HagRags: All mixed up

Posted: August 16, 2012 in beauty, fashion

When I was six or seven, I had a cherry red sleeveless polka dot top that I delighted in wearing with a pair of red-and-white plaid shorts. I remember looking at myself in the big round mirror of Mother’s 30s-era dressing table (the one that came with its little matching stool) and thinking that I was all that and a side of fries.

My delight, alas, was to be short-lived.

“You can’t wear that,” said The Older Brother, who, at 11, already considered himself the absolute Last Word on what was fashionable or cool. “That looks dumb.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I think it looks good.”

“You can’t wear two patterns together,” he said. “Gosh, you are so STUPID.”

I was crushed. I had no sisters to consult (and Mother was no help), so I swallowed his opinion whole and never wore that lovely little ensemble again.

(Fast forward about, oh, 50 years…)

AHA! I AM VINDICATED! One CAN wear two patterns together! Even plaids and polka dots! ESPECIALLY plaids and polka dots!

Actually, pattern-mixing has been around for a long time. I remember reading a biography of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that scandalous pair, and the author mentioned that it was the Duke’s penchant for wearing paisley ties and striped shirts with his discretely plaid suits that ramped up pattern mixing, at least in menswear. Also, those wonderful ladies at over at Advanced Style seemed to have no qualms about mixing things up, and they appear pretty practiced at it.

While it’s  taken a few extra years for the trend to catch up to me, or me to it, I think the past six months on the street fashion sites and fashion blogs have been a particularly delightful time.  I may not be as brave as the fashionistas on Everybody Everywhere when it sponsored a pattern-mixing day, but I’ve been dabbling in combining this scarf with that top, or that dress with this jacket. And it’s been FUN. Isn’t that the whole point of fashion?

If you’re still not quite convinced, let me offer some of the best advice I’ve gleaned about mixing things up (with examples from my own closet):

Start with stripes.

This is the safest and easiest route I’ve found, and it helps that I already have lots of striped pieces to work with. Polka dots also work well as a more “neutral” print.

Use accessories. Hey, you already wear jewelry, don’t you? Layered necklaces and bracelets can be viewed as a pattern, and a cute patterned scarf or pair of shoes can be a low-risk way of bumping up the volume. (And, when your children make fun of your outfit, you can always take a shoe off and beat them soundly with it or strangle them with the scarf.)

Mix a large pattern with a smaller print.

This tones down any competition, and helps avoid making you look like you got dressed in the dark.

Stay in the same color family.

This is my most daring combo so far — and it completely breaks with the previous suggestion, which probably should tell you something about following rules in the fashion game. To make it a little less jarring, I used the next suggestion —

Cool down the combination with a block of color or a neutral shade. This is a trick I discovered on my own, and it makes me a little more comfortable with my combos.

A little separation, a little blank space can often quiet any sartorial noise. I mostly use black, because I have so much of it in my closet, but I’m trying to use other shades.

And lastly: Have fun, but don’t push it.

I remember driving by the ESL (English language) instruction labs on campus last year and watching the  Asian chicks stroll to class in their random mixed-pattern outfits, which looked strange to me but that (as demonstrated by their body language) clearly made them feel fabulous. I can’t quite carry that off, and I probably shouldn’t try. (This photo is from StreetPeeper, a fun global street fashion site.)

So now, I’ve opened up a host of new combos from my closet, and I can finally reassure my seven-year-old self that I was right all along. Just file this one under Finished Fashion Business.

And to Older Brothers (and fashion critics) everywhere: PFFFFFFFFFT!

  1. Never listen to a straight man on the subject of fashion, especially if you share any genetic material. I bet you looked great — just a little before your time. As for me, in a fit of insanity (also because they were in my size and marked down to 10 quid = 15 dollars) I bought my very first pair of skinny jeans (we are talking skin tight) in bright sherbet green. It probably wouldn’t have happened, but it was 5.45 and the changing rooms were closed, so I didn’t get a chance to look in a mirror until all sales were final. I brought them home, and since he was the only person around, I tried them on for my 25 year old son. I asked him if I could get away with something that tight. Never mind the tight, he said, no one can get away with that colour. Sigh. Meanwhile, any suggestions for what to put on top of those jeans?

    • msmeta says:

      Oh, what do kids know? Ignore him. I’ve not had a lot of experience with green, but I’ve seen some really nice analogous combos out there pairing green with blues and even a little yellow.

      I’ll bet you look smashing in them!

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