Personal vintage: yay or nay?

I’ve been cautiously welcoming the return of the flare these last few seasons, but I’d like to exhaust my closet before buying anything new. I’m now thinking of resurrecting this pair, which have been languishing in a box for years. They date back to around about the turn of the millennium, when I bought them from a local atelier who were making them to order. I wore them a few times before they became a roaring success for the woman who made them and suddenly there were duplicates in different colour ways walking around my neighbourhood. I hated that but I still liked the pants, so I put them away.

Now, I have no problem wearing vintage in general, but the problem with digging out something form my past like this is that it comes with all kinds of baggage, and it can be hard to dissociate it from previous reference points. I don’t think I’ve ever kept hold of something for this long without returning to it and I’m not even sure why I still have them when just about everything else from that era is long gone. I’m also struggling to uncouple them in my head from the late ‘90s fashion culture that produced them.

But I like them dammit! Yes, I like these pants and I’m willing to give them another go. I’m looking to London's Goodhood for urban baggy inspiration, as well as the colourful, dressy palazzo styles that are around right now. 

Obviously, I need to know, what do you guys think. Are they fun and a bit Fenty, or obviously dated? More to the point though, is there any personal vintage lurking somewhere in your storage? I’m not sure if I should be delighted or ashamed that I want to wear these again…

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Dressing for my fantasy life

Ladies, Boho Trinity has brought along some friends and she’d like to introduce them…

Yukiko Kato spends her days running around pixellated Neo Tokyo collecting materiel, slaughtering mutants and eating first aid kits. Sometimes she thinks there must be more to life than this, but then she doesn’t know she’s a character in a computer game, poor thing.

Antoinette Wolfsbane runs the youth LGBTQ drop-in centre on Diagon Alley. A former Slytherin head of house, some doubt her suitability as mentor for vulnerable wizarding teens. Few, however, deny her bravery as a sleeper agent in the battle against He Who Shall Not Be Named. (She has no trouble naming him, but mention Bellatrix Lestrange and she’ll most likely hex you.)

Tatiana SmithKline Beecham owns the last independent record shop in Soho, through which she launders cash for the Russian mafiya. Refuses to believe the neighbourhood has shot its bolt and that Shoreditch is now the place to be. Once played Hugh Grant’s quirky flatmate in a Richard Curtis rom com nobody can remember. Voted Leave.

Ellen Roberta Doolittle is one of an unknown number of women to have held the title of Dread Pirate Roberts, a position she inherited from Inigo Montoya when he left to join the CIA. Her favourite pillaging destination is the Cornish coast, where she enjoys drinking scrumpy, looting tin mines and stalking Ross Poldark.

I think I just bought a magic coat. This is far too easy. kkards, what was that about workhorses?

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Styling the new acquisition

Since I began the year with the goal of being somewhat more mindful of my shopping, it’s probably fitting that I should end it vindicated with an outstanding example of my failure to follow through. Some things find an immediate place in the wardrobe, but the best ones can take you to the next level. The moment I put this on, it was all over bar the haggling. This is me at my very best and my very worst - as Agent Smith would say, that’s the sound of inevitability.

I am very much in love with this number. It is classic, distinctive and slightly exotic. It is gorgeous leather, beautifully made and a fabulous fit. It packs some serious attitude and has the potential to be a real heavy hitter. It’s by no means a departure for me and in some respects it’s a consolidation: I think the reason I fell for it so hard is that a clean A-line with a round neck and a bit of structure is just about the most flattering thing I could possibly wear.

However, fashion being what it is, these things don’t often turn up, so there’s not much like this in my wardrobe, and it’s far harder to style than I was expecting. There’s something about it that falls so far outside the contemporary fashion vernacular that it’s almost an anachronism. Where exactly does this style come from, or more to the point, when? To put it another way, this piece is not fashion-forward in any way shape or form. If anything, it’s fashion-sideways.

The trick, then, is to integrate it into my style in a way that feels contemporary while honouring its syncretic provenance. Taking a leaf out of Old Chic’s book, I decided it was best to be true to myself rather than trying make it look Fashionable, while avoiding a slippery slope into SF/Gothic pastiche.

It turns out this is harder than it looks, in which case Boho Trinity could be a massive false positive. A better descriptor is probably Fetish Anna Wintour, and if you’ve been paying attention you might just remember why this is painfully close to home. Zipped up, it has a formal severity which I like very much, and it really comes into its own layered over voluminous midi skirts. Luckily, I have quite a few of these and not enough ways to wear them, so this seems like a winning formula.

