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Monday, June 30, 2008

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.

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