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On outfit inspiration

colour block with ice cream colours and green
colour block with ice cream colours and green
colour block with ice cream colours and green
colour block with ice cream colours and green

Today I wanted to talk a bit about outfit inspiration. This was sparked by a recent post by Elly at the Magic Square foundation about how she liked outfit posts that were explicit about their inspiration and had a narrative behind them. It’s something I had actually been thinking about before and had intended to do a post on for a while.

I haven’t quite got my thoughts in order and possibly this may end up sounding a bit defensive, because this is really what this is about, my own feelings of inadequacy at not having very exciting outfit inspirations and basically not being able to articulate any reasoning at all.

And before we go on, I just wanted to clarify that I am talking about the actual putting together of outfits from a given (my) wardrobe, not the buying of clothes or the overall style. on the latter, I actually did a couple of posts way back in 2009 which were defining my style, and explaining why that style is my style, and most of that still holds. But when it comes to standing in front of the wardrobe and picking things to make an outfit, I can’t explain that.

The reason I actually thought about all of this in the first place was that I got the book ‘Style Yourself‘, a compilation of style bloggers (one of the best such books, but lets not get sidetracked), in which there are some double pages where one outfit’s inspiration is taken apart. And invariably they would cite some artist. And I didn’t really buy it. I mean, do people really wake up and go ‘today I will put together my interpretation of Toulouse-Lautrec in outfit form’? But maybe the do. I don’t though.

Here’s what I said over at Elly’s (not all in one comment, obviously)

About 99% of the time my thought process is nothing more than picking a random item, then mentally whizzing through my options or what to put with it until something seems right. I rarely ever articulate why I pick something more than that ‘I like it’. I mean, I can explain my penchant for bright colours and full skirts, but the actual combining of clothes I really can’t. If I was asked to be in a blogger book, I’m sure I could rustle up some post-rationalisation about Mondrian and femininity, but it would be just that.

My shopping is done with substantial thought, but the actual process of standing in front of the wardrobe is not so conscious. Even if I take a while to put something together, it’ll mainly be pulling things out and sticking them together until something works on a visceral level.

I couldn’t describe the decision in a way that is both interesting and not a lie. I feel a bit inadequate and boring in the face of people’s post-rationalisations (in the book) really. Something like ‘I wore this, and now I can see that maybe the reason I put it together like that and liked it was because I had seen this combination/colour/element before on this person/this painting/this film and that’s quite a cool source, no?’ is more truthful, but not nearly as interesting.

In the case of this outfit shown here, if I had to articulate it, the way I picked it was that I started with the trousers, cos they were in my basket of stuff that has been worn but isn’t dirty enough for washing yet, and I wanted to reduce that pile down. The trousers sit pretty low at the back so I wanted to add something long enough to cover my lower back/bum, which is where the tshirt dress comes from. That is quite low cut round the front and it was cold so I needed to cover up my chest and throat. I didn’t want to use a satin or silk scarf because the rest of the clothes are a little sporty and it would have looked odd, and it wasn’t cold enough for a warm scarf, so I ended up with the orange cotton cowl. I then added the cardigan because the peachy colour provides a bridge between the pale blue and the orange. Finally, the converses as a counterweight of bright colour to the cowl and because I don’t have many trainers/casual shoes.

But I actually didn’t think about it in that explicit a way, I just kind of pulled things out. I know my wardrobe pretty well, and have been playing with dressing and taking photos for many years so it’s all very second nature. Even this minimal explanation is a post rationalisation of sorts. And really, it’s not very interesting, is it?

I feel that a lot of explanations of how outfits come about I see on blogs are a version of this. The phrases ‘this needed some more detail, so I added XXX’ or ‘the weather was XXX, so I dressed for that’ come up a lot. And this kind of explanation I can take or leave. Which isn’t a criticism of the bloggers at all, as I say my thought processes are similar, and I know lots of people like to read that kind of stuff, and find it helpful in learning about their own style, but it’s hardly the narrative excitement Elly and Claire are talking about.

Right, I have no idea what my conclusion is so I’ll leave it here with the question:

Where does your outfit inspiration come from? I would be particularly interested in anyone that has ever built an outfit round a Monet or a Manet? If the inspiration is pretty mundane and functional like mine, do you still want to hear about it? Why/why not?

Outfit stats:
* tshirt dress – aa, dyed blue by me * cardie – new look * cords – charity shop * cowl – I made it * shoes – converse * coat – next *

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • poet 13 October 2011, 7:30 am

    Mhm. Difficult question! For me, sometimes an outfit comes together from dressing up a particular facette of my character, but it usually starts with one garment that speaks to this facette – for example, today I am wearing a purple-and-black corduroy skirt with a scalloped hem, and it feels slightly witchy/pseudogothic, so I added black lace and a cardigan with 19th-century-buttons. Or else the "starter garment" is one with intense personal meaning (I wore it at such-and-such an important event / time in my life / got it from person X / always wear it when I'm in need of cheering up / …) and the choice of clothes around it will reflect that. This also works on a more fine-grained level with colors and patterns. But not all outfits are Meaningful with a capital M, some are just thrown together because those were the first things I happened to be grabbing.

