This blog has closed. Follow me to 3stylelife. Thanks - Barry

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Moving On

Hello everyone,

After doing a lot of thinking and reading over vacation, I've decided to shut this blog down. By no means am I done with blogging, but this site really was my first attempt at the beast, and I need to make some fundamental changes. Thank you all for reading (and occasionally commenting). You can follow me to:



Friday, July 25, 2008

Technology Hiatus

Hey all,

Going on vacation for the next 9 days. No computer implies no posting. I'll be back on August 4th stronger than ever. Enjoying the beaches of Ocean City, MD.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Outfit Analysis 7.24.8

Today’s analysis is short and sweet, a lead in to a general idea for a post in a few days.


To utilize a piece of clothing I’ve never worn before.


Shoes: Black Rockport XCS (seen these before?)

Socks: Standard ankle-cut black socks.

Pants: Black Rocco jeans from Express (also familiar)

Belt: Black belt with rectangular silver buckle from Express.

Undershirt: Heather gray 2004 Premier Driving School T-Shirt (I’ve never ever worn this, it’s too small and, it’s a driving school T-shirt, from four years ago).

Shirt: Dark pink and black striped polo from Old Navy (this is a new piece, so I also haven’t worn it before, but that doesn’t count).



First of all, just getting this wonderful polo from Old Navy is a victory. I went before getting my hair cut on Monday, just to browse. I saw they had new polos in, but wasn’t particularly interested in any of the designs. Then I saw this pink and black one on a poster on the wall. Naturally, I couldn’t find it anywhere in the store. Nearly defeated, I asked a cashier if they still had it. She didn’t know, but asked the manager. Out of nowhere, the manager just pulls one from beneath another register! I couldn’t believe my eyes. What size? Large! Perfect. Oh yeah, it’s on clearance as well! What a score, 60% off on my favorite shirt in the store.

Alrighty, now that I’ve got that out, let’s get back to the goal at hand. Much of the outfit is pretty standard for me (from the waist down in fact). The black jeans from Express are particularly useful to me, since I wear a fair amount of black and black compatible colors. The pink/black striped polo brings a nice amount of color and contrast to the party, with fairly bold, thick striping.

However, how was I supposed to extract value from that random gray tee shirt? There are a few points to consider:

Because I’m wearing a polo, I’m going to be wearing an undershirt regardless, and this one fits the bill (utility wise) as good as any. Especially with the higher buttons on this particular polo, any fancy designs or luxurious fabrics aren’t going to be showcased. All anyone is going to see is a small triangle right below the neckline.

Fortunately, this shirt makes good use of that space. The design is fully below this area, so we don’t end up with partially visible text (this can detract from intentionality due to the in-between-ness of the result). Further, the heather gray provides the outfit’s only region of low value, low saturation color, making a fairly prominent contrast, allowing the bright pinks and strong blacks to have a source of comparison. This makes them all the more brighter and stronger, respectively. Finally, the heather texture gives a nice consistency of fabric texture. A subtle detail, but it certainly can’t hurt.

The punchline to this goal, and my above justification, is that certain garments and uses do not require high-cost, high-fashion purchases. I’m going to detail where not to waste spend your money in an upcoming post.


While you can’t see that my undershirt is too small, I can certainly feel it. I’ve noticed, especially when shirts are too small in the shoulder and chest, that the fabric loses breathability and induces sweating, even when I don’t feel hot. Sweating, of course, is uncomfortable, and if you feel uncomfortable, you’re more likely to look uncomfortable. That’s no fun.

Visually, however, I’m very happy with the outfit. To improve it even further, we could increase the level of contrast. A bright, white undershirt may be a more distinct change, and we could add more small regions of this accent color to create a coherent contrast throughout. Options include prominent white detailing on a belt, white shoelaces or shoe detailing, even modifying the buttons to be white (this can be accomplished easily with paint or even a Sharpie). These modifications would be especially nice because of the individuality they bring to the pieces (you can’t buy this polo shirt with white buttons, for example).

Comments: The photographer said that the outfit "was nice." Thanks.

Credit: The photographer remains anonymous.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Outfit Analysis: 7.21.8


To utilize a piece of clothing which no longer fits properly, so that I can continue to extract fashion value from it.


Shoes: Brown Nike Air Series 6D. (I can't currently find them in brown on the Nike website)

Socks: Standard white socks (don’t worry, someday something unusual will crop up here, I promise)

Pants: Dark Blue Rocco Jeans from Express. Moderately prominent yellow-brown stitch detailing which matches the lighter tone on the shoe.

Shirt: Pink Paramore concert t-shirt. This is the piece which does not fit properly. When I saw Paramore on Warped Tour in 2007, this was my favorite design for sale, but they only sold it in women’s sizes. I figured a 2X would be big enough, but I was clearly wrong.

Topcoat: Blue Merona sport blazer. A very casual cotton navy blazer with three buttons.


First, you can see how ill fitting the Paramore shirt is. Notice the bunching in the shoulder area, and the absurd shortness of the sleeve.

Now, the full outfit…



The first step to success here is to hide the fact that the Paramore shirt really doesn’t fit. This is most obvious in the arms and shoulders (to a lesser extent the length of the shirt). We take care of this by covering those areas with a longer-sleeved garment, in this case a casual navy blazer.

Even more, covering these areas doesn’t take away any of the impact of such a bold shirt. The unusual font detailing is largely uncovered, and there was nothing on the sleeves that we’ll now miss. The interior edges of the blazer, left unbuttoned, actually serve to frame the graphic on the shirt.

From a color standpoint, we introduce three distinct blue colors, the darkest navy on the blazer, a lighter blue denim wash, and the brighter turquoise detailing on the shirt. While this does seem to violate a monochromatic principle; to house the darkest colors on the bottom pieces of the outfit, we’re OK because the darkest piece is that with the most weight, the blazer (it is the largest in size, and drapes over the body, indicating weight).

