Dress me
April 7, 2011 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Teach-me-how-to-be-a-girl filter: I do not understand how to accessorize. Hold my hand and show me how it's done.

No matter how many fashion blogs I read or how much attention I pay to how stylish people dress, I cannot seem to internalize anything. I've concluded that mere observation and a list of rules isn't enough; I need to understand how a stylish person approaches the process of getting dressed. Let's put aside clothing for the time being (too difficult) and focus on accessorizing. I do not understand how to coordinate half a dozen different accoutrements while negotiating the narrow waters between too-matchy Barbie Island and too-clashy Eighties Archipelago.

And this is where you, fashionable Mefite, come in! I'm going to show you an outfit; you explain how you would approach accessorizing it if you were me, focusing on the process and logic behind your decisions. Links to sample items would be great, especially if accompanied by an explanation of which characteristics make those items ideal.

So I bought this dress to wear to a wedding in June. (It actually looks quite nice in person, despite the $25 price tag.) I have no idea where to even begin, but I need to fill in the following syntagmatic slots:

-Shoes (I would prefer to wear the silver strappy heels that I already own, since shoes are the most expensive and difficult thing to add, but feel free to supply hypotheticals as well)
-Bag (I already own a very simple pewter fake-croc clutch, which once again I'd prefer to use)
-Belt (I am very petite but buxom, so I think the dress would be more flattering with a wide belt instead of the same-fabric sash that it came with)
-Jewelry (Go wild here; no constraints other than that I have a skinny neck so necklaces are always longer than me than on normal people.)
-Fascinator (I've recently started getting into these; I have short, curly hair that I can't do anything with in terms of styling, so fascinators are a good way to "dress up" my hair a bit for special occasions.)

To give you a sense of my personal "style" (if it could be called that), were money no object, my entire wardrobe would be from Anthropologie. My budget is, sadly, more on the Forever 21 order of magnitude. But I am relatively crafty, so feel free to point out more expensive items that I could attempt to replicate on the cheap.

Oh, and if my coloring is relevant, I am pale and cool-toned, with dark brown hair.
posted by enlarged to show texture to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Caveat: IANS (stylish). But your shoe, bag, and belt ideas all sound great. Therefore I'd go to not-fancy jewelry store and get silver and sparkly earrings, necklace and (maybe) bracelet for jewelry and be all done. The silver would play well with the shoes, bag, and belt, and the sparkly would help them seem more dressy and special-occasiony. Necklace should sit nicely above the neckline sort of chandalier-y earrings might look nice.

But I'll be curious to hear what stylish folks recommend!
posted by ldthomps at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2011

A solid yellow belt would be nice-- but I wouldn't go too wide with it. Maybe no more than 1" wide. Purple dress + yellow belt + silver shoes example. That's a lot of color, so I'd keep jewelry simple, especially if you wear a fascinator-- which I would go for in either yellow or silver.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2011

As a petite, buxom person, I always find that a contrasty belt makes me look wider in the middle. You might prefer the style anyway, but keep an eye out for the embiggening effects of a horizontal stripe in the middle of your body.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:28 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

It took me a minute to realize that you were apologizing for the $25 price tag. I get my clothing accessories from thrift stores, free piles, and in Naked Lady Clothing Swaps. Admittedly I live in a college town where there is a high turnover of students with lots of very nice things, but in a big city like Chicago, you probably have your own share of similar options.

You don't need to read the fashion blogs. Read the world around you, instead. Fashion is what you want it to be. I can tell by looking at the folks on my college campus that shirts that make everyone look pregnant are - or recently were - one of the latest trends on the fashion blogs in 'how to dress like a girl."

Jewelry? Not much. Take all the jewelry you already have and try 'em on with the dress in front of a mirror. Then pick just one or two. If the necklace is too long, sometimes you can loop it around your neck again. Dangly earrings work well with hair that is very short.

For cheap DIY earrings, visit a bead store. You can pick up earring hooks there, and you can hang anything you like from them. Feather earrings are very popular in my part of California right now.

Things I do to dress up my short, curly hair at various lengths:
- Cut a collar off a t-shirt. Use the collar as a headband that is far more comfortable than actual headbands, and nobody knows it's a collar.
- little pigtails. one on the top left quadrant, one on the top right quadrant
- Corn rows
- French braids, one on either side.
- some people like barrettes, or bobby pins
- hats in the winter, head scarves in the summer
- bobby pin + a fresh flower
posted by aniola at 10:28 AM on April 7, 2011

Some general thoughts:

1. How do the silver heels look with the clutch? Are they complimentary silvers? Are they stylistically similar? IE, is one art deco and one studded, or are both minimalist, or what? Ideally they will have a strong similarity but not match - so they might be the same silver but different styles, the same style but different silvers, etc.

