Plus Size Accessories: Jewelry That Fits & Flatters

The Plus-Size Style column by Ashley Falcon in the October 2013 issue of People Style Watch addresses a reader’s question: “How can I find jewelry and bags that fit and flatter a plus-size woman?”

It’s nearly impossible to condense all the advice one might give on the subject of jewelry that fits and flatters a full-figured woman on a single page (I’ve conducted entire workshops on the subject), but Falcon provides some valuable pointers. Here are my expanded comments and recommendations:

Bracelets:

Falcon suggests hinged bangles, which open in the middle to allow them to be put on easily, and open cuff-style bracelets, which have some give. She notes that regular bangles “tend to be too small–try plus stores like Lane Bryant or Avenue.”

Plus Size Jewelry 1013 PSW Ashley Falcon column REV

This season bangle bracelets have lost their cache, as wearing stacks of bracelets has fallen out of favor. Hinged bangles and open cuff-style bracelets are both excellent choices, available in fine jewelry as well as costume jewelry versions. One beautiful hinged or open bracelet provides a beautiful finishing touch to an ensemble. For a range of well-priced options, peruse the vintage offerings on eBay. Above, People Style Watch pictures a goldtone hinged bracelet from pt. 9 at Kohl’s and a collection of double header spike bracelets from CC Skye.

Plus Size Jewelry Van Cleef flying butterflies bracelet MayJune 2013 Gotham Magazine REV

Don’t limit your search for jewelry to low-end options. Above, the Van Cleef  & Arpels “Flying Butterfly” bracelet in 18kt white gold and diamonds, pictured on entrepreneur Alexa Hirschfeld in her profile in the May/June 2013 issue of Gotham Magazine, would work beautifully on a larger wrist.

Rings:

Falcon states that she likes “stretchy ones from Rachel Roy and Kenneth Cole, or HSN for cute styles up to size 12.” Pictured is an inexpensive ring from Lane Bryant, about which Falcon writes: “The elasticized back lets anyone get an almost-custom fit.”

If you want to incorporate the latest trend very inexpensively, an elasticized ring may provide an option. With a wide range of sizes provided on television shopping channels such as HSN (up to size 12) and QVC (up to size 11), and the myriad of offerings on eBay, however, it is easy to find a beautiful ring in a classic style that provides a more comfortable exact fit. Sterling silver options are extensive from all of these sources. If you prefer the warmth of yellow gold to white metals but gold rings aren’t in the budget, consider vermeil, which is gold layered over sterling silver, or bronze.

Don’t forget, however, that many if not most ring styles created in precious metals such as gold and silver can be sized up by your jeweler. While the jewelry will need to add metal to stretch the size of the ring, the amount of metal required for a ring will be relatively small and the cost may be less than you expect. Find the gemstone or precious metal ring of your dreams and have it resized.

Necklaces:

Falcon writes, “Adjustable necklaces are ideal, but you also can buy a necklace extender at Nordstrom or Walmart.”  The necklace pictured, from Stella & Dot, adjusts from 17 to 20 inches.  Here the advice goes awry. About the pictured necklace, Falcon notes: “You can make it longer so it stops at that perfect spot 1 to 2 inches above your cleavage.”

Unless your bustline is just under your chin, this comment about the “perfect spot” is simply not correct relative to a necklace that adjusts no longer than 20 inches. More likely, you will require a necklace in the range of 24 to 28 inches in length. However, a necklace that stops higher than one to two inches above the cleavage can be a flattering length for a busty woman.

Don’t ever wear a necklace that is too tight around your neck — you will look and feel uncomfortable wearing it.

Necklace extenders are problematic. Be very careful about adding an inexpensive extender that isn’t an excellent match to a necklace that is too short. Unless the extender is covered by your hair, it can bring attention to the fact that you are wearing jewelry that doesn’t fit you well.

One additional important caveat:  If you don’t want to draw attention to your chin, short necklaces are probably not an optimal choice. You might well prefer to draw the eye elsewhere.

There are at least two important options that Falcon fails to address in the limited space she had: brooches and earrings.

Brooches:

Brooches are the wild cards of jewelry, completely indifferent to your size, and versatile in a way that a necklace or bracelet can never be. Choose one or more than one, and for ideas on how to style them, look at First Lady Michelle Obama’s stylings. Armani and Chanel often show brooches with their couture looks. Don’t overlook the style potential of these marvelous little pieces of art. Here again, eBay is an excellent source for vintage costume and fine jewelry selections in a dazzling range of styles.

