Monday, March 19, 2012

You Can Sew It—But Can You Accessorize It? (The Joan Accessory Hunt)

Joan Accessories

Mad Men's Joan Holloway: Not a woman with accessory problems. (And yes, I know she wears pointier shoes than that, but those are shoes I actually own, so: close enough.)

So, tell me: am I the only sewist who is excellent at coordinating colors and textures and prints to produce an adorable outfit... and woefully uninspired when it comes to accessorizing said adorable outfit?

Which is a problem, since accessories can take your look to a whole other level of awesome... or totally destroy it.

Especially with something like my Mad Men challenge dress. Joan is not a slapdash accessorizer--unlike me, she is all about a total, polished look. So the above is a rough sketch of how I plan to achieve...

The classic Joan accessories:

  1. A gold-tone pen necklace. Found easily via 1928 jewelry.
  2. An elegant gold-tone brooch. I considered one very similar to hers, but this lovely Corocraft double leaf brooch I saw at the Today's Vintage booth at the Brooklyn Flea market yesterday just called out to me. And it was $10. Sold! (And now the first and only brooch I own).
  3. Elegant earrings. I believe she's wearing pearl studs in the above. I already have a pair (wore them for my wedding and job interviews), so DONE.
  4. A classic frame-style handbag. I couldn't find any on Polyvore (and they don't let you clip from Etsy or Flickr), but here's one from Etsy that is very Joan...

    Source: via Mikhaela on Pinterest

    ... though I'm not actually going to buy this particular one. I may just go with a structured eggplant-colored leather tote I already own (from DSW clearance years ago) as "close enough."
  5. Pointy-toed pumps. Authentic or not, I just do not DO pointy toes or spiky heels. The above shoes--Tsubo Eeini pumps in "nude" with a sturdy low heel--are the closest I get.
  6. A self-fabric belt. I'm making a self-fabric bow belt to go with my dress, so DONE. (or will be done).

But anyway: back to my usual accessory struggles. It's really rather sad. I'll spend twenty minutes carefully composing a coordinated clash of dots and stripes... and a moment or less on choosing a scarf or a bag to set it off. I don't even own a properly fitting sunhat (and I'm corpse-pale enough to REALLY REALLY need one). And when it comes to coordinating bags and shoes? And mixing or not mixing black and brown leather and gold and silver tone jewelry or... ARGH.

As Exhibit A, I present...

The boring accessories I wore EVERY DAY in college, even with dresses:

  • Earrings: A pair of sterling silver hoop earrings from the ear-piercing store. (I'm still wearing these. Almost every day. Could I have more boring ears?!)
  • Necklace: A thin barely noticeable delicate-looking necklace with a charm on it.
  • Scarf: None ever. (not counting winter scarves, obviously).
  • Belt: Also none ever.
  • Shoes: Doc Martens boots. With a steel toe. (I got into this habit while working in a shipping hub at UPS in order to protect my toes. It wasn't until I stopped wearing these constantly that I realized how freaking HEAVY they were. Ouch!)
  • Bag: A backpack. The day hiking kind, not the fancy kind.
  • Watch: Digital. The running kind. Except I wasn't a runner. (It's hard in steel-toed boots).
  • Hats, brooches, pins, hair accessories, other miscellanea: Ha ha ha ha.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some...

Accessories I totally GET now:

  • Glasses. I love my glasses. I have two pairs that fit--one brown, one bright green--and I should probably match them to my outfits better, but whatever. Hurrah for cute spectacles! My current favorites are these cat-eye Bevel brand glasses, mine are bright green:

  • Shoes. Over the past seven years I have carefully curated a very small collection of comfortable yet cute retro-influenced flats, heels, boots and sandals with round toes and sturdy, low heels (if any). Go me! I do need to clean out some shoes I have worn past all repair, but it's generally in good shape. These Miz Mooz lovelies (which I'm wearing today) are a good example:

    Miz Mooz pumps

  • Necklaces. The brighter the better:

    Collar detail

    I keep mine on a set of pegs on the wall and admire them daily. And I'm trying to gradually replace the cheap bright plastic Forever 21 costume jewelry necklaces like the above with equally inexpensive but much fancier looking bright vintage costume jewelry necklaces.

But there are many more...

Accessories on which I continue to be clueless:

  • Scarves. Own a bunch, even some vintage silk ones, but no idea when/how to add or how to tie them. I need to play with this. Somehow I always feel like instead of making things more fun, they make me look frumpier/older.
  • Belts. Considering how much I love working the whole hourglass silhouette, I own/wear hardly any, mostly the cheapo pleather kind with the big round buckle.
  • Hats. I have a huge head and finding hats that fit--never mind hats I actually like--is a challenge. So I have one ugly sunhat that pinches my head. Maybe I could make some (at least the breezy simple cotton kind). The only winter hats I have are self-knit.
  • Bags. My husband frequently asks me when I'm going to stop lugging around a gigantic bag that can swallow the universe, because he worries I am hurting my back. He has a point. My mom got me a giant Brooklyn Industries bag--similar to this one:

    ...but brighter with a magenta print--when I needed to carry a breast pump to and fro from work. I hung up the pump horns months ago, but I'm still lugging the bag (now with the sweater I'm knitting inside), and I don't have a smaller bag for more casual occasions or running about on the weekends. I literally carry this suitcase-sized bag EVERYWHERE. It makes no sense and I must stop.

