MANual of Style


Lesson 8: Accessories by Shreyas
14 January, 2010, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , ,

So let’s talk about accessories—all those things you wear without which you’d still be dressed, things such as watches, jewelry, gloves, scarves, and hats. (Not too long ago, a hat was an essential, not an accessory!)

Why Accessorize?

An accessory is a removable, repositionable detail. You use it the same way as any other detail—to draw the eye to a strong feature. You can also use it as a decoy. Since it draws attention to itself, you can deflect attention from a part you’re not so sanguine about. Until quite recently, I wore a pair of keys on different lengths of ball chain as a necklace; it’s a flashy, moving object that makes a clanking sound when I move, which makes it a nearly irresistible attention trap. I could tell it was working because lots of people made comments about it. At the time I was gaining some weight, and it helped keep eyes off my waistline.

That’s not a particularly subtle way to use an accessory, but I hope it makes it clear what you can do with them. One friend of mine always wears very fancy vintage belt buckles to draw attention to his package, but that’s not for everyone either. On the other hand, I have a lot of friends who spend hardly any money on their clothes, but invest hundreds of dollars and lots of man-hours finding just the right glasses to accentuate their faces. That’s a relatively low-risk thing to do; glasses have an inherent practical value, and if you don’t want people to look at anything you’re wearing, a great pair of glasses is a good way to accomplish that.

Path of the Eye

When you’re choosing accessories, think about where on the body you’ll wear them. Also think about the way the gaze has to travel to take them in. When people are casually looking at other people, their attention naturally falls on the face, and from there it travels to approximately the nearest visually interesting area; it generally gets to the hands at some point because hands are expressive and mobile. So, if you’re trying to keep eyes off your middle, you can wear a striking accessory on your wrist, or have a shirt with a bright sleeve detail, and the eye will travel from your face to your hands without ever going to your middle. Alternately, you could wear a long scarf hanging straight down, so when the eye moves off your face, it hits a straight line leading to the floor.

If you want to be checked out head-to-toe, be sure to wear an interesting belt and interesting shoes, and possibly jeans with an unusual back-pocket detail, to ensure that you get looked at all the way before the eyes go back to your face. It’s important to give people something to look at if you want them to look at you.

Accessories that Stand Out

Choosing a good accessory is a challenge. For starters, as usual I recommend a small selection of conservative items. It’s hard to go wrong with a nice analog watch on a dark leather band, a solid or striped scarf in a color that suits your skin, and a basic leather belt with an interesting buckle. Also consider a few pairs of shoes of varying levels of dressiness.

Forgive me, because I’m about to be judgemental: Most digital watches are only appropriate if you want to look like you’re from Back to the Future. If analog watches bother you, think of it as a mechanical bracelet and check the time on your cell. There are a few designers who make really cool digital watches (like Nooka), but they’re hard to find and often more expensive than comparable analogs.

But, back to the main point: Since the purpose of these things is to direct attention, you should feel free to splurge on really distinctive items, daring colors, investments, or conversation pieces. Accessories can add color to an outfit (I have a scarf with red and yellow stripes that I wear when I’m feeling down) or change your silhouette. They’re also a great opportunity to reference your interests; I knew a couple of Buddhists who always wore their prayer malas as bracelets, for instance. There is some great anime-inspired jewelry out there.

Less is More

While it’s important to have visual landmarks, you shouldn’t overdo it. Too many accessories cancel each other out and look cluttered. One or two is usually enough. Coco Chanel said you should always take off the last thing you put on; while you may not actually have to, it’s always a good idea to check yourself out as you’re walking out the door to be sure you don’t look like Mr. T.

That’s it for today. Check in with us on Saturday, when I’ll tell you about some accessories I like. Tell me about some of your interests or concerns, and I’ll recommend some stuff that you might like, too.

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