The Elements: Make a Project of Outfits

Returning to the Elements of Style series…clothes and assembling outfits. Usually, when someone feels they’re behind on the dark art of dressing in the 21st century, it’s not that they don’t have the style nous to pull it off, once they put a bit of thought and cash into it. Often, they have just been BUSY. Buying a house, raising small children, getting a Ph.D. Also, the young often look delicious in whatever ludicrous garments they’re wearing. So, we often don’t get around to thinking about style and clothes much until our thirties or forties. And then, with the plethora of advice available nowadays, where to begin? As a geek, I find it useful to see my outfits as a project of some kind, where I have to get multiple components to work together, like a piece of music, or a software program.

A good starting point is to define how you see yourself and how you want clothes to work for you: whether you want to be stylish or fashionable. My stylish friends know what they love and stick with it. Tribal, rave-flavored, vintage, steampunky, preppy. Often they make their own clothes.  If they look out of date for a season, they don’t care – fashion comes around to match them soon enough. The fashionable are more mutable, with a strong sense of the look of the moment.

With the cost of clothes here, the fashionable NZ women I know don’t have huge wardrobes: three or four well-selected outfits serve them for a season. The stylish ones have more clothes on tap, wardrobe libraries they pick and choose from.

It is OK to:

  • Take a morning and go through every darn thing in your wardrobe. Get rid of things that don’t fit or will never get worn, rediscover old favorites.
  • Take time to set up a couple of outfits in a row for the week, for a busy weekend, or for a trip. Try them on, move around in them, then put them to one side, ready to go.
  • Wear a uniform (such as trousers/jeans and a knit top) or two or three “looks”, and alternate the pieces.
  • Decide that you like to dress simply.

As you sort things out and make changes, your friends never mind being asked for advice. When you go through your closet; contemplate changes online; or ask them to be a consultant on a real-time shopping trip. Children are also excellent advice givers. Are you afraid that a child will dress you in leopard-print Wellies and feather boas? Maybe that’s a good look for you!

If you don’t know where to start with wardrobe updates, or only have a limited amount of money, go for good underwear. My budget is limited at the moment due to paying for a house repair, and my spring wardrobe update has been two pairs of shoes, an “event” dress, and some important new bras.

Who doesn't need a hypno-bra?

As delightful as an LED-illuminated hypno-bra is, it is not a wardrobe staple. Available from Enlightened Designs, click to view more.

Good underwear is project management for your body – everything comes together more easily with it in place. Good underwear is bras that fit, and panties or pants that aren’t too tight. Alas, there is is often a difference between underwear that looks good under clothes (smooth, often microfiber/no-show construction, slightly padded bras) and underwear that looks good without clothes (lacy, detailed, very sheer or very ornamented, includes built-in electronics). Also, there’s a whole post waiting on the linguistics of panties versus pants.

The Internet is a sea of style advice today, and not all of it is useful. Style media rewards those who go extreme or are conventionally attractive. Witness this blogger’s experience in being styled as “street style bait” – she couldn’t walk by the end of the day and didn’t own most of her designer garments/bling.

Here are my favorite, most practical sources of hardcore advice online – coding and QA for your outfits.

For inspiration it is useful to hunt around for a style blogger you like and identify with. Myself, I enjoy Wardrobe Oxygen – she’s about my height, about my shape, and she had a tree fall through her closet during Hurricane Irene a month ago and just kept on going.

What Do You Want To Look Like deals with a desire I see a lot: “You want to dress like a rock star, a pin-up girl, a circus performer, a mermaid. You want to do your hair big and wear monstrous combat boots and pile on bangles from wrist to elbow. Your parents or teachers or boss or officemates or friends or lover will be scared/disappointed/angry if you do….”

The next post in this series will be about  how to channel both this desire and some style changes.


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