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Friday, April 27, 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." ~St. Francis of Assisi

Often we choose hemlines, necklines and sleeve lengths based on what feels comfortable 'emotionally' rather than the objective knowledge of what makes us look our best. With hemlines you'd be surprised how much of a difference as little as two inches can make. The right neckline can seemingly visually change all your proportions, and frame your face much more attractively. And so it goes with all the variables in the design lines of a given garment.


Your best hemline(s) is/are a combination of two things, really- your proportions and the shape of your legs. As a general rule, the places where your leg is at it's slimmest are probably going to be your best spots for your hem; the other factor is how each potential length works with all the other proportions in your outfit and figure. How the length interacts with your proportions can only be determined on an individual basis.  Spend a little time looking at different hem lengths in your mirror and you'll get a feel for it.


In general, necklines are a bit more complicated.  I'll go out on a limb here to point out that most women don't look good with a crew neck; it seems to add 'bulk' to the upper body, and sometimes the upper arms- it can lack a certain 'grace.'  One way to determine how far down to drop your neckline is to measure the length of your face using your hand, then use that 'measurement' from the chin down- this is one 'face length' down from your chin.  This 'drop' is flattering for most people (this is a generalization- on some people the proportions will dictate otherwise.) The best neckline shapes are dependent mostly on your upper body proportions. I find often more important than the shape of the neckline is how it interacts with the style and length of the sleeve. Which brings me to...

Sleeve lengths

Again, this has to do with how your arms' proportions relate to the rest of your body. If your upper arms are heavy, short sleeves may not be flattering- it's in part due to that pesky design-line-ending-at-the-widest-part thing again. Add to that a crew neck, and voila- you've just added chunky, visual 'bulk.' Not the goal. Also important in sleeve length is the length of your arms, and how this length relates to the rest of your body. If you have long, slim arms, and a small upper body, then short sleeves and a crew neck may be just the thing to create a pleasing visual aesthetic. It just depends on your body and proportions.

Below are two examples of me in dresses illustrating the above points, as well as the concepts of color, contrast and intensity.

In the photo on the left you'll see me in a dress with EVERYTHING wrong for me. (Boy, I had a good time finding THIS dress.) The neckline is a little bit too high, any higher and it would have made me look like I was being 'choked,'  which in combination with the short sleeves (my arms look 'heavy' with short sleeves) is just awful on me.  The hem stops at an unfortunate place on my legs, making them look heavier and somehow shorter.  The general shape of the dress all wrong, too- I can wear a slight flair, as in the example on the right, but this dress is too much of an A line. It adds pounds. Lastly, the colors are too 'bright' and the contrast too high for me- my contrast is medium, and my coloring is not bright, but muted- so I need to wear medium contrast and muted colors. (Most people can wear some brights, but these are NOT the ones I can wear, and definitely not in such a high contrast combination.)

In the photo on the right you see an entirely better choice. The neckline is lower, 'opening up' the upper body; it's sleeveless, which is one of my 3 'good' sleeve lengths. The hem stops mid knee- my very best hem length.  As for the design lines, it has only a slight flare, so it's slimmer overall.  And again, lastly, the color is more muted and the print is lower contrast, so you'll notice me, not the dress.

I hope I've come a bit farther in making my point that it's really not about what you've got, it's what you do with what you've got. Starting with showing self respect by taking good care of yourself, of course.  Often just a few seemingly insignificant changes can add up to create a huge difference in your image. If you have a good 'eye,' you can see what hemlines, necklines and sleeve lengths are most flattering for you; if you don't, maybe you have a friend who does. Or…you can always hire me…  :-)

Happy Dressing!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Seeing is Believing

"Looking good and dressing well is a necessity.  Having a purpose in life is not." ~ Oscar Wilde

So now that I've figured out how to add imagery to my blog, I've decided to backtrack a little and show some visual examples of what I've been talking about.  I like to do things the hard way. I guess that if I confuse everyone while I'm at it, well that's just gravy. :-)

As for the above quote, I have no excuse.  But as I'm not really introducing a new topic it seemed a good time to use a quote that I love despite the obvious hedonistic and irresponsible slant.  Though I can't say I agree with not having a purpose in life, I will say that looking good and dressing well IS a necessity- but I mean this quite earnestly (sorry- I just can't resist) even though Wilde presumably does not.

