I remember a boyfriend of mine from ages ago — the early 90s, I believe, when stiff dark blue A.P.C. jeans were super-cool and everyone read Bust and wanted to hang in the East Village before it became a haven for investment bankers trying to buy some cool-by-proximity. He once asked me why all the girls were suddenly cuffing their jeans with thick, chunky rolls at the ankles — he thought it looked really farmhand/quasi-rockabilly. I made a joke about girls getting a secret memo from the fashion council. But really, it was one of those things — a girl sees something kind of fresh from another girl on the street and then tries it on herself. But who probably started it? Likely some fashion stylist, who get to play professionally with wearing the same old clothes in new, inventive ways — which is the definition of a styling trick, I guess.
Styling tricks are little ways of playing with clothes that tweak them a bit from their obvious uses. It’s stuff like using an oxford shirt as a coverup instead of a cardigan, wearing ankle socks with pumps or even just rolling up sleeves. They all change the visual balance and points-of-interest in an outfit, causing people to take second looks.
Styling an outfit can be pretty simple. But sometimes styling tricks are legit ridiculous — done for visual impact but terrible for practical everyday life. Still, a lady gets bored with the same old clothes worn in the same old way. (At least this lady does!) So I decided to try out a few of the little styling tricks I’ve seen in magazines lately, because why not? It’s not like a fashion misstep is a catastrophe! If gotten right, it’s a nice way to add an interesting twist to something you already have and perhaps have taken for granted — without having to buy something new.
I get a lot of women’s health magazines, which for some reason always feature 1-2 fashion editorials. (Well, not surprising: athleisure is still a big thing!) I saw some editorials where they layered shorter capri leggings over longer ones for a color-blocked ankle effect, so I thought I’d give it a go. I really like the look of color-blocked leggings, but alas, I’ve hit my leggings quota for awhile — so this seemed like a nice way to be economical while getting what I want. I decided to layer a pair of black leggings from Fabletics (here’s a similar pair by Athleta) over a pair of Old Navy ones in a colorful leaf pattern.
The result? Well…this is one of those things that looks simple, but ended up to be A LOT more work than it initially appeared to be. First of all — have you tried to put on two tight pairs of leggings? Eeeeesh! It was a lot harder than I thought. I was really squirming around my bedroom for awhile there, much to the bemusement and confusion of our cat. The hard part was trying to keep the bottom layer to stay in place as you tugged the top one over it. And then the next challenge was smoothing out the seams and lumps and such. And then you had to make sure the hems of the ankles were fairly lined up — otherwise it looked pretty dang goofy. There was a lot of tugging and wiggling for awhile.
Once I got it on okay, I discovered wearing two pairs of compressive leggings was definitely very snug there for a bit. It felt like wearing two pairs of Spanx — when wearing one pair of Spanx was already pretty squeeze-y! But there were some pluses: layering leggings proved useful on an outdoor run on a very cold day — very insulating. (But tight. Oh so tight! So tight it restrained my range of motion.)
If you want to try this, I suggest trying to limit yourself to one pair of compression leggings and wearing, perhaps, a stretchier, less compressive pair over them. But honestly — I think I would rather buy and then wear the color-blocked leggings. You feel a lot less like a really squeezed sausage!
True confessions time: I actually do this ALL THE TIME because I love prints and I love looking artsy (and being artsy…I ain’t no poser!) And mixing prints communicates both of these really well. Fashion has been going through a print-mixing thing for some time, so this isn’t anything super-new or fashion-forward, but I thought I’d throw it in for completionist’s sake.
I could do a whole post on how to mix prints — there are definitely beginners vs. advanced techniques when it comes to it! But a Breton stripe with most kinds of patterns is always an easy and classic way to do it, especially if you keep things within complementary colors. I decided to layer a Breton shirt over one of my summer jumpsuits with a so-called “tribal” geometric-y pattern instead, and ended up really liking the outfit. On a pattern level, I think it works because the dark-color-and-white palette unites both patterns, but the patterns are different enough from one another in terms of scale to look deliberate and cool and not a mistake. The main color of each pattern is different, as well, though within the same overall color palette. I tried it again at the gym, this time with similar scale patterns — a scattered dot one and a herringbone, both featuring black, white and grey, and liked that as well.
There is practical, basic, common-sense layering — you know, layer a tank underneath a semi-cropped sweatshirt to keep warm or a shirt underneath a sweater.
Then there is fashion-people layering, which is like layering two skirts or a dress over pants, or a dress over a weird shirt you’d never think of. Or the much-maligned dress over jeans, which I loved doing in the early aughts when I lived in San Francisco and everything was kind of boho-chic/hippie #dontcare. But can I still get away with it now?
Hmmmm….not really. Today’s layering is really about fundamentally changing silhouette and volume, which can get hella tricky on a petite non-model skinny type like me. My first go-round, I wore a short stripe-y tank dress from summer as a kind of tunic. I wish I had a pair of palazzo-y pants to wear over them, but since I don’t, I slung it over a pair of looser black ones and then topped it off with a blazer for a little polish. It looked distinctive and even a little artsy, but I felt soooooo formal in it — it was definitely not a “Tuesday afternoon errands with kids” outfit or even quite a “werk werk werk werk” outfit. It felt more like a “try hard street style fashion blogger” thing, which is not my steez, really — like fashion for fashion’s sake. I couldn’t even keep the picture I snapped of it because it was so odd and unflattering. So I ended up trying the short tunic-y dress over a pair of jeans and then a cardigan sweater over it, which made it swing the other way, like “crazy pottery lady from Berkeley, California.” Which is also not quite my thing and not something I want immortalized in a photo. Then I paired it with some sexy-ish ankle boots and felt more Scandi-cool, but it still felt a little too try-hardy. So I stopped, because my willingness to feel ridiculous for fashion has limits, and I had reached mine for the day!
Then I decided to try again, being a bit more conservative (and accepting that my short, curvier, athletic body can only take so many layers before it resembles swaddling!) I decided to try to short-sleeve sweatshirt over an oxford shirt combo — I layered a blue linen Ines de la Fressange X Uniqlo shirt (here’s a similar one by Everlane) under one of my Everlane street-fleece sweatshirts. (You can see the result at the very top of this post.) This felt way okay…rather cool, even, both subtly fashion-y yet low-key. It is a bit classic and preppy, but the short sleeve offsets that. It feels a lot less buttoned-up and stuff than a long-sleeved layering. It is just enough of a ‘twist’ to feel both comfortable yet different — in short, a perfect fulfillment of what a good styling trick promises. Huzzah! The one new-school layering trick I can do!