Monday, November 27, 2017

Revisiting A Casual Summer Wardrobe - Seascape by Van Gogh

Almost FOUR YEARS AGO I built a casual summer wardrobe around this painting - you can see that my brain was at that time beginning to come up with the "4 by 4 Wardrobe" concept upon which I now often rely!

I was asked to revisit this painting, and I thought that it would be interesting to use the 4 by 4 system, and then to carefully analyze the results in a variety of ways...

Seascape by Van Gogh with style guidelines and color palette

I'm always a big fan of making sure that every wardrobe has a solid core of dark neutral garments. If your choose to forego this step, make sure that you have a good alternative plan! Many of us would struggle to get dressed without these core pieces:

a Core of Four garments in navy, for cool weather
navy cardigan – L.L.Bean; tee – L.L.Bean; corduroy pants – L.L.Bean; knit pants – L.L.Bean

Even though this isn't particularly illuminating at this point, I'm still going to put these garments into the 4 by 4 Template, just to remind us of the overall plan!

a Navy Core of 4 in a 4 by 4 Wardrobe template

It's so nice that these colors don't have to match nearly as much as the navy! In fact, I think that these colors look much more rich and interesting if the shades vary a little bit...

a Core of 4 in beige, for cool weather
cardigan – L.L.Bean; tee – Lands’ End; pants – L.L.Bean; cords – L.L.Bean

At this point, this wardrobe isn't particularly interesting, and it has a LOT of pants in it...

a 4 by 4 Wardrobe with 4 navy and 4 beige garments

But realistically, there are already 16 possible outfits here, from just 8 garments! You might not like the overall balance or "feel" or some of these, but they are all absolutely acceptable and would not cause upheaval and remark if you wore them:

16 possible outfits from 8 garments in navy and beige, for cool weather

Here's where it always feel like the fun starts! Look for something cozy, something basic, something with a print that combines 2 or 3 of your colors - you've got LOTS of possibilities here...

cowl-neck top – L.L.Bean; short-sleeved tee – Lands’ End; striped tee – Faith Connexion; gingham shirt - J.Crew

This wardrobe is now taking on some personality!

12 peices in a 4 by 4 wardrobe, in navy, beige and sea green shades

This last 4 pieces might require the most thought - do you want a skirt? Another plaid shirt? Maybe you love your navy cardigan so much that you want another one in green? (there's nothing wrong with this idea - in fact, it might be genius...) How about a sparkly sweater to use for "festive" occasions? Do you dare wear plaid pants? This is your chance to do some serious self-expressing, while staying within your color palette and style guidelines.

The Expansion 4 in navy, beige and green
plaid flannel shirt – Uniqlo; cardigan – L.L.Bean; beige sparkly sweater – Uniqlo; plaid pants – Marks & Spencer

Here's a pretty good-looking, complete 4 by 4 Wardrobe, I'd say!

Now I want to share a bit of what goes through my mind before I share any of my work with you...

First up, do we have enough pants and skirts? It's so easy to neglect these "below the waist" pieces... but I think that having about 1/4 to 1/3 of your wardrobe in these pieces is essential:

Analyzing a 4 by 4 Wardrobe for balance among the layers

Secondly, is there enough pattern and texture in a wardrobe to give some interest, but not so much that it looks magpie? I don't really have a strong numerical guideline here, but I tend to stay around 25% to 33% of the overall wardrobe for anything that's not solid. If there are textures (like the cabled cardigan) I will keep the number of print pieces even lower...

Analyzing a 4 by 4 Wardrobe for balance between solid and print garments

You may choose to eschew this idea, but I'm always a big fan of having at least 1 or two "completely matching" outfits available. Some days just require this kind of clarity, and if you want to go a bit nuts with accessories, this is a good way to start!

Analyzing a 4 by 4 Wardrobe for solid-color "base" outfits

Here again, if you hate the look of a twinset, you won't care about this. But I find that this can be an easy way to get dressed, and a flattering base for a pretty necklace or scarf:

If you're the kind of person who really feels comfortable wearing an "accent" 2nd layer, having a few good neutral "inner cores" or columns of color will be helpful!

Analyzing a 4 by 4 Wardrobe for solid-color cores or columns

And lastly, I'm a big fan of having a couple of pieces handy that mimic the look for a suit - i.e. a 2nd layer and a skirt or pair of pants in the same color. This is yet again an easy way to get dressed, and can lend a slight air of seriousness to an outfit when you need to pretend to be an adult...

Analyzing a 4 by 4 Wardrobe for a suit-like combination

Is this helpful? I'm going to be revisiting a few older works of art, and this is 1 way to do it! Also, would you like a few accessories for these outfits? Just let me know...


Almost FOUR YEARS AGO I built a casual summer wardrobe around this painting
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  1. Very helpful. Especially the analysis at the end.

  2. This concept of the 4x4 wardrobe is so genius that it’s become my go to for packing for longer trips. I love the versatility and the cohesiveness, and I especially love that you can wash it all in a single load of laundry if you choose your neutrals wisely.

  3. Absolutely yes to more of these, and accessories for each. I always love to see what unique pieces you come up with. Your creativity really shines when you select special items that give a wardrobe that finishing touch.

  4. The analysis sections at the end are very helpful. It's a great guide for buying and for wearing.

  5. I like accessories, whether in matching or complementary colors. Or.... since these are updates of older posts... perhaps consider linking to a more recent post with similar colors that already has accessories, so you can see how far the accessories can go in different outfits or wardrobes? Thanks for "showing your work" as the high school math teachers used to say - it's very helpful for me learning how to think in capsule wardrobe-language!