2. I feel like silver shoes and silver bag plus a noticeable belt would be awkward. If I had a wide belt with this, I would want it to blend in with the dress as much as possible.

3. This dress already has a lot going on--pattern, double layers, sash, fluttery sleeves. A wide belt in a simple shape and dark color plus delicate silver shoes/accessories would be my pick. I would not add a necklace or a hair ornament in this case--maybe small earrings that went with the belt or the dress.

I think a thin silver belt would look nice, actually, but then you wouldn't want silver shoes.

Accessorizing is about rhythm, I think. A rhythm of patterns, small and large, colors that relate but don't precisely match.

I have trouble imagining any kind of fascinator with this dress. The dress seems too casual and too contemporary. Maybe something dark and simple if your accessories were dark and simple.

Here are some selections I might make:

1. Silver shoes, silver bag, wide matte dark belt in plum if possible, no fascinator, small earrings.

2. Silver belt, dark shoes and bag, fascinator, no major jewelry

3. Silver shoes, silver necklace, dark bag and belt, minor silver earrings.

The thing is, this dress looks really contemporary to me. I think you could dress it up in a sort of thirties way with a fascinator, but in that case I'd be more inclined to sash tie it rather than belt it, because it's a soft, flowy shape.

Also, consider that if you have a soft, flowy contemporary dress with thirties influence, your accessories should work with that rather than against it. It's difficult to envision this without knowing more about the sandals and bag. I find the idea of an ornate/heavily-beaded/feathered fascinator sort of odd with this dress. If you could find a fifties-ish cocktail hat, one of those that's basically a fascinator in satin or velvet but very plain, that would be nice.

I'd also say that less is more unless you want to look costumey. A necklace plus earrings plus a fascinator plus shiny shoes and bag will be too much.
posted by Frowner at 10:28 AM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Silver could work, but it might be too busy for the dress. It really depends how flashy the shoe is.

The purse should be more plain because the different patterns will clash. The purse and shoes should go together.

I agree with the belt idea.

It would be easiest for you to go black shoes heels and a belt
and then either go silver or gold in the jewelry.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2011

Well, when dressing for a wedding, the key principles are:
1) look good
2) feel good (be comfortable)
3) dress according to the appropriate degree of formality
4) let the bride have the spotlight
5) wear something celebratory

So, if this dress looks good on you, you've satisfied criteria #1 and hopefully it's also comfortable.

If the strappy sandals are comfortable for dancing, they meet the all important comfort criteria. You want to be able to have fun without worrying about painful feet. In terms of color: The most basic rule of accessorising prints is to pull out a color from the design. Black would be the most obvious color choice, but silver is in the same family, and if they look good on you, and they're comfortable, then by all means go for it.

Pewter is generally in the same color family, so if you think it looks good with the shoes and the dress, then most people would probably agree.

I think the dress is more formal with the matching sash. A wide belt would make it more casual, and if you're petite (like me), you want to watch out for breaking your body into too many horizontals. Also, the key feature of the dress is the print. Too many accessories will detract from the print and clutter it up.

With the print and ruffled neckline, a necklace might detract from the dress. I think a nice pair of earrings would go nicely. I'm fond of dangly vintage paste earrings myself, but you can pretty much go wild here. If they involve metal, I'd lean towards white metals to match the shoes, rather than gold, but you have a lot of room here. Felt flowers might be cute. Vintage bakelite is fun. Pearls are classic. Maybe you can make something to go with this. The obvious color is deep burgundy/garnet, but pewter, black, purple, amber, smoky golden, pink and ever turquoise would look snazzy.

While I love a good fascinator, there is a serious risk of upstaging the bride here. At most weddings, the bride is the only one wearing a headpiece or veil, and for people who don't wear fascinators it may be a rare and exciting treat to wear a headpiece on their wedding day. If you enjoy the look of fascinators, you might try playing around with a cool headband or barette. You can make one yourself, or get one of the many amazing ones offered on etsy.

As far as I can tell, you pretty much already have a good mastery of accessorizing. What ever you decide, I'm sure you'll look fantastic. Good luck, and have fun at the wedding.
posted by ladypants at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Addendum: Don't need to read the blogs out of a sense of obligation. If it's for enjoyment, have a blast!

Approach? Look in the mirror. Don't be critical: remember that you are your best friend. Full-length mirrors are more fun, because then you can match from head to toe. There is no right or wrong way to match. Just try different combinations and see what feels intuitively pleasing to you. If you are ok with how it looks, then it probably looks great to everyone else, too.
posted by aniola at 10:34 AM on April 7, 2011

Well, I start off like this:
What is my mood today? Do I want some attention (don't feel fat, got a good night's sleep, need to show off pedicure ...)?

