Defining Style: dress rehearsal

posted on: October 15, 2012

Time for another post in my Defining Style series! So far I’ve written about my thoughts about defining style, how to find inspiration and create your own mood boards, how to “translate” inspiration into actual outfits, and how to deal with the transition period when you’re working on your style. This time, I want to show you how you can fine-tune your style skills and your shopping skills.

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I do spend a lot of time browsing online shops. 99% of the time, though, I don’t buy anything – I’m simply practicing. As many of you know, I’m a fashion consultant and do all sorts of jobs in that field, so I do need to know what’s going on out there, and I also need to ponder and understand a lot about cuts, shapes, fabrics, body types and such. Still, I think this is one of the best things anyone can do when developing their style, it’s not just for us professionals.

What we want it to develop the skills to instantly notice various aspects of a garment; the fabric, the shape, the colour and the style, for instance, and then match these to the criteria we’re working with. If you’re only looking for your own sake, that means figuring out how the garment will fit your body, if the colour will look good on you, if it matches your style, if it works with the rest of your wardrobe (and also if you’re trying to fill a need for something besides a gap in your wardrobe, but that’s a whole other post). The more skilled you get, the quicker you will notice these things, and it might take just a few seconds to decide if a garment is right or not – and why.

Here’s a little exercise I did to illustrate my point. I looked at the newest dresses at ASOS.com (no, I’m not in any way connected to ASOS, I just wanted a shop with a lot of variation in the clothes), and wrote down my instant thoughts so you could see what was going on in my head. Remember, I’m judging the dresses based on me as a customer, so even if I’ve written that “the shape is bad”, that only means it’s bad for me.

A quick reminder: I’m 26, about 1.60 meters high, about a size 16 (sometimes plus size, depending on the brand and the garment), very much hourglass shaped, and my bra size is somewhere around a 75D/34D. As for my style, the key words are feminine shapes, always a defined waist, simplicity, vintage elements, and generally an elegant feel to things. All dresses are linked to their respective ASOS pages. Let the games begin!

Phew! When it comes down to it, I think the last green dress is the only one I’d consider buying, because it’s so very much my style. In fact, if it was made in a matte fabric without the horizontal pleats, I don’t think I’d have much choice.

In short: the quicker you can figure out if a garment is right or not, the better you know what suits your body and your style. I like how it prevents me from buying almost-right items, and how I usually know deep in my bones when a garment is so right I’ll regret not buying it. Fortunately, I’m so picky that this doesn’t happen that often any more, and when it does, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.

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I’d love to hear what goes on in your heads when you’re looking at clothes! How picky are you? Do you buy many things that turn out to be mistakes? And what are your “holy grails” when it comes to garments?

  • Maja H

    Another splendid post, lady! It was really fun to read your thought about each dress, because these are things that we rarely actually articulate even though we might be aware of them on a less conscious level. Well done, you!

    For me I’m usually drawn to defined waists, swishy skirts, anything that looks like it might have “movement” and/or swoosh around, black things (obvs), anything that could be described as classic with an edge, good fabric and things that look expensive (they don’t have to actually BE expensive), and of course – things I can’t bear to continue life without. Those are the best things ;)

  • Nina

    Ohmygosh, if only I had an occasion to wear it I would be buying that red Mango dress right this instant!

    I am not actually sure exactly what I look for when I’m shopping. I, like you, spend a lot of time online looking at clothes without buying anything, so I think I’ll have to do something similar as what you did in this post to figure out what I’m looking for:)

    • Maria

      You know me, I’m such a teacher/nerd, I always think it’s useful for people to become more aware of their thoughts on their style/taste ;)

  • Trajena

    Defining style! *Explosions of confetti*

    That Tie Back Tea Dress (the 1940s one) is definitely my style! I actually own one quite similar to it.

    What I look for in my clothes are vintage elements (I’ve grown VERY fond of ascot tops, like this one if you ignore the colour: http://www.polyvore.com/darling_burnt_orange_top_rust/thing?id=41245457), defined waists, LENGTH (cannot over emphasize that one, NOT a miniskirt girl), classic patterns like floral or polkadots, simplicity and comfy materials.

    Also, I tend to avoid fitted button down shirts. They can look lovely on other people, but I have a vintage figure (meaning my waist is 10 or more inches smaller than my hips and bust) and I have yet to find such a blouse that can fit my proportions. There’s only so many times I can wear the “half-buttoned shirt with visible cami” look before giving up.

    Busty Girl Problems :(

    • Trajena

      Oh yeah! Thank you for mentioning bra-friendly clothes! It helps that I personally don’t feel comfortable with my shoulders exposed (may be caused by one too many horrific sunburns growing up, damn sensitive skin), but still a must for tops and dresses.

      • Maria

        I’m a bit like Nina Garcia when it comes to bra-friendly items. She talked a lot about that during last season of Project Runway, and every time I just wanted to punch my fist in the air and shout “YES!”.

