What Not To Wear, Jewelry Edition?
August 20, 2010 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I think I'm good on the clothing part, but what I've never been able to do is figure out accessories. Help?

My work wardrobe is a pretty decent selection of neutral skirt and pant suits with appropriately coordinating (it has to go, not match! say Stacey and Clinton) tank tops and blouses. My wedding set is a diamond solitaire and a diamond channel band, and I generally wear diamond studs in my ears. This is pretty much the extent of my jewelry collection. As a lefty, I have always worn a watch on my left hand, but I can see that this makes me look a little lopsided with all the other bling.

Are there books for this sort of thing? Websites? Particularly good stores? I'm on the Canadian west coast. I follow academichic, but I don't really get their various approaches to accessorizing. I think what I'm looking for is a set of rules to follow. I found the What Not To Wear books (US and UK) very helpful for clothing, but I just don't understand jewelry. I would love to be one of those put-together women who know how to choose and wear interesting and work-appropriate bracelets, pendants, earrings, etc.

I go back to work in November after one fabulous year of maternity leave. Please help me step it up!
posted by sillymama to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not exactly conventional, more like "she really has her own style!" (love it or hate it) but I have put my wardrobe together around my very large collection of handmade jewelry and vintage costume jewelry (I inherited a lot of my grandma's stuff). I keep my actual clothing quite simple in line and color because the jewelry grabs attention and I want it to be the focus of my look. Same with scarves, I have some lovely unique scarves (like a cut velvet one my aunt got me in Venice!) that I use as focal points of my outfits.

What sort of look do you want to project? What kind of jewelry do you like? Then start pulling together sets of jewelry that go well together - like if you have a nice big bronze cuff that is a real statement maker, what goes with it and won't clash with it or be overshadowed by it? A dainty silver flower necklace might not go with a big bronze cuff, but handmade glass beads might.

Getting a put-together style isn't something you wake up with. Aside from a very few fashion mavens who seem to be born with taste, it takes practice and a lot of trial and error and looking at yourself in the mirror, trying on pieces to go with outfits.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2010

Much to the chagrin of my mother, I eschewed jewelry for all of the nineties and a number afterward. I'm still not comfortable with expensive jewelry because I'm afraid I will lose it. I made a conscious decision to start wearing jewelry a few years ago.

I don't have a website or book to recommend but can offer advice about what I like to wear.

You can get great costume jewelry at boutiques and clothing stores. I get compliments all the time about the cheap stuff I buy at Smart set. You don't have to invest much money and you don't have to wear that much. I don't wear earrings if I've got a big necklace on and vice versa.

I suggest looking for some earrings that you like, try some big ones for a change from your studs. Also, I like to have a range of necklaces - different lengths and "weights". Light and delicate vs big plastic beads. The different lengths are for different necklines . I will wear a long necklace over a turtle neck or a short necklace that is framed by a scoop neckline.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2010

I think jewelry is a great opportunity to express your individual style. I like mixing my more punk or rockabilly types of pieces in with more conservative outfits. I don't have any specific recommendations, but I do think you can find a fun pieces just about anywhere, and they don't have to be expensive.

My only "rules" (meant to be broken at times) are:

1) Less is more. Strong necklace or strong earrings, never both. Err on the side of being underaccessorized instead of overaccessorized.

2) Wear only things that are well made. It doesn't have to be real gold or real jewels, but if the finish is flaking off or it looks cheap, it's detracting more than it adds.
posted by Fuego at 11:16 AM on August 20, 2010

I think the main principle is balance. If you have bigger earrings, then skip a necklace or wear a simple or small one. If you're wearing a large pendant, put it on a correspondingly long chain or cord, and wear small or no earrings. If you're a big and/or tall person, you can wear bigger and more dramatic jewelry; if you're small, go subtler. If your clothes are subdued and neutral, you can pair them with something interesting and colorful; if they're bright or patterned, you probably want less jewelry. You don't want to look like a Christmas tree, and in a professional environment, small and subdued is usually a better idea. I would start out with a few simple necklaces or pendants to wear with the stud earrings and see how you feel. As you get more comfortable, you can add more items to your collection.

