Getting the Max from Maximalist Fashion

As stated in the September 2017 issue of InStyle magazine:  “The latest way to express yourself? However you damn well please.”

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Or put another way, also quoted in the magazine, picturing two over-the-top looks by Gucci, “Getting dressed has never been such a party.”

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The looks are conversation starters, to be sure, but keep in mind that the conversation will be largely about the clothes. Authentic personal expression should be the foundation for every such display of exuberant dress. If the look makes you feel joyful, go for it. That excitement will come through in those conversations the clothes start.

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A variation on the theme utilizes animal prints as the main component of an ensemble. Eye-catching, to be sure, but the wearer can get lost in all those feline motifs. Be mindful that animal prints are a sexy motif and can easily overwhelm one’s personal style.

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In a fashion spread celebrating the art of embroidered fashions in the August issue of InStyle, actress Camilla Belle remarks: “It might seem too busy or colorful at first, but somehow it just works.”

Trust your instincts. If you get lost in your ensemble so that it is wearing you, give that maximalist look a pass. On the other hand, if the exuberance of the ensemble makes you smile from ear to ear, go for it!  Don’t be afraid to break a few rules. Celebrate! Have fun with fashion.

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Jewelry of Flattering Scale

Almost every ensemble becomes more polished with the addition of tasteful jewelry –  jewelry that is not only cohesive with the ensemble itself — the garments, shoes, handbag and any other accessories — but also flattering to the person wearing it.

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I was struck by this ad from a high-end design house, which features an exquisite suite of ruby and diamond jewelry. The beautiful model wears two chunky rings, a tennis-style bracelet, and a pair of earrings.

The model has generously sized features — eyes, nose and mouth. Consider how the jewelry selections relate to her. While the other pieces of jewelry in the photo have plenty of presence, the earrings are quite delicate –  too delicate to be flattering to the woman, as lovely as they are. The slender linear design of the earrings has the effect of drawing attention to the model’s nose and making it appear relatively larger.

This effect could be easily remedied by having the model wear earrings of a design more akin to the chunky design of the rings. Changing the scale of the earrings would be more flattering to the woman.

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Inclusive-Size Lines: A Concept Whose Time Has Come (Yet Again)

A tiny blurb in the May 2017 issue of InStyle magazine announced: “Teresa Maccapani Missoni brings her family’s luxe Italian glamour to Eloquii for an inclusive-size line of feminine dresses and separates in a resort-ready palette of white and azure.” Eloquii.com is a fashion site for sizes 14 to 28, and Missoni is its first-ever designer collaboration.

0617 March Vogue Prabal Gurung for Lane Bryant Ashley Graham REV

Designer Prabal Gurung is also receiving a good amount of press for his new collection for Lane Bryant in sizes 14 to 28. The April 2017 issue of Glamour reports that Gurung collaborated with Lane Bryant after he had “no luck getting luxury department stores to sell his line as plus-sizes.” The March 2017 issue of Vogue also spotlighted the collection.

At the same time, in a feature in the April 2017 issue of Glamour, “Hey Stores: Where’s My Size?” writer Lauren Chan and four full-figure fashion bloggers shopped clothing stores in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York, and found no plus-size clothing whatsoever at 41 of the 69 stores.

For many full-figured women, Salon Z at Saks Fifth Avenue (remember the campaign “Saks First”) truly was their go-to choice for professional wardrobe and special-event dressing. Now Salon Z exists on-line only.  Nordstrom’s plus-size focused Encore department at its spanking new store in the large mall near my home had only a pitiful couple of racks of dated sale merchandise in plus sizes when I visited. Despite the increase in demand for plus-size fashion, the demographic is being served more by specialty retailers and boutiques.

0617 June Glamour Nicolette Mason I Am Not an Hourglass REV

There’s an issue aside from sizes, too — full-figured women, like women of all sizes, come in a variety of shapes. “I Am Not a Hourglass” writes Nicolette Mason in the June 2017 issue of Glamour. Mason writes:

“It feel like every day there’s another body-positive headline in fashion–airbrush-free swimsuit campaigns, designer collaborations, New York Fashion Week’s record number of plus-size models–and while those stories represent major strides in size inclusion, there’s one thing that still bothers me:  Almost every time we see a woman above a size 14 in magazines, in advertisements, or on the runway, she’s a perfect hourglass shape.

“Think about the most famous plus-size models:  They have big busts and full hips, with snatched waists and thin arms and legs. Gorgeous–but also, newsflash! That is not how most plus-size women look. Hell, all you need to do is look around on the street to know that many of us are rounder in the ‘wrong’ places, with full faces and thicker limbs.  . . . How progressive is body positivity if we’re affirming only one plus-size body type?”