The main contrast comes from the two pinks on the shirt contrasting with the blues. Inside the shirt itself, we have significant hue, saturation, and value contrasts (which is why the shirt appears “loud”), while between the shirt and other garments we remove the stronger saturation contrasts. Corralling the heavy contrasts portions to a single garment is a good way to ensure the outfit doesn’t become too straining on the eye. We retain definite borders, but avoid any unpleasant contrasting.

Finally, we have a contrast in fit. The jeans and Paramore shirt are both tighter than average fits. Consequently, the loose fit of the blazer serves to dampen the tightness of the overall look, allowing us to avoid thoughts that our clothes are simply too small/too tight. This juxtaposition simultaneously accentuates and moderates the relative fits (which in both cases are slightly extreme).


While the outfit does certainly achieve its main goal, it is not without room for improvement.

First of all, I’m wearing a blazer in summer. Now, I’ll be the first to say that there is nothing wrong (fashion-wise) with that, at all. However, its really hot when I’m outside. Inside it’s no problem, but if you’re going to be walking around outside or something, I do not recommend you follow suit. You’ll find it to be quite the sadmaker.

Further, I find that the blazer sleeves are a bit too short, which is especially noticeable while I’m typing. It’s nothing drastic, but an inch more would be great. I frequently run into this problem, given my tall frames.

Finishing off the blazer, I hate the little pills/fuzzes that accumulate on this type of clothing. Academically I’m aware it really can’t be seen, and that it’s quite normal, but it drives me nuts. This is a significant point, as if you’re uncomfortable in your clothing, you’ll look uncomfortable in your clothing, and this can make visual difference (perhaps not in a photograph, but in actual life).


Not related to my clothing at all, but while I was at Starbucks, someone ordered a 7-pump caramel latte. SEVEN pumps. That’s more than a little frightening. Also heard a 5-shot skinny caramel machiatto. I’m pretty sure 5-shot and skinny are mutually exclusive. Apparently not.

A few people also asked if I was hot wearing that jacket. The answer, of course, was yes.


Thanks to Tracy, the person who cut my hair today, for taking the picture!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where to Get Tee Shirts Online

As promised, I've returned with a comprehensive look at where to find good, valuable tee shirts online. Of course, where to go depends heavily on what you want, so things are broken down into categories.


There's no reason to shell out big-bucks for basic solid-color tees (especially whites) that are almost always going to be worn underneath things. If you're going to wear a solid shirt as a standalone, yes, you might want to invest in something with excellent fit. In general, however, you're looking for value, vibrant colors, and comfortable fabric. To this end, cheaper department-type stores are often great (they have the volume to allow for lower prices), and often have sales when new brands of basic tee come along. You'll also be a little more sure of quality and durability.

Old Navy

Beware, non-basics here (design tee shirts) are less reliable in quality, not as good a value, and are much less likely to be uniquely worn. This is, of course, not really a factor for solid color shirts.

Creating Your Own:

If you want uniqueness, the easiest way to guarantee is to create your own design. You can do this by hand at home, but the artistic portion is often easier on the computer. Fortunately, there are a number of websites which allow you to upload designs to be made into shirts (or other garments). Many of these sites give you the option to keep your design private (ensuring yours is the only one), or to make it public (you make money off of it).



Obviously, with all the information, all the stores, and all the designs out on the internet, it's impossible to look through even a small percentage of the available material. Fortunately, you're not alone, and there are a number of websites which either distill the good information and good finds, or provide a community to discuss tee shirts.

Remember, especially with blogs, that you're only getting one person's point of view, and often this view is presented as obvious truth, but with no evidence! Don't be afraid to disagree or do your own research as well!

T-Shirt Forums
The Daily Tee
The T-Shirt Blog


Finding uniquely designed shirts often requires a bit more searching than the basics. Especially since people have different tastes, it's also hard to recommend places to look that will please everyone (or a majority, or even a minority!). This website provides a number of good jumping off places, but no real indication of what you'll find:

T-Shirt Links

Other commonly known places which design shirts are (and there are many more out there):

Snorg Tees


Often, you're looking for a specific message or group to support with your tee shirt. These things are typically easier to find, given the specificity. For example, band tee shirts are usually very easy to find. Most of the time you can get them from the band's own webpage, and failing that, a google search of "xbandx tee shirt" is probably sufficient.

One website with a large number of band shirts is:


A good resource for sports team shirts (besides the websites of the teams themselves) is:


Even things you would assume to be very obscure can be tackled with a simple google search. Some examples:

Romeo and Juliet Shirt
Florida Everglades Shirts
School House Rock Shirt
Legends of the Hidden Temple Shirt


It's usually not that hard to find what a tee shirt, if you know ahead of time what you're looking for. If you're in search of a new wicked design, you may have to search a little longer, but the resources are out there. Unsatisfied with what's already out there? Take a stab at it yourself, people have made it amazingly easy to do nowadays! Enjoy and find your perfect shirt!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Outfit Analysis 7.15.8

Back again with another outfit analysis. My time in Starbucks today was particularly amusing since I could hear a new barista being trained. All the indoctrination is downright hilarious. I hope the managers don't actually believe all the crap they tell their employees.
I love how the core values of Starbucks are like my own personal values, not, like, money or efficiency, or bad stuff like that.
Wow. Anyway, here we go. I forgot my camera, so I took the picture(s) myself at home. The corresponding sections are, therefore, removed.


To utilize a piece of clothing in an unexpected or unusual fashion, obviously without creating a negative overall effect.


Shoes: Black Rockport Dunstable (again). I continue to get significant mileage out of these shoes. This may be because I wear a lot of black.

Socks: Black socks, unknown brand.

Pants: Black Rocco jeans from Express. These have a wonderful fit, and are quite comfortable. Some (very slight) red stitch detailing.

Undershirt: Purple basic undershirt from Target, worn as the main shirt.

Shirt: Yellow Izod sport polo, worn as the undershirt.



Clearly we’ve used a piece (two, really) in an unexpected way. I’m wearing a polo shirt as an undershirt, and an undershirt as the outer layer. This is something I described as an option in a previous Breaking the Norm post. Of course, there are details to consider.

