Lately I’ve been reading the musings of Lyn Slater over on her blog Accidental Icon. I like musing about things and reading what others are musing. And generally just navel gazing. Especially about clothes. Thinking aloud about clothes, as I’ve said many times before, is my specialist subject.
I was at Nordstrom this week. Shopping, and then lunching, with my friend Liz. And talking, talking, talking about clothes. What goes with what and why. Colour, proportion, fabric weight, cut. We talked about why, for instance, my new yellow linen pants, even though I love them, just seemed wrong when I got them home. I should have tumbled to the reason earlier, having experienced it last fall. They were about an inch too short. Not that the length of cropped pants matters, except in relation to one’s height, and the shape of one’s leg. And my leg, at the point where the pants fall, is as skinny and straight as a chair leg. Seriously.
We talked about why the gauzy top that I tried on looked so wonderful on the mannequin and so dreadful on me. That mistake was all about the boxy, full cut of the blouse, on my boxy upper half. Or why a dress (very full and loose, in a heavy fabric) worn by the girl doing the in-store displays looked “just right.” It was her shoes. She wore platform sneakers, and they balanced off the dress perfectly.
The English teacher in me says all this is critical analysis, for clothes. What we used to call “close reading”, except with outfits and not literature. Analyzing detail, imagery, looking for the overall shape of an outfit, and seeing how different parts work together in order to come up with a judgement. Instead of seeing the object of our observation through the lens of a particular critical theory (feminist or Marxist), we see it within the framework of current fashion. Juxtaposed against the wearer’s lifestyle and budget. And coloured by who they are as a person, and what they want their clothes to say about them. With these tools we answer that old question: “to wear, or not to wear?”
Or maybe this is just a lot of guff.
So yeah, lately I’ve been thinking aloud about my spring and summer clothes. And yesterday, I tried on my skirts, exploring how I might wear them this year. Analyzing what looks good and what doesn’t. I love doing that.
I bought the Rag and Bone striped midi-skirt, above, in 2017. And yesterday, inspired by a picture on my inspiration board, I tried the skirt with silky leggings underneath. In theory, I had all the components to be able to create the outfit in the picture I’d found in Vogue: black leggings, black lace-up flats, patterned light-weight midi-skirt, and black summer blazer. It should have worked, but it didn’t. The blazer was wrong, the proportions were all wrong. Other tops previously worn with the skirt were now wrong too. And I finally realized it was the leggings. I’m not a leggings-under-a-skirt kind of girl, I guess.
Just like, a couple of years ago, I wasn’t really a pants-under-a-dress kind of person. I thought I’d like that look too, did like it in the pictures I took for the blog. But I felt silly when I finally wore it. Both trends feel too contrived for me. Too “fashion for its own sake.”
I’ve had the pleated skirt, above, for years. I love it, the browns and pinks, the painterly flowers. I used to wear it to work with a long-sleeved, lilac tee, and low-heeled, bronze, sling-back pumps. I’d not wear the skirt with pumps now. It needs to be dressed down to match my current mood and lifestyle. The lilac sweater is beautiful, but the skirt and sweater together don’t really work with sneakers. Perhaps the sweater and skirt would work with soft brown ankle boots. Or I might keep the sneakers, lose the sweater, and wear a crisp white shirt, knotted at the waist like I did a couple of years ago. Or considering those bony knees, I might just ditch the whole idea.
I have several ways to wear this old Burberry denim skirt (above), all of them with sneakers. But I don’t like the skirt and sneakers with this Zara message tee and my white Theory jacket. I like that the lettering on the tee matches the red trim on my Stan Smith sneakers. But the tee is too heavy and cottony under this jacket. So I discarded it, and then I discarded the white jacket. Swapped them for a slubby, loose-weave, sleeveless linen tee from Vince, and my navy Veronica Beard “Scuba” jacket.
I much prefer the denim skirt with my Veronica Beard jacket. It’s something about the shape, a bit shorter, more structured. I tried my vintage art deco brooch on my lapel. But as much as I adore that brooch, it made the whole outfit too serious. See what I mean?
Now. This is much better. Really, really simple. The jacket has cool, polished, navy snaps. And the skirt has pewter buttons up the slit in the back. So, a simple pair of hoop earrings, and my vintage ivory cuff is enough accessorizing for me. All this trying on has brought me full circle, back to the exact outfit I wore last summer. But, you know, it still looks “just right” to me, and for me. Simple, no fuss, comfortable, and casual enough. The proportions of the individual pieces work together, I believe. And they work for my lifestyle. And my personality.
