Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Continuing Developments

on edit: commenter Karen was kind enough to let us know that the authors of the 'cake vs frosting' concept are Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo. The book of theirs i read is Life In Color: The Visual Therapy Guide to The Perfect Palette - for Fashion, Beauty, and You!  Thank You Karen!

So, here's the outfit that sparked the one in the last post. Sorry about the lighting! The days around here got real short all of a sudden (any Alaskan readers are viewing me with complete scorn right now). I'll most likely adjust my picture-taking times right around mid-April.....right when the days start getting perceptibly longer!

As i explained in my last post, I eyeballed this outfit in order to use it as inspiration for creating more successful looks along the same vein. The first thing i noticed was the clean lines of the silhouette - the fit is 'classic' (not too tight, not too loose) all through the outfit. No exaggerated blousing or tightness anywhere. The waist of the outfit falls at the natural waist. It's just a jacket and a skirt - no complicated layers or fancy edges peeking out. The top ends at the top of the legs (not cropped or down at the mid thigh or lower). There's not a lot of contrast in the main clothing items (color, light/dark, texture), or between them. Everything's kind of khaki to kind of a light medium brown. Even the scarf blends in, being composed of the same basic tones.

In other words, the clothing provides a calm, non-distracting background for any accessories. No exaggeration in contrast, fit, or cut of the clothing. The only place where there's any real concentration of detail and contrast is in the hat and boots, and so they are highlighted. The eye is drawn to these two accessories because the rest of the outfit is so plain and low-contrast.  There's no danger of losing the 'style quotient' of just one or two accessories because the rest of the outfit is so low-key.  Really, this formula is not that complicated - once you figure it out!

Jacket off & the scarf jumps out
So what does all of this have to do with cake and frosting? A few months ago, while browsing the 'beauty and grooming' section in downtown Walnut Creek's Barnes and Noble bookstore, i ran across an interesting wardrobe concept. The idea is that you look at wardrobe items as either 'cake' or 'frosting'. 'Cake' comprises well-cut jeans and black trousers, the little black dress, the white button down blouse, khaki pencil skirt, white crew neck tee, and so on. These are the 'wardrobe workhorses', pieces that no one is going to fantasize about or drool over, but without which it can be very hard to construct an outfit.

'Frosting' consists of those drool-worthy pieces that you scrimp and save (or go into debt!) to obtain - the sequin flapper type top, the red satin trench coat, the black Tahitian pearl necklace, Cynthia's new boots. 'Frosting' pieces add life, detail, character, and interest to an outfit. 'All cake' outfits are......fine. But they can be boring and lifeless, and give no to little clue about the person in the outfit. 'All frosting' outfits are great for clubbing or getting married. But for a job interview or running down to get a gallon of milk, frosting all the way is too much.

Looked at in this way, i can see that i can expand my 'style spectrum' (as Paula put it in the comments to my last post) by creating outfits with just a touch of frosting on top of mostly cake. I'd been afraid that by doing so my style would not come across, that it would get lost......but through observing my fellow bloggers, and by analyzing my serendipitous outfit, i'm learning how to create the proper 'cake' background to showcase the frosting i want to highlight. I used to worry that if i didn't put across my style strongly in every piece of a look (or at least 75% of the pieces), that the impact would be significantly dulled. I still don't want to start wearing items that i can't relate to at all. But i'm getting a better feel for how to choose and use pieces as appropriate 'background'.

the inspired outfit from last post
The other obstacle for me in expanding my 'command of the style spectrum' has been in finding/designing proper 'cake' pieces. Since my style tends towards the sticky and gooey part of the dessert, it's harder for me to feel comfortable wearing more pared down, less-detailed items. However, by looking at the few 'cake' pieces i have that do work i can find clues of where to go. The pieces i like are all made of fabrics with low-contrast or no pattern, with simple silhouettes and a small amount of detailing in only one area (interesting buttons, a rolled raw edge neckline, overly long sleeves, and so on). My color preferences are well-known, and natural fibers can convey their own special quality in a quiet way.

The authors of the 'cake/frosting' idea recommend a typical wardrobe should consist of 80% cake, 20% frosting.  I'd have to work with this concept a lot longer to be able to give an educated opinion about it, myself. Nevertheless, i'm grateful to them for giving me a very useful tool to use in expanding my range.

I am sorry to tell you that i didn't write down the name of the book or the authors of the 'cake/frosting' idea. It was written by two men. I've looked all over the web but can't for the life of me track them down in order to give them proper credit. Do any of you know who these authors are? I'd be so happy to find out!!

