A Broader View of Beauty

Being an outlier when it comes to beauty, as someone far too short and wide to meet the standards of classic loveliness, I have always taken an expansive view of what constitutes attractiveness. The world of fashion has gradually gone farther and farther down the path of embracing the quirky, from the French concept of jolie laide (“pretty/ugly”) to such features as gaps between front teeth and outsize feet.

0515 Tess Holliday size 22 plus size model REV

The June 1, 2015 issue of People magazine (“The 2015 Body Issue”) announces on its cover “The World’s First Size 22 Supermodel!” and adds:  “From Bullied Teen to Plus-Size Star:  Tess Holliday on her traumatic childhood and inspiring journey: ‘You can be beautiful regardless of your size.'”

With reportedly over 800,000 likes on Facebook and almost 700,000 followers on Instagram, Holliday caught the eye of the U.K.’s MILK Management and became, at size 22, “the largest model ever to sign with a major agency.” People continues:  “At 5’5″ and 280 lbs., the heavily tattooed Holliday is a pinup for a brand-new era: body-positive, outspoken, social-media-savvy and no one’s idea of a cookie-cutter mannequin.” Noting other plus-size models currently making waves, including Candice Huffine, Denise Bidot, Ashley Graham, and Robyn Lawley, the magazine poses the question: “Maybe the fashion industry has finally realized that women wearing size 14 and up account for 67 percent of the American population?”

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Without comment, the same issue of People includes a one-page spread on the “Not-So-Real Housewives” of Orange County, who “dish about their plastic surgery and Botox.” Not a mention of liposuction appears in the article although the most senior of the five women reports having had a tummy tuck more than 15 years ago. Three of the five women in the article admit to having breast augmentation, three have had nose jobs, two have had “chin jobs,” one tried a lip injection, and all five have had Botox injections. 51-year-old Shannon Beador comments that she wants her three daughters (ages 10-13) “to grow up loving their bodies. I don’t want them to think that they’re going to have to change anything.”

Overly Photoshopped images seem more and more passé as consumers protest when advertisers go too far in correcting perceived flaws or in striving for an unnatural level of perfection. Has there finally been a sea change in appreciating the beauty in every individual, whatever her size?

Signature Looks: Fashion Insiders’ Tips on Personal Style Uniforms

Every day, you need to dress  in garments that suit your activities and lifestyle. Whether you have a walk-in closet the size of a bedroom, or a closet shoe-horned into a tiny space, you need to be able to pull together from your wardrobe an ensemble that meets your practical needs and  pleases your sense of aesthetics too. Irrespective of whether you love to start each day putting together an ensemble that suits your mood, or whether your career dictates the parameters of what is acceptable in the workplace, you need to determine what works for you — the practical side of dressing.

It should come as no surprise that many designers default to a certain look — their personal style uniform, in essence. Designers like Vera Wang and Mary Katrantzou design colorful pieces but themselves dress in black;  designers Michael Kors and Roberto Cavalli dress in jeans, tee shirts and black blazers.

Even if you enjoy piecing together a creative look, there are occasions when a tight schedule dictates that you have no early morning fashion decisions to make.

One image consultants’ trick is to keep a list or spreadsheet detailing favorite ensembles from head to toe; if you can add a photo, so much the better, though the photo is not necessary.

In the March 2015 issue of Glamour, four of the magazine’s editors share their personal highlights of the spring shows during Fashion Week in New York, Paris, London and Milan. Each reveals her personal “show uniform”:

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour NY fashion week REV

  • New York, “A pair of 3×1 jeans, a silk blouse, and a clutch”
  • Paris: “a crisp button-down shirt layered up with my signature silver jewelry, a pencil skirt, and heels”
  • London:  “I live in dresses during fashion month. The less I have to pack, the better. A structured leather belt helps pull it all together.

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour Milan fashion week REV

  • Milan:  “I start with a perfect white shirt, then pair it with a full printed skirt and heels that don’t quite match.”

