Reader Request: Accessorization and Figure Flattery 101

A sweet anonymous commenter popped this into the most recent suggestion box:

I would absolutely love it if you could do a tutorial post on accessorising … and maybe also something on colour and using these to suit your body shape. I have absolutely no clue when it comes to accessorising (very minimalist dress style but am trying to change as I think it’s just boring to look at). For example, tutorials on the interactions between body shape and size and the colour and proportions of your accessories, and even the colour of your clothes. Kind of an “Accessorising 101″ …

So I’m gonna cop out a little and redirect the color questions, as tackling both accessorization and color in one post would be sheer madness. Here are some posts for the curious about color:

Now. Tackling the subject of accessorization in one post may strike you as sheer madness, too. But I never claimed to be sane, only amusing. So I’ll give it a whirl, acknowledging that I will be providing the most cursory of overviews. And I’ll do my best to focus on how accessories affect figure flattery.

But first, a few things to note about accessories in general and their role in personal style:

I’ve met so many women who feel like they have not yet mastered dressing because accessorization intimidates them. Accessories add personality, flavor, and interest to outfits so they are absolutely invaluable tools to every stylish woman. But don’t go thinking that you need a blackbelt in necklace selection to accessorize well! All you need is the curiosity to experiment, a few items that fit your tastes, and some trust in your personal judgment. Accessorization, like any skill, is all about practice. So … practice!

Accessories are generally considered to be the finishing touches on an outfit. You’ve got your shoes, bottom, and top covered, but what is lacking to make the ensemble complete? Here are a few questions you can ask as you’re standing before your mirror, clothed but accessory-free:

  • Look for the areas of an outfit that are not-quite-perfect. Can an accessory cinch in a waist? Cover up a hole?

  • Look for the vast stretches of empty space in an outfit. Does an accessory belong there? In a wide or deep neckline, in an unbroken swath of cloth from neck to knee, on a bare arm?
  • Look for ways in which color or pattern seem to clash. Can an accessory bridge that gap?

Now let’s dig into the major categories of accessories one by one, and explore how to find types and styles that suit your body shape.

EARRINGS

When selecting earrings, consider the following criteria:

Haircut and style: How do you want your earrings to interact with your hair? Is it important that they be big and bright enough to show through? If you have a super short cut, will you feel odd wearing giant hoops?

Face shape: Choose earring shapes that will balance or counteract the aspects of your face shape that are the most pronounced. If you have a round face, go for long, linear, dangly earrings. If you have a square face, go for soft, rounded shapes. If you have a long face, pick earrings that hit about mid-cheek to avoid elongating it any further.

Neck length: There are certain styles of earring that are meant to dance across your shoulders and collarbones, but generally speaking, you want a pair that is at least three inches above shoulder height. So if your neck is shorter, balance earring length accordingly. In addition, exposed earrings can either mitigate or emphasize neck length, so bear that in mind. Wearing bulky, stubby, chunky earrings will make shorter necks look shorter. Wearing long, linear, sticklike earrings will make long necks look longer.

Neckline and scarf considerations: If you’re wearing a cowl neck sweater, long earrings will get tangled in the fibers and look sloppy. If you’re wearing a thick, bulky scarf, same. Be aware of how your earrings will interact with your neckline and neckwear.

NECKLACES


How a necklace interacts with your neckline can impact how flattering that necklace is on your body, so be sure to start there. But here are a few more tips on picking a necklace that works with your figure:

Neck length and shape: As you might have guessed, thick chokers will make a short thick neck look shorter and thicker. On the other hand, extremely delicate necklaces can make a short thick neck look shorter and thicker, too. You ladies can totally eyeball this. Put it on, see how it interacts with your neck shape, and decide if it works.

Bone structure: Some say that women with small, delicate bones should wear small, delicate jewelry no matter what their body shape, and women with larger bones can carry larger jewelry. But that rule is too confining, if you ask me. Where’s the room for personal taste? Nevertheless, bone structure can influence your decisions about how you select your necklace. If you want to create a look that is feminine and romantic, play up delicate bones with light, airy necklaces. If you want to go edgy, pick a chunky chain and make sure the rest of your outfit de-emphasizes your bone structure.