Line Breaks

In my blog from March 23, titled 'Derrière Delusions,' I talked about how important it is if you have a pear or hourglass shape to pay attention to where a 'line break' may occur between your top and the bottom half of your outfit. If you have an hourglass/pear shape, then you may not want to emphasize the widest part of your hip this way. Below is an example of a beautifully proportioned woman with a classic hourglass shape and a different color top and skirt on.  In the example on the left, her top ends at her low hip- so the eye is naturally drawn there first.  In the example on the right her top is tucked in to her waist; on both an hourglass and pear shape the waist is smaller than the hip, so this is visually a more aesthetically 'pleasing' place for this 'line break' to occur because it emphasizes her small waist and visually elongates her legs. This principle is important no matter what your shape- if you have a different shape, then there may be other areas where you may want to avoid having line breaks. 


In February 17th's blog, 'Tipping is Allowed,' I brought up how important it is to avoid 'vpl.' (Visible panty lines.) This isn't necessarily just about panties, but could also refer to bra lines as well.  Well, not just panties or bras-  anything underneath that creates bulges is not good. Below are two examples; one is of our lovely woman in a dress with vpl, and the other example is her in the exact same dress with no vpl. There's no 'manipulation' of size or anything else- it is the exact same image.  No further explanation is needed, I trust?

Inside Outside Dressing

Lastly, also from the above 2/17 blog I wanted to share a visual of one of my favorite tricks; we'll call it 'inside/outside' dressing. Note that in both examples you'll see a color- in this case a neutral; black- going from top to bottom of both outfits. In the example on the left it's 'inside'- the top, skirt and stockings/tights (or pants) and shoes are all the same; the jacket is a different color.  In the example on the right it's the same in that you'll see that again, the black runs from the top all the way down to her shoes- this time the top is a different color. ('Outside.')  This is a very easy trick that gives you the chance to 'showcase' a particular jacket or top that may be in an unusual color or texture or pattern, and yet the black (or whatever color you choose) that runs from top to bottom visually lengthens your look.  It's a sleek, sophisticated (and easy) trick.

As Oscar says, looking good and dressing well is a necessity. It has a profound affect on how the world 'relates' to you, and also greatly affects how you see yourself.  If you're going to put clothes on they might as well make you look good.  It takes the same amount of time to dress in flattering clothes as it does to dress in unflattering clothes...

Happy Dressing!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Black, White and Every Shade of Gray

"I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being perfectly well dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Something many of us don't think about is how much contrast we're wearing in a given outfit. Here's why it's important.

First a quick explanation; This is a value scale.  It shows white (0) at one end and black (10) at the other, and 9 shades of gray in between. 

Contrast refers to the light vs. dark- if you put black (10) next to white (0) you have 'high contrast.' If you put pale gray (1) next to white (0) you have low contrast. If you put a #3 gray next to a #8 gray- shades that are 5 or so numbers apart on the value scale- you have what I would call medium contrast.  When looking at color, the same applies- you can put the palest blue next to the darkest navy blue and have fairly high contrast, or put the same navy blue next to a slightly paler slate blue and have a low contrast combination. 

Below is an example of where two different colors fall on a gray scale- in the top example you see a fairly pale yellow- clearly darker than than white, yet lighter than the number 2 gray- that makes this yellow a #1 on the value scale.

The blue below is darker than the 5, yet paler than the 7, so it's a #6 on the value scale.  This is how you asses where on the value scale a color falls.

This is important to know because if you have high contrast in your coloring- say, dark hair and pale skin and eyes for example- and you wear a low contrast outfit, you're likely to look 'washed out.'  On the other hand, if you have low contrast coloring - dark hair, skin and eyes- or pale hair, skin and eyes- and you wear a high contrast outfit, the outfit is likely to 'wear you.'  In this case the first thing people will notice is your clothes, not you. This is not good.

