The Plus-Size Market and Oprah’s Missed Opportunity

The September 2018 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine contains an extensive and extraordinary fashion spread focusing on plus-size fashion. Oprah breathlessly announces it in her “Here We Go!” editor’s page comment:

“If you’ve had the difficult experience of trying, and failing to find clothing in stores that rarely carry your size—or any size above 10 or 12, for that matter—you’ll be glad to hear that the fashion industry is beginning to mend its ways.  . . . [W]e’re celebrating the big change in attitude that’s created a new world of style for every body, and taking a look at the long road we’ve traveled to get to a more inclusive place. . . “

If only Oprah had come clean, and written “If you’ve – like I have – had the difficult experience of trying, and failing to find clothing . . . .”  This is part of a pattern of Oprah’s downplaying and even ignoring her personal history relating to size. Why is she so coy about what has been in plain sight, when her personal experience could be so helpful to her readers?

Illustration: Emme, perhaps the original famous full-figured model, is featured in the magazine spread.

Before her famous reveal of the wagon full of fat representing the weight she lost on Optifast back in the 1980s (a reveal that got me and countless others to sign up for the program), Oprah’s shopping habits had some notoriety in the upscale stores of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue. According to a saleswoman at one of those stores, Oprah’s assistants would remove size tags from the designer or bridge garments purchased on her behalf so she wouldn’t see the double-digit sizes being purchased for her. I was advised by another style expert that Oprah’s assistants would on occasion purchase more than one identical designer garment and then piece them together to create a single garment that better fit and flattered the celebrity host. Of course, Oprah may have been ignorant of some or all of what was being done to shield her from the harsh realities of the sizes she required – thus, the subterfuge by her shoppers and staff. Are these stories that were relayed to me by people in the fashion and style industries true, or mere urban legend? I can’t say for sure, but they do reflect remarkable creativity in sidestepping the issue of size.

On a more personal note, I introduced a line of fine jewelry for the plus-size market in 2003. My pieces were featured in Good Housekeeping and InStyle magazine, among others. However, when my publicist contacted the Oprah organization, she was told that the magazine staff was not interested in looking at or promoting my offerings “because Oprah is not plus-size.” Even if that description was true at the time, Oprah has demonstrated through her organization over the years a disdain for any designer catering to full-figured women. It’s nice finally to see a more inclusive approach to fashion.

There’s an interesting little caption on the photo of Oprah on her editorial page, which reads: “Reevaluating your perspective is never a bad thing.” Oprah, let’s hear your story of dealing with dressing as a woman wearing size 12 and up.  Now that would give us some perspective on the fashion world’s change of attitude.

Animal Prints Roar

Animal prints are a perennial fashion favorite, and they are back again this fall. Leopard print coats in particular are seemingly ubiquitous, although they require a certain energy to wear. These are not coats for those with shy, sweet personalities. These coats are attention-getters. Below, a sampling of this season’s leopard print coat offerings, from the August issue of InStyle magazine.

The high-energy symbolism of the leopard coat can be seen, for example, when beleaguered advice columnist Plum Kettle, the protagonist of Dietland on AMC, begins to step out from her old life and routines on the road to self-discovery. A newly exuberant Plum appears in several episodes wearing a leopard print coat.

If you love animal prints but a full-length coat may be a bit too much – trust your instincts here—there are all manner of accessories and garments that can bring a dash of animal print without taking over the look. Some examples can be seen in the fashion spread from the September 2018 issue of Glamour pictured above. The leopard print blouse would be striking with black slacks, skirt or suit.

A revved-up variation on the animal print is Gucci’s vibrant panther print. Singer and actress Kesha is lost in the Gucci dress she wears pictured in the August 27, 2018 issue of People. The print draws the eye, and the lovely woman wearing it is not the focus. Contrast that with singer Nick Cannon wearing a tracksuit made of the same panther print material. Cannon’s energy rocks the print; it doesn’t wear him.

If the energy conveyed by the print suits your personal energy, it can be a great match.

All That Glitters: Know Your Gold

I was struck by the headline on the one-page fashion piece in the July 2018 issue of Elle Magazine:  “24-Karat Magic:  Glam up a chill ensemble with GOLD BOHO CHAINS and DELICATE PENDANTS—the more the merrier.”

24 karat gold is, of course, pure gold – and it is unlikely you will ever come across any jewelry represented as such. 22 karat jewelry is about the highest karatage one comes across. Much more typical in the United States is 14 karat and 18 karat gold jewelry. 18 karat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals; 14 karat gold is 58.5% gold and 41.5% other metals.