First, one of the main ideas behind the concept is to recreate the idea of a polo collar contrasting with a sweater in a summer-friendly way. This is achieved here because of the sharp contrast between purple and yellow (they are complementary colors).

Another facet is recasting the undershirt as a slightly more dressy piece. We’re helped by the collar and sleeve detailing, and the overall dark color of the shirt. This makes the fabric appear to have more weight (which it does), than an undershirt. A thinner or lighter shirt may show too much of the underlying piece or be so thin that it looks like pajamas.

The rest of the outfit is fairly standard, a nice fitting pair of jeans, with matching shoes. Black is a safe choice as a background color, though we could have matched the purple and yellow with olive, brown, or beige trousers as well (changing shoes as necessary). Further, black jeans are generally regarded as more formal, giving more credence to the “dressy undershirt.”


The biggest problem with this outfit is actually one you can’t see. Undershirts are made to be comfortable. Polo shirts are made to be worn over undershirts. The result here is that my polo is a bit itchy, despite being washed just last night. I could wear an additional undershirt underneath the polo (for a total of three layers), but I suspect this would make me look like a puffball. (UPDATE: Confirmation on the puffball.)

Visually, the hardest thing to manage is the different sleeve lengths. The undershirt sleeves are about two inches shorter than the polo shirt sleeves, leading to an awkward differential. Pulling the polo sleeves out completely looks oddly unbalanced, and it’s difficult to keep them reigned in (one must pull in at the shoulders, then pull down, though the sleeves eventually work their way out again). Ideally, the polo sleeves should be shorter than the undershirt sleeves, or no more than half an inch longer (the extra contrast is nice, like a twofer tee shirt).

You can see the bad version of this here:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting the Most Value Out of Tee Shirts

I've previously stated that tee shirts are overrated pieces of clothing. However, especially in summer, we don't always want to wear polos or button-down shirts, let alone multiple layers.

My point before was that tee shirts are typically only seen fully in the summer, and even then they're sometimes hidden behind other layers. Thus, it perplexes me when people pay inordinate amounts for something that's only going to be used fully 2-3 times per year. Believe me, it happens.

However, tee shirts are necessary to have, and if you're going to have some, they might as well be good. Good, of course, doesn't have to mean expensive. Also remember to extract as much value from the shirt as possible. Here are my guidelines:
  1. Try to vary the background colors of your tee shirts. When beneath a sweater, button-down, or even a polo, often the entire design of a tee shirt is obscured. You can, however, still extract value by using the background color strategically with color theory.
  2. Choose unique designs, or use self-design programs. Tee shirts provide an opportunity for very obvious uniqueness. Not everyone is going to notice if you've chosen a unique lapel shape for your newest suit. People tend to notice a shirt with an blue pig bomb on it (what you do with the uniqueness is your responsibility).
  3. Seek out quality fit. Too often, the departmental screen-printed tee comes in three sizes; minuscule, too big, and way too big. This is a shame, because a well-fitting tee shirt can be physique-flattering. When you're wearing just a single layer, this is a nice benefit.
  4. Simplicity is your friend. Often tee shirts cause a lot of "noise" in an outfit, by introducing a huge number of colors, patterns, or design ideas into a small space. Tee shirts with more than a few words are awkward to read (thus decreasing their value). Large numbers of colors can decrease coherence and intentionality, making you "that guy who just throws on the first clean tee shirt in his pile." Instead, aim for simple, easily digestible designs, and vibrant, but sparse color patterns.

I'm working on an article detailing how and where to obtain quality tee shirts, or to make your own. It should go up in a day or two, a more practical (rather than theoretical) approach to getting tee shirts of maximum fashion value.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Outfit Analysis: 7.11.8

We begin our Outfit Analysis series on this auspicious day, 7.11.8. (I’m not quite sure why I write the date that way, though I think it’s the most efficient (yet still intelligible) way to write it). For an introduction to what the Outfit Analysis series is, click the links in any of the "Outfit Analysis"'s in this paragraph.


To create a casual clean-cut outfit which expresses some edginess.

Although it is difficult, let me try to make these terms a little more rigorous. We’ll consider a clean cut outfit to fall within the general “preppy” paradigm, and consisting of simple, clean pieces. Edginess we’ll think of as strong symbols or colors, which may be indicative of “tough” people and interest groups. I’ll stop here, before I delve into completely ridiculous definition territory.


Shoes: Black Rockport Dunstable. I’m unsure as to their exact origin because they were a Christmas present. They are a low, long, black casual shoe (almost a “boat shoe”) with prominent white stitching.

Socks: Black Ankle Socks. (Not sure of the brand).

Shorts: Pastel yellow cloth shorts from Club Room.

Undershirt: Pink basic undershirt from Target.

Shirt: Black Old Navy polo with gray skull pattern detailing. I was unable to find it in the online store today, so it may no longer be available.


The outfit of consideration:

Here is a close-up of the skull detailing on the polo:

And a clear look at the shoes:


Let’s begin with the first goal; achieving a clean-cut outfit. The cuts/shapes of the garments chosen work well for us here. We have a non-sport shoe, without obvious logos or patterning. The shorts are clean, solid-color and are cut above the knee, as is considered standard. The shirt is a simple polo cut with undershirt beneath. All of thses cuts are common for a “preppy” look during summertime. Use of pastel colors in the shorts and undershirt, against black for the remainder creates distinct, simple color regions, keeping the look uncluttered (and thus, more clean.).

How about the edge? Well, the skulls are the obvious part. Come on, I’ve got fifty skulls on my shirt, I’ve got to be an edgy character. There’s a bit more subtlety to it though. The color black does dominate the outfit, taking up the entire shirt, as well as the shoes. We also leave the polo shirt fully unbuttoned to expose a significant portion of the undershirt. This increases the overall contrast level of the outfit, something which can be difficult when working with weaker (pastel) colors.


It’s not terribly obvious from the photograph, but the shorts are fairly wrinkled. This is intentional, because it’s often overlooked, or deemed unimportant. Certain garments do not require wrinkle-free wearing, such as jeans, undershirts, and sportswear. However, the whole goal of the cloth shorts is to appear clean-cut, and wrinkling obviously detracts from this. This also endangers the intentionality of our construction, making it more likely for someone to think the edge/clean cut combination was chance, rather than thought out fashion.