I'd recommend etsy.com for lots of options, though that might be a bit overwhelming. Another idea is to go to the stores where you buy your clothes and see what jewelry they have; boutiques usually have jewelry that works with what they sell (though it does tend toward the generic). I like the dramatic and funky, so I usually buy at craft fairs, but go with what makes you feel comfortable and beautiful. That's the point, after all.

Best of luck to you.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2010

Oh, and you'll look more pulled together if you stick to one color of metal. That is, don't wear goldtone earrings and a silvertone necklace together.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:32 AM on August 20, 2010

Just in time, Jezebel has some advice to add.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2010

Today's Jezebel article titled Accessories 101 may or may not be helpful to you, but is worth a read.
posted by brainmouse at 12:16 PM on August 20, 2010

In my view, the best accessories to experiment with are not jewellery, but scarves. The jewellery you wear sounds very classic (a bit conservative, but there's nothing wrong with that) and workable with different clothes. Nothing wrong with that!

Drape a colourful scarf around and your outfit is instantly brightened up in a professional-looking way. Shawls and pashminas can even replace suit jackets in the summer, too.
posted by Kurichina at 1:05 PM on August 20, 2010

I don't think a wedding set and earrings add up to bling. Personally, I think you sound finethe earrings and rings are your signature. I've noticed that a lot of magazines and catalogues are showing models with no earrings this fall.

If you can carry it off, height-wise, one big scarf/pashima or a big statement purse can add a lot. Same with a a belt with a bold buckle or one big piece of jewelry--cuff, pin or necklace.

Lots of ditsy makes me itch, even if I'm not wearing it. Too many layers and scarves ala the Olsen Twins is sort of odd for a professional.

I think none of the Jezebel examples are worth emulating. That site needs a photo editor.

Have you checked out the women on The Sartorialist? He's got a great eye, and the women usually look done, but not overdone.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:08 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love jewelry, and I prefer the real thing versus costume. I like what you are already wearing, and suggest you build on that, subtly. For example, think about a small quality diamond on a quality omega or quality (not invisible) chain. A smaller sized link bracelet with some diamonds like this would be nice on your right wrist. Consider looking at other stones (e.g. ruby, sapphire) that complement your work wardrobe, in moderate to small sizes and perhaps with embracing diamonds. I'd start with smaller pendants. For example.

Take a look at the fine jewelry counters at the department stores, and don't miss the counters at Sams Club and Costco if you ever get to those stores, which have surprisingly high quality jewelry for reasonable prices.

Jewelry can run very trendy, like clothing. I am in a conservative job myself and dress similarly to you. With classic clothes, I like classic jewelry looks, which is why I'm suggesting you stick with the classic styles like simple small good stones. (I skip any irradiated or artificial stones, btw. I think they look phony.) If you start feeling more adventurous, I'd suggest taking a look at brooches and slightly dangly earrings.
posted by bearwife at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2010

Another beautiful thing to wear with diamond studs is a locket. Mine has a picture of my husband and I on our wedding day inside . . . whatever. I am fond of cameos too.
posted by bearwife at 1:39 PM on August 20, 2010

Excellent advice from everyone upthread - I would add if you are not used to wearing jewelry and/or scarves it may take some getting used to at first. You will probably feel fussy and overdressed (when in reality, you probably aren't). Resist this feeling until you've been wearing the necklace or scarf a few times and you get used to how they feel on your body.
posted by sarajane at 1:50 PM on August 20, 2010

Some really good suggestions here!

I'll reiterate a couple:
- don't wear gold or bronze with silver
- big earrings or big necklace but not both (but your diamond studs don't count as big)
- glass beads could work as a necklace instead of a silver chain / locket / small pendant

- think about the colour of your suit - if you're into neutrals like beige / camel / tan, wood necklaces / bracelets can work really well; if you wear black, you can get away with necklaces in bright colours.
- don't worry about matching with your engagement / wedding band
- what's your watch like? An alternative watch in a different style might be something to consider.
- belts, brooches / corsages and hair accessories (even just some simple slides) can all add a bit of interest to your outfit. As can handbags.

And I can't believe that no-one has mentioned shoes yet! The perfect accessory, you can get some lovely shoes in a variety of colours and heel height. If you can match your shoes to your belt or necklace or a ring, that can work really well especially if the rest of your outfit is quite neutral.

Keep your eyes open - look around at what other women are wearing, especially women who wear similar clothes to yours. Don't be afraid to stop someone on the street and ask them where they got their shoes / necklace / belt - trust me, it will make their day, and give you ideas for where to shop...

