Rules Made to Be Broken

fashion rules to breakI love rules. LOVE THEM. I am a double Capricorn with Taurus rising and my world would fall apart if I didn’t stitch it together with lovely, concrete, sense-making rules. I have long considered “Goody Two-Shoes” to be my personal theme song. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t speed (well, not more than 5 miles over the limit), I never cut a single class until my final year of college, and have never stolen a single thing. You think I’m kidding? Not kidding. Rules rule me.

HOWEVER! Even I fully recognize that some rules are made to be broken. And that includes rules of style. For instance:

Everyone should own a white button-front: Seriously? Does this include the accident-prone? New mothers who deal in poo and vomit? High schoolers who live in jeans and tees? Folks with proportions that fight anything with a placket? I adore my button-front shirts, but I acknowledge that they are a seriously high-maintenance garment. NOT for everyone. No way, no how.

Learn your best colors and stick to them: BEH. OK, so I have to agree that if you look pale and pasty in an LBD or like the long-lost Simpson when you pull on a coral-colored sweater, you should avoid putting those colors right up next to your complexion. But there are plenty of ways to make your personal set of “unwearable” colors wearable. Skirts and pants can be any old color and have zero effect on your complexion. Putting a contrasting-colored scarf between your head and the offending color works wonders. A pattern that contains the unflattering shade is unlikely to have the same complexion-vexing properties as a solid wash.

Empire waists flatter all body types: Have you heard this rule? Do you think the person who made it up might’ve been high on paint fumes at the time? Because let me tell you, nothing makes me look more pregnant than a nice empire waist, and I know many women with different body types from my own who feel the same way.

Black is neutral and goes with everything: Ooooh, controversy! Now don’t get me wrong: I wear black nearly every day, and love it truly, madly, and deeply. But I have come to realize that it is not as neutral as I’ve led myself to believe. While I can certainly pair black with anything and it won’t appear to CLASH, it often sucks all the life out of other colors. Other neutrals like gray, brown, and navy can bring out warmth and movement in accompanying colors in a way that black never will.

Dress your age: OK before you stone me, hear me out. I am not advocating for preteens to raid their great-granny’s closets. But we’ve all got an internal, non-chronological age – the age that we feel ourselves to be – and it seldom aligns with our true age. Some bodies and personalities suit styles far younger, and some far older than their years on earth would traditionally dictate. Use your judgment! If it feels wrong, it is wrong … but if it feels right, try it out. The great thing about personal style is that it is always in flux. If you tinker with a look and it turns out to be too young/old for you, you never have to sport it again. But if you have amazing legs at 55 yet are too timid to don a miniskirt, or you’re 14 and dying to nab that $2 antique lace blouse at the thrift store but worry your friends will laugh, you’re missing out because of overly general and stiflingly stodgy rules that don’t even apply to you.

White bottoms are for summer only: OK, I used to subscribe to this one. I did. Then I realized it’s just plain silly. I intend to wear my white pencil skirt whenever the hell I feel like it. MUAH HA HAAAAAAAAA.

Dress and shirt from Banana Republic, flats from Garnet Hill.

Originally posted 2009-03-27 06:10:00.

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49 Responses to “Rules Made to Be Broken”

  1. Christina Lee

    Hmm right now I cant seem to add anything to your already great list (more coffee, perhaps?)- from one goody goody to another 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    My favorite much-touted rule of the last few years is that everyone looks good in a wrap dress. Not so. Wrap dresses make me look like an oversized flat-chested brick. Really not my best look.

  3. Fell4fashion

    This is such a great post! Loved reading it, and yes, fashion rules especially are made to be broken!!!! I love the one about the white button down 🙂

  4. Amanda

    Right-o on the wrap dress. I’m small up top, and they do nothing for me. Leave these to the ladies with curves. As for rules I break? “Never pair black with navy blue.” This one went right out the window a couple of fall seasons ago, and although I typically reserve this look for fall and winter, I think it can make for a dramatic look.

  5. Farin

    I was once told that redheads should never wear red, because it clashes, so I stayed away from red tops for a very long time. Recently, though, I’ve decided that that rule is absolute rubbish, because bright bright red might look ridiculous with my hair, but crimson certainly doesn’t!

  6. Linda

    OH THANK YOU. I’m not sure I can even add any rules, because I probably don’t even KNOW half the rules I’m breaking. But:

    White button-down shirt: why do I have to own this item again? It’s not even like I spill stuff on myself THAT often, but I do not iron, I don’t look all that great in stark white next to my face, buttons gape at my chest, “crisp” clothing just fights with my general gestalt and makes me look and feel out of sorts, and I just don’t get it.

