Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Looking the part?

Plaid Button-down Shirt (Husband's closet)
Grey Striped Vest (Gap)
Brown Leggings (Lefties)
Brown Leather Sandals (Target)

Alert! This outfit might categorize as a crash-and-burn of the sartorial variety.
My concerns with it are two-fold.

First, when I assembled this ensemble, I did not foresee the English student-related gags from coworkers.  Nor did I foresee the irony of wearing this outfit while editing a student essay in which the writer referred to "artsy, indie-chick, English majors[s]."  But that actually happened.  Me, at my desk, in all but thick-rimmed glasses and a blazer with leather elbow patches, suggesting that said writer exchange the term "indie-chick" for "bohemian."  The edit sounded more P.C. (or something), but it didn't alleviate the awkwardness I felt from simultaneously putting forth a stereotype with my wardrobe and refuting it with my ballpoint pen.

Second, I had intended to riff on the "boyfriend shirt" by stealing the real deal from my husband's closet.  This decision backfired.  My original logic?  Trans-gender styles like over-sized buttondowns and "boyfriend jeans" have gained popularity, so I thought I'd test the effect.  Normally, a 'masculine' garment on a female body creates a flattering androgyny, but attempting to execute this look with leggings - especially if you've overestimated the length of the upper garment - will most assuredly blow your casual cover.  Rather than breezing through a work day looking effortless, you will spend eight hours tugging fabric over your booty.

So the casual, cross-gender performance I intended to enact fizzled whilst I unintentionally performed an occupational stereotype.  Oh, the tensions.

  • How do you perform your occupation via clothing without looking costume-y or stereotypical?
  • How do you wear cross-gender garments like "boyfriend shirts"?  With what other articles of clothing do you pair them, and in what contexts do you wear them?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comfort AND Style?


eyeglasses (kate spade)
silver earrings (gift from sister)
black henley (Old Navy)
gray oversize knit sweater (Charlotte Russe)
dark wash skinny jeans (American Eagle)
gray slouch boots (Steve Madden via Zappos)


There's an undergraduate dressing epidemic on my campus.  The number of girls wearing leggings-as-pants tucked into Ugg boots is alarming.  I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why I despise this look.  The reasons include:
1) My abhorrence of Uggs goes back to my childhood, when my mom returned from a trip to Australia with a pair.  They were yet-unknown in my neighborhood in the late 80s, so I was horrified by the special powers they wielded to induce my embarrassment.  Try explaining to the other girls on your soccer team why your mom is wearing sheep on her feet!
2) Uggs never look great, but they seem to lose all shape and structure after the third or fourth wear.  Nine out of ten pairs I see look slubby and misshapen... especially if the wearer happens to drag her feet and/or wears them in the rain frequently.
3) Leggings are NOT PANTS.  I am adamant about this.  I love leggings under a dress, a tunic top, a long sweater... the list goes on.  I hate them as a substitute for pants, particularly when they are especially saggy or stretched out across the rear.  Where's the modesty, ladies?
4) It just looks lazy.  Since I regard leggings as akin to undergarments and Uggs as akin to slippers, I feel like these girls just rolled out of bed.
5) The look has absolutely no personality.  These girls look like lemmings.  It's the same brand of "shoe" and the same black leggings on every girl.  When I was in undergrad, we all wore jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and tennis shoes, but at least those offered some choices for variation.

All that said, I understand what these girls are going for: comfort.  So for today's look, I'm serving up an alternative to the leggings and Uggs combination that, in my opinion, is equally comfortable but actually looks like I got dressed to leave the house.

It took me weeks, but I finally found a pair of skinny jeans that fit and were not made with stretch denim.  The denim's also really soft and comfortable, so I've been living in these jeans.  I'm wearing fuzzy socks under my boots, which keep my feet cushioned and warm.  The long-sleeved henley and the sweater's thick knit and cowl neck are as comfortable as any hooded sweatshirt I wore in undergrad.

I'm hoping this look, while casual and really comfortable, still suggests that I put thought into what I was wearing.


