Reader Request: Successful Style Juxtapositions

leather and lace

Reader and client JW sent me this question:

I have been having some challenges mixing and matching “tougher” and more feminine pieces and textures lately. I wondered if you could offer some other examples/pics in a tutorial on this topic? For example, I was looking for some dark brown boots with a bit of a heel to wear with dresses of more “pretty/formal” fabrics than my usual jersey type this fall. I tried on the Adriana Luna boots (that I’ve admired on your blog!) in dark brown and love them. Can’t decide whether to invest, though, because I am wondering if they are versatile enough to go with fairly dressy dresses, or would always look too western and rugged. I would like to combine elements of both (a la Sundance Catalog but somewhat toned down) but the fabrics/textures always confuse me! I feel I risk looking totally mis-matched rather than intentionally stylish! But I am such a novice at this.

I love mixing opposite styles within single outfits, so I LOVE this question! There’s no single formula for making juxtapositions work, but I have some guidelines I use for myself and for clients. But first, a few things to keep in mind.

Suiting is tricky in mixes

Suiting juxtaposition - doesn't work
Suiting juxtaposition – details for this set

When you think about juxtaposition within outfits, you tend to think of polar opposites: Leather with lace, cashmere with distressed denim, etc. And suiting is a classic, conservative family of clothing that should work in polar opposition to tough, edgy pieces or highly romantic, frilly ones. But more often than not, it doesn’t. Suiting blazers, pants, skirts, and some suiting dresses like J.Crew’s Super 120s series seem out of place in mixes like the one shown above. Other dressy, office-appropriate attire that isn’t technically suiting – like wool pencil skirts, dress pants, and non-suiting blazers – qualify here, too. None of these will look cool and intentional with cowboy boots or leather pants. Some blazers and structured dresses can pair nicely with jeans and tees or leather jackets and boots, but because suiting is a grouping that stands apart from virtually all other clothing, it is tough to juxtapose. Because …

Items should have something in common

Western ladylike juxtaposition
Western Boho juxtaposition – details for this set

Here we have a frilly dress and long pendant, both of which are a little Boho, paired with harness boots, a denim jacket, and a rugged backpack. Why does this work better than the suiting set above? Because Boho and Western are both on the more casual end of the style spectrum. Imagine swapping in a wool sheath dress and strand of pearls. Those items are SO far from the weekend-y, outdoors-y Western vibe that they just don’t connect. Although “something in common” is usually related to level of formality or casualness, it can also mean color: A black leather jacket, black background graphic tee, and black pencil skirt would make visual sense together despite their differences.

To see this type of juxtaposition in action see: Sundance Catalog styling

Or try something costume-y and its polar opposite

Tough and ladylike
Tough and ladylike – details for this set

Interestingly, the polar opposites thing seems to work best when there is one over-the-top item or sartorial genre involved. Usually the super sparkly, princess-y, wear-this-to-the-ball genre that includes tulle skirts, rhinestone bib necklaces, puff-shoulder jackets, or gobs of sequins. In this case, the skirt is the most costume-y piece in the mix and the pumps, clutch, and pearl bracelet align with it in terms of classic formality. The graphic tee and leather moto group together as casual/tough elements. Another piece that makes this type work? Distressed boyfriend jeans. They’re slouchy and beat-up and incredibly casual, which makes them really fun to pair with sky-high heels and sparkly necklaces.