Mason explains that, despite fluctuations in her size between 12 and 16, she is larger on top with large breasts and smaller hips. She cites Eloquii, Universal Standard, and Los Angeles-based Zelie for She as lines that design for various types.

This is not new, by any means. For instance, plus-size model and image consultant Catherine Schuller introduced a line on one of the home shopping channels some years ago, with styles identified as being appropriate for various body shapes. With few exceptions, plus-size clothing lines do not provide guidance to consumers as to what pieces will flatter which shapes.

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Look at the regular column “Big Girl in a Skinny World” in Marie Claire magazine. In the July 2017 issue, which features plus-size model Denise Bidot, the column spotlights for her a Vivienne Westwood skirt with a horizontal print (up to size 14), a Stella McCartney dress (up to size 14), and, a choker from Eddie Borgo. The choker has an interior diameter of 4.25 inches. None of these items will fit the majority of “big girls.”

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One option, for those who can afford it, is to go custom. Designer Christian Siriano is quoted in the July 3, 2017 issue of People: “My goal is to hopefully change people’s perceptions of what’s beautiful and what women should wear. I include a diverse range of sizes, races and ages on the runway. An then, there’s the red carpet. I don’t go after the young, new It Girl. They’re fabulous, but what’s exciting to me is seeing someone different on the carpet looking amazing, like Danielle Brooks. . .  Honestly I just love that I get to help change people’s perceptions, and I’m proud of what we’re doing. But it took me 10 years to get here, and it will take another 50 years to have my position become a little bit more of the norm. That would be really exciting.”

I’m thrilled to see that some designers and retailers are once again attempting to serve the 67% of American women who wear a size 14 or above. Stay tuned.

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The Front-Button Gap

Front-button shirts and blouses are a wardrobe staple for many women. Like front-button dress shirts for men, the women’s garments present issues of fit that require thought and attention.

If the shirt has a collar and is to be worn fully buttoned, the fit of the collar around the neck is an important consideration. A collar too big will make the wearer look like a little boy wearing grown-up clothes that are too big for him (consider Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live for this effect); a collar too small will find itself straining around the neck or unbuttoned to provide some relief.

A second issue is the lay of the shirt down the front. Curvy women in particular may find it difficult to find shirts that do not gap around the bustline. Look for garments with shorter distances between buttons (i.e., more buttons) to minimize the extent of any gap; also look for placement of a button at the largest part of the bust (a design detail that is maddeningly difficult to find).

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While celebrity model Alexa Chung looks adorable channeling Diane Keaton in Annie Hall in a photos spread in the April 2017 issue of InStyle magazine, the clothing selected for her just doesn’t fit. The above photo exacerbates the front-button gap issue with a striped shirt, which pulls across her bust and displaces the stripes for a visually distracting effect.

Some shirts can be worn open over a tank or camisole like an overshirt, eliminating the front-button gap.

Another fix would be to add a scarf , tie or vest (the latter two choices, a la Annie Hall) to cover the front-button gap. This can be an effective way to salvage a blouse or shirt that is otherwise not wearable.

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A second photo from the InStyle shoot pictures Chung in an ensemble that closely imitates a most iconic Annie Hall ensemble with a tie. But whereas Keaton’s costumes were fit to her body (check the shoulder seams in stills from the movie), here the shoulder seams of the shirt are too wide and the underarm seams of the shirt pull out from the vest, for a most unflattering effect. Add to that the pants that drag on the pavement, and this photo, like the one above, goes into my Oh No! file.

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Cross These Cross-Bodies Off Your List

Cross-body bags are one of my favorite accessories. A beautifully designed bag that appeals to my aesthetic, combined with a strap long enough to cross from one shoulder across my body to the level of the opposite hip, is my idea of a marvelous invention.  Especially wonderful for travel and for taking public transportation, such a bag allows me to keep my handbag safely in view while enabling me to unlock doors, carry packages, wheel suitcases, or do other things that need to be done without leaving my bag unattended.

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A number of high-end designers this season seem to have designed so-called cross-body bags with short straps, showing the bags worn essentially as necklaces. The March 2017 issue of Allure features a model who wears a leather bag and strap by Fendi as if she is wearing a necklace, presumably to show off the workmanship on the strap.  The look works because the model has a small bust, with no curves to disrupt the line of the strap. The handbag emphasizes her boyish figure.

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A current ad for Dior emphasizes the androgynous effect of a cross-body with a wide strap. Although worn to the side, the bag strap has little length to accommodate curves.