Bust and decolletage: If you’re exposing some cleavage, necklace choice can either draw attention to or away from the girls. A pendant that nestles will draw the eye to, but a giant bib or statement necklace may cover up and draw attention from your boobage. This holds true for all boob sizes, I feel. If you’re small of boob and self-conscious about your inability to cleave, don’t wear an open neckline and a pendant. Go for something bigger and showier to fill that naked space.

Also be aware of length issues, especially if you’re busty. A long necklace that bounces off your rack and hits you in the face when you walk will be both irritating and unflattering. Long necklaces should end about three inches above your navel, regardless of boob size. Shorter necklaces should generally hit an inch above the cleavage line, unless you’re going for an intentionally sexy look.

Face shape: As with earrings, try to choose necklace shapes that will balance or counteract the aspects of your face shape that are the most pronounced. Round faces will look rounder wearing decidedly round necklaces made from round beads, etc.

BRACELETS


Can a bracelet really be unflattering? Oh yes it can. Keep these things in mind:

Wrist and forearm shape: Unless you are extremely slender, a giant cuff that masks your entire wrist will make you appear to have forearms that are the same circumference from wrist to elbow. Just as a pair of boots that shows off your ankle is more flattering than a tubelike boot that masks them, a bracelet that shows the curve of your wrist is more flattering than a massive cuff that masks it. It’s an aesthetic choice, and sometimes you just don’t care. And since giant cuffs are seldom worn on both wrists, the masking isn’t complete. But if you’re hypersensitive about your arms, as so many women are, choose bracelets that show your wrist off instead of hiding it.

Tightness: This may seem obvious to the extreme, but I want to cover all my bases. Elasticized bracelets can sit snugly against your wrist, but NO bracelet should squeeze your tender flesh.

BROOCHES

Since I’m pretty sure there are less than two unflattering ways to wear a brooch, I’m just going to point you to this post for tips on how to wear this fun piece of jewelry.

HATS


Audi‘s guest post on flattering hats for every head should get the ball rolling, but here are a few highlights:

Body shape: Look for shapes that will balance your bod. Petites avoid enormous, wide-brimmed hats or anything truly oversized. You’ll do better with a small brim and low crown. Tall ladies, avoid anything overly narrow, pointy, or high as it will just add to your natural height. You can sport the wide brim that our petites should avoid, and try a shorter crown.

Face shape: Again with the balance thing. If you have a longish face shape, choose wide hats with curled or floppy brims. If your face is round, you’ll want to go for hats with high brims, angular shapes, and that are, overall, wider than your face is. This means that most caps are right out. Square-faced women should try asymmetric hats, which will help balance strong jawlines. And if you’re an oval, a wide variety of hat styles will work for you. Play around and see what you like!

Hat position: There’s no right or wrong way to wear a hat, of course, but many people choose to push hats to the back of their heads. It might feel natural, but it’s not always the most flattering look. Experiment a bit in front of a mirror before you settle on a position. You never know what’ll work best until you tinker.

SCARVES


Scarves can be worn a trillion different ways, and if you’re looking for new ways to tie yours, check this scarf-tying bibliography.

Neck length: If you’ve got an average or long neck, an outsized scarf or bulky cowl may work … but those styles will only make a short neck appear shorter. If you’ve got a very long neck, skinny scarves worn long and loose down the body will emphasize that length. As always, seek balance.

Face shape: My face is rectangular, so I can have a giant wad of scarfy material up by my face and still look relatively angular. If you have a round or fleshy face and are concerned about emphasizing it, winding a giant pashmina around your neck is not the way to go. Try a long rectangular scarf that hangs down on either side of your neck, drawing the eye up and down. Experiment with various ties – paying special heed to how loosely or tightly you tie the scarf around your neck and near your face – and see what looks best.

Bust size: Consider how a scarf will interact with your rack, and how that interaction affects your overall silhouette. A giant pile of scarf plopped atop some epic ta-tas may just make you look like an ice cream cone. A long, limp scarf dangling across a small chest may just emphasize the smallitude. Consider the girls when you slap on a scarf.

BELTS

Audi‘s guest post on best practices in belting is a great place to start, and here are a few tips on exploring belts as a newbie.

Waist, or lack thereof: I would like some input from you folks, here, but my impression is that figures lacking a somewhat defined waistline have a really tough time belting. Depending on belly size, hip-slung belts may work on the waistless as may belting with scarves instead of stiff leather belts … but it’s still tricky. On the flip side, women with pronounced hourglass figures can generally do small and medium-sized belts, but extremely wide belts may conspire with boobs and butt to create a boxy silhouette. Experiment with belt styles and widths until you find a few that work for your waistline.

