Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Outfit Oops: What I Wore and Why It Didn't Work

This weekend, I had a bit of a dilemma. The lovely Frances from Polka Polish paid me a visit, and we had a great day of shopping and kvetching before taking a few photos for our respective blogs--and herein lay my dilemma. I don't like what I wore.

Frances looking adorable!
Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
In theory, this outfit ought to work-- it has texture, a focal point, and an unexpected fun piece-- but it just doesn't. And as I looked at the terrific photos Frances sent my way, I wondered, what should I do with beautiful photos of an outfit I don't like?

Photo courtesy of Polka Polish

It hit me that this is actually a great opportunity. It's always really inspiring to see gorgeous photos of outfits that work wonderfully-- they're great how-to's. But sometimes it can be useful, particularly when you're still trying to find your "look," to see gorgeous photos of an outfit that doesn't work: a "how-not-to," if you will. So, though I hope it won't be an often-occurring series, I thought I'd write a breakdown of a look that's just a little 'off,' and talk about why it doesn't work.  Besides, it's good for my vanity, and a reminder that hey, not everyone can bring their A game every day of the week!

So close!
Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
I think the impetus for this outfit came out of two things: the weather, which has been dreary despite technically being Spring, and an awareness of the balance of menswear/femme-wear I've been posting. It felt like I might be trending a little far on the tux/suit end of the spectrum, so I decided I'd femme it up a little by wearing a springtime skirt that, thanks to its silk makeup, has to be worn during the more brisk weeks of the season.  To keep the flowers as the focal point, I thought it'd be best to go with a cream shade on top, and to add texture, I decided on a cashmere sweater. Finally, since I felt I might look a fool wearing 100% springtime in 40-degree weather, and because I like mixing in unexpected elements, I added one of my favorite winter hats.

The result was almost-but-not-quite, and I think you can tell in my posture, it doesn't feel right.  Why?  Because these ideas work--for someone else.

I think there's three structural reasons it doesn't work on me:

1. Shape: 

Because I don't have an hourglass shape, wearing monochrome with no cinch at the waist actually padded out my waistline. It also flattened out my er, already small bust line. I think this is an important lesson in color blocking--it can be used to glide over trouble spots, or it can bring attention right to them. Use with care!

2. Shoes:

Wearing laced shoes with a longer skirt can sometimes make the already-short line of the leg look more fragmented, and this seems to be particularly true due to the pattern at the bottom of this skirt. Essentially, the shoes, combined with the single color from shoulders to hips, shortened and widened the figure. Ouch.

3. Hair:

Totally works in isolation! With everything else, though...Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
This is partly a mix of eras that doesn't work-- a 30s bob with a 50s skirt-- but I don't totally subscribe to single-era dressing.  I think the issue here, for me at least, is that a 30s bob is playing on androgyny, and the rest of my outfit is out-and-out femme. It makes for a slightly odd gender presentation. I've talked off and on about gender presentation, and how as a queer lady, wearing menswear or feminine dresses project very different messages about my identity. Since I feel somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum, I like to play with both styles, and I'm pretty comfortable with androgynous looks as well.  But for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, blending androgyny and femme doesn't work as well as femme/masculine or out-and-out androgyny.

The outfit I'm wearing here would be more ideally suited to someone with a fuller bust, slightly longer legs, and a looser wave set.  But body type and hair style aside, the outfit also totally conflicts with my own sense of style.

When I put this together, I thought a little too much about what I should present.  I thought I was being too androgynous, so I went femme, when really I'm much more comfortable wearing a blend of masculine and feminine.  So here is what I wish I'd worn:

As you can see, I stuck to my guns about the fur hat and floral skirt combo, and it's quirky, but I think it works. What I switched out were my shirt and shoes: I swapped the feminine cashmere for a more structured, collared shirt, and the laced shoes for heels that helped ground the blue stripes of the shirt.

A defined waistline and more spare detailing at the foot make a huge difference.

  Is it period-perfect? Well, no. But I think it's much more figure-flattering, thanks to the visible ribbon at the waist, and the vertical stripes that help elongate a more defined torso.  Basically, the top and bottom halves are balanced, rather than dragging attention from the shoulders straight down to the hem.

It seems paradoxical, but pairing the skirt with another pattern actually makes the florals pop more than they did against a neutral.

Comparing these two outfits, for me at least, teaches a great lesson about silhouette and styling. It also highlights one of the very most important rules of life and style: To thine own self be true. Wear what you like and what makes you feel good, and you'll look good.

Though I'd always prefer to demonstrate a look that works, I hope parsing out why something didn't work is helpful as you put together your own outfits.  And if and when I slip up again, I'll be sure to show you how and why!  


