Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reader Questions: Winter Colors; Maternity Wear; Risk of Sameness

 

Dear Muffy,

Love your blog! I find this time of year frustrating. All of my winter outfits seem too dark but it is too early for spring clothes, even though I want to wear them. What should I do?

I feel the same way. So this tends to be when I pull out my winter garments in brighter, more spring-like colors that held little appeal for me just a few months ago. I also lean heavily on the color Navy, as it is seasonless, goes with all of my sartorial genres, and can seem somewhat fresher this time of year.

Enjoying Today's Warm Sun

Even my work clothes this time of year reflects this shifting palette.


Dear Muffy,  

I am a regular reader of your blog since January 2011. I am very grateful for your style and advice. After becoming pregnant, finishing work in London and starting to look after a baby full-time, now toddler, I was in need of a change of dress, reflecting my new life. I also have a role in my local community as the wife of the Rector, so I also need to look reasonably presentable in and around home and the parish. I am now pregnant again and was wondering if you have any wisdom to offer on maternity dress. I found last time that the selection of maternity clothes pretty hideous-looking as well as uncomfortable (waist bands that dug in and pulled awkwardly). I have a few ideas: sewing super-soft waistbands onto old trousers and possibly skirts, but that's it so far. Ordinary clothes in a larger size looked odd and rode up over my bump. I would be extremely grateful for any advice.  With best regards.



The best thing I can think of is a blog called SouleMama.  It sounds like you can sew,  so it might be of some help.  SouleMama is a lovely blog about rural Maine living, with a focus on knitting and sewing.  And given Amanda Soule has had five children, she has some experience with maternity wear.  This entry is specifically about that:  http://www.soulemama.com/soulemama/2011/01/woolie-skirts.html




Dear Muffy,  

How can a person personalize the classic lifestyle? A Norwegian sweater looks great, but if everyone is wearing the same sweater, then it seems like everyone in the room is following a trend. At the same time, there are certain articles of clothing and lifestyle choices that seem off. Where is the middle ground? Where, in clothing and lifestyle choices, is it acceptable to look a little different from the rest of the pack?


This is also an area where people hate the thought of "rules" or guidelines as it sounds too prescriptive.     Almost any conversation here will invoke "are you kidding me" eye-rolls from at least some people. All I can say is there are people who like to apply literary theory to a novel, and others just want to read it and enjoy it. Some people like the adjectives applied to a bottle of wine, and others just want to drink. This conversation is for people in the first, not the second,  group.

The issue of sameness is a tough one, in part because it is so highly contextual.  Two navy blazers, with two different tartan ties, may be indistinguishable to most, but mean the world of difference to the people whose clans the ties represent. Similarly, one can look at two different soldiers; if one is in that culture, the amount of information presented by a uniform is staggeringly high, and if one is out of the culture, it all blends together. One friend of ours,  a Coast Guard Admiral,  was mistaken for a waiter at the Harvard Club in Boston.

There are a few over-iconic items; the Norwegian Sweater is a perfect example. They may go through steep curves of "everyone has to have one" followed by "no one will touch them." Lacoste shirts ran that gauntlet as well. These have their own issues, but I don't think is generalizable across most classic clothes.

As a sidebar, I would also suggest two other quick thoughts. The first is that there is a lot of variability in a tasteful, classic wardrobe.

Different Bracelets
The second is that mixing in some outside influences can show individuality and whimsy. Of course riffs too discordant with the genre (such as a camouflage cummerbund) force people to react, but the impact can be selfish. It is the equivalent of talking too loudly at a social event.

Given all of that, a heuristic is that a wardrobe is there to highlight the wearer, not be center stage itself. So the best way to look interesting is to be interesting.  Then just throw on some clothes that gently frame yourself. (See When Does an Outfit Become a Costume for the other extreme.)

We all are of our time.Trying to dress differently often results in its own sameness.  Most attempts at rebellion from one style simply puts one squarely and rigidly into another. Even trying to be deliberately eclectic or ironic puts one into a predictable sub-genre with as many rules as the ones that people thought they were circumnavigating.   Finally, most people who don't think they think much about clothes end up being the most impacted by fleeting styles and thus have the most waste in their closets.

25 comments:

Courtney said...

Your last sentence applies to me far more than I'd care to admit. I'm trying, at the ripe age of 49, to stop this closet waste once and for all. Your blog has been an enormous help!

Anonymous said...

Wise words, well written. You have a way of expressing things so clearly, that make me think 'Yes, that's exactly it!'

Cheers,
Bitsy

Anonymous said...

Fall and winter can be tough for those of us who like color. I tend to layer using color, typically by wearing colorful polo shirts under a seasonally appropriate sweaters in navy, dark green, charcoal, etc. Or I'll wear a darker, muted outfit with bright outerwear, as you did with that fantastic green vest. Since the season necessitates warm socks, I'll wear brighter fair isle, nordic, or solid colored wool socks with subdued outfits. I've been avoiding the term "pop of color," but I guess this all qualifies. But I think moderation matters--spring and summer will come soon enough.

