The Case of the Emerald Green Pencil Skirt

It was a grey November day ending in “y” and I was just a downtrodden dame on the qui vive for a chunky slab of upholstery-friendly goodness. After ducking into a cavernous fabric-filled warehouse I was wandering around with the other bedraggled nobodies when a bit of lightweight herringbone sashayed in front of me and demanded my help.

It was the last of a bolt, see, and feared for its life.

“Whatever you do, whatever you buy, make sure to get me out of here,” it pleaded. I gave it my thousand-yard stare. “Don’t leave me here to be turned into teddy bear pinafores!” it hissed, pressing its silky smooth weave against my hand.

I turned my back on its lustrous threads and looked over toward the polyester blends, thinking hard about reality, about bills and bank balances. Could I afford to turn it into a something that would do its magnificent drape justice? Not right now, not a chance.

But it was a deep dark cobalt-flecked green, a green that seemed like it would let me say sayonara to summer and hello to spring.

And me, well, I’m a sucker for a green that isn’t afraid to flaunt a moody blue undertone. It’s just how I’m wired, that’s all, and if anyone’s got a problem with that then I’ve got a bunch of fives I’d like them to meet.

So Emerald ended up in my fabric stash.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not copping to being one of those quilting or seamstress types—drop by my place and you’ll find closets full of towels, not textiles. But maybe I have a few things tucked away in a box, yeah. I keep it lithe and light, grab-n-go. Emerald was #2 in my stash, and I figured it could warm up a certain icy blue tropical wool til I knew what to do with one or the both of ’em.

Spring rolled around and I had other problems, other environments—other fabrics—on my mind. I knew I couldn’t two-time them with Emerald without putting us both at risk. But this fall things had changed again. They always do. After I craned my head pretty good around my closet and scrawled a few notes, I thought, “Why don’t I try to make a go of it with the devil and the deep green sea?”

A pencil skirt seemed just the ticket.

I got together some scratch and went to this doll I know, one who’s gotten me out of a few fabric jams in the past. I asked her what she thought about knocking off an old Theory skirt I had, one with curving seams and double vents in the back that made it easy to strut my stuff. She was into it.

I heard Emerald resisted my plans at first—I guess it’d dreamed big ballgown dreams inside that little closed-up box—but eventually it came to see the choice was easy: a pencil or nothing.

Lightweight, 100% wool herringbone skirt in (blue-flecked) green meets its lining

For all the drama, Emerald turns out to be game as hell: it’s raring to be part of less sedate pairings, but settles down to brown without much fuss.

While I have less sedate pairings in mind, who can resist the Gnome-y pairing of green + brown? (and the trippyness of this ancient print?)

A funny thing happened when I put it on, though—a bit of déjà vu:

I guess reading all the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories when I was 6 left a more lasting impression than I realized

Am I wearing a big ole dollar bill from waist to knee? Yes, but thanks to 2 vents vs 1 center vent, I can move super-freely in it

I have to cite Theory's "Golda" skirt as ye olde precedent for how the skirt's curved seams lead to a double-vented back

I admit I’m getting a kick out of dressing like one of my style icons. So much so I’m wondering if I should buy a purse that lets me channel her amateur-sleuth-fabulousness even more.

Am I kitschy enough to traipse around with a purse made from one of my childhood favorites? Hell ya. And Etsy.com seller Retrograndma tempts me....

I’ll ponder it a while longer, but anyone who’s seen my love of kitsch-smothered accessories knows there’s no need to hire a detective to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

(Wool) Jersey Grrrl

Given my Irish genes, I don’t understand why I can’t acclimate to the PNW’s cold damp weather. Maybe I need less green tea and more Jameson’s?

While my beloved ferns adore the oozy clammy environment*—and I adore that they adore it—it doesn’t change the fact that when our region’s dank air seeps ever-so-stealthily into my bones I feel like a decrepit 103 vs a mildly arthritic broad of 41.