None of the jewelry pictured in the piece is 24 karat gold. Here’s a rundown of the pieces by designer, magazine description, and gold content as determined from my research on the Web:

  • Stone and Strand “gold charm necklace”: 14 karat gold rose charm necklace
  • Ariel Gordon “diamond and gold hoop earrings”: 14 karat gold pave huggies
  • Seb Brown “gold, diamond, aquamarine, sapphire and topaz ring”: 14 karat gold
  • Theodora Warre “gold-plated necklace”: no additional information available online
  • Aurelie Bidermann “gold-plated earrings”: no information available online
  • Pandora “gold pendant necklace”: 14 karat gold dazzling droplet pendant with cubic zirconia
  • Alighieri Jewellery “gold-plated pendant necklace”: gold-plated Il Leone necklace
  • Jennifer Meyer “gold, diamond and turquoise earrings”: exact earrings not seen at Barneys.com site; however, Meyer works in 18 karat gold
  • Gabriel & Co. “engravable gold and diamond bracelet”: 14 karat yellow gold chain engravable
  • Johnny Was “gold vermeil bangle”: 18 karat gold vermeil snake bangle with wrapped tail
  • Nalin Studios “gold-plated coin ring”: 18 karat gold-plated over 925 sterling silver  – gold vermeil – love ring

Note that, of the pieces described as “gold,” all are 14 karat except the Jennifer Meyer earrings, which are crafted in 18 karat gold.

“Gold-plated” refers to a thin plating of gold over another metal. That metal is likely to be a base metal such as nickel, bronze or lead. Because of the thinness of the gold, items that are gold-plated may need to have the gold plating renewed from time to time to keep the same appearance.

“Gold vermeil” refers to sterling silver covered with a layer of gold (usually by plating). This differs from gold-plated in that the metal underlying the gold is not a less expensive base metal. The Nalin Studios ring should have been described as gold vermeil in the magazine article.

You may come across jewelry, especially vintage jewelry, described and marked “gold-filled,” which refers to a process by which the item is covered in a layer of gold at least 1/20th of the total weight of the metal in the piece, in 10, 12 or 14 karat. Gold-filled jewelry has more gold content than gold-plated jewelry.

By all means, glam up your look with “gold” chains and pendants. But do your homework,  know what it is you are buying, and then buy with confidence.

Jewelry Can Spotlight Your Best or Worst Feature

As an image consultant, I advise my clients that jewelry can do much more than add a finishing touch to an ensemble. Chosen well, jewelry can also draw attention to one or more of the wearer’s best features.

For instance, someone with green or blue eyes may choose jewels of a similar hue to relate to her or his eye color. Repeating the hue provides pleasing harmony and brings the viewer’s eye back to the wearer’s eyes.

Jewelry can also provide directional emphasis. For instance, a long necklace can provide a vertical line that draws the viewer’s eye up and down.

A particularly fine example of the power of jewelry to spotlight a feature appears in the March 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Focusing on “the quest for a younger-looking neck,” the magazine promotes a neck cream sold on its web site and illustrates the sought-after effect with the photo of a model wearing huge earrings with a triangle-shaped drop from Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

Notice how the earrings point to the model’s neck. Not even the crystal-studded Gucci sunglasses distract from this effect.

For many women over 40, spotlighting the neck is not the desired effect. When choosing earrings, be mindful of how the earrings draw attention to your features. Long dangling earrings can end at a spot where they draw attention to your neck. And earrings as arrow-like as those in the photo above will bring every eye to that precise spot.

The Pitfalls of Pleated Midi Skirts: Uneven Hemlines

Pleated midi skirts are once more on fashion’s radar, and they can provide a graceful element to an ensemble. The March 5, 2018 issue of People presents color-block, printed, and leather versions – the leather pleated style pictured on Alicia Keys by an unspecified designer particularly attractive and intriguing.

Take a closer look at the photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a printed design, and you can see the issue that arises with these skirts: the uneven hemline. Her skirt, by an unidentified designer, emphasizes the issue with the dark, solid bottom edge of the fabric of the skirt. The back of her skirt is shorter than the front.

Anyone blessed with significant bootie is well aware of this phenomenon. I recall constructing a skirt suit as a project at a design college class I took some years ago. Remarkably, I had no issues creating a wearable jacket, but the skirt was another thing entirely. I had neglected to add extra length to the back of the skirt to accommodate my derriere. The skirt had to be re-sewn.

With a wide, flowing skirt, rather than a closer to the body pencil skirt, the issue of an uneven  hemline becomes more noticeable. The February 2018 issue of Women’s Day pictures an ensemble with a metallic pleated midi skirt from Old Navy with a hemline that is not parallel to the floor.

Wider pleats and fancier designers do not necessarily ensure that the issue will not arise. Here is actress Emilia Clarke wearing a beautiful floral dress by Dolce & Gabbana, as pictured in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  It appears that the dress is intentionally designed to have a longer hemline in the front than in the back.

Perhaps Dolce & Gabbana are taking a common problem experienced by curvy women and turning it intentionally into a new fashion trend. Time will tell. Unless and until that happens, cast a critical eye on your skirts. The hemlines should be parallel to the floor.

Fragile Shoulders

Perhaps one of the world’s most recognizable, prestigious and expensive fashion labels can afford in an ad to promote a look that is destructive to the wardrobe of the wearer because presumably the wearer can easily afford to replace it.

