Saturday, May 09, 2009

Further thoughts on colour

Since I first posted about my resolution to dress for colour this winter, I have realised just how little colourful clothing I own. I really don't have enough to do top-to-toe layering in more than a few colours. Reds, pinks, purples and blues, mainly – dressing for colour is a great way of getting a fresh perspective on your wardrobe.

Sadly for my wallet, dressing for colour has also been an excuse to buy colourful new clothes. I have been getting a lot of wear out of a bright apple-green cardigan that I got from a cheap-shop, and I went to Cotton On, where I purchased a large red patterned scarf, a magenta scarf in T-shirt material (purely so I would have something to match with my new harem pants), a pair of turquoise leggings and two men's T-shirts in sky-blue and red (on special for $5 each).

It's interesting that I had to raid the men's department to find bright colours in winter. I'm quite shocked at how few colourful clothes are in shops right now. I can walk into a shop and from its entire winter range, I can pick out only three or four garments colourful enough to interest me. Even tights this year are in muted colours, and the availability of brightly coloured opaques is usually something you can count on in winter. On the flipside, this is a wonderfully economical way to shop.

This experiment has made me realise how cruelly my dress sense was previously governed by silhouette. I used to choose outfits based on how they draped, revealed and concealed my body. However, the new regime of colour is much looser and more layered, far less neat and preppy than what I would wear in the past. Yet I don't feel sloppy or frumpy; the bright colours make the outfit look carefully assembled.

I'm also finding I'm far more adventurous with contrasting and clashing colour combinations, such as red and purple, orange and pink, and yellow and blue. However, as I think I may have written on this blog before, I just can't bring myself to wear green and red (too Christmassy), yellow and green (too Aussie) and blue and red (too much like Superman).

Another thing I've decided to do is to layer clashing prints as well. So I'll have polka dots with checks with florals with stripes with geometric prints, but all in the same colour family so they blend together. Or I'll layer several different-coloured versions of the same print: maybe a striped dress with a differently striped top underneath. I really liked this look from the Sartorialist's recent trip to Australia (although I must say his coverage of Melbourne was really pitiful – why do we persist in giving overseas visitors the misleading impression that Chapel Street is Melbourne's fashion hub?).

Here is a bizarre photo montage of my outfit from yesterday. I was very uneasy with it at first, but then as the day wore on I got happier and happier. By the time I was walking down a drizzly Swanston Street at 11:30pm, surrounded by people wearing dull black, grey and other wintry colours, I felt wonderful, like a peacock. I didn't care whether I looked ridiculous or not.

This is my outfit today. You can see my recent acquisitions, the apple-green cardigan and the blue T-shirt, and I realised that the necklace was the same colour as the T-shirt. There's a history to the scarf: my mother made it for me only recently from some remnant fabric she found while cleaning out a cupboard.

It's a dark turquoise microfibre (it came up lighter in the photo) that I picked out in 1993 for a dress my mother made me to wear to my year 10 school 'semi-formal' dance. My friends and I ended up getting extremely drunk before the semi-formal and then were horribly, publicly sick at the event itself. The next day, my dad took my dress to the dry-cleaner where he met my school vice-principal, who was getting her own dress dry-cleaned.

The dress was never the same after the dry-cleaning, I have to say. I wore it only once more, as an in-joke, to my year 12 valedictory dinner, and I have long since fattened out of it. But the scarf is a fun reminder of the whole debacle.

The sharif don't like it

Almost a month ago I was in Supré, "just to see what they had", and I came away with three new garments: a pair of red tartan leggings, a pair of black harem pants, and a pair of what can only be described as magenta three-quarter-length MC Hammer pants.

They also had them in violet and in black. I don't know why I bought the magenta ones, because as I've mentioned, magenta is one of those colours that looks wonderful and vibrant in the shop, but that I find really difficult to match to the rest of my clothes and accessories.

The label described the magenta pants as having a 'drop crotch'. Reader, this was not true. The 'rise' of the pants (the space between the waistband and the crotch) was actually smaller than the average pair of pants, and if not worn very low on the hips, they were horribly tight and bunchy in the crotch. I actually undid the crotch seam and re-sewed it lower down to loosen up the pants.

2009 is definitely shaping up as The Year Of Drop-Crotch Pants. These have been hanging around (pardon my pun) since at least 2007, then Radar was sure they were heading mainstream in 2008, but it's only this year that mainstream fashion commentators have started talking about them and Australian designers have started including them in their collections. And, of course, they've trickled down to fast-fashion stores such as Supré.

These aren't so much your traditional harem pants that are voluminous all through the leg and then gather at the ankle. Rather, they're in cotton jersey material and are pleated or gathered at the waist or hip and voluminous to the knee, then tight or ruched to mid-calf or ankle.

Fashion Flux has an interesting 'pattern' for making your own – just get some stretch jersey fabric and use your favourite leggings as a template, but make the crotch lower and allow more material around the thighs. Livejournal user Moohoop went one better and converted an old windcheater into drop-crotch pants – an idea of such simple genius that I want to run to the op-shop right now to do the same.

Many observers seem to have a problem with drop crotch pants because they distort the body's 'natural' silhouette, making the legs look ridiculously short and the body too long – "like a penguin", was one response. Other people think they're unflattering on all but the tallest and thinnest body shapes. Others can't get over the '80s/'90s-ness of them – they are ashamed to look like MC Hammer. Some think it looks as though you've pooed your pants. And others think drop crotch pants just look badly designed or fitted, as though the wearer has borrowed someone else's clothes.

The counter-argument is "but they're so comfortable!" Especially because they're usually made from soft material that drapes nicely, drop crotch pants are kind of the fashion-forward version of tracksuit pants. They're also far more forgiving on the body than leggings – which are still being worn as pants, despite at least two bloggers' outrage. You don't need to worry about visible panty lines, cameltoe or polterwang. And the pants skim right over the wobbliest parts of your legs.

A related phenomenon is boyfriend jeans, so-called because they're so baggy and oversized they look borrowed from the man in the wearer's life. The way they're often worn with the cuffs turned up also reminds me of harem pants, because this tends to draw the jeans in at the ankles. Also, men's jeans tend to have longer rises and more room in the crotch, which, when worn by women, creates the drop-crotch effect.

These jeans, too, are about comfort – as well as the actual fit, they imply the comfortable domesticity of having a man about the house whose clothes you casually borrow. It's curious to think that in a way, boyfriend jeans are another kind of harem pants in that they suggest the wearer 'belongs' to a man, just as an odalisque or concubine belongs to the sultan. Could drop-crotch pants, with their radical de-emphasising of a woman's buttocks, crotch and thighs, be suggesting that the wearer isn't sexually available to the viewer – that she's already 'taken'?