What do you guys think? Am I missing a trick here, or is this a good enough jumping off point? Shown here with this year’s default hat - I’m due a trip to the salon and my hair is a fright.

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How NOT to wear etc

From last year. I even got away with it last week. None of you noticed, or perhaps you were too polite to say.

I have every intention of repeating this horrifying faux pas as often as possible this season. 

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Style Lab Redux: Colour & Texture

A while ago, I typed myself as a Winter. Amazingly useful as this knowledge has been, it’s obvious to me that there’s more to optimising colour effects than simply knowing whether they suit you in theory. While working through my seasonal refresher, it finally became clear where this was heading. Please join me while I quack-science the hell out of a seemingly straightforward problem. Warning: it’s long.

Colouring: Winter - cool, medium to high contrast.

My colour story so far: http://youlookfab.com/welookfa.....ght-winter

I’ve been wearing a Winter palette for a while and by now I can tell the difference. I definitely look better in these colours, and the down jacket in #1 finally cliched it for the Deep end of the spectrum. Bright but far from luminous, I can’t quite manage a zinging neon but this particular shade of citron is a surprising success. I had no idea.

My ultimate objective in identifying this colour family has been to work out how to hack it. Is it possible to wear colours that don’t suit me, and if so, how?

Outside the Winter palettes, there are indeed a few colours I probably shouldn’t be wearing, and yes, they make me look pretty grim in the wrong light, but it’s not as simple as that. It seems to me that interaction of different colours is every bit as important as the colours themselves. A lot depends on fabric texture, luminosity, and how they combine. For instance, the almost-neon orange of my favourite beanie works very well as an accent on high-contrast black and white looks, in spite of being warmer than perhaps is good for me.

Core Neutrals: Black, white, navy blue.

Secondary neutrals: charcoal, pale grey, purple, cognac

Brights: True red, shocking pink, icy pastels, metallic silver, cobalt, citron. Preferably cool, but anything at just the right level of intensity or saturation can do the trick. There seems to be a sweet spot.

Problem colours: Moss green, dark lime, olive, army green, beige, dark reds, salmon pink, taupe. Shades of grey are a problem - good at the ends of the spectrum, troublesome in the middle.

Styling Priorities: colour contrast and depth.

I’ve found that applying a few Kibbe principles alongside the colour theory can make a world of difference. I know exactly what this means aesthetically but I still can’t quite explain it without using words like yin and yang.

Kibbe type: Soft dramatic/flamboyant natural. Strong vertical lines and bold proportions are key.

Fabric  Surface texture can have a huge impact. Outlines should be bold and well-defined.

  • Reflective: metallics, pleather, sateen
  • Matte: scuba knit, technical fabric, poplin, polyester
  • Plush: velvet, melton, faux fur, cashmere, mohair, shearling

Grooming: Hairstyle, eyewear and lip colour establish the overall aesthetic. The rest of the package had better match up.

Troubleshooting

With the exceptions in the first row, these outfits are all about wearing colours that I don’t believe particularly suit me but I’m committed to wearing anyway. Hence, you might think these are not some of my best looks. Please feel free to tell me so - that’s what this exercise is for.


1-5 High shine, bright accents

This approach feels the most authentic and the easiest to wear. Works very well as a day to day style. I like the combination of timeless classic and urban glam - Acid Sport, all grown up.

Difficulty level: easy

#2-3 The dark red and olive featured here are closer to the Autumn palette but they mix well with black when combined with different textures. Plush fleece and glossy leather add depth and shine.

#4-5 Black and white can easily become boring, so I’ve become more adventurous lately in mixing it up with different colours and textures. I’m particularly pleased with the sequin decals on this old +J jacket. 3D skinny knit from Uniqlo U, vintage white plissé skirt.


6-10 Depth, contrast, graphic details

A good reference point for my boho shadow style, this draws heavily from the Deep Autumn palette. I’m beginning to think I have two divergent wardrobes.

Difficulty level: medium

#6-7 Mr Edge chose this autumn-coloured wrap so I have to wear it. Luckily, there’s enough depth in the red and grey for it to work. Spot the difference: lip colour and high-contrast graphic details elevate the look.

#8 This self-made wax print dress was one of my favourite looks from the summer, but these really aren’t my colours. It works because of the strong vertical silhouette, bold proportions and the graphic precision the print.

#9 Same thing applies to the vintage Kenzo, which I adore. Timeless tailoring and an excellent fit go a long way to compensate for too-warm colours. Corrected with a layer of citron and a shiny black support act.

