The Great Cold-Shoulder Top Debate

Cold shoulder tops and slit sleeves are all the rage right now.  In fact, I went shopping for basic ivory t-shirts and they were nearly all I could find.

When they first came out, it was like a breath of fresh air after endless sleeveless looks.   And the first tops I found were quite flattering.  But then I started hearing from other women who found them hideous – and I looked around and said, “Hm.  There *are* a lot of bad shirts happening, so what’s going on?”

Here’s a great cold-shoulder top.  The shoulder cut-outs are balanced with the neckline, and the fabric works with the line.


Here’s a rather sad version – but why is it sad?


  1. The sleeves are short
  2. Fabric choice
  3. Visible seams around the shoulder cut-outs
  4. Neckline doesn’t work

When you’re looking at cold-shoulder tops, the look that’s being evoked is either this:


Or this:


Both of those looks are glorious – but you can’t walk the middle road.  Either you are sporty and sweatshirty and about to sing along to Flashdance… or you’re wearing a silk chiton and reigning.   Fabric – about 75% of this problem is fabric.

Another problem is line.  I picked up the following top on my foray for ivory t-shirts (mine required replacement – required being the operative word, which is why these shirts came home with me).  I’m heavy, but I lift weights – my shoulders are not flabby.

We see the problem with the first top immediately – it’s the line.  The holes create a horizontal line right across my bust.  That’s not somewhere I need more volume or attention.

The second shirt is better, because the drape does evoke the chiton – but again, line is the problem.  I don’t need a horizontal line just under my bust either.  (If I wore the latter top over dressy jeans, rather than tucked/belted, it would be better, particularly with the statement necklace).

There are some great new silhouettes coming out, and I’m thrilled that sleeve interest is en vogue once again – but you still have to watch your personal proportions and you have to take the fabric into account.  Knit jersey just isn’t silk.  If you’re going to have something more complicated than the very basics, it’s better to use a higher quality fabric.




Elements of Style: Balance

One of the principles of design in any artistic venue is balance.   The two types of balance are called formal and informal.  The difference?  Whether the “weight” of the picture is balanced evenly across the image, with a matching motif on each side, or informal balance, where a lot of “weight” on one side is balanced by a small but crucial element on the other.

Some examples:clip_image0121

How do you respond to these images, viscerally?  Most people consider one or the other of these types of balance mildly repellent.  Either formal balance is “boring” or informal balance is “messy” – and the other just looks right.


It’s important to know which of these sets of balance that you respond to, because the formality of your preferred balance is something that comes through all your aesthetics, and that visceral response affects which outfits you feel comfortable in.  Balance is one of the ways in which you can manipulate corporate dress code expectations – you can feel so much more like yourself if you’re wearing the design characteristics that suit you, no matter the rules that you need to follow on the job.

Wearing the wrong balance, contrariwise, is a great way to feel like you’re wearing someone else’s clothing.

Homework assignment:  Pick one.


Toppers make the outfit

What’s a topper?  A topper is any top layer – the item you wear over your shirt/dress, whether that be a blazer, a cardigan… or

DSC05761something a little wilder.  A topper sets the mood of your outfit, all the more if you’re working with basic, foundational pieces.


I like a creative/feminine/crunchy vibe and I picked up two really fun toppers this summer that are going to add so much to my wardrobe, I had to share with you guys.

  1.  I picked this dress up in the Macy’s clearance sale.  As a dress, I’d never wear it – it’s not my style and it’s a size too small.  Everything I’ve ever said about “cupping” comes horribly true.  But *over* my normal clothes, it adds a funky edge, just a little bit of bite.   And because it’s snug, it doesn’t add any volume through my torso.  It’s too warm to wear right now, but I’m so looking forward to rocking this through the winter.
  2. TDSC05760his blouse turned up at an estate sale.  It’s also too small – but it’s incredibly flattering (flattering enough that something similar just added itself to my sewing list).  It’s the soft shade of aqua that I find relaxing and centering.  It increases the femininity of any outfit.

Your basic cardigan or blazer toppers have basic figure-flattery rules, and if you’re investing, you should follow them.  Go classic.  That perfect spot on the hip, the one that slims you?  Use that.

But if you’re not investing – have some fun.  Choose colors, proportions, silhouettes, details, that you might not generally use.  A topper is almost (but not quite) in the realm of accessory, it is meant to season your outfit, not to be its base.  Check the fashion mags – what kind of silhouettes are being used right now?   What’s the sleeve of the moment?  The print?  A topper is a great thing to find at a fast-fashion boutique, or somewhere random – like an estate sale!

Imagine either one of these toppers over a basic light-colored t-shirt and dark-wash jeans.  Do both items work?  Yes.  Are they the same?  No.  Imagine them how I’ll probably wear them, over ivory lace.  Still working?  Yes.  Same vibe?  No.  Are they your cup of tea?  Maybe not!  But something is, whether that’s a luxurious knee-length camel cardigan or a wisp of chiffon they call a beach cover up.  Something is – and that something can add a lot of fun to your wardrobe.