Then I roast when it’s dry and over 75, go figure.

[As a devout hypochondriac, I’m sure this state of affairs is due to one or more of the horrifying medical conditions Dr. Google has diagnosed for me; as neither my Western-trained nor CAM-focused doctors seem particularly concerned, however, I’m trying not to borrow trouble.]

The combination of my regional and personal characteristics means that fall through hmmm, July I tend to layer up in silk longjohn tops, silk knits, and sweet Georgia Brown wool. O how I worship wool’s breathable, moisture-wicking, water-, mildew- and mold-resistant, insulating, and often washable goodness!

Although angora fibers make me itch and cashmere at my price point is often too scratchy for my princess/pea’d self, sheep’s wool does me right. Depending on the season, I put my T&A in everything from spiderweb-like wool gauze to dense flannel—but as a sucker for anything soft and stretchy, it’s wool knits that have the firmest hold on my heart.

Which is why I was mega-excited to see that the fashion world’s recent infatuation with drapey 1940s looks segued into an even more recent fascination with 1990s-era materials, silhouettes, and colors.

YEA I LIKED THAT KNIT-FRIENDLY DECADE’S STREAMLINED SHAPES + SOMBER SHADES

EXCEPT WAIT: NOW I’M TRYING TO DO COLOR-COLOR + PATTERN

Oh well; win some, lose most.

Having already blown a huge chunk of my fall/winter clothing budget on black and grey business suiting, I knew I needed some colors to keep my soon-to-be sunshine-deprived caboose from plummeting into moods as dark as my closet tends to be.

So I headed off to the fabric store, found what I wanted, and called the Mellow Glamazon to let her know I needed her help getting a few wool jersey pieces in my cold little paws.

For the first bit of fabric—a deep blue that’s refreshingly neither too bright nor too dark for me—I’d been debating one of the semi-sheer jersey items with cowl-y or off-the-shoulder necklines I’d seen in LUXE DARLING LUXE online shoppes. But as a) I have commitment issues and b) I prefer the way lower necklines look on my body shape, MG suggested a detachable whatchamacallit might best meet my needs.

I’m sure I’ll wear the simple scoopneck version most frequently, but I do love me an option or two….

Semi-sheer scoop neck wool jersey sweater (worn with sleeveless underlayer til temps lower) has a detachable cowl/stole

Same top with detachable piece worn as stole...because apparently I hanker to look like a Senior Yearbook photo

For the second closet addition, I’d found an appealing medium-weight jersey in a muted red-violet shade; it seemed like a good bet for the browns, roses, and plums I’ve been sloooowly accumulating since Project Anti-VaderWear began in earnest last fall. As I’d been mulling over one of those unlined cardigan-jackets that were (once again and amen) showing up here and there, I decided to take the plunge.**

Heavier weight, muted red-violet wool jersey jacket/cardigan (unlined)

While I knew the general shape I wanted, the Mellow Glamazon came up with these cuffed, slightly belled sleeves that I think are the cat’s pajamas. That goes ditto for the lightweight layering piece beneath the jacket, aka the Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top’s long-sleeved, fully-backed sibling. [Alias the WHOOPS I DID IT AGAIN textile.]

Slightly belled sleeves on jacket...and the long-sleeved sibling of the Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top beneath

Now: most of my jackets hit at my high hip, the better to elongate my proportionately short legs. But for this project, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go a little longer. I’m certainly happy with the result—for one thing, I’m partial to the way deeply V’d cutaway jackets do an awesome job of avoiding a Rectangle/H shape’s natural habitat: blockiness.

Wool jersey jacket partnered with patterned knit pencil skirt and jeans

But between the color and the cut I fear I’m looking rather in need of a horse and stable boy.

Hmmm: between the period-referencing color and the cut, maybe my new jacket DOES look a bit like an Edwardian riding habit....(c 1900 -1920 habit from the V&As collection)

As I’m off the market, however, I’ll have to leave the Lady Chatterley-esque romps to other Jersey Grrrls. My advice? Keep the rolling as far from the hay as possible….