  • Am I wrong about Uggs or leggings-as-pants?  If you can make a case for them, please enlighten me! : )
  • What items do you wear when you want to be comfortable without sacrificing style?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Textual Analysis: Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Judie Newman (Editor). Dred. Edinburgh Univ Pr, 1992. Print.  Google Books

At the beginning of Dred, we're introduced to a young female protagonist named Nina.  She has inherited her family's southern plantation, but both of her parents died when she was young, so her guardian is her Aunt Nesbit.  Early in the novel, Aunt Nesbit tells Nina that her tendency to wear flowers "only feeds vanity and a love of display."  Nina responds:
"I don't think it's vanity, or a love of display.  I should want to dress prettily, if I were the only person in the world.  I love pretty things because they are pretty.  I like to wear them because they make me look pretty." (77)

As I read this passage, I couldn't help but think about the project we're undertaking here at Scholar Style Guide.  Aunt Nesbit voices what I believe is the main criticism made against women interested in fashion and style-- our critics are likely to suggest that we're vain or self-indulgent.  Nina's response interested me because she begins with an idea I can get behind, suggesting she would dress the way she does if she were all alone in the world.  In the final sentence of her response, though, she makes a shift toward vanity in suggesting that she wants to wear pretty things so that she'll look pretty.  This made me question whether Nina is really dressing "pretty" for herself or if she just thinks she is.  (She's otherwise represented as young, inexperienced, and always learning about the 'realities' of life in the South.)

As I make the daily choice about how I want to style myself, I feel like I'm always balancing dual motivations: I want to wear what makes me feel good and confident, and I also want to communicate myself to others as someone who is professional and competent.  Some days, I dress entirely for myself without worrying about what image I'm projecting at all.  In some circumstances, like job interviews or conference presentations, there is pressure to choose a look that caters more explicitly to the expectations of others.  I'd like to believe that dressing for myself is not vanity.  And while I'm conscious of the judgments people will make about my attire, and I consider those judgments when styling myself, I feel like this is different from simply dressing to "please" or "impress" others.  I'm curious about how those of you who are also scholars interested in style feel about juggling these two motivations.

  • What was your reaction to Nina's answer to her aunt's criticism?
  • In what ways is dressing to please ourselves different from vanity?  Is it possible to take pride in the way you've styled yourself without projecting vanity?
  • In what ways is dressing with an awareness of the judgments people make about us different from dressing to please others?
  • How do you juggle the dual motivations of dressing to please yourself and dressing to project an appropriate image of yourself?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Generic Categories



Green coat (Saks)
Sunglasses (H&M)


This coat is one of my absolute favorite pieces in my wardrobe.  I got it about 75% off at an after Christmas sale at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Now, I don't normally shop at Saks (too expensive), but I have to say, forget Black Friday -- shop after Christmas sales, especially at upscale department stores, and you can find some amazing deals.  Though beware the shoe departments.  I almost bought a pair of wine color Prada pumps this past year, but decided not to since I'm a grad student and have better things to spend money on, like food.*  They still haunt my dreams.

...but I digress.  What I love about this coat is that it is both a basic piece, but the brilliant emerald color gives it dramatic flair.  Also, this color is pretty versatile; though it might work a bit better for spring, it transitions well into fall.

Coats are an essential part of one's wardrobe, particularly for those of us who live in climates that require some form of outer garment for 1/2 to 2/3 of the year.  They are more than just our first line of defense against the elements: they are our opening sartorial statement.  While walking down bustling streets or across a busy campus, people do not see our outfits, just what covers them.  Frequently, we have more of an audience for our outerwear than anything else.  Thus, these pieces should make just as much of a statement as anything else you wear.

*Lest you think I'm crazy for even considering, they were roughly 80% off, putting them in the $150-$200 range.  Major steal for Prada shoes.

