Style math

Yesterday, I wrote about style; today I’m going to write about putting it all together.

Some people have a knack for throwing outfits together – look at Kate Moss. For most of us, it takes time and practice to develop an “eye” for putting together a look. One of the key elements of that is understanding proportions. Harmony of proportions is one of the most important aspects of a flattering outfit.

Perhaps the simplest principle of proportion is to balance your halves. If you’ve got volume on top (say, a chunky knit, boxy jacket or babydoll top), the bottom should generally be streamlined (a pencil skirt, straight or skinny cut pant, etc.) – and vice versa.



And yes:

The same principle generally applies when it comes to showing skin – the more bare skin is visible on top, the less should be visible on the bottom. Unless you’re Blake Lively, who has never met a mini skirt/ plunging neckline combo she didn’t like.

A bit much:

Much better:

Also works:

Another principle of proportions concerns lengths. I recall that Tim Gunn, on his sadly now-defunct (?) show Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, discussed the idea of thinking of the body as being made up of thirds: head to waist (or hips, depending on how long your torso is); waist to knees; and knees to feet. A good way to ensure that you never look stumpified is to make sure that the lengths of your clothes respect the rule of thirds. For someone with a short torso (high waist), that might mean wearing a jacket that cuts to the hips, which will visually elongate the upper third of the body, placing it in proportion with the bottom two thirds. Conversely, someone with proportionally shorter legs might try wearing a cropped jacket and high waisted skirt that ends at the knees. Of course, the rule of thirds isn’t an inflexible rule (there is no such thing in fashion) – it shouldn’t necessarily stop you from wearing mid-calf skirts or cropped pants, for example. Although it might explain why these lengths can be tricky for people. [What to do if you do want to wear them, but are afraid you might look stumpified? Compensate the visual loss of length in the legs by wearing high heels; another option is to pair mid-calf skirts with cropped jackets or tops in order to draw the eye upwards.]

It also pays to be careful about embellishments – avoid having them placed on areas or parts of the body which you don’t necessarily want to emphasize (or where you don’t want attention to be drawn). For example, someone with already broad shoulders probably doesn’t need shoulder pads or puffed sleeves. Unless you’re Joan Crawford, who wanted to draw attention away from her hips.  Similarly, unless you want all eyes to be drawn straight to your cleavage, an open, jeweled neckline is probably not the best idea. At the same time, embellishments can often also add extra volume – not always a good thing. The placement of pockets, especially can be tricky; I tend to stay away from pants with pockets cut diagonally on the hip because they will almost always gape and add an inch or two where I don’t need it. A blouse with big ruffles down the front may not be the best friend of someone with a generous bust.

Proportions are also important when it comes to jewelry. No one should be afraid of “big” jewelry … though piling it all on at the same time should probably be reserved for extra special occasions. Having said that, jewelry should not compete with the rest of your outfit – it should complement it. If, for example, you’re wearing a bright patterned blouse, your necklace should borrow from the colour scheme of the blouse (though you can think of silver and gold as “neutrals” when it comes to jewelry). If your blouse has a bow or ruffles on it, your necklace can be a little more discreet – or you can forgo a necklace altogether in favour of earrings. A statement necklace paired with big, dangly earrings is strictly an evening look; for day time, pick one or the other, and pair with more subtle pieces. For many years, I avoided wearing earrings, other than plain studs, whenever I wore my glasses. While this works, it’s not mandatory. Longer earrings can work with glasses, though it’s best if the earrings don’t have a complicated design (e.g. mid-sized hoops work better than sparkly chandelier earrings). 

