Shiny, Pretty


I struggle with cardigans. They’re my most versatile year-round outer layer, and they seem to come in a thousand varieties. Cropped, boyfriend, fitted, drapey, v-neck, crew neck … it’s ENDLESS. And different shapes and styles have different applications and work best with certain underlayers. I always seem to be able to justify buying another one. Especially since they are fabulously thriftable little beasties. I will never stop using my cardigans, and may live in an endless cycle of trying new ones and donating or consigning old ones.

But there are several other wardrobe sectors that feel decidedly complete. There is absolutely no reason for me to ever purchase another mid-weight coat. Spring lasts about 10 seconds here in Minneapolis, and fall is even shorter. The rest of the time it’s either very hot or very cold. Unless a mid-weight coat can double as a topper/blazer, I will use it so seldom as to make its purchase decidedly unnecessary. I feel similarly about sandals. I saw the pair pictured above during one of my many side-trips to the mesmerizing land of Pinterest, and had an immediate, “shiny, pretty” reaction. I mean, look at those. They’re stunning. Chunky heel, unique and interesting design features, vaguely futuristic-looking, sexy but walkable, graphic, cool … these sandals are right up my own personal sandal alley. And two or three years ago, “shiny, pretty” might’ve won out. I might’ve found these sandals so irresistible that I’d have snapped them up before really thinking about it. But today? Today I know that I have many pairs of sandals and that they can only be worn for a fairly short window of time. (Unlike closed shoes, which get year-round wear.) I know that white shoes are the enemy of a klutzy gal such as myself, and that shoes with multiple colors are far harder to style. I know that I adore the distinctive shoes I own, but that the classic, simple, timeless ones are the ones that get worn and worn until they need new soles.

I was a late-comer to fashion. I didn’t give a hoot about it for most of my young life, and when I finally did take an interest I was a gainfully employed adult. It felt fun and exciting to indulge in my, “shiny, pretty” urges and nab items that looked and felt unusual or edgy. I think it was important to my understanding of a functional wardrobe and of my own preferences and needs to work through that phase. And although I cave to the occasional item that is far too shiny and pretty to resist, I’m happy to have moved beyond feeling like every gorgeous goodie I see MUST be mine. Those sandals? I’m happy to admire them from afar.

I see many other late-comers with closets full of shiny, pretty items that feel difficult to style and wear. My guess is that, if you’re a woman who has been indifferent to fashion for much of your life, a new interest in clothing and style can feel intoxicating. Realizing that dressing can be fun makes you gravitate toward fun pieces – garments, shoes, and accessories that are eye-catching and expressive and feel fun to wear. This can create an imbalanced closet full of frosting with no cake to support it. Luckily, this can generally be dealt with by adding some plain, classic basics … and some gentle culling. Shiny, pretty things are important to most wardrobes, but they can’t be the only things in there. And it takes time and trial and error to figure out which plain, classic basics will work for your style and your figure and your life.

Have any of you gone through this cycle yourselves? Maybe earlier or later in life? Ever look in your closet and see nothing but shiny, pretty things that don’t work with each other? How did you cope? What do you do when you see something that pushes your own personal “shiny, pretty” button that you know won’t get used enough to justify purchase?

Image courtesy Shopbop.

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  • Courtney

    That’s so interesting, as sandals seem to me (as a fellow midwesterner) as basic to my spring/summer/early fall wardrobe.

    • Dee

      Me too, re the sandals! I live near Chicago and I can’t wait to get the sandals and thongs out and on the feet! I will wear them from mid -May through September. I really hate having to go back to “shoes and socks”…maybe because my feet get hot easily. (no boots for me until its really cold!)

  • Andrea

    I’ve got a thing for “me too” brand shoes… the wedges actually… They fit my feet perfectly and are always very cute and comfortable. I recently saw a shiny red patented leather pair for $40 and thought I needed to have them. Then I realized I have a purple/pink pair that rarely get worn because it’s hard to match such a statement shoe with other pieces. My logic won out and I didn’t buy them, but I’m STILL thinking about how fun it would be to wear them 🙂

  • Olivia

    I went through this, sort of. During my 20’s I bought a lot of frivolous, cheap shoes and tried to have fun with fashion. Then, around age 33 as the arthritis in my foot continues to worsen, I decided I needed to buy only good quality, supportive shoes. I cleared out almost all of my footwear, and slowly purchased new shoes, but since they are more expensive I stuck to basic ones. I only have about 10 pairs now and half of those don’t even make the rotation often. So now I feel kind of bored with my shoe choices, but I don’t feel like I can spend a lot of money on shiny/pretty since they won’t be worn often.

