MANual of Style


Lesson 14: Casual Accessories by Shreyas
11 February, 2010, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Not much of an intro today, because there’s a lot of ground to cover. Suffice it to say that accessories are important: they provide the bit of polish that separates someone dressed acceptably from someone who is dressed well. With a little bit of knowledge about how to choose the correct accessories, you will find your outfits look complete, without ever having realized they were incomplete before.

Hats

There are a lot of similarly-structured hats with brims and crowns of various shapes, and usually a hatband; it would be tedious to list all of them here, but here are some things to think about when choosing these brimmed, non-baseball caps. Right now, “stingy” brims are in fashion, which is to say that they have thinner brims than usual; this is flattering to most face shapes, but if the stinginess is exaggerated it tends to make the head look big or the face look round. The other thing to remember is that choosing a hat shape is functionally equivalent to choosing a haircut; your hair will have little to no visible shape when wearing a hat, so it’s up to the hat to make the usual adjustments to the width and length of your face. These types of hats usually come in stiffened fabric or felt; the stiffened fabric is an all-season thing, but the felt caps will be too warm for summer. Likewise, woven hats (hats made of a solid material with visible holes) are summer-only.

As far as looks go, patterned hats are more likely to draw the eye to your face, but less versatile overall. The same goes for bright colors, as opposed to neutrals. (Remember: subtle patterns, such as pinstripes, count as solids here; however, there’s been a trend towards very high-contrast pinstripes; those are sort of a no-man’s land between solid and pattern.) I would suggest that if the hatband has any sort of ornament, it shouldn’t be much taller than the band itself; you want people to look at your face, not the side of your head.

A good hat is a great way to get people focused onto your face, as long as the brim doesn’t overshadow too much. Which brings us to baseball caps.

Baseball caps are really only for people who look good bald; the fit of a baseball cap means that your face is viewed without the frame of hair to alter its silhouette. On top of that, a particularly low or long bill casts shadows over the face in the wrong light, making you less likely to catch the eye on a bright day. Baseball caps are also the lowest level of formality when it comes to haberdashery, with the possible exception of paper party hats— if your outfit errs on the side of formality, even if it is “casual,” you run the risk of looking like you’re trying to conceal hair loss. This also goes with the general idea of becoming less formal as you remove layers of clothing.

The final thing to keep in mind is the decoration which adorns your baseball cap: follow the rules we laid out for graphical tees in our “Shopping from the closet” lesson. If it says or implies something you would not walk up to a stranger and say to them, it’s not appropriate. And if you wear a cap with an actual team logo, make sure you know something about the team in case a fellow fan strikes up a conversation.

Now that you’ve chosen the ideal baseball cap, breaking it in is fairly simple. Soak it in warm water, shake off the excess water, and let it dry while you’re wearing it. To curve the bill, wrap rubber bands around it overnight. Voila! Perfectly broken in.

Hats like beanie/skull/knit caps are like basbeball caps without bills: they cling to your scalp and remove the frame of hair. They’re good for winter months, strange in warm weather, and count as outerwear: since they’re specifically and obviously for warmth, it looks strange to wear them inside, and it’s important to pair them with a jacket of a similar or greater weight.

Jewelry

The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to jewelry is that less is more. That’s not to say you can’t wear a ton of necklaces or something: I do, certainly. But the general rule is this: the more expensive your jewelry is, the less jewelry you can get away with wearing. If you have a really nice Movado watch, it will look gaudy in the company of a lot of rings, and out of place with a shell-and-wood surfer necklace. It’s also important to let the higher-quality and special pieces breathe; you want people to notice and compliment them, and not let them get lost in a bunch of visual noise.

On the other hand, some jewelry works best in tandem with others. The shell-and-wood necklace that wouldn’t go with your watch might look great with a leather cuff. I also have some great, brightly-colored beaded bracelets that are entirely too slender and girly on their own, so I pick out a handful of them to wear on one hand (and usually make sure one of them is black and/or chrome). Put together, they look like one item, and the girlyness is vastly toned down.

The other important thing to remember when grouping jewelry is to choose materials that complement each other. Leather, wood, and shell are all very organic materials; brushed metal and smooth stone aren’t. Partially it’s about texture, but organic materials also tend to read as less formal than metal and stone, and they tend to come in completely unrelated colors.

Make sure to choose pieces which are the right length and thickness for your frame: if you’re a big guy, a slender bracelet or a frat-boy choker will seem constricting and uncomfortable, even if they fit well. Likewise, if you’re small, don’t overdo the wide leather cuffs or the chunky industrial watch, or you risk making your delicate wrists look weak and weighed-down.

As a final note, there are pieces of jewelry that just don’t count: wedding rings, small earring studs, and functional, utilitarian belt buckles. Any body piercings you never take out do count, but you should consider them only for color and texture, and not their level of formality.

That’s everything on casual accessories for now. See you Saturday, when I talk about specific accessories I enjoy.