These are uniforms for women who know they are going to be photographed and who are circulating among people for whom fashion is their life; they need to look terrific, and yet they can find a streamlined way to dress.

A few pages farther back in the issue, freelance writer Emily Holt contributed a piece entitled “Yes, I Will Be Caught Wearing the Same Thing Every Day.” Glamour elaborates:  “Some of the world’s chicest women walk around in essentially the same look year in and year out. Emily Holt makes a case for the art of uniform dressing.”

Holt reveals her personal habit of wearing pants with a sweater and sandals. “The pant-sweater-sandal combination emerged during college in Los Angeles, where that laid-back attire was appropriate year-round.” Now living in San Francisco, she tweaks her wardrobe seasonally. “But while components change, the refrain remains: pants, sweater, sandals, repeat. And why not? It works.” Her look can take her comfortably–ah, there’s a key word–“from a breakfast meeting to a visit with a designer friend in her studio to a work dinner and even an after-hours drink. (Occasionally, I’ll swap the flat for a higher heel.)”

Uniform dressing 0315 Glamour Emily Holt article REV

The article includes photos of British Vogue fashion editor Sarah Harris, “consistently chic in crisp shirts, ripped jeans, and standout accessories” and J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons, who “always pulls everything together with an oversize, tailored jacket atop her shoulders.”

Holt provides tips on how to find one’s personal style uniform:

  • Look at how you dressed when you were a kid. What you wore–or refused to wear–before you knew how to spell runway says a lot about your true sartorial nature.
  • Forget trends. Designer Carolina Herrera tells Holt “It’s important to know what looks good on you, not what’s fashionable.” Herrera’s signature white shirt is “something she’s been wearing since she was required to don one as a child in Venezuela as part of her school uniform. ‘Eventually I became accustomed to it,’ says the designer.'”
  • Embrace being different. Jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth “tends to wear colorful, patterned, feminine frocks that cinch at the waist and fall to her ankles”; fashion editor Sarah Harris is a devotee of androgynous jeans and blazers.
  • Think of it as branding. “The best part of a uniform is that you consistently look like you,” citing Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Audrey Hepburn, Celine designer Phoebe Philo, J. Crew president Jenna Lyons, Ellen DeGeneres, and First Lady Michelle Obama as examples.
  • If all else fails, jeans. “There’s a reason they’ve been America’s uniform for more than 100 years. But if they’re your daily fare, Harris has a critical warning: ‘Jeans can look lazy, so you have to amp up the accessories.’ Which means chic, dressier elements are a must. Harris goes for blazers by Stella McCartney, pumps with a heel, a men’s Rolex, and a pair of diamond hoops.” Harris explains: “It elevates the look and helps people think I made an effort. . . . It’s not that I don’t love other clothes. It’s just that in jeans, I feel like me.”

Crisp button-front shirts and jeans appear to be popular choices for personal style uniforms. You’ll find neither of these items in my wardrobe, however. Black slacks provide the common element in most of my looks. They are less informal than jeans and much easier to dress up. And shirts that button are a no-no for busty women (more on this in an upcoming post). I prefer a silk or cotton knit tank or tee, topped with a lightweight cardigan sweater or jacket. The third layer adds polish and also allows for adjustment of layers as the temperature dictates.

Think about what pieces work best for you. Learn what colors are most flattering to you, and wear them near your face. Add jewelry and accessories that are comfortable and, most important, make you smile. Feeling comfortable in your choices, you can relax and “consistently look like you.”

Make Anything Look More Expensive

The February 2015 issue of Lucky magazine, amid a display of fashions that unmistakably target a younger demographic than the readers of this blog, contains a piece entitled “Stylist Confidential:  Make Anything Look More Expensive.” Drawing upon the expertise of four top stylists, the magazine highlights “cost-saving fashion tricks” that elevate the perception of one’s personal style.

