Peplums, Please!

One of the most significant trends for spring 2012 is the resurgence of the peplum – a short expanse of fabric that extends down and out from a defined waist and is worn over a skirt or pants. The effect of the peplum is emphasis on curves, a style technique that is flattering to most women.

The April 2012 issue of Allure associates the peplum with such diverse temptresses as Aphrodite, Scarlett O’Hara, Ava Gardner and such styles as Grecian tunics, 19th-Century riding habits and Christian Dior’s post World War II “New Look.” Allure advises: “For the most flattering figure, take a clue from Celine and offset peplums with a slim skirt or pair of pants.”

The Celine peplum is not the easiest version to wear. Notice that the waistline of the garment appears to fall above the model’s natural waist, which visually throws the proportions off. It’s easier to see the potential for a flattering silhouette in the dress from DKNY pictured lower left. Allure’s montage of photos demonstrates that peplums can be found as design elements of skirts, tops, or dresses. The photo bottom right shows Princess Diana wearing a peplum jacket skirt suit in 1986.

Another version of the peplum that is not easy to wear is this version from Yves Saint Laurent, pictured in the April 2012 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Here the peplum starts at about the level of the waist, but the garment does not fit closely against the body (as styled on the model shown here); the result is an oversized top that does little to define curves on the model. The garment would be more flattering if the waist were fitted to the model. The slim pants work well with the top.

The April 2012 issue of InStyle answers a reader’s inquiry, “What are the key things to look for when buying a peplum dress?” The response: “Go minimal (sleeveless styles work best), and be sure the flare starts at your waist—the thinnest part of your torso—and ends at your hip bone. (If it’s too long, it may end up looking like a skirt.) For a sleek effect, stay dark and monochromatic, and add pumps.” The photo pictures actress Dianna Agron wearing a sleek black peplum dress from Stella McCartney.  InStyle‘s advice is spot-on.

Not all fashion magazine editors have taken a liking to peplums. Anne Slowey writes in the March 2012 issue of Elle magazine: “Personally, I think it’s never a good idea to accentuate one’s derriere with a geometric shape; I don’t care how skinny you are. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: A lot of fabric covering one’s ass is just that—a lot of fabric.”

Slowey goes on to reveal that the peplum “brings to mind those Hollywood grandes dames of the studio era such as Joan Crawford or Rosalind Russell. Big-boned and big-mouthed, these gals embodied qualities that are a drag queen’s dream, with all their sharp wit and exaggerated personalities, on-screen and off. To that end, I don’t care how many designers try to reinvent this wheel; the peplum will always smack of a bit of melodrama.”

Slowey continues: “If you want to give the peplum a whirl, stick to the more wearable ones—like those from Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein or Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, who treat the trend with such a delicate hand as to be barely perceptible. Their versions succeed at being dressy without a lot of fuss. To wit: Stefano Pilati for YSL worked his into a flirty yet simple top. For the more intellectually minded, Phoebe Philo at Celine gave the look a utilitarian, deconstructed edge by detaching hers at the waist. But beware those who borrow this silhouette booster with little or no interpretation. They not only look dated but uncomfortable, which is a worse fashion foul by far.”

The key to wearing a peplum style that flatters is all about fit:  The garment must fit closely at the natural waistline and flare from that point. The effect is to repeat or enhance a woman’s curves.

With that in mind, consider this example from the pages of the January 2012 issue of Vogue, picturing a jacket, vest, sweater and zippered peplum from Vera Wang. The placement of the waistline is all wrong, and the result is an odd bump that doesn’t relate to the model’s body. The slim pants from Yves Saint Laurent almost give the model the look of two hips – a high peplum-created hip plus her natural hip. This is a look best avoided.

The delicate treatment of peplums by Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy referenced by Anne Slowey of Elle also appears in the January 2012 issue of Vogue. The lines of the jacket seem to follow the shape of the model’s form, and the result, delicate or not, is quite charming.

Don’t be put off by the nay-sayers. Peplums can be extremely flattering, both for women with slender shapes and also for women with curvaceous high hips and generous thighs.

The Power & Practice of Suits: Situational Dressing for the Professional Woman

Generally speaking, professional wear and high fashion looks are on two different tracks, with barely a nod from the fashion press to the needs of professional women for office-appropriate apparel. I was delighted, therefore, to see the April 2012 issue of Elle profile in its Elle Fashion Workbook a 33-year-old New York City lawyer, Candice Cook, who explains the facts of legal style to readers: “When clients come to my office, they expect to see me in a suit.”

Cook chooses blouses, bags, shoes and jewelry that make her professional wardrobe interesting and reflect her fashion savvy. The photo center right below shows Cook in an all-black ensemble of jacket and top from Dice Kayek. Cook comments: “This silk blouse has beautiful, feminine details while perfectly blending into a conventional attorney ‘uniform.’”