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As for this current ad for Dolce & Gabbana, showing a structured leather bag with strap worn as a necklace, my initial reaction was “ouch!” — that pointed edge of the bag seems to be hitting in a rather awkward spot on the curvaceous model.

Bags with shorter straps, such as the Dolce & Gabbana, can be worn as classic shoulder bags, draped over one shoulder, the bag falling to the side of the wearer. Wearing a bag in this fashion likely requires some adjustment from time to time to keep the bag strap up on the shoulder, and, since the bag can easily be slipped off, this style is much less secure for travel.

To find the perfect cross-body purse, do a bit of planning. Determine the ideal length of a strap for a cross-body bag that fits your body, and use this strap measurement when selecting a new bag. You can confidently cross the other “cross-bodies” off your list.

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The Brooch Is Back

There’s something special about a look when you can personalize it and make it uniquely your own. Whether professional wear suiting, bold graphic designs, military-inspired khaki, or pretty floral dresses are your cup of tea, a quick way to add pizzazz to your look is with a brooch. Stylists have been adding brooches to add interest to fashion photographs over the last several months, and this trend holds strong this spring.

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For instance, the February 2017 issue of Harper’s Bazaar has a 10-page spread devoted to bold, graphic prints, and adorns four of the black and white looks with brooches. Above, a bold polka dot dress from Dolce & Gabbana serves as the backdrop for a fabulous De Beers Diamond spray brooch.

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In the same issue, a “message” dress, top, leggings and shoes by Stella McCartney receive added edge from earrings and a Maltese cross style brooch from Lynn Ban.

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The February 2017 issue of Marie Claire features a selection of two-tone metal brooches from Buccellati in a feature focusing on retro floral prints.

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The January 2017 issue of Elle suggests that “Sparkly pins are more punk than prim when they veer off jackets and onto rocker tees.” The brooches spotlighted in the piece vary in price from a message brooch in rhinestones from BAN.DO at $10 to a $22,700 flower clip from Van Cleef & Arpels.

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The April 2017 issue of Real Simple demonstrates how to wear a brooch on the lapel of a trench coat or jacket. In the photo above, a jacket from J. Crew is accented with a pin from White House Black Market.

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In the December 2016 issue of Marie Claire, models Doutzen Kroes, Imaan Hammam, Fernanda Ly and Constance Jablonski demonstrate a variety of ways to wear a spectacular elephant head brooch from Tiffany & Co. The brooch, based upon an archival Jean Schlumberger design, was re-issued by Tiffany & Co. in support of the Elephant Crisis Fund, which raises awareness of the plight of those magnificent animals killed for their ivory tusks.

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The December 2016/January 2017 issue of Harper’s Bazaar recommends in its selection of what to buy now, an antique brooch. Pictured is a lovely piece from Cartier, but all manner of exquisite budget-minded designs are readily available on eBay. Considering the extraordinary versatility and sheer delight of these lovely pieces of wearable art, whether fine or faux , I couldn’t agree more.

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All Hail the Return of Pantsuits

As Ingrid Schmidt wrote in the Image section of the September 11, 2015 Los Angeles Times, “A revival of women’s power suits may be a fashion bonus to emerge from this tumultuous presidential election season. With the potential of having the first female U.S. president, sharply tailored suiting somehow feels right right now in womenswear.”

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Hillary Clinton, a self-described “pantsuit aficionado” has a well-documented wardrobe of pantsuits in a rainbow of colors and textures, which she has favored since serving as Secretary of State. You’ll recall that her predecessor in that role, Madeleine Albright, had a similar uniform of tailored suiting with skirts in lieu of pants. For a professional woman, no look carries more authority than one topped with a tailored jacket. As Schmidt notes, celebrities including Beyonce, Rihanna, Rita Ora and Kirsten Stewart have also been photographed in suiting looks, proving that this professional woman’s staple has moved into the realm of fashion.

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Illustration:  “The Hillary Effect” documented in the September 2016 issue of Glamour.

Let’s consider some of the many reasons why pantsuits are such a wonderful option:

Footwear Choices:  Pants allow for comfortable low-heel shoes and give the wearer a long lean look without high heels. For someone on her feet a lot, this is no small benefit. I’ve written many times on the subject of “shoe sanity” —  the reasons to favor low-heel shoes.

Legwear Choices:  Hosiery, or rather, the fashion world’s view that hosiery is tacky, becomes a non-issue. Bare legs with a skirt suit or dress works well for women with shapely legs and excellent skin; not so well for everyone else. With pants, one may wear hosiery or bypass it. With appropriate low heel shoes, trouser socks too may be an option. A peek of hosiery at one’s ankles does not cause fashion followers to cringe.

