Fashion is one art form almost everyone takes part in, whether they think about it or not.
So, when people talk about making a fashion faux pas, they are basically saying that they don’t like the expression at hand. Again, if you don’t think of fashion as an art form, a fashion faux pas is just simply something you don’t like. Taste is subjective, but there are certain rules that exist when it comes to fashion. Yet, just because someone breaks one of them, such as wearing white after Labor Day, doesn’t mean that it’s a mistake to avoid. It could be a choice.
Fashion is all about choices, all of which lead directly to how the world may perceive you. You could dress like everyone else, trying to fit in to the group. You could also dress flamboyantly, pushing the limits of the dress code. The two choices are very different, but each make a statement. The problem with a fashion faux pas is that it makes a statement you don’t want. In some cases, you just risk embarrassment. In other cases, you could risk much more such as losing a job or social standing in the community. Some rules are needlessly rigid, but others are there because they are just good advice. Let’s learn the difference.
A Bit About Fashion Faux Pas
Before you make any detrimental mistakes with your wardrobe, learn why you should avoid them. After all, knowledge is key. Understanding the origins of fashion faux pas will assist you in navigating the tricky waters of fashion.
Why Should You Avoid a Fashion Faux Pas?
As noted above, not conforming to dress codes or certain fashion rules can affect people’s opinion about you in a negative way. However, that could be the effect you’re going for, so in that sense what you wear is “working.” The fashion faux pas you need to avoid is the one that will confuse or subvert the statement your outfit is trying to make.
Say you want to present a clean-cut, professional image in traditional business. If you wear moth-eaten suits or have filthy, jagged fingernails, that’s all clients will see. People should be judged by their actions, their character, and their potential to do good things. Yet, we humans are visual creatures and we form judgments based on choices people make about how they look.
So, whatever your statement is going to be when you get dressed, deliver it without any misconceptions. All it takes is one accidental tear or the wrong pairing of items to make your fashion statement into a joke where you are the punchline. A fashion faux pas can be seen as a sign that you don’t care, and by that point it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Everyone makes mistakes, but hopefully with this list you can reduce your chance of making one where the rules of fashion are concerned.
What's the Difference Between a Fashion Faux Pas and a Fashion Risk?
Fashion, like all art forms, has rules that practitioners of the craft are supposed to follow. Of course, real artists haven’t met a rule they don’t want to break. A fashion faux pas and a fashion risk are not the same thing. If people didn’t take fashion risks, we’d all still be dressing in the old-timey fashion trends that send shivers of fear up your spine. Women like Katherine Hepburn broke arguably stupid fashion rules like “women don’t wear pants.” But, before you can break the rules of fashion you have to know them first.
Things like color theory and other academic concepts are considerations we make when it comes to fashion every single day. No matter how much of a style innovator you are, no amount of cut and confidence will make a neon-green, brown, and hot pink pattern look good when paired with a fire-engine red, lavender, and teal pattern. No matter the style, such a color cornucopia would be nothing short of an assault on people’s eyes. A fashion faux pas happens not when risks are taken, or people want to try a new look. It happens from carelessness and not knowing what to avoid.
What Makes a Fashion Faux Pas?
A fashion faux pas doesn’t mean someone made a bold fashion choice that maybe doesn’t go over well with the intended audience. Wearing an all-denim tuxedo to a wedding is not a great idea, but with a miracle tailor and an endless reserve of confidence, you might pull it off.
In many cases, unwritten dress codes are a sign of respect. You dress up for weddings, funerals, court cases, and so on. For our purposes, we’re ignoring this sort of thing. Social norms and rigid rules are meant to be challenged every so often. It’s a good stress test, because if they break easily maybe they shouldn’t exist in the first place?
No, when we talk about a fashion faux pas, we’re referring specifically to a choice you make that will derail the look you’re going for. It’s related solely to your outfit and how it looks on you, nothing more. Because fashion is a means of expression and very subjective, it’s good to take risks or simply wear something you feel comfortable in. A fashion faux pas is something that will blow up what could be your perfect look.
What to Do If You Commit a Fashion Faux Pas?
A fashion faux pas is not the end of the world, so if you find yourself on the wrong end of one of the below list items, do not fear. In many cases, a fashion faux pas can be easily fixed. In fact, the biggest hurdle to overcome where a fashion faux as is concerned is simply admitting that you’ve made one. Embarrassment, or the fear of it, is a powerful feeling. In an effort to avoid it, you might refuse to admit that you even made a mistake at all. So, owning the fashion faux pas and even laughing about it can turn a style-foul mountain into a mole hill. Fashion as an art form is like other art forms, it’s about trial and error. As you find your unique style or look, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. Don’t let it deter you, just be ready to own them when they happen.