To see this type of juxtaposition in action see: Atlantic-Pacific

Stick to two genres

Three genres - doesn't work
Three genres – details for this set

So we’ve established that Western and Bohemian have a natural chemistry. Here is that same set with the clutch swapped in for the backpack. A little jarring, right? Occasionally throwing a glam piece – like a sparkly necklace – into a mix of two other non-glam genres will work. Generally, though? Pick two genres to mix, and draw pieces from those two only. Take one or two pieces from the first, and all remaining pieces from the other. Genres that work well together include:

  • Frilly and tough (think lace dress with leather jacket)
  • Boho and edgy (think patterned maxi skirt with combat boots and a graphic tee)
  • Boho and Western (our eyelet dress set above illustrates this combo)
  • Preppy and glam (think Breton top and jeans with rhinestone statement necklace)
  • Preppy and distressed (think cashmere sweater and sparkly necklace with ripped jeans)

To see two-genre mixes in action see: J.Crew catalog styling

Finally, there is a little alchemy involved in style juxtapositions. Everything I’ve said here may be tossed out the window if you find a three-genre outfit that works or create an amazing ensemble that includes your suiting slacks. Although these guidelines may help if you’re interested in trying this activity and don’t know where to start, once you get the hang of it you’ll see that certain totally unexpected combinations just WORK. So it always pays to experiment.

Any of you readers fans of the juxtaposed outfit? What are your favorite genres to mix? Any items that work beautifully to bridge different styles? Would love to hear your thoughts!

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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The Pros and Cons of Standardized Sizing

pros cons standardized sizing

If you’ve ever gone clothes shopping – and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume you have  – you are likely aware that a size 12 at the Gap fits differently from a size 12 at J.Crew. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking Gap jeans versus J.Crew jeans, which should be a fairly apples-to-apples comparison: There WILL be some variation in sizing. One may be loose in the hips and tight in the waist, while another fits snugly everywhere. And sizing within brands even shifts over time. You may still be wearing that size 4 dress from LOFT that you snagged five years ago, but if you walk in now you could be a 2. Or an 8. Who knows?

Most mall brands are using some form of vanity sizing by now, and they are loathe to abandon this tactic since it’s been proven to boost customer self-esteem and bolster positive feelings about vanity-sized brands. So unless you’re sewing your own clothes, you’re bound to find some sizing variation at just about every shop and in just about every brand.

And this makes you want to pull our hair out in large handfuls, right? Especially when it comes to online shopping – the hassle of paying for shipping, finding out that the size you normally wear is FAR too big/small, having to get the item back to the merchant, awaiting exchanges and refunds. Such a waste of time, money, and energy. Because of this, many people have declared that a system of standardized women’s sizing is needed. Which I completely understand. But unfortunately, I am yet to see a suggestion for such a system that would completely and finally fix the fit issues we experience.

Use inch/centimeter measurements instead of sizes

PROS: Here in the U.S., most women’s clothing is sized by numbers (0 -34) or descriptors (Small, Large, Extra Small, etc.). These sizes offer only a rough idea of what might fit our bodies. If we were given actual measurements for the garments – as is the case for some menswear items – we could measure ourselves and make more informed choices. Removing imprecise words like “large” from clothing descriptors might be beneficial, too, as straight numbers can feel more scientific.

CONS: While this system works relatively well for men’s clothing, many women’s bodies have more curves that need to be accounted for, so determining which inch measurements to use could be tricky. Although the bust-waist-hips set is fairly standard, what about shoulders? Underbust? And what about women whose natural waist is hard to locate? Also, anyone else out there ever ordered a custom garment using your own measurements and had it fit wonky? I know I have. And I follow measurement instructions VERY CAREFULLY. Furthermore some vendors include inch measurements in their sizing charts, but they’re often wrong. Just straight-up wrong. And since men’s clothing is subject to vanity sizing now, too, even their garment measurements can vary. Inches are far from foolproof, unfortunately.

Create a set of women’s sizes that can be implemented across the board

PROS: If designers and brands put their heads together and created a set of sizes – which would likely be linked to inch/centimeter measurements in some way – and agreed to use them across the board, we could buy with considerably more confidence. If a Marc Jacobs 10 was the same as a JC Penney 10, online ordering would be a snap. In-person shopping could be done with less trying-on. We’d save time and shipping fees.