Cook explains to readers that she adapts what she wears to the clients with whom she is meeting, often comparing her work wardrobe to a strong opening argument: “The right outfit can set the tone and assist me in stepping into character.” Elle notes that no matter the setting, Cook always accessorizes with an oversize handbag and “sentimental jewelry–whether it’s diamond stud earrings from her parents (a law school graduation gift) or an Hermes bracelet from her boyfriend. ‘Personal accessories help me tap into my identity–even if I’m wearing a black suit!”

The jacket shown above right is from Willow. Cook comments: “I love anything with clean, tailored lines. A well-fitted jacket is like the holy grail for a lawyer!”

This is all remarkably conservative stuff for a fashion magazine, although I can say from personal experience that Cook’s fashion philosophy is spot-on and reflects a well-reasoned strategy for dressing professionally.

Alas, turn the page – just one page – and the two founders of Gilt Groupe, the “members-only sample-sale juggernaut,” as described by Elle, who just penned a business advice book, seem to take quite a different view. Elle asked Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, this question: “You’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants [for positions with your company], so you know the toughest part: What to wear?!” The responses:

“A.M.: Don’t shy away from the things you feel good in, the silhouettes and the elements that make you stand proudly with your shoulders thrown back. For me, those are four- or five-inch heels. ”

“A.W.W.: For me, it’s a blazer or a jacket with color or embellishments, whether it be lace or fun buttons.”

“A.M.: In many areas, the kiss of death is the suit. [When I worked in] Silicon Valley, the only people who wore suits were the bankers who were trying to get your business or the salesmen trying to sell you something. A sign of ‘I’ve made it’ was if you didn’t wear one.”

While Elle ends the interview with that quotation apparently dissing suits and taking a poke at bankers and salespeople, Wilkis Wilson is actually saying something quite similar to what Cook says above: Your situation  determines what is appropriate for you to wear.  In the language of image consulting, this is known as situational dressing. In a creative field, a suit is likely to be too conservative and not edgy enough. But, as Cook demonstrates and Elle magazine reports, even in a conservative, professional work environment, there are ways to make suits chic.

I am still trying to wrap my brain around the suggestion that it is appropriate for a job candidate to wear five-inch heels.

On “Fashion Star”

I agree with the critics that there were distracting and unnecessary production effects (dancers! smoke machines!) in the debut of NBC-TV’s Fashion Star last Tuesday evening, but there is plenty of underlying value to the show that merits positive comment. That value is centered on the business aspects of fashion. Many a designer has started with an idea and a sewing machine and lots of hard work. Unlike Project Runway, which focuses on the fascinating creative process, Fashion Star focuses on the no less nail-biting process of marketing. The show requires each designer to feature one item, shown in three variations, during the week’s runway show. Buyers for Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and H&M then have the option of bidding on each design. One of the designers who receives no offers is eliminated each week.

As usual with fashion shows, the skirts were as barely legal in length as the models were in age. There were some ho-hum looks and some sparks of wonderful creativity in evidence. There are two designers in particular whose designs piqued my interest during the premiere episode of the show.

The full-figured designer Lizzie Parker created an asymmetrical dress that was picked up by Macy’s, which the buyer extolled because designer herself could wear it and it worked for a range of sizes. I was surprised to read on the show’s web site that Parker limits the line to sizes 0 to 16, barely making a dent in addressing the needs of full-figured women. This is an inexplicable marketing decision for a designer who had found full-figured styles wanting.

The most intriguing design presented during the show received no offers and landed the designer in the bottom two. I would have made this design the winner of the episode. Designer Kara Laricks created an extraordinary accessory for a woman who wants a bit of androgynous, cutting edge style:  a fabric collar to which is attached a tie that can be worn in various ways and with just about anything, from a dress to a blazer and top. Laricks makes the pieces from deconstructed men’s shirts. Thus far, she is limiting collar size to 16 1/2 inches, which will limit her potential buyers, another inexplicable marketing decision.  I was pleased to see that Laricks is receiving so many orders that she is anticipating a 4 to 6 week wait time on orders at the time I am writing this post. The pieces are available at: http://www.collarstandtie.com/shop-unisex-ties.html.

“The View” Considers What Your Shoes Do to Your Feet

ABC-TV’s The View has come on board in recognizing the potential for foot problems that may arise with the most fashionable styles of shoes being promoted these days. “Find out if your shoes are ruining your feet,” was one of the lead-ins to the story, which ran on Monday, as was this: “Next, shocking new research has been exposing how the sneakers, heels, slippers and sandals we wear every day can do more damage than ever thought possible, so foot expert and surgeon Dr. Stuart Mogul displayed the latest technology that can stop your feet from literally killing you!”