1. Don’t Clash in the Wrong Way.
A special day in every middle school in America is “Clash Day,” when students purposefully wear clothes that don’t look “good” together. This is an amazing study in fashion theory, because kids want to both look outlandish and cool at the same time. Sometimes, the boldest fashion choice you can make is to make a risky pairing or clashing colors. But, some clashes are off-putting for a reason. To understand why, you need to understand a little bit about color theory.
Color theory dates back all the way to the 15th Century. For 500 years people have known that there is a science to mixing colors. That we even see colors is a miracle of science anyway, because it’s all about how much light a particular shade reflects. Essentially, this looks at the emotional and cognitive response people have to seeing certain color pairings. Some, those that are in “harmony,” are pleasing to the eye. But there are also pairings that are instinctively, almost scientifically bad. If you want to play around with color pairings, do the homework so you don’t end up on the wrong side of color harmony.
2. Don't Make the Wrong Size Choice.
In fashion, size is not always straightforward. For a time in hip-hop fashion, buying oversized, baggy pants was the height of style. Interestingly today, hip-hop has followed much of the rest of fashion towards more snug jean styles. The right size and the right cut can mean the difference between wearing luxury fashion and wearing “Mom”-jeans. Sure, some fashion trends are just plain silly, but sizing conventions are an important part of a specific look. Don’t be afraid to buy a size up (or a size lower, depending on your frame of reference) in order to keep your style current.
Sometimes people get married to certain sizes of clothing, regardless of fashion conventions or their own fluctuations in weight. You want your clothes to fit they way they are supposed to, even if like in the old days some clothes were supposed to be “too big.” The other thing to consider is comfort. Sure, skinny jeans are in style right now, but if wearing them makes you feel like your legs are being slowly suffocated, don’t do it. Fashion looks great only if you feel great in it.
3. Don't Try to ‘Hide’ Your Body.
So much of what fashion can be is tied into our own opinions about ourselves, specifically our bodies. Often, fashion choices made to hide those insecurities often end up inadvertently highlighting them. Think about the guy who wears a t-shirt in the pool. No one likes wearing a shirt in a swimming pool, but people who do so because they are too self-conscious to be shirtless. Yet, the clingy, often see-through, wet shirt in the pool does little to “hide” anything and often calls more attention to a person that not wearing the shirt would. When it comes to what you wear everywhere else, the same idea applies. Often when people try to “hide” their bodies, they don’t look as good as if they just embrace their form.
One magical thing about fashion is that it can make us look taller, slimmer, or more fit than we actually are. You can choose styles that help with this, but if you should be wearing an “extra large” and instead go with a “3X” size, you will look undoubtedly worse. Your body is part of your style, essentially the canvas on which you create your “masterpiece” each day. Show off whatever you want to or use your style to obscure your “trouble spots.” But if you try to use fashion to hide yourself, you often end up calling more attention to what you’re trying to hide. That’s the beauty of the art of fashion, because it’s an act of self-love.
4. Avoid Awkward Pairings That Can Ruin a Good Look.
Some people have cornerstone items in their fashion repertoire, kind of like Indiana Jones’ iconic hat or Fred Rogers’ comfy cardigans. Whatever the item that ties together your personal style, there’s no doubt that it looks good and it makes you feel good. However, you risk turning that signature look into a parody of itself if you don’t employ good fashion sense. Let’s say you wear a blazer with everything, from t-shirts to dressy occasions. Pairing one of your trust blazers with swimming trunks or sweatpants can ruin the look for everyone.
Think of fashion like preparing a meal. The different elements of your outfit are all the ingredients you use to get to the final product. But no matter how good your favorite ingredient is, you know there are recipes where using it makes the meal inedible. Even worse, the memory of that bad taste can linger in your mind when encounter that ingredient again, even if it is where it is supposed to be. So, just because you have a great hat or a great pair of sneakers, it doesn’t mean that they look good with everything.
5. Don't Over-Rely on Accessories.
Fashion isn’t just the clothes you wear on your body, but also the accessories and additions you add on to your look. Rings, scarves, or any little extra thing you add to your outfit to make it shine are great to use. However, to put too much faith in accessories is a big fashion faux pas. Unless you are a famous movie star or legendary rock icon, chances are the more accessories you use the sillier and more indecisive you will look. The right accessories can really take your look to the next level. One skull ring? That’s pretty rock-n-roll. Eight skull rings? It’s the kind of fashion choice a c-list comic book villain would make.