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From Kate Young: “Be careful with prints, as they can look inexpensive more easily. Instead, opt for items in bright solid colors or black, which is always a safe bet.” Not only can prints look expensive, they tend to be memorable and can be a look you tire of after multiple wearings. I would amend Young’s advice to suggest also generally avoiding bright solid colors, unless you know that they flatter your coloring. Generally, complex and subtle colors are more expensive to produce than brights and have nuances and shading that is more flattering to most complexions.

From Kathryn Neale:  “A good tailor can be a game changer. Hemming pants or cuffs to fit you perfectly costs less than $20 and adds polish.”  Unfortunately, the photo of Neale shows her in a skirt, not pants, so there is no visual representation of her tip. Image consultants, like stylists, will tell you that proper tailoring of your garments is the single most important way to upgrade your look. Good tailoring is worth every dollar you spend.

From Karen Kaiser:  “Elevate your basics–like a white shirt, structured blazer and wide-leg trousers–with splurge-worthy accents. I always invest in shoes, outerwear and a great pair of sunglasses.” She is wearing wonderful sunglasses, but her shoes are hidden by ground-dragging pants that might benefit from hemming. Since the point of the exercise was to provide “cost-saving fashion tricks,” “investing in” expensive shoes seems beyond the intended scope of the article. And, of course, there’s the issue that shoes must be kept in perfect condition, which can be expensive, as nothing makes an ensemble look more unkempt more than poorly maintained shoes.

From Jessica De Ruiter:  “Go timeless, not trendy.” Great advice, if you are able to sort out what is timeless and what is trendy. I would characterize the short-sleeve blouse she wears as trendy, although the skirt is classic. Pumps would be much more timeless than bright blue T-strap open-toe wedge shoes. I would have liked to see De Ruiter wearing what she considers a timeless ensemble.

The take-away from all this advice:  Buy classic styles in flattering solid colors or black, and have them tailored to fit. Know the style rules, and then feel free to break them to express your own personal style. Having your own unique personal style is priceless.

Understanding Why an A-Line Skirt Does Not Work for All Body Types

 I understand that fit models can be expensive, but the disservice paid to a Marina Rinaldi A-line skirt by Saks Fifth Avenue in its online shopping site is perplexing.

A-Line skirt pulling Marina Rinaldi at Salon Z Saks 83 sale from 415 112913

The $415 skirt, pictured above, is currently reduced to $83, and it’s easy to see why — the skirt does not fit the model. Let’s look at a lightened version of the photo to better understand the fit issues:

A-Line skirt pulling Marina Rinaldi at Salon Z Saks lightened to show detail

What is happening here is that the skirt is not cut to accommodate a high hip. A high hip is that marvelous physical attribute that provides a place to balance a stack of books, a bag of groceries, or a baby – sort of a convenient natural  shelf.  A figure with a high hip is called a figure eight silhouette. The high hip can be found on women of all sizes – it is not a feature unique to full-figured women, by any means. The high hip requires a garment cut to accommodate the shape of the body.

The Marina Rinaldi A-line skirt pictured would work beautifully on a model with a low hip, which is more of a classic hourglass shape, with a gentler curve between the waist and the widest part of the hip.

Hip Low hip Eliza J fit & flare dress _8580523 72dpi REV

The model above, wearing an Eliza J fit and flare dress from Nordstrom, has a true hourglass figure with a low hip. Although she has her hand posed just under her waist, she has very little in the way of a high hip shelf. The Marina Rinaldi skirt would work beautifully for this model. The shape of  the skirt would skim over her hourglass curves.

Hip high Eliza J twist neck fit & flare dress_Capture 72dpi REV

Contrast the model wearing the pink dress with the above model, wearing a teal fit and flare dress, also from Eliza J at Nordstrom. The belt beautifully defines her figure eight shaped silhouette. The Marina Rinaldi A-line skirt would not suit her.

