Accessory Scale and Personal Style

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Accessorization is challenging. I know it is. And adding yet another consideration to the outfit-construction pile might make you want to say, “Forget it. I shall wear the same stud earrings until they become one with my lobes, refuse to swap out my necklace, and ignore the existence of belts and scarves.” But I’m hoping this particular discussion will be more intuitively helpful than irritatingly overwhelming.

So we’ve talked about belting, and the practice of determining which belt width will work for your height, figure, and torso length. (Links below.) But accessory scale goes beyond belts, and understanding it will help your outfit accents work harmoniously with your overall look.

There are two ways in which scale affects accessory balance:

Within an outfit

In an ideal world, the sizes and shapes of your accessories will mirror the sizes and shapes of your garments and shoes. If you’re wearing bright colors in broad swaths, big chunky shoes, or other bold elements, adding tiny, delicate jewelry might feel wrong. And, on the flip side, if you’re doing a floaty slip dress and heels, gobs of heavy metal jewelry and a huge belt might not work. There is always juxtaposition to be considered, and sometimes throwing huge accessories into a delicate mix works beautifully. But generally speaking, the scale of your accessories should complement the overall feel and look of your outfit.

Relating to your figure

Over the summer I worked with a client who is nearly six feet tall. Almost everything in her jewelry box was lightweight, light-colored, and delicate. Her only scarves were tiny silk squares, and her belts were all skinny. When I touched base with her after our consult, I brought up the concept of accessory scale. A woman of her stature could quite easily wear large, chunky jewelry, big belts, and gigantic scarves and have it work harmoniously with her figure and proportions. In fact, some of her truly tiny pieces were virtually invisible in the context of an entire outfit. I’ve also worked with clients who are extremely petite but drawn to wide belts and chunky bangles, and I have the same conversation but in reverse. Small women can look engulfed by giant accessories, while the more lightweight and delicate stuff looks absolutely smashing on them.

If you’re somewhere in the middle like me, many of your decisions will be more outfit-based than figure-based but you may find that some of your accessories just feel too big or small once you’ve examined them more closely.

And, of course, this is NOT meant to be interpreted as a hard-and-fast rule! None of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. In this case, that means that if you’re petite and love enormous jewelry, enjoy it. If you’re tall or plus-sized and wear nothing but skinny belts and delicate chains, that is absolutely your prerogative. And everyone should feel free to mix things up on an outfit-by-outfit basis. But if you’ve noticed that the jewelry and accessories you’re choosing aren’t quite working within the context of your outfits, consider scale. It might be the factor that’s throwing off your looks.

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  • Amy M

    I like that you present your “rules” as guidelines, because it really is I who have the final say of what looks best to me.

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com Deva

    I often catch myself reminding myself of scale when I am disappointed by how an accessory looks on me. I am petite and I am drawn toward chunky styles which tend to overwhelm my frame. What I do to counteract that is to try to figure out what I like about the chunky style that I can find in soemthing more delicate, which tends to work.

  • http://www.modlychic.com Katy

    I LOVE accessorizing every outfit. It’s like a personal challenge to find the best combination of earrings, necklace and bracelet to complete a look. But I know so many women who are terrified about the entire process, opting instead for safe basic studs and not much else. To me, accessories is where each woman’s unique personality can shine. – Katy

  • Krysta

    One thing that gets me when it comes to accessories and prints… I’m not sure if I’d be classified as having a larger or smaller frame! I’m short (5′) and often have to shop in the petite sections in stores, but I’m thicker and wider and at the top range of the petite sizes.

    • Krysta

      And something else that occurred to me looking back through your posts… We’re almost opposites when it comes to hair and the size of earrings. For me, I tend to wear smaller earrings when my hair is down, because no one will see them anyways. And then when I pull my hair up and back, I feel like I need bigger earrings to add something around my face and feminize what I see as a more boyish face.

      Though to be fair, even my larger earrings are still small compared to many of your larger ones!

  • Sufiya

    I completely agree: “proportion” is a LOT more important that people realize! I’ve seen it time and again: somebody wearing something that was ‘too big/small” or “too long/short” and throwing their entire ‘look’ off thereby! or, conversely, I have seen people who ‘got it right”: a petite person wearing a “non-petite” look scaled to her size (say, a maxi-skirt with boots and a swing jacket) or an overweight person wearing clothes that are perfectly fitted, so that they are neither too baggy nor too tight, and I want to applaud!

  • LaChina

    This is why I love your site and shows like Fashion Police. It’s easy too look at an outfit and not like it, much harder to pinpoint why it doesn’t work. Thanks for the post!

    My favorite accessories are scarves, they’re easy to wear and add a lot of color. But even with scarves I have one or two I can’t seem to pair with anything.

  • Becky

    I have found accessory scale to be very important in terms of what looks good on me. Which is weird, because I’m very medium-scaled (statisically average height, pretty standard build), so you’d think many scales of accessories would work.

    I think the key is that I don’t like to wear makeup, and my coloring is – and I don’t mean this negatively – mousy. I have low color contrast among my hair, skin, and eyes – different hues, but all about the same tone. I can go delicate OK, but if I go large-scale with my accessories, they swallow my face completely, because there’s not a lot of color contrast to make my features stand out.

    In fact, I wonder if this is why a lot of Victorian-era jewelry was so delicate. At the time, most women did not wear makeup. So large-scale jewelry was much more likely to overwhelm a woman’s features than today, when many women brighten up their lips and eyes and color their hair. This makes our features stand out enough that bold jewelry and scarves enhance, rather than overwhelm, our faces.

    If an item of clothing or accessory is just a bit too much on me, I can fix it with foundation, mascara, and lipstick. It’s surprising to me how much my makeup choices affect what clothing and accessories look good on me,