If no, then you pop on some dark stockings, mile-high platforms in black, a black belt (I more often than not get rid of matchy dress belts because belts are an easy, cheap thrift store find that turns a dress into your dress), a pop-of-color clutch, some big dangly earrings and a bracelet with maybe something cardigan-y over your shoulders. This dress is not asking for a big flashy necklace. It has it's own swingy, flowerly, sheer, gathered situation up top there, so I think a necklace would be overkill if you were in a shy-girl mood.

If yes, then you wear bare legs, mile-high strappy gold platforms, a gold belt, a giant gold cuff, big gold hoops and a pop-of-color clutch. You have a wrap of some sort in that same pop of color (which totally works against the purple on purpose --teal? ruby red?) If you forego the big bracelet and stick with the fabric belt, you can drape a mazillion long gold chains and wear a giant flower ring.

Oh, and no fascinator, sorry!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think your existing accessories sound good, so will build on that. I suggest experimenting with a dark coloured, wide belt - probably in black, maybe in purple (you're unlikely to find a perfect match to shade, maybe "grape?", I'd need to see belt plus dress to know for sure).

I like your hair fascinator plan and envision something not very shiny, with purple, black and silver components. Maybe some skinny feathers. But then I went to etsy and saw this and This

And that there are 2000 purple fascinators on etsy and that without knowing your head & hair I can't recommend anything for sure.

Personally, I'd wear a necklace with some heft - maybe 1/2 diameter beads that sit at or above your collar bone.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2011

I am not an overly fashionable person, but I love your dress and want to steal it. And when I have a dress I *really* like, I take extra effort to make myself look AMAZING in it. (And I would always wear Anthropologie, too!)

Here is what I think:

No belt. Keep the sash.

Subdued silver shoes with a bag that is similar. Up above is contrary advice that the purse and shoes shouldn't match but also that the purse and bag should match in some ways but not in others. What I would do is have them match closely because I find it puts an outfit together better.

Jewelery --- very simple. Maybe a bangle on one wrist, simple earrings, simple charm necklace. This may even be too much, and I would adust that as appropriate.

Hair. If your hair is long enough, a simple french twist would be beautiful to accentuate everything else about your outfit. Plus, french twists are really easy to put up, stay up forever, and are really easy to fix if they start to go flat. And depending on the jewelery, you could throw in a couple of dainty bobby pins or simple clips that match the dress.

What I like about this dress is that it doesn't need much to look good. And consequently, you probably don't need much to make it look good. I like dresses like that. I enjoy dresses that I can accessorize but by no means have to in order to pull off a good look. I think the dress you have chosen is win-win on that, and if you don't heavily accessorize, you'll still look great.

I will admit to being rather minimalist on the accessories. I just don't like needing lots of accessories to look good, and if an outfit requires accessories to pull off, then it's an all around bad choice. For me.
posted by zizzle at 10:48 AM on April 7, 2011

The shape of the dress is floaty, but the print is quite geometric and has an 80s feel to me.

So I would go for long drop earrings and bling-y but delicate cuff type bracelet.

Shoes and bag sound fine. No belt or fascinator.
posted by plonkee at 10:53 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am wearing that dress's cousin today! I have this one. I'm dressed for work at a casual office, though, not a wedding, so take this with a grain of salt.

So first of all, I'm wearing a black camisole under it. I'm also busty, and the camisole prevents unfortunate cleavage.

Second, what's flattering about the dress is the waistline. I don't have much of a waist, and this dress gathers right below the boobs, at the narrowest part of my body. It's too cold for short-sleeves right now, so I'm wearing a long cardigan over my dress. Instead of buttoning it, I've kept it unbuttoned and secured it with a skinny belt that hits right at the place where the dress gathers. The open cardigan, skinny belt thing is something I borrowed from the blog Academichic, which features this look a lot.

I'm wearing opaque black tights and black Mary Jane shoes with a two-inch heel. I have short legs, so I probably wouldn't wear this dress with flats.