Consider how a high hip necessarily clashes with the shape of an A-line skirt or dress. In order to accommodate the high hip, the A would need to get very wide very fast, and, to be a true A-line, would need to keep expanding on that trajectory.  If an A-line garment can accommodate a hip shelf, often it is flaring out so severely as to look extremely wide toward its hem – perhaps the kind of dress that is worn with layers of ruffled petticoats. Great for square dancing, perhaps, or costume parties, but not for everyday style.

The solution for women with figure eight silhouette and a high hip:  Choose a style that has ease in the garment immediately below the waist and then curves back in toward the body after it skims over your hips and thighs. A pencil skirt may be a terrific option for you.

In contrast, if you have an hourglass shape with a low hip, there’s a marvelous Marina Rinaldi A-line skirt available at Saks on sale now.

What Is Office-Appropriate?

The May 2013 issue of People Style Watch contains an excellent guide to office style in a piece entitled “Tips for a New Job!  Follow this expert advice and you’ll always look office-appropriate–whether you’re just starting out or mid-career.”

The advice is spot-on, the kind of advice you would receive from a professional image consultant. The advice includes such recommendations as “make sure your clothes fit well” and “dress like it’s interview day.”  With photos of Dianna Agron, Mandy Moore and Pippa Middleton illustrating appropriate professional wear, the article is helpful to every woman who works in an office setting.

Contrast the People Style Watch advice with the following, which stopped me in my tracks. “Who Says You Can’t Wear Color to the Office?” asks the January 2013 issue of Lucky magazine, which continues: “Give the black and navy a rest and try these classic, work-appropriate looks in bright, bold, gorgeous colors.”

I shudder to think how many human resource directors need to counsel young women as a direct result of this remarkably bad advice suggesting that wearing stripes, sequins, friendship bracelets and neon nail polish together in starting combination is work-appropriate. It may be loads of fun on the weekend, but it reflects a complete lack of professionalism in an office environment. This is a look guaranteed to take one OFF the fast track to success.

Surprising Celebrity Tips from the Red Carpet

In the midst of awards season, the February 2013 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal includes a feature entitled “What Does It Take To Look This Good?:  Makeup artist Stefanie Syat and Stylist May Alice Stephenson divulge the stars’ red-carpet secrets.”

Among their observations:

Some actresses use illegal eye-whitening drops (available only in Asia) to make the whites of their eyes brighter.

Women with dark hair sometimes get their arms waxed before the red carpet event.

Spray-on body makeup is the new trend, replacing spray tans. The makeup looks more natural and hides flaws.

A star typically tries on 25 to 40 dresses before making a selection.

And my favorite:

“You see Spanx in trash cans after awards shows. Actresses rip them off after they walk the red carpet.”

It’s a lot of work to be red carpet perfect. Happily, at least those who aren’t appearing on-stage may have the option of getting comfortable before show time.

Comfort is a luxury. I suspect that more than a few pairs of strappy sandals are kicked off too, once the celebrities reach their seats — at least for the duration of the show.

Thinking About Wrinkles

The September 2012 issue of Allure magazine published this extraordinary assertion: “Women report thinking about wrinkles five to six times a day, on average.” The reported source of this information: an Avon Anew Survey.

Curious to learn who these women are, I went online to search for information about the Avon Anew Survey and found nothing – no press release, no news story, nothing at all to shed light on the statement. Who are these women obsessed about wrinkles? What age range do they represent? Where are they located?

The bigger question: Why? Why waste time on such a phenomenally unimportant thing when there is life to be lived?

Contrast that news nugget with a wonderful cover story profile of designer Diane Von Furstenberg in the fall issue of Boston Common magazine, 2012, Issue 4. Along with a number of other photographs of the 66-year-old designer including the cover shot pictured above is a full page, 11 by 9 inch blow-up photo of her face, below. What confidence to allow that kind of visual scrutiny!

Von Furstenberg is quoted: “The most amazing thing about my brand, and to some degree me, though it’s weird for me to say it myself, is the ability [to] stay relevant for so long. I think a little bit of it is because I’m always interested in what’s happening around me. But I’m still the same woman I always was: I felt confidence about myself, and I sell confidence. I sell attitude, and that is completely timeless.”