    Empire waist: I was just thinking about that this morning as I tried on an as-yet-unworn (it’s still too chilly for it) clearance-rack dress from my closet. The empire waist on this one is not downright UNflattering, since it doesn’t have any gathering or anything under it (that’s what produces the pregnant look, I believe). But in my head I heard all these dingbats say “The band goes across the smallest part of your body!” HELLO. My waist may not be “small” by some people’s standards, but it is smaller than, and located south of, my rib cage. Surely this can’t be so unusual. The dress looks all right, but it would look BETTER if that band were two inches lower. And I have trouble fitting my boobs into the designated area (though they seem to make this style of dress fit far, far bustier gals than me on What Not to Wear all the time).

    Oh, I think the rule I break all the time is about skirts at the knee. I’ve bee wearing them a little shorter every year, but I like my knees securely covered. No one needs to see that.

  7. kittyscreations

    I love this and I agree with everything. I don’t even own a white button down shirt at this time, and you know how I feel about empire waists.

  8. Modest Mom

    Empire waists make me look pregnant if I’m not careful with them. I love a white top. Too much black washes me out no matter what I do and I much prefer brown for my go with anything. I’ve never understood no white after Labor Day.

    Dressing your age I struggle with. I’m not sure what is right for the wonderful age of the late 30’s. I’m not ready to be the stereotypical granny, but I’m not into the teen fashion either.

    I’m not much of a rule breaker either as far as life goes, but I think fashion rules are pretty arbitrary.

  9. Zuzuli

    I love the one about black going with everything! I used to think so and then I discovered grey and navy and black almost seems like a horrid colour to fall back on – not when there are so many others out there to make an outfit interesting! Great post!

    Oh, and I TOTALLY agree about empire waist anything!

  10. Laura.

    oh,i didn’t know about these rules! i hope that doesn’t make me a bad capricorn. my #1 rule is comfort. because if i am comfortable i am able to feel at home in my skin and i think that makes me more beautiful than trying to wear a certain style, even if everyone else is wearing it.
    being 5’10” and a size 14, my personal rule is that white is a no-no. i do, however, love black for the same reason. i stick to the colors that look good on me, and styles that flatter my figure. somewhere along the line i picked up the idea that since it’s okay for petite or thin women to show a lot of skin, but not for bigger women, so i tend to cover up more than i think other women do. that is a rule i am trying to break, because i have some great features that could get a little more exposure, especially when the weather requires less clothing.

  11. Audi

    You’re such a rebel, Sal! 😉

    I think you need to follow this up with a post on which rules NEVER to break, so that you can really stir up some controversy.

  12. Sharon

    Sal, help! There is one stupid, stupid rule I almost never break even though I know I can and should…

    “Match your belt to your shoes”!


  13. Sheila

    I “grrr” everytime I see the “No Mini Skirts If You’re Over 35” sign on What Not to Wear. Not true! Stacy wears minis all the time! (and you can’t convince me she’s under 35)

    I’m not planning on hanging my butt cheeks out there for the world to see, but hell, I’m wearing a short skirt if I want to!

    Love the white shirt one – even though I wore a white shirt yesterday, I do really loathe them and that so-called “rule”.

  14. Linda

    Never wear a Richard Nixon mask to the office.

    (Just a thought.)

  15. WendyB

    “Everyone should own a white button-down” — hate, hate, hate them!

  16. lopi

    Amen to that! I own several button down shirts – a couple of them white – and I never seem to wear them exactly because I dread of the ironing I would have to do later. Such a waste!
    My rules to break? I strongly believe that horizontal stripes aren’t the devil and that they can actually be slimming, if worn right. I also think they are always better than their vertical sisters.
    And if it counts as rule-breaking, I’m currently wearing a charcoal dress with brown boots and some teal tights. And it looks grrrrreat!

  17. Vanessa

    I definitely think black and brown can go together. One of my more fashiony friends believe that this is a heinous combination, but I’m not going to stop wearing a brown top with a black skirt or my brown tights with black heels any time soon.

    If you’re wondering how I feel about black and navy: I think they’re a LOT more clashy (maybe not impossible?) but I still have not lived down going to my Junior prom in a black gown with my then-boyfriend wearing his military dress blues (again, criticism from that fashiony friend). I think I’m too traumatized by that whole debacle to ever try that on my own body.

  18. Sal

    Hahaha! What a bunch of rebels we are.

    Sharon: You won’t get any grief from me on that account. I have a tough time avoiding matchy-matchiness myself! Here are my meager tricks: Chain and metal belts won’t “match” your shoes unless you’re wearing chainmaille boots, so if you can track one down you dig, snap it up. I find gray to be a great alternative neutral, and really love doing gray shoes with colored belts. If your shoes and belt are the major sources of color in an outfit, it feels less weird to have them be mismatched: A black sheath with an animal print belt and red shoes, a navy sheath with hot pink belt and green shoes, etc. Anyone else have suggestions?

