Friday, June 25, 2010

Top Ten Things I Have Learned About Fashion from Hollywood

I have been doing this blog now for two months. I have watched or re-watched so many great films and if I had learned nothing about fashion, I would at least be grateful for a good reason to watch old movie again. I thought I would reflect on what I have learned about fashion from doing this project and how it changed my mind about things over a mere 8 weeks and over 50 outfits.

10. Tuck in and belt it.

Looking put together is less about the clothes you wear and more about how you wear them. An outfit that would be boring with the shirttail out is notable with it tucked in and worn with a belt. Take for example, my first outfit from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Here are two examples (Maggie the Cat and Marilyn Monroe) of what these outfits would have looked like without the belt and with the shirttail out: Talk about going from fab to drab!


The entire late 1940s and 1950s “New Look” silhouette (tiny waist, full skirt) simply doesn’t work at all without tucking and belting. I sort of picked up from somewhere along the way that tucking in and belting makes you look chunky through the middle, but I have a new rule: When in doubt, tuck in and belt.

9. Use unexpected accessories.

I did not realize how much I relied on jewelry (particularly earrings) to accessorize until my daughter was born. She tries to pull them out of my ears so I have pretty much stopped wearing them altogether. At the same time, I was watching these films and realizing that jewelry isn’t used in most of these to accessorize. Jewelry just isn’t as important as hats, scarves, flower pins, gloves and brooches. These unexpected accessories (for today) are a great place to start building some retro/vintage appeal in your wardrobe because they are inexpensive and can allow you to experiment with the basics already in your closet.

Corollary: If you are going to wear jewelry, pearls are the most classic and versatile. They need not be frumpy or boring. Try a double strand or twisted multi strand. For evening, just remember two words: rhinestones rock.

8. Create outfits.

Whenever I go shopping, I find an item I like and then stare perplexed at a table full of a rainbow of cardigans. Usually, I would end up selecting a neutral or a color that fit my mood. That’s one way to go about it, but doing this blog has shifted my focus from shopping for “tops” or “bottoms” to “outfits”.

This means you have a blueprint, a plan, a focus. You will never stare down that cardigan table again without knowing exactly which color you need. You will know what you have and don’t have for a particular look and you need not be tempted by other items that are merely a good price.

That said, most items do have to have a remix-ability to them. Core items should either be so simple you can get them at some place like Old Navy (for example, chinos or tee shirts) or very high quality and good material so that they can be re-utilized in a number of different outfits (for example, Nine West Nuncios in Black Leather or Gabardine Wide-Leg Black Pants from Ann Taylor).

7. Patterns

Our stores today are saturated with florals. Florals are lovely, but they are not the only patterns besides stripes. Take the time to find and experiment with gingham, checkerboard, houndstooth, plaid, argyle, Fair Isle, chevron stripes, paisley, geometric prints, and even fruit prints. All of these will add that little bit of extra appeal that makes your wardrobe unique.

Mixing patterns doesn’t have to be intimidating. I find that starting with stripes helps. Stripes are comfortable for most of us. Start there and add a different width stripe, or a different color stripe or a different direction stripe. Then try a stripe with a checkerboard pattern, keeping one large and one small or keep them far apart. Try a micro floral with a Fair Isle. Try two kinds of checkerboard together. Once you broaden your horizons to include the many types of patterns, you can experiment endlessly to find what looks good to you.

6. Budget

Once you are thinking on an outfit basis, you can budget per outfit. This helps you see the look as an organic whole. If you need an expensive dress, you can compensate for it by buying cheaper shoes. If you must have a certain accessory to make or break and outfit and purchasing it will put you over, try to find the pants at Old Navy rather than Banana Republic. I have found thar $150-$200 is a reasonable guesstimate for most outfits – head to toe. Mixing items from different budgetary categories can be fun too, as one piece elevates another and makes everything have more visual value.

5. Color

Black and white will always be classic, but I have also found that the movies had a fashion love affair with the primary triad – red, yellow, and blue. Red and yellow look cheeky and cheerful. Red and blue nautical and preppy. And blue and yellow, calming and happy. Most people today shy away from these combinations in fashion, feeling them too obvious and unsophisticated. But I feel that done properly (read: balanced with neutrals), these color combos can make you stand out in a crowd (in a good way).

I used to think that monochromatic meant matchy-matchy - the exact same color all the way. I now understand that monochromatic is really a very lovely and sophisticated wy to build a palette. Choose your dress or skirt and then build the rest of your outfit with items from different shades (read: lighter or darker) of that same color. Check outs these look for examples of peach and coral, and light grey and dark gray.

4. Learn to Layer

Again, I pretty much believed that layering clothes would make you look fat. I also believed that wearing “too many clothes” would make you look frumpy or old. These fabulous movie stars have taught me otherwise. Layering happens in a lot the outfits coming from these films. I think wearing jackets over vests over shirts (examples here and here) or trenches over sweaters over shirts give the look texture and visual interest.

Another area where this experiment has opened my eyes is layering shirts under dresses. This can include using the dress to serve as a pinafore or jumper or using the shirt to create a new and different collar for the dress.

Lastly, I find that I had a prejudice that I did not even know I had against high necks on shirts. I found I cringed when I saw a start with a high neck button up shirt or wearing a crew neck sweater or tee shirt. I automatically gravitated toward the v-necks or scoop necked looks. This prejudice included looks that required that the shirt be buttoned up all the way or required that I tie be worn. (For some reason, the turtleneck was a major exception to my prejudice.) But, as I went on, I found that these high neck looks were actually very attractive. I think modesty is something lost in today’s world and I think my own perspective on what is sexy may be changing to include looks such as these.

3. Take inspiration from menswear.

There is a wealth of inspiration out there from male movie stars. They were masters of layering in the business casual realm – something any woman who works in a cold air-conditioned office in the summertime is bound to appreciate. I think this is a great way to learn to use all of our blazers, cardigans and oxford shirts in a new way.

I also think that this is a huge area of opportunity for women with respect to evening wear. I think most women automatically default to “I need a dress” whenever a special occasion arises. But, if you already have a great pair of suit pants and a nice button up shirt for work, you just need a dressy black jacket, some fabulous shoes and maybe a flower pin and you have a feminine tuxedo ready to go.

Incorporating the male tie into the feminine wardrobe is a gutsy and edgy thing to do. I like the idea, even though I haven’t tried it yet myself, but this blog has opened my mind to the possibilities.

2. Have fun!

Be cheeky with your attire. Go ahead and create an homage with your clothes. Probably no one will notice that you look like Dorothy Gale from Kansas, but those who do will laugh and appreciate the basket tote and the red shoes. Have some fun and add some wink-wink elements to your daily attire. Buy a yellow raincoat. Wear some seamed stockings. Put some teacup earrings on. Buy a faux fur wrap and wear it. Wear a cloche hat or even a fedora, even it is just from your car into your office building. Have fun!

1. Simplicity + Comfort + Attitude = Elegance

Coco Chanel was absolutely right: over-accessorizing is a real problem. Simplicity is key to having style. Incidentally, keeping outfits simple also keeps your budget in check. Simple outfits keep you comfortable help you to be who you really are. That is what those movie stars were really selling: their own personalities. Yours should show through your clothing choices, but not have to compete with your clothes. Some outfits are simple in their color palette. Others are simple because they are comfortable. But my favorite are the outfits that are simple because they can be worn to so many different places and thus, are incredibly versatile, for what is simpler than going to three or four events throughout your day and not having to change your attire.

Carrying yourself well (like a movie star) is the most important thing to style. Here is my simple formula that I have learned: simplicity + comfort + your attitude = elegance.

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