Tag Archives: personal style

Summer 2013 update

So, I’ve been absent from my blog (and most of the blogosphere) for about 6 months now. And I’ll be honest: I’m probably going to be absent for another 6 months after I post this. 🙂

Earlier this year, I started to feel like my life had slipped into a rut, where my days revolved around work, and not much else. It didn’t help that I was having some health issues which resulted in extreme fatigue– and then I was hit with a sudden increase in family obligations, due to some unexpected events. I was exhausted!

When I finally started to feel better, I decided that I needed to spend more time on personal interests outside of my day-to-day work; so that’s what I’ve been doing: playing music, sewing, gardening, reading, and home improvement. I’ve also been spending more quality time with friends and family. Even at work, I’m making an effort to interact more with people outside my immediate department. It’s all been good.

What I wore

Because last winter was such a busy and exhausting time for me, I think I also got into somewhat of a clothing rut. I wore virtually the same “uniform” every day: Sweater, t-shirt, jeans. Sweater, t-shirt, jeans. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The colors changed (a little bit) but the style was virtually identical from day to day. And I was too tired to accessorize.

As I am now determined to work myself out of boredom, this spring and summer, I’m suddenly craving variety in my wardrobe.

For the first time in a long time, I’m buying (and sewing) printed tops and dresses. And I’m shopping for pants other than jeans.

The budget is tight, and I need a lot of new things right now (because last year’s tees and jeans are so worn-out that I can’t really wear them anymore).  So I’ve been doing some bargain shopping. I’m sometimes having to settle for polyester instead of silk, but that’s just the way it has to be for the time being.

So far, I’ve had the best luck shopping at TJ Maxx and Kohl’s.

At TJ Maxx, I’ve found some nice pieces from the Max Studio brand, heavily discounted. In fact, everything I’ve purchased there has been from that same brand. (A lot of the pieces don’t look work-appropriate, but there are some– and TJ Maxx tends to sell the more conservative styles from this brand.)

At Kohls, I’m liking the Simply Vera brand by Vera Wang. Some of the pieces look a bit cheap or tacky (in my opinion), but she also has some pieces that look pretty nice. Everything at Kohl’s is constantly on sale, so it’s easy to find things there at affordable prices.

I still love my J-Crew basics, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to move beyond the basics. I can’t see myself ever amassing a huge wardrobe (or even a cramped closet); but I do see my wardrobe becoming larger and more varied in the next year or two.

In which I actually write about color

Have you ever had your colors “done”?

I had a color analysis done, way back in the 1980s, just before I entered college. At the time, my small wardrobe consisted mainly of:

  • various shades of blue, my favorite color.
  • the occasional pink and green, my mother’s favorite colors.  If my mother took me shopping, I always came home with something pink or green. (To this day, I’m still amazed at how every gift I’ve ever received from my mother is some shade of pink or green!)

I had won an academic prize from a local women’s club. I was invited to their monthly meeting to receive my prize, and it just so happened that the theme of this meeting was “dressing for success”. They had a color analyst on hand, who proceeded to drape me in various swatches of fabric.

I was “diagnosed” as an Autumn. And, in fact, all of those deep warm colors did  look obviously prettier against my skin than the others did. I was instructed to wear brown tones as my neutral base, and to stay away from navy and pure white.

The ladies at the local makeup counters were also obviously savvy about the Color Me Beautiful system. They always steered me toward the peachy blushes and brownish-red lipsticks.

And that’s what I wore, for years and years.

Then, one day, I went shopping for new glasses. I’d been wearing wire rims for many years, but plastic frames were coming back into style. I tried on the usual brownish/neutral-colored frames, but none of them really looked that great on me.

And then I tried on a pair of cool berry-toned frames. And they looked great. I bought them, even though cool berry was not one of “my colors”.

This purchase got me thinking: Maybe I should try out some berry-toned lipsticks, or some pink blush. I did, and was amazed at how much brighter and healthier I looked. I now use a mix of cool and warm tones in my daily makeup.

Around the same time (about 10 years ago), I stumbled onto a book called 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom. I don’t think this book was ever a best-seller, probably because it has no pictures. It’s more about finding your own style and choosing clothes that reflect your personality and/or the image you want to project.

It’s written by Malcolm Levene and Kate Mayfield. If I remember correctly, Mr. Levene is the son of a bespoke tailor, and he used to own an upscale clothing store. Both of the authors worked as image consultants.

As the title implies, the book takes you through 10 steps to help you find your personal style. It’s very similar to what you usually find in books of this type.

But the chapter that stood out for me, and which has stayed with me long after I finished reading the book, was the chapter about color.

The authors basically throw out the whole seasonal-color-analysis theory. They call it a myth.

Instead, they advise you to wear colors that help you convey the image you want to project. (For example, wearing bolder tones to reflect a look of authority, despite the fact that beige might look great with your skin & hair.)

Color may also be used to enhance skin tone, but the choice isn’t based solely on undertones. For example, an ice-blue shirt may be recommended to “cool down” the ruddiness in your skin, regardless of whether your undertones are blue or yellow.

