Take out your #2 pencils

Huh, apparently in Michigan, standardized tests happen in the fall. I grew up in Illinois, and they were always right around this time of year. No wonder the kids I volunteer with looked at me like I was insane last week when I asked how their tests went.

Pico finds pencil skirts extraordinarily flattering

Pico finds pencil skirts extraordinarily flattering

And here I was, all ready with my nod to standardized testing: a tribute to the pencil skirt.

O pencil skirt–so classy, so sexy, so hard to wear. At least for me.

Now, I believe strongly that there’s no broad category of clothing that any one of us should write off completely, regardless of body type. It’s rarely true that we simply can’t wear skinny jeans/strapless dresses/blazers/shorts, period.

Think of your jeans. We have all tried on pairs that were not doing us any favors (boy howdy). But do you say “Jeans just don’t look good on my body”? No. You find different jeans. A different cut, a different wash, different pockets, whatever.

The same is true with other types of clothing–success is in the details. I learned this by watching every episode of Say Yes to the Dress available on Netflix (it’s been a long winter). It’s amazing to me 1) how different a series of white strapless dresses can look on the same person and 2) How different the same white strapless dress looks on different people.

As a rule, the pencil skirt is not an easy look for me to wear. I usually wind up, somehow, with both a baggy, poochy belly and legs wrapped together so tightly I can’t walk. I have managed to acquire two of them since finishing graduate school, and I luuuurve them. But I got here by trying on every skirt I’ve seen in the last five years, and rejecting all of them except for these two.

Somewhere around 73 skirts into a quest, you start to learn some things, about your own body and also about the skirts. And gradually, you no longer need to try on every single one. You can start to tell from the hanger whether it’s going to work on you or not. (Sometimes this feels awfully cynical and you’ll want to try it on anyway. And sometimes that gamble will pay off. But overall it is a nice change of pace not to have to take your pants off every time you walk through Target.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about my body while skirt shopping:

  • My waist and my hips fit into totally different sizes.
  • Compared to the rest of my body, my legs are on the short side.
  • I have a nicer ass than I realized. I’m used to hiding it under a-lines, but properly draped, it is totally worth showing off.

And here’s what I’ve learned to look for in a skirt (this is what works for me; you might be on the hunt for a whole different set of characteristics):

  • I avoid high waists. It makes the sizing too hard. Either the skirt will fit in the hips and be huge in the waist, or vice versa. Also I wind up with a potbelly/baby-bump-looking thing, which is NOT a vibe I am interested in giving off. I can’t seem to come to terms with this decision, though. I keep trying high-waisted skirts, but no luck.
  • I look for fabric with a little stretch to it. It’s likely that I’ll be between sizes, and a little forgiveness makes a big difference. Also lets the skirt be snug without totally impeding movement.
  • I look for a smooth, wide, slightly tapered waistband. This provides the middle road between high waist and slouchy/muffin top/falling off your hips.
  • I prefer hooks and zippers to buttons. Again to do with keeping things simple and smooth at the waistline.
  • The skirt should end just at the very top of my knees. Because my legs are short, if it covers any part of my knees when I’m standing, it’s going to look awkward.

And what I’ve learned about how to wear them:

  • No belts.
  • Yes heels. Not necessarily pumps (rarely the case for me), but boots with heels or oxfords with heels, or whatever. The extra leg length makes the skirt look less dumpy and more polished. I save the ballet flats, clogs, etc. for sundresses and fuller, more playful skirts.

Pencil skirts, to me, are worth the work. Although it would be practically impossible for me to just go out and find one tonight, if I needed it. It’s a process that takes time.

Is there a look that you have to work hard for? Worth it, or no?


7 thoughts on “Take out your #2 pencils

  1. I had sworn off jeans altogether for ages until the 1000th time I watched “What not to wear” and finally decided to take some time, do the research and find jeans that work for me. It was a total pain in the butt! And it was totally worth it! Great post!

    • Thank you! Ugh. Jeans shopping is the worst but (for me) a necessary evil. I don’t think I could give them up. I’ve had surprisingly good luck shopping for jeans at Goodwill, because they come from all different sources, so you have a huge range of brands, cuts, etc. to experiment with. Plus you can find really nice brands (J. Crew, Ralph Lauren) for great prices. And theory, because they’re quality, they’ll last longer and let me go longer before I have to undertake the whole process again. Fingers crossed.

  2. Pingback: Thurston Thursday | Chameleon in Boots

  3. Pingback: Lady in Red | Chameleon in Boots

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