#10 This Vibskov grandpa cardigan is more complicated. The bold black trim give the warmer colours and marled texture a boost. The B/W print on the tee emphasises the vertical lines.


11-15 Taming soft colours with brightness and depth

A few particularly good pieces from the Summer palette found their way in and hung around. They seem well balanced by Spring brightness and Winter depth, but this theory needs work.

Difficulty level: advanced

#11 I’ve struggled with this vintage skirt from Dries van Noten in the past and now I understand why. I like it with this cerise blouse from Zara but will probably save this look for next spring, along with 12.

#12 This Pleats Please scarf is another of Mr Edge’s choices. I doubt I’d have picked these colours out for myself, but they’re just bright enough and they play nicely with both black and white. I’m still learning how to tie it.

#13 This striped jersey dress is another problem child. Across YLF eyebrows are being raised and heads shaken but let me tell you there’s some advanced colour theory going on here. I may come back to this look for research purposes.

#14-15 I love this jumper and I will wear it regardless, even crumpled from storage as seen here. Doubt if the necklace helps much but the soft colours fail reasonably gracefully thanks to the long silhouette and the metallic sheen in the skirt.

That’s I’m telling myself anyway, because when all else fails I will suck it up. I’ll probably wear this over Christmas, to overeat and be cozy.

Conclusions

SCA is consistent with my knowledge of other theories of colour and it seems to hold up in practice. However, it’s not an exact science and there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre. I love the brightness, depth and contrast of the Winter palettes and they seem to like me too. I’m not getting any younger and I think optimising the colours will be a great way to keep the look going. If I want to make the most of a range of colours I’ll need to master some of the above principles. Hair, eyewear and lip colour are key to this, the rest can follow along.

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The power of lipstick

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of enclothed cognition, which Angie has mentioned in the past. In case you missed it, this is the scientifically proven theory that what you’re wearing can change the way you think.

This makes a lot of sense to me, because I’m a firm believer in the power of a great outfit. I’m well aware of how my clothes can affect my performance in the classroom, on the sales trail or out with friends. At this point in my life (existential crisis, career uncertainty, years of therapy) I’d like to explore the idea further and consider how I can use my wardrobe to pull myself out of this funk.

In the meantime, I owe you all a picture of my new haircut and the Ann D’s. Not to mention my thoughts on cropped flares (I’m still struggling) and a true red lip (I’m a fan). I could talk at length about all these things, as well as this look I cribbed from Angie, or how these surprisingly comfortable shoes can elevate the simplest of outfits, but what I really need to tell you is this.

It pains me to say it, but lipstick, heels, the right bra and a good haircut really do change the way I feel about myself, however temporarily. For a few moments in front of a cheap camera in poor lighting I can loose all that baggage and somehow come up with a handful of pictures that remind me who I am and who I can be. During a bout of seasonal depression, what could have felt like a mindless extravagance turned out to be an amazing boost.

Yes, I’m worth it. A new Facebook avatar earns a like from a man who broke my heart thirty years ago. That’s the power of a strong lip and a bold shoe.

I found more confirmation today when I put on a well cut blazer, Japanese-style harem pants, a Breton shirt and vintage oxfords. The effect was calming and meditative: I felt serene, balanced, grounded and receptive, so I went to look at some art with Mr Edge. It’s entirely possible dressing like a Euro intellectual boosted my IQ, because later in the day I managed to find a lot of Dutch words I didn’t know I knew. I also felt somewhat aloof and slightly smug.

Further tests are needed.

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Style descriptors: a thought experiment

Of many useful things I've learned on here on this forum, one of the most valuable has to be the five words I use to describe my style.

I originally came up with these by looking at my shopping strategy, and since then I've come to realise how well they describe different aspects of my look. But there's more. I realised quite recently that each one is a response to fundamental aspects of my lived experience:

  • Timeless: approaching change
  • Urban: dressing for my environment
  • Eclectic: acknowledging diverse influences
  • Androgynous: a statement on body image
  • Individual: an assertion of selfhood
This made me wonder if this is something anyone else has noticed. When you talk about your style, or set style goals for yourself, what aspect of your life are you serving? Could it be one of these, or is it something else? 

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Style Lab IV: Silhouettes

Once in a while, you may have looked at what I’m wearing and wondered: why on earth is she wearing that? The answer is invariably because I can. I don’t consider myself a great beauty, but I’m tall with long legs, slim hips and a strong shoulder line. This body shape is a blessing and a curse when it comes to fashion, so please forgive me for squirming slightly when someone congratulates me for pulling off that avant-garde look that’s so difficult to nail. Yes, I know I look good in a paper bag. The fact is, I sometimes think a paper bag is the only thing I look reliably good in.