I also think that the outfit would have worked better with a stronger red undershirt, to increase the edginess, without sacrificing the clean, uninterrupted blocks of color in the outfit.

Finally, and this is nitpicking, a shorter sock (or perhaps no sock at all) may be better here, because of the very slight difference in color between sock and shoe. This does cause a slight decrease in the contrast intensity between skin and footwear.

Comments: Two kids mentioned that my shirt looked "pirate-y," and that this was "sweet."

Credit: I'd like to thank Susan for taking the main outfit photo. The detail photos were done by myself.

Outfit Analysis Portal

In an effort to bring some regularity to this fashion blog, I’m embarking on a series of fashion posts called Outfit Analysis. The basic idea is that multiple times a week, I’ll get dressed in the morning, drive over to a public place, and have a real person (read: not myself) take a picture of the outfit I’m wearing, possibly comment on it, and then include it in the blog. I’ll then provide an analysis of the outfit, outlining the goals it intends to achieve, how well it achieves those goals, and why this is the case. The why, of course, is the most important part, and unfortunately the part I find most often lacking in other fashion writing.

Often, I’ll intentionally make mistakes with the outfits, so that they do not optimally realize their goals. This seems silly, especially since I’m publishing these outfits for the world to see! However, I’ve found that a lot of learning comes out of experiencing something that you think is correct, but then learn to be wrong (I believe the technical term is cognitive dissonance). The mistakes will not always be glaring or obvious; this will hopefully add some depth to all our understanding of fashion.

Let’s outline how this process is going to work.

Goal(s): We’ll begin with the overarching fashion goal which the outfit intends to achieve.

Pieces: Here I’ll list the pieces of the outfit, and purchase information (if I know it)

Pictures: Pictures of the outfit will go here, preceding the discussion.


Victories: We’ll then discuss how the pieces work individually, and together, to achieve the goal.

Failures: Next, we consider what parts of the outfit detract from the overall effect, and why. Some (but certainly not all) of these will be intentional.

Comments: If anyone, including the photographer, makes comments about the outfit, they’ll be recorded here (anonymously if I only overhear them).

Credit: If the photographer wishes to be named, I’ll think him/her here.

As is my standard, this page will also become a linking portal for all things Outfit Analysis.

Outfit Analysis: 7.11.8

Monday, June 30, 2008

Challenging the Norm 4: Belts and Ties

Many of us are used to substitutions in our daily lives, especially when two things appear quite similar. Butter is swapped out for the equally yellow fat, margarine, a knife works just as well as a pair of scissors in opening a bag, and the generic acetaminophen tablets work just as well as Tylenol.

Substitutions in fashion are less common, since most pieces of clothing are markedly different in some way (otherwise, what would be the point of shopping). Occasionally, however, we can exploit some symmetries which allow us to utilize elements of our wardrobe in new ways. This brings us to today’s substitution items; belts and ties.

Ties and belts have a number of similarities:

  • Thin, nearly rectangular shape
  • Approximately the same length
  • Fastened in some way (buckle or knot)

Thus, I am (as always), motivated to mess around with this and switch things up. The two obvious questions:

  • Can we use a tie as a belt?
  • Can we use a belt as a tie?

After some research, I’ve found that the answer to the first question is “almost always,” and the answer to the second question is “with the right type of belt, and some modifications.” Let’s start with the easy one:

Using a Tie as a Belt

My first inclination was to find someway to fold the tie along the long direction to make the wide end fit inside the belt loop, but this seemed more damaging than just sliding it through the loop. As you can see here, it only cinches the tie briefly, allowing the full width to return for the majority of the belt:

Instead, we just pull the tie around through the belt loops, tightening all the way through until both ends are secured near a loop. It must be mentioned that the tie doesn’t have nearly the same fastening power as an actual belt, and thus is best worn with pants that don’t need a belt to fit well. As you can see here, starting the tie in the standard first belt loop leads to having a lot of the wide part off to the side:

Thus, I recommend beginning at the second loop; for most standard ties this brings the wide part to the center (if you want it there). You could, of course, do other things with the loose end, but that’s up to you!

While this doesn’t seem to damage the ties in any way, I’d have to imagine wearing one in this fashion is more demanding than as a necktie. You may not want to use your most expensive ties for this purpose (then again, maybe you do, just a warning).

Using a Belt as a Tie

The more difficult endeavor approaches. The work, however, can be done, with some minor modifications.

To begin, the ends of most belts to not appear very tie-like, but more rectangular (or possibly slightly rounded), though they do have the approximate width of a skinny tie. It is an easy hack to make the belt more triangular (or some exotic shape), and I’d imagine this wouldn’t detract from its value as a belt, but the choice is yours.

Now, for the actual “tying,” we begin with a small loop around the collar, bringing the belt buckle to the point where the standard tie knot would rest, right in the indentation above the breastbone and between the collarbones:

The long end should then be fed through the buckle, keeping it as straight as possible down the center of the shirt.

This is where you have to decide whether to create another hole in the belt at this location (one won’t be there, unless your neck is waist-sized), or to leave the belt loose. Either works, since there isn’t nearly as much tension in the belt as when worn on pants.

The last hurdle is the likely excessive length of the long end. You probably don’t wish to cut off a few inches, as this could ruin the belt’s utility as… a belt. Other options are to fold it under and fasten it (not recommended since it will be quite bulky), or flip the long end through the loop created by the short end of the belt (almost like a real tie). This will prove difficult given the twisting required by the strip of the belt.

Or, you could use a buckle with two hoops, like this belt from Old Navy, which facilitates easy looping and tying to adjust length.

There you have it, a strange reversal which could potentially double your belt count, and maybe add a few to the tie count (I’d have to say the ties make better belts than the belts make ties), while adding a lot to your originality and creativity.