Earrings:

Earrings should be the mainstay of every woman’s jewelry wardrobe, as they bring attention up to her face.  Earrings, like brooches, are completely indifferent to your size.  Long drop earrings can add a flattering vertical emphasis. Choose drop earrings with some width, such as chandeliers, rather than thin linear drops, which serve to emphasize the relative width of your face. If you have a shorter neck or prefer not to highlight your neck, choose cluster or button-style earrings that sit on your earlobes and draw the attention upward.

Every full-figured woman can find a wealth of jewelry choices readily available that both fit and flatter. Don’t forego the jewelry — it adds polish and personality to every ensemble.

Wristwatches: Go for Edgy Chic, But Mind the Edges

A certain style shows up periodically, an attempt to jazz up a wristwatch by adding bracelets to the same wrist. The idea shows up this season in the June-July 2013 issue of Lucky magazine, which promotes large statement wristwatches: “These oversize timepieces are as classic (and cool) as it gets.”

Lucky continues: “And there’s no need to wear a watch solo, either. Laddered with wooden bangles or friendship bracelets or even worn two at a time, it’s the perfect statement piece that never feels overpowering, adds just the right amount of sparkle and goes with seriously everything.”

Laddered with wooden bangles or friendship bracelets, which typically are made of soft woven materials, the combination is unlikely to be damaging to the watch. Piling one watch on top of another, however, presents quite a different potentiality for damage to both timepieces.

More on the “more is more” style appears in the photo top right, which bears the caption “Worn with chunky gold and leather bracelets, a classic watch feels edgier.” Notice that the leather bracelet is worn between the metal wristwatch and the chunky metal bracelet pictured, and acts as a bit of a buffer, although the metal hardware of the leather bracelet appears to be bumping into the watch. Any bangle bracelet is almost certainly going to bang against the watch as the bracelet slides up and down the arm.

Metal on metal is a bad idea. Metal can scratch metal as well as the glass face of the watch. The result: Damaged watch, damaged bracelet, and a resultant loss of chic.

A wristwatch combined with less potentially damaging wooden bangles or friendship bracelets is appropriate only for casual looks. A more sophisticated take on this style is the addition of a slender and lightweight link bracelet of gold or silver worn next to a medium or large wristwatch, adding just a bit of sass and sparkle in a pleasing proportion without the same potential for damaging either your jewelry or your timepiece.

When Necklaces & Necklines Clash

Some garments are especially tricky to accessorize, as they are so full of eye-catching details that they demand the full attention of the eye. The drawstring neck of a hippie Boho-style dress from Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane is such a garment.

On the cover of the April 2013 issue of Marie Claire magazine, actress Olivia Wilde wears this dress, the drawstrings tied loosely and the front of the dress open low. Despite all there is to see with this decidedly sexy dress, the stylists for the magazine chose to add two necklaces – a short pendant necklace from Eva Fehren that lays above the neckline of the dress, and a chain with a much larger starburst-shaped pendant from H. Stern.

The starburst pendant is lovely, but it extends several inches under the neckline of the dress and is hidden under the drawstrings. The placement of the pendant makes no sense. It distracts from the dress and yet itself is unable to be appreciated fully as it is half-hidden. And the dress needs no help drawing attention to Wilde’s figure.

The shorter necklace is lovely too, but it is simply too small to contribute any kind of visual impact to Wilde’s look.

When choosing a necklace, always give consideration to the neckline of the garment with which the necklace will be worn. If the neckline is particularly detailed and eye-catching, the best choice may well be to forego any type of necklace. A cocktail-size ring or a set of rings, the latter a popular choice this season, would be a superb substitution.

How Not to Wear a Diamond Necklace

While it’s the bustline darts on Anne Hathaway’s Oscar gown that have garnered the lion’s share of negative attention, her choice of jewelry for the Academy Awards is equally puzzling.

Hathaway wore a pink Prada apron-style gown, Asian in its design influence, accessorized with over $300,000 worth of platinum and diamond jewels from Tiffany & Co. The stud earrings were stunning in size if uninspired in design, and the pair of bracelets were exquisite. The necklace, however, is inexplicable.