Body type: Tall, lean IT with long limbs and big bust. This sounds good on paper but in fact it’s no easier to dress than any other body type. Tops and jackets can be hard to fit and and I have to be very careful with waist definition. Tailoring is a perennial favourite but can feel too formal in the wrong setting. Menswear styling is very nearly flop-proof but strays all too easily into drag king territory. Big, bold forms have always been a feature and are fast becoming my default casual style.

I love playing up the shoulders and prefer to play down the décolletage. At this point in my life, the main body part on show is the brain, although this hasn’t always been the case. Nowadays I’d rather project confidence, intelligence and humour than sex appeal, not so much attractive as strong, charismatic and not to be messed with.

Unsurprisingly, Angie’s advice has almost always been the best. I’ve also found unlikely inspiration in Kibbe’s theory. The classification of Dramatic/Natural made a certain kind of sense once I wrapped my head around it and I ignored all spurious interpretations in favour of my own assessment. It’s since provided some useful styling benchmarks.

Points of conflict

Footwear is an issue, because I always feel the best way to balance my tapering silhouette is with a bold, focus-pulling shoe, the chunkier the better. My skinny ankles often disagree.

Necklines are a source of confusion. Face and hair favour a high neck, conventional wisdom on body shape calls for an open collar or a deep v-neck. I prefer to emphasise my face and compensate with layers, structure and tailoring. One more reason for defaulting to oversized.

Core silhouettes 

(pictures are examples from current style, possibly not the best ones)

Tailored/semi-fitted Strong shoulder, semi-fitted waist. Tailored jackets and blazers, fitted button-down shirts and blouses, close fitting knitwear. I love me some tailoring and I cannot lie, but I need strong vertical lines and volume on the bottom to balance the full bust and sharp shoulder. Can read too literal if I’m not careful. Typically worn with slouchy, wide or tapered pants to keep it from being overly formal.

A-line Tailored or loose fit with a longer line, strong shoulder, fitted or surrendered waist, flared hem. Tailored dresses are a default solution for professional environments, while a loose fitting version sometimes turns up my urban/casual style. A successful variant is the high waisted empire line, although I haven’t worn that in a while. Good for dresses, skirts and toppers.

T-line Lean or oversized column over skinny or tapered pants, leggings, mini, pencil and tube skirts. I love this shape for its drama, and for being the only way I can wear skinnies. A great casual winter look for oversized knits finished with chunky statement footwear.

Relaxed Easy, softly structured fit with low-slung or surrendered waist. Bomber jackets, tucked tees, fluid fit knitwear. I find this very easy to buy but not so easy to wear. Detail and proportion need to be spot on to avoid feeling lumpen. Brilliant when it works, falls flat on its face when it doesn’t.

Oversized Loose fit throughout with plenty of volume. Sweaters, sweatshirts, dresses, coats. I own this look but I’m first to admit it’s tricky and I shoot for avant-garde or urban baggy rather than lagenlook. Drape and structure are essential. Detail, texture and character are key, although minimal looks are possible with the right pieces.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating, I’m rarely dressing with flattery in mind. I take on board the comments that I’m better served by tailoring and structure than the looser fitting forms I’m more often seen in these days. I’m still wearing tailoring, particularly when teaching, but for some reason, and I can’t for the life of me say why, I’m far more comfortable retreating into an exaggerated silhouette right now. There could be all sorts of explanations, such as the comfort factor, the weather or the licence to take up a lot of space, or perhaps I’m just milking this hard-to-wear trend while it lasts.

Nevertheless, in the background is a lingering feeling that dressing like this is lazy and transgressive, even though I’m giving it as much consideration as I would any other look. Maybe it’s all those pesky subliminal messages about body image we’re constantly bombarded with. I can’t deny the appeal of turning them all upside down.

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Style Lab III: Data Mining

One of my ongoing objectives is compiling meaningful data about what's in my wardrobe. This is the tip of the iceberg. I may post a detailed analysis complete with graphs and charts on my personal blog sometime.

Numbers: ±250 items, not including accessories, underwear, lounge wear or sports gear. Around two thirds has been acquired in the last six years and half since 2013.

Shopping: Around a third of my wardrobe was bought on the high street. Main suppliers are Uniqlo, M&S and H&M, the latter for designer collaborations and subsidiaries Cos, Weekday, &other stories. Around a quarter is evenly split between vintage and self-made, 5% online purchases and up to 40% sourced from independents.

