Issue 5: Style Tip - Contrast Balance
Hello, my dears,
Have you ever gotten dressed in the morning and something about your outfit looks off, but you’re not sure what? Or maybe you’re interested in elevating your personal style and want a quick, simple way to do just that.
When it comes to my personal style, I have two MO’s:
Keep it simple, balanced, and interesting in some way. I want to be comfortable but chic.
Or - try all the things, no rules, be wild. Anything goes.
The first is how I dress most days. I don’t want to think about it too much, but also know that I carry myself differently when I feel good in what I’m wearing. I do better work and trust myself more. It turns out our style matters a lot more than wearing clothes and not scandalizing the public. It’s not only how others perceive us, but it’s also how we perceive ourselves too.
And as someone who is not nearly as confident and comfortable in my body at this moment in time as I hope to be someday, feeling great in what I’m wearing helps me build trust with my body and appreciate all its curves and dimples. I’m kinder to myself when I like what I’m wearing.
As I’ve been settling into my personal style more and more over the last few years, there’s one styling trick that is present in every single one of the outfits I feel my best in: Contrast Balance.
As a plebian with no formal fashion training, only lots of curiosity and a penchant for style blogs, books, and magazines, I can confidently say that there is probably a fancier term for what this is. But since most of you are also probably normal people without training at Parsons or another one of the great fashion institutes, I think we’re ok with my self-coined term. So, what is contrast balance?
Simply put, it’s balancing the dark and the light aspects of your outfit. I find it helpful to break down looks into ‘waist-up’ and ‘waist-down’ segments. If an outfit doesn’t look quite right, it’s usually because the waist-up is doing one thing and the waist-down is doing another, and they aren’t talking to each other. There is too much contrast, a lack of balance, and no cohesion between the two halves. Let’s look at some examples:
This is a fine outfit. I’ve worn this before, but it felt off and slightly boring. I didn’t feel great in it. The black pants are bleeding into the black shoes. And the top is bright white. The two halves of my outfit (top and bottom) are not talking to each other, so it feels disjointed, imbalanced, and incomplete.
Now look how much more interesting and balanced the same outfit looks with a couple of tweaks. It is still black trousers and a white tee, but now the white tee is being balanced by my white converse. And the black stripe on my sweater is tying in the black pants. There is harmony, and the outfit feels interesting.
The same idea works when you’re wearing color and patterns. Have a similar value (art speak for lightness or darkness) on the top half of your outfit as you do in the bottom half of your outfit. If your shirt is dark, then wear dark shoes to tie it together. If your shirt is light, wear light shoes to tie it together. Or use an above-waist accessory like a belt, bag, scarf, or sweater over your shoulders to bring it all together with your shoes and make your look cohesive.
Let’s look at a few more outfits and look for how they are balanced:
Left: I love how this is a gradient – that inherently feels more balanced because it’s not a massive jump in light/dark values. The cream and grey jeans are lower contrast than pure black and white. And the black font on the tote is tying in with the black flats. The flats also show a lot of skin which softens the contrast. If she was wearing a loafer that went further up on her foot this would not look nearly as balanced.
Middle: The black bag up top is balancing the black shoes and making the outfit cohesive. I also love the grey sweater over the shoulders to introduce a mid-value element. See what is happening here - we’re making things less striking and balancing the light and the dark.
Right: The black stripes on the sweater are talking to the black trousers and tying those two elements together. The trousers are cropped, showing her skin which gives a visual break to the black on the lower half of the outfit and also a nod to the stripes up top. She’s also carrying a black bag which extends the darker contrast in another way to the top half of the outfit. I really love this look.
It might feel a little overwhelming if this is a completely new concept but give it a week or two and you’ll be noticing it out in the world, in the magazines, on the interwebs. And remember – there are always exceptions. That’s the joy of personal style! Sometimes it’s fun to play with contrast, colors, and not give a second thought to balance. Go wild, try things, and notice how you feel in what you wear.
Today’s style question is from Lauren:
What shoes should I wear with skinny jeans? I know they’re out of fashion, but I still like wearing them. I’m a mom in my thirties so being comfortable is important. And if basic/casual/no style is a style, then that is mine.
Hi Lauren! First off, wear your skinny jeans and don’t give it a second thought. Trends come and go, but your personal style doesn’t have to be dictated by what the fashion gatekeepers (or TikTokers) say. I personally still own, wear, and love my skinny jeans. Because skinny jeans are slender around the ankles, something sleek and minimal will look best. Try a ballet flat, loafer, or white sneaker. And opt for a slightly cropped cut for your jeans so that a bit of your ankle shows. This will help your skinny jeans look fresh and chic.
This week’s links:
If you follow along on Instagram, you may know that my anxiety paid a visit over the weekend. It may be the worst, but I have a weighted blanket, this calm drink, and this delightful Spotify playlist to help. And my anxiety is feeling much more managed at the moment.
I’ve been biking to my favorite Raleigh coffee shop lots recently, and am staying safe with this helmet. After a few weeks of using it, I can confirm that it is comfortable, breezy, and cute as mess. The reviews are full of people with stories of how it protected them in a crash. And while I’m hoping to avoid that, it’s nice to know my head is safe.
This podcast on Quiet Quitting is worth a listen. Articles Club deep-dove Quiet Quitting this month and it is so interesting to me. I had heard a lot of QQ buzz but wasn’t sure what it was all about, and Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers do a great job breaking it down.
There’s a new hair trend that was spotted all over NYFW and at the Emmys this past week. I’m not feeling great about it.
We’ll wrap it up today with a serotonin burst in the form of animal reels:
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