  • What do you look for specifically when you buy a coat?  Color?  Accents like fun buttons or frills?  Ability to easily transition between seasons?
  • I go back and forth on this question, so I'll pose it to cyberspace: is this coat a trench coat or not?  I realize that it is not a traditional trench, in that it is not double-breasted and that it is shorter than most trench coats.  However, I think that it has a quirky trench feel and that it functions like a trench coat.  Or is it just a raincoat that I am erroneously trying to put into a different generic category?
  • Should I have bought the Prada shoes?

How big is too big?

Pewter Earrings (Fossil via Macy's)
White T-Shirt (H&M)
Pink Silk-blend Cardigan (Target)
Jeans (Old Navy)
Nude Flats (Jessica Simpson)

I'm a firm believer in minimal accessories; rarely do I wear more than two at a time.  Besides my wedding rings, I tend to don either statement earrings and bracelet or a necklace.  Never do I wear all at once.  In the summer, when sunglasses are imperative, I'll wear large frames solo, zero jewelry.  My insistence on this bare minimum stems from a preconception that my size limits my jewelry options.  I'm petite, so I feel like excessive or oversized adornments overwhelm my stature.

I wore these earrings for a dinner out with friends, and I chose them because the context - an al fresco, evening setting - seemed to merit an outfit upgrade.  They are the largest earrings I own, however, so I immediately felt self-conscious that they looked obnoxiously disproportionate to my small features.

This insecurity prompted me to ask, how big is too big for an accessory?  Relatedly, how many accessories are too many?  Stacy London and Clinton Kelly of the TLC show What Not to Wear insist on bag sizes, for example, coordinating with the size of a person.  Other fashion critics have suggested that large or numerous accessories signify a certain type of wearer.  What do you think about these standards and assumptions?

  • Should we apply Stacy's and Clinton's bag standard to jewelry items?  If not, by what other criteria do we determine appropriate jewelry size and quantity?
  • More importantly, perhaps, what associations do we apply to wearers of large or numerous accessories, irrespective to the wearer's size?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making a (stylish!) seasonal transition?

Burgundy Jersey-knit Top (Grace Brand via
Brown Cardigan (Calvin Klein)
Brown Leather Belt (Mom's closet)
Dark-wash Skinny Jeans (Forever 21)
Brown Leather Oxfords (Steve Madden via South Moon Under)
Yellow Suede Slouch Bag (Ann Taylor Loft)

The months of March and April mess with me sartorially.  They devise nasty ways - blustery days, sudden thunder storms, random cold fronts -  to make me traipse up and down my attic steps, packing and unpacking the storage bins stocked with my seasonally appropriate apparel.

Since the closet space in our townhouse is tight, my husband and I divide our wardrobes into warm and cold weather clothing, and we store away the out-of-season garments.  Thus, when unpredictable spring weather hits, we struggle to find an optimal time at which to officially exchange winter's wardrobe for spring's.  Inevitably, just when we think heavy sweaters are unnecessary, March will surprise us with a 40 degree afternoon.

Such was the case with the above outfit.  I wore it last weekend while visiting my parents in southern Virginia.  On this particular mid-50 degree day, Mom and I had dressed to conquer the outdoor, downtown shops.  Originally, I had paired the skinny jeans and burgundy top with brown leather gladiator sandals.  But when rain began to fall and the temperature dropped, I speedily updated my ensemble.  Exchanging sandals for oxfords, and throwing on a cardigan in a neutral shade, I felt more prepared for the rainy chill.  Instead of scrunching my jeans around the leather sandals, I rolled them into a chunky cuff to show off the oxfords.  I also considered trading the yellow bag for a more subdued leather one.  In the end, however, I decided the pop of bright color infused the outfit with pre-season warmth.

These quick wardrobe fixes helped me transition a spring outfit into a late-winter one.  I was especially grateful for the  brown oxfords, and not just because they kept my feet dry.  These shoes will pair as well with skirts and shorts as they do with jeans and sweaters.

