Styling Novelty Pieces as a Grown-Ass Woman

woman in a rainbow striped skirt and navy sweater standing in front of a movie theater

I am of the mindset that you wear whatever makes you feel good.  Period.  However, those of you who read this blog care about fashion and style and usually desire some advice.  Recently in the Wardrobe Oxygen community, a member asked about this puffin sweater and if it was acceptable to wear as a grown-ass woman.  It sparked a good discussion, with most members, myself included, saying it was a great sweater and she should wear it with happiness and pride.  However, I mentioned some ways to “adultify” the sweater without ruining the whimsy.  A puffin sweater with skinny jeans, white sneakers, and a ponytail may be too youthful (unless that is your signature style).  A puffin sweater with darker denim, a red lip, a pair of booties, or even some fun faux leather leggings can add sophistication.  I thought about this advice I provided when this rainbow striped midi skirt arrived in my latest Rent the Runway Unlimited delivery.

woman in a rainbow striped skirt and navy sweater standing in front of a movie theater

sweater | skirt | shoes | bracelet | earrings | ring | lipstick

woman in a rainbow striped skirt and navy sweater standing in front of a movie theater

Sweater: Audrey Cashmere Sweater c/o Talbots (Large and on sale!) | Skirt: J. Crew via Rent the Runway Unlimited (new customers can use the code RTRDC22F051 for $100 off your first month) (14; on sale at J. Crew!) | Shoes: Margaux | Bracelet: Metal Marvels | Ring: Empress Insignia Luxe Ring c/o REALM | Earrings: Jenny Bird (discontinued; similar concept) | Lipstick: L'Oreal in ‘Eva's Red' 

Woman wearing a rainbow stripe chiffon midi skirt and looking at the camera

My advice I realized when receiving this skirt, isn't just age-specific but trend-specific.  For a decade ago if I received this skirt, I would pair it with a graphic tee, a denim jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of leopard print pumps.  And now that just feels a bit too try-hard.  Trends have changed, and it's most obvious when it comes to novelty pieces like puffin sweaters and rainbow-striped chiffon midi skirts.  To make such a piece feel sophisticated and not only appropriate but comfortable on a grown-ass woman, there needs to be a tempering to let the piece be the highight, not one of many highlights.  A contrast of dressy with casual, crisp with relaxed, stiff with soft, polished with a bit rumpled.  Your outfit will say, “Oh this?  This is a favorite piece, I just love wearing it.”  In the past, we'd wear pieces like this and our outfits would say, “Omigawd I LOOOOOVE this skirt!  And this shirt!  And this jacket!  And aren't these shoes fun?  I love fun I AM fun!”  It's not taking out the fun, it's having fun be a given instead of something you're shouting from the rooftops.

woman in a rainbow striped skirt and navy sweater standing in front of a movie theater

J. Crew styled this skirt with a slightly rumpled white button-front shirt which looked chic and very “Oh this old thing?”  But the model at J. Crew and I couldn't be more different and when I tried this with a white shirt I looked hella tryhard and hella uncomfortable.  I tried a white graphic tee and it looked too 2000s.  I tried a black t-shirt and a black turtleneck and it was just too stark of a contrast, making the skirt look a bit like a circus tent.  A red sweater was also too circus-like.  Then I remembered my navy cashmere sweater (previously seen in this 2018 post).  Not as stark as black but still a neutral, it can skew dressy or casual depending on shoes.  A gray turtleneck sweater would also be a nice alternative.  I'd be down for denim, but my faded jean jacket seemed dated; a dark denim shirt or jacket I think would look fresher and tone down black enough to make it complement the skirt far better.  Unfortunately, this sweater got mixed with some other knits and came out of the wash a bit fuzzy and worse for wear; I plan on taking a sweater shaver to it this week to make it look fresher for its next wear.

And for this look, I decided to wear my Margaux Uptown Sandals (read my Margaux shoes review) but could have easily switched them out for a pair of white low-profile sneakers like my Cariumas and still look cute, but more relaxed.  I do think a whimsical skirt like this needs a modern shoe to make it work.  A ballet flat or pump would feel dated.  A leopard print would work, but would be best if the shoe had some unique, quirky, or modern detail (pointed toe, ankle strap, mixed materials, etc.). 

My advice is just a suggestion, not gospel.  Many women could rock the heck out of a rainbow-striped midi skirt with a brightly colored top or even another print.  They could style it the same way I would have styled it a decade ago and look fresh and modern. But if you have some bold, whimsical, or novelty pieces in your closet and are looking for ways to add sophistication to them, I hope my ideas help! 

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32 Comments

  1. Allison
    January 15, 2020 / 10:52 am

    Navy is my favorite neutral, and you nailed this look!