Always Another Way

…there’s always another way. Obscure references to the Matrix aside, the words ring true. We make so many choices in fashion (whether we realize them or not), that there is almost always another way to achieve a desired effect, to wear a particular piece of clothing, or to put an outfit together.

Often, the other ways are not particularly effective, or produce undesirable effects. For example, you could wear your shoes on the wrong feet, but it probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable. However, if we free our minds up a bit, we can find reversals, switches, and modifications which are new, interesting, and effective. It's a nice way to challenge the norm.

Today, we’re going to consider a very simple change to a very common outfit pattern. Consider a short-sleeved polo shirt, showing the undershirt underneath. This “look,” deservedly or undeservedly, carries the connotation of being “preppy” and “clean-cut.” Based on those connotations alone, the pair can easily be used to satisfy some simple fashion goals.

  1. To look preppy or clean-cut (obviously).
  2. To bring a slight amount of formality to a casual or athletic outfit.
  3. To appear simultaneously youthful and mature (as the outfit is prevalent among college students).

Our work here will most directly affect the first goal, but it also explores some additional goals.

So how do we construct such an outfit? We’d probably find an undershirt which works well with the color of the polo, slip it on, then add the polo, unbuttoning enough to see some of the color contrast, right?

Not today.

This time, we put the polo on first (if you insist, you could wear an additional undershirt underneath, though you might start to look puffy), followed by the undershirt, making sure to fold the collar of the polo over the undershirt. Hmm, quite a striking effect. What have we accomplished here?

By using a darker colored undershirt (as we have here), we provide a strong contrast to the lighter colors of polo (pastel-ier is often equated with preppier). By being frugal with the area we provide to the “important” color, we intensify its presence. We also channel a secondary prep look, in which the dress shirt collar is folded over a sweater. In this way, we have multiple dimensions of the prep look, giving the final product a preppier impression overall.

Further, we bring a formal idea (collar over shirt), to a casual idea (short-sleeves), something which is not often seen, and is thus interesting. Consequently, one nice effect is the ability of the polo collar to make a very casual undershirt or tee shirt seem more formal.

This technique is also useful for purely practical means. Have a badly wrinkled polo, or one with a noticeable stain? Wear it underneath an undershirt, revealing only the collar. It can also help reign in strong colors or patterns, like this metallic silver polo.

Before, I'm not pleased.

After, it's much better.

One caveat is sleeve length. We should be careful to ensure that the polo’s sleeves to not extend too far beyond the undershirt sleeves (not much more than half an inch), otherwise we risk losing intentionality, as there will be an awkward mismatch in length. A slightly longer polo sleeve does, however, provide additional points of color contrast, which may be desirable.

So, before you go through the motions in your morning dress, stop to consider what could be done differently, because there is always another way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Practical Post 2: Destroy to Gain

In our zeal to break the mold, to come up with something unusual and new, we can often get so excited, so worked up, that we end up doing something rash, wasteful, or inefficient.

I almost committed such a mistake today when coming up with an improvement on my Braille shirt. One shortcoming of the first incarnation was that, although the shirt had Braille characters on it, it could not be read as Braille, since there were only visual markings, no tactile ones! My first (admittedly very reasonable) thoughts were to either use fabric paint or to adhere some objects to the shirt to provide the characteristic raised bumps.

Let’s step back and look at the math here, since this is something a bit more permanent than the washable sharpie. Say I decided to apply Duke blue fabric paint to a plain black tee shirt.

Losses: 1 plain black tee shirt
Gains: 1 black and blue Braille shirt
Total: No net change in number of shirts

Then I came up with a different approach. What if, instead of creating raised bumps, I created tactile contrast by cutting holes in the shirt, revealing the Braille characters by recession? Certainly, this would be just as easy to read visually (if the circles are large enough), and for such a short message, just as easy to read by touch (I’d imagine that for a large piece of text, it would be difficult to read “inverted” Braille).

Then, I could wear the shirt with holes over any other color (black would defeat the purpose) to create the Braille effect in a number of ways. Suppose I own N different colors of tee shirt (besides the black base). Let’s look at the math now:

Losses: 1 plain black tee shirt
Gains: N different colors of Braille shirt
Total: N-1 new shirts (technically I’m wearing two shirts)

This looks a lot more effective to me. Don’t forget to step back and think about the process you use to achieve fashion goals. There are often multiple ways to get the same (or similar) results, and they’re not always equal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Norm Challenger: LittleMissMatched

You never wear mismatched socks, right? Right. How could you? It'd be embarrasing! What if someone saw your fashion oversight?!

Sounds like norm-based thinking to me. Of course, I'm guilty of it as well, we all are (unless you don't match your socks, on purpose).

Well, the people behind LittleMissMatched got their collective minds beyond all that. The idea follows my four-step norm-busting process in straightforward splendor:
  1. Almost everyone wears matched socks.
  2. People don't have to wear matched socks.
  3. It's easy to not wear matched socks, all I need are two different socks.
  4. Hooray, I'm wearing mismatched socks.

That's all well and good on an individual level. I could have "shattered the fashion world" tomorrow morning by walking out in gloriously contrasting socks. Except nobody would have cared. The genius, the limiting step, is convincing other people to do it (thus leading to profit).

This happenened in two steps. First, they designed some killer socks. All of them are fun, interesting, and well designed with respect to color and pattern. Ok. I'll still take them in pairs please.

The big idea is understanding why people don't wear mismatched socks, and finding a way to circumvent that mindset. Mismatched socks, when occuring unintentionally, are bad because they reflect a lack of care, a lack of intentionality on the part of the wearer. Often, it's just a red stripe that betrays us; clearly we were so cavalier about our footwear that we didn't bother to notice.