    However, I wear sandals in temps 50 and above so they do get a lot of wear.

  • Story of my life, Sally!

    In the last few years, because of the transitions of being a mid-20 something, and losing/gaining a lot of weight, I’ve often felt like I’ve lost my sense of style. I’ve got a penchant for picking up the bold, theatrical pieces… and not buying the practical filler pieces.

    In the past year, I’ve started keeping a shopping list of items I need to fill in the gaps, AND that I want. While I’m really bad at NOT sticking to it in favor of a cute dress, I’ve started putting more emphasis in the past few months on buying those filler pieces… and what do you know? It’s easier to get dressed each morning.

    Oddly, when I was younger and much more poor, I had a far better closet. I bought much more carefully, mixed and matched with more ease, and never felt my closet was deprived. That’s ultimately where I want my closet to stay. Smaller, culled, refined, and totally comfortable.

  • I’ve always been interested in style, but as a teenager living under my parents’ roof, I felt a strong sense of guilt about asking for more than I needed strictly to cover my body. So my wardrobe consisted of almost ONLY basics without any frills because I needed to be able to wear them in lots of different ways, over and over again. In a way this was great because at Christmas, getting a special sweater I really coveted was much more meaningful than if I could have any item of clothing any time I wanted it. Then my first job out of college paid very little and I gave myself $50 every two weeks to cover all “fun” stuff–eating out, bars, and yes, clothing. Which meant I hardly bought new clothing, and if I did, again, it was solid colored tops, black flats, etc.

    Enter my second job out of college–the salary jumped by a whopping 30% and I felt like a rich woman. Finally I could buy what I wanted…and I went a little overboard. I’m still trying to find a balance, a decade later, but I certainly get that “ooohhhh, shiny, pretty, love it, must have it” feeling, especially when shopping online. Though I’d say I actually have a balance in my wardrobe–sensible layering items with flashier pieces that make my outfits more interesting and creative.

  • Sam

    Best opening line ever. I enjoy it as a stand alone line… especially since I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am anti-cardigan. Love them in theory but it just isn’t me.

    I have a problem needing every variation on the black cashmere sweater: Turtleneck, vneck, round neck, 3/4 sleeve, extra long, lighter blend…

  • J.B.

    I was a latecomer to fashion too, and dressed in a fairly bland way for much of my young adult life. I remember going to vintage stores and seeming some cool, funky, colorful piece of clothes and exclaiming “this would look so good on [one of the women I deemed to be fashionable and cool – clearly not me!]!” I remember the first item that I said “wait, if I think this is so cool, what is stopping me from wearing it myself?” – a bright turquoise paisley skirt. It was a necessary part of my fashion evolution to go through that, buying loud and funky pieces to convince myself I didn’t have to be the mousy little nerd I had always thought of myself as. Now I definitely buy far fewer crazy clothes, because they are harder to mix and match. I do more of a toned down funky thing now. But I don’t regret all those crazy clothes I bought in my late 20s at all!

  • Eliza

    I have the opposite problem. Storage is a constant problem for me, so I tend to look first for practical and last for pretty. My problem is that the practical basics I need pretty much fill my tiny closet, and leave little room for fun clothing. After I realized I was feeling stuck in flattering-but-dull outfits, I’ve deliberately started looking for closet frosting, even if it means I have to compromise on functionality!

  • D

    I definitely go through cycles with this- right now I seem to be at the point where I need to buy more of the cake, and less of the frosting. Progressing in my career and moving into different climate zones has messed with the cycle a bit.

