I think this is the hardest time of the year for finding pleasure in your clothes. Between now and early April I feel utterly uninspired by my seemingly endless rotation of jumpers and boots so today I thought we’d start to look ahead to spring. I’m not going to talk about new styles or colours yet because the new season’s collections haven’t arrived yet. I warn you though that there isn’t much to say this year. As you know, retailers take their inspiration from the catwalks and the designers’ focus for SS20 was very much on sustainability. I’ll talk more about that soon but the mood is ‘anti-newness’. The upside of this is that it makes it a really good season for pinning down your personal style and so it’s a good time to recap on how to know which clothes suit you.
As far as Midlifechic is concerned because I don’t want British retail to suffer any more than it already is, I will keep on showing you new things. However I feel a responsibility not to trigger pointless purchases so I’m suggesting we do some groundwork now, uncovering any wardrobe gaps. This means that when you do shop you’ll be doing it consciously and hopefully investing in pieces that you’ll love for a long time. So let’s start by thinking about why style matters.
People do, of course, take different approaches to dressing and none of them are wrong:
- for some clothes are purely functional – for keeping warm and covered. My very academic brother would count himself in this group, declaring fashion to be a nonsense – I of course would argue that the way he presents himself is a statement of his own making so still fashionable in a sense. And we’d go round and round on that topic as we always do.
- other people use clothes as a disguise, perhaps they’re shy and don’t want to stand out, for example the midlife woman who retreats to beige (or black) – or they may use their clothes to disguise their form, perhaps because they’re unhappy with their size.
- some use clothes to fit in and show which tribe they belong to, they’re usually fashion-led and I’d include the influencers who float around in versions of the same floral midi-dress in this group.
- others use clothes to make a statement about themselves, defining their character before they’ve even spoken – “I’m artistic” or “I’m a minimalist with a love of irony”
- some use clothes to underpin – their clothes say only “I know who I am and what I stand for, you’ll find out more if you talk to me.”
I know my style and I hope I belong to the last group. I understand how to dress my shape and frame and so when I read well intentioned comments in the survey such as “I’d like to see you be more adventurous in platform brogues with wide trousers perhaps,” I instantly know that the shapes wouldn’t work for my body, I’d look like a head girl. As far as ‘more adventurous’ is concerned I never want my clothes to do the talking for me, I want people to base their opinion of me on what I say. However I do hope to look relevant and interesting – and that’s where knowing enough about the latest looks comes in. If you can nod to the trends without following them slavishly it shows that you have your finger on the pulse whilst having enough individuality to dress as you want to.
How to know which clothes suit you
So, with all of this in mind, let’s recap on how to identify your personal style and put a capsule wardrobe together. You may remember that we did this in depth over six blog posts last January so if you’d like to take more time over it, you can start the process again here. There are worksheets included in most of the posts that are free to download.
1. Prioritise your lifestyle categories
We all lead different lives and we need our wardrobes to have the right clothes for what we do. That may seem blindingly obvious but a surprising number of us tend to buy clothes for the life we used to have or the life we wish we had – and then find that we have nothing to wear. For a lot of people, lifestyle categories can fall into some or all of the following:
- Work: applicable whether you’re a barrister or a landscape gardener, if you work it’s good to have a defined work uniform.
- Smart casual: this is perhaps going to cover blazer, jeans and heels or whatever your version of this is. The sort of outfit that you might wear if you’re going out for a long Sunday lunch with friends.
- Relaxed casual: popping out to the shops on a Saturday or walking the dog.
- Loungewear: whatever you long to put on when you get home after a long day.
- Active: clothing for your preferred form of exercise.
- Out out: relaxed ‘dressed up’ style for a night out with friends
- Elevated: event wear (awards ceremonies, balls, formal dinners if these play a part in your life).
In last January’s course there’s a sheet for mapping out two weeks of your life so that you can see how you spend your time and define your categories clearly. I find it a particularly useful exercise to do because it makes me realise that I spend more time in casual clothes than I realise. When I look at my sheets, I can see that the areas that I have too many clothes for are event dressing (Cinderella complex) and I don’t have enough smart casual.
2. Know your body shape
Once you’ve worked out what kind of clothes you really need, it’s time to think about what works best on your body – more than anything else, an understanding of your body shape will help you to avoid wardrobe mistakes. I wrote a full post on this last year and if you haven’t read it start there because it explains everything that follows in more detail but here’s a recap.
Start with your silhouette, what shape are you? Here are the classic definitions…
…if you’re still struggling to work out which one you are, go back and read the original post for more tips. Take a moment to consider whether your torso is long or short. If you’re long bodied, you’ll find it harder to wear flat shoes for example whereas a short torso makes dresses with a high waist look a bit Olive Oyl.
Next think about your frame size. This has nothing to do with weight, it’s about your bones. I’m a size 12 but I have a large frame which is why I know I won’t look good in those long, wide leg trousers with platform brogues. How do you define your frame size? You can just measure your wrist and plot it on the chart below:
|Height||Small framed||Medium framed||Large framed|
|Under 5ft 2||wrist less than 14cm||wrist 14cm to 14.6cm||wrist over 14.6cm|
|5ft 2 to 5ft 5||wrist less than 15.2cm||wrist 15.2cm to 16cm||wrist over 16cm|
|Over 5ft 5||wrist less than 16cm||wrist 16cm to 16.5cm||wrist over 16.5cm|
Knowing your frame size will help you with lots of things such as understanding which shapes will suit you, which retailers cut their clothes for your size and what kind of patterns you can wear – you can read more about it in the original post here.