  • oranges_and_apples 13 October 2011, 8:06 am

    It's funny I almost never just grab anything, I pretty much always think about it at least briefly. I just don't have any nice interesting stories like that!

  • Tulsi Rawat Nair 13 October 2011, 8:53 am

    Personally a lot of my dressing is dominated by the where,who and what.   where i am going, who i am meeting and whats my frame of mind for the day/night. Once the basic outfit is in place the next process of add ons in terms of accessories ,shoes etc is generally what which creates a final statement for the day/night. The inspiration bit is generally kept in mind for a particular shoot/movie/look mostly or when dressing for a theme based event. So if Who,What and Where is a good enough inspiration  then am really good to go ….:)

  • Elly Snare 13 October 2011, 11:54 am

    Great post and this is a really thought provoking subject that touches (as mentioned over on the blog) on larger subject of post-rationalisation.

    I feel exactly the same about the explanations that you can 'take or leave'. Stating something is not explaining something, so there's a subtle difference. However, I don't think 'narratives' are just about 'big' inspiration, or art, or creativity, or anything. That you know your wardrobe so well as to feel that there is no clear, obvious decision-making process is interesting! For me, none of those things are mundane when given thought and passion. And this:

    "I didn't want to use a satin or silk scarf because the rest of the
    clothes are a little sporty and it would have looked odd, and it wasn't
    cold enough for a warm scarf, so I ended up with the orange cotton cowl"

    The idea of narrowing down choices, of matching or contrasting styles, even if these are minor thoughts that only flit past – they're interesting! Making a post about them (guilty as charged) isn't necessary, but I do it because that's where I come from with my fashion and fashion theory thoughts. Saying your outfit is 'inspired by Toulouse Lautrec' or whatever is one end of the scale, but being able to say "the peachy colour provides a bridge between the pale blue and the orange" is also a narrative that tells me about your love of colour and the intense relationship you have with it.

    Maybe the problem is with the word 'narrative'? Narrative suggests concrete beginnings, reasons, middles, ends, and morals, like a fairy story; really, a narrative is just a journey that can start or stop anywhere along a particular trajectory. Yours might start and stop when you open and close the wardrobe doors, or it might start with your love of colour since a young age, or with a picture, or another blogger, or stop at something that feels uncomfortable or even satisfaction in your own look. I suppose I don't really care whether it's an 'exciting' narrative as such, but rather the process of investigating narrative ITSELF is exciting! But then I'm a nerd 🙂

  • Cat 13 October 2011, 1:00 pm

    I've always tended to assume people won't be interested in how I put a given outfit together – it's usually just 'decide main item I want to wear tomorrow, taking into account both the practicalities and what I feel like, then mentally figure out what I've got that will work with it, adjust and accessorise as necessary once it's on'.

    I'm rarely inspired directly by anything – it's more a question of absorbing influences and ideas from all over the place, which then have an impact on my decision-making process that may or may not be concious. For example, I wear skirts and dresses more now than I did when I started my blog, and I think that seeing other blogging ladies carrying it off helped to make me feel more confident in standing out (which I do, in my workplace). 

    And I've been exposed to brands and colour combinations that I may not otherwise have thought of – it all gets fed into the silo of 'ideas from which I draw when buying and dressing', though, rather than me ever thinking 'I too shall wear that colour combination next Wednesday' or 'I love that outfit and will see if I can recreate it using pieces in my own wardrobe'.

  • Claire 13 October 2011, 4:23 pm

    I beg your pardon, if my reply to you on Elly's post contributed to feelings of inadequacy.

    How ironical: I think you are comparing oranges to apples. Someone for whom the point of dressing is to express themselves by making an artistically-inspired wearable reference-spinning canvas-sculpture [the bloggers in the book] is not easily "judged against" someone who dresses to express *themselves* directly through what they wear [you(?)]. And they shouldn't be, because just about everyone has to wear clothes; how much narrative we (want to/are financially etc. able to) consciously inject into our necessary everyday wearing isn't/shouldn't be competitive, but honest.

    Your blog has many followers; many people enjoy the way your blog your outfits, which is the honest way for you. I was interested in your "why this is my style" posts ad I think your colour choices are worth watching! I certainly don't think you should change the way you talk about outfits if you think that detailing the reasons for your choices are boring, though I do agree with Elly's comment. I do think that it's interesting you threw out shiny material here for those reasons, and that you can see those thoughts about colour in your subconscious processes.