    Linda: I won’t personally be breaking that rule anytime soon … but to each her own. 😉

    Vanessa: It took me ages to embrace black with brown, but I love that combo now and no going back! Black and navy isn’t a combo I opt for often, but Audi makes it look like a snap:
    Any of those inspirational photos ease your prom trauma?

  19. Sharon Rose

    Hi there-oh ‘dress your age’ is the worse rule ever-it should be abolished!! Have a fab weekend!

  20. nineveh-uk

    I don’t wear white shirts because though they suit me (I do wear shirts, I do wear white), and I have no objection to ironing (I even starch!), I don’t like them. I am a grown-up – I don’t want to start wearing school uniform again.

  21. K.Line

    Haven’t even read this yet but, I have to tell you that I’m a Gemini everything with Taurus rising and I am confused! I have no idea which way to go. So take comfort 🙂 Oh, and I’m wearing the silver necklace you gave me today and I still love it (even more)!

  22. K.Line

    This post is great, btw! And I appear to break every rule – remember I’m the girl who just posted a photo of herself wearing zebra tights, a mini with a fly on it, a neon yellow t shirt and a bright cherry patent thick belt. Man that sounds awful when you write it down!

  23. lisa

    Great post as always! I don’t own a white button-down for the very reason you stated–it’s so high-maintenance and I can never keep it looking crisp for more than a year. I have a deep purple one instead and it suits me just fine.

    Hmm I like flouting the “don’t mix blue and black” and “don’t mix black and brown” rules.

  24. dapper kid

    Hah I am definitely one for rules in my personal life. I don’t smoke, don’t drink, am always a safe driver, never skipped a class and never had a single detention in school. Howevvver, when it comes to fashion, rules have to be broken at least once. I am definitely a fan of crisp white shirts, whether it be for a suit or more casual affair. Colour wise I do like to find colours that suit me, and to be honest they tend to be colours I like anyway 🙂 Hmm but then again I have never really ever given thought to clashing colours, if the shades look right to my eye and for me that day, I go with it. And I have oddly yet to go for white jeans or trousers to be honest, I always feel like I should be on holiday lol.

  25. pretty face

    Great post. I was nodding along with every one of them. This time next week, I shall be burning my white school shirt. Oh yes.

  26. Kelly

    Like everyone else, I absolutely agree that the white-button-down rule is nutty crackers. I can see that they are versatile but I *never* want to wear mine. I keep it around because I already have it and about two times a year I do find a need to bust it out. But if there were some horrible mud accident rendering it stained beyond hope, there would be no tears shed. And no money spent on a replacement.

    lopi – I totally agree. My horizontal striped shirts are awesome and even my BF said “wow, you look really thin” when I first tried one on for him.

  27. Gladys

    No matter how hard I try I can not and will not wear white shoes before Easter and will not wear them after Labor Day. Nope sorry Can’t do it. If I did my dead grandmother would pop up out of her grave and slap me upside my head.

  28. Anonymous

    The problem with the “everyone looks good in” stuff is that it IS true in the magazine/fashion world, where everone IS very, very thin, and the variations are: how long are your legs, do you have a noticable bust, etc.

  29. metscan

    What about the: Every woman should have a LBD ? I don´t have one and I am a woman, I do have a black suit though. And I hate the white shirt thing.

  30. Kelly

    The “no white after labor day” is silly. The snow is white. Why can’t clothes be white then too?

  31. Anonymous

    I completely agree with every point you made in your post, especially about the white button down shirt. Not are they high maintenance, but I don’t think they look great on everyone. They usually make me look frumpy. However, I recently found one that has capped sleeves and an interesting shape so I bought it. But in general, I’m not crazy about them. Also, I agree with you about Empire waists… they are not flattering on me.

    Great post.

  32. Katie

    I find that I continually have to break all the “every woman needs these essential items” wardrobe list. As a 6 foot, busty girl with the world’s skinniest feet (seriously, they look like they should belong to a little green alien), nothing ever fits (pants too short, shoes too wide, shirts not giving my girls enough room). When I tried to follow all the rules, I was miserable. Now that my only rules are: Does this look good on ME (goodbye trapeze dresses) and Do I LOVE it? If there are resounding yeses, it’s coming home with me! I’m also a huge champion of dressing up jeans to wear to work because, seriously I have 3 pairs of pants and two of them are denim. Why can’t the world make the fabulous pants for us tallies?

  33. Anonymous

    I think having a white button down shirt is a good rule for people who work in an office that requires dressing up . . . because they’re great under suits or even look dressy just tucked into chinos with a spiffy patent leather belt and shoes. I don’t shun ironing which is probably why I own 4 white button down shirts – one crisp one for work, a linen one, a casual one with tie up sleeves and another that is long like a tunic and has no collar. And I am a definite rules person but most of my white shirts are not the one the rule requires you to have!