Still, I found myself wishing for more reliable transition garments.  In this case, a khaki trench coat would have been ideal, but I hesitate to consistently 'solve' the weather problem by merely throwing on a coat.  Nor do I want to wear jeans until mid-April.  At this time of year, I tend to cope with the weather's unpredictability by layering tops and cardigans and cinching everything with a belt.  But this type of outfit becomes boring quickly, and I'm on the lookout for more creative solutions.

Above all, I'd like to know what exactly distinguishes a "summer/spring" article of clothing from a "winter/fall" one?  Style experts suggest the division is blurring, and that aficionados should learn to mix cross-season garments more adeptly.  But for those of us with limited closet space and more drastically fluctuating climates, do we dress for spring by adopting more color?  By wearing the traditional shorter hemlines and lighter fabrics?  When exactly is it appropriate to make The Seasonal Switch?


  • How do you create interest in your outfits during seasonal transitions?
  • Which characteristics distinguish a "summer/spring" outfit from a "winter/fall" one?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Overdressed vs. Underdressed


Eyeglasses (Kate Spade)
Pewter-tone disc earrings (Charlotte Russe)
Sheer Print Top (Target)
Black Cami (Old Navy)
Black Cardigan (New York and Company)
Charcoal Pencil Skirt (New York and Company)
Black Cable-Knit Patterned Tights (Target)
Black Wedges (Lauren by Ralph Lauren via Amazon)

On the Friday before Spring Break began, I had planned to dress a little more casually than I normally do for work.  Then I remembered that we had a department faculty meeting.  Since I'm one of the graduate student representatives, I was going to see many of my professors, so I decided to wear a normal work outfit.  I'm still working out a few camera glitches, and I wish this top had photographed better.  I really like its ruffle detail and the gray and purple of the print.  Also, I know I've been wearing these earrings excessively.  They aren't the same ones from my last post, but they came in a three-pack that I found for $3 on clearance!  The third pair are gold-toned and I'm sure they'll make an appearance soon. : )

When I got to the department meeting, most of the professors were dressed much more casually than they normally are.  I guess it makes sense that I wasn't the only one thinking about wearing jeans.  I felt a little over-dressed, but I would've been more uncomfortable if I'd been in jeans and all the professors had been in professional attire.  This is pretty standard: in general,  I would much rather feel over-dressed than under-dressed.  To me, over-dressed reads as "I took this event a little too seriously," whereas under-dressed reads as "I didn't try or care enough to dress up."  Still, I wonder if I'm wrong here.  People ask me why I'm "so dressed up" more often than I would like.  I'm interested in what you have to say about the over/under dressed issue!


  • Which makes you more uncomfortable: being over-dressed or under-dressed?  Why?
  • What impressions do you think you're sending if your over-dressed versus under-dressed?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Curvy Women's Dilemma



Green Tank Top (Old Navy)
Jeans (JCPenney)
Blue Flats (Payless)
Pink Scarf (gift from friend in Italy)


My first outfit is actually a spring break outfit worn on one of the first warm days of spring.  On this particular day, I had a few things on my agenda: shopping trip (a fruitful one that you will see the spoils of soon), coffee shop for research and writing, and watching March Madness games with my boyfriend at our favorite local watering hole.  I wanted an outfit that was cute, casual, and comfortable.  I also wanted something that could transition from day to night.

I own a couple of these basic Old Navy tank tops, which are great for layering.  It was too warm for a cardigan, but a little too cool for just the tank top.  So I put on this scarf, which warmed me up just enough and gave it a little extra something.

I love these flats.

They're my favorite color - a deep, cerulean blue - and the faux jewel details give them a sparkly kick.  They're also super comfortable, perfect for long days.

Thinking about the great points that Liz made in her last post about rejecting the notion that women should always look "narrower" by doing things like deemphasizing our hips, I wonder what people think about the way certain clothing is designed with "hanger" women in mind.  For example, in this post, I'm wearing a pair of skinny jeans, which I recently bought.  I resisted this style for a long time because I had trouble finding ones that fit my hips properly.  Some types of clothing, like big ruffly tops or the bandage dresses that were extremely popular in the celeb world about 6 months ago, are certainly meant to be worn by very slender women.  I think that there are ways that curvier women like myself can style clothing designed for slimmer bodies -- belting tent dresses so they don't hang limply off our bodies, for example -- but sometimes I feel that my body is simply incompatible with certain styles.