Here’s the ad, which appeared in the January 2018 issue of Vogue magazine. The woman is wearing a fur coat, and has slung over one shoulder a chain-strap designer bag. The coat is white; the bag is black.

I assume the bag is color-fast. However, that bag will be rubbing or bouncing against the side of the wearer, which in time will cause the coat to show wear if not discoloration due to whatever dirt is carried on the surface of the bag.

Even more damaging is the strap. The links of the chain will be doing serious damage to the soft surface of the coat, especially where the weight of the bag pulls down on the shoulder. The damage will be immediate and irreversible.

When wearing fur or faux fur, or any garment with fragile material on the shoulders, never wear a shoulder strap bag and never ever even think of wearing a shoulder strap made of chain. What an unfortunate image for a fashion label to promote.

Rich, Warm & Inviting Brown

The women’s fashion magazines tend to present a fashion trend as a fait accompli, usually without much explanation of the source of the trend.

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Consider the resurgence of the color brown in fashion. “Layer with abandon in made-to-mix shades of brown” urges the October 2017 issue of Marie Claire.

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And: “Perk up basic black with chocolate-brown pieces in luxe-feeling textures,” from the same issue of Marie Claire.

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Current women’s styles reflecting a menswear influence and the fine woolens and other fabrics typical of menswear are, no doubt, part of the reason for the renewed interest in hues of brown. The color features prominently in this fashion spread from the October 2017 issue of InStyle.

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The October 2017 issue of Esquire takes an analytical approach to its discussion of the new popularity of shade of brown. In an article titled “That ’70s Color,” Max Prince writes about the trend and theorizes an explanation for its current popularity. Prince considers not only autumnal looks in menswear for men, but also the embrace of the “warm, inviting shade” in vehicles, hotels and even the re-introduction of the classic brown uniform of the San Diego Padres. About vehicles, he writes: “Just this year, fresh metal from Mercedes-Benz, MBW, Infiniti, and Volvo all turned up dripping in umber. Porsche and Lincoln also added new browns this year, while Bentley’s current portfolio features a half-dozen riffs on the color.”

“Why now?” Prince responds:  “It’s anti-tech. Designers are fomenting insurrection against the monochromatic status quo. Consumers want something that’s the opposite of the gadgets that have infiltrated their lives.”

While “sonic blues, candy reds and radioactive yellows” accomplish a break out of the doldrums, “these are blunt, basic tools,” writes Prince. “Brown is richer. It’s smart without being obvious, bold without being ostentatious.”

Prince concludes that “pulling off brown, whether it’s a tux or a velvet sofa or a chronometer, requires a certain confidence. It’s still a relative niche (acquired tastes always are), but the subtext is deliciously subversive.”

And you thought browns were cool because they complemented and brought attention to your eyes or hair color. Perhaps you’ve had your colors done and have concluded that you are an “Autumn” who looks great in umber hues. In a world of stainless steel appliances and the perennial popularity of head-to-toe black fashions, brown can indeed be viewed as not only rich, warm and inviting, but also delightfully and “deliciously subversive.”

The Elegance of Tone-on-Tone Dressing

Last month in my blog I celebrated the exuberance of mixing prints and colors, a most creative means of self-expression. This month I celebrate the return of perhaps the most elegant means of self-expression through fashion: tone-on-tone dressing.

Many if not most women find wearing head-to-toe black, accented with nothing more than the warm or cool metal of jewelry, a sophisticated look. Mixing black pieces is easy to do, as the subtle variations in shades of black rarely read as a mismatch. Black-on-black is sometimes considered the epitome of city dressing.

Wearing another head-to-toe color is more challenging and decidedly more expensive, but the efforts and expense can be worthwhile. Two hues represent the pinnacle of tone-on-tone dressing this season:  camel, and wine or burgundy.

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The gentle hues of camel soften the look of menswear-inspired suiting in this look from Max Mara pictured in the September 2017 issue of InStyle.

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Extending the tone-on-tone dressing to outerwear heightens the sophisticated look of a camel-hued Hermes ensemble. The ensemble is given a modern twist with darker sandals worn with camel socks, pictured in the September 2017 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

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The influence of street style is also seen in this styling of a wine-hued Max Mara look by actress Zoey Deutch in the October 2017 issue of Los Angeles Magazine.

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Elegant, cozy comfort in beautiful burgundy hues is captured in this seasonal ad from Max Mara.

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Lest you think it can be a challenge to go head-to-toe matchy-matchy, rest assured — it can be. However, as this spread from the September 2017 issue of Harper’s  Bazaar illustrates, the time to find matching accessories is now, while these colors are on-trend. From shoes, handbags and purses, to delightful burgundy-accented jewelry, a favorite color can be repeated and emphasized with even the smallest details of an ensemble. The end result will look expensive, sophisticated, and decidedly elegant.

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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