  34. The Seeker

    I LOVE x3 this post, beauty

    I’m a capricorn too, but now I love to break some fashion rules.
    Did I say some… I should say almost all
    I think there’s just a rule I don’t break, “if you haven’t the legs don’t wear minis” since I haven’t….

    Much love


  35. Deja Pseu

    Yep, those “crisp white shirts” take a lot of work to stay that way, and usually aren’t the most flattering choice for those of us with a full bust. And whomever came up with the “empire waists are universally flattering” rule was either smoking crack or perpetuating a great cosmic joke.

  36. Shannon (The Daily Balance)

    awesome post! love your blog. I just found it today — i’ve been missin’ out!

    I just started a blog of my own and I actually have a fashion contest once a week — you should check it out!

  37. Nina (femme rationale)

    i hate fashion rules and would like to know who comes up w/these ridic notions. the empire waist one really bothers me because a)it def. does not look good on everyone and b)not all empire waists are equal. even me, a size 0, can look 6 months pregnant in one.

    and the other one i hate is that u should never mix brown and black. not all browns go great w/black, i agree, but it can look very chic when done right.

  38. Hammie

    I do follow Chanel – “take off whatever catches your eye first”

    but I am agreeing with the empire line tops – goodbye waist and hello fattest part of your hips/arse?

    Mr Hammie once suggested that I was dressing a little young to go fundraising in Hamleys toyshop. I had dressed somewhat ironically in jeans, uggs and Abercrombie as the shopping centre is a total rich-teen hang out.
    but it wasnt okay for him to say so.

    oh- I love big underpants and I cannot lie! bigger the better and I don’t care if they show.


    going to go look up K-line in her zebra print now.

  39. Anonymous

    White shirt, beige trenchcoat, black dress: Tim Gunn, otherwise a font of good fashion judgment, is making the world a less colorful place with rules like these. I want a coral sweater, a red coat, and a green print dress, thank you!

  40. Erin

    I know everyone says “no ankle-length skirts”…but I love how they make me feel. So I wear ’em anyhow! I figure if some people love wearing purple or lime green, or always wearing a certain piece of jewlery as their “statement piece”, I can wear my long skirts sometimes as my statement piece, and everyone can just pretty much deal with it. 😛
    I agree with a previous commenter who is a redhead and wears red sometimes anyway. I am a redhead too, and there are days when I just *want* red or magenta…and it is just fine! 🙂
    I loved this post! I’ve been reading your blog for several months and it always is either just what I was thinking/dealing with, or it makes me laugh! Great post, great blog.

  41. Iheartfashion

    I’ve never been much of a rule-follower myself, so it doesn’t trouble me to break fashion rules like mixing black and navy, and never matching bag/belt/shoes. I still can’t get over the fact that you never skipped a class Sal. I had to get a waiver to graduate, I had missed so many!

  42. saturdayjane

    I love these list-style posts of yours. They’re so useful! I feel like I should be printing them and saving them in my own Fashion En-Sal-Clopedia. 🙂

  43. Imogen Lamport

    I’m always teaching my clients how to break the rules.

  44. Cat

    I completely agree about empire waists. Natural waists flatter my figure, empire waists just look wrong.

    I too mix patterns, but I have over-mixed them. A couple of weeks ago, I wore three different patterns to work, and I got some polite, constructive criticism from a co-worker. Two patterns seems to be my max.

  45. daddylikeyblog

    This may be the best post in the history of fashion blogging. Not even kidding.

  46. ameliaheartsu

    an a line that starts at your natural waist is way nire flattering than an empire.

    i bought an empire dress recently because it was cheap. in the dressing room it wasn’t so bad but the more i wore it the more i felt like i was walking around with a parachute under my boobs!! so i ran to charlotte russe and got a studded belt. and cured that problem.

    i wear black with brown all the time. my mom got me a brown purse and i wear it even with all black. it’s basically my nicest purse and i’m too lazy to change it anyhow, so i wear it with black. i dont care. lol

    i do feel like certain items are not appropriate for the winter/fall even if it’s warm. even if there was a day with 75 degree weather, if it’s february you shouldn’t wear shorts or a tank top.

    and no corduroy and wool in the summer.

  47. Jen

    Yes, yes, yes! What an awesome list of silly fashion rules. (I found you through DaddyLikey –

    My boyfriend finally convinced me that empire waists made me and almost everyone else look pregnant after *years* of me following the “hourglass+empire” rule, and now I’m much better off.

    As far as dressing one’s age, I completely agree with your take on it. I have a bit of a child-like (read: impish) spirit, and if I couldn’t wear straight-across bangs with my mary jane heels I’d be heartbroken…no matter what age I am.

    Jennifer Nicole
    (I don’t use that blogger account :P)