31 January 2007

Poor execution (pt. II)

The best brown-black success stories I've seen have all been either weekend casual or casual evening looks. You can disagree with me and go ahead and wear that black cocktail dress with brown waist cinch and brown D'orsays. You won't necessarily be wrong for putting those pieces together, but my view is, wouldn't you prefer to wear something prettier? Something more interesting? Something less Chloe Sevigny?

First, some operational definitions:

Brown: dark, chocolate brown -- we already know and love the camel-black/khaki-black color combinations

Weekend casual: the clothes you'd wear to brunch at the Beacon Hotel on a Saturday afternoon (example: skinny jeans, ballet flats, t-shirt, turtleneck, short trench)

Casual evening: the clothes you'd wear for first night drinks at Le Bar in the Sofitel with that good-looking, often shirtless Naval aviator with whom you've often exchanged mid-run smiles during your late-night workouts in the gym

Brown-black outfit: an outfit made up of discrete black or discrete brown articles of clothing -- this does not include prints like the paisley one pictured above right ($165 at Tahir Boutique) or the leopard one pictured at left ($1,095 at bergdorfgoodman.com).

I would also like to reiterate that this piece, more than any of the others I've written, is an opinion piece. My views on the brown-black are still very nascent and have changed so much in the past five months that I'm willing to accept five months from now I'll be proudly wearing that evening ensemble I just pooh-poohed a few sentences previous.

I think the following Guns N' Roses lyric captures my view aptly and succinctly:

'Cause nothin' lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change.

On with the analysis.

The casual outfits on which I have received the most "I love what you're wearing" compliments have been those thrown-together weekend looks that more by chance than intention include both brown and black components. These outfits are also not exclusively brown and black; I like to throw in a couple of other neutrals to liven up but not overwhelm my lazy Saturday afternoons. Good choices include but are not limited to matte silver flats, a dark wash jean, a pumpkin hoodie, a wine cap-sleeved frilly mock-neck, or an oatmeal Dolman-sleeved tunic (pictured at right, $200.20 at shopbop.com).

The only objectively wrong way to rock this look is to throw a bright color into the mix. Brown-black outfits - even those that are not exclusively brown and black - are neutral and should stay neutral. Adding a red belt, a yellow daybag, or even a bold-printed skinny headband would have the same end result as the heavy girl at the pool party: distracting to the point where no one has any fun.

The first of three self-imposed rules I have for the brown-black ensemble is not to have any brown touching black, and by that I mean inserting at least one other neutral color in between my brown and black pieces. If I wear my black loose-knit cropped angora turtleneck, I don't wear my mocha-colored Charlotte tee underneath; if I wear my dark brown scalloped-neck, scalloped-hem, cap-sleeved button-up, I don't pair it with black skinny jeans; and if I wear my opaque black tights, I don't wear my brown leather flats or my brown tweed mini.

If someone as hookup-worthy as Mandy Moore can't make it work, you and I don't need to try.

The second rule I have for brown-black outfits is to remain color-consistent (i.e. brown-brown or black-black) with my below-the-belt garment and my shoes. When I see women stray from this rule, it's almost always the case that their overall look comes off unsophisticated -- accidental, if you will. If you look at Christina Ricci (pictured at left), she wears a brown waist-cinch but keeps it consistent with black tights and black almond-toed pumps. This is how it's done. The Marni coat certainly doesn't hurt, either.

The third brown-black outfit rule by which I abide is to wear no more than two pieces of black and two piece of brown at a time, preferably no more than one primary piece (i.e. top, bottom, shoes, bag) and one background piece (i.e. headband, earrings, partially-hidden tee). If you exceed the advised two piece limit, please do so in an either/or fashion. Don't up the ante for black just because you felt like wearing an extra brown accessory -- tip the balance in favor of one or the other, or you risk looking like, as I said earlier, a home-schooler.

The intern at the conservative think-tank who inspired this posting broke both my first and second rules, and in my opinion, paid a real style price for her gambles. Considering where she works and their views on Cross Strait relations - and on Mainland China, in general - her brown-black misstep is the least of her concerns.

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