“There are no rules! Wear what you love! Fashion is what you make it!” –The establishment gleefully proclaims. Visit any street style blog and you will find women wearing all kinds of crazy conglomerations. Open a magazine and you get the sense that so long as you are wearing incredibly high heels, anything can be high fashion.
No rules, huh? In that case I’ll be wearing my pajamas… everywhere.
But of course, there are still rules. Subtle enough that most of us can’t quite figure them out, but pervasive enough that everyone has felt the slap at wearing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The fashion industry is like a teacher with bad classroom management. You know the one. They say there are no rules, but in truth there are rules all over the place. In that situation, nobody preforms well.
Here are a few guidelines to use as a jumping off point as we weather the current mayhem of style.
Wear three colors or tones
Three is a magic number. Joseph Campbell could probably explain why but for the purpose of this blog we’re just going to go with the fact that it’s magical. Three colors, or three tones of a similar color, calm the eye and create visual harmony. Think a rust colored top, blue jeans, brown leather boots and a brown leather cross body bag. Or light grey t-shirt, a darker grey cardigan and a black skirt.
If you are incorporating a print, like plaid or a floral that has more than 3 colors, just keep accessories neutral.
Solids photograph better, prints are more fun
You may have heard that you can’t go wrong with a solid color. You may have also heard the cacophony of people shouting at you to add more colorful prints to your wardrobe. Both are correct, it just depends on the situation.
If you are going to be photographed, and if you particularly care what those photos look like, wear a solid color. If a print makes you happy, wear it and go have a good day. Since most of our family photos are taken outside on some sort of adventure, all of my coats are solid colors. Since I don’t care what I look like in other people’s wedding albums, I wear fun dresses to celebrate marriages.
Be thoughtful about the logos you wear
Just try to imagine Grace Kelly or Jackie Kennedy with splattered logos on their handbags, or wearing sweatshirts advertising mountaineering gear. In this world of fashion confusion, many people have taken to using labels and logos in place of style. My middle school age son talks about boys who wear Nike from head to toe on some days, then Under Armor head to toe the next, but would never mix the two brands. We really do not want to look like middle school boys. Seriously.
That said, there are times a label can be incredibly helpful. Levis say, “I’m not a fashion slave, and I like high quality jeans.” Lululemon pants stay on when I am exercising, and that’s a win-win for everybody.
The trick is to limit the labels showing on your clothing, and to be very comfortable with the labels you rock. Both my daughter and I wear Patagonia caps. Patagonia is a great company. The materials they use are responsibly sourced, the employees are treated and paid well, the quality is unmatched. I am happy to advertise for their company. Plus I like their caps. Ultimately, don’t be afraid of a label you can stand behind, but never use labels as a substitute for style.
Remember that you are dressing in relationship with other people
Other people are affected by what we wear. That’s why we care so much. Wearing “What you love!” and “Whatever makes you comfortable!” may not make other people comfortable.
I worked with a woman years ago who wore clothing that made everyone around her uncomfortable; cleavage, short skirts, thin clothing, all the time. While there are certainly times and places where she would have looked great in such outfits, being an adult working in a school was not one of them. When she was called out on this, she defended her choices, saying she was just wearing clothing that she found comfortable.
Clothing is never about just our comfort. It’s about everybody’s comfort. Kind of like bathing. Everything we wear sends a message to others about who we are and how we expect to be treated.
Which is not to say you should always wear what other people want or expect you to wear. I know an awesome young woman who wore men’s ties throughout high school, for no other reason than she liked men’s ties. Those ties were a wink and a grin to her more conservative classmates, a subtle but kind note that she wouldn’t be following their rules. I routinely pull on my Frye boots and a plaid shirt if I’m going to be confronted by fancy moms. It’s my way of saying I don’t play your glam game.
But there are other times when we dress to show respect. As a teacher, there are days (OK, the entire month of February) when I have to work to get myself out of jeans. I teach at a school with a very casual dress code, and could wear sweats if I wanted. But it’s important to let the students know I take this work seriously. I dress up for it and for them.
Fit is everything
More important that the color, brand, or design of your clothing is the way it hangs on your body. We’ve all seen women whose clothing fits beautifully. We tend to assume her clothing fits because she has a great figure, but in truth her figure looks great because her clothing fits.
If you strive for just one stylish improvement in your life, make it the fit of your clothing. Jeans that you have to tug at, blouses that bunch up, dresses that don’t quite have enough room for your hips, these are the real spoilers. As you weed through your wardrobe and continue to make additions to it, look to fit first. A trip to the tailor generally costs less than lunch out. You can hem those pants, take a tuck in a blouse, or shorten a skirt for very little investment of time or money.
Add to these guidelines your own rules (I never wear olive when I’m in a bad mood) and you will find a comforting set of guidelines that can make getting dressed easier every morning. Fashion anarchy can rage around us, and we may even find pleasure in the brash and conflicting messages we hear from the fashion industry when nestled in the cocoon of our own orderly wardrobes.
And truth be told, it may have been easier in our mothers’ youths, but also restrictive.
“Should I wear this white dress?”
Is it after Labor Day?
Are you going to a wedding?
Will they be serving spaghetti?
Then wear that white dress!
These days there’s nothing holding you back from wearing a white dress to outdoor Italian nuptials in February. So long as it fits.