x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Katie Trotter: Leather looks good, but try to keep it simple

Wearing leather can look great, but it takes some sartorial restraint.

Leather has always hovered somewhere around the periphery of varying levels of taste. Think motorbikes, working-girl stilettos, an overabundance of flesh and, well, the 1980s. Regardless, it always seems to come back into fashion.

The problem is that most leather is close to impossible to wear. Firstly, let's face it - one has to be fairly slim to carry the rock-star look. Alright who are we kidding - one has to be skinny; any added pounds on the hips or, worse still, the bottom, will only make us a walking show-and-tell in leather; think of a shiny, lumpy refuse sack. So while the bondage leather dress with bright zippers may look great on Madonna, Lady Gaga or Patti Smith, it is not necessarily our key to cool. Stop for a moment and try to visualise it fitting into real life: don't forget, these are mega stars about as popular as the US dollar, but most of us, despite our best efforts, are not.

Leather, generally speaking, makes even the most boyish of figures appear bigger. I suppose we are quite literally adding an extra layer of skin, so beware. The key is to not see too much of it: three-quarter length skirts and trousers are far more flattering than full-length, as are cropped jackets and three-quarter length sleeves. Anything head to toe won't work unless you are in fact one of the aforementioned mega stars, in which case I'm highly flattered you're reading this column.

Try combining leather trousers with a simple crisp white shirt, flat studded loafers and minimal jewellery. If you have full-length, all-leather trousers, be very careful when making a decision to add another leather item to the outfit. If you are excited but somewhat overwhelmed with the thought of wrestling into a pair of trousers in the Middle Eastern sun, leather shorts (stay with me here) are often underestimated and overlooked, yet worn with tights, flats and a fully buttoned chiffon shirt, they can look surprisingly elegant. The same goes for mixing a simple mid-length, slightly fitted skirt with flat boots and a fitted high neck cashmere jumper.

Always keep the rest of your outfit simple: a longish linen mix jacket over a plain, good quality cotton T-shirt works wonders here and keeps the look from heading towards the dreaded "mutton-dressed-as-lamb". Think oversized jumpers in a loose knit, simple plain chiffon vests and strong masculine brogues with no socks; basically anything that doesn't scream "come hither" because, trust me, in leather, the rest of you will.

Try mixing your fabrics: a leather shoulder on a good quality cotton T-shirt looks great, as does a sleeve detail or a trim, making it much easier to wear through the day.

It's a great way to experiment with vintage as more often than not leather looks its best when it has a worn-in feel. But if you have to buy new, there are ways of distressing. First, figure out the type of leather you are working with. To break in a jacket, the leather must be strong enough, so avoid lambskin as, although luxurious, it is particularly soft and will not have the same strength as cowhide does. There is no substitute for normal wear and tear, but if time is of essence try using steel wool and lightly brush in a circular motion on the places it will naturally crease. Water will also soften up the leather and allow it to stretch and crease to mould to the body; try a damp cloth and work your way around it layer by layer.

Remember, leather is one of those trends with a whole lot of rules - ones that very much need following - so bear in mind when working the look, things should appear distressed and not distressing.

ktrotter@thenational.ae