  2. Lee
    January 14, 2020 / 4:35 pm

    This is such a fun look and I love how navy blue works so well. It’s such a good color and one I’m trying to use more myself. It’s great that you’re encouraging us to wear what we want but giving us ideas of how to “wear” something that is a bit fun and whimsical in ways that can make it work. I saw the FB post about the puffin sweater, and I really hope she bought it. It was SO cute and can totally work for us “older” ladies. ha, ha! Last year, I had a polar bear sweater from J Crew Factory and I really enjoyed wearing it. I’d use on Fridays at the elementary school I work in, wore it to several holiday functions, things like that. It was fun and unexpected and made me happy!

    • January 14, 2020 / 7:05 pm

      It sounds like a fabulous sweater! I love polar bears!

  3. K
    January 14, 2020 / 4:22 pm

    I love this skirt! Was hoping it would come in plus sizes since J. Crew started selling them, but no luck. 🙁

    • January 14, 2020 / 5:03 pm

      I know, I am sorry about that. And this time of year is so tough for selection. I know rainbow striped pieces are popular I will revisit this trend in the spring when there is selection and will be sure to include plenty of stylish plus-sized options!

  4. Stephanie
    January 14, 2020 / 11:51 am

    It’s like a fun intellectual exercise to think about how I would style that skirt (or similar) with what I have in my closet… I agree that black’s too harsh of a contrast, but my tops most like your navy sweater are black, so I think I might actually go with a “split the difference” between your styling and J Crew’s–a light blue oxford, tied at the waist, with a navy cami under and a chunky necklace of some sort.

    • January 14, 2020 / 12:52 pm

      Oh I like the idea of a light blue oxford!

  5. Ellen
    January 14, 2020 / 11:47 am

    You make a good point. Sometimes body shape plays into it as much as age. I find, with a pear shaped body, that something a woman my age with a more straight body could wear well, looks dumpy on me. Not frumpy so much as just plain sloppy. Great photos!

      • Alison
        January 14, 2020 / 3:43 pm

        I like it much more than I expected, the navy lets the colors pop but still makes you-your face-your hair the primary focus!

  6. Abby
    January 14, 2020 / 10:40 am

    These photos of you are just fantastic. The entire situation! Outfit, shoe, makeup, hair. My favorite look on you, maybe EVER! But I’m an art teacher, so I love color and rainbows. But you look so great! So happy and free!

  7. January 14, 2020 / 10:30 am

    Fantastic photos, and gorgeous outfit! The skirt is amazing and the shies just beautiful. Maybe for warmer weather you could try one of those Boden bretons in multicolour stripes? However, as one asked above, have you got any styling tips for a VERY high waist (combined with a bit of a belly)? I haven’t tucked my tops since I had my daughter 20 years ago!!!

    • January 14, 2020 / 7:05 pm

      Tomorrow’s blog post is for you! 🙂

  8. Jacquie
    January 14, 2020 / 10:23 am

    Stylish, put together, and fun, without being over the top! IMHO the shoe choice makes it!

  9. Karen Weitzman
    January 14, 2020 / 10:01 am

    Hi Ally! As usual you look terrific! I love how insightful you are. I notice you tuck a lot of tops in. I find I can’t because not only do I not have a waist but I am also short waisted. I wish I could tuck as I think it is a neater look overall. Any suggestions?

    • January 14, 2020 / 7:06 pm

      I too am short waisted and while these photos may make you think otherwise I don’t have much of a waist, at least near my belly button. It’s about finding the best place on the midsection, which for most women is closer to their ribcage than their belly button. High-waisted pants and skirts are a blessing.

  10. Allison
    January 14, 2020 / 9:12 am

    These are great photos! 🙂 And, as always, your perspective and advice are spot on.

  11. Anne
    January 14, 2020 / 9:05 am

    You’re rocking!

  12. Krista
    January 14, 2020 / 8:31 am

    Great post! I still LOVE my rainbow print ball style skirt but find sometimes it does look like I tried too hard. This is a great way to bring it down a notch and still be appropriate and fun!

    • January 14, 2020 / 5:09 pm

      I am so sad my rainbow ball skirt no longer fits. I took it to the tailor and while I could have the waist taken in, it would also need to be shortened and to not ruin the pattern I’d essentially have to rebuild the skirt, removing the waist and trimming it from the top instead of the hem. I decided to send it to my friend to Poshmark it and give someone else some rainbow fabulousness. 🙁

    • January 14, 2020 / 5:09 pm

      Yes! What a great blast from the past post! Let me know how it goes for you!

  13. karen
    January 14, 2020 / 7:01 am

    popped over to JCrew to see what they did, and it looks, IMO, awkward the shirt looks ok but then with the pumps it feels like they are trying to look early 90s office but missed the mark….you on the other hand nailed it. perfect balance of fun, flash and basics.

    • January 14, 2020 / 5:10 pm

      Right? Pumps used to be such a go-to but now it just seems wrong. Thank you!

  14. Jane
    January 14, 2020 / 6:58 am

    I love this post! You make it seem like it is easy to recall the decision making process when styling your looks. It is so helpful to me to understand the nuances of why you chose THIS piece over THAT one. Also, you nailed the look of this skirt with the pieces you chose!

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