Basics: Around a quarter my wardrobe could be described as menswear classic and normcore. This seems like a solid foundation of basics.

Wear and Usage: ±70 items are what I’d call kingpins, and ±90 are in regular rotation, but up to 40% is not getting enough wear. I could probably get rid of half my closet tomorrow and still get dressed successfully.

I’m already making moves to fix this. I want to bring back a few of the better pieces, some of whom are excellent and should not be neglected. I also need to set some clear objectives for culling.

Problem areas are:

T-shirts: I buy too many concert shirts. Enough said.

Shoes: Is it so wrong to have 30+ pairs? I don’t know if I could ever have too many shoes, but I’m only wearing around half of them at the moment. Some are benched because they need repairs, others because I ditched the heels in favour of platforms. There are quite a few awkward children among them, see below.

Skirts and dresses: According to the numbers, I am very good at wearing pants and I suck at dresses and skirts. I need to address this in my day to day style. If all goes to plan, many of these will be brought back into service by a pair of OTK boots I ordered at the weekend.

Trophy pieces: There are a few items on the bench which I don’t think I want to get rid of, such as international textiles, rarities and pieces with sentimental value. Suz, I’m liking your suggestion for a dedicated history closet.

Eclectic items are the most frequently benched. I fully expect some of these to make a comeback in future, because past experience suggests that if I like something enough, I’ll find a way to wear it one of these days.

Awkward children: There are a number of things that I like but just don’t seem to work for some reason. It could be the colour, the style or the fit, or it doesn’t suit my current style. I need to be brutally honest with myself about these.

Worn out favourites: I’ll be honest, if something I love dearly is worn out, I have a lot of trouble getting rid of it for some reason. Some of these are waiting for repairs, others I need to phase out or replace.

My immediate plan is to bring some of the benched items back into my day to day style, and ask myself how I feel about them. If something isn’t working, what do I need to do to make it work? And how do I feel about all this variety? Is it fun and enriching, or guilt-inducing and tiring?

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Style Lab II: Requirements

Thank you for all the positive feedback on my last Style Lab post. I’m not sure exactly where this is going, but I’m very glad you’re along for the ride. In this post, I’m looking at what I need from my wardrobe in practical terms so as to make it work better for me.

Requirements: Currently around 25% Professional, 25% Social, 50% Casual, with overlaps in between. Seasonal capsules should be proportionate with their duration in the cycle. Small travel capsules are required for away trips.

Professional: Creative technical designer. Formerly business oriented, lately focused on teaching and seminars with steps to move into sustainable fashion. Styling should be definitive and personal as opposed to fashion forward. Typically architectural or tailored, drawing mainly on Timeless/Individual styling. A restrained, accessible look is best for the classroom.

Social: Urban leisure day to evening, meeting friends, eating out, gigs, date nights, shopping, museums &c. Out and about off duty is where I’m most adventurous in Urban/Eclectic styling. Formal functions and nights at the opera up the ante.

Casual: Getting dressed for the sheer joy of it, to work at home/in studio, run errands, or head to yoga class. Often oversized silhouettes for comfort and mobility, dressed up for the feel good factor. Quality and style is important for emotional reasons. Includes a small loungewear capsule, but everything else leaves the house eventually.

Environmental: All should be workable on a bicycle. Some of my biggest mistakes have been failures to account for this. Solid, comfortable footwear required for lots of walking. Rainwear is essential year round, as are hats in winter.

Seasonal: Summers are warm and humid, winters are cold and wet but seldom freezing. Dressing for four distinct seasons keeps style fatigue at bay, with many items rotating in and out.

My wardrobe is full of wonderful things that don’t always match. I’ve worked my way through many different personae over the years and their traces linger on in my closet like skeletons. There are many reasons for this, chief among them being the various professional roles I’ve cycled through and my ongoing efforts to dress authentically for each of them.

I think I need a clearer “if (this) then (that)” strategy, setting conditions for particular roles and crafting a range of looks for various circumstances. I’m already doing this to an extent, but life changes can mean that items acquired to fill a specific need can go unworn if I don’t find new styling options for them. For instance, I’d like to make elements of what used to be my business wardrobe work in new settings, because as Angie points out, I look darn good in a blazer.

All that said, my shopping strategy to date hasn’t exactly supported a coherent presentation. Things are getting better, but I don’t think I’ve ever been systematic, or even honest with myself, in defining exactly what needs to be in my wardrobe. While I love having a closet I can shop, there are undoubtedly things languishing in there which are good enough to find a place in someone else’s life.

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