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Thou Shalt Have Fun With Accessories


I am not a basics kinda girl. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I believe in accessories. I believe in the power of a single awesome accessory; maybe even two. But even just one stunning accessory has the power to make an ordinary outfit extraordinary.

Whether your style is minimalist or maximalist, there are some accessories you will need if only out of sheer necessity. We all need shoes certainly, and a bag of some sort is useful, unless you like to carry everything in your hands. Once, I saw a young girl actually doing this. She dropped her credit card in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, and then nearly had an accident while retrieving it. This is not a good look.

A well-chosen accessory, whatever it’s function, can lift the spirit. 

Accessories can change your look from night to day, and they can make or break an outfit. They express your personality. They can be practical or utterly frivolous and in both be cases utterly necessary – one fills a need, the other feeds the soul. A well-chosen item, whatever it’s function, can lift the spirit. And make a short girl tall too.

Gone are the days when your shoes, bag and gloves had to match however. This is a look that is so far past passé it’s old fashioned. But when this simple and easy-to-follow rule is thrown out, how does one choose the perfect accessories to complement an outfit? 

There are quite a few things to ponder: size, occasion, season, age appropriateness, colour, and quantity as well as quality. Read on to find out more!

Have some real fun with accessories by making visual puns – adding magpie earrings rather than cats is so much more interesting! And how fabulous is that bag? A little pop of red really stands out against all the white and black and denim ‘neutral’. Click through to Polovore for shopping details for this outfit. Miaow.

Size Matters

Just as one chooses clothing to suit one’s figure, so should accessories be carefully considered. Accessories should balance one another; your shape, and complement your clothes too.

Jewellery A longer necklace will flatter shorter necks, as well as fill necklines and draw the eye. On the other hand, if your choker is actually choking you, then it’s not the right look. Large hoops or chandelier earrings work beautifully with short hair, or updos. 

Other accessories An enormous tote will overwhelm a petite figure, while a tiny clutch will look equally out of proportion on a generous figure. If you like to wear gloves, here’s a simple rule to follow: the shorter the sleeve, the longer the glove. A belt at the waist flatters the long-waisted, heels lengthen anyone’s legs (a desirable trait for most). A skinny belt may not be the best choice for a heavier figure – select something wider. And so on.

All neutral garments are a great canvas for some bright accessories, though I’ve deliberately kept the cuff bracelet a neutral tan to keep the number of colours down. Click through to Polovore for shopping details for this outfit. Pop!

What’s the Occasion?

Some accessories are clearly meant for evenings and partying hard, others are more hard-wearing for the daily commute to the office. Don’t dress for the office as though you’re going nightclubbing obviously, or wear beach clothes in the city – you won’t be taken seriously. This is not a hard and fast rule however, and will depend upon the kind of workplace you have, whether it is more relaxed and creative, or strictly business.

’Tis the Season

The season will of course affect your choices. A winter wardrobe offers a greater variety (or a greater need) of options and fun accessories to play with. It is rarely an elegant look however to mix seasons: for example, wearing flip-flops through the rain and sleet, or sweltering under a heavy scarf mid-summer. There are a number of weather-ready items that we all use that don’t need to be purely practical. Why carry a plain black umbrella when you could be twirling one in hot pink and bedecked with frills besides?

Age Appropriateness

Accessories should be age appropriate too, and by this I mean not aging, as well as not bestowing that unfortunate mutton-dressed-as-lamb look. Of course, whatever your age, if you want to look 15 years older, wear a string of pearls and a twin set with your box pleat skirt and low courts! The key to looking chic is in the way you combine your accessories: mixing high and low will achieve a fresh and spontaneous kind of elegance that is far superior to a tired and safe, conservative version of style. For instance, that twin set and pearls might work in any shade but pastel, or given some attitude worn with jeans and fierce heels, or a leather skirt.

… slightly off-kilter is more interesting and modern than matchy-matchy.