The authors also discuss fabric quality and how it relates to color. More expensive fabrics will be made with better dyes, and thus will look better against the skin. (It sounds snobby, but I have to agree with the authors here. You won’t find great color in cheap clothing.)


I do think there is something to the seasonal color-analysis theory. A lot of my prescribed colors do look good on me, because they complement my skin tone. But I’ve learned to try on colors before dismissing them. I think there is so much more to consider than just skin tone and hair color, when choosing colors.

Peaches and browns blend well with my light-olive skin tone, but they can also make me look tired and dull. Cool-toned pink makeup provides a bit of contrast to my yellowish skin, and livens up my face.

Likewise, saturated jewel tones (“Winter” shades) in my clothing make me feel bolder and more confident than the autumnal brown tones which blend in with my skin tone and look “quieter” on me.

I’m not suggesting that browns and beiges are bad. I think they can be great for someone who wants to convey more warmth or softness. I think the point is to use color to tilt the balance toward the image you want to convey.

As for the forbidden navy and white, I now wear them often. I think they fit right in with the simple, classic looks I like to wear. And I’m often complimented when I wear navy; so I figure it’s o.k. to wear it after all. 🙂

Settling into a uniform

I know I’ve been blogging about dresses lately. But if I look at my day-to-day life, the reality is that I’m more likely to be wearing jeans on most days. Casual wear is simply more practical for my daily life activities.

Last year, my workplace was becoming more formal and there was talk of a dress code. The administrators were concerned about projecting a more professional image for our department, and the focus seemed to be on appearances.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Perhaps it has something to do with recent budget cuts, or the economy in general. It’s probably not easy to ask people to upgrade their wardrobes in times like these.

As for myself, I was at first excited about the opportunity to dress up a bit. But when I was assigned a project that turned out to involve a lot of dust and dirt, I reverted to my “uniform”.

And that uniform is:

  • Dark-wash jeans
  • Knit top
  • Cardigan (if it’s cold)
  • Flat shoes (usually ballerinas)
  • Jewelry or scarf

And almost everything I own is some shade of:

  • Blue
  • Red
  • Purple (i.e. blue + red!)
  • Black

Over the years, I’ve experimented with various new looks and silhouettes. Some worked better than others.

I’ve gradually narrowed it down to my favorites, and the funny thing is, I’m almost back to where I started: jeans and tees– but now, in a more refined version.

  • The boxy tees have been replaced by fitted tees, some with interesting necklines.
  • A collarless blouse in a soft woven fabric will “read” as a tee.
  • Nice cardigans in a delicate wool, silk, or cotton replace the baggy hoodies and sweaters I used to live in.
  • Shoes are more classic and less “funky” in design.
  • I’m making an effort to accessorize on a daily basis. 🙂

I think my next step will be to simply upgrade the quality of what I own: better quality knitwear, maybe some premium denim. I do think I’ve pretty much determined that I’m never going to stray very far from my “uniform”. These are the clothes that make me feel both comfortable and attractive.

Another stye epiphany!

My, that post title sounds dramatic. Too dramatic for what actually happened. Here’s what happened.

I thought I was a rectangle, but now I think I’m secretly an hourglass.

This was the first clue:

Michael Kors trench coat, old image from Nordstrom.com


I’d been trying various “classic” trench coats. They were all cut straight and double-breasted. And they all looked awful on me.

Then I tried on the coat above, which has a shaped belted waist and an a-line bottom. And I loved it. And I wore it, and got compliments.

Then I started noticing that the clothes I own which are easiest to wear (i.e., most flattering and effortless to style) are those which highlight my natural waistline. Which is barely there, but it’s there.

The reason I’d previously shied away from belted or shaped waists, is that they always seemed to highlight the widest part of my belly. I now see what the problem really was: I was trying to belt things too low on my my torso, and I was wearing tops and pants that didn’t match the natural contours of my body.

But with dresses, coats, or tops belted higher, on the true waist (or shaped to follow my true waistline), my straight, rectangular (i.e., boxy) figure becomes visually curvy.

So …

This means I’ll have to reconsider some of my style choices. I tend to be drawn to tailored separates, but I think I’ll be taking a closer look at dresses and softer silhouettes.

And though I still have some inches to lose before I can call myself a true hourglass, I’ve decided to “fake it till I make it” with my wardrobe. Because, frankly, I’d rather go ahead and highlight the curves I do have.

P.S. This change in direction exemplifies why it is a good practice to build a wardrobe SLOWLY. I hate to imagine how poor I’d be if I’d gone out and bought a new wardrobe every time I took a new direction with my personal style!

The goal is not to be fashionable

“It’s easy to feel like you’ve got nothing to wear, but it’s also a signal of identity problems. If you’ve got a well-developed sense of identity, you tend to know what’s you no matter what the trends. Nothing I buy ever looks new, because I have my look down, and it’s classic.”

Anjelica Huston (Harper’s Bazaar, September 2006)

(I found it on T’s blog.)