CONS: Saying that all size 8 pants need a waist circumference of X inches might work, but what about dresses? Blazers? Cardigans? Any garment that has a waistline that may fall high or low on the body (empire versus dropwaist), or that comes in a huge variety of lengths and styles (cropped versus boyfriend cardigans), or that would need more than three points of measurement (shoulders, sleeves, bust, waist, length, stance)? A size 22 blouse that is fitted may have some measurements in common with a size 22 blouse that is loose, but they will never be identical. Some fit variation is due to design, and cannot be avoided.

Label clothing based on figure shape

PROS: This one doesn’t get as many votes as its friends above, but a company called Fitlogic proposed this tactic after doing some extensive research. Since measurements don’t seem to be enough in many cases, offering clothes that have been labeled with information about the body shapes they will best fit could be beneficial.

CONS: Manufacturers balked at the idea, and we might end up with clothing tags featuring pears, apples, and string beans on them. Womens bodies ≠ fruit.

Feeling utterly unable to locate clothing that fits you can be demoralizing, and many of us leave the fitting room feeling like our bodies are strange or broken or wrong. So, please remember the refrain: It’s not you, it’s the clothes. None of those clothes in a pile on the dressing room floor fit you properly? Those must be someone else’s clothes. Which won’t help you figure out which size 4s will actually fit you, but will hopefully help you feel less upset if none of them do.

I may be alone in this, but I find the bizarre hodgepodge of sizing info to be rather freeing. Our weight-obsessed culture can get us really hung up on the sizes we wear, and vanity sizing became popular to cash in on that anxiety. Many people, especially women, will refuse to buy a size up that fits properly, opting instead for a size down that fits poorly but aligns with the size-number they’ve come to accept as their own. Clothing sizes have an awful lot of power over our collective body image … and yet, they are utterly, completely, 100% arbitrary. Especially now. Just hit up your local thrift store for proof: Contemporary clothing will fit you in a handful of sizes, but vintage stuff will fit in a completely different range. I have thrifted everything from size 4 to size 16, no lie, and that experience reinforces my knowledge that bodies defy measurement. The stats and the story are never in complete alignment.

I’m not sure that standardized sizing would fix the issues we experience with clothing and fit. There have been several attempts to create and implement a system in the past, and all have failed. This Slate article outlines studies conducted, systems devised, and complaints registered from the 1920s onward. I keep trying to dream up a system that would be helpful and easy and all I can come up with is: Bespoke. Which most of us can’t afford, money-wise or time-wise. Hate to be a downer, but I don’t see an easy solution to this one.

Do you? Do you feel that any of the ideas listed here have more merit than I’m seeing? Any alternatives? I know that many of you will say, “This is why I sew,” but if you have any fitting and sizing suggestions for those of us who don’t, we’d love to hear them!

Image source

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Nostalgic Fashion: Bringing it All Back to You!

When I was a wee, just pubescent thing, all I wanted from life was a decent pair of slouchy white socks and a jade donut necklace. I didn’t just want them – I NEEDED them. Just looking at pictures of the items in question brought back the burning, unreasonable hunger for these objectively HIDEOUS things all over again.

socks jade

I eventually got both of these things, and it was seriously one of my happiest memories of my early teenage years. How embarrassing.

I blossomed into adolescence in a far off time known as the 90’s. It was a time when pants were high, skirts were a-line, necklaces were choker length or waist length, and waistcoats were cooler than they has been since the 1800’s.

2ndGirlfriendAlbumGirlfriendinJapan

Here in Australia, the style gurus for the just pubescent were local girl band Girlfriend. Mostly remembered for their amazingly shonky choreography and obsession with wearing giant hats adorned with even bigger flowers, Girlfriend were the girls everyone my age wanted to be. Their biggest single, “Take It From Me” was played so relentlessly I can still sing the chorus off by heart, and their style was so popular they started their own (short lived) fashion label.

Re-Living-the-90’sJust look at the size of that daisy on her hat. Just look at it.