  • For my fellow curvy ladies, how do you deal with the difficulties of having a womanly shape in world where designers cater to smaller frames?
  • And, because I love my figure* despite my occasional frustrations, what items do you wear when you want to flaunt your curves?

*As a Christina Hendricks wannabe, I really wanted one of the Joan Harris (Holloway) dolls until I found out that they were modeled on Barbie's figure, not Christina Hendricks.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Must "Flattering" Mean Narrow?


pewter tone disc earrings (Charlotte Russe)
navy print jersey dress (Target)
gray woven stretch belt (Charlotte Russe)
heather gray tights (Target)
gray slouch boots (Steve Madden via Zappos)

It only seems appropriate that my first look features a print jersey dress: I counted this morning and I have six hanging in my closet.  A print jersey dress is my favorite go-to item if I want to feel good about my outfit that day.

Every time I put this dress on, I find myself wanting to break one of the cardinal rules of dressing: 
"Draw attention to the smallest part of your waist." 
I know Stacy and Clinton would tell me it is "most flattering" to belt this dress around my ribs and not down toward my hips, as I've done here.  Moving the belt up a few inches likely would have made me look slimmer.

I'm not sure I always want to look "slimmer," though.  For me, hips are part of what set regular women apart from men, children, and starved models.  I regularly belt around my natural waist, and I recognize that oftentimes cinching an outfit at the waist flatters one's hips by drawing attention to the waist-to-hip ratio.  I refuse to buy into the idea, though, that we must style every outfit in an attempt to make ourselves look as narrow as possible.  

Who is responsible for suggesting that narrower equals better?  I don't think we can blame men for this one.  Most men I know claim to be attracted to "curves," and the women they date and marry support this claim.  And according to my understanding of Darwinian Natural Selection, men would be more likely to be attracted to women with larger hips because they would associate it with proficiency in child bearing.

In my opinion, we have to lay the blame on ourselves and the fashion industry.  Clothing designers regularly admit that they like models whose bodies act as "hangers" for their garments.  While I recognize fashion as a form of art, I still believe that clothes should be made to bring out the best in our bodies.  I don't believe bodies should be starved to bring out the best in designers' clothes. Furthermore, I know a lot of women desire a body like Gisele's, but most regular people I know seem to be more attracted to women like Christina Hendricks, Salma Hayek, and America Ferrera.  

  • Why do you think we so often equate "most flattering" with slimmer?  
  • What are some styling techniques you use to enhance the shape of your hips rather than hide them?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meet Anne-Marie!

My focus as a scholar is on literature of the American borderlands, commonly understood as the geographic space of the southern United States and northern Mexico.  I'm currently working on a project which examines short stories by women writers of the region and investigates their grapplings with the intersections of gender and national belonging.  More broadly, I'm interested in transnational discourses, modernist literature, and the Spanish language. I worked in undergraduate admissions while earning my master's degree, and I'm now pursuing a full-time position in higher education.

I began dressing with intention because, in my upbringing as a Southern lady, I learned that donning pearl jewelry demonstrates that I take myself seriously.  Sometime roundabout my first job interview this concept registered, and I've been (trying to!) dress thoughtfully ever since.  Now I only occasionally wear pearls, but I extend the principle to my entire wardrobe.

My personal style is evolving, and our readers helped me recognize it!  I embrace lace and ruffles, and I enjoy pairing them with Converse sneakers and structured jackets.  I fiercely oppose matchy-matchiness, think black and brown coexist quite happily, and swoon over a wedge heel.

My biggest style hurdle is varying pieces.  Jewelry, shoes, a favorite dress - all are susceptible to my wardrobe monomania.  If I'm attached to an article of clothing, I'm attached for a whole season, and I disserve its novelty by wearing it at least 100 different ways.