Finally understand your break points. To do this assess your widest points. These are your horizontals (usually shoulders, bust, hips, widest point of your calves etc) and if you allow fabric to hang from any of those spots it can make your whole body look wider than it is. If you’re a column shape you don’t really need to worry about it but if you’re curvy, it’s worth deciding how you want to dress these points. So for example because I have broad shoulders, I know that I need to avoid shoulder pads in jackets and that in summer a halterneck is my best neckline because it breaks up the expanse. A bikini with bra straps or a bandeau just makes me look butch.
Your break points will be unique to you and you can use them to elevate your outfits. For almost everybody, ankles and wrists are a given and a cropped trouser leg or a bracelet length sleeve is more flattering than full length. As far as legs are concerned, the break points will show you where a hem looks best and it’s worth altering whatever you buy to fall at one of your points. To find them, wearing opaque tights grab a towel and stand in front of a mirror. Holding the towel horizontally move it up and down your legs until you find the exact point that looks best for each of these (and note what a difference an inch can make).
3. Think through the ‘fit’ tricks that work for your body
Once you’ve identified your good points, think about how you’re going to maximise them and if there are parts you’re not so keen on, how can you work around them? Here are some examples:
- Large shoulders: go for a neat fit, never a dropped shoulder. Avoid any kind of ruffle or frill detail on the shoulder seam and steer clear of shoulder pads. Avoid strapless tops and spaghetti straps. Halternecks will look great on you though and remember that wide shoulders do a good job of balancing your hips, often giving you an hourglass figure.
- Short neck: avoid polo neck jumpers, instead go for a loose turtle neck. Round or crew necks won’t do you any favours either. Shirt collars can be unflattering too, particularly if they’re stiff. Steer clear of necklaces that sit above the clavicle area and bulky scarves.
- Small bust: avoid bandeau and strapless tops, scoop necks aren’t as flattering as a deep V.
- Large bust: avoid polo necks and crew necks, frills, gathers and ruffles at the neckline or across the bust. Steer clear of baggy layers and look for tops that skim rather than cling.
- Long torso / short legs: high waisted dresses and trousers with tops tucked in will address the balance. Look for fading at the front of jeans to elongate the leg. Trousers cropped just above the ankle bone worn with a low heel work well for you, as do wide legged trousers with something like a block heel.
- Short torso / long legs: think about the rule of two thirds – a long top worn over a short skirt is a great look, you can also get away with flat shoes such as brogues and loafers with skinny jeans. Avoid high waisted dresses and look for designs that are cut at the natural waist. Lower rise trousers may well suit you better, rebalancing your frame.
4. Understand your look
Now that you’ve defined where your wardrobe gaps are and what works best for your body shape, have a think about the look that makes you feel happy. You’re looking for three adjectives that will help you to stay on track when you feel distracted by possible new versions of yourself after seeing something look good on somebody else. Here’s the list we used last year:
- Pattern mixing
- Gentlewoman (menswear inspired)
- High fashion
- Rock chick
- Soft colours
- Colour blocking
You can revise this on an annual or even seasonal basis. So for example when we were doing this for our winter wardrobes last year, I defined the look I wanted as being ‘Parisian Urban Chic’. However now that we’re doing it with summer in mind I know that my life changes as the days grow longer and so I’ll perhaps be looking for ‘Bright, Colour-Blocking Chic.’ I need to ponder over it for a while.
5. Know your colour palette
As soon as we launch into new season, I’ll be talking about the new colours that we’ll be seeing this year. Before that though it’s worth understanding what truly suits you. I know lots of people have had their colours done but if you haven’t, start by understanding whether you have a cool or warm skintone. Look at the veins on the inside of your wrist. If they appear blue you probably have cool tones, if they’re green you’re warm.
The next thing you can do is go to the Kettlewell colours site where you’ll find your best palette. If you have a cool skin tone, look through the summer and winter palettes and if you’re warm go to spring and autumn. When you think back to some of your favourite ever clothes, you should instinctively be able to identify the palette brings out the best in you.
From this, define three key colours that will be the mainstay of your wardrobe this season along with two neutrals – remember navy can be a neutral as well as grey / camel / black / white etc. Finally decide on up to five colours that you’ll keep as pops – they may be something like red, fuchsia or a metallic that you wouldn’t want to wear as a piece of clothing but that would brighten up an outfit as an accessory.
How to know which clothes suit you – dedicate some time to it
So, I’m hoping that this will inspire you to begin looking through your wardrobe and thinking about spring. I’ll be starting with the point where we can at least cast off coats and start wearing blazers in mind and then looking ahead from there. In the meantime I wish you a happy Valentine’s Day, I hope you’re celebrating. We’re just eating in but I will be opening a bottle of champagne while I cook… just so that I can drink it slowly you understand! Have a good weekend, may Storm Dennis be kind to you and I’ll be back on Tuesday.