Reader Request: Incorporating Oddballs

difficult to style clothes

Bubu e-mailed me this question:

My mother-in-law asked if I’d be interested in a leather jacket [then] she showed me a knee-length black leather a-line coat with a tie waist and a black fur (real? i think) collar. It fit me surprisingly well – a bit loose in the waist (though I can tighten it with the belt), good length, and, key for me, well-fitting in the shoulders. I said I would take it and I’m kind of tickled because it’s like nothing I own and nothing I would pick, or could afford to buy. Plus I know the fashion mags say accents of faux fur are big right now, and that’s not the kind of thing I would generally go for, but why not take that trend for a spin for free?

But here’s my dilemma: it’s like nothing I own or would pick. I have a wardrobe with a lot of cotton and wool and tweed, I tend to wear tights and a-line skirts or jeans, scarves, cardigans, boots with chunky heels – definitely more on the bohemian and/or corporate and/or funky mom end of things, whereas this coat just strikes me more as sort of “rich lady who shops at Bloomingdales” kind of look… does that make sense? I don’t wear stilettos, I don’t own a designer purse or get weekly manicures, and that’s a lot of what this coat is saying to me. But I want to try – because I like it, it feels good, and I like the challenge of shaking things up a bit.

So… better to try to go with what the coat is saying, or force it into my kind of fashion look?

Oddball items are always challenging, but they can push us in wonderful new directions. In my opinion, there’s a happy medium between dressing in the exact style of an unusual-to-you item and “forcing” it into your own typical looks. I gave Bubu some ideas for her coat, but also offered a some general advice about incorporating unusual items.

Build 3-5 outfits around it

Even items that seem like oddballs will generally play nicely with a handful of pieces that you already own. Drag the newbie into your closet and see what jumps out. Pull all options and place them on the bed, then start building possible ensembles. If nothing immediately jumps out, start with absolute basics: Jeans, your favorite skirt, a white blouse or tee, classic pumps or boots, a flattering blazer, your ideal dress. Use those building blocks to start, and add embellishments from there.

Create an occasion around it

Most items that seem out of place in our wardrobes seem that way because they don’t slip easily into our regular activities: They’re either super casual, super formal, or super stylized and would feel bizarre worn to work, school, or around the house. So consider fabricating a reason to wear your oddball. Now, I know that sounds like “forcing it,” but what I’m suggesting is more of a mental adjustment: Don’t throw a party specifically to wear a fancy dress, decide that Friday night date night should be at an upscale restaurant and get gussied. Don’t sign up for a sci-fi convention specifically to wear a super-futuristic blazer, dress it down a bit and wear it when you go out dancing with your girlfriends. Not only do created occasions like these get your oddball into circulation, they allow you to spread your sartorial wings and treat yourself a bit.

Ask for input

If you’re still feeling stumped, ask around. Show it to your bestie and ask what she’d wear with it. Hop on the YLF forum and solicit suggestions. Poke around Pinterest. You can even do a Google Image search for a similar item and see how others have styled it. Don’t force yourself to style an oddball in a vacuum! Get some outside input and ideas to jump start your creative process.

If you’ve tried and tried and your oddball is threatening to turn into a closet orphan, it might just be too odd for your wardrobe. Items that feel too far removed from your core style may never incorporate naturally into your closet, and that’s fine. But play around a little before you donate or consign. Oddballs can unlock untold stores of stylistic creativity, if you let them.

Image via Macy’s

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Originally posted 2012-02-09 06:18:12.

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26 Responses to “Reader Request: Incorporating Oddballs”

  1. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Great ideas, Sal. My orphans are almost always very dressy items too, not made for a rather casual life. So I try to dress them down my mixing with denim, knits, boots, etc. I like a lacy skirt with a tee shirt.

  2. Kaffesoester

    What a great coat! I think you could do a rockn roll outfit with some of your chunky heels, jeans and a bit of chunky jewellery. Depending on the length you could try a seventies inspired outfit with a heeled suede boot, maybe a platform, and a knitted dress underneath the coat. I’m looking forward to see the result soon!

  3. Anne

    Yes indeed I do have closet oddballs! Most of them are via my grandma, who had a kick-ass collection of vintage 50s wear (Lilly galore!) which were too gorgeous to get rid of but soooo not my normal style. She left me some crazy (and nice) jewelry and bags but it’s much easier to incorporate into those into my everyday style!

    Thanks for the tips–I think a fabricated occasion might be just the ticket for a few of her duds. (On the other hand, it’s probably time to face the fact that there are a few closet orphans in the mix.)