Now, back to that post I’d been reading over at Accidental Icon in which Lyn Slater analyzes her clothes, and explains how the “language of clothes”, as she puts it, communicates who she is, and how she’s feeling at a moment in time. I admire women like Lyn Slater, or Melanie Kobayashi from the blog Bag and a Beret. I can see how they both use clothes as a language. Not just slavish adherence to trends to fulfill the theme of some brand. But a conscious choice of pieces which together communicate something they want to say, something about themselves.
I could never be as fearless as these women about clothes. I’m too conventional in some ways, too married to the idea that what I’m wearing has to look good to take too many risks. But I still want to say something about myself through my clothes. Even if it’s only “I’m not old yet.”
And I love to think aloud about my clothes, to muse about why some outfits work and others don’t. Looking at the parts and how they create the whole look. Figuring out how that look might change if one piece is swapped out for another. How what is communicated can suddenly come more clearly into focus with a different top or a more casual pair of shoes.
But maybe you think all this analysis stuff is just a lot of guff. We like what we like, and we’ll wear whatever we please. Well, you wouldn’t be the first to accuse me of “over thinking” things.
I remember one of my former students shouting at me in exasperation when my senior English class was analyzing a passage of Great Gatsby. “MS. BURPEE! Maybe the frigging carpet is JUST RED!” “Ah, But that’s the thing, you see, Cory,” I replied, “There is no carpet, not really. And when he wrote that description of the room, whether he did it consciously or unconsciously, the writer decided he needed a red carpet. So why red? Why does red work?”
Gad, I laugh every time I think of that moment. My very large senior English class, in a very hot portable, during an abnormally hot May in 2005 or so. And one very angry kid with steam coming out of his ears.
You know, I even remember what I was wearing that day. But that shouldn’t surprise you.
Your turn, my lovely fashionable friends. Do you like to analyze what you’re wearing? How about analyzing what everyone else on the bus, or plane, or in the restaurant, or at the very long, very boring meeting is wearing? Want to think aloud about clothes with me?
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30 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud About Clothes, Again.”
I do like the way you analyse your outfits . I find it hard to be as level headed & it’s more of an ‘ oh yes’ or ‘ oh no ‘ with me . I seem to be very judgmental with the rich & famous though ( I know , it’s not nice of me ) . I spent a happy time yesterday giggling at royal guests at a recent wedding . HM got it right but some of the others ! Too tight , too flowy , too shouty & some just NO ( not that Anne cares what I think ). They need your advice these people .
Thank-you for that link. Just had my first and second cups of tea perusing all the outfits. My votes go to the Queen (natch) and Pippa Middleton and her mum. And since I know that everyone there can well afford a decent outfit, I have no compunction in criticising. Seriously, what were some of them thinking? Or more to the point, were some of their stylists just having a laugh? That woman in the tall spotted feather fascinator. Ha.
P.S. I love Princess Anne and I don’t care what she wears. But, yes, that was a no. And Sarah F. .. she needs some good advice.
P.P.S. Some of those outfits reminded me of that line from Twelfth Night “More madness for a May morning!”
I often puzzle over my clothes, why some go well together and others don’t, how I can change things about, why some of my collection of accessories are perfect while others just look ridiculous. The other day I glanced out of the window to see an astonishingly stylish woman walking her dog. She must be new to our village because I had never seen her before (it’s true about village life…) and she looked as though she had stepped out of the Instagram of the Sartorialist. Plainly older, her hair dyed a pale pink, very fashion-first, she looked amazing. I saw her again yesterday and it was the same. I couldn’t tell you why except to say it is a very different look to the norm. My new thing is not to think unkind thoughts about what people wear and with her that was no problem. I’m going to keep an eye out and see what else she wears.
I often puzzle over why some outfit that I’ve dreamed up in my head looks nothing like I thought it would when I try it on. One doesn’t see astonishingly stylish women very often. On vacation in Peru a few years ago, a young Spanish couple breakfasted beside us every morning. And she always looked exactly right. Stylish without looking too overtly trendy, impeccably put together without looking like she tried too hard. But she was tall and slim and about 25…and that helps! Ha.
