You Asked For It: “It doesn’t work but I don’t know why”

Superfantastic reader Ginny wrote in with a work wear quandary. Seems our heroine, who is in the process of entering a more professional work environment, happened upon a pair of wide-legged navy pinstriped trousers and is at a loss how to wear them.

“Logically the pants should work almost like jeans because of their colour – they should kinda go with everything? But they don’t seem to.
Am I just overanalyzing because I’m not used to formal pinstriped trousers? Should I just wear it with my navy cardigan despite the slight colour mismatch [her navy tops are different shades of blue]? Am I just going to have to wear black or white button down shirts with these pants? Why don’t the pants seem to work with purple or brown? Could I do a blood-red slim sweater with these trousers? Help!

-Ginny”

Okay class, raise your hand if you’ve made the rookie mistake of buying a fantastic separate without being sure anything else in your closet is actually compatible. Of course you have, it’s a rite of passage like bad bangs or ritual sacrifice. Now you’re stuck with making it work.

First the jeans thing.

Jeans “go with everything” because we’ve trained ourselves to believe that.

Just because you’ve got a pair of pants that are the same color as your favorite pair of 501s doesn’t mean you can wear them the same way. If it did I could wear my blond mink in place of my favorite khakis (ha ha, just kidding. Could you imagine me owning khakis?)

Jeans are sui generis as a pantular species, so just save yourself some heartache and abandon the whole idea.

You’re  also wise to be wary of donning mismatched shades of navy. Trust your instincts and skip it.

It takes a quadruple black belt fashion ninja to be able to wear colors that are ultra-close-but-not-quite the same. I’ve only known one personally who could do it and although she could,  she didn’t.

Let me touch on the idea of pinstripes.

Pinstripes are a little tricky these days. I call it the Curse of the Naughty Secretary.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good pinstripe, but when a design element becomes porno shorthand for an office worker, it’s something that should be approached with fear, trembling and a concerted effort to say “I am a professional” not “I am dressing up as a professional.”

So, on to your neutral matching woes.

Ever wonder why some people can wear brown and black together and look amazing while others look like mentally deficient beagles? 

The most successful dressers have a strong understanding –either innate or taught– of color theory. They keep their cools with their cools and their warms with their warms if they want a cohesive look and mix them thoughtfully if they want something purposefully disjointed.

If you’re having the dickens of a time getting colors that should go together in theory go together in practice, I almost promise you it’s because one is warm and the other is cool.

Your two go-to neutrals for navy other than white (which you mentioned you didn’t like wearing) are camel and gray, but any color can work.

The trick is making sure your neutrals –or any color, really– are the same temperature.

Most of us think blues are naturally cool, but it ain’t necessarily so, so color check yourself before you color wreck yourself.

 

What this means to you is if your pants are a warm navy, make sure your grays are warm too. If they’re cool and you want to wear a red sweater, make sure it’s a cool red sweater.

Purple works with navy only when the navy is has a good bit of red in it. Browns can go either way but generally cool on cool is more successful than warm on warm for that particular combo.

So analyze, but analyze wisely, brush up on your color theory, be careful with pinstripes and don’t ever come home with a separate unless at least you own three other pieces that can work with it right off the rack.

Oh, and sit up straight, get that hair out of your eyes and give me some grandchildren. I won’t be around forever you know.

Gin and Tonics,

Miss Plumcake

 

 

16 Responses to “You Asked For It: “It doesn’t work but I don’t know why””

  1. Stella August 1, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I don’t know why, but I have such a hard time figuring out if a color is warm or cool… apparently I wasn’t born with that gene, because I’m completely mystified when someone says they’re an Autumn or a Summer, or talks about warm and cool tones in Sephora. It’s easier when someone is holding up one warm blue and one cool blue and telling me which is which, but otherwise I feel lost!

  2. Teteatete August 1, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    This is, hands down, one of the best and most useful posts you’ve ever done, Ms. Plumcake. Thank you!

  3. marvel August 1, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Miss Plumcake has just explained why all my clothes are black. :)

  4. Thea August 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Fantastic post Miss Plum Cake! Thank you

  5. -kathy- August 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    @Marvel — darlin’ I am SO with you!
    @ Stella — please join Marvel and I for margaritas…..they are green and most assuredly will be cool. ;)

    @ Plumcake — I buzzed thru the color theory link and now my head hurts. Obviously this is going to take some serious study for me!

  6. Leah August 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Marvel- there’s warm and cool blacks too, you know… :-)

    Thank you, Miss Plumcake! Fantastic and useful post. Also, I NEED that wallpaper. I don’t know where… but somewhere.

  7. E August 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I have dark blue pinstriped pants and I most often pair them with burgundy, yellow, and camel.

  8. harri p. August 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    My mentally deficient beagle is highly offended.

  9. KESW August 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    You need to write this into a “The More You Know” style PSA and get it on TV because sooo many people just don’t get it. Heck, I have a family member who doesn’t even BELIEVE in warm and cool colors… yeah. We were choosing greens for paint in the dining room and laughed at us like we were crazy children making up games when we talked about cool greens versus warm greens. Seriously.

  10. RHCD August 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Its only in my last oh 5 years that I started figuring out how to mix and match. This post is fabulous and made me realize why a particular shirt that looks great with my grey pants sucks with my blue pinstripes.

    I’ve also had luck buying several things from the same line during the same season. They usually go together. Usually.

  11. Missie Sue August 2, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Loved this post! I was lucky enough to have color theory drummed into my head in art school, but I feel that this topic is often overlooked in fashion. Thanks for the practical, lucid advice. Also, this explains why I’m always a little hesitant about pinstripes.

  12. marvel August 2, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    @Leah — yes, I know, I was semi-joking. Actually I’m one of those people with greenish skin undertones so I look awful in most yellowy/orangey/warm colors. So I think almost all my clothes fall into “cool” color categories, even the blacks, because warm colors just aren’t flattering on me.

    @Kathy — thanks for the empathy!

  13. Violet August 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    Thank you Miss Plumcake. I am usually at a loss to explain how I pick things that go together. I was thinking more on intensity and saturation.

    I pair my navy pants with camel/cream/magenta usually, and occasionally purple or brown. What worked surprisingly well was cyan/blue-green/turquoise. Picking color scheme from nature – like peacock feather – seems to work.

  14. Ali August 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    I LOVE yellow with navy. If you want to look like a JCrew ad you could even do a neon yellow cardigan with a neutral color under it or a neutral cardigan with a neon yellow top under it.

    Also taupe can work really well. Or even persimmon (a greyed out coral).
    I also love a light grey. To make these colors work appropriate it’s a lot about the quality of the fabric. Is it well made? Does it flow? Or as Heidi Klum would say “Does it look expensive?”.

    Not a fan of pinstripes either though.

  15. Thea August 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Can anybody recommend a good book on color theory for personal use (Cosmetics and clothes) I know the old ‘Color Me Beautiful” book was all the rage a while back but would love to know if anybody has any other suggestions.

  16. Jezebella August 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    My big color revelation this year: I can buy *accessories* in colors that look terrible on me. Why did I not realize this before? I look like a corpse in yellow, or anything yellowish. No orange, no lime green, none of that unless I want people to start inquiring about the health of my liver. BUT! I can have a yellow purse. Or lime-green shoes. It’s like a whole world of accessory possibilities are suddenly open to me. It’s very exciting, and also expensive.