Posts Categorized: style

Reader Request: When to Cuff Jeans

cuffing jeans

left | right

Reader Andrea e-mailed me this question:

I wondered if you would do a blog post about when and when not to cuff jeans. I think doing so would add a little something to my limited casual wardrobe. But I can’t figure out what where to use it. Or maybe it is to be done with a certain jean style. I feel like I’m missing something with this look.

I am late to the cuffing game myself, but have really enjoyed playing around with this styling trick over the past few months. One thing that I think makes cuffing tricky is that it looks great when it’s a little messy … but artfully messy can actually be harder to re-create than neat. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my own tinkerings:

Skinnies, straight-legs, or boyfriends

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. You want the cuff to be fairly small and close to your ankle/calf, so anything that flares out toward the hem like a bootcut or has a wide leg like a trouser cut won’t work. Boyfriend jeans are cuffed more often than not, but you’ll notice that although the jean is loose-fitting the leg tapers and the cuff is fairly close.

Why we cuff

bad jeans cuffs

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Here are two cases in which I think cuffing would actually improve the overall look. Tucking even the skinniest of skinny jeans into ankle boots looks a bit odd, and can cause uncomfortable scrunching. Skinny jeans that haven’t been hemmed to ankle length will bunch and pool at the ankle – cuffing eliminates this problem.

Cuffs that aren’t quite right

cuffsthatdontwork

left | middleright

Now, listen: The Cuff Police don’t exist. If you can’t get your cuffs to fall just so, that’s completely fine. The likelihood of anyone doing a trend-focused ankle check is slim to none. But just in case you’ve been trying to cuff and can’t figure out what’s off, here are a couple of examples that don’t quite hit the mark.

To my eye, the pair on the left has been cuffed just a wee bit too high. You want to show the curve of your ankle, but don’t need to get up into calf territory. In the middle, the messiness of the cuff is fine but they look mighty bulky. This is an issue that I have with some of my jeans: Ideally you want the cuff to be narrow and relatively flat. This means that cuffing jeans hemmed long will backfire, and cuffing ankle-length jeans will work better. And on the right, you have a super tall cuff – this is a fringe trend now and may eventually become the norm. But it still looks a little funky to most folks.

Cuffs with ankle boots

ankle boots cuffed jeans

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NOW we’re talking. Personally, this is my favorite look for cuffing – with ankle boots or other ankle-height shoes. Let just a sliver of ankle peek out between where the cuff ends and the shoe begins. My ankles get weirdly cold, so I will sometimes do black booties, black/gray striped socks, and cuffed jeans. You want to see where the ankle curves in, but you can still see that with a close-fitting sock in the mix.

Cuffs with heels and flats

cuffed jeans with heels

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Cuffed jeans and pants can also look chic and fun with low-vamp shoes like pumps and or ballet flats. Again, remember to cuff just above where your ankle curves, no higher. This is especially important since you’re exposing more of the foot with a low vamp, and if your cuff is high it will give the impression of crops or floods. Cuffing with this style of shoe is helpful if you’ve got a pair of skinnies that pools at the ankle, as mentioned above.

Cuffs with sneakers

cuffed jeans with sneakers

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And finally, sneaks – a great match for cuffed jeans. Cuffing creates an instantly casual look, and sneakers are naturally casual so they play well together. In this case, I’d avoid socks. You want a bit of bare ankle peeking out between the high vamp of the shoe and the cuff of the jean. Slip-on sneakers work just as well.

So which shoe styles won’t work with cuffs? Mary Janes look awkward because between the vamp, strap, and cuff, your foot is cut into three pieces. Mules are a bit odd for similar reasons, especially heeled ones. And, of course, anything that reaches above the ankle like a tall boot won’t look quite right, though I’ve seen people experimenting with tall-shaft ankle boots tucked under cuffs.

Kind of a lot, right? Again, these are not rules, merely guidelines. And they’re MY guidelines, so you may hear completely different advice from other folks. In fact I sent Andrea to this post which has some overlap, but also shows a cuff that’s much wider than I’d wear or recommend. This styling trick is very fluid, so don’t be afraid to play. If you find that a higher or lower cuff looks better to your eye, go for it. If you like the look of a thicker cuff, go for that, too. Do whatever feels and looks best to you.

Anyone else playing around with cuffs these days? Where do you like yours to fall? Are you more apt to cuff skinnies, straight legs, or boyfriends? All of the above? Other tips to share?

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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

**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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