  • MIss_T

    I am the opposite, I guess. My closet is filled with shiny/pretty. All unique pieces. Interestingly, when you go all the way to that extreme (which doesn’t feel all that extreme to me because it’s my taste, I guess) everything does “go” with everything else. Even my more conservative pieces are the shiny/pretty versions of classics. I believe this is the result of following my own shopping “rule”, which is the same advice they give all collectors of anything — I only buy what I love. I worry about styling/matching later. Where I’ve gotten into trouble is when I’ve talked myself into buying something I don’t love because it is a “classic”. Like the 5 cotton turtlenecks in various jewel colors — that have sat unworn for the past year. I felt they were “classics” and that as such, they would be important wardrobe builders. Uh-uh. I don’t love them, never did, and even though the colors are pretty, the fit is good, and they were a good value, I never wear them because I put them on and don’t love them. At all. What I wear instead are my three turtleneck *crop-tops*: one with shiny silver holograms all over it, one with letters of the alphabet scattered all over it in high contrast black and white, and one that has a corset-style embellishment. Now, there is no “logic” to why crop top turtlenecks would be better for me than the plain turtlenecks. Except that they ARE “me” and the others aren’t. I have the occasional misstep with this approach, and I do have a few closet orphans. But, not nearly as many as I did when my closet was filled with sensible outfits that I felt at the time “should” work for me and were consequently NEVER worn. I’m much happier with a wardrobe of eclectic, exciting, unusual pieces that I love, love, love and cannot explain why!

  • Margaret

    For me, it’s the exact opposite. So warm here that sandals are the shoes that get the most wear, rather than the least — and that means cute coats are the things I look at but must never buy. The three I already own are two too many for our non-winters!

  • Nihongo Dame Desu

    I am still in this cycle. I recently made an international move to a place where closets don’t exits, and I purged an embarrassing and obscene amount of clothing, and I still have far, far too much. (I got rid of probably half.)

    I didn’t come to fashion late in life, but I came to body issues late in life. In my late teens and early 20s, I had a delightfully functional body that also happened to be pretty much the accepted ideal, and it was through no conscious effort. (I danced 30+ hours a week, but never did anything for the specific purpose of shaping my body.) Clothes just fit like they were supposed to, and everything was fairly flattering.

    When that started to no longer be the case, I became uncomfortable in my skin, and uncomfortable in my clothing as well. I think I just started buying, hoping to find things that would feel both as effortless and as flattering as Before. It never happened. On top of that, I was trying to figure out what did work for this new body, and that took a lot of experimentation.

    I’ve recognized the cycle and the tremendous waste, and I would like to think I am coming out of it. When the weather warms up enough for me to tolerate beign mostly naked for a few hours, I plan on a major closet overhaul, with more purging as I try on items and decide they don’t work for my goals, and with coming up with new outfit ideas and hopefully a few basic default formulas (shirt, cardi, blazer, pants is a huge one for me, but I’d like a few more in order to streamline dressing).

    It’s a journey, but I feel a lot like I’m reaching the next, rather pleasant rest stop.

  • Stacy

    I loved fashion and clothes in my 20s and moved away from it in my 30s when I started working from home and being more of a mom (a long story, but I kind of lost myself for a decade). My 40s have renewed my interest in fashion, clothes, shoes and makeup. I went through a big shiny, pretty phase, literally. I love bright colors, rhinestones, sequins and studs. Not really appropriate for the workplace (except sparingly) and I don’t have that many “going out” occasions to justify my magpie tendencies. I feel like I am finally on the other side of this phase, and have a better eye for long-term investment pieces.

    Thrift stores are what get me…so many choices! So inexpensive! And when I find a treasure–even if it doesn’t “fit” my wardrobe–I have a really hard time passing it up.

  • LOL! I can SO relate to this post. I used to live in a climate similar to yours (Maine) and recently moved to rural Brazil. So…all the rules reversed themselves! I love love boots, but they are now in the shiny, pretty category as they’re wearable for maybe one month of the year. It’s sandals all day every day. Likewise, my large collection of sweaters and jackets? Still trying to say my goodbyes and cull my stock as even those few that I brought with me are still too many. And all the skirts and dresses that I loved to wear to my office job? Really few opportunities to wear them out in farm country. I feel like I’m retraining all my instincts.

  • Yes, I’m realizing that a lot of the stuff I bought over my last couple of (style blogging) years is just wrong for me, chosen based on fascination when I already pretty much had a style. And now I’m buying things that take me back to that simple place again. I do wear and appreciate more dresses now, and I have branched out in the colors that I’ll wear, but I have too much pattern and wrong shapes and colors that don’t quite go and now I’m trying to be more systematic.

  • Monica

    My ‘shiny, pretty’ area is certainly shoes, specifically 3+ inch heels. I would snap up these sandals for sure if I ran across them, as they are harder for me to resist in person than online. I really need comfortable shoes I can wear to work day in and day out, but instead I have lots of different heels.

