Three years ago, we interviewed Hollywood costume designer Alison Freer. She had written her first book, "How to Get Dressed." Now, the Round Rock High graduate returns with a second book — this one all about accessories.
We talked to her by phone about "The Accessory Handbook: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Buying, Wearing and Caring for Accessories" (Ten Speed Press, $14.99), during a busy week when she was getting the Hollywood folk ready for the Emmy Awards.
Even her famous clients tell her, "I never know how to wear a necklace," she says. "People are really intimidated by accessories."
Because of her job, people take note of what she is wearing. Often, Freer, 47, is wearing an inexpensive dress from Target with some really great accessories.
"I always choose my accessories first," she says. She often picks one conversation piece and then finds things that go with it. She describes herself as always being a magpie, attracted to shiny things.
And yes, you can overdo it on accessories. That notion that you should always take one thing away isn't always true, but sometimes it is, she says.
What makes Freer an expert? Well, she dresses people on TV, but also, she says, she tries all her tips herself. "I've owned so many accessories over the years," she says. "I probably have 300 pairs of the same black tights."
She stores her jewelry in tall cabinets with low, flat drawers that you would find in a mechanic's garage. For everyday stuff, she recommends storing items where you can see them. She might have a lot of purses, but then she realizes that she was carrying the same purse because it was the one she could see easily.
Just because you might have a lot of jewelry doesn't mean you have to change it out every day. You can have a signature piece. "If something looks good on you, keep wearing it," she says. It's not unlike having a favorite dinner that you often eat.
"I definitely think there is something to a signature look," she says.
Your accessories don't have to match what you are wearing, she says, though she knows that in Texas, it's "very matchy-matchy."
Instead, she likes contrasting accessories with clothes or wearing different shades of the same colors. "Red with pink and orange sounds terrible on paper, but when you put it together, they're so closely related, it becomes flattering and complementary," she says.
She also likes to mix patterns, but they should be of the same scale. She'll put a leopard print belt with a floral print.
And where do you wear that belt? That depends on your body type. First, bend at the waist to find your natural waist.
If you carry weight around your middle, wear belts an inch above your natural waist.
If you are short-waisted and with an ample chest, wear it an inch below.
If you have bigger hips, place it at the smallest part of your waist.
If you have a long torso, place it above the natural waist.
When it comes to necklaces, consider the neckline of that shirt, dress or jacket you're wearing.
Turtlenecks need a longer necklace to balance out the fabric on top.
A square neckline would do well with a pendant that doesn't go below the neckline.
A strapless dress or shirt needs a necklace that sits at your collarbone but is also big enough to make a statement.
For a scoop neck, she suggests a shorter U-shaped necklace that has some busyness to it.
Dress up a crew neck with a bib necklace.
You should also consider your body type. If your chest is ample, she recommends chunkier necklaces worn close to the throat to minimize eye travel to the necklace, not the chest region.
And if you have a shorter neck, wear longer necklaces to make your neck look longer.
You also can play with layering necklaces by putting the shortest, most delicate necklace close to your neck and then increase the weight of each necklace as you get farther down the chest. One hack for getting necklaces the right length is to use a small safety pin in a link necklace to lengthen it or shorten it.
When it comes to earrings, Freer believes it's OK not to match your earrings. "I love the mismatched earring thing," she says. She's convinced a lot of people, even her mother "who is very matchy-matchy" to try doing two different earrings. "People don't notice right away, unless you have your hair up, but it's like noticing something about your look."
Plus, she says, "What the hell else are you going to do with single earrings?" And she knows that like pairs of socks, earring pairs don't always stay together.
If you are going to mismatch your earrings, make sure they are complementary, such as two gold earrings, two long dangling earrings, or you can go really asymmetrical with one long and one short, but they must have some similarities. She also will go completely silly and try two very different earrings. "It's very, 'I meant to do that.'"
One thing she tries to avoid now that she always used to do: wearing earrings that are too heavy for her ears that she would end up taking off. "Now, I just buy tiny earrings that suit my ears," she says.
To clean her jewelry, she just uses liquid soap and water. It doesn't need the fancy cleaner.
Right now, Freer is really into scarves and bandannas. After she inherited some from her grandmother, she realized how useful they are, especially on a bad hair day. You can tie a scarf around a ponytail or wear it as a headband or a kerchief. "I always have one," she says. And, of course, she's from Texas, so she also loves one tied around her neck. "I love that look," she says, but it's also a practical way to protect your neck and chest skin from sun damage.
The book offers 13 ways to wear a scarf with cute names such as "the outlaw," "the Boy Scout," "the flight attendant" and "the pouf." Freer suggests that everyone should have these four scarves in their wardrobe:
Cotton bandanna (about 22 inches square).
Medium silky square (about 25 inches square).
Large silky square (about 31 inches square).
Long silky rectangle (about 10 inches wide by 70 inches long).
To store scarves, Freer recommends binder clips on hangers.
When it comes to choosing purses, Freer says, "Everyone should have one really good purse that is well-made and that you can wear forever. That's not always the name brand."
She's heard women bemoan how poorly made some of the designer bags are for the money. Instead, decide if you are more likely to wear black or brown shoes, then spend more on the black or brown bag, she says, as long as it's well-made.
And then, when you are in the mood for a different bag, choose something fun.
In purses she advises to avoid bags that have:
Too many pockets or compartments to lose stuff in.
A bag that is heavy to carry before you put anything in it.
Straps that hurt.
Bad lining that can tear easily and get stuff caught between the lining and the shell.
Zippers that don't open and close easily.
Stitching that isn't consistent
Bags that have glued-on — instead of stitched-on — handles and straps.
Store bags in the felt cases they came with the bag — or, if you've got a less expensive bag, in a pillowcase. To keep them smelling fresh, store them with a fabric softener sheet in them.
Freer says she tries to never say never on things. Like the fanny pack: She laughed at it until she saw the practicality of it while traveling.
One thing she says she's "100 percent over" is heels. "What if I need to run, jump, kick or fight?" she asks. She says she looks like the smart one when at the end of the party other people are walking around carrying their heels and she still has her comfortable shoes on.
"High heels are evil," she says.
She doesn't believe there really are very many missteps when it comes to accessories. If you aren't sure, try it out in the grocery store first before you commit to it for a big event, Freer suggests.
"My mistakes are the same mistakes as everyone," she says. She points to the circa 2000, when we were wearing wide belts. "I went through a phase where I thought it was really hilarious to buy plastic Barbie-branded jewelry. In retrospect, how did they take me seriously?"
That's when she realized that the art of costume design is really "all a little bit of the emperor's new clothes. If you talk a good enough talk ... no one knows what they are doing," she says.