  • Earrings. Yeah, still wearing the tiny hoops I got from the ear-piercing studio. In 1990-something. Every day. Ok then!
  • Watches. I wear the same casual black leather-strapped watch. Every day. But it least it has a traditional, not digital, face, and nice typography.
  • Rings. I wear my wedding ring. That's it!
  • Brooches/Hatpins/Hair Accessories/Misc.. Er...

But whatever. There's no time like the present to start playing around with and exploring these things, and this Mad Men challenge is a great opportunity for that!

So, readers: are you an accessorizing superhero, or a accessorizing slacker? Are you better with some items than others? And is all this stressing over accessories just totally unnecessary and far too much work? Please confess!

P.S. Also--what do you think of my Joan accessory plans? Is the pen necklace fun, or too cliched/costume-y/obvious?


  1. I think you've accessorized the Joan dress very well - except for the bag (potentially, cuz I don't know what it looks like)

    1. phew! after a commentless day, I was starting to think you all secretly thought I had made a mess but were too polite to say so.

      I think I actually MIGHT buy a cheap vintage leather bag on Etsy that would be more appropriate. I'm dithering over colors and such.

  2. No, no. It's a great outfit - very well styled! I think everyone must be managing a crazy workday.

  3. I love this topic SO MUCH. I think as sewists/knitters/crafters, we can get so absorbed in the project and lose sight of the overall styling of an outfit. I think this is a tricky topic, but so important.

    I was just explaining to someone yesterday that the reason 1950s outfits look so good is because of styling: hair, make up, jewelry, gloves, undergarments, hose, shoes, etc. So much more than just a dress!

    I think someone like Joan is such an ideal. I mean, who can spend an hour on their hair every day? Perfect nails, heels, everything coordinated? It's definitely a high maintenance look.

    I like that you've toned it down a bit to make it work in your life, like by using a rounder, lower heel. Not every mom can run around town in pointy spike stilletos! Some vintage people want the Total Look, complete and authentic, but I like what you're going for better, just the Look.

    As for bags, I carry one that's too large too. I think I need smaller knitting projects and an editorial eye.

    Overall, I like the Look so far! I want to see it all come together. :)

  4. Oh, and I love your bold, chunky, colourful necklaces so much. So cartoony in all the right ways.

  5. I like your choices - there is nothing like a great brooch to make a vintage look work! And I don't think the pen necklace is a cliche - it's what I think of when I think of Joan.

    I'm halfway good at accessorizing. I love shoes and scarves (not silk ones though, they are hard to pull off!) but it stops there. I also used to always wear the same jewelry (diamond studs and a simple charm necklace like yours.) I try to switch it up, but I forget. In fact, I'm wearing those diamond studs right now! I also have a problem where I can't keep track of anything nice, so I only buy cheap jewelry (forever 21 is my friend!) I have some nice vintage things from my grandma, but I'm a little afraid to wear them sometimes!

    1. and you always look so beautifully put together, too! I'm glad I'm not the only one with this issue.

  6. I love necklaces--I like them bold and different. I find a lot of cool ones on Etsy, and my husband gets me one for our anniversary every year.

    I'm getting better at using scarves. Sometimes I feel like they just have to hang out long enough before they find the colors and patterns that they want to be worn with. If it's vintage, I get it...if it's silk, all the better. My favorite one is a square silk CK scarf with a square orange border and multi colored abstract polka dots. It took me a while to figure that one out, but now it's a mainstay, particularly when it's too cold to wear a necklace, or if I'm wearing a neckline that needs some breaking up.

    I have a couple of brooches that I like for sweaters. Pretty much all of my accessories are about my neck. I can't wear bracelets because they irritate me, and I feel weird with things on my fingers, and I do not have my ears pierced.

    1. I feel the same way about bracelets, even my watch bothers me but I need to know the time so I just deal with it. you always look well put together!

  7. I have the pen necklace and wear it all the time! It's my favorite part of the Joan look!

  8. I love this post! I am terrible at accesorizing, though I am drowning in interesting and fun vintage jewelry. I love your outline for your Joan outfit - the pen is perfect, of course! I am also clueless about scarves and handbags and whatnot - I feel a bit guilty that I put so much effort into my outfits but I'm not able to dress them properly. Your post has given me much to think about!

    1. I'm so glad! It's nice to know that many other sewists I admire have the same struggles. :)

  9. I... don't exactly suck at accessorizing, but I have a lot of blind-spots and fails. One of my favourite memories as a kid was helping my mom create outfits when she was going out---just the right shoes, scarf, jewelry, had, whatever was required. Of course, it helps that my mom's accessory wardrobe was (is) massive. Mine, not so much. Although the shoe collection is slowly recovering form the Great Purge of '07. I often find myself thinking "this isn't quite right, but I don't have anything that's perfect"---or just going with reflex, which at the moment is one of a succession of big dangly silver earrings. On the other hand, I have a hard time justifying a huge collection of jewelry/accessories that I only wear once in a blue moon because they're perfect for this single look. (Though I don't seem to have a problem with my mound of dance jewelry, so maybe I should stuff it).

    Also, I like your taste in shoes. :)


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