  1. I think you look lovely in both! But the most important thing is that YOU feel right! Nothing works if you just don't feel right.

    1. Exactly. I thought about saying that all these issues aside, if I'd really owned it, it probably would've worked; it just didn't feel right, so it didn't look right. And thank you for the affirmation!

  2. I thought the outfit you were wearing initially was adoooorable. Seriously. It's interesting to see what your take on an improvement is! It's definitely more you. If I'd altered the outfit, I would have switched to tucking in the shirt so the green waistband showed, different shoes (maybe less brown ones) and louder-colored accessories (something green or pink)... or even that fantastic little green hat you showed me instead of the fur one (although I do love the fur hat with the rest.... maybe adding a fur collar to the sweater would unify things, too?)
    It's always lots of fun to see how different people would edit their outfits.

    1. You're totally right about tucking in the shirt, regardless of who wears it. And your comment gives me an idea...! I think the tricky thing for me is that I'm just not that into accessories. I'm trying, but I've got one small box of jewelry, and I barely wear what I do have; it just doesn't come easily to me for whatever reason. I'll be working on getting more brooches in, but I could totally see you styling this with some of the great bakelite you've got!

  3. Cool post! I have a theory about why the first outfit doesn't work with the hair: somehow I think paring feminine and androgynous styles comes off looking too young, as in little girlish. I've noticed this a bit with my own short pixie cut--if I wear an outfit too far on the feminine side, I somehow end up looking more childish than womanly/feminine. It's counter intuitive. I love how the shirt anchors the second outfit--it pulls the focus of everything back to your face instead of your feet.

    1. You're totally right. *That's* what's off about it; you nailed it. Same reason I (and probably you, too) have to be super careful with the kinds of summer dresses I wear--if the strap's not right or it's just a little too frilly, I totally look 12 years old. And you're right, the first outfit basically draws attention straight down to the feet. And I mean I love my bird tattoo, but let's be honest, it doesn't deserve *that* much attention.

  4. This is a great post! I love hope you saw a silver lining to these photos that resulted! Often I just dump the photos I don't like from outings, even ones with friends. I will be honest though, I thought the outfit you wore initially was pretty cute! But then again, you ain't here to please me! You must please yourself! I love the second outfit you selected and I love that you mixed in your esthetic and style.

    Also, totes jealous of you visiting with Frances!


    1. Yeah, if these had been bad photos, I probably would've just let them go, but Frances takes such high-quality photos I just thought well, what the hell, let's do it. As I wrote it, I definitely thought some people might actually prefer the first outfit, because I do think it would completely work as-is on someone else. But, like you said, it's gotta work for the person wearing it, and the second one just feels so much more like me!

  5. It's so interesting to see you break this down. I really liked the outfit, but I love seeing your take on it, and I love how you would have preferred to style it even better, in part because I'm all for bright pops here and there (like with the waistband showing, and those shoes), but in part because you like it better and you feel better in it and that shines through in the photos.

    It's taken me into my late 30s to really and truly start realizing what works for me and I love on me (not always the same thing, as evidenced by my pants fail sewing post recently). And conversely, what doesn't work and what I don't love. And I learn something new every day. I had decided in the last few months that one of the reasons I didn't wear dresses a lot was that they made me feel dumpy, or there was too much extra adornment going on (collars and extra fussy bits). Well, I discovered a lot of them were ill-fitting (I dropped a few pounds and I'm short-waisted, so things that were already blousy looked even worse now). Or they were too long for the style (think: things at tea length that should be knee length). But it was also that I'm truly a very un-fussy person at heart. A well-fitting, straight up plain dress with pockets and I'm a much happier camper. I also had come to the conclusion that I didn't like longer cardigans on me because again, they made me feel dumpy. And it turned out if I'm wearing a better fitting dress, hey look! The cardigan now works better. And I literally just learned that lesson 2 days ago.

    It's a journey and even those of us who wear vintage styles all the time still make mistakes, not to mention as we evolve our own styles. Hey, our fashion sense might be a throwback but it's always changing. ;)

    1. Well you're wonderful. Figuring out how things fit best on one's body type is pretty eye-opening, and I think goes a long way towards body acceptance. And yeah, I get you with the cardigans, I only recently realized I prefer longer cardigans with pants, not dresses-- there's just no way for me to create a waistline otherwise.

  6. It's always such a disappointment to put together an outfit that is so cute in theory, but just doesn't work. Really glad you shared this - I know it's a struggle that I deal with on the semi-regular! (and which is followed by some panicked last-minute wardrobe changes in the early morning).

    Very smart tips :)

    <3 dani

    1. Yeah, I'd really thought this would all work, but I didn't feel too great wearing it. I'm glad you like the post, and I'm totally happy to take one for the team if there's tips to be mined!