research, practice, and play.

Is anyone surprised that research is my first leg of the triangle? I'm a slightly-lapsed academician, and any academic will tell you that the first step in any project, in any field, is research. What else is going on? How are other people confronting the same issue? What are the possibilities?

You'll notice the ever-expanding blogroll on the right. That's just some of my background material: I  also leaf through the occasional fashion magazine, look at catalogs and e-tail Web sites, watch slideshows of runway shows, and keep an eye out for passers-by on the street who are wearing interesting-looking styles. I also take inspiration from plenty of non-fashion sources: magazines and blogs on home decorating and cooking; fine, decorative, and graphic arts, even aspects of the natural world, such as the color schemes of favorite flowers or wintry landscapes... and on and on. If you look at the inspirations fashion designers cite for their collections, you'll realize that inspiration can come from anywhere.

As for practice, that should be pretty self-evident. You learn from both your successes and your mistakes. You only need to put a too-short tee under a longer one once to figure out that it'll spend all day riding up, necessitating far-too-frequent adjustments. Conversely, you only need one afternoon in an perfectly flattering, comfortable article of clothing you'd never thought to try before to realize that you need to work more of thm into your wardrobe.

The last leg, play, is perhaps the most difficult to explain. By its very nature, play is idiosyncratic, unpredictable, governed by no rules but its own. Playing with garments partially develops from the first two legs: I had never thought of taking an elastic-waist broomstick skirt and putting both arms through the waistband behind my back, so the skirt hung down over my arms like a full, capelike shrug, but once I was shown the trick, I started to think of other ways it could work.

Part of play is divorcing oneself from preconceived notions of how garments are supposed to be worn or combined. Part of play is experimenting. Part of play is failure. There will be plenty of combinations that don't work, plenty of less-than-successful attempts. However, keep playing - keep changing variables until you get something you like.

This, for example:
daily outfit, WIWT, black and orange outfit, cardigan, tank, mini, miniskirt, tights, leggings, ankle boots, boots, holey, holes, layered, bangle, bracelet
Photo: Fabulous Husband
Cardigan: Ann Taylor Loft
Lace-trimmed tank: Fang Glam, TJMaxx
Orange corduroy mini: H&M
Grey tights: depths of the drawer
Holey leggings, Batdude!: Luxe Girl, TJMaxx
Ankle boots: Diba, DSW
Coin-bedecked carnelian neckwire: from Mom
Orangey-red plastic bangle: Salvation Army 

This outfit (which, in the interest of full disclosure, was Friday's) started out completely differently. I knew I wanted to wear the new holey leggings. I know I'm a little behind the curve on this one - I've seen other fabulous bloggers wearing them all winter - so when I found these on clearance, I had to snap them up. 

I knew their punkiness had to be balanced with something, and I needed something under them so as not to freeze (in little patches). The greyish-brown tights were the perfect choice. The skirt came next: I tried my denim mini, but it was a little too much, almost costumey. If I was going to a concert, I'd consider it, but for a normal day... nope. The orange cord skirt was a nice choice: it's short enough to show off the fun tights, but the conservative fabric was just the right contrast. Also, keeping in mind my previous disquisition on color, I wanted to play with one of the most-derided color combinations with seasonal ties: black and orange. Whenever color pairing rules come up, somebody's bound to say "Orange and black look so Halloween-y!" I wanted to see if I could make it a wearable color combination for the rest of the year.

Then I tried to put something on the top half of my body.

I thought my drape-front Velvet cardigan (remember, last week I was still wearing for cardigans for the academichic Fashion 101 unit), thinking that the loose, flowing lines would balance the angularity of the bottom half of my body. I tried to make it work, O Fabulous Readers: I wrapped it, draped it, pinned it, belted it, contemplated wearing it as a hat. Every way I tried looked horrible.

After about the sixth iteration, I knew that the drape-front cardigan, mini, and holey tights combo was not to be - at least, not in that iteration. I gave up and grabbed this old, traditionally cut one I'm wearing. Which worked well enough.

 So there it is: I did my research (saw how other bloggers styled holey leggings, miniskirts, and cardigans) and spent some time playing (with various skirt and cardigan options). As for practice, I'll just have to see how I use these items in the future!

Oh, and this is the perfect segue into the next academichic Fashion 101 unit: Tights! As you may have noticed, I don't wear trousers very often, so tights are a mainstay for me, especially in cooler months. However, if the weather around here continues to be as warm and pleasant as it was today, I may have to cheat and wear a few pairs of hose or tall stripey socks instead.

Are there items of clothing that you want to wear, but feel you can't or shouldn't? Why or why not? How do you work dramatic items into your wardrobe?

1 comment:

  1. Research, practice and play.

    I would argue that the time you spent in the denim mini and the drapey cardigan could both be filed under practice. To me, practice is the part where you try and fail, and it's very much intertwined with the ideas of research and play. Perhaps practice is also the moment where you synthesize what you have learned from society (research) with what your id desires (play). Hmmm...

    Really cool ideas. I'm glad you put this out there.


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