My current style mentors are Twiggy and Kelly Ripa.  Both petite women like me, they inspire me to embrace a version of femininity that suits my small frame.  Twiggy routinely paired her boyish pixiebob with flirty frocks, a style move which conflated masculine and feminine looks while avoiding androgyny.  Kelly's wardrobe showcases a similar boldness, although her physique is more muscular than willowy.  She dresses her slim figure with spunk.  What's more, her commitment to color and to a fabulous pair of heels remind me to infuse fashion with fun even, and especially, while juggling a busy schedule.

Meet Katie!

My focus as a scholar is on fin de si├Ęcle and modernist literature.  My current research explores grief in American literature of the early twentieth century.  I am particularly interested in how specific cultural practices of mourning influence the way modernist writers work through loss in their texts.  More broadly, I’m interested in questions of genre, transnational modernism, and cultural history.  I work in the department office as a graduate assistant.

I began dressing with intention after I graduated from college and began graduate school.  I wanted a way to signal this new stage in my life, to differentiate myself from the undergraduates I still resembled.  I believe that personal style is ever-evolving, and part of the fun of being in my 20s is figuring out who I am, finding the person I want to be, and expressing that in my clothing.

My personal style is classic, with a twist.  I generally like simple pieces that I can dress up with accessories, like a statement necklace, a scarf, or a fabulous pair of shoes.  Easy elegance is key.  By focusing on the basics, I get more "looks" out of less pieces, and I can experiment more with accents.  I love to play with fashion – it’s meant to be fun! – and I’m a firm believer that each outfit should have at least a hint of drama, whether it be from your clothes, your accessories, or just from the way you work your look. 

My biggest style hurdles come from two places, one mental and one material.  My mental hurdle is that I tend to put away choice pieces in my wardrobe for “special occasions,” which never come.  I end up with cute dresses or blouses sitting in my closet while I wear the same clothes over and over again.  The material problem is that that age old dilemma: how do I find cute clothes on a (tiny) budget?  Counting on my graduate student stipend to shelter me, feed me, and stylishly clothe me is a tall order.  So I make do with what I have: I shop the sales, and I’m always on the lookout for good online deals.

My current style mentors are Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway.  Their looks are feminine and fresh, and neither of them are afraid to take risks.  Also, for “Project Runway” fans, I love Season 3 star Laura Bennett’s elegant and often extravagant style on and off the runway.

Meet Liz!

My focus as a scholar is on American women's literature of the 20th Century.  My current research project examines the ways in which American women writers represented the Great War and how their work demonstrates the impacts of the war upon American citizens.  This project is informed by my interest in literary modernism, critical theory, narrative theory, and feminist theory.  In addition to my coursework, I'm currently working as a graduate assistant in one of the offices in our department.

I began dressing with intention after I finished undergrad and began teaching high school English.  Because I was so young, it was important for me to find ways to establish myself as an authority in the classroom.  I learned quickly that dressing like a professional earned me a greater level of respect from my students, their parents, my fellow teachers, and administrators.  Clothing and personal style became a way to make sure I was taken seriously as an educator.

My personal style is classic, professional, and tailored.  I generally stick with basics like trousers, cardigans, and wrap dresses.  I try to use accessories to participate in current trends rather than buying too many articles of clothing that might go out of style quickly.

My biggest style hurdle is that I have difficulty putting together chic casual outfits.  I feel like I know what I'm doing with work attire, but when it comes to the weekend, I often find myself uninspired by what I'm wearing.

My current style mentors are Michelle Obama and Reese Witherspoon.  I respect Michelle for always dressing to please herself first.  Since she chooses pieces that make her feel confident, she looks fabulous in everything she wears.  I also  appreciate what she's done to banish pantyhose, make bare arms appropriate, and prove that a belted cardigan is completely versatile.  Reese impresses me with her ability to look effortlessly put together on the red carpet and at the grocery store.  I admire her keen sense for choosing attire that flatters her, suits the occasion, and asserts her intelligence.  When she's "off duty," she always exudes ease and comfort without ever looking sloppy.