Once I hit 15 or so I decided I needed to give my look a bit more “edge,” and I co-incidentally fell in with a bunch of boys in a band at my high school. Suddenly, Girlfriend and their technicolour palette seemed horribly childish – no more bright colours for me, it was faded black all the way! No more hats with daisies on them – I moved on to dresses with daisies on them, and buttons down the front even though it would never be unbuttoned.

babydoll-dress-vintage-floral

I wasn’t quite old enough to really embrace grunge icons like Winona Ryder or Johnny Depp at the time, but I was ALL ABOUT Kristy Swanson’s turn as Buffy in the original movie.

buffy

MPW-64878For the longest time I thought if I believed hard enough I could pull off the slouchy socks with boots look. Unfortunately, it’s just not for me.

Another huge influence was the group of somewhat grungy but ultimately pretty well behaved kids in Empire Records. This “toned down” grunge kept some elements of my earlier style, while making the overall tone a tiny bit more grownup. Skirts and pants all still sat right up on the waist, but I the hems on my shirts rose up to join the waistbands of my bottoms. The jade donut stayed, but all the flounces and frills of my Girlfriend period made way for a sleeker, simpler silhouette.

Empire RecordsEmpire Records had a HUGE influence on me in a lot of ways, not least of which is my ongoing obsession with chunky boots paired with feminine skirts.

Eventually, I got over (most) of my Grunge-Lite phase, and moved on to other styles, other seasons, other styles of skirts apart from a-line. Over the last year or so though, I’ve noticed a bunch of 90’s fashion elements coming back around. No one has tried to bring back the giant squishy hats with enormous daisies on them, thank goodness, and on the whole the elements that people are bringing back from the 90’s are pretty neat. If I had the appropriate figure for it, I would be taking every opportunity to wear outfits like this again;

get-the-look2

I would like to point out though that wedge boots are SO not grunge. Grunge boots were Docs, or big chunky heels.

Even though the majority of grunge styles don’t actually suit me that well, I don’t mind the resurrection of tying a shirt around your waist every day, to every event. But the retrospective articles are really starting to unnerve me. Ones that highlight things like parachute pants and hypercolour as being hilarious “new” discoveries unearthed from the past. They’re often chock fill of apparently forgotten “weird” 90’s styles, styles that I hadn’t really thought of as being THAT out of date just yet. I honestly thought I was too young still to be seeing my teenage fashions being “rediscovered” by a new generation. How can they be rediscovering something I feel like I only just stopped doing?

Thinking about this, I remembered being a bratty little girl, flicking through my mother’s stash of Spunky magazines from when she was a teenager. They were from the late 70’s, and let’s just say I was not kind to what I saw as the “outdated” fashions of her generation. Those jeans are gross! Who would wear their hair that fluffy? Why don’t any of the men wear shirts, for goodness sake!?

Spunky MagazineSeriously, where are her eyebrows?

I remember Mum patiently sighing, and explaining that one day people would look back on my fashion choices as laughably outdated. Remembering all this got me thinking about how other people experience these cycles.

The audience of Already Pretty is so diverse, I would love to hear from you about what styles you seen come back, and how it made you feel.  Did it make you happily nostalgic, or did it freak you out? Are you young enough that it hasn’t happened yet at all? Let’s share our nostalgia – and even some flashback photos if you’re game!

Slouch sock and jade necklace images sourced from Ebay
Girlfriend album covers sourced from CFBGoesPop
Promo image of Girlfriend sourced from Lady Rebecca
90’s floral dress image sourced from Neon Threads Designs
Promo image from Buffy The Vampire Slayer sourced from Project M
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Poster from MoviePoster.com
Screenshot from Empire Records sourced by author
Neo-grunge look sourced from Styloko
Photo of Noosha Fox from Spunky Magazine, 1979 – photo of page by author

_ _ _ _ _

The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty-something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, and has way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around exploring concepts of femme and femininity, feminism, and just how much glitter you really can fit into a polish before it’s unusable. You can catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter , look at pictures of her favourite pretty things on her Tumblr, and browse her shiny accessory creations at her Etsy store

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