Shoulders and hips: As I mentioned above, if you’ve got broad shoulders or a big bust AND pronounced hips, huge belts can be unflattering. However, if you’ve only got one of the three, they can totally work. Play around a bit.

Placement: Just as there’s no right way to wear a hat, there’s no right way to place a belt. Depending on how you’re built, the cut of your clothes, and the style of belt, you may look fantastic buckled right under your bustline, high waist, natural waist, wearing waist, or hip-slung. Eyeball multiple placements in front of a mirror.

Accessorization is affected by your clothing color choices, too, of course. Bright, vibrant colors may work better with small matte accessories, muted tones can allow sparkly, eye-catching accessories to shine. But that call must be made on an outfit-to-outfit basis. If you’re going for a sleek, minimalist look then soft colors and quiet accessories will work. If you’re feeling bold, go bright and loud with both colors and accoutrements. I couldn’t say there are any figure flattery guidelines specific to pairing color and accessories, at least none that I know of. Focus on how the colors and accessories interact, and then step back and make sure the overall silhouette is one that pleases your eye.

Finally, pay some heed to overall accessory balance. Any body that is absolutely dripping with accessories is going to look a bit off. Your personal rules for amount and size of accessories may vary from mine, but just be sure you know what your parameters for balance are before you head out the door weighed down by belts and jewelry.

Well. THAT was kind of epic. And, of course, incomplete and 100% subjective, so if you feel like things are missing, you’re quite right. These are just my personal guidelines for choosing flattering accessories, and they’re quite abridged. Take them or leave them as you see fit!

But do tell: Have you any accessory/flattery guidelines to add to the list?

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post, as usual! I nearly always wear plain, unpatterned 'basic' clothes in black and white, but I always accessorize – usually with a colourful and/or patterned scrarf. It adds interest to my otherwise boring outfits. Sometimes I use a longer, slimmer scarf, as I find it makes my curvy body appear slimmer and longer (although I might be kidding myself!), and it also hides my belly, especially when sitting down. This makes me a bit more comfortable when wearing more figure hugging clothes.
    (sara)

  • Someone

    Couple things Sal, as I'm only working toward my yellow belt in Accessories…

    One, accessories draw attention – so one question to ask when standing before the mirror is "what do I want to emphasize today?"

    Two, as a petite hourglass who is short of waist and large of boob, I have found that I can wear a wide belt if I have other verticalizing things going on, such as a body-skimming cardi worn open over the outfit.

    As with all things of course, you are absolutely right…just gotta try stuff on and see what works!

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    This was indeed epic, Sal! Thanks for this post.

    I would really just re-emphasize experimentation in front of a mirror or two (as one is not always trustworthy).

  • Vanessa

    Thanks for the tips– very useful!

  • Melissa Blake

    A good vintage ring sparkles up any outfit!

  • Anonymous

    I personally don't like matchy-matchy jewelry, when the necklace matches the earrings and the bracelet. I also do not like how *I* look in earrings and a necklace worn together, so I tend to wear one or the other, not both.

    Great post! Thanks!

  • Vix

    >Waist, or lack thereof: I would like some input from you folks, here, but my impression is that figures lacking a somewhat defined waistline have a really tough time belting.

    As one who fits into this category, I agree…but think where one's waist falls (short-waisted, proportional, long-waisted) makes things more or less difficult. As can bust size.

    In general:

    * Asymmetric hip belts that form a V in front are great at creating shape. Wider ones can gloss over non-flat stomachs.

    * Chain belts that end in a vertical dangle can be good as well, since they tend to drape nicely and come in delicate or large-scale versions.

    * A large center buckle will draw the eye inward and help create the illusion of a waist.

    IMO, undefined + short-waisted [me] = hip or empire belt/scarf. Proportional = just about anything goes. Long-waisted = may have to watch the hip belts if looking short-legged is an issue.

  • Sheila

    Awesome article, Sal! I think the most important thing is just to TRY things out and see what you like and what you don't. If you love a necklace, but the length is wrong, try wrapping it as a bracelet. Experiment!

  • Monica

    I'm with Anonymous on the less is more approach to jewelry. I will either wear earrings or a necklace but not both.