If you find yourself thinking about wrinkles five or six times a day, or even once or twice, give some thought instead to feeling confident about who you are as a person. That attitude, that confidence, is what people will notice about you — not your wrinkles.

Jewelry Storage: The Flat Approach & How It Can Fall Flat

‘Tis spring, and that means it’s time for a bit of spring cleaning. Several publications have chosen this time of year to provide tips on jewelry storage. There are a number of appropriate ways in which to store jewelry, of course. These articles literally take a flat approach to jewelry storage.

The March 2012 issue of InStyle  provides this “Genius Tip”: “Use attractive serving trays for necklaces, brooches, and other baubles. Store them on shelves so you can pull them out easily.”

While the gist of the advice is sound, the photo illustrating the tip demonstrates the risk with the flat storage approach: Trays get filled up, and soon pieces are jumbled next to and on top of one another. The less jostling, of course, the less potential for damage, but laying chunky chains on top of delicate stone-studded pieces cannot be good for the latter. The solution: break down those large spaces into smaller spaces sized to accommodate specific items. Use soft cloth or cotton (cotton makeup-remover pads from the drug store work fine) to separate each item from the others that share its storage space. The divide-and-conquer approach is illustrated in two current magazines:

The April 2012 issue of Lucky contains a feature entitled “How To: Organize Your Stuff” that includes several storage suggestions for jewelry. “Display your most-worn pieces (and stash the rest!)” suggests the magazine. The illustration lower left shows a drawer fitted with a cutlery organizer, into which jewelry is distributed. Lucky comments: “Those long compartments are ideal for storing the necklaces and bracelets you only wear occasionally.” The photo depicts a well-organized collection.

For the items on display, Lucky recommends composing “a dreamy, romantic vanity” with a display of necklaces dangling from ornate hooks or clear pushpins. Be selective about jewelry to be hung from hooks or pins:  the lighter the piece, the better. Suspending pearls from a hook can stretch out the silk on which they are strung. So too, materials on which beads are strung can stretch out when hung. One exception: Necklaces built upon metal chain. In this case the supporting chain may not be affected, but be cautious that the clasp, if there is one, can handle the weight of the necklace pulling down from the single pressure point of a hook. For heavy necklaces, the flat approach to storage is ideal.

The March 2012 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine  has the theme “De-Clutter Your Life.” Among the many tips, are this one provided by Adam Glassman to Gayle King for her baubles, bangles and beads: “If, like Gayle, you love to accessorize, your jewelry needs to be kept visible. Expandable plastic makeup holders from the Container Store are an inexpensive solution.”

Although the picture is small and cropped so that it can be difficult to see the recommended configuration, the photo, taken from above, shows a set of three drawers fitted with the makeup holders, each containing jewelry. It appears that this is truly a case of “a place for everything, and everything in its place” – a static, excellent solution for storing jewelry flat.

More More Ad Challenges Please!

Almost 10 years ago, back in April 2002 to be precise, More magazine challenged five American advertising agencies “to create campaigns that would change corporate decision-makers’ minds about how they sell” to women over 40. About this demographic Mary Lou Quinlan wrote: “[J]ust try finding us when you switch on the TV or flip through most magazines. Page after page, ad after ad, pretty young women sell everything from soft drinks to software. Younger women may be highly attractive and are certainly strong spenders, but their buying clout pales in comparison to that wielded by women over 40. Still, there’s an 18-34 demographic desirability locked into corporate America’s mindset.”

Perhaps women over 40 have become more visible in advertising over the last 10 years — celebrities such as actress Diane Keaton have proven appeal to all age demographics. Nevertheless, it is fun to look back at the ads created by the ad agencies for the More ad challenge of 2002. Here are my top two favorites:

From the Kaplan Thaler Group Ltd.:

From D’Arcy Los Angeles:

Wouldn’t you love to see More magazine run an ad challenge again?