The first thing to work on when you’re learning to speak with your wardrobe is simply accepting that getting dressed is an act of communication with anyone who can see you. For actresses, this is understood, for the rest of us, this is uncomfortable.
And so it is to film that I shall send you – or TV, as you like – to watch the way clothing is used to tell the story and flesh out the character. Turn off the sound to a story you already know, and watch as the characters tell you about themselves without a word. I was recently ill enough to spend a week watching bad movies on Netflix, and it was most educational. Take Legally Blonde 2 (please) and turn off the sound and watch…
- Reese Witherspoon is almost always dressed in flattering colors from her season (Spring). Her whites are ivory, her pinks are warm, she’s wearing quite a lot of turquoise and the loveliest warm red. In fact, Ms. Witherspoon looks better in this movie than she does in real life, when she tends to choose Summer colors (which are more conservative/classic, which is how she tends to dress, but that’s a different discussion).
- The exception to that rule is the opening scenes, when she’s wearing colors that are too bright, and discordant. The pink suit on the poster is the worst offender – it was chosen to show that she was clueless about current style in DC (really, a Jackie Kennedy hat?) and the shade is terrible on her. It was supposed to look awkward and it did.
- As she progresses through the movie, the styles and colors she wears are a better storyteller than the rest of the film. A scarf wrapped around her neck when she’s down, an ivory suit that makes her glow with openness and possibility when she makes her big speech at the end.
The costume designer can help or hinder any story, and you are your own costume designer.* Start with colors and styles that flatter you (you want to look your best) and then figure out what you want to say. There is no cloak of invisibility. (If you want the next best thing, wear jeans that fit but aren’t skin tight, a t-shirt likewise -girlcut only-, and a cardigan with some mom tennis shoes).
Women often assume that sloppy clothes are invisible, but they’re not – they communicate that you don’t care enough about yourself to dress well. Ditto clothing that doesn’t fit properly – it is more likely to call attention to your figure problems than to hide them. **
The last major acceptance blunder seems to be new – I hadn’t heard of it amongst adult women before this decade. “I am dressing for myself”. Are you? Very well. I don’t mind. Go ahead. Lime green gaucho pants with a polka-dot mustard crop top. You do you. That’s fine. But the rest of us are going to receive that visual communication and interpret it – so be sure of your message before you send it out. Then send with impunity and no regrets! If, however, you’re finding that people respond to your visual messages in ways that bewilder you, perhaps you might spend some time reviewing your “tone”. It’s very easy for our subconscious to sneak out information we’d rather it kept its trap shut about.
ALWAYS act with intention, and make choices with a clear conscience.
(You’ll be hearing that last rather a lot hereabouts, I’d get used to it).
* I have seen numerous pins about the design of the gowns on Game of Thrones – the detailing in the embroidery reflects character and story! I’m impressed. Okay, I’m impressed with the speed and size of that costume department. Custom embroidery on every costume? My, my.
**A brief word about capris and stomach aprons. Being someone who (at this writing) has one of the latter, I am scrupulously careful about pants, and rarely wear them. Any skirt is more flattering than a pair of pants that shows the apron. I’ve seen more aprons in capris than I care to, and I’d like to beseech you to invest in some peasant skirts. They’re comfortable, cool, and hide a multitude of sins – probably why women have been wearing them for a thousand years or so. If you’re bound and determined to stay in pants, I recommend a long (thigh-length) tunic with slits for movement. That’s another classic look – although this time from the Middle East. And yes, you can do what you like. I offer these as more flattering alternatives. If you don’t care about figure flattery it’s all a bit irrelevant, isn’t it?