Today, we’re working with our reader Rachel.
In her own words, Rachel is a 32-year old homeschooling mom of young children, whose clothes “have to be wash-and-wear, and, most of the time, sturdy enough to get down on the floor.” Rachel has studied various style systems, but there always seems to be a gap between the recommendations offered by those systems and her own reality.
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THE BIG PICTURE:
Rachel’s vision board is bright, colorful, and feminine. Even her basics are color. The vision board has an exuberant, youthful feel. Color, crisp prints, and feminine detail seem to be Rachel’s favorite way of expressing her innate appeal. At the same time, there is a sense of practicality to her vision board that reminds us that this young woman is also a mom who not only wants but needs to be comfortable and flexible in her clothes.
Many of the items on Rachel’s board made me think of what Audrey Hepburn’s character from Roman Holiday would wear today. Can’t you see the movie’s Princess Ann riding a Vespa down the streets of Rome in the red dress above, or a pair of colorful skinny jeans and a feminine top?
I love these photos because they show that feminine, graceful clothes are perfectly compatible with an active lifestyle – in fact, they are necessary! (How else would one charm the likes of Gregory Peck while traipsing merrily through Rome?)
I also see a parallel between Rachel’s vision board and the character of Princess Ann, because both embrace responsibility in their lives. Both need to reconcile their yearning to express their femininity freely with the need to be grounded, responsible, practical, and, to a certain extent, proper and dependable. Their roles as a princess, or a mother, greatly influence their respective realities and consequently, their style.
You can see that, in addition to color, most items on Rachel’s board achieve visual interest through detail. The pleats, gathers, and ruching all have a common vibe, a degree of narrowness and neatness (though not necessarily orderliness or symmetry). Here, her desire to express boldness and sensuality meets the need for practicality and Rachel’s own delicate physicality. The narrower, crisper draping and ruching compliment her well; the same can be said for prints. The animal print she chose is crisp, colorful, and delicate, its essential bold sensuality made somewhat lighter and more appropriate for Rachel’s own essence. It’s an interesting study in how we should adapt feminine or sensual elements (draping, animal prints, etc.) to the reality of our bodies, essence, and lifestyle, instead of adapting ourselves to them. Any woman can have drama and sensuality in her style, provided she makes those elements work for herself, and not the other way around.
Let’s take a detailed look at Rachel’s vision board:
- Colors: a variety of bright, clear colors.
- Shapes: feminine, flowing on the bottom or closely hugging the body.
- Textures: smooth or lightly textured fabrics.
- Lines and prints: small to medium in scale, crisply defined. Neat curves.
- Details: crisp and feminine: pleats, bows, ruching, waist emphasis, rounded necklines. Draping is mostly horizontal and narrow.
Rachel has an extremely well proportioned, slender hourglass figure. The curve of her body strikes a lovely balance with the delicateness of her bone structure.
In her vision board, Rachel displayed an intuitive ability to adapt dramatic and sensual elements to her body and essence. Anything bold or oversized will overshadow her. Thankfully, embellishments and detail are available in a variety of sizes, and hers should be small to medium. It’s important to note that embellishments shouldn’t be fussy or cute; that is not Rachel’s style, nor can it be practical for her. The detail needs to be close to the body, draping and flowing in a narrow, slightly crisp and sharp way that would mimic the neat curves and delicateness of her body.
As noted above, scale is important for Rachel. So is balance. When putting together an outfit, I recommend putting visual emphasis on either the upper or the lower part of the body, but not both, since it can look a bit fussy. Because Rachel needs to bring a degree of maturity to her style, a good rule of thumb is to pick two out of three: color, pattern, or detail. For example, she can select a top in a neutral color with a bow or pleating, and pair it with a brightly colored pair of skinnies. Or, a patterned top can be paired with a neutral-colored, softly gathered A-shaped skirt. This rule will help Rachel look feminine and stylish, while also retaining a degree of taste and elegance.
Rachel definitely needs to adapt her style to the practical reality of her everyday life. I see this as her current #1 challenge. Many women who lead active lives gravitate towards separates, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. A uniform of well fitting, stylish and comfortable separates that reflect a woman’s personal flair can be a great thing. Rachel can also use this tactic, at least for the more active parts of her day. But I can see her wearing dresses in a casual way, also. Coat- and shirt dresses are great, for example. This is where fabric can be very important. Thankfully, there are a lot of fabric blends available today that resist creasing and are easy to clean. Dresses like this often come in neutral colors, which means that they can be combined with a colorful scarf or jewelry and a pair of statement flats for a look that is feminine and sexy, yet put together and practical for things like shopping or being out and about with the family.
For a busy home-stay mom like Rachel, it’s a good idea to build a solid foundation of basics (say, bottoms) and then have 2 types of tops to go with them: one, more casual, for indoor use, and the other for going out of the house on errands (day-time dresses will be in this category). This way, it can be as easy as switching out a top and putting on an accessory. The good news is that, these days, even the simplest t-shirts come with feminine detail and prints that elevate them into dressier realms, while still keeping the garment highly practical.
I also have to mention footwear and bags, since they can play a huge role in dressing up an outfit. I liked the bags that Rachel selected: they are feminine, colorful yet functional. A messenger-type bag is great for her. Shoes can be flats or dressy Puma-type sneakers (Pumas are usually quite stylish). The key is picking good quality fabrics like leather, and not canvas for example, which can look too casual.
Rachel’s style demonstrates that busy stay-at-home moms can be just as well dressed as any other woman. Her clothes can be visually interesting yet functional and elegant. Rachel’s style can be dubbed as “youthful, practical drama.” It can serve her well for years to come.