In other words, use the contrast present in your coloring; if you have high contrast coloring, you need to wear high contrast in your clothes in order to 'sparkle.'  Medium contrast coloring, wear medium contrast in your clothes so you'll look your best, and of course if you're coloring is low contrast wear low contrast in your clothes and you'll shine.

Most of the time you'll find that people who have high contrast coloring are more likely to look best in bright colors, in their proper color family- warm or cool.  Not always, but most of the time. Also more often than not, people with medium and low contrast coloring will wear muted colors; just how muted depends on their coloring.  I myself am 'medium' contrast and wear cool colors- I have light brown hair, medium beige skin and medium value green eyes. My coloring isn't very 'vibrant'- fairly soft overall.  I have found an interesting fact in that sometimes whether a color is muted or not is sometimes more important for me than whether it's cool or warm; I would have thought it more important to stay within your color family than your contrast range, but when confronted with the choice of a 'neutral' or even slightly warm version of a more muted color vs. a color that's slightly too bright for me, the muted version almost always wins.

The great part about this is that to find how much contrast you should wear, just look in your mirror, just as with determining your color family and how bright your colors should be.  If you're new to this you may find it helpful to get yourself a value scale at your local art supply store to determine where your hair, eyes and skin are on the scale. The farther apart the numbers are, the greater the contrast you should wear.  For example- say your hair is a 9, and your eyes are a 6 and your skin is a 3; your contrast range is from 3-9, so that's a difference of 6.  That means to really 'work' your contrast you should try to keep the contrast in your outfit at about 6.  If your range is only 3, then you need to keep the contrast in a given outfit at around 3. When you're first getting used to this you'll probably need to check what your wearing against the value scale. After a while it'll become second nature.  You'll also learn as you go little ways to break the rules that'll work for you.

If you have trouble with determining your contrast range, your color family and whether you look best in bright or muted colors here's something that might help; try doing this with one or two friends, side by side in the mirror.  Sometimes it's easier to see that your coloring is indeed 'low' contrast when you see someone else who's so clearly high contrast. Or maybe that you're obviously in the 'warm' color family when you see your other friend who's so clearly 'cool.'

The whole point is to present yourself looking your very best. It's the job of your clothes to make you look good; no matter how much you care about or spend on the clothes, ultimately it's not about the clothes, it's about you. Your clothes are there to make you look good and express your aesthetic sensibilities.

Happy Dressing!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Please Don't Feed the Monsters

'Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.'  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

So what if the only thing standing between you being your most chic and gorgeous self is….your closet?  

The Monster That is Your Closet. You feed it with new clothes, clean clothes, etc.- never to be seen looking good again. That is, if you can find them again. The clothing jammed in on mismatched hangars, no space to breathe let alone actually see what you've got in there. The forgotten little piles in the corner made with sincere intentions to have mended, reorganize, whatever.  We both know that if you were to look there would be many, many, MANY things that you've completely forgotten you had. Not just in your closet, either- the lesser monster would be….The Dresser.   And just think- these clothes that are no longer even in your conscious memory are getting a free ride on rent- they're not earning their keep. And for most of us closet and dresser space is premium, precious real estate. 

To a certain extent there will be a sort of imbalance in your wardrobe; we need 'special occasion' clothing that simply isn't going to be worn as much.  Evening wear, clothes for specific sports- clothes for activities that you engage in for a small percentage of time.  You still need these clothes when you need them, so they deserve the closet space- providing they fit, flatter (if possible,) you like them, and actually do use them when the occasion calls for it. If not, then don't give them that space. 

The majority of what doesn't deserve the closet space is clothing designed for every day wear that isn't serving it's purpose.  Whether it's no longer your 'style,' or your size, it's outdated, or it's really too worn out to wear.  My personal Achilles heel is 'the mistake.'  I spent good money on it (even if I bought it at a thrift shop for a song- then it's 'it was such a bargain!') and it's in great condition…but for whatever reason, I don't wear it.  I have difficulty admitting I made a mistake. So, I lie to myself.  Finally, I admit my mistake, and get rid of it. The thing is if I were to acknowledge my mistake as soon as I realized it and get rid of it, my life would be that much more organized, and my closet that much more functional. Ah well, I am human.

