Posts Categorized: style

The Dangers of Pre-made Outfits

closet

Over the summer, I worked with several clients who chose to organize their closets into complete outfits. They’d hang a cardigan, tank, and skirt together, or a sweater and coordinating pants, or a dress with a blazer and scarf. Since most of us have experienced Morning Wardrobe Panic – you’ve got 10 minutes to get dressed, swing open the closet doors, and experience brain freeze – this tactic may sound incredibly appealing. And if you’re in possession of a smallish wardrobe and aren’t a frequent shopper, it can be very valuable. But in other cases, it can be somewhat counterproductive. And here’s why:

It’s harder to see what you’ve got

If you hang a blazer over a blouse, all you’ll see is the blazer. In a large closet, that blouse may be totally forgotten. And since many outfits are born when we see various garments hanging near each other and creating visual pairings, masking garments can force you to lose out on remixing options. It generally helps to be able to SEE as much of your wardrobe as possible. Hanging completed outfits makes this difficult.

It encourages single-outfit thinking

When we buy complete outfits from the store, it can sometimes be hard to remember that those pieces can be worn separately with other clothes from our closets. Something similar happens when you hang outfits: You group those items together mentally, and it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine them working in other ways.

It may cause you to shop more often and less effectively

This ties into the visibility issue, of course, but deserves its own moment in the spotlight. If you can’t see that black-and-white houndstooth silk shell hanging in your closet because it’s hidden under a cardigan, you may end up buying a different black-and-white printed sleeveless top that essentially fills the same spot. Even a mindful shopper who limits her purchases to holes in her current wardrobe may end up doubling up when she can’t see and easily access what she’s already got.

If you hang pre-made outfits in your closet and love this system, there’s an easy way to avoid these pitfalls: Once the outfit has been worn twice, break it apart. In most cases, completed outfits are born when we wear items in combination and love them together. So, wear them together on discovery, wear again after they’ve been hung grouped, and THEN separate the items so they’re part of the general pool again.

Another option that can help those who don’t want to lose great outfit ideas after two wears? Photograph your outfits and keep the photos printed in your closet or easily accessible on your phone. So after an outfit has gotten its two wears and a couple of months have passed, you can find and revive it again.

Who out there hangs completed outfits? Do you feel like these limitations apply to your own system? Other workarounds to suggest so that hanging grouped outfits is more efficient? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy Emily May

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Reader Request: Transitioning to a More Formal Workplace

dressing conservative workplace

Reader K emailed me this question:

I have a new job at a law firm and a lot of my clothing is a bit too informal and brightly colored and I’m not sure if it will be appropriate. I’d love to see a post about holding on to your your fun and colorful/statement necklace style when you find yourself having to conform and fit into a much more conservative environment (no more sandals at work, no more casual Fridays, no more it’s OK to wear jeans if I just have to in order to make it through the day on a Thursday, more jackets/blazers, less tees, no more cotton sundresses, how to dress up some of your more informal clothing for a pseudo corporate world, etc.)

I pointed K to a few previous posts that you’ll find below, but feel this topic merits its own discussion. On all things law-related, I defer to Corporette so if you’re looking for dressing guidelines that apply to lawyers specifically, do peruse her archive.* But if, like K, you are transitioning from a casual or business casual environment to a more buttoned-up one, here are my suggestions for making your wardrobe work in your new role:

Jackets and blazers make everything seem more formal

OK, maybe not everything. Throwing a blazer over frayed denim shorts and a Mickey Mouse tee might look cute, but it’ll never be office-appropriate. However, any structured jacket or blazer will up the formality ante on most dresses, especially ones that are more substantial than thin, drapey knit or lightweight cotton voile. And adding a blazer to a solid sweater shell and subtly printed skirt will work in many offices, as will pairing a jacket with a colorful printed blouse and dress pants. Structure is key here, though that doesn’t necessarily mean actual suiting. Wool blends are best, but some heavy twills will work. Tweeds are another good option, especially for fall and winter. Steer clear of ponte and knits for conservative workplaces.