I'm not wearing any jewelry today, but I could see accessorizing this with a necklace (I tend to do short necklaces, which pull the eye away from my chest, rather than long ones that pull the eye towards it) or some fabulous earings. I usually wear small earrings if I'm wearing my hair down and dangly earrings if I'm wearing it up.
posted by craichead at 10:56 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! A couple of clarifications:

-I don't have pierced ears, so no earrings for me. Plus wearing my hair up isn't an option (for reasons I won't get into here), which is why I was leaning towards some sort of hair ornament to make my head look fancy.
-In terms of a fascinator, I wasn't picturing something huge and elaborate -- more like a couple of feathers/beads/whatever stuck to a hairclip. Though if this still sounds too incongruous/elaborate, I can nix that idea.
-The shoes I own look kind of like this but simpler and with a slightly shorter heel. I managed to find a photo of the clutch. I think they look good together, but what do I know?
-Re: wide belt being too casual/unflattering. The reason I find the wide belt more flattering is that without it, it looks like my chest takes up my entire torso. The wide belt seems to lengthen my waist. (And I have a very small waist, so if anything I think it makes me look slimmer.) But I agree that the casualness might be a problem. What about wrapping the fabric sash around twice and securing it with some sort of brooch?
posted by enlarged to show texture at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2011

Cute dress!

I think that less is more, especially with a dress that's not ultra plain. If I were dressing you, I think that dress+silver heels+kinda silver clutch is enough going on that I'd go with wrapping the fabric sash twice and just knotting it. And then maybe one bracelet, or something in your hair, not both.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

In light of this information, evening wedding --- a fascinator. Afternoon or morning wedding --- no fascinator -- let your head rock out on its own.
posted by zizzle at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2011

I am not super fashionable, but I generally look appropriate, so here's my two cents. (I don't think you'll get 100% agreement on any of your accessories here - it's so subjective and without seeing the whole picture, it's hard to judge.)

That said, it seems I'm mostly in agreement with thehmsbeagle. The dress pattern is busy enough that you'll want to keep your accessories simple. A simple silver pendant would be nice if your have one the seems the right length. It should be on a nice chain though - not ball chain! (Personally, I like interesting unadorned chains like this - I think it can class things up - but I know my shopping buddy isn't fond of them. She doesn't stop me from buying them, they just aren't her thing.) A delicate bracelet wouldn't be out of place either. Stick with a more sedate fascinator - probably something flat. Consider headbands too! They can be super cute.

BTW - as great as a lot of Anthropologie stuff (especially dresses!) is, their jewelry has been terrible for the past year and a half or so. Do not buy anything made of resin. Consider Express or J. Crew if you're going to sink that kind of money into a necklace or earrings. I keep hoping Anthro will return to their former glory, but they keep trying to seel giant wooden beads instead.
posted by maryr at 11:46 AM on April 7, 2011

Don't wear silver shoes AND a silver bag. One or the other. You could wear shoes in a color other than purple or pink, I'd say, and that'd be pretty fashionable. As a petite and somewhat buxom girl, I'd say no on the wide belt. No belt or a thin-medium belt. Fascinator sounds good.
Honestly, based on your descriptions of your choices and your favorite stores, you sound much more fashionable than the average person, so don't doubt yourself so much.
posted by elpea at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2011

Also, What Not to Wear is amazing to learn how to dress yourself. Take notes if you have a hard time remembering. I also like Tom and Lorenzo/Project Rungay to read about fashion and get tips for dressing oneself in flattering way (sure it's 2 dudes, but they seem to know their stuff pretty well).
posted by elpea at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, I'm not a fan of the shoes. They're a little out of date. You might want to find a nice pump or maybe peep toes. The thin strappy thing always reads a little 90s/early 2000s prom to me. You don't have to wear clodhoppers, but shoes are a little heavier right now.
posted by elpea at 12:27 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not a wide belt in silver, IMO and MMV. And, under any circumstances, a self-belt is not a good move, so your instincts are better than you think! If your silver sandals are comfy, by all means wear them!

As far as the bag, if it is simple and looks related to the shoes, go for it. Pro tip: Squint your eyes, and if the bag and shoes look much the same, you are good to go without being matchy-matchy.

I'd rather wear friendly, familiar, non-hostile shoes and buy a bag. For your dress, perhaps black or pink? Purple would be great if you can find it.
posted by jgirl at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2011

I don't like the shoes, I agree with elpea. I have a pair of "nude"/beige wedges that I think would go well with the dress - though I'd have to try it on. A black shoe (with an optional black belt) would also look nice. I like these inexpensive black pumps, which would go well and are very versatile.

I would wear either a very short necklace - maybe a pendant on a chain - or a very long one. You don't want the necklace to fall too close too the neckline of the dress.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:12 PM on April 7, 2011

In terms of choosing a hair accessory, I think a black or purple orchid would be a nice way to play on the vaguely 50's / 80's print. The first thing that came to mind was a black leather orchid like this crazy expensive thing, but I wouldn't suggest paying that kind of money for a hair ornament.