* Cold damp air apparently = Sword fern heaven: they (and the clematis) provide year-round green and give the dining room a halfway decent view

Backyard ferns in 05, about the last time the yard looked moderately tidy

** Around the time I was working out my jersey jacket shape, Pseu of UneFemme posted several RTW examples of the genre…if you’re so inclined, venture over to her Minimalism Made Easy post

Fizz flies the coop with a pocket full of prints [pt 2]

Previously, I shared my lazy woman’s guide to potentially effective print selection [the “10 Feet Test”] and described how my pal Fizz went from bemused fabric store bystander to focused, in-need-of-printed-fabric-for-tops demon.

Fizz’s amongst-the-bolts decision to stop her frustrating hunt for ready-to-wear summer blouses and instead go for custom tops put her in a bit of a pickle.

With her forthcoming vacation a hard deadline and the Mellow Glamazon pressed for production time, my effervescent friend needed to find various bits of fabric that worked with her unique characteristics AND melded with her existing summer basics AND aligned with how she wanted to dress when meeting up with European friends and family.

She had a handle on shapes that flattered her busty, H/Rectangle figure. And she knew the colors she wanted, so she was set there too:

Key shade combinations for Fizz's summer wardrobe

But after decades of a mostly-solids wardrobe, I was still getting the hang of finding prints that took my personality, coloring, preferences etcetera into consideration. Could she do in 5 minutes what I’d struggled to master for several years?

NEED YOU ASK?

Of course she did have a little help from the print selection guidelines Bridgette Raes details in her book, Style Rx.

Unlike intuition-advocate Gavin “The Gift of Fear” de Becker, Raes notes that her clients’ instincts about prints often run counter to their personalities and style goals. And their coloring. And the size of their body and facial features.

My people!

Having latched onto the book’s instructional text and helpful photos several years ago, I’d never let go. Now, with limited time and Fizz adrift in a huge warehouse of prints, I knew we needed to implement Raes’ “first pass” tips. STAT.

Bridgette Raes: The Basics of Picking Prints

  • Consider personality: bold types should think twice before undermining their personal power with “ditzy, irreverent” prints; demure types are frequently overpowered by mega-dynamic prints.
  • Print scale isn’t just about body size, but about facial features: smaller-sized women can have larger features and vice versa.
  • The boldness or softness of one’s personal coloring is one’s “intensity level.” It’s the relationship created by the contrast between hair/skin/eye color, and it can be bold, soft, or somewhere in between. If skin/hair tones change for any reason, intensity can change.

Let me visually sum up Fizz’s coloring, features, and personality with a charming stand-in (though admittedly her mouth is not Ms Caron’s shape):

Should a remake of Gigi ever see the light of day, Fizz is standing by

 

Having attempted to complete the above evaluation, we moved onto Raes’ next suggestion—a real humdinger.

More Bridgette Raes: A Somewhat Nutty But Surprisingly Effective Tip for Picking Prints

The best print styles mimic the way your facial features move.

  • Horizontal eyebrows and smile, almond-shaped eyes, pronounced bridge of nose? Choose a geometric/linear print and avoid soft, rounded prints.
  • Softly arched eyebrows, rounder cheekbones, soft smile, prominent tip of nose? Choose soft, rounded prints and avoid horizontal lines.
  • Diagonal shaped eyes and movement, angled eyebrow arch, angular-shaped nose and smile? Choose angular prints like argyle, avoid rounded shapes.
  • Combination features? Choose prints that have soft lines and hard angles like watercolor-y flower or abstract batik prints.

Is that the craziest thing or what?