One colorful or sparkly piece per outfit

K is hoping to continue expressing her personality through clothing and accessory choices even in this new environment, and that’s definitely possible. A good guideline – especially to start out when you’re not sure how far you can push the dressing envelope – is to limit yourself to one “fun” piece per outfit. This can mean a bright or printed top, a funky necklace, eye-catching shoes, or a patterned skirt. (Probably best to keep your jackets and pants on the tame side, and tread cautiously with dresses.) You can build your outfit around your “fun” piece: Start with a multicolored floral silk shell and add a sleek pant suit, simple pumps, small earrings, subtle necklace (if any), and a watch. The shell is the wild card, everything else is classic and balancing. Don’t ditch all your interesting clothes just because your job has changed. Instead, introduce them a tiny bit at a time.

Bright colors can work in conservative shapes

In most cases, structure trumps shade. While a blazing red jersey wrap dress will look out of place in a formal workplace, a blazing red ponte sheath dress – especially worn with balancing pieces like a blazer and simple pumps – can work. Again, be careful with jackets and pants: Muted colors like burgundy, olive, navy, and aubergine may be acceptable in some offices, but not in others. A citron jacket or pair of emerald green trousers done in fine wool might squeak by, but you’re better off sticking to tops and dresses if you splash out on colorful clothes. Any bright colors you’ve already got in your closet may still be viable if they’re done up in classic, conservative shapes.

Mind your fibers

You may have noticed some fiber name-dropping in this post, and that’s quite intentional. We’ve talked about fiber formality before, and while I don’t have a problem with anyone wearing cashmere with twill I do think that certain fabrics won’t be conservative enough for many offices. Drapey jersey is on virtually every mall store rack, but it’s not substantial or formal enough for the average law firm. And that goes for tops, dresses, and waterfall cardigans alike. Ponte is fabulous for dresses and some skirts, but doesn’t lend enough gravitas to blazers and jackets. In terms of fiber winners, wool tops the list (and remember, tropical weight wool can be worn year-round in many places) and can be worn in any format from pants to skirts to blazers to dresses. Silk and polyester and rayon are all fine for blouses, but avoid drapey jersey and tee shirt/ribbed cotton. For sweaters, just about anything will work since by their very nature sweaters are more formal than tees: Cotton, cashmere, wool, and manmade fibers will all work so long as you’re not going for an intarsia owl or neon floral print. Cotton twill for blazers, skirts, and pants will be questionable in truly conservative offices, but completely fine in others. Look through your closet to see which fabrics and fibers will work in the new, more formal workplace.

Utilize fun accessories but sparingly

I hate to say it, but the average pair of Irregular Choice shoes will get you the side-eye in many offices and enormous rhinestone bib necklaces probably don’t belong in conservative work environments. Less embellished shoes in bright colors, on the other hand? Definitely possible, especially if most of the other outfit elements are classic and quiet. Rhinestones can be totally fine, especially in smaller necklaces and bracelets. Consider tucking sparkly jewelry into a button-front shirt collar and/or inside a blazer to tone it down. Again, if you want to wear a particularly bold accessory go for it, but try to make it the only bold element in your outfit.

Observe and adapt

I’ve held seven office jobs over the course of my career, and I’ve always found that it works well to dress on the conservative/quiet side for the first few weeks on a new job while performing Dress Code Reconnaissance. An office that looks incredibly buttoned-up on the surface may reveal itself to be more accepting the longer you work there. K may feel more comfortable and secure doing lots of neutrals, suiting, and simple shoes for the first few weeks, and then begin incorporating more personality pieces, colors, prints, and patterns once she’s got the lay of the land.

Those are my tips! What else would you tell K? Have you had to transition your work wardrobe from casual or business casual to something more conservative and formal? What carried over? Anything? How can you make fun and funky pieces law-office friendly? Or do you feel like they just can’t make the leap?

*Also my understanding is that office days and court days can have drastically different dress codes. Every lawyer I’ve ever met wears suits to court, period. So in this post, I’m assuming we’re talking about office days.

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Images courtesy Nordstrom left | right

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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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