  4. Daisy

    I have the vest equivalent of that coat- I wear it with jeans, a colored cashmere turtleneck, and boots, or an animal print skirt, tights, boots, and a turtleneck. The turtleneck seems to balance the fur collar and keep the black from overwhelming my face (I am fair). Larger scale jewelry seems to work, but simple-like big silver hoops. It is definitely not as versatile as other wardrobe items, but it is fun! I also like the knit dress suggestion, for a 70s look!

  5. lesliele

    I think I’d just start wearing it as my every-day coat for winter. Wear it to work, wear it with jeans & a turtleneck with nice shoes, wear it with a dress if you go out! I think that coat is classic enough to where it’s going to “go” with your classic tweeds, cottons, & wool pieces.

    When I have something odd in my closet, or something I just HAD to get, but doesn’t really fit? I wear it for one day. I just put it on, and DO IT. Getting over that first wear is sometimes a hard thing. But I find that I get more ideas on how to style it or incorporate it while I’m actually wearing it. Go someplace you won’t feel judged, like the library or the grocery or something… and just commune with your awesomeness. 😀

      • Anne

        I’m thinking tee shirts here. I would also love to put that on a door sign for when I need a self imposed mommy time out.

      • Anneesha

        This is what I’d do as well! I “rescued” a fabulous fur – and wear it whenever it’s really cold regardless — even to coffeeshops in S Mpls where fur is NOT very PC, as well as walking my rescue dog in the ‘hood! Just do it.

        • Erika

          Yep – just do it! It sounds like a fabulous coat. Throw a long flowy gorgeous scarf under the fur collar – just to add the colour and “loosen it up”. Think of it like one of the 60s/70s hippie shearling coats and work it from that angle. What would Janis Joplin do with it? Hmm?

          With the exception that this one you can revert to sleek and upmarket should the desire arise!

          I’ve (still) got a 50s wool coat that Mum bought new in Picadilly – the loveliest purply-blue, that weird tulip shape (narrower at the hem and shoulders, wider at the waist) that I wore until it got too fragile. It now sits in the Archive Closet.

    • sarah

      Yep, I’m with you! Try on a few things from your closet and build an outfit that seems to go with the coat and then just grit your teeth and WEAR that baby and OWN it!

      I’ve done this before; the first time I bought skinny pants (I still only own two pairs and they’re different sizes – so only one pair fits at a time). It didn’t feel like me. So,as a joke for myself (I deal with things through laughter), I created what I considered a hilariouss get-up around the pants: they were black skinnies with leather jodhpur patches, so I went full-on Beatnik – skinny black turtleneck, black heels, even the black beret! I went about my day like nothing was out of the ordinary. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t out of the ordinary. It only felt that way to me. Sure enough, several friends complimented me that day. “You always look so great!” they said, not “you look great and completely different!”. I think it’s important to remember that most people won’t notice a style shift if it’s just one piece, honestly. And better yet, after one or two wears, I usually find that the oddball starts feeling like less of an oddball and more of a part of my normal wardrobe – and it’s smooth sailing from there!

  6. Kylara7

    My oddballs tend to be shoes and boots that are not practical or low key…sky-high heels and/or flashy colors. I try to work them into fun outfits for occasions or just wear them with an otherwise sort of dull outfit to give it some “pop”. I agree with lesliele on the “Sometimes you just wear it because you want to wear it!” approach 🙂 And it’s also good to shake up your image with friends, family, partner, etc…the unpredictable appearance of the red patent leather knee-high stilletto boots under jeans and a sweater keeps things interesting 😉

  7. Mel

    Oh, that coat is to die for! I surely wish my body type would suit it…but, alas, not.

    I would wear that coat as my every day coat, AND my Sunday coat. I would wear it every day and marvel at how cool it is, and how lucky I am to have a mil who would buy it for me.

    Off to commune with my awesomeness…. 🙂 What a great phrase! I’m gonna use that all the time now.

  8. Cynthia

    That particular leather, fur-collared oddball seems like it would go pretty well with a bohemian/office-funky/natural fibery look like the questioner describes. I’d totally force it into my wardrobe, which is similar.

    I’ll have to post my favorite oddball sometime. It’s a Kashmiri wool jacket with allover chain-stitch embroidery. I bought it in Srinagar back in 1989, right before the first time they started killing tourists and it was no longer safe to go up to Kashmir. It is perfectly fabulous and somehow unwearable. Maybe I need to think about it some more.

  9. Nebraskim

    She could send that coat to me. I love it. I, too, would just start wearing it and think “this is me, now.” That coat looks to me to very classic, with clean-lines and a shape that will last the ages. I think it would totally rock the boho look (because having a clean classic topper would balance out the boho, which can turn to Bozo if you do too much of it together, if you get my drift), but also look fantastic with skinnies, leggings, etc. I suspect she is a bit afraid it’s a little “older” or “frumpier” for her, but I think it’s timeless.