    My clothing wardrobe, by contrast, is almost devoid of ‘shiny, pretty’ items. Usually when I see these items in stores and try them on, they look terrible on me as they either don’t fit (I am a tall size) or don’t work with my body proportions. I did not realize until thinking about this response, but I seem to have turned this into ‘your body is weird and this is why we can’t have nice things.’ Apparently this is a place for me to explore my expression as I am on my style journey!

  • This post completely resonates with me and the stage of life I’m in right now. I had my “shiny, pretty” moment all last year and my finances are still recuperating from the havoc. How did I cope? You can read about it here:

  • I have the opposite problem. I wore eclectic hand me downs and cute home sewn outfits for most of my life. So after my first job I went on a ‘shiny pretty’ kick, except to me that meant high end ‘classic’ items. Problem is, they don’t suit my personality or lifestyle and now I’ve developed expensive taste! I guess it’s all about finding your personal balance.

  • Lucy

    I’ve always loved colour, and was colour blocking 10 years ago before it was “cool”. Most of the time, I’m happy to put on a purple cardigan over a turquoise tank top with leopard print shoes, but for example I had a funeral to attend last week and I had to go and buy both a black dress and black tights, because I had floral print, butterfly print, bright blue, purple, black and white chunky stripes, polka dot… and not one black, or navy, or even brown, dress. Most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes I wonder if people think I’m accidentally clashing rather than deliberately… I’ve bought 3 pairs of patterned high tops and they’re so hard to style that I rarely wear them, but I keep buying them out of some sort of mental image of how quirky and full-of-personality they look without considering what I’ll wear above the ankles. I’m also the girl who will buy the handbag in brown mock croc rather than black leather because it’s more “interesting” and then discover it doesn’t fit in with my wardrobe.

  • Linda

    I’ve always liked clothes, though at times (possibly even now) I have seemed to be following a fashion system that exists mainly in my head. But for many many years I was strictly utilitarian about shoes. The only reason to seek out new shoes was that I had some article of clothing that looked completely wrong with all my existing shoes. So they were all as plain, neutral, and inconspicuous as possible. Then I started buying funky shoes and now I can’t stop. I mean, I still have only a fraction as many as you, but I am pushing the limits of what I have room for, especially in the “can’t walk two miles in them” sector.

  • Penelope

    This post is so timely for me! I was interested in fashion when I was in my 20’s, but had little money at that time of my life. Also, this was the 80’s, which was a fashion disaster in my opinion, so I basically avoided the whole thing by living in tracksuits. It wasn’t until my late 40’s, that I really discovered how transformational clothing can be. I decided to do a complete overhaul about 2 years ago. I finally sorted out – largely by reading style books, and some blogs, what truly suited my frame, something I never understood. Now, I can walk into a store, and know right away what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately, I started by building a good foundation in my wardrobe a couple of years ago; the perfect black dress, black trousers,trench coat, white shirt, leather jacket, white jeans, blazers, etc.
    Now, I am buying pieces that have personality and colour, that work with my basic pieces. I ADORE neon pink, and have several items ( this is my weakness). I have definitely gone overboard in buying clothes in the last two years, but have slowed down a lot now, and am appreciating the fun of getting dressed every day. I do feel the need to discipline and restrain myself, but it is getting easier to walk away from pretty things. Having too much stuff is stressful.

  • pghbekka

    My biggest problem is adjusting to the lack of spring and fall. We USED to have a spring and fall here, but we don’t have much anymore. Days in the 50’s and 60’s are few and far between. But I still have trouble resisting clothes that are perfect for those temps.

  • Jessie

    I think I am finally coming out the other side of this very phase. My teen years were spent making sure I only wore what no one else would wear (enter Salvation Army and dead men’s polyester suits). I denied my own taste in order to avoid looking like I was trying. What if I failed?
    Fast forward a decade to only wanting what I like, to the detriment of a functional closet. I have 93 funky blazers (corduroy, velvet, paisley, brocade, vintage, cropped, asymmetrical, drapey, covered in rhinestones and cow print) to go with my 113 pairs of boots. But I don’t have a bra that fits or jeans I don’t walk on.
    So now I stick to my list, only shop (which still means Salvation Army)for items on said list or the current season. And no longer do I let potential work its way into my closet. I can’t sew. I won’t learn. I love cupcakes. I’m not going to fit into that size 8.
    I have found that Pinterest helps me and my urges. Pinning and getting likes satisfies my need to show off my style, without adding to a closet that just mocks my mommy lifestyle and its lack of need for my 33 pencil skirts.