Here are a few things that caught my eye on etsy:
simple black orchid
black w/ pink center
purple metallic orchid (maybe too shiny?)
crafty purple felt flower

Regarding the shoes and purse, I think the ones you linked go nicely with the dress, but if you have comfortable black pumps, that's another viable option. Oh, and I forgot to mention - high heels sink into turf, so if it's an outdoor wedding, consider wearing flats or wedges so you don't feel like you're walking in quicksand. And most importantly, have fun!
posted by ladypants at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2011

some good advice so far, but a lot depends on the kind of wedding and time of day. while you probably don't know many of the specifics, there's quite a difference between a casual garden party (this dress is lovely and would be perfect for it) versus something like a formal evening wedding in a ballroom (in which case, I'd opt for a different dress since no matter how you accessorize it, it isn't black tie). if i were you, i'd try to find out the venue or if there's a suggested dress code.

assuming that it's somewhere in between casual and very formal, i'd listen to everyone who's telling you that a belt would make the dress too daytime/business. unless it's something like black sequin. otherwise, the pewter bag and silver shoes are fine choices.

but i'd recommend against a fascinator. unless you're going to a certain over-hyped affair in the uk later this month, fascinators have a tendency to be kitschy and make those of us without a peerage look like we're playing dress up or at least trying too hard. i would only recommend something as flamboyant as that if the rest of your outfit has really clean, strong lines. otherwise, you risk coming off as come off as a bit precious. stick a pretty barrette in your hair, maybe something floral, but avoid feathers. also, no corn rows.
posted by buka at 2:02 PM on April 7, 2011

I'm going to give you some advice as a stylish person, and forgive me if I sound a little aggressive or like a total bitch.

Don't wear silver shoes with that dress. I would go so far as to suggest throwing out anything silver and strappy unless you are going to a 2002-themed costume party, or if you are into bringing back outdated looks in an ironic way (and your question suggests you are not that kind of woman). The only way one can get away with wearing metallic accessories is if your entire outfit is black with sleek lines, with NO pattern and you're headed to a wintertime fancy gala-type party. Metallic needs to be hinted and should not compete against a pattern. The dress is nice, and more black than pink, so keep the shoes black.

Are you a heel-wearing woman? I am. I love them. This style may work well for that dress and a June wedding.

The best advice I will give you is that you need to visit stores outside of big box chains. My argument against stores like Forever 21 and H&M is that they have items that are almost identical to things you can find in a vintage store. Look around at what big box stores have, then go to a vintage store. It is usually cheaper, you won't look like everyone else and if you find the right thing, you'll look way better than everyone else. You live in Chicago, go to the great vintage stores Chicago has! And I know they are a few, the last time I was in Chicago I visited Knee Deep and Very Best Vintage. Once you get the hang of what is 'good' vintage, you can head over to Value Village and score some really great cheap items. The best items of clothing I continually get compliments on are from Value Village.

If you are able to find a thin pale pink belt that matches the pink in the dress, I'd wear it around your waist. Otherwise find a thin black belt and wear that around your waist.

Also, what fashion blogs are you reading? There are a ton of really bad boring ones out there. I know it's all a matter of taste, but you may be looking in the wrong places for inspiration. When I first developed an interest in fashion as a teenager, there were very few fashion blogs, so I began scouring Style.com and still do to this day. It is the best place for ideas. Take the outfits and items you like (you will not like all of them, runway fashion is weird sometimes), and go out in to the stores so you can appropriate them into your own personal and affordable way. And, lookbook.nu is a great place to look at really creative stylish young people/kids.

Best of luck. PM me if you want more suggestions! :)
posted by GEB's fun world at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2011

This is what I tried to link but did not work.
posted by GEB's fun world at 3:23 PM on April 7, 2011

There are so many ways to 'accessorize.' Some people love having a ton of choices and choosing the right array for each outfit and they make it work for them but that is not the only way.

I like jewelry and have plenty but I don't wear most of it. I'm not a big accessorisor but I think I have a style that works for me.

My recommendation is to look for a couple of versatile things that you love and just wear them all the time.

I wear the same rings every day (not romantic ones but they do have sentimental value). When I wear a necklace, 90% of the time it's this one gold one that I don't even bother putting away in my jewelry box. I tend to lose Bradford and watches and earrings so I don't wear them often.

So - I don't think you need much with this dress. Wear your silver shoes. That can be your sparkly. I can see how a dangly necklace could work but if you want something for your neck or face, I'd go for a something closer to choker length, or even a black ribbon choker style. And a pretty sparkly hairpin - one, maybe two, near your face.

Simple simple simple. Wear things you love. Accessories are really accessories - ie. optional!
posted by Salamandrous at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2011

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