  10. Halo

    That coat is gorgeous, and could be a great compliment to your A-line skirts-based outfits, as long as you aren’t worried about projecting a little 70s flair. As other posters said, I would wear it as my everyday coat, too.

  11. Susan, the one in Berkeley

    I see that coat with skinny jeans and a deep V-neck shirt. And leather looks great paired with tweed. Do an image search for Tweed Ride – a coat that long may not work on a bicycle but some of the outfits may be inspiring to you.

  12. Bubu

    Thanks Sal and everyone else – these are great suggestions! Definitely will find a way to “commune with my awesomeness” in the coat. Esp like the 70s inspired turtleneck and jeans (boot cut or skinny, with a chunky heel or platform) because the coat actually dips pretty far in front, which can be chilly (it is a bit different than the one Sally posted, with a longer, more v-neck, fur-lined collar. The crazy thing is my MIL won it in a charity auction sometime in the 80s and then it sat in her closet, unworn, for about 25 years until she pulled it out for me over the holidays. Pretty amazing. The leather is wonderfully soft and the lining makes clear it is a really well-made coat.

  13. Vildy

    I find that any item does not feel like “mine” until I’ve worn it enough so that I forget it’s on. I have to have memorized, though, how it feels to put it on before I reach for it. 😉 So I always think the question is how well the item fits with your natural movements. I’d start by dressing in your typical clothes and wearing the coat open and learn how it behaves.

  14. rb

    That coat sounds awesome and I’d probably wear it to death. I think fur or faux fur around the face is universally flattering. While I personally would probably not wear a coat like this with yoga pants and sneaks (and I personally wouldn’t wear yoga pants and sneaks anyway) I’d wear it with just about everything else. It seems like it could either go rock ‘n’ roll or fancy lady. And it would be fun to add a rock ‘n’ roll edge to the basically preppy looks you describe as one of your norms, and would go perfectly with the already rock ‘n’ roll leaning jeans-with-chunky-boots look you already like.

  15. M.

    That coat sounds like it would go really well with a lot of stuff in her wardrobe! A-line skirts, chunky heels? YES! Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an awesome look. I say just wear it over whatever you’re gonna wear anyway, girl, and feel great because you look like a badass.

  16. Cynthia @ Go Chic or Go Home

    When I succumb to “sale goggles” an oddball often finds its way into my closet. Fortunately I’m becoming much better about recognizing when I’m under the influence of a shiny clearance tag.

    Such a classic coat. I agree with @Cynthia, I’d definitely force a piece like that into my wardrobe. Based on how Bubu described her style it sounds like she could create a very cool boho-chic look, especially if she threw it on with some denim.

    And thanks for the mention, Sally! 🙂

  17. K

    I really see this coat as complementing some great boots. I would almost pair it with a shorter skirt so that while the coat is on you can feature some fun coloured tights and tall boots. Or go with skinny pants and boots. I think it would be a great rocking seventies vibe to the whole thing (keep the accessories pretty modern though).

    I think the key to closet orphans is really going out of your way to incorporate them into regular rotation. After a while they won’t seem so outlandish and will start to work with the rest of your wardrobe. I think you just need to train yourself to find a place for it in your style.

  18. Jen

    I love that jacket, I’d wear it with jeans, boots and a simple T-shirt.

    My oddball items were all inherited from my mother who was about 4″ shorter than I am, making the fact that anything fits me quite unusual. She once lived in cooler climates and thus owned a tan, plaid jacket with a fur-trimmed hood and sleeves. It’s really a fabulous jacket…except that I live in Southern California. I only get to wear it when we visit family on the East Coast, but it’s well worth keeping. The fit is perfectly feminine, the sleeves are long enough, it’s truly amazing it fits me. I’d venture that it was made in the 60’s-70’s, but looks like something from the 40’s with the tie waist and A-line bottom.

  19. Mel@VasiliasVintage

    People who know me will attest to the fact that I’ve got *lots* of oddballs in my closet…my favourite two are 70s polyester double-breasted trench coats – one in navy blue and the other is reddish-orange! 🙂 I pair them with skinny or straight-leg darkwashed jeans, booties, a crisp white shirt, and a statement necklace. I think it works w/o making it look “too” vintage!

    I think your reader could easily incorporate her vintage leather coat with some of the tweed pieces she already has (like a nice pencil skirt or pair of trousers) and add a white blouse, a necklace (or maybe a pretty scarf?) and boots, perhaps?