The necklace consists of elaborate alternating floral motifs that had nothing in common with the sleek linear design of the pink gown or Hathaway’s sporty hairstyle – from a style perspective, a mismatch. But far worse is that the necklace was too long for the square neckline of the gown. The necklace was tied or otherwise rigged in back to pull it higher in front so that the necklace didn’t fall over the neckline of the gown. The result was a miniature ponytail loop of diamonds created from the stump of the necklace at the back of Hathaway’s neck, adding fussiness to what was otherwise the stunning sleek design of the back of the dress.

It is curious that Tiffany & Co. didn’t have a jeweler on hand who could have taken out some of the necklace links to allow the necklace to fit properly or better yet, provided jewelry designs that better matched the style of the gown.

Hathaway has been reported in the press to receive a substantial sum of money to wear Tiffany  & Co.’s jewelry designs when she co-hosted the Oscars in 2011.  None of that jewelry was memorable. The Tiffany & Co. jewelry selected for her to wear in 2013 has been worse than disappointing. It might be time for her to engage an objective stylist who doesn’t have a vested interest in her choice of jewelry. . . . and who also can recognize a red carpet gown likely to land her on the worst dressed list.

Reptile Rings Are Rarely Right

Women’s hands tell a lot about their age – in some cases, much more than faces or figures. The hands are far too often neglected when it comes to sunscreen, and veins and a crepe-like texture, along with wrinkles, mark the march of time.  Even the smoothest, loveliest hands have little collections of wrinkles at the mid-finger knuckles. This is just a normal part of human physiology.

Perhaps then rings that mimic the texture of reptile skin and that extend all the way up to that little mid-finger collection of wrinkles should be viewed as a celebration of human design. Sadly, it’s mostly a reminder of one’s wrinkles.

How surprising, then, that the February 2013 issue of Vogue highlights a set of three reptile-inspired rings by a certain London designer. Vogue poses the three rings in front of a taxidermy lizard to further emphasize the markings on the textured rings, but photographing any of the rings on a human hand would have created almost the same effect.

Unless your skin is as smooth as silk, or unless you get a kick out of highlighting your wrinkles, let these reptile rings slither on by.

How to Layer Necklaces

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen is so stunning that she could likely make anything she wears look good. But I may have found a jewelry combination that even she couldn’t pull off.

Consider this ad for Lauren Ralph Lauren running in the December issue of O, the Oprah Magazine.  The model (who is unidentified, not Bundchen) wears four necklaces: a short chunky chain, a short rigid collar or choker, a long chain of oval links with larger double oval accents, and a necklace of long rectangular links accented with what looks to be crystal or plastic spacers.

The issue I see with the styling is that there is no focal point. The thick choker renders the shorter linked necklace superfluous and competes visually with the two long strands, which in turn compete visually with the bright orange belt and metallic belt buckle below. The eye doesn’t know where to look. Even if the model’s shirt were buttoned and the belt hidden, the necklaces do not work together. The only design element the necklaces share is metal color.

The single longest necklace, with its rectangular links, takes on a somewhat jagged shape that starts and stops and does not flow, a shape that clashes with the smooth rounded shape of the next longest necklace. Those two necklaces do not complement each other. Notice too how the awkward angle of the longest necklace at bottom right emphasizes the angular shape of the jawline of the model.

Next consider this beautifully styled ad:  In a current ad for David Yurman jewelry running in the December issue of Vogue, Bundchen wears a starburst pendant necklace plus five other necklace strands of varying widths with an alluring off-the-shoulder sweater. Three of the strands that are identical may actually be one necklace wrapped three times around her neck. The necklaces are layered beautifully, highlighting the pendant and providing a nested effect with a visual focal point.

Layering necklaces is more of an art than a science, but the overall effect of any combination  is easily determined. Evaluate any look by considering where the eye is directed. If the eye is confused, the look will benefit by revision.

How might one revise the Lauren Ralph Lauren styling? First, eliminate the choker, which interferes with the long line created by the deep vee of the open shirt and further emphasized by the long necklaces. Eliminate the short chain necklace too, as its impact is de minimus. Choose a pair of longer necklaces that complement each other, one slightly shorter than the other (which may require taking out several links, a task easily accomplished by any jeweler), or wear only one long necklace. Either replace the bright belt or intend for the belt to be the focus of the ensemble. The overall look will be less cluttered, more cohesive, sporty and chic.