How does LittleMissMatched take advantage of this? They remove "accidental" from our vocabulary. The socks (which come in mismatched sets of three) are so vibrantly different from one another, that you'd literally have to be blind to accidentally wear them. Nobody in their right mind, seeing someone come down the street with a blue and red striped sock and a yellow and purple polka dotten one, could think that it was an accident. LittleMissMatched has allowed people to increase their intentionality, to utilize an oft forgotten garment to make a statement. That is why people buy from them. Not only have they challenged the norm themselves, they make it easier for their consumers to do so to, and thus they sell.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Goal: Challenging the Norm

The fashion perspective of the everyday person is often normative, in that what is worn by the masses, or some large subset thereof, becomes the model upon which fashion judgments are based. The evidence is found all around us:

  • Specific garments go dormant for years, decades at a time, such as bell-bottomed jeans. There’s something very Tipping Point about this phenomenon.

  • Countries, even states, and even regions within states have distinctive fashion cultures, and these fashion cultures are rarely breached. Ask a US high school student if they’ve seen someone wear traditional Indian clothing. Not just at school. Ever.

  • The modern business workplace is a “hotbed” of fashion homogeny. Whatever the norm found, be it formal businesswear, business casual, or completely casual, you’ll see a remarkable lack of variation in most corporate environments.

The reasons, too, are abundant:

  • We’re often limited in what we can purchase by the stores around us, though this is starting to change. Until online shopping becomes commonplace, the majority of people in a region will be buying from the same subset of stores, and thus, the same subset of clothes. This means you are inundated with images of a specific subset of the fashion world, making it difficult to judge against other images.

  • We really don’t have any control over what gets put in stores. This is important, as it makes our judgment selective rather than constructive. While the fashion designers get to make judgments via creation of garments, thus in theory judging based upon all fashions they can imagine, we only have the ability to judge among their offerings.

  • We’re naturally attuned to “follow the crowd” for evolutionary reasons. To say that we eat because we see others eat would be a misinterpretation of biology, but to say we follow the herd because they know how to get food would be more reasonable. When we see others wear clothing and receive positive attention (or avoid negative attention), we naturally make note of this, influencing our own thoughts and judgments. Then, when a large group of people wears similar clothing, all to safe effect, it becomes easy to follow suit. After all, deviation is inherently risky.

Sure, deviation from the norm is inherently risky, but it’s a lot riskier for the fashion designers, isn’t it? That’s why they get paid to move fashion norms, to create deviations, because if they’re not accepted, it’s more than a minor embarrassment, it’s millions of dollars on the line.

Fortunately, our risks are much less frightening. When we make a fashion deviation (unless you’re a super-celebrity or something), the worst that can happen is that a stranger or a friend makes a snarky comment about it. Maybe they’ll make fun of you about it the next day. Aw. Thus, I often set about achieving the following goal:

Goal: Challenging the Norm

Utilize my clothing and fashion to deliberately go against the current norm or to defy expectations, while remaining within what I personally perceive as aesthetic.

In less rigor, do something unusual and unexpected, but that you still think looks good! The process probably isn’t as hard as you think. As a starting point, here’s a step-by-step method which I’ll illustrate using my first example in this series:

  1. Come up with a simple fact about the majority of clothes. Often, the more general, the better.

  2. Determine the logical opposite of this statement.

  3. See if it is practically feasible to execute this opposite. This will likely require you pick a specific implementation of (2). If possible, proceed to (4). If not, return to (1).

  4. Execute said opposite.
Use your common sense to find examples which you can actually implement. For example, the following would not be a good choice:

  1. Most jeans are not diamond-encrusted.

  2. Jeans could be diamond-encrusted. (Proof)

  3. I do not have thousands of dollars to encrust a pair of jeans. I also lack the equipment to securely fasten diamonds to denim. I should try again.

How about an example that I came up with and executed in less than twenty minutes?

  1. Most shirts with words are in English. Generalize: most shirts with words are written in a spoken language.

  2. A shirt could have content written in Braille.

  3. Yes, this is feasible. All I need is knowledge of the Braille alphabet, a blank shirt, and a silver sharpie.

  4. Done (for those who can’t be bothered to translate, it says DUKE):

Again, less than twenty minutes from conception to completion (if you don’t count drying time). I notice that you can see the results of a previous design faintly underneath. I didn't feel like washing the shirt again before putting this together. Anyway, the effect isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s certainly interesting. I’ve got a few more ideas for this goal on deck, as I complete them, I’ll post links to the associated posts here as well:

Always Another Way
Belts and Ties

Challenge the norm yourself, and unleash your inner designer (we all have one).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Color Theory Video 1: Basics and Definitions

First piece of video content for fashionablemathematician!

Head on over to youtube to check out the first video in my color theory series (which closely follows the blog posts).

Color Theory Basics (1)

You can, of course, read the associated post:

Color Theory Chapter 1: Basics and Definitions

or go to the color theory portal page:

Color Theory Introduction

Friday, June 6, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 9: Analogous Combinations

You may be surprised that we’ve waited so long to discuss combinations of analogous colors. We saw in Chapter 5 that monochromatic outfits were relatively easy to construct, and that the results were nice. It would make sense for analogous colors to be the next step up in difficulty, but instead we moved on to complementary, then triadic and split and dual complements.

In media which utilize a small number of colors (such as logos, print design, and often fashion), we see a surprising lack of analogous colors. Consider the emblems and uniform colors for the teams in the NFL and the MLB. Of the approximately 60 teams, I count only who 4 use analogous colors in any significant way (these being the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland A’s, and Seattle Mariners). Interestingly, all four instances either use green and yellow or green and blue, though I’m not sure if there is any significance to this. Much more common are monochromatic, triadic, or complementary relations.

Now look in your own wardrobe, especially your shirts. How many of them even have multiple colors on them? Of those that do, how many use analogous colors? I’d guess that the number will be fewer than you expect. I can’t say that I fully understand why this is true, but I can give a few reasons why mixing analogous colors is more difficult than imagined (note that this is much less true in art, when often in natural subjects color flows continuously, requiring the use of analogous hues).

  1. When colors are very near each other in hue, it creates a tension because the mind wants the two colors to be the same. This is similar to the effect described in Chapter 5 with adjacent blocks of similar (monochromatic) colors.
  2. Given that color changes in fashion are usually abrupt (edges), we have a disconnect with natural systems, in which analogous colors usually flow continuously, while contrasting colors produce edges. This means that we may tend to expect edges to be associated with higher contrasts, such as triadic or complementary colors.
  3. The contrasts created by analogous colors are often too small to be interesting, while the similarities are also too small to exude coherence.