Co-hosts Sherri Shepherd and Joy Behar discussed  with Dr. Mogul the potential damage caused by high heels, ballet flats, flip flops and even athletic shoes.  In the latter case, there is a split of opinion as to whether high-tech athletic shoes are good or bad for the feet. With respect to ballet flats, Dr. Mogul suggested that custom orthotics or over-the-counter inserts might help provide the needed arch support. As for heels, Dr. Mogul suggested optimally limiting them to 2 inches in height. Joy Behar noted that Barbara Walters has a hard time finding 2-inch heels, which she prefers, and has them custom-made.

With respect to sandals, Dr. Mogul suggested some styles to replace flip flops: sandals with a 1- or 2-inch heel and a bit of support. “But they’re not sexy,” whined Sherri Shepherd as the segment wrapped.

They could indeed be sexy. All it takes is a few fearless designers recognizing that shoes can and should be comfortable, creating solutions, and getting the fashion press to take note. If Prada and Chanel, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo start promoting 2-inch heels, they will be the sexiest shoes ever.

See my February 14 post, “The Comfortable Sexy Shoe Matrix” for more on how to find the perfect shoes until the day that happens.

Great Legs

Barbara Walters repeated the old saw on The View this morning, “Legs are the last thing to go.” She swiveled toward the audience, proving that she does have an enviable pair of legs.

Indeed, all the ladies of The View who show their legs (Whoopi Goldberg always opts for pants) have shapely legs. Indeed, think about any and all of the women you have seen in the movies or on network television, and see if you can identify a single woman who doesn’t have great legs. This is true whether the female celebrity is tall or short, full-figured or slender, average or spectacular in all her dimensions: Great legs are a must for what is deemed a media-worthy image.

In real life, however, many women are not blessed with what in today’s standards are considered great legs. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received all manner of criticism about her pantsuits over the years, criticism that as often as not has ignored the fact that she dresses in part to flatter her legs, which, by current standards, are proportionately short and considered less than ideally shaped.

Watch any of the makeover shows, and time and again you’ll see the experts take women out of slacks and put them in skirts. Look at your great legs, they exclaim — see how fantastic you look! It’s an easy fix for women who have great legs. It’s not a fix at all for women who are not enamored of their legs.

Short sturdy legs deserve celebration too. They may never appear on celebrities or in advertisements in the media, but they carry us where we want to go. Skirts may not present a comfortable or attractive option to the woman with such legs. For her, the perfectly cut pair of pants is the sine qua non of fashion, an elusive treasure.

Find the Perfect Bra

If you haven’t taken a look at Lucky magazine in a while, you may be surprised at the value of its content. There are pockets of advice that focus on what’s strictly faddish rather than what’s flattering, but there is also inclusion of very high-end items in seasonal trend summaries (such as the Prada and Judith Lieber bags featured in the April 2012 issue) and, more important, some excellent bits of image-related advice.

An article by Jennifer Cegielski in the April 2012 issue, “Find the Perfect: Bra” is full of spot-on advice that goes beyond rehashing the same-old, same-old. Included in her tips are the following:

“Don’t hate on underwire. If you are a B-cup or bigger, an underwire bra is an absolute must, because it shapes the breasts, provides unbeatable support, and shows down sagging. Underwire should comfortably surround the bottom and sides of the breast; if it is painful, go up a cup size. . . . .”

Pull a disappearing act. When it comes to materials, silky bras are the most versatile because they’re not only smooth (we’ve all seen a bumpy lace bra under a body-con dress: disaster) but they’re also the least likely to catch on your clothing’s fabric and make it bunch or wrinkle. . . . ”

Find your shade of ‘nude.’  . . . [I]f you’re going for subtlety, opt for a tone that’s closer to your actual skin color: Calvin Klein, Only Hearts, Eres, Wacoal and DKNY all carry a wide range of skin-tone shades. Interestingly, the closest we found to a hue that universally disappears under white or sheer clothing regardless of skin color is a purply beige called Maquillage, created by British lingerie brand Bodas. It’s pretty miraculous.”

Unfortunately, Lucky provides neither a photo nor a source for the Bodas bra. Barney’s New York carries the line but not the color. An example of the Maquillage color underwire bra can be found online at the outnet.com:  http://www.theoutnet.com/product/165297?cm_mmc=LinkshareUS-_-Custom-_-Link-_-Builder&siteID=J84DHJLQkR4-HaEZhDxnt2Ksyb357jiOUw

Bodas Maquillage color bra from The Outnet

Note that the color of the Bodas bra is described on outnet.com variously as “pink” and “blush” although the designer color is identified as Maquillage. This particular bra is available in limited sizes.

Whatever your style, having comfortable and flattering underpinnings is critical. Have your correct bra size assessed by a professional fitter, and remember that fit varies from brand to brand and from style to style.