Getting and spending: Picking the right flowers

As spring begins to appear in windows, if not yet in the outdoors, I remind myself of what worked when I had a floral moment a year ago. The results were not all rosy.

Last spring and summer, I fell into a "florist shop". It was easy: When in NYC, florals filled every boutique. Though usually a stripes-or-solids woman, the effect was like passing beneath a blooming lilac: I was seduced by their heady scent.

New York-based shoe designer Tabitha Simmons asked all women guests at her and Topper Mortimer's exceptionally elegant city summer wedding to wear flowered dresses, rather than decorating the church! (Vogue's slideshow wedding album is here.)

I was captivated by the freshness, the gaiety.

Photo: Vogue
Flash forward ten months, and how was my experiment? As I revisit those florals, I learned some lessons. The clothes below are likely unavailable now, I'm showing them as examples.

1. Look for grown-up prints and cuts; only one of these is not enough.

I'd like a floral that's sophisticated and interesting, not "sweet".  This MaxMara dress would be one.

2. Do not cling to your beloved black jacket.

When a jacket or sweater is black (or any dark), even if linen, it weighs down florals. The summery charm dims; see the woman at the far left in the wedding photo.

Solid over floral is not as fresh as floral over solid. Example:
Left: Phase Eight black jacket over floral dress.
Right: Jaeger red embroidered jacket over white top.

3. Quality counts even more for prints than solids.

Left: Jersey print shirt; sale price last summer was about $US 54 from LongTall Sally. The cuffs gap, the print chops off oddly across the chest. The viscose fabric looks thin and cheap; in another shot, I could see what looked like two small holes near the back hem.

Right: Toast silk shirt of a trailing floral in a colour called ironstone. Price, $US 130.
Its construction is miles better: lapels, box pleat at back, pearl buttons—so it is not just about the print, but where dye and design quality is high, prints are better, too. (It says dryclean but I hand wash silk, after testing for colourfastness.)

4. Colour: Figure out what pleases, and tend that garden.

What worked: interpretations of "flowers" rather than realistic renderings (I already knew that ditsy florals were too girlish); unusual, vibrant palettes; simple styles that did not compete with the bold pattern.  The examples below are several years old, and I wore them a lot:

Left: French silk shirt; upper right: Uniqlo tee of Marimekko-designed cotton; lower right: Liberty lawn shirt.

What I wore much less: Florals on a white or pale ground.
Left: The peach print was too sweet; I donated it.
Centre: Lots of white ground washes me out. I'll give it this summer to see if it earns its hanger space.
Right: An exploded floral in the right palette, but the sheer cotton/rayon blend developed pinpoint holes.

 The mistake

I like Indian block prints, boho styles, and midi dresses, so was looking forward to a cotton dress, ordered from J. Crew. But this was shapeless and lumpy; the wildly wide dolman ended practically at the waist, the skirt fell unevenly. The photo showed a pleasing drape that absolutely did not exist; I looked like I was wearing a dorm bedspread.

Will I fall into a flower garden again, this spring? After our dark winter, it's tempting, and as Ms. Simmons knew, flowers say "happy".

But I'll think about what I actually wore and be even more particular. Every gardener know that restraint is a vital part of garden design, and the same goes for my closet.


Jane M. said…
Thanks for this post. I too have a problem finding a print that I like to wear. Your working through why that is was very helpful. Thanks again!
Kamchick said…
I am a sewist - always have been. What I wish for are more 'random' prints rather than all-over. I'm thinking that this would allow for 'planned placement' of 'images' on a garment. The result would be less 'sweet' and more artistic.
Duchesse said…
Jane: And now they appear again, everywhere! Now I can admire the ones I ought not to wear.

Kamchick: Absolutely agree! I do not like repeating prints no matter what the motif; they look like one is wearing wallpaper or a table napkin. Planned placement of the image at a particular place on the garment is an indicator of very high end design, whether by the individual or commercial maker.

Some designers produce textiles specifically for placement. A friend has a coat with a lining of a photo print of Venice. It is placed to provide an unbroken panorama of the canal across the entire inside, with seams matching perfectly. The neckline has a centred palazzo detail. It is magical! The exterior is a blush wool bouclé.
Jen Lawrence said…
Too bad the J. Crew dress fell short. It looks lovely in the photo. I've been very drawn towards Liberty prints this spring. I've bought a couple of Isabel Marant Etoile and J. Crew Liberty tops on sale. I normally love black and grey but this current situation is making me crave colour. Thank you for the cheerful post!
LauraH said…
Great why-and-why-nots, I can always use help to try and avoid mistakes. Note the 'try':-) I love the idea of a Liberty lawn shirt, will look and see what is out there.

And your springy post reminded me that I bought a couple of colourful print tops last year...soon, soon!
Quick closet check: NO floral dresses; I did wear boho ones when younger. They were made in Afghanistan before the endless wars, and featured a lot of hand detail.

There are a few floral skirts, mostly boho or somewhat abstract and a couple of floral shirts I wore over plain tops and skirts. I do have - and wear - a few floral silk scarves. Also 2 plain forest green t-shirts (3/4 and short sleeved; 3/4 has a boat neck, short a V - in pima or organic cotton from Simons. Some kind of floral (Indian, Medieval or Renaissance?) would look good over those, but ones that aren't too splashy or ditsy are very hard to find.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Not too splashy or ditsy is a good mantra!

LauraH: The Liberty shirts were sold at The Bay and now they are also at Brora (always have some) and sometimes J. Crew.
Leslie M said…
I sit here in purple and white floral pajamas reading your post. That’s about as close as I get to florals in my wardrobe.
Seattle has had a week of blue sky and warm spring weather. Lots of beautiful tulips and blossoms to admire here.
Though, I can see myself in that Max Mara dress. It takes the right print, as you say.
Duchesse, Simons also carries Liberty shirts/blouses. They are lovely but I still haven't found one that would really suit me. Although I dearly love real plants and flowers. Some of the hardiest have begun to bloom on our postage-stamp front gardens.

Love and safety to all.
Beth said…
Love the MaxMara dress and the Jaeger jacket. I bought a fairly large print (not sweet) floral blouse last year that I've worn and worn, and it always gets compliments -- but like you I'm really choosy about prints. Your analysis is helpful. Right now I'm considering what to make from a red floral print fabric brought back from Portugal - blouse with ruffly sleeves and plain v-neck front, I'm thinking.
I checked; no Liberty lawn blouses currently at Simons, but often they arrive a bit later.
Duchesse said…
Beth: Looking forward to seeing it when it's ready.

lagatta: This would be of possible interest to local readers who can check online.

The posts with the most