    But honestly, I think it's a bummer that you originally stated (and reiterated here) that you don't (or didn't?) buy that people have that type of.. semiotic engagement? with visual references + their wardrobe. So you don't think about it that way – I understand and empathise with sudden feelings of self-doubt and/or incomprehension, I really do, but.. I don't follow what took you from that to general disbelief.

    I don't think that genuine reflection on what social/laundry-related/colourwheel/etc factors might have made you combine the clothes you did is boring. I don't think that leaving out inspiration/post-rationalisation from outfit posts is boring. I do think it would be boring (for me – I really don't think you should change your opinion on what YOU want to read, honest, though I did dislike the way you communicated that in this one instance) to disbelieve fanciful or 'elevated' "why I wore this" notes. That's not to say that I never think an individual blogger is being a facile wanker, or that I never think that anyone is making up nonsense to make themselves sound more interesting.

    Even that is interesting to me, though. I like reading fashion blogs because I think it's interesting what people try to make themselves 'look like' (actually/metaphorically), and if real or fake post-rationalisation is a part of how they want to build their public Self, I am so up for reading that.

  • Bethanne 13 October 2011, 4:35 pm

    Personally, I like style bloggers who stand in front of their closets and just kind of go by instinct, choosing things that they feel work well-together. I like that mainly because that's how I dress myself. Since I tend to follow style bloggers who follow more "mundane and functional" inspiration, I don't need to hear about it all the time. BUT, it's great to hear about things like how you added your peach cardigan to bridge the blue and orange, because that's something that wouldn't have occurred to me!

  • Bethanne 13 October 2011, 4:36 pm

    Also, that first jumping shot is just completely adorable. 🙂

  • Sadie 13 October 2011, 7:06 pm

    I always enjoy reading about how other people put their outfits together!

    I tend to pull clothes together half-randomly in the mornings and just go with things that seem to work together, but I will sometimes find myself thinking that the overall effect reminds me of something else, and I'm sure I've put together blue and lilac and pink combinations that have made me think of Monet's waterlilies. I'm also involved in a style group on LiveJournal where we have occasional 'theme days' which have included 'dress like a poem' day, so I have done that kind of thing deliberately on occasion too!

  • WendyBrandes 13 October 2011, 8:20 pm

    I feel so inadequate that my normal outfit message is "I put on jeans and a t-shirt because it's easy." I'm going to have to make up some fancy-sounding bullshit for myself!

  • lorena 13 October 2011, 8:43 pm

    Well first of all, i adore this marvelous mix of colors. You somehow always make color work, which is something that I guess it's just in your DNA.
    I get inspiration from magazines and even Coronel Sanders from KFC – but it's just regular stuff. I don't go to a Picasso and get inspired, because most of the time I am not looking for inspiration. I find something I like and try to replicate it. Does that make sense ?

  • andibgoode 14 October 2011, 4:07 am

    I have some seen people's outfits where their inspiration seems like it isn't made up (saw a girl do a GREAT outfit inspired by 1970s Elton John) but I also haven't seen anyone say their outfit is inspired my a Monet or something, as yet. Maybe because I follow a lot of vintage style blogs – I'm not sure. Or maybe because I'm quite often a TL;DR type of person so maybe I skim over those bits.
    Anyway, for my inspiration, I'm a lot like you. Sometimes, if I haven't set my hair, I build an outfit around what would suit if I have my hair up in a scarf or in braids. Or maybe I really feel like wearing a particular dress or blouse so I find things that go with it. Or if I'm in a certain mood or feeling bloated and want to dress to fit that.
    Occasionally, I'll be in the mindset 'I want to look more sexy/glam' or whatever and try to find a way to do that with what I have.
    And sometimes I'll see an outfit by a certain blogger or in a film and think 'I want to look more like that tomorrow!' and be inspired by it, sometimes more in the 'feel' of the outfit, I guess.
    But a lot of my choices are instinctual, I guess – I find this with a lot of things, though. When I'm choosing clothes or make up colours I think I'm drawn to certain things and, as I said, it's more instinctual as to what would 'suit' me and I think it's the same with choosing which pieces go together sometimes.
    At the end of the day, I'd love to draw inspiration from a painting or a film and I think if someone really, truthfully *does* interpret those things in their outfit then it's great but I guess my inspiration is sometimes too abstract to pin down because it's not quite just 'I like this' but…I don't know really. I guess it can come off as a bit pretentious (though, to be honest, sometimes I don't mind a little pretension.)
    Sorry for the long and possibly nonsensical comment but this is a really interesting post!
    -Andi x

  • oranges_and_apples 14 October 2011, 7:38 am

    True, the occassion one dresses for determines the level of smartness/general direction. Though within that there are so many possibilities. I do dress differently for work than for going for a weekend lunch than for a night out, but the boundaries are pretty fluid.

