Fashion failure, needs help
November 6, 2010 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting a bit tired of the jeans-and-nerdy tshirts look I sport most of the time. I want to develop a visual look that's a bit more together, a bit more interesting, and a bit less daggy.

Fashion-wise, I like steampunk, gothic and similar fashions. I like lace, subtle black-on-black texturing, understated elegance, and occasional bright accents.

Actual question: Where do I find clothes/accessories like this, for not much money, and how do I assemble them into something that looks coherent?

Tricky stuff:
- I don't do ironing. Ever.
- I have a limited budget (~$200 over the next six months), live in Queensland Australia, and it's summer here.
- I am bad at complicated clothing. Simple to assemble, mix and match items, easy to put on clothing is important. I love corsets, but they're just not good for everyday.
- Shoes. I can't wear heels more than about 1x week. The rest of the time has to be flats.
- Makeup. I don't do it often, and generically suck at it in any case.
- No pink. At all.
- I'm overly well endowed in the chest area. I'm not skinny anywhere else, either.
- I cycle to and from work on weekdays. Things that are small to transport, and are okay with locker storage are optimal, although only-weekend looks would be useful too.
posted by ysabet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Two questions: how old are you and how do the people at your work usually dress?
posted by Diagonalize at 5:49 PM on November 6, 2010

Response by poster: 29, and there isn't much of a coherent workplace style. It's not unusual to see someone in a full japanese kimono-style outfit, nor is it unusual to see someone in denim shorts, sneakers, and a several-years-old tshirt. Other outfits around the office include business casual, full suit and tie, and a few dresses and skirts. More people than not wear tshirts and jeans, though.
posted by ysabet at 5:55 PM on November 6, 2010

I don't know about fashion, but you can approximate ironing by throwing the item in the dryer until it is toasty, or hanging it in the bathroom to steam while you are taking a shower.
posted by scose at 5:58 PM on November 6, 2010

I'm in Canada, so I'm not sure how far $200 AUS goes, but the biggest limiting factor is with your budget.

So, on that note, I'd recommend trying to buy accessories that you can dress things up with. I send you to etsy for things steampunky/gothy. Go big if you can only get one piece. A chunky/interesting bracelet is great. Paired with a chunky/interesting ring on the other hand, I find I don't need necklace/earrings (which sometimes I find too much).

if you can fit it in your budget, a pair of shoes that are both comfy and dressy/cool. I find shoes and a couple of well-placed accessories can dress things up enough to go out at night.

If you have only geek-tees, then you'll have to buy a top (black is good!) that maybe has some steampunk/gothy accents that are more subtle. A crisp black shirt goes really well with jeans too (though it's neither steampunk or goth, really). One of each would be great.

If you have tees that you don't love as much any more, you can do some t-shirt surgery. There are some basic mods you can do and then if you can sew, more interesting ones. Antique/junk places might have some good/cheap accents to sew on. It's cheap. Or free. YMMV.

Not sure what kind of market there is in Australia for this kind of shop, but second-hand stores will be your best resource for things on your budget.

Good luck!
posted by jlunar at 6:03 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would recommend browsing the internet and collecting a bunch of different "looks" and outfits that you like, then breaking down the outfits to see what exactly goes into them. Polyvore is a great kind of play-with-fashion-paper-doll-outfits type of site, and you might even find some groups on there with the type of outfits you're interested in.

Then, I recommend going to thrift stores, since it's a very inexpensive way to play around with stuff til you get a grasp of how you feel in various things.

Build a couple of full "outfits" with the things you get, a couple for work, some for casual outings, etc. That way, can see how all the pieces will cross over with one another, and it'll give you a good idea of what you need (like, "Oh, I have a lot of tops, I should get some skirts and trousers that fit with them").
posted by lhall at 6:28 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

In summer I often wear those longish business cut shorts. On my they're close to knee length, but a bit shorter is generally good. The cut and material is generally similar to business pants, and while I prefer the more tapered kind you can get baggier ones too if that works better. They're smarter than plain shorts or denim cutoffs but just as comfortable. Look in shops with women's business clothes as well as general fashion places, and don't be afraid to pay for a really well made pair as my favourite ones still look great in their sixth summer (they came from Australia too but I don't remember the store name).

Then on top I wear a nice teeshirt. One that's well cut, generally nicer material, a bit fitted and has an extra detail, like small puff sleeves or a v-neck to make it more like a 'top' than just a tee. That's where you can be putting in your lace and colourful accents etc without big outlays of money or effort. Look at places like Supre, Dotti, Cotton On etc. Examples: 1 2 3

For skirts you might like pencil type skirts, around knee length and a bit more tapered at the end. They can be kind of gothy, look great with curves, and work with anything from a nice tshirt to a corset (e.g. I have this one, and this is cute). You can't really ride a bike in one but they aren't huge to carry.