Softness Personified with Jewelry

Here’s an example of styling perfection that brilliantly uses jewelry to focus attention on the soft womanliness of the wearer.

The model in the Neiman Marcus ad has big round eyes, a small nose and ears, lush lips, and fair coloring – blonde hair and hazel eyes. She wears a cream-colored sweater of textured yarn that invites touch. Her look is soft, warm and approachable.

Further emphasizing the softness of the look is the beautiful pearl jewelry she wears, from design house Yvel. Fresh water pearls of luminescent peach and golden hues encircle her neck and wrist and dangle from her ears. The pearls are reminiscent of her pillowy lips and round features. The colors suit her perfectly.

There are designers creating all manner of fabulous jewelry at all price points. Choose for your jewelry wardrobe jewelry designs that draw attention to and highlight your best features.

Great Style Has No Size But Some Jewelry Does

I salute InStyle magazine on its new monthly feature “Great Style Has No Size!” under the heading “Your Look: Full-Figure Flair” which debuted in November 2012. As the magazine explains in the initial feature: “We heard you! You asked to see the trends in silhouettes cut for your body, so take note: When it comes to outerwear, the fashion-savvy are selecting statement coats in bold hues or with eye-catching details.”

The outerwear featured is an attractive mix of styles, some of which will work better on some full-figured shapes than on others, nuances which necessarily go beyond the scope of a one-page magazine article.

InStyle adds style tips to the three looks at left. With the blue jacket from Catherine’s, InStyle comments: “A short style works best when it’s at least fingertip length. Skinny pants balance the looser shape on top.” A fingertip-length jacket also works just fine on women with less than slender legs for whom skinny pants are not an option. To my eye, skinny pants may make the figure look out of proportion for a well-proportioned full-figured woman. Straight-cut or slightly boot-cut pants provide a visually cohesive and well-proportioned look top to toe.

With the red coat from Marina Rinaldi, InStyle comments: “Draw attention up to your face by echoing the coat’s open neckline with a similarly revealing dress.” That’s all well and good when the point of the coat isn’t warmth but style. However, reality requires a more practical approach. Cover up the clavicle by adding a non-bulky woven wool scarf.

InStyle comments about the third coat in patterned wool from Talbots: “Two full-body prints equal visual overload. Instead, let the patterned piece take center stage by combining it with a solid.” The combination pictured is attractive (the dress is from Elie Tahari), but the rule is more limiting than it needs to be. A nuanced discussion of what designs would work with the coat would take more than a few lines of text.

The footwear pictured merits discussion. The suede skimmers from Pretty Ballerinas shown with the blue jacket ensemble are practical and cute. The black booties shown with the red coat and sexy dress from Lane Bryant are not flattering, as they make the model’s legs look shorter. The heavy straps of the high heeled sandals at right draw the eye first, negating the effort of coordinating dress and coat.

There’s another detail that requires comment about the ensembles pictured. With the red coat, the model wears a delicate necklace of rose gold vermeil from Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry. With the print coat, the model wears a short necklace of Swarovski crystal and hematite plate from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade.

I visited the Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry web site and learned that the designer’s necklaces are uniformly 16 inches long, but that a purchaser can specify in the special instructions the length of the chain desired, a helpful option.

The Dakota necklace pictured from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade is only 15 inches long. When I inquired as to whether the necklace could be ordered in a different length, I was told that the necklace is “a comfortable fitting collar as shown in [the] InStyle shot,” that it is not adjustable, and that it comes only in that one standard size.

A 15-inch necklace is a collar length that will work only for a woman with a fairly slender neck; even 16 inches is very short. Many women who wear misses’ sizes require a necklace of 16 to 17 inches. Working with full-figured women over the years as an image consultant, I have learned that a necklace of 18 to 20 inches is a more appropriate length for many full-figured women.

Designers run into practical considerations in producing jewelry. Clearly, it is less expensive to produce a necklace in a 15-inch length than it is to produce a necklace some 20 or 25 percent longer. However, the short necklace length will not work for most full-figured women and designers limiting their selections to that length will be losing a huge potential market for their designs.

If InStyle wants to serve the full-figured women’s market with the “Great Style Has No Size!” feature, the magazine needs to promote designs that accommodate realistic neck sizes. One-size-fits-all does not hold true in jewelry. Any article that purports to outfit full-figured women needs to take into consideration not only the size of the garments, but also the size of the jewelry being promoted.