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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mixing and matching

Spring frequently brings on a yearning for a new wardrobe - everything around you is so fresh and new, that your same-old-same-old outfits you've been wearing since last November seem drab and boring by comparison. At the same time, you do not want to get too carried away by all things bright and sparkly and blow your entire budget on the latest designer this or trendy label that. Rearranging your closet and finding new ways to combine your long-time favorite key pieces can be as rewarding as shopping... but only if you approach this process with a fresh outlook.

First and foremost, let us get rid of a few persistent color-matching myths. Revelation number one: black and white do not go with everything nor do they always look good when worn together. In fact, black looks much too heavy and harsh next to most colors - especially next to lovely fresh pastels that are so popular in spring, and takes all the subtlety out of them. You may love your trusty black pants to pieces and may have worn them to work with everything in your closet, but this might be a good time to reconsider.

Revelation number two: there are many shades within each color and not every one of them will suit you. For example, you might be dark-eyed and dark-haired - a combination traditionally considered suitable for red. Not so fast! Which red? Fire-engine red? Orangey-red? Brownish-red? Bluish or purplish red? Pink-red? Coral-red? While one of these reds might make you look vibrant and sexy, the rest very well could bring out the yellow or blue skin tones you didn't even know were there and make you look as if you are recovering from a long illness. The way to find out, which shades suit you best is to separate all your garments into piles by color and then hold up each one separately to your face in front of a mirror in good natural light. If it makes you look washed out, sickly, blotchy, or too dark, get rid of it regardless of how much it may have cost you. Sell it on eBay or give it to a friend who might look better in it than you do.

One of the best and most detailed guides to finding your color palette is provided by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine of BBC'S What Not to Wear in their book What You Wear Can Change Your Life. The colors are first divided into three major groups: pastels (self-explanatory), cold colors (including some deep bluish-purples and reds, emerald greens, etc.) and natural (think autumn leaves and earth tones). Once you find your best group, you can use it as a foundation for building your outfits. Do not be disappointed if you suddenly discover that the palette you have worn all your life is not quite right for you - 90% of the population have the same problem.

Once you have culled the unsuitable colors and the ill-fitting garments out of your closet, it is matching time! Have fun with it. Throw together a skirt and a top that you would have never thought of wearing together before - you might be surprised how well they go together. Give a new life to that dress you never wear because you feel it is too short by pairing it up with pants. Worn with heels the dress-over-pants combination is a life saver for those of us not blessed with long legs because it hides where the butt ends and where the legs begin, giving an illusion of endless stems. Hang clothes by outfit (instead of the usual shirts-with-shirts, pants-with-pants and skirts-with-skirts way). Find garments in solid colors that pick up one of the tones of a patterned piece. For example, burgundy pants with a cream-and-burgundy patterned blouse. Look for unexpected combinations. Did you know, for instance, that an enamel brooch in pale pink tones goes beautifully with a royal blue suit and a seafoam green blouse? Who could have thought!

Speaking of brooches... Do not discount the importance your jewelry and accessories. If you have enough room on your closet doors, add a bar for your scarves and belts and some small hooks for your necklaces so that they would always hang next to your clothes and remind you to wear them. Do you always go to work with the same huge "kitchen sink" black bag? Maybe it's time to go over the contents, minimize what you can and invest in more than one work bag in something other than black. Nobody says that you should donate a kidney in exchange for the latest Marc Jacobs, but you could peruse Target or Ross for some fantastic choices. Having several work bags might seem like a hassle at first, but if you set out your clothes, shoes and accessories in advance, you will discover that you actually carry less junk, because you are forced to empty your bag completely and re-organize it every few days. You would be surprised, how much sharper your entire outfit looks with something slicker and more elegant in deep red, chocolate brown or purple, as opposed to your horrid black backpack only suitable for trekking in the Himalayas.

As you clean out and reorganize your closet, you may discover that you need to purchase a couple of pieces after all. However, doing it after identifying our palette, getting rid of all things unsuitable and finding new ways to match old favorites, may prove to be much more economical than flying off to the store and stuffing your closet with more items you will end up not wearing.

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