Oh yes, it is so much fun to analyse what works for me clotheswise and what works for others. Commuting to work on public transport provides plenty of opportunity to study others.
Certainly, your clothes send a message of who you are but more importantly good posture is a key ingredient to looking je ne sais quoi.
Btw, this Aussie has holidayed in New Brunswick and swum in the mighty Saint John river. A very happy holiday, indeed.
Good posture is helpful, isn’t it? And clothes that fit.
Love that you’ve holidayed in New Brunswick. How many Aussies can say that?
I admit to looking at some folks fashion choices and shuddering (Wendy’s review above is spot on). That goes double for people wearing spandex…especially with short tops or jackets that fail to hide their various crevices—ugh. Conversely, when someone looks pulled together and their clothing fits properly, I find myself smiling and sometimes complimenting them.
What I find most interesting in your post today is what your body language says about how you feel wearing the outfits in each of the photos (e.g. arms folded across your chest or hunched over a bit). It is only in the last photo where you stand in an easy pose, clearly comfortable with your choice. I know that if I look in the mirror and find myself twitching clothing around and never quite feeling satisfied, I have to move on to another choice.
I remember one day in my twenties, I was stopped in a parking lot by a much older women who said she just had to tell be how lovely I looked. Gad. That made my week! Now I always compliment people on their outfits. I used to say stuff to kids at school, that I loved their new outfit or their new haircut and they always beamed with pleasure.
P.S. Re the crossed arms shot. I must have taken a hundred shots and that was the only one where I wasn’t grimacing . Ha.
I don’t muse about my clothes in the way you do. I tend to have favourite pieces that I love wearing, because of the shape, texture, colour or how they make me feels so I gravitate to those pieces if I want to look good for a particular occasion. I do however enjoy musing on other people’s clothes and can often identify quite quickly why something looks good or not. It’s often about proportion and balance but I’m less overtly analytical about my own clothes ?
I find it hard to be analytical about my own outfits until I see a picture of me in them.
I also think like this about clothes — about clothes I wear often and others I seldom wear, but would never discard.
Some days, like I did early this morning, I go into my closet and play “dress up,” i.e., try on new combos of things to wear. Sometimes I find really great outfits that work together and on my body, that I might wear today. But I also discover outfits that I couldn’t possibly wear anywhere within 500 miles of here because they’re so far outside the local norm they would freak people out!
Yes, I’d wear those outfits to a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans or a Berlin after-hours nightclub or a three-star restaurant in Paris. But they don’t work here.
And that’s OK. Because when I am in NOLA or Berlin or Paris or New York or Tokyo or Ibiza or the North Pole or the far side of the moon I’ll have the right outfits figured out. 🙂 And if I don’t ever go to some of those places, at least I’ve had the fun of pretending I was there.
I love to play dress-up but I have to be in the mood. And it has to NOT be cold. That’s why I’ve had trouble finding a day to take blog photos. I hate to get dressed and undressed when it’s cold. Much rather pull on my fleece and be done with it!
The former English teacher in me adores this! As does the gal that loves thinking about clothes! Your knee concern resonated–for a different reason. At age 67 I see that my droopy skin has finally descended to the knees. Like the upper arms, my knees now annoy me less when covered. Clothing choices don’t get easier! On a more positive note, I am delighted to be here!
My knees looked fine in the mirror… but in some shots… ugh! Reality struck.
I think that the “happy accidents” with clothes often seem to work better than the over-planned outfits. I know it sounds shallow but if I go out in something that I don’t feel represents “me” it can ruin my day. What about trying mid-calf length skirts, Sue ? We have similar body types, and I find it’s a very flattering look.
I’m with you about heading out in something that doesn’t make me feel good. It can ruin my day. I have a couple of mid-calf skirts. Like with everything else they have to be just so, and hit me at the right spot on my calf or I have the same trouble as with my cropped pants. Sometimes I think I should just live in jeans.
I do think about what my clothing communicates to the world. It’s a way of speaking without ever opening my mouth.
I consider dressing myself as “play time for grown ups”.
I’m not into analyzing my outfits though. I know immediately if something doesn’t feel right. Knowing yourself and accepting yourself is the best way to make appropriate choices to effectively communicate with your clothes.