    When in doubt, always think "What would Coco Chanel do?" Her famous quote: "before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off" is always a good rule of thumb to avoid being over-accessorized.

  • futurelint

    Wow! That was epic! I think you did a really thorough job on such a huge subject!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Sal, please tell us how to choose a handbag as that one always seemes to stump me! How many handbags do you think a girl needs at a minimum to diversify and what kind?? what color?? how did i miss this day at school?

  • Audi

    Wow, that WAS epic indeed! Great post, Sal, and what a handy resource having the collection of accessory links in one place. Thank you for pointing out that hats don't necessarily look better worn towards the back of the head — this is such a common mistake!

  • Elaine

    Thank you for the tips!

    Enter to win a vintage button-down shirt!
    clothed much, a modest fashion blog

  • Jean

    A treasure chest of information!
    THANKS Sal :-)

  • Bianca

    Since you ask for some input, here you are mine^^ I have now waistline at all, so I can tell my point of view on belting, and…well, it's really a 'danger zone' over there. I have tried every kind of belt (even the scarf, during a play in which I was a pirateXD), and I have understood that they cannot work for me. Sometimes I can wear my red obi, and it's better than other belts, but it still doesn't feel so flattering.
    Instead, I have tried to come up with other solutions. I've found that most part of girls of my same shape have long legs, therefore I have decided to draw more attention on them that to my upper body. I have found a pair of high-waist black trousers that literally ends under my breast, and I look awfully good with them. Another solution could be wearing a dress, and on it a bolero that ends right under my breast. That way my 'bottle-of-milk' shape is mistaken for a more elongated one.

  • All Women Stalker

    You are a treasure trove of styling ideas, lady. I love accessorizing and I always abide by these tips :)

  • The Budget Babe

    excellent post. it's all trial and error for me!

  • Ruby

    I'd just like to add a comment/opinion on glasses. I view my glasses as jewelry and thus don't wear necklaces or earrings other than very discrete ones (posts, tiny hoops) when I wear my glasses. I have noticed other women pull off glasses with jewelry, but it's something to consider, especially if you have a petite face or short neck. I do use other accessories when I wear my glasses, particularly scarves. Since glasses are jewelry, to me, I have several pairs and all but one pair are showy, interesting shapes and colors.

  • Rachael

    Brilliant tips, thank you!

  • lisa

    Wow, these are extremely well thought out tips. I wish I could say I put this much thought into accessorizing, but most of the time I just go with instinct and intuition and whether an accessory makes me feel ridiculous. One thing I do know is I feel uncomfortable in a lot of statement necklaces (I prefer dramatic earrings and a braclet), so it's difficult for me to find a statement necklace I truly love.

  • Anonymous

    Hello! I'm the original commenter who asked for this post. I read your site every day, but imagine my surprise when I logged on this morning (I'm in Australia) and read my own words on the screen!!

    I immediately read every word of your answer and followed all the links. I am sorry for making you do such an epic post to cover the things I asked! But I really think you did a fantastic job!

    I love that you illustrate everything (because I have no clue on this subject, I need to see it to make sure I understand), because it really helps to train the eye. Also the links that you posted were really useful and there were a couple there that I hadn't yet discovered for myself.

    I had been trying to experiment with accessories (read: I have been buying A LOT of necklaces, bracelets, cuffs, brooches and earrings), but kind of got stuck (nothing seemed to look right) and so had re-resigned myself to minimalism as my signature aesthetic, browsing photos of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy as muse and inspiration…but your post has encouraged me to keep trying. I sometimes wish I could send you photos and ask your opinion, but I guess I need to start trusting myself :)

    Thank you so much for your time and effort in covering this topic for me and for all your other readers who also find it useful.
    Tanya xx

  • Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    Great post – so many good tips! Thanks as always for the link too.

  • Display homes Melbourne

    Your outfits are gorgeous especially that coat. Beautiful!

  • Emily Kennedy

    Well, just a small contribution: long-waist-ed women like myself often look really quite odd in skinny belts and even medium sized belts. We have such a long expanse we're working with! I'll wear a 1-in. belt with pants, but otherwise, the only type of belt I wear is a large one, 2 – 3 in. tall. Those can be extremely flattering, especially over dresses.

  • alejandra

    just stumbling on this – so great – you are so great! I have a round face and this is very helpful to me – but I am curious about some of this applied – do you have some examples esp say for warm hats (brrrr) that work well on a round face? thanks!!!