Discover more from The Cereal Aisle by Leandra Medine Cohen
Can you look chaotic and sophisticated at the same time?
Alternatively: how to mix bright prints in one outfit without looking like a parody of something, or one
Do chaos and sophistication run counter to each other or are they simply different? By definition, the former infers pretty blatant disarray — disorganized, confused, fiercely unpredictable.
Sophistication on the latter hand is all about composure and knowledge and complexity — like clever notes transcribed in neat handwriting, written through arms connected to shoulders that are upright and down in perfect, symmetrical posture.
Last week, my friend went jet skiing in the Hudson River. She was telling me about how much fun it was and asked, “Can I do stuff like that on a whim and still be a sophisticated human in the world?”
I think what she meant — and I shared as much — was, “can I indulge in my own benevolently chaotic desires and still be a responsible, dependable person of esteem?”
The question mirrored what I am coming to perceive as the almost singular centerpiece of what many of us try to accomplish when we’re getting dressed. How can we honor the paradoxes of our respective existences even as we’re discovering them ourselves? Even before we know what they are?
I wore this outfit a couple of weeks before I spoke with my jet-skiing friend.
I don’t remember where I went in it — maybe to the pharmacy? Out to get a bag of coffee? Maybe to meet a friend for a walk; I don’t have particular occasions to dress for in the way that I used to. I write from home, occasionally see non-family members, eat out a couple of times a week but most of my time, when not at the computer, or some pick-up or drop-off, is spent coming and going from errands.
I could have worn this to any of the above events but specifically put it on to explain to myself what one wears when they want to mix prints, wear bright colors, and still look put together. How, in other words, to express respect for one’s internal desire towards chaos and the pursuit of sophistication at once? To capture one among many of the human paradoxes?
It’s a tall order to have an outfit do this for you — but to assume that the outfit actually does it for you might also miss the point. On the contrary, the clothes we put on are the costumes we wear to play the roles we wish to earn. Sneakers and spandex might help you run faster, but you’re still the one moving your legs.
So, yeah, for sure, I can cross my arms and wear lemons up top and a micro-floral print down below with uncharacteristically formal flat satin shoes and then say “I’m trying to capture my paradoxes,” and it might set me up, but it’ll only set me up. The actual capturing — that’s really on me.
Recently, I asked my husband: what is one thing you wish to be perceived as — one quality that you wish were true about you, even if it’s not quite there yet?
And then: what do you have to do to get there? Sometimes I get dressed in a good faith effort to orient my way to the answer.
The initial question was: What do I wear if I want to mix bright colored prints and still look sophisticated?
The answer: wacky prints (like a tableau of yellow lemons or micro florals) plus classic silhouettes (such as a button-down or straight-leg pants) carried over complimentary fabrics (in this instance, two doses of lightweight cotton) times surprising footwear choice = your equation.
Choosing your prints
Which do you gravitate towards most often? They could be stripes, animal prints, other kinds of fruit, more abstract ones — the list goes on. My recommendation is to pick a process: mix two prints from the same family but really go for it (horizontal and vertical stripes, for example), two from completely different groups in colors that complement each other (or are the same), or go all the way ham sandwich — cautious chaos ad infinitum.
Choosing your silhouettes
How do you define classic when you’re considering the parameters of your wardrobe? What are the tried and true basic silhouettes that you can depend on when you’re trying to look put together? I tend towards straight-leg pants and a button-down shirt, sometimes taking creative license and wearing pants with a ruffle hem or a top that’s actually a polo. How can you take creative license within the guardrails of our tried and trues?
What I mean by this: if you’re wearing a jersey cotton top (like the blue tank in the figure above), the fabric of your pants would serve you well to mimic the tank’s flimsiness. The ones in the photo are a jersey cotton/linen blend.
Choosing your shoes
Sometimes it helps to ask which ones you would never wear with the outfit, and there you go, that’s your answer. To go against what is expected. It’s what produces the rough edges that often go on to become personal style.
If the overall outfit espouses laid-back energy, what are the most stuck-up shoes you could wear? This is not actually your answer, but it is the starting point that often leads you to it.
In the case of the look with the lemons, the answer was a pair of pointed-toe black satin mules with a four-inch heel — not pictured above.
In practice, black satin flat sandals with a dramatic brooch-thing on the side made more practical sense for walking, and still presented that rough edge — a sort of question unanswered, or confusing fracture point, the unexpected element of disarray (or surprise) within the landscape of the broader outfit. You can erase the edge if you want, but I prefer to keep it close.
Ok! That’s what I got. If you’re in book club, I’ll see you tomorrow.
Signing off yours truly,