So how can we hope to use analogous colors effectively? From the above we see that at the core of the analogous problem is the indecision between coherence and contrast. We must manage these two ideals when putting together. In either case, the key is intentionality. Our choices must make it clear that we’ve introduced the colors for a specific purpose, either contrast or coherence.

We’ve already looked at two ways to introduce contrast into a set of analogous colors; split and dual complements. We can form a split complement from a pair of analogous colors by adding the complement to the center of the two colors. Similarly, we can create a dual complement simply by adding the complements of each color. Thus, we see that complementary relations are often not so much removed from analogous ones. Once the split or dual complement is set up, we can proceed as in Chapter 7.

How else can we introduce contrast? If you’ve been following along, you probably have an idea about where I’ll go next; value and saturation. Adding a second type of contrast increases the perceived “distance” between the colors, making the juxtaposition seem all the more intentional. Recall our ideas about this from before, typically we want the color with higher saturation to have lower value. Our other standard trick is to utilize proportions. By giving one color a significantly greater intensity, but a significantly smaller area, we can draw attention to the color, and the intention of our contrast.

We’ll that is wonderful. Now let’s tackle cohesion. Again our goal is to make it apparent that we want these two similar colors together! Now, if we include a color once, it might be an accident, but what if we do it again? And again? And again? Each repetition of a particular color solidifies our intentionality, and the legitimacy of the color in the context of the entire out fit. This can be achieved without much difficulty. Try a shirt with a particular color as the figure or accent (perhaps as the collar or a stripe) and match it with a cloth belt. Bonus points for successfully using a nonstandard (read: interesting) belt (for example, a red shirt with orange design, orange belt with khaki to dark brown shorts or pants).

Another method of introducing cohesion is to invite continuity (as in nature) by ordering analogous colors in a logical sequence. This works especially well if you simultaneously decrease the value as we progress down. Consider a progression from yellow to green. We could begin with a yellow undershirt of light value, layered underneath a yellow-green polo shirt (making sure the undershirt is clearly visible). A pair of dark green slacks and brown shoes (and belt) complete the look. Everything flows nicely, and the matching of hue and value flows give significant coherence to the end result. As an advanced exercise, one could consider mixing the two above approaches by using a yellow belt as well. This probably requires a closer look at the colors, but certainly can be done.

Finally, as we mentioned before, analogous colors often occur naturally. They are thus very appropriate for clothing which depicts natural things, such as images or prints. This method, of course, requires significantly less thought, but do not neglect the relation of the colors in the rest of your outfit.

Well, hopefully a good start into utilizing yet another category of colors in your fashion lives!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 8: The Intermediary Contrast

Just a brief lesson this time (we’re getting into specifics territory). Often we want to use a particular color combination, but just find that the resulting color contrast simply does not work. Fortunately, this is not the end for our color friends! Today we’ll look at how to downplay a contrast, making it more appealing, through the addition of more contrasts.

Let’s think about why this should work. If there is only a single contrast in a visual field (in this case typically a hue contrast with high intensity), then the eye will tend to focus on it. Providing a second contrast (especially of a different variety, say value or saturation, or even a hue lying between the initial two hues) takes attention away from the initial contrast, often making it seem less strong.

The concept is best illustrated with a specific example. Suppose that I want to utilize a blue-orange color combination. Since the colors are complementary, we’re going to be dealing with a very strong hue contrast. Worse still, I have nothing orange with low saturation or value, it’s all high intensity stuff! It seems like we’re headed straight for an eyesore! Not so, thanks to a light brown and a gray addition. A beige collar and gray stripe on this orange shirt allow us to safely pair it with a navy sweater, as follows: (visible despite me playing Guitar Hero)

The shirt provides a surprising number of additional contrasts:

  1. Strong value contrast between the sweater and the collar.
  2. Hue contrast between the sweater and the collar.
  3. Saturation contrast between the orange and gray stripes.
  4. Saturation contrast between the gray stripes and the sweater.

Immediately, we see a reduction in strain on the blue-orange hue contrast. The addition of a few other color elements has given the visual system a lot to look at, mediating the power of the complementary color contrast, making it an interesting, rather than overbearing, part of the entire look.

Similar methods can be used to reconcile many other color combinations. It's quite helpful, especially if you've got an item of clothing that just doesn't seem to go with anything else. Often, adding another layer of color is all it takes to make an outfit work.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 7: Split and Dual Complements

Having tackled complementary colors in our last article, let’s move on to the related topics of split and dual complements. We’ll see that the tools required to utilize these objects are very similar to those we developed for complementary colors. Later on, we’ll see that there is also a relationship to analogous colors.

Recall that a set of split-complementary colors consists of three hues; a base color and a pair of colors symmetrically placed about the complement of the base. A set of dual-complementary colors consists of four hues; two pairs of complimentary colors. We also have a special case of split-complementary colors, called triadic colors, in which the colors are equally spaced so that any of the three colors could serve as the base.

Note that by adding additional distinct hues, we are forced to increase the total number of contrasts in our outfits. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing, but one should certainly be cognizant of it. It would be difficult both to create a very simple dual-complementary outfit, or to successfully add additional layers of complexity to a split-complementary outfit.

In working with dual-complementary colors, the name of the game is contrast-minimization (in the sense of number of contrasts). If have the four colors going everywhere, interacting with each other all over the place, the visual system will be overwhelmed with contrasts.

One method for doing this is to manage proportions, another is to introduce significant white or black space. If we allot one color a large portion of the visual field, while giving the other three colors significantly smaller portions, we can decrease the frequency and intensity of the contrasts. Consider the dual-complementary colors blue, red, green and orange. These are seemingly difficult to piece together in a subdued fashion, as we saw above. Begin by segregating all of the blue to the pants, say a pair of navy slacks. To minimize the presence of the other colors, choose a white dress shirt with a red, orange, and green vertical stripe (I admit, such a shirt may be difficult to find, as forays into four-color outfits do not occur so often as to be very profitable). This minimizes the overall intensity of the contrast, though it is still perfectly visible. The added subtlety is another good way to generate interest in the clothing (always a reasonable fashion goal).