The specifics of our Fizz-centric assessment are below, but our interpretation of Raes’ advice led us to look for:

prints in her best colors (blues, cool browns, pinky corals) :: rounded shapes with angular movement :: sizes no bigger than her hand :: colors that didn’t read as super-high contrast :: prints that skewed on the bold side

 

Silk tank with darts for shaping and an arresting "rounded boxes + dots" print

Luscious, lightweight silk jersey in a bold MIAMI VICE/NICE print + 70s silhouette

Supple, shaped silk + a deconstructed paisley print + narrow flutter sleeves made for breezy summer days

Strappy-but-regular-bra-friendly, fitted-torso abstract floral cotton meets very dark denim...work it, Fizz!

Getting up close and personal with the cotton top's spiky petals + rounded shapes

In our completely biased opinions, the final selections harmonize well with her features, size, and eau de Fizz. As 4 out of her 5 tops were practically whipped from the sewing machine into the suitcase, though, Fizz will be road-testing responses as she travels.

[And thank god she left town before #5 got started, because with her out of the way I finally got MY happy-birthday-to-me printed summer top!]

Happy trails, Fizz….

Fizz's very orange guest bedroom holds her (carry-on only!) suitcase-ready neutrals + prints

“Vix, can you put my curiosity to rest by running through Fizz’s complete, amateur-hour assessment?”

The basics: extra-bold personality :: petite height + small-to-medium frame :: smaller-featured face with prominent, arched brows :: “medium bold” intensity [our best guess!] due to dark hair, slightly warm freckled skin, and pale blue eyes

Facial movement: combined features (arched brows :: rounded cheekbones + chin :: linear smile :: pronounced tip of nose)

Bonus feature Fizz and I considered: her gorgeous curly hair!

 

Filed under: appearance, color, starring select friends + invisipals | Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Book Lover’s Halter Top

When my birthday rolled around this year, I was crushed that no one gave me any new vices. It’s so tedious to be stuck with ratty old peccadillos and failings!

But I understand: times are lean.

Forced to fall back on existing weaknesses, I decided to mark the occasion by checking out a few textile-laden warehouses—just in case I discovered something that could, with a little (delegated) prest-o change-o, end up in my closet.

Because that “delegated” part significantly boosts my post-cashier costs I make it a goal to avoid fabric stores. Whenever I do go, though, I make sure to follow one of Ms Mae West’s favorite strategies:

I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

Because clearance rack’d Missoni was in da house, I nabbed some for now—abracadabra, the Strawberry Fudge Ripple top—and some for way later. Unfortunately the gorgeous, densely woven, oceanic-hued silk I immediately gravitated to upon entry turned out to be (rather surprisingly) a Pucci. Once I saw the price, I reluctantly walked away. And came back. And walked away. [At least until my 40% off coupon kicks in and I can help enable Italian silkworms’ apparent Maserati habit.]

With the Pucci sidelined, I was on the hunt for another print that could be turned into an “I ain’t dead yet!” halter.

Why a halter? Because I’ve never owned one. Why a print? I guess I just want another punch on my recovering pattern-a-phobic card. Plus I’m SO WILD now that I’m 41.

Right when my Goldilocks side was kicking in, I found a print that reminded me of these marbled papers:

Surely they are kissing cousins if not full-on siblings?

Because I force my clothes to work hard for my money, you know damn well this halter will be used under business casual and regular ole business clothing. Even if that WILL make me feel as if I carry a copy of Cosmo in my work tote.

I have to admit that the halter’s print also reminds me—a bit, if I stretchhhhh—of some of the favorite book jackets on my shelf…

not to mention some of the delightful geometric endpaper designs I’ve seen.

Some of the Victoria and Albert Museum's deco-era endpaper collection (published in the 1985 book "Decorative Endpapers")

Which makes me think I need to start collecting books just for the intriguing covers and endpapers. Because while I devoured “Carolyn Keene’s” Nancy Drew mysteries when I was six, it was the pseudonymous author’s earlier Dana Girls Mystery Stories that got hit with the pretty stick:

The Dana Girls Mystery Stories started off with engaging covers (detail from 1937's "The Circle of Footprints")

If only the publishing industry would encourage today’s book designers to era-mix more freely.