    • Maria

      I got confetti, huzzah! Ingvild also loved that dress, it really is quite lovely. Sounds like you look for a lot of the same things as me – especially when it comes to length. Mini skirts really don’t do anything for me, I’m afraid. And fitted button shirts are super-tricky. I’m playing with the idea of buying one that fits my bust and taking it in at the waist, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it nicely yet. Busty Girl Problems indeed – but you’re not alone!

  • Prêt à Porter P

    I’ve gotten a lot better knowing what works for me. One thing I have trouble with is button placement on shirts, esp. when there is too much space between buttons. I hate when leaving one unbuttoned makes it too low cut, and when buttoned it is uncomfortably high… Frustrating!

    I check fabric content/care instructions: acrylic, polyester (tops), and cashmere are instant no-nos. I prefer sweaters to be cotton or merino wool.

    For pants, anything under a 30 inch inseam is a no-no for me. Really don’t like the ankle length/cropped length that is so predominant now. The perfect pair of pants have slant pockets in the front, slit pockets in the back, and belt loops.

  • Trajena

    By the way, your comment on the orange dress made me snort in my tea.

    “breasts a meter long” *gigglesnort*

    Hardly ladylike behaviour on my part, but that’s what my living room is for :)

  • Sophie

    For et villt bra innlegg! Du trener opp øyet på klær på samme måte som jeg gjør retusj og foto. Veldig kult. Merker jeg må bruke øynene litt mer før jeg kjøper noe neste gang.

    • Maria

      Så bra at du likte det! Jeg synes det er SÅ gøy å øve meg på å se ting på denne måten – verden blir helt annerledes, plutselig :)

  • Erin Hall Lewis

    Hey there! Just found your blog thanks to Awesome Sophie and I’m really enjoying your wit and style, despite not being much of a fashionista. Looking forward to more gigglesnorts due to your general cleverness and excellent advice which I’ll apply generously.

  • christina

    Love your thoughts on all the dresses. Stumbled upon your page while trying to decide whether to get the Paprika dress.

    I’m a UK4/small UK6, small bust, 1.60cm with olive skintone and I think the burgundy will be lovely on me. I do prefer the top to be colored and the skirt part to be black so I’m on the fence still…

    Anyway I love the way you write and I would be reading more of your blog! (giggles at the mountain with metre long breasts comment). I’m trying to put your suggestions to use and articulating what I like/not like about clothes and what suits me!

    • Maria

      Hi Christina, welcome to my blog! It’s always great to “meet” (in the Internet sense of the word) new readers :)

      Burgundy is actually one of those magical colours that can work on most people (as long as it isn’t too purple or too brown), so the chance of it flattering you is definitely good. As for the bottom part being the coloured one, this will draw the attention to, and slightly enlarge, everything from the waist down, so it’s particularly good for someone with shoulders that are slightly wider than their hips.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here, darling, and good luck on figuring out your style!

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  • Amanda

    I’m a US16 now and also have the problem of having to search both plus and “straight” sizes. I was searching for a pair of cognac shorts today and realized I’m not really sure where to shop online for my size and style. I’d love if you would post a link up of your favorite online shops!

    • Maria

      Hi Amanda! To tell the truth, I don’t shop clothes online very often; I prefer second hand/vintage shops, and being able to try it on before I buy it. When I do buy things online, it’s usually one-of-a-kind things from etsy.com, or because I found something gorgeous on asos.com. But I’m working on a post called “How I shop” (inspired by Maja’s blog post on the same subject: http://majahuse.com/how-i-shop-for-clothes/), so I’ll try to include something about online shopping there as well :)

  • Anne

    I’m in the process of re-reading all your posts defining style and trying to define my own (again :) ). Last weekend I pulled out all my clothes and tried to only put the items back in the closet that actually flatter my body and fit my style. I’m going to need a second round on that, because I had a hard time parting with a lot of things that I know aren’t good, but that I nonetheless can’t get myself to eliminate. (Also, I’m pregnant and may need a lot of my loose t-shirts and sweaters as the stomach grows, even though they’re not good for my current proportioning).
    Just now I was looking through H&M’s webshop, trying to do a “cardigan-rehearsal” with my new insights in mind, when I realised another great thing about knowing my proportions: It makes me capable of finding ways to improve what I already have that isn’t quite perfect. Small things like pulling up the sleeves to make the arm lenght right, or wearing a cardigan buttoned to make it tight instead of loose etc. So now I’m actually glad that I didn’t throw everything away on a whim, because maybe there is much more potential to the things I already own than I thought. With the excellent tips from your posts I’m sure I will be able to quickly and confidently see the potential of my clothes and to style them well, instead of thinking there’s something wrong with my body when something doesn’t fit right. And that, after all, must be the greatest lesson learned. Thank you!

    • Maria

      Thank you for telling me about your experience with Defining Style, Anne, it’s so much fun to read! And how clever of you to do those small things to “tweak” a garment that isn’t 100% “right” (I almost feel like I need to write a blog post about it now, you inspired me so). I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to “the greatest lesson learned”, and I’m so happy you’re feeling that way :D

  • Virgillia

    Hey Maria, I’m so glad to have discover your blog! Was not expecting to encounter something even more wonderful by googling ‘pixie cut’ lol. I’m more confident in getting it now. Thanks!