More outgoing combinations of dual-complementary colors (and schemes with even more colors) can be achieved, but there are so many variables involved that I can’t really give a framework to them. My best suggestion is to try things out and see what you like. I’ll be posting many specific examples in the future, from which you should be able to gain some intuition.

Let’s move on to the less complex system of split-complementary colors. Given that we’re only working with three colors, it’s much easier to combine them, even in a single region of the body. For instance, we could pair a blue suit jacket with a yellow-orange shirt and red-orange tie (the pants would of course match the suit jacket). Especially when the pair involved revolves closely around the complement of the base color, we can follow similar patterns to those of complementary colors. One important caveat here is to ensure that the base color has the majority of the visual field. If one of the near-complements dominates the field, it will still contrast nicely with the base, but its interaction with the other near complement may seem like a mistake. It will be difficult to perceive the color difference, and will likely appear as if one intending to simply use the dominant color.

Now, when dealing with split-complements with less overall contrast (such as triadic colors), we have a bit more freedom. Given the decreased overall contrast, and the inherent symmetry, we attain a nice balance of contrast. I find that if we corral the saturations and values sufficiently, nearly any combination of triadic or near triadic colors will work. Again, our work is made easier if we relegate one of the colors to accent level, giving it only a small portion of the visual field.

One particularly nice application is to apply triadic or similar split-compliments to a pastel color scheme. The high value and relatively mild saturation, again paired with the color symmetry, gives a nice amount of coherence, while maintaining a subtle contrast. Start with a pair of jeans with a light-blue wash. Then, the triadic split-complements are yellow and red. Now, red generally has a fairly strong intensity, so we’ll subdue it by significantly increasing the value while decreasing its proportion by choosing a soft pink undershirt. The pop of the outfit comes from a yellow polo, with all buttons undone to ensure that the pink shirt is not lost in the relative strength of the yellow.

Go forth, and experiment with multi-color outfits yourselves! The best way to really understand these concepts is to see them in action. Try on a few outfits you know will look terrible, by then reason out why they look terrible. The field knowledge you gain is invaluable in building a color intuition, which becomes more and more important as we increase the complexity of outfits. Good luck!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 6: Complementary Colors and Contrast

As we’ve discussed earlier, the greatest hue contrast we can create is with complimentary colors. Thus, applying complimentary colors to an outfit is going to be an efficient way to generate contrast, providing some visual punch and complexity. In this post, I’m going to go over some basic rules for using complementary colors, as well as utilize complementary colors to achieve another fashion goal.

Many combinations of complementary colors simply create too much contrast, putting strain on the visual system. This, of course, leads to a poor aesthetic interpretation, which leads the viewer to not like your style. If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few examples.

Worse still, complementary colors can often create Itten’s simultaneous contrast, an even more unpleasant visual experience. Therefore, we must find ways to appropriately bring complementary colors together, highlighting the good aspects of the contrast (interesting combination of hues, sharp edges, grabs attention), while mediating the bad aspects (simultaneous contrast, excessive vibrance, visual strain).

Let’s revisit some of the examples of bad use of complimentary colors from above. One similarity between them is consistently intensity, coming from moderate to high value and very high saturation. We see that even having one such color is generally unpleasant.

How about some examples in which the colors have decreased saturation, especially those which have medium value levels?

This is certainly an improvement, but let’s take it a little bit further. Our last step will be to introduce a second high contrast, this time in value. In general, we’ll make the color with the higher saturation have the lower (darker) value, in accordance with the above results. As we see, this yields some nice results:

We thus have a useable set of rules for applying complimentary colors:

  1. First, ensure that at least one color does not have excessive intensity (characterized by medium to high value and very high saturation), and if possible, make sure both colors have a reasonable intensity.
  2. Decrease saturation as value increases. In general, the darker color should have significantly more saturation than the lighter.
  3. Introduce a strong secondary contrast (typically with value) to mediate the strong hue contrast.

Why don’t we look at an application? This time our goal will be to generate interest in our inner layers of clothing. We often lose much of the value of certain pieces of clothing when worn underneath other layers. As I mentioned in Practical Post 1 – Silver Sharpie, graphic tee shirts are wasted when they’re design is hidden beneath a polo shirt or a sweater; things we wear rather often! It then behooves us to generate interest in these inner layers, both to extract additional value from them and just to generate interest in what we are wearing in general.

A simple way to do this is with a polo shirt and undershirt of complementary colors. In both cases I’m wearing black pants, though in each case the outfit would work with brown or blue pants. I decided on black since we haven’t covered analogous or triadic colors in detail yet. We have two examples, a yellow polo with purple undershirt and a green polo with red undershirt.

Note how attention is brought to the neckline, and therefore the undershirt, especially in the green/red case. Can you figure out why the effect is diminished in the yellow/purple example? It relates back to the ideas of proportion and intensity discussed in Chapter 4; the yellow is both more intense and occupies a (much) larger portion of the visual field, making it difficult for the purple to attract attention. This example shows that for this particular application, it would probably be better to use a purple polo and a yellow undershirt. Although it is not always necessary (or optimal), a fourth “guideline” (not quite a rule) is the following:

  1. When there is a large contrast in value and proportion, make the larger proportioned color the one with lower value.

We can apply this rule to achieve the same goal in a dressier setting. Here we pair a white and green striped dress shirt with a maroon sweater, creating a very nice contrast. The difference in hues is mediated by the difference in values, and the large proportion of the dark value allows the accent color to draw attention to the neckline and face. The stripes add to the interest in the inner layers as well!

Accents and manipulations like these are beginning to fill our sartorial tackle-box. We can already see more complicated and interesting outfits emerging! Our quest continues next time when we consider split and dual complements. Until then, embrace your natural contrast. (If you don’t like that, you’re welcome to insert your own sendoff.)

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