As to "personalizing"--I think this should come naturally. What are you hobbies, interests, or work? Where do you live? Where did you grow up? What is your family background? What music do you like? I think the purposive element adds a lot of individuality to otherwise classic clothes. If you spend your time near the water, instead of in the country, your clothes should reflect that tradition. If you live in the city, you will likely dress more sleekly and perhaps more fashionable than us country mice. Etc.

Jacob Phelps said...

Thank you for your responses. Your answers are always elegant, and I hold them to a high regard. Have a great week!

Grace said...

I really agree with you about how while preps all dress similarly, we all give it our own unique spin. Great advice as always, Muffy.

Christy said...

I love your pink sweater! At the "risk of sameness" (tongue in cheek applied), would you share where you got it?

Chris from New Hampshire said...

The issue of sameness and the risk of too strict adherence to a uniform is a great one. However, I have found the combination of really well made goods and a person's personal history with that item create a depth through patina and a journal through subtle wearing and even the occasional tear that makes these clothes the most personal, not the least.

Sue said...

You put my feeling about post holiday season dressing into words perfectly in this post. I so enjoy reading your posts and appreciate the clarity you present in them.

j.mosby said...

Loving the Patagonia vest look my dear:-)

Anonymous said...

There are so many ways to make and outfit "different". I have one dress that I wear to church every Sunday. Seriously, every Sunday for well over two years. (I have the one dress because I gained weight when I quit smoking and now I am back in my post pregnancy dress. Trying to find a dress that is reasonably priced, not polyester and modest enough for church, and that means not above the knee and with sleeves, is a pill) I just change up my cardigan or my scarf or my earings and it makes it look a little different each week. It can be done.

Anonymous said...

I almost forgot, shoes! A pair of khakis and a polo shirt can be changed dramatically with just a pair of shoes. Ballet flats, boots, mocs, sandals... I feel that dressing "preppy" makes one really look at (and appreciate) the small details.

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Christy - I bought it from Hanna Andersson around 2003/2004.

HHH said...

So wise and articulate you are, dear Muffy. Must be all that clean salt air in Maine.

binker23 said...

I am totally addicted to the soulemama blog. I love the fact that she is bringing up her children in such a warm, creative and loving environment.....close to nature and full of nurture. I am so inspired. I am going to purchase her book The Creative Family. @Muffy, you should get a cut on all of the purchases I have made because of your blog. LemonandLine just came out with their Spring/Summer bracelets and one has my name on it. I love the fact that they are made in the USA...and even more so...New England!!

Anonymous said...

A timely post. The issue of color in the winter wardrobe is one I have been thinking of in the last few days. Alas, I realized that I simply don't have winter clothes in spring- or summer-like colors! I tried on some summer tops to see if I could get away with them in the winter, but I really don't think so. Perhaps some shopping is in order... it also currently happens to be a time for winter clothing sales as the spring clothes come out.

Greenfield said...

Believe it or not, the Japanese had a system for this 'way back in Heian times. Every season had its "proper colors" to wear together, some of which were downright outlandish by today's standards. For instance, at Lunar New Year, the done thing for a proper lady of the Court was lime green, maroon, and light teal--LAYERED! (Anyone--I dare you!) ;)

oxford cloth button down said...

Muffy,

I love the post. I have removed the waste from my closet slowly but surely. I wear a blue ocbd 4 out of 5 days a week now. I really enjoy the simplicity of getting dressed now. I mix it up with sweater, socks and watch bands.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering my question! It was matter I wanted to bring up because my English class was discussing the idea of sameness. We were talking about the sixties and how everyone looked so similar. I am afraid of a society like that. I suppose I have to mature a little more before I am not so concerned with looking the same.

I agree that clothes should not be center stage. They should just look good. I have, once again, learned something new from you.

Tipsy Skipper said...

So glad that Muffy embraces color! We love color - every time of year! Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to look dreary. In fact, that's even more reason to brighten up your life with color!

Anonymous said...

@ Christy If you don't mind recycled clothing here it is
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Hanna-Andersson-size-XS-fair-isle-pink-grey-gray-womens-sweater-EUC-/120837626728?pt=US_CSA_WC_Sweaters&hash=item1c227bdb68

Christy said...

@Anon 2:19
Thank so much for the find!

Anonymous said...

I love your bracelets, although I can only identify half of them!

Knot Just Nautical said...

Hi Muffy!
Have you been adding to your Vera Bradley collection at all this year? I loved your review of new styles and colors, but I think we need an updated post on VB! I am about to purchase my first Miller bag in English Meadow, since the price is too alluring right now! My favorite patterns still available are Pinwheel Pink and Riviera Blue, the new ones don't hold much appeal to me. Which patterns would you pick right now?

HillaryPearl said...

Great tips on how to help us move into spring without risking frostbite!

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Knot Just Nautical - I have not added anything to my VB collection in several years - I am not loving any of their patterns. But English Meadow is by far the most attractive of the current patterns and I think it would be great in the Miller Bag, which is one of my most used styles.