You’re right, Suzanne. We know immediately when an outfit is right or wrong. Although occasionally it takes a photo to convince me. But the analysing.. well that’s just me. I love to pick things apart.
I always enjoy your musings on clothes (and books of course) and think you are quite brave to critique yourself. I am going on a short trip (flying) and am agonizing about what looks good/appropriate etc and feel I need a whole new wardrobe. Tried on clothes, taken pictures etc. I need a Liz in my life!
Thanks, Christy. I do that too before a trip. Lay out the outfits with a few tops for each pair of pants etc. I always used to take an outfit that is a bit more “smart” for dinner out, and never wore it. Ha. For Paris in 2015, I took my white jeans, black shoes, and a good jacket for dinner out. I felt too fussy in that outfit. And on subsequent evenings wore the jacket with jeans or the white pants with a less dressy jacket. Mind you, we never ever go to a place where one needs to really dress up, in heels and a nice dress. I don’t know how that will play out on our trip this year to Croatia. I hear that Croatians love to look good. I may have to up my game.
Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and analysis about my clothing choices lately. About what feels good and why, what should work but doesn’t. And I’ve also been having “style swings” between minimalist looks and more eye-catching pieces. Part of me knows that overthinking outfits rarely results in something that feels “organic,” yet at the same time, I want to understand how to incorporate all of the different aesthetics that appeal to me at various points.
Now that you mention it, I’ve been feeling a “style swing”, as you call it, coming on. A restlessness with how I’ve always dressed. I put on an outfit, and although I still like it, I think, “Oh, I’ve done this before. Over and over.” And I feel only by actually thinking about it can I move out of the rut. Happenstance, for me, only results in more of what I’ve always been comfortable in because I gravitate to what I’ve always bought or worn.
Yes, especially thinking about clothes and the outfits I can put together with them because I’m living with such a limited wardrobe at the moment and the weather isn’t as warm as I’d planned for. Add the extra element of being in a new place –which some days lets me feel anonymous and invisible, but some days also makes me feel as if I’m not quite fitting in– and yes, I end up analysing, wondering why something that should work doesn’t quite — and trying to remember that the solution is in my closet back home and with only three more weeks of travel, I need to resist buying a new “solution” here. Especially since there’s a good chance that could end up like your yellow linen trousers — something I love but that doesn’t quite work in practice. . . Ah well, at least we’re not bored, we overthinkers 😉
Ha. Over thinkers are never bored. You’re right. We’re too busy angsting. We travel light too… although not as light as you do with your carry-on only. And I sometimes feel when I’m sick of everything I packed that I need a sign on my back that says “my other outfit is an Armani.” Or “I have better clothes at home.” Or something.
Informative and helpful article. I have a closet full of great pieces yet I never seem to feel fabulous when I go out. Each outfit requires careful scrutiny of balance, proportion, adherence to personal style and taste. I need to take a few hours and play dressup to sort out what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for reminding us that everyone is different and should dress accordingly. If only we were all tall and slim, dressing would be so much easier.
Thanks, Lynda. Glad you enjoyed the post. My tiny closet space in our tiny house with not that many closets helps to keep me editing my wardrobe every year. Just hanging onto the odd piece which I’m sure I’ll wear again one day, even if I store it for now.
This is a very interesting post. I look at your “unwearable” outfits and I think, “Oh she looks lovely and put together.” However, I understand that, my observation of you in your outfit is only one side of the conversation. I’m 49 and my body has gotten schlumpy due to poor diet, lack of exercise and yes, hormones or the lack thereof. Clothes that once spoke volumes for me – look at confident me! now don’t work in the same way. And lately, I have found myself wanting to hide in my clothes or to wear them as if the viewer will just “skim” me – pass on by and not take notice of. I know it isn’t possible to be invisible although they say middle aged women are invisible but I sure would love to be invisible until I sort myself out. I love your blog by the way, please keep writing.
I went through a period like that in my early fifties. Like a wave of cold water one day… my god… I’m old. What did I think I was doing trying to be stylish, and keep up with trends when I probably looked sad and pathetic doing so? Oh, I raked myself over the coals for days. It was as if I was seeing myself for real for the first time in years. But of course I was overreacting. I think early middle age is the hardest, though. Late forties, and fifties when we can’t quite believe who we’re becoming. Hang in there. And don’t turn invisible!
You look lovely, Sue 🙂
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