A mix of slightly different shades of coral pink and blush creates a warm palette without being boring. A hair clip in a strong red rather than pink or cream makes this outfit less sweet. Click through to Polyvore for shopping details for this outfit.

Quality Counts

Unique accessories can be found at all price points if one hunts around, and vintage is always a fantastic resource for something truly unique. Often the vintage piece is as beautifully made and designed as a modern designer item, at a fraction of the cost. It’s true however that the really amazing pieces are at the higher end of the scale, especially when it comes to quality of design and manufacture. Always buy the best you can afford, especially those items that are either classic (ie, will never go out of style) or you foresee will be used frequently. Spend less on the very fun and trendy items.

Just Add Colour

If your outfit is predominantly made up of neutrals, take the opportunity to add a pop or two of colour in your accessories. Do make sure if the accessory is near your face that it flatters your complexion. A general rule of thumb would be no more than two or three colours and textures, at least so one avoids that awful alternating colour scheme, ie, blue hat, red scarf, blue shirt, red pants, blue shoes etc. A better alternative might be a blue shirt and red pants worn with black ballet flats and a camel beret, a silver necklace and black bag; neutral shades mixed with colour do not look so OTT. 

It is a balancing act, and slightly off-kilter is more interesting and modern than matchy-matchy. The more detailed or colourful your garments are though, the simpler your accessories should be, and vice versa.

The Coco Principle

As well as going overboard with too many colours, do be careful about going overboard with too many accoutrements. If your outfit is very bold or colourful with lots of detail or trim, then you probably won’t need any fancy accessories at all. In that case, stick to a very plain shoe and bag, and consider whether you need to wear jewellery at all. If you outfit is minimalist or neutral coloured, then go all out with a knock-’em-dead necklace, or killer heels.  

Occasionally a maximalist look will work, but you need to be very confident you’ve nailed it, or risk looking like a clown or a Christmas tree. Coco Chanel advised us to take a look in the mirror before we walked out the door, and take one thing off – sometimes we need to take off more than one! Most days I prefer to wear less – far less than even Coco suggested. It’s best to go with your instinct. If you feel you look a little silly, chances are you do. And even if you don’t, your unease will be visible to everyone. A bold outfit requires equal confidence to carry it off.

I distinctly remember when I was about 18 years old and studying art, I started wearing lots of ethnic style jewellery, and I wasn’t shy to pile it on. One day, while working at a casual job in a biscuit factory (art materials cost a lot), I looked down at my hand at the paua shell inlaid bangle, the three or four rings, and had an ephiphany. I was wearing far too much jewellery on one hand, I realised with mortification. Sheepishly I slid most of them off and stuffed them into my uniform pocket. Strange time and place to have an epiphany I know, but it’s a true story.

Ever since then I’ve erred on the side of minimalism: no more than one ring per hand (sometimes only one ring altogether), or two slim rings stacked on one finger, and never a bangle and watch on one wrist. On the rare occasion I might wear a stack of wooden bangles, 1920s style à la Nancy Cunard. Likewise, a silk scarf knotted around the neck makes a necklace superfluous, and a headband under a hat is too much. You don’t want to ruin the impact of your fabulous accessory by wearing too many – you won’t be able to see the ring for the bling, as it were. 

Accessories should certainly fit in with your environment and suit your personality, but they also provide an excellent and low-commitment opportunity to play with fashion and bring a little joy into life. Just get the balance right, walking that fine line between practicality and pleasure. Don’t be afraid to experiment either, especially in the safety of your own home before you venture out the door. And if you do get it wrong a time or two, there’s no harm done – it’s not brain surgery after all. Accessories are easy to remove and slip into your bag and pretend it never happened. Life’s too short to dress in a humdrum fashion – don’t miss out on all the fun!


Come back next week for the Fourth Fashion Commandment. If you’ve just tuned in, or would like to refresh your memory, click here to review all the Fashion Commandments.

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