  6. Janice,
    Your analytical posts are always my very favorite ones ! Whenever I pack or purchase neutrals, I always make sure that I have both an inner and an outer column of color , even if I never wear the 3 pieces together. The same with twin sets, I usually use them separately , but then jewelry and scarves still coordinate. However, within the the twin sets , I often vary the textures. For instance , a knit cardigan would be paired with the same color, but in a woven shirt , or a woven shirt with a knit tee under it, both in the same color . Sometimes I end up with only 3 items of a given neutral or color, and if I don’t have a second bottom in that color, I add another top to make a row of four for the template. It’s genius in concept , thanks so much !

  7. Thank you! This is extremely helpful - especially the "thinking" process that goes into choosing different garments. Simple accessories would also be interesting to see.

  8. I love this! This is the color combination I wear, but I tend to have trouble putting outfits together from the various pieces of clothing. I would love to see accessories for this wardrobe as it's just the kind of mix I can wear to work. (I'm in IT, we can wear pretty much anything, except jeans.)

  9. Perfect. I could walk right into this 4x4 wardrobe! It would look after me for a long time.

    1. This! It fits my lifestyle and my preferences (colors, pants not dresses) perfectly. Except I would use short-sleeved tops. I live in the Desert Southwest (US). :)

  10. Thank you, Janice, for all you do and share!! While I love to look at high contrast ensembles, Navy cream, black and white, etc. medium tones best suit my warm coloring, small frame. Any and all suggestions for medium toned 4x4 wardrobes would be so appreciated (heavily textured outerwear not needed, think Southern California coastal climate)
    I appreciate your help, and enjoy learning from your fans as well.

    1. Pat,
      I share some of your same issues with needing medium contrast items, but have solved that by using a medium dark neutral, say a rust brown, rather than a deep brown, with a lighter , but not lightest neutral, say perhaps a tan, so that the level of contrast between the two is not as much of a degree , and then my chosen accent color or colors hit right in the middle of the two values of light and dark, so over all I have moderately dark , medium, and moderately light values of colors in the entire 4x4.
      Another option is to have a base color, like olive green or medium denim blue be the darkest color, and then pair that with one or two lighter neutrals, like tan and ivory plus one or two medium accent colors.

    2. Shrebee, I knew we were sisters of a different mother! Mentally walking through your suggestions just feels right for me, especially the olive base mixed with only slightly lighter and darker accent colors. Your suggestions are helping me achieve my goal of a seasonless, color appropriate, wardrobe.

      Thank you for making me “think” a little more and for recognizing I need to plan my purchases better if I truly want a small, but well functioning wardrobe.

      You are the best, your sister in style,

  11. Always the accessories please. It would be fun to start with this wardrobe and then move it in different directions with the accessories based on different women's personalities. ie bohemian, classic, sporty, flowery etc.

  12. Ps, for me .. a bit bohemian/organic utilizing the touches of burnt orange in the painting

  13. I just received a gift of this painting as a plate and towel from the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam. Sooo, I reflexively studied it for outfit ideas! For my cool palette I pulled out more
    blue/teal and a touch of red. I concur with others that accessories in different themes would be helpful. I'm very new to your blog, Janice, and hooked! Thanks so much. Joan Cecile, Calif.

  14. I echo the comments above - genius, fun and so educational with the analysis included. Please do the accessories! I have read many of your older posts and really enjoy the flow of them but I guess I needed this analysis piece in order to be able to really move forward with my own wardrobe adjustments. Well done!!

  15. Yes to more of these! And maybe a follow-up with accessories. Your posts analyzing your decisions like this have absolutely revolutionized the way I plan and purchase my wardrobe. I have navy and charcoal as my neutrals with purple, blue and teal accent colors...

  16. My mathematical mind loves the analysis at the end! Thank you.

  17. This is very helpful and I wish I had stuck with it when I travelled over Thanksgiving. Nothing I took was wrong but contrary to my usual 13-16 items, I took 24 because I had a big suitcase, we were travelling by car for 10 days, were going to be in different climates and attending a variety of events. Unlike my usual experience when I follow your plans of packing, every morning was a chore figuring out what to wear. I won't be doing that again!

  18. Amazing post! Way, way back in the day I remember possibly misunderstanding the 4x4 but still thinking how wonderful the idea was. I love the idea of Core of 4 in two major colours (two tops & two bottoms). Then I wrongly remember that the Mileage 4 (usually tops) contained aspects of both the core colours thus providing a link between them. In my mind, this means clothes can sort of be worn interchangeably. The Expansion 4 might have accent colours or neutrals or whatever. I thought (and still do) this was brilliant. Carol S

  19. As usual, really appreciate the visuals explaining the "thinking". Seeing it broken down this way is so helpful. And yes to accessories, please.

  20. Some wonderful tips here, Janice. The suit and twinset building, the all one colour days, the column options for accent colour layers - these are super tips for wardrobe building. Love the post, and love that green! Hugs x.

  21. Yes! Very helpful. And thank you for sharing your process. Also enlightening. Yes, please, accessories!

  22. I think the original post was in response to a request of mine. I had just bought this scarf from the Van Gogh Museum as a memento of a wonderful trip to the art museums and concert halls of Holland and Belgium.

    Your suggestions are as useful and lovely today as they were then, even though I've transitioned from brunette to grey hair. It's a pleasure to "Start with a scarf" in the morning, working to the colours.

    As always, your analysis is helpful - so constructive and interesting to read. I'm just back from three weeks' hiking and sightseeing in NZ. My luggage, shared between a small daypack and a carry-on suitcase, weighed 13kg (excluding hiking boots which I wore for travel as they are quite heavy). I never once felt dissatisfied with possible choices thanks to your practical, fun guidance in capsule building. (Though I may give some of the shirts a rest for a wee while!)
    Robyn in Tasmania