A whole lotta look:

Much better:
Questions? Style dilemmas? E-mail them to

The medium is the message

“The woman who is chic is always a little bit different. Not different in being behind fashion, but always slightly apart from it.”
Emily Post 
It might not sound like it, but picking a signature style is probably the most useful of all style tips. In addition to joining the ranks of style icons like the Hepburns (Audrey and Katharine), Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, or Jane Birkin – all of whom had definite, if different, signature looks – you will be able to shop smarter, dress faster and never have another “bad clothes day” again … all thanks to having a signature style.
A signature style is not a uniform – think of it as the theme song of your closet. There will be familiar notes that might pop up in other friends’ wardrobes (a certain silhouette, colour, or vibe), but the way they come together will be a reflection of your own personality and lifestyle. Your style may evolve over time, and have any number of remixes, but it will always be recognizably you. One should never underestimate the power of the message sent through the things one wears. One of my favourite quotes on style comes from Jean Cocteau, who said, “Style is a very simple way of saying complicated things.”
Chasing trends is a young woman’s game. At 20, trends are all about reinvention, experimenting with different personas until you figure out which one fits best. After a certain age, trends shouldn’t dictate what you’re wearing, they should simply inform your editing choices – a move away from literal translation into creative interpretation. In fact, style icons are memorable because their signature looks are the opposite of trendy – instead, they are, as the name suggests, iconoclastic.
A signature style, in any of its variations, should fit you like a second skin – figuratively as well as literally. An introverted personality, for example, will rarely if ever feel comfortable in clothes that scream “look at me”. Everyone has preferences – some premised on personal taste, some on lifestyle or body type. A signature style will take all of these into account.
A signature style can be a prototype – the “gamine”, the “bombshell”, the “sophisticate”, the “girl next door” and so on. It can also be something as simple as a recurring theme – pearls, or florals, or belts, or head-to-toe black. There is no magic formula for figuring out your signature style, although an inspiration board (as advocated by Isaac Mizrahi) is a helpful tool. Pick a dozen or so photos that you find particularly inspiring or cool, and then analyze the commonalities between them; you will generally find that there is a common thread – that recurring theme. It can also help sometimes to write down words that reflect the feelings inspired or evoked by the photos, as that can make it easier to identify the theme.
Of course, a signature style can sometimes evolve quite haphazardly. My own style is the product of many years of trial-and-error, and countless hours spent poring over fashion magazines. I’ve test driven, as it were, many looks over the years – some more successfully than others. It was only within the last couple of years, when I started actually giving some thought to the clothing choices I was making every day, that I began to see a signature style coalescing. I realized that the looks to which I found myself gravitating were variations on the same style – a little bit retro, and ladylike in spades. Sure, I might play around with pieces that don’t necessarily fit that aesthetic, but I always end up coming back to what feels, and fits, best. 

How has my signature style helped to simplify my life? Let me count the ways. It’s taught me to shop strategically, focusing on pieces that work with my style, rather than any random pretty thing that catches my eye. There is nothing more frustrating that having a closet full of individually cute clothes that don’t work together. It’s made me more comfortable with the idea of spending larger amounts on clothes, because I know they will be things I’ll be wearing for a long time, and not just a season. It’s also made my mornings so much easier; most things in my closet work together, so I can almost pick my outfit with my eyes closed. Rather than having “set” outfits (this skirt only goes with that top, these pants only with that jacket, and so on), I can put together any number of looks – a good thing considering how quickly I become bored of wearing the same things over and over. Having a signature style really pays off!

Arts ‘n crafts

Since TV shows went into hiatus over the summer, I haven’t been devoting much time to my beading projects. I really need good, but not too-good episodic TV running in the background to get my bead on; a show like True Blood won’t do – all my attention would go to the (very attractive) denizens of Bon Temps, and none to the work at hand. Procedurals like CSI, NCIS, and Bones are much better, as are repeats of Criminal Minds (because I don’t need to watch that closely unless I know Reid has a good scene). Shows on the Slice network are the best – the Housewives franchise (on low volume), with a dash of Gail Vaz Oxlade yelling at fiscally irresponsible folks. It gets the creative juices flowing. 

With that said, here is my first finished project of the new TV season.