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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