 Hat: Renaissance Faire vendor, trimmed by me
Jacket: Ralph Lauren, old
Skirt: own design, inspired by some girls wander
Scarf, Earrings: own design
Socks: Target
Boots: Bass Lamont

full disclosure: This outfit actually has a ton of layers, but they are all 'hidden'. On top: cotton spandex cami, lonsleeved cotton blend sweater, cashmere long sleeved cardi, wool jacket. On bottom: leggings, silk half slip, knee socks, skirt. Combined with hat, gloves, and scarf, i was nice and toasty!


  1. Great post. I'm not sure, I think for me boots might be cake, but I also think I'm going to find out when I do "No Repeats" that I have way too much frosting in my wardrobe in general. Lately I've been craving things like a smooth brown wool or denim skirt.

    Also, this week I've started indicating in my posts how I feel about various outfits (feels like "me", feels like a costume, etc), for that idea of yours! I think it will be better to post my reaction to the outfit on the day I'm actually wearing it rather than trying to think back.

  2. I couldnt do 80/20--that would not give me MY STYLE! And I look at my postings this week, I have to have at least 2 "funky" pieces to feel like me. Otherwise, I feel farty!

  3. I agree with Paula--80 cake sounds like a lot, even though I am typically one to emphasize basics and am still getting used to "frosting." I really like the lines of this look, especially once you remove the jacket. I've been thinking about my similar jacket and have been thinking of breaking up the brown with a dark green sweater.

  4. I totally love the idea of cake and frosting - what an awesome metaphor! However, 20/80 is nowhere near my ratio either, hee hee. I'd say I'm about 50/50 - I do like my frosting! I am all for awareness of one's tendencies, though, and I think this would be a useful tool for exploring other styles and expanding one's own.

    I agree, boots are cake, but shiny red boots are frosting! :) Depends on the boot, right? I wouldn't equate items, necessarily. Not all black pencil skirts are built alike.

    I really love this look - with the jacket on, it's got a wonderful flapper-esque vibe (have you seen "The Triplets of Belleville"? the exagerrates silhouette reminds me of them). With the jacket off, you look so fabulously tall and slim - and my eye just travels up and down, taking in all the lovely details. Lovely, Steph! Great post!

  5. Goodness Gracious! i got to sewing last nite, and went to bed without replying to any comments - it's nice to see your thoughtful words this am!

    Hi Cynthia! yeah, one thing i liked about these guys is that they emphasize defining your own 'cake' pieces as well as finding your own ratio. Angie at you look fab has a very similar approach - 'here's my wardrobe essentials, here's some other possibilities, now go and find out your own'. it does sound as if you're craving cake!

    and that sounds like a really great idea to post 'daily impressions'. it'll be esp. valuable during no repeats, i think!

    Hi Paula! yeah, that 80/20 # is what i remember. but then i think, 'that CANT be right!' but it was just a rec. (i'm going to have to tell my dad ~ yer use of the term 'farty' - he always calls himself the old fart.)

    if Terri thinks 80/20 is restrictive, none of the rest of us have a hope of meeting that ratio! ; ) dark green with your jacket sounds really nice and wintery....

    Hi Sheila! thank you! yes, there're all these ideas out there and some of them are just useful for helping to 'pick apart' different styles and looks. (i wish i could find out who these guys are!) and yes, one girl's cake is another's frosting...

    i'd never heard of the triplets of belleville - i really want to check it out now! and with the jacket on it DOES really look like the 'flappers' - how fun! and i'm really glad i whipped up that skirt and made a pattern. it gives a nice lean line but at the same time it's really comfortable to move in. another dark-color cotton would be great, and one in a medium olive drab or sim.....you can do a lot with pockets, buttons, slits, seaming to change it up, too. SCORE!!! (he he hee)


  6. Cake and frosting....nice analogy. I guess I'm heavy on the frost, and wear the same solid pieces of cake for years...

    That plaid coat is a beaute. I love how you look terribly British with the plaid coat and straw hat. Of the 3 outfits, the middle one in my opinon is the strongest. The proportions are just right. It looks basic but has wonderful little details to keep me looking. The lines are clean and strong and the eyes are easily led up to that beautiful face.

  7. aw, Bella Q, you are so sweet! it's funny, i was so beat and cranky when i took these pix, but i knew i'd hit on something i'd been trying to figure out for the better part of a year and if i didn't document it i'd forget how!

    and that is a really nice interview with Pamela Tuohy you did for Midtown Monthly!! talk about wonderfully unique pieces....wow. have a great wednesday!! steph

  8. The authors are Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo:) Love your blog/thoughts, Karen


    off to edit, steph