  • oranges_and_apples 14 October 2011, 7:42 am

    You're right about different definitions of narrative of course! I was thinking something along the lines of what fashion designers say then they ask who they design for. Like 'She'd from a moneyed family and used to win horseriding tournaments, but she fell in love with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, and her family disowned her, so now she lives in a cabin in the woods'.

    I just re-read my post and I realise that it sounds as if i don't like narrative/artistic inspiration based outfits, or think the inspiration is always a lie. I really don't! I'll explain a littlew more in the reply to Claire's comment.

  • oranges_and_apples 14 October 2011, 8:25 am

    Like I said in the response to Elly's, I may have written this in a way that makes it seem like I always disbelieve elaborate/artistically-inspired dressing or that I don't think it should be done. But I think it's great, and I love seeing it, which is why I feel a bit inadequate for never thinking like that.

    I don't want to go on about the book too much, cos that was months ago I read it (twas from the library and is in demand) and I don't really remember the details, and as a result am slightly making up/embellishing the examples. I do remember thinking 'Oh no you didn't' and how that was the start of me thinking about outfit inspiration in the first place.

    So bearing in mind I don't really remember and can't go back to check: The reason I didn't buy what most of the bloggers were saying was that their outfits were in such a standard blogger-hipster style and did not at all feel like what I imagine a 'reference-spinning canvas sculptures' to be at all. It's a bit like how a l'allure garconiere noted in a post I read the other day how 80% of people on this wedsite where 'inspirational/special ' people show their wardrobes cited Frida Kahlo as an inspiration but they were all model pretty and perfectly polished. So Frida Kahlo, but without any of the things that make her fascinating.

    Anyway, I think this is really a completely different topic, namely how we judge authenticity. For me, the lack of congruence between the cited
    inspiration and the final outcome in the book made me question whether thay
    had engaged with the inspiration at all. But someone else might see the same
    thing and judge it completely differently through their own filters. Of
    course the image of ourselves we create via blogging are by definition
    limited, and it's all a performance, and I wouldn't claim to know what
    people are 'really' like, and actually don't really think that there is a
    such a thing as astable 'authentic' core personality. I can only judge what
    I consider to be authenticity, by which I suppose I mean believable
    consistency, from the information I am given. Not that I particularly go
    round deconstructing everyone, but just that sometimes, and in this
    case things jarred so much that I noticed.

  • Claire 14 October 2011, 11:51 am

    Hah! That a l'allure garconierepost was aces.

    This is a really interesting topic though, and I would have liked to have read that kind of discussion as your recaction to the book!

  • BetweenLaundryDays 17 October 2011, 6:34 pm

    It really varies for me, but outfit inspiration definitely has more to do with what I grab first from my closet. From there, I sometimes incorporate other inspirations, but 99 times out of 100 my outfits start with whatever's clean. 🙂

    Also: that first picture? ADORABLE. Last picture: a little bit creepy. 😉

  • Stylishthought 19 October 2011, 2:24 am

    Honestly I get inspired by theatrics, my mood and whatever feels good that day. With that said, I always have a hard time articulating my inspiration behind a particular outfit as well. I find What I Wore posts so odd and yet so cool to look at. Anywho, love the first photo, it's inspired me to take more jumping shoots! 

  • dresscodehighfashion 20 October 2011, 6:25 pm

    Congrats on being part of Links a la Mode!

    Best, Jenny


  • fashionforgiants 20 October 2011, 10:09 pm

    This is a great question.  I am usually very practical in why I wear something – is it raining, is it cold, am I riding my bike, where am I going, etc.  Sometimes my body plays into it.  If I'm feeling thin I wear more body-con clothes than if I'm feeling chubby and/or bloated.

    I also choose outfits based on wanting to wear a particular piece – then I build the rest of the outfit on what pairs well with it (and is warm enough or cool enough or loose enough, etc).

    There are rare days though that I'm feeling like a badass and wear something that fits that feeling.

    But, I really don't ever have a story.  I'm inspired by other bloggers or magazines or even television or movies but rarely art and never music.  So, no exciting stories from me, I'm afraid.

  • Rachel Horsley 24 October 2011, 5:46 pm

    Weirdly, I would have to say, since I've begun reading outfit posts from others and style analysis from more established bloggers than myself, the way I'm thinking about my outfits and how I'm putting together my outfits has changed. I consider what my outfit is portraying and what I can do to challenge myself with it, make it better, stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and reach for something more representative of something artistic that I've found inspiring. But, sometimes I'm just too tired and throw on whatever feels comforting and doesn't look like I crawled out of the nearest trash dumpster.