Thursday, March 7, 2013

Balancing the Fashion Equation

by Shannon

(Editor's note: While I'm typing this out, Cruncher is listening to "I'm Blue" by Eiffel 65, his second favorite song, on repeat. He's desperately trying to learn the lyrics. Yup. At least he's cute.)

Mixing and matching a wardrobe is the kind of challenge I love. I naturally have a mathematical mind, but I choose to appreciate art and style.  Sometimes, balancing an outfit feels like balancing an equation to me, so I'd like to walk you through how my brain works when combining pieces for the first time. Like many a professor, this post will be far to wordy, so strap yourself in.

When my sister went shopping with her bridesmaids last spring, she was hoping to find something we could wear again (thanks, Sis!). I was really excited about the lace Jessica Simpson dress we found on clearance at Macy's, and all three of us found our size in the four dresses that were left. It was really tough for me to not wear the dress leading up the wedding, and I looked forward to wearing it later.

But  ... it took me eight months to wear it again.

It felt just a little bit fancy for Mass, a little too fancy for dinner out and a lot too fancy for work. I knew if I was ever going to wear it again (and not to another wedding), I would need to find a way to dress it reeeeeeal down.

I'll just state the obvious, here: When I link up for What I Wore Sunday, I try my darnedest to wear a new combination of items each week. I'm blessed with a versatile wardrobe and lots of fantastic places to shop for affordable new and used clothing. I have a few items I've not yet worn for the link up, but I'm saving them for spring and summer. So, I knew it was time — time to break out the bridesmaid dress.

Even though we wore this dress in a June wedding, it looks more like a New Year's Eve party dress, so it would translate well for this cold weather we're (still!) having. But, since it is (still!) cold, plus the outfit needed to be modest, I definitely needed something to cover my arms.

Deets (from bottom left clockwise): 
Floral jacket: Meijer; Golden Belt: Target
Striped Oxford Shirt: J. Crew, consigned
Cropped Denim Jacket: Wrangler, consigned
Plaid Preppy Cardi: Vintage, consigned
Fine-Cord Icy Blazer: Petite Sophisticate, thrifted (and gifted)
Plaid Riding Jacket: Target (and gifted)

Here were all my options for modesting-up the frock. Hands down, the BEST way to style this dress casual is a cropped denim jacket and some boots. The ruggedness of the denim and boots balances the lacy, girly dress in a way that ... well ... just works.

Necklace Deets: Vintage, consigned

I threw on a vintage statement necklace, which pulled in the blue of the jacket and the laciness of the dress, stood back and smiled. BUT. I knew I wasn't going to wear this. Not yet. I had decided to send my new boots back to Zappos for an exchange, and there's just something about a denim jacket with a dress that screams "SPRING!" to me. As much as I want spring-dress weather here and now, I needed to hold off. Just know I'm really looking forward to wearing this getup after Easter.

Pearls Deets: Target

On to the first-runnuer up: the oxford shirt. I had seen other ladies on the link up take a perfectly lovely dress and layer it over a preppy oxford with pearls on top, or even a lace skirt with an oxford and chunky necklace. Something about this look here doesn't work for me, though. My brain was saying, "Yes — the math is there! It's balanced: Preppy, feminine, classic. It works!" But my eye was say, "No. No no no no no. Start over." I might give this combo another try in the spring, when I can wear a strappy sandal. The biggest problem with this outfit is none of my winter shoes were going to work. I considered my tan penny loafers, but those shoes look sooooo much better on a naked leg, not with nude hose. Again, the cold weather had defeated my fashion equation.

Belt Deets: All from Target

Second-runner up: the floral jacket. Ryan HATES this combination, though I had excitedly purchased this jacket (on severe clearance!) specifically for this dress. I thought the jacket's pleather and gold zipper gave the dress the hardness it needed, and I was planning to pull it together with black tights and my black heeled boots I wear too often. I had multiple belts that would work with the jacket's colors and was deciding between them when ... sigh ... I realized Ryan was right. Hate to admit it, but the man has really great style instincts (probably from being raised by a single mom). The cut of the jacket is the main problem, and I'd alter it if I weren't so lazy (it's without a liner, so a pretty simple job).