Adaptability:  Having a removable jacket as part of one’s ensemble is a wonderful feature when one is moving in and out of different environments. Pants are warmer than skirts — a benefit when one is traveling on cold airplanes or sitting in cold offices, irrespective of the weather outside. And if the temperature is warm, a jacket can come off. As a bonus, the jacket from a pantsuit may mix with other wardrobe pieces, including skirts and dresses.

Accessories Change the Look: A small wardrobe of pantsuits combined with a wardrobe of blouses or tops plus scarves and jewelry create a multitude of looks. Color and pattern catch the eye. Tasteful jewelry adds authority and sophistication.

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Illustration: “The New Suit” with accessories featured in the September 2016 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Figure Flattery: The long, lean monochromatic look of a pantsuit, well chosen, flatters every figure. Schmidt quotes celebrity stylist Kemal Harris: “Luckily, pant legs are definitely wider and waists are moving higher, which is great news because this drapey, flowing style is universally flattering.”

A well-tailored pantsuit is a worthwhile investment — authoritative in appearance and comfortable to wear. That’s something that every professional woman , whatever her political leanings, can support.

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The Forgotten Woman

If you’re reading this blog, you are almost certainly familiar with a national chain of boutiques dating back to the 1980s and ’90s that catered to full-figured women, by the name of The Forgotten Woman. The chain focused on designer and upscale clothing, and included designs by Geoffrey Beene, Oscar de la Renta, Adrienne Vittadini, Pauline Trigere and Bob Mackie. Sadly, the chain went out of business in 1999. Yet with a substantial portion of the adult female population wearing so-called plus-size fashions, you would think that this segment of the fashion industry would be thriving.

The good news is there seems to be fresh interest in catering to the full-figured woman. The less good news is that the target customer is decidedly younger than the typical customer of The Forgotten Women.

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The Los Angeles Times published a piece on Sunday, June 19, 2016, entitled “Pluses and minuses: The fashion industry improves its variety of sizes, but still lags.”  Three young women  - Nadia Aboulhosn, Gabi Gregg, and Nicolette Mason – are touted for the “hundreds, if not thousands, of outfits detailed on their blogs and Instagram profiles . . . they shop, and so do their readers. Their combined reach to followers on Instagram alone is creeping up to a million. What’s more, the three multi-hyphenates (blogger-designer-model-creative strategist, among others) have been pushing the fashion industry forward when it comes to broadening the range of sizes offered as well as the general messaging from brands.”

The CEO of plus-size-focused fashion website Eloquii comments that the customer “is buying the trend-driven fashion items the minute they’re available–there is no hesitation. . . . Off the shoulder, ruffles, ’70s, chambray–if it’s a fashion trend, it’s selling and selling well.” Research firm NPD Group views full-figured teens as “reinvigorating the plus-size market.  Today’s young consumers know what they want and won’t settle for less.”

Ruffles and off-the-shoulder looks at popular price points (dresses under $59) are not what the successful mature full-figured woman wants to wear, yet the needs of this extensive and affluent group are being met by very few designers.

The Times reports: “The plus-size bloggers say there must be a larger representation of different plus-size women. ‘There’s still a lot of work to be done– and still not a lot of diversity in plus fashion, despite the fact that it’s a highly diverse market, in terms of race, financial means and location,’ says Mason. . . . ‘We now know it’s OK to be a white, well-proportioned curvy woman, but what about everyone else that’s part of this demographic?’” And, one might ask, what about the more mature woman?

To the designers out there who are committed to serving the plus-size market, and to designers thinking of expanding their size ranges, here’s something to consider:  If our next President is a woman who embraces the flattering long line look of a pantsuit as her signature look (and who reportedly receives fashion advice from Anna Wintour of Vogue  magazine), isn’t it time to emulate that look and to start designing flattering quality professional wear for the mature full-figured woman?

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Quirky Hairlines

The vast majority of us have faces with less than perfectly symmetrical features. This is not something that should by any means diminish one’s self-esteem. Look at the photos of individuals considered to be among the most beautiful, and you will notice slight discrepancies between the two sides of their faces. One eyebrow may be slightly higher or thicker; one eye slightly larger; one nostril bigger, one ear slightly higher than the other, and so on. These features add immeasurably to the appeal of those faces.