DELIVER ME FROM FABIO AND CHICK LIT ILLUSTRATIONS

I mean wouldn’t this early 19th century marbled paper look equally at home serving as the endpaper for the 30s cover above and the vintage Penguin covers below?

Though I wouldn’t kick these papers out of bed for eating crackers:

At least when I get my “Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box” order in November I’ll get to wallow in design nostalgia.

Glimpse of Penguin's 1963 poetry series from "Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box"

In the meantime, I’ll be wearing the hell out of my halter. If anyone wants to judge me by my cover, I’m pretty sure I’ll come out ahead.

PSA #1: Visiting Massachusetts out of the question? Peek at more of the Salem Athenaeum’s “Under the Covers: The Hidden Art of Endpapers” exhibit here.

PSA #2: While I’ve included several patterns above, the University of Washington’s “Decorated and Decorative Paper Collection” has a plethora of high-quality photos for online perusal.

Strawberry Fudge Ripple Top

My stylish invisipal Buff was in town this weekend. To honor both her visit and the shockingly persistent sunshine, I wore my Strawberry Fudge Ripple tank, a top The Mellow Glamazon created for me after I left a bundle of $4-a-yard Missoni fabric on her doorstep.

Breaking out a big hat + favorite shell necklace for the weekend sun

Now I’ve already fessed up to having a stripe fetish—especially when said design is combined with Donna Summeresque shimmer. So finding this clearance rack’d, demi-sheer fabric had both those elements plus an actual, by golly! 3-D ripple effect built into it?

HOG HEAVEN

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE

When I first told the MG that I wanted a mullet top, she didn’t blink. In fact she picked up what I was throwin’ down, you dig? Toss a jacket or cardigan over Ripple, and it’s a demure layering piece; on its own, though, the low back has more of a school’s-out-forever vibe:

Custom designed with a small drape in front...and a low back that works with my standard infrastructure

[While pairing the top with chocolate or vanilla is a no-brainer, I’m kind of digging it with grey right now.]

As our catch-up breakfast left Ms Buff impressed with Ripple’s ability to accommodate many a pancake AND flatter my face, we decided to hit the Mellow Glamazon’s studio/shop to see if any existing pieces suited my visitor’s particular brand of loveliness.

SCORE

Once alterations are complete, a multi-season patterned knit wrap dress and a couple of deeply discounted cooler-weather items will wing their way towards her. While I’m perhaps a bit too happy that she’ll have some wearable mementos of her Oregon trip, I’m primarily psyched that she’ll have some new clothes that work perfectly for her life, closet, and body.

It wasn’t til we’d say our goodbyes outside the store that I realized how strongly I’ve come to feel about supporting folks who labor locally or online to produce their wares.

It’s not really for holier-than-thou reasons, either. I just think that quality-driven buyers on tighter budgets—and people with fit and/or sizing issues—often end up better off when they sink their time/money into customized offerings. [Or learn to sew!]

Because seriously: it’s much harder to look good wearing poorly-constructed clothes made of crappy fabric. Of course people pull it off, but I never did. And unfortunately I had to learn the hard way that the price tag does not always correlate to quality or likelihood of flattery.

Now I’ve documented enough of my off-the-rack and made-to-measure clothes that it’s obvious I’m not a fashion-forward dresser. But if I WERE I bet dollars to donuts that I could find someone to go all Project Runway on my behalf as long as the town had more than 20 people in it.

Anyone want to give it a spin and report back? If so, I’m all (hat-covered) ears.

Interested in exploring a backroads journey to style but stuck for where to start?

  1. Beg for seamstress recommendations at the nearest bridal shop (alterations central!) or fabric store
  2. See who handles costumes for your high school drama department
  3. Look online for local resources, but don’t rule out “e-creations” from places like Etsy