The jacket needs to be shorter. Cropped jackets actually hit me at my natural waistline, since I'm not quite 5'2", so a non-petite jacket has a tendency to look sloppy when paired with something that isn't body conscious. I would try belting the jacket on the outside, but it's too boxy. The fabric would get all bunchy and weird. This dress isn't fitted enough to work with a non-structured jacket, which is why I knew none of the jackets, sweaters or shirts I had considered were going to work.

It was now clear. In order to balance this fashion equation in winter, the dress required the following:

  • A structured jacket or sweater: The dress has far too much fabric in the skirt to have a bunch of fabric up top, as well. When wearing a flowy jacket, wear a body-conscious bottom, and vice versa when wearing a structured top. If you wear all flowy, you'll look bigger than you are. If you wear all fitted, you might look immodest (depending on the fit).
  • A belt: I might have lost five pounds since the wedding.
  • Some rock 'n' roll jewelry: This would provide that "hardness" the dress needs to toughen it up and dress it down.
  • A solid color from knee to floor: Since the dress hits me at the knee and I'm lacking in the height department, I don't need my legs to be chopped up into smaller pieces.

I was going about it all wrong. The biggest hindrance to the dress wasn't the jacket. It was the shoes. Each time I had considered a jacket, I was good until I got to my feet. Plus, not all of my shoes look good with solid-colored tights.

Shoe Deets (left to right): Crown Vintage from DSW, Naturalizer from TJ Maxx, Report from Zappos.
Black Belt Deets: Simply Vera Wang

I already knew the penny loafers weren't going to work. The metallic flats only work with brown tights, and the dress isn't a brown-tights frock. Hmm. New black boots maybe? With a black belt and black tights, it's a little bit rock 'n' roll. Perhaps a little bit '80s too, but that's en vogue now (and, funnily enough, very Madonna). I pulled out last year's Easter cardi, and there was my outfit! I just needed jewelry to complete the look.

Necklace Deets (left to right): vintage thrifted, Target and Target

The old lady chain didn't work with the neckline or the shoes. The chunky chain necklace wasn't quiiiiite long enough, though I wished it worked. Love. That. Necklace. Last one up, the exaggerated chain necklace was juuuuuust right. It's a little bit rock 'n' roll, just long enough for the neckline, not too heavy (since the belt is pretty focus-pulling), but still added a nice punch to the picture.

Earring Deets: 1928

I could have gone all the way rock 'n' roll with the accessories, but something more delicate worked best for earrings. The filigree and little porcelain rose looked lovely with the dress' lace and were the same gold finish as the necklace. Ryan picked them out, actually, and it was the right call.

Can't really see the shoes too well, but there it is — the balanced fashion formula. The dress is more casual, yet still Mass appropriate. Modest, yet statement-making.

Which jacket or sweater would you have chosen? Did you like one of the other necklaces or pair of shoes better? How do you pull together an outfit: in your mind, on hangers, or by trying it on?

(Editor's note: By the end of this post, Luke had moved on to "The Saga Begins" by Weird Al, his first favorite song. Still on repeat. Still cute.)


  1. I actually really like how you think. I've found myself in similar situations with outfits, especially since I've been trying to think outside the box with my clothing. Sometimes it just doesn't work...and you're not precisely certain why. But I get what you're saying.

    1. Its difficult to put into words. I often build outfits on that hook, but the photos really helped.

  2. Love this Shannon. Don't take this the wrong way, but you've just described the whole reason I'm trying to build a fool-proof wardrobe. This is TOO MUCH WORK! At least for totally and completely left-brained people like myself. So many pitfalls, so many near misses, so may traps for the unwary. I'm starting to break out in a cold sweat . . . .

    1. Hmmm ... not taken the wrong way. Getting dressed isn't like this every day for me. Sometimes I get a new bargain, hand-me-down, vintage piece, etc. that alludes me, and this bridesmaid dress was one of them. And when that happens, the best way to put together a look is to dissect the needs, not just throw on any ol' cardi and call it a day.

      Fool-proof wardrobes make me think of those fake closets in Real Simple magazine, when they're trying to teach you how to organize in a small space, and all the clothes are tan, blue and green. Looks pretty, but I think I'd get bored.