"Confidence is the Key to Everything" - mixed media on paper, 30" x 22". Inquiries. Available at the Olive Stack Gallery.
After a post last week bemoaning the wardrobe habits of Americans vs. Europeans, there was a flurry of feedback, comments, shared stories and questions. So I marched myself over to Mary O'Flaherty at the Design Space @ Chic Boutique and begged for some answers. Inquiring minds want to know!
Let's set the mood a bit here first with a little video.
Irish fashion design is centered around knitwear, as woolens and yarns are plentiful and the climate demands practical clothing - warm, dry and long-lasting. The Aran sweater originated in Ireland, and is so iconic it is now on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Of course, Irish designs have been elevated since then, but continue to be known for timeless, classic elegance. In Chic Boutique, this timeless elegance has a contemporary twist, keeping the clothing neither too staid nor overly trendy. Irish fashion is considered an investment which will stand the test of time, both in its durability and its ability to cross over seasons and trends with the addition of key accessories.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The starting point (and key), according to Mary, is to wear what suits your shape. "If you follow fashion slavishly," she says, "you're going to get it wrong if it doesn't suit your shape." She looks for sharp tailoring, a good cut, and good fabric. Her advice is to consider the color, shape and fabric that is right for you - "if you follow this formula, you'll make no mistakes," says Mary.
She acknowledges, however, that affordability and availability can be an issue at times. If you have to choose one of the three, she advises color be the top priority. "The colors you were drawn to as a child, in general, will suit your skin tone." Mary's advice appeals to my inner child, who loves blues, pinks, purple and teal.
This black silk dress, by Irish designer Natalie King, is timeless in its style, suitable for many occasions and flattering to most shapes. Notice the details - back zipper, pleats, texture.
Dressing individual body shapes is the expertise of independent retailers, like Chic Boutique. "There is no shape that can't be worked with," says Mary. "Follow the lines of your body; choose draping that is kind."
- a coat - this is the investment piece. Add a coat and gloves over any outfit and you immediately look dressed!
- well-cut trousers in a neutral (generally black)
- a dress - classic, well-tailored (often black)
- a pencil skirt
- a crisp, white shirt
- a silk blouse with either color, pattern or both
Now of course I am salivating at the thought of an entirely new wardrobe of perfect clothing. But the reality is we often have good clothes in our closets which simply aren't working for us anymore. Sometimes these are quality, structured pieces, but we no longer go to an office each day. Mary's advice is to break up these outfits. Old suit skirts can become your "little black skirt" when separated from the jacket. The jacket can be fabulous over jeans and a crisp, white shirt. "Better broken up and worn than together and unworn," says Mary. Of course, a few updated accessories can change the whole look without breaking the bank.
There was a little "aha" moment when we began discussing cost, fast-fashion and the numbers of pieces in most women's wardrobes in the USA. Mary told me the average women spends 50-100 euros per week on clothing, rather than invest in fewer pieces of a higher quality, because budget is the primary focus. Over a year, that adds up to 2500-5200 euros (about $6,100). A high-end wardrobe of a few key pieces can be acquired for half that cost, will last longer, and will consist only of items you want and love. "If you wear what you love, what you feel good in," says Mary, "you will behave differently, walk differently." "Confidence," she says, "is the key to everything."
Many thanks to Mary O'Flaherty for the generous gift of her time, wisdom and a fabulous early morning "show and tell" demonstration in her boutique. You can follow Mary and the Irish designers she features on Facebook.