Forals: Choosing your blooms

Florals. There, I said it. Did you smile or cringe?

Florals over fifty are fraught. If you are a thin, petite woman, you might wear sprigs and petals and feel posy-perfect. The rest of us wonder: too girlish? too garish?

If you have curves, extra padding, or stand tall, florals can make you look like a walking wallpaper sample book. But let's not forsake them; not all are unwearable. The right one lifts your neutral basics and makes you smile. The keys are sophistication and scale.

The other rap against the floral is that, like any print, you are said to tire of it. Really? I've worn several floral scarves for decades and continue to enjoy them. Besides, are we not beyond the consumerist blather of 'tiring' of a beautiful piece?

Why wear bland florals?

This Appleseeds Mini-Floral Shirt is a safe, sedate item that to my taste is rather like clothing as anesthetic. I might wear it to vanish into a crowd after a jewel heist.

The kind of floral to avoid unless you
are aiming for a prim look; we can do better.

Small, but nice
If you prefer small pattern, search for a beautifully-printed fabric, like this Liberty Poppy and Daisy Easy Fit Shirt, in a stylized design that has been offered since the early 1900s. £75, from

Look for luscious prints...

The Alberto Makali crinkle top, $159 from Neiman Marcus, shows how floral can punch up without overwhelming. The secret is in the palette of not-harsh but not-pastel watercolour hues.

Kay Unger's blue and white floral nylon top has drape and a pretty neckline.

Though a
large scale, the non-repeating print is lively and fresh, and I like the sleeve length. $195 from Neiman Marcus.

If WendyB has not already beat you to this Ossie Clark silk summer dress from Brown's, you could get it on sale for £300. It alone makes the case for subtle, sophisticated floral.

...and unexpected colours

Barney's pink and gold floral shirtwaist is on sale ($540, limited sizes); I wanted to show how colour lends sophistication to a floral.

You need not spend a fortune on florals, though. Talbots usually work the floral theme, in both Misses and Women's sizes, at mid-range prices.

This botanical print floral, below, is now on sale on the web site for $60. Just one colour
is used for this polished print (shown, black and white, but also in pink and white); the simplicity refines the floral.

Best blooms

Quality really shows up in a floral: the print must be very well-executed, or it looks cheap. Tuleh provides a stunning example with a silk chiffon Flamenco blouse with ruched waist and cuff. On sale at Kirna Zabete for $990. OK, still expensive but let's admire it.

Hermès' La Rosee is one of my favourite designs, because the scale is large enough to add presence.

I have it in ecru and orange; it's available in deep cocoa and dark pink, with touches of whi
te and ruby, on Luxury Scarves, for $338, a lesson in how floral need not scream summer.

This would lift my spirits on a dark winter
day. (The shot does not do justice to the detail on the scarf.)

Etro's floral oblong, in silk and wool blend ($425, Saks Fifth Avenue) combines utility and beauty. It's ample enough (24" x 79") to keep you cozy, vibrant enough to lift neturals, and a relatively reasonable way to acquire Etro's renowned pattern and colour.

Near left, a zoom view of the gorgeous pattern.

Floral on the bottom: go ahead

Many stylists warn against floral skirts or pants. I have ignored this advice, and have a several pieces I wear frequently. Life is too short to wear only neutrals below the waist! The right top balances the print.

So if you're inter
ested, (or curious), here are a few examples:

Above, Carolina Herrera floral print skirt from Saks is a bundle ($1, 500) but shows how florals benefit from quality silk printing, so fresh and pretty.

J. Crew's silk indigo floral pencil skirt ($128) is a palette of two blues, midnight and cobalt, and cocoa. I really like the styling, with a simple white blouse. A skirt for slimmer figures, because of cut and scale.

Talbot's bamboo-print capris show how a floral (well, technically plant) print need not look cutesy. The vertical lines of the print work almost like stripes. The price is an unbeatable $50 on sale (small sizes only on web site). The same print is also available in a pencil skirt.

Also from Talbot's, and on sale ($80) is this charming silk skirt in a 'blurry floral', which would be lovely for a garden party or summer dinner party.

You could wear the classic soft pleated style for years of summers.

Take your flowers home and arrange them

A floral can cause dressing-room meltdown; sometimes, surrounded by a pile of prints, you simply can't see the floret for your knees. If you dress in neutrals, a flowered print can jar in a shop, but once home, it's calmed by y
our favourite solid-colour skirt, and may delight.

I find (especially now), that boutique owners who previously sucked their teeth when you asked to take an item home "on approval", will agree to refund if you return within a day.

Just a pinch of posy

This Jamin Puech "Joula" flower brooch is so much fun! Flower-fy a plain dress without commitment to print. And it's on sale, £35, on their web site, in an array of colours.

A floral bag spritzes any outfit into summer. Dedicated bag-lovers will spend for a summer sac, but the rest of us hesitate to splurge on a three-month accessory.

I did like the minimalist flower of this Roxy Layer Cake Large Satchel, $82 on

Liberty's delicious fushcia hydrangea small zip purse (in printed leather) is a quality piece, and on sale for £45.59.


Susan B said…
Love that Ossie dress, but other than Asian peony or kimono prints, or in small doses on scarves (I've been eyeing that Hermès too but will pass for now) I tend to find that florals aren't my thing. The small ones tend to strike me as too "Little House on the Prairie" and larger ones overwhelm me. But you've shown some excellent variations here!
Anonymous said…
Great post today, Duchesse. Can't say I agree with all of it, but I do love my collection of Libery shirts. The hard part with them is to make them look hip or new with something edgey.

I definitely did not like the two toile florals--talk about wallpaper!
diverchic said…
God protect me from itsy bitsy prints!
mette said…
There is something about the Tulehs shirt/blouse I like. My floral prints would have to be somewhat asymmetric and large, maybe on a skirt with a mix of something modern. The colors are important too.
s. said…
What a joy-inducing post; thank you!
Mardel said…
What lovely florals. I increasingly think florals have to have real presence, and perhaps not be quite what is expected, to work on anyone over the elementary school set. Great examples, and that Tuleh blouse has me drooling. How could one not feel absolutely luscious wearing that!
Duchesse said…
Karen: For the life of me I can't see what you refer to as "the two toile prints"; one is the Talbot's shirt- what is the other, please?
sallymandy said…
These are gorgeous, Duchesse! You hit the nail right on the head--starting us off with bland-ola from Appleseed's, and proceeding into sophistication. The Ossie Clark dress is just perfect. Wow, so pretty without being pretti-fied.

This took a lot of work and I appreciate it. I'll use these examples to help me look selectively at what I have in my closet.
Belle de Ville said…
I like the J.Crew and Talbots floral skirts, and I would pair them with simple tee shirt or blouse and a sweater with a vintage retro floral booch from
Like anything, there are nasty florals and nice ones. All prints date more quickly than solids, and I can often gauge the year of purchase by the style of floral.

Just because florals are always in style, they're not always the same kind of floral and they may age you unnecessarily.

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