One aspect of asymmetry that isn’t usually on display for women is the hairline. Bangs and hairstyles that dip over the top of the face hide the hairline. When all the hair is pulled back into a ballerina-style bun, or, with the “half-up topknot” style currently in vogue, the hairline comes into prominent focus, sometime with surprising results. Needless to say, those who would look to analyze a face shapes with an unusual hairline face a conundrum.

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I was struck by this photo of actresses Lucy Hale and Diane Kruger, along with the singer Rita Ora, featured in the June 2016 issue of Style Watch. While Ora’s hairline is quite straight and symmetrical, the hairlines of Hale and Kruger have all manner of darling quirks.

I remember attending my first AICI (Association of Image Consultants International) conference, meeting an image consultant who showed me the extraordinarily quirky hairline she hid under a clever asymmetrical hairstyle. She worked with her cowlicks and the dips and peaks of her hairline to create something quite fresh and charming.

When one is blessed with a particularly haphazard hairline, there are two ways to proceed. The usual approach  is to disguise the hairline with a well-chosen hairstyle that works with the quirks. The second approach exposes the hairline and creates a bold statement — love me, love my quirky hairline.

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Comfort: The New Key to Chic Dressing

There’s an exciting movement afield, a theory of dressing embraced by fashion icons that works for every woman of every age. Going far beyond the incorporation of athletic wear into daytime dressing, the trend reflects a new recognition of the importance of comfort.

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The April 2016 issue of Vogue features the theme “Tomorrowland” and poses the question, “How will the future family live and dress”?  Vogue‘s prognostications include “ultracomfortable day chic.” Discussing the photo of model Joan Smalls wearing a Vetements shirtdress and Boss pants, Vogue comments:  “‘Unfussy’ isn’t a new ideal, but it has great currency. We all want to be, finally, liberated from physically constricting clothes–and sartorial foolishness. That’s why a loose top and lounge-y, laid back pants are the shape of things to come.”

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“Get Punk’d” urges Alex Frank in the March 2016 issue of Elle magazine, spotlighting design labels Vetements, Off-White and Gosha Rubchinskiy: “This new establishment is turning fashion on its head at a time of upheaval in Paris–some would call it a crisis.” With the departure of Raf Simons at Christian Dior, Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, Elle  notes: “into that void stepped a bunch of upstarts who have very new ideas about what is chic.” These designers “represent the dramatic, refined, thought-provoking end point of so many recent trends. . . . All these trends have been leading us toward this:  a uniform that’s as cool as it is comfortable, the zenith of cozy and casual to keep you looking unbothered in a twenty-first century spent in uncomfortable airport terminals and in line for the next available treadmill.”

The embrace of comfort as the key to chic dressing is not limited to those over 40, by any means.

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The April 2016 issue of Style Watch includes a feature on 30-year-old actress and  “style guru” Lauren Conrad. Responding to a question as to her “perfect no-fail party outfit” she replied: “It definitely depends on the event, but I think it’s important to pick looks you’re comfortable in. After wearing something I couldn’t breathe in a few times, I just realized it’s not fun. Once in a while, you can suffer through the night in a pair of uncomfortable shoes, but overall you should wear clothes you feel good in.”

0416 comfort Zoe Kravitz in Mar HB shoes in NY REV

The March 2016 issue of Harper’s Bazaar  spends 24 hours in New York with 28-year-old singer and actress Zoe Kravitz. She states: “When I’m in New York, I walk everywhere or take the subway, so I’m not one to wear heels, because your day is completely ruined if you’re uncomfortable.” Her focus on comfort extends to her evening activities, too:  “I don’t necessarily dress up to go out at night unless I have to wear something more formal for an event. Again, I want to be comfortable, especially when I dance, so I don’t put on high heels. . . .”

The March 2016 issue of InStyle profiles 24-year-old actress Shailene Woodley. On the subject of personal style, Woodley states:  “My style is dominated by my desire to be comfortable. Like, I never want anything ever constricting my stomach. I don’t know how people wear jeans so often, because that band is just so tight!” InStyle continues: “When choosing outfits for red-carpet events, she says, it’ snot just about looking comfortable; it’s literally the nuts and bolts and straps and buttons of it all–being able to breathe, to walk, and to feel like herself.”

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At the same time, with maturity comes wisdom as to the benefits of being comfortable. Fashion icon Victoria Beckham, now 42,  is quoted in the March 14, 2016 issue of People magazine:  “I just can’t do heels any more. At least not when I’m working. I travel a lot. Clothes have to be simple and comfortable.”

Vogue stated it simply and accurately:  “We all want to be, finally, liberated form physically constricting clothes.” I’ m completely comfortable with that.