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
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
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
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
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!
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