And as sarajane says, you may feel a bit selfconscious initially, but as soon as you get your first compliment (and you will!), you'll get over that. Enjoy!
posted by finding.perdita at 2:12 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: First, take a look at your wrists and ankles. This will tell you whether you have large or small bones. (At this point, many people start using the phrase "big-boned" as a euphemism for "fat". I don't use euphemisms. I'm talking about the size of your bones, not the flesh layered on top of them.)

If you have relatively small bones, you will need relatively less chunky jewelry. If you have relatively large bones, you will need relatively more chunky jewelry.

For example, I have small bones, so I don't wear big cocktail rings, because they look disproportionate on my spindly fingers. However, if a cocktail ring were not just one big hunk of ring, but were made up of a lot of small beads, then I might consider it on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise I would stick to smaller rings. Similarly, a cuff bracelet or thick wooden bangle would look huge on my tiny wrist, but if that same bracelet were latticey or lacy-looking in its construction (i.e. not solid but with a lot of negative space) and weren't too thick, then I would also consider that on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise I would stick to smaller bracelets.

Necklaces and earrings can often be bolder, though. Oddly, a wider choker can look better on a shorter neck, and vice versa. Longer earrings can also make a short neck look longer.

Other than your engagement and wedding rings, and perhaps your diamond stud earrings which sound very low-key, serious jewelry should appear only after 6pm. The exception is pearls which can be worn during the day.

Rhinestones also tend to look tacky during the day but look great at night.

Think carefully about the placement of your jewelry. If you are wearing earrings, it's better not to wear a necklace too unless they are all part of a set. If you wear earrings with a non-matching necklace it's disconcerting to the eye as you don't know where to look. Two bracelets don't really look good on the same wrist unless they are, or look as if they should be, meant to go together. You also are better off not wearing a bracelet on the same wrist as your watch unless it looks like a close match to the watch and like it was not meant to be taken off in your lifetime.

A bunch of rings or a bunch of necklaces, well chosen, can look great together, though.

Necklaces don't really look that good over slashneck or poloneck tops and you have to consider how they work with whatever neckline you have chosen that day. A necklace or brooch looks best if it hits a balance point. To find your balance point, measure from the top of your forehead to your chin to get your head length, and then measure one head length down from your chin. That's your balance point, and there is another balance point a head length down from there, and so on.

Fake pearls are usually tasteful, but think carefully before buying fake anything else. I have no problem splashing out fifty cents on a plastic necklace, because what am I going to accuse it of? Being fake plastic? No, it's plastic and it's proud. Glass beads are also okay in my book. Base metals are fine with me also as long as they're not trying too hard to pretend they're the real thing.

For myself, I usually wear one religious symbol and one decorative piece of jewelry and leave it at that. Sometimes, though, I might wear three necklaces at once, all at different heights; or a scattering of small pins and brooches, or a handful of rings.

I like to go to Claire's Accessories and see if they have any grab bags of leftover stuff going cheap. You never know what you'll find. I think it would be a good place to start because when you open the bag, you'll probably find at least one thing you like, and you won't have spent much at all. You can also go to thrift stores and see if they have anything you'd like to try, or go to low-end chain stores and pick up gobs of cheap trendy things to experiment with.
posted by tel3path at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's interesting that you said that about your watch--everyone I know wears their watch on their non-dominant hand, so that it receives less wear and tear and isn't in the way of fine motor tasks like writing.

So maybe try putting your watch on your right wrist, if nothing else to feel less "lopsided"? I guarantee that it will feel really funny at first, but give it a week or so and see what you think.
posted by tmacdonald at 3:25 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you! You've all given me a lot to think about.

I'm a little wary of the cheap trendy stuff, but can see how looking at the costume jewelry counters at my favourite clothing shops makes sense. I also spent some time last night deciding if I'm big or small-boned (small-boned and petite is the conclusion, I've just put on a hefty layer over it), and will keep this in mind as far as proportion goes. I'll also keep trawling through the fashion blog links.
posted by sillymama at 6:44 PM on August 21, 2010

Late to the thread but I like the way Angie at youlookfab.com offers suggestions on how to wear accessories:
posted by Ness at 6:18 AM on August 23, 2010

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