Add cute sneakers (Skechers or Diesel for example) or smart laceups or maryjanes. The longer length shorts can also look really great with heels if you can be bothered (I generally can't).

I also have some cute button up shirts from Esprit or Witchery which can dress up a pair of jeans or denim cutoffs. I don't iron either but I do find that running a quick iron up the button placket at the front helps it sit better, less gaping. Any kind of rouching or gathering around the front helps with the larger chest issue, but try lots of types on because it's all in the cut. I have this shirt and the lightly crinkled fit plus stretchy panel at the side makes it fit really well over my bulges and curves.

Generally I try to own three or four nice pairs of shorts and/or skirts then several different cheaper tops to mix and match. I also currently have a dark, slightly dressy looking pair of jeans for when it's colder. You can start with your normal tees and introduce other, dressier tops as you find ones you like - make it a game to bargain hunt for them. I don't wear makeup (why bother?) but do make sure my hair is neatly brushed - difficult with a bike helmet I know!. I'm not really into jewellery either but that can also be a good way to add some bling to an otherwise pretty straightforward outfit, and there are plenty of places where you can get cheap stuff that's fun and essentially disposable.
posted by shelleycat at 6:52 PM on November 6, 2010

I was in your shoes a couple years ago (I'm your age). I mostly wore lefty political t-shirts and jeans all the time, but aspired to better. I really loved clothing from underground subcultures and anything romantic verging on twee. However, anytime I tried that stuff on it didn't feel right. Eventually I realized that I really a tomboy, and while I like to be pretty sometimes, mostly I'm comfortable in crisp, classic styles.* In the intervening couple years, that knowledge has been invaluable.

If I were you, I would not try to completely replace all your clothes now, but start building an aesthetic now, and continue to add to that anytime you need to go clothes shopping. I started by replacing my political tee collection with plain tees, usually a v-neck rather than a crew neck (v-neck shirts might be great for you, considering you are curvy). Then, when I had real money to spend, I'd add a blazer here, a silk skirt there. I've also gotten better about fit, and try to at least have my pants hemmed professionally. I also work in a casual field, and I find that jeans are fine, I just try to keep them nice (and trouser cut jeans can be really good for feeling put together and grown up).

I would stay away from thrift for the moment, not because it's bad to shop in thrift stores (I've plugged thrift shopping in a lot of other fashion threads here), but because it's easy to fall back into looks that are ratty or ill-fitting. Especially if you like gothic subcultural aesthetics or anything victorian. So easy to backslide from "I like gothic styles" into "...but it's black! And see, it has lace on it!" Thrift shopping only works when you are very confident about what you're looking for.

*this may not be true for you, but giving your personal aesthetic a one-word descriptor can be very helpful, regardless of the specific clothes you like.
posted by Sara C. at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I love the idea of doing teeshirt surgery on things you already own. Most chain fashion stores have websites so spend some time looking around and getting ideas. Most of it will be bland crap but there are always one or two interesting peices you can pull out, and making your own means you can add your own style. Lace is really in right now, as is shoulder detailing etc, so you can add all kinds of cool stuff and still look sharp. Just don't add to many things to the same shirt, heh.
posted by shelleycat at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the good advice so far.

Tbh, I'm not all that confident with messing with my clothes - I don't have any 'spare', and I'll be in real straits if I destroy something. Unfortunately, I really suck at anything more complicated than re-attaching buttons, and have a tendency to really screw things up. :( I need a lot more practice before I'd be confident.
posted by ysabet at 7:40 PM on November 6, 2010

Lilli from Frocks and Frou Frou is a not-skinny prolific fashion blogger out of Melbourne. She always includes the source of the items she wears, so it might give you some ideas for shopping options.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:32 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have similar tastes to you, perhaps with a slightly more professional bent. I've been trying to rejuvenate my own wardrobe recently, so here are some of the things I've found most versatile:

- A simple black blazer with mid-length sleeves. It was cheap as anything, from Valleygirl of all places. Turns jeans and a tank top into smart casual, and could work with jeans and a fitted T-shirt if that's your style. I also wear it with fitted denim (not jean) skirts, and at a pinch I can look really corporate by pairing it with a grey pencil skirt.