Still, this fashion faux pas is easy to miss because accessories are fun, and it can be easy to get caught up. You think you look like Keith Richards, but really you end up looking like a bad Jack Sparrow cosplay. So, choose your accessories carefully. All aspects of fashion make up its expression, but too many accessories muddle it or drown it out altogether. When you choose to accentuate your outfit with accessories, you want to choose ones that will stand out but not dominate your look. A good accessory is somewhere between a conversation piece and punctuation on what your outfit is trying to say. Ten rings, a $50,000 watch, and giant bejeweled bracelet doesn’t say “I’m successful in what I do” like a sleek, understated timepiece and a pair of elegant cufflinks.
6. Don't Neglect the Care of Great Clothes.
There’s an old Garfield comic where the titular cat holds a plate of food over the sink in two panels and in the third, drops it in. “An interesting thing about food,” he says, “one minute it may be haute cuisine, but the instant you put it in the sink it becomes garbage.” This serves as a kind of example of another common fashion faux pas. An Armani suit might be a beautiful garment, but if you keep it on the floor you’ll look awful. Having the right clothes to pull off the look you like best is essential, but if you don’t maintain them it’s not a look you can pull off for long.
Of course, ripped jeans and distressed fabric are fashionable in today’s couture diaspora. Authentically distressed clothing, meaning old and somewhat mistreated, is not what we’re talking about here. No, the fashion faux pas comes into play when you don’t take care of your fashion. This means keeping it clean, unwrinkled, and gauging if your clothes are fashionably distressed or just worn. That is a decision you will have to make based on your eye for style and sense of taste. However, to paraphrase a famous U.S. Supreme Court case, you’ll know it when you see it.
7. Don't Forget the Weather Forecast.
Everyone knows that a sudden storm can ruin a person’s night and, perhaps more importantly, their outfit. Of course, this is a problem easily remedied by a quick look at a weather app and a handy umbrella. But one of the biggest fashion faux pas people commit has nothing to do with what you wear but when or where you wear it. Let’s say you think you look best in a smart blazer and jeans combo. It’s your go-to look, and you don’t want to deviate from it. But, if you’re going to a beach party in the dead of August, not only will you not look good, you won’t feel good either.
No matter how smart your outfit is, it doesn’t impress anyone if you are sweating through it or shivering so badly your teeth chatter. To avoid this fashion faux pas, learn all you can about the climate where you are going to be. It’s not just weather, either. Perhaps you’re dressed for the warm weather but end up going to a restaurant where the air conditioning is on full-blast. Knowing in advance what you’re going to be expecting can help you plan an outfit that will keep you comfortable and looking fabulous.
8. Don't Forget Your Confidence.
The final fashion faux pas is a big one, and a problem that is not always so easily fixed. A big part of fashion is that what you wear affects not just others but also yourself. There is no doubt that any outfit looks better on a person who feels like they look the best they ever have in their lives. Any statement needs to be delivered with a projection of confidence, and it’s no different for the type of statements people make with fashion. For a long time, the fashion industry only put up one image to promote its wares: the physically perfect fashion model. When folks would try on a new look or style, the image they often compared themselves to was vastly different than how they perceived themselves.
To be honest, this fashion faux pas is less of a fashion problem than it is a people problem. But, we now live in a time where learning to love yourself is easier to do than ever before. Artists, activists, and folks on social media of all sizes and shapes are out there looking fabulous and projecting the confidence needed to sell it. In fact, getting involved in social media, specifically posting pictures, is a great way to see yourself from a new perspective. In embracing specific fashion trends or certain looks, you are giving yourself things to love about your look rather than focusing on the things about yourself you wish were different. It’s a process and it’s not easy, especially if you often get down on yourself. But you’re worth the effort, so keep at it.
A fashion faux pas isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.
Clothing is a need for human society, but fashion fills that need by making it fun. A fashion faux pas isn’t fun, like falling down and skinning your knee playing tag. Still all that matter is that you get back up and get back into the game. Fashion is a great way to cultivate your personality and find fulfillment in something as simple as what you wear each day. Hopefully, our list will help you set up your own fashion guidelines and help prevent any mishaps.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the fashion faux pas traps to avoid, but we’re certain we didn’t get them all. Share your fashion rules and tips in the comments below. Let us know what rules you follow and what rules you break. Don’t forget to share the article on social media so your friends can get in on the conversation.
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