Now is as good a time as any to get down to it and train the monster. (Don't look at me like that. Nobody WANTS to do this.)

There are 2 different ways to attack the Monster we call the Closet.  All in one day, which for many of us is TOTALLY OVERWHELMING, or in stages, which for some is just dragging an unpleasant chore out for..f a r...t o o...l o n g.  If you choose the second option be prepared with somewhere to keep items that are destined for repair, donation, the 'maybe' pile until you're done with the whole process.

Start by having 4 containers; they can be large plastic tubs, or just large garbage bags, or whatever you have on hand. (I like the big blue Ikea bags.) Label each- preferably with at least an 8.5 x11 piece of paper; one for 'donate,' one for 'mending/alterations,' one for 'maybe,' and last for 'trash.'  (Most of us will need more than one for trash. But start with one.) Be sure the labels are prominent- you do NOT want to mix these bags up.  Also- it helps to start this process with new hangars that are all the same; I personally like the flocked hangars that prevent clothes from slipping off.  Make sure you also have proper hangars for skirts and slacks.  If they're all the same your closet will look 'neater.'  I find this very calming. 

Now, take all your clothes out of the closet/dresser, or if only doing a section, take that section out and put all on your bed or another large surface. Go through each item and if it's worthy of consideration run through this list of questions:
  • Is it in good enough condition to consider keeping? If it's ratty or just plain worn out, get rid of it.
  • Is it in one of my colors or neutrals? If not, can it be dyed? If no, then out it goes.  If yes, go on to the next question.
  • Does it have good design lines for me, and will it work with my style? If no, could it be altered? If no, out it goes.  If yes, proceed to the next question.
  • Does it fit well?  If no, can it/is it worth being altered? No, out it goes; yes, on to the next question.
  • Have you worn it within the last year? If no, unless it's a formal or otherwise 'specialty' item or has serious sentimental value, out it goes.  If yes, proceed.
  • Do you like it? Enough that you'll wear it regularly?  If no, then put in the 'maybe' pile. You may feel differently about it when you try it in combination with things you hadn't tried before. If you still hate it or feel ambivalent about it after all that, then for goodness sake get rid of it! 

Everything that got a 'no' somewhere along the line either goes in the 'donate' or 'trash' container. If donation, fold neatly. Everything that needs alteration or dying or other repair goes into the 'mending/alteration' container, folded neatly, please.

Now if it needs it, clean the closet or dresser. (Sorry, has to get done sometime.)

Everything you're sure works for you in every way put back in the closet/dresser; If you'd like, hang suits together; or break everything up into categories- skirts together, tops together, pants/slack together.  Dresses together. Evening wear together, and so on. You can also categorize by color.  Or if you generally wear monochromatic outfits you can group darks together, lights together, and so on.  Whatever works for you.

Don't forget to go through your shoes as well; and when you're done organize them in such a way that they'll not wind up in a heap on the floor, getting scuffed and forgotten.

And it doesn't pay to belabor this process. You know in your heart if an item isn't working for you.  Don't let your ego get in there with 'but-but- it was expensive!' 'all my friends would KILL to have this!' 'my mother gave it too me and she'd be so offended!'  None of these excuses are valid. If it doesn't flatter, fit, and reflect your style, it doesn't belong in your wardrobe. Period. 

Once you've gotten everything put in it's proper place in the closet or appropriate container, sit down with your calendar and make a date to take things that need alteration to the tailor; a date to take shoes to be fixed, take things to the cleaner, etc.  And make a date 3 or 6 months from now to go through the 'maybe' pile and either put back into the closet or donate/throw away.

See? Isn't' that a pretty, well behaved wardrobe? Doesn't it make you feel good? Now just put it on a nice diet- only things that meet your strictest criteria, and the very best you can afford...choose very selectively and your Monster will always be a beautiful thing...

Happy Dressing!