- Half a dozen black and neutral tank tops - you can pick them up for a few dollars from the otherwise crappy clothing store SES. They give me something simple to wear under a jacket, and as a fellow large-chested lady, I need them to make V-necks and wrap tops appropriate for the office.

- Very dark jeans, slim cut but not skinny. I keep them dark by handwashing them gently and drying them inside-out. If you have a curvy butt, Dangerfield/Revival make ones that actually fit.

- Fitted, high-waisted skirts. They look good with a jacket, and it's amazing how an otherwise daggy thrift store blouse can look crisp and stylish when tucked into one, with a belt.

- Belts. Lots of belts. Most were $5 or less from thrift stores. Since I'm curvy, I favour wide curved or elastic ones, worn just above my hips or just under my boobs. I didn't really wear belts until I started reading Academichic - I've learned a lot about fashion from them. (Forgive them, they're having a pink week for breast cancer right now).

I buy a lot of clothes by Australian designer Cue, usually second-hand off eBay. They're big on understated elegance and subtle textures, and the clothes are cut to fit perfectly on women with curves. The fabric is generally pretty high quality, so even a second-hand piece will have several years wear left in it. They do vanity sizing, so if you wear a 12 in other brands, you'll probably fit a 10 in Cue.

You might also like clothes by Review - they're big on lace and texture, and the clothes are perfectly cut for an hourglass figure. They're expensive new, but pretty affordable at outlet stores and on eBay. I have a couple of high-waisted skirts from them which are wonderfully versatile.

Also, check out Clear iT. It's an outlet store that sells end-of-season clothes from several alternative Australian brands. In particular, Dangerfield, Princess Highway and Revival would probably suit your style. There are stores in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, but it looks like you can also order online. Last time I went, I spent $110 and came away with three dresses, a pair of jeans, a skirt, a top and a gorgeous vinyl bag. Summer wardrobe, done!

For shoes, Camper does wonderful flats, but they're expensive, so again, I buy them slightly worn or new in the box off eBay. Also, while I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, Homypeds are not just for Nanas. I have a great pair of their heels which I bought on sale, and aside from the fact that I can actually walk in them, they're indistinguishable from more fashionable brands. You can buy them at your local pharmacy.

If you wear a lot of black, you can get more wear out of your clothes by putting them through a wash with black Dylon dye. You can buy it at your local pharmacy. It's also good for rejuvenating slightly faded thrift-store finds.
posted by embrangled at 9:33 PM on November 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

embrangled has lots of good advice. If I were in your shoes, this is what I'd be looking for:

- A black 'boyfriend' blazer or a cardigan thrown over top of jeans and tees, with either ballet flats or Cons or other fashion sneakers brings your look from casual to smart casual. Nice for going to the movies or out to lunch.

- A black pencil skirt (maybe high-waisted if you're curvy) might work well for you in warm weather. You can wear it with tees or nicer tops for going out.

- A black (or other gothy colour like blood red or midnight blue) blouse with some lace trim that suits your steampunk/goth style can be worn on weekends with jeans or a skirt.

- A comfy pair of low heels - they do exist! And the trend is away from the skyscraper gladiator styles now. Try Airflex from Betts for another 'nanna' brand that do some nice looks, or Diana Ferrari's Supersoft. You can wear them with the items above to dress things up a little, or stick with ballet flats or Mary Janes for weekdays.
posted by harriet vane at 1:08 AM on November 7, 2010

Another good blog that might fit your style: Fasion for Nerds
posted by itesser at 6:17 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are some "look book" blogs (generally Canadian and US) I like that feature style pretty similar to what you are interested in--creative, yet generally pretty simple, and reusing lots of looks in lots of ways: (multiple authors, some more creative and out-there than others) (This one is probably my favorite, because her looks really are so simple--lots of J. Crew, Old Navy--with very few rare or expensive or vintage pieces. I feel like her looks are very east to imitate, and might be the best starting place)
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:25 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Harriet Vane's post reminds me of another thing that has really helped me update the way I dress. This is totally a trick stolen from What Not To Wear, but I find it is so true.

Anytime I am shopping for jackets or cardigans or any of those sorts of garments, I will NOT buy anything if it doesn't fit the following criteria:

- It fits great in the shoulders.

- It hits the right spot at the bottom. For many people this is the hip bone, but I'm not sure if that's universal.

In light of this, you should figure out what styles look good on you and always look for things that meet your criteria regardless of what is currently trendy. I can't do the "boyfriend blazer", for instance. This doesn't mean I can't dress stylishly, in fact it's actually helpful because it narrows things down when I'm shopping and I don't get as overwhelmed.
posted by Sara C. at 7:03 PM on November 7, 2010

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