Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What Not to Wear: Home Edition

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I am a huge fan of the television show, “What Not to Wear.” Hosted by fashion stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, each episode features a complete wardrobe makeover of a single fashion victim, who is given advice on styles that work for her age, lifestyle, personality, and body type, then sent out with $5,000 to replace her entire wardrobe over the course of two days. The final step is a new hairstyle and makeup session. Over the years, I have picked up quite a few fashion tips from watching the show. In honor of the recent announcement that the show will be going off the air after 10 years, here are my top 5 basic fashion rules that apply to all of us – even the celebrities whose photos I’ve used as examples of “What Not to Wear.”

1.      Dress Your Age
Whether you’re a 20-year old wearing hand-me-downs from your grandmother or a 60-year-old wearing miniskirts and Justin Bieber concert T-shirts, dressing too old or too young is not flattering. There are certainly times when you want to look a bit older or a bit younger than your age: If you’re a 25-year-old working in a company full of 50-somethings, for example, or if you’re a 50-something working in a company full of 20-somethings. But there are more successful and more flattering ways to do it than by channeling a generation other than your own.
In this photo, actress Christina Hendricks’ black lace suit looks like it might have come out of her mom’s closet, and the ruffled blouse is straight out of Grandma’s. The little black tie at her neck might even have been stolen from the wardrobe closet on the set of her television show, “Mad Men,” which is set in the 1960s. The outfit makes her look frumpy and significantly older than her 37 years. A better choice would have been the more classic black suit below. It’s demure enough to add maturity and respectability but stylish enough to avoid straying past “mature” and into “old” or “frumpy” territory.
Similarly, dressing younger than your age usually succeeds in making you look older, rather than younger. Lean towards the classic, but add some contemporary or trendy details and accessories to keep your look stylish and youthful without being inappropriate.
2.      Dress For the Task at Hand
There is a time and a place to wear clothing like yoga pants and sweatshirts, and it is the gym. Do not wear them to the office or the supermarket or a job interview. And there is a time and a place for a sequined minidress, and it is also not the office or the supermarket or a job interview.
Gwyneth Paltrow may have been on the way to or from the gym in this outfit, but there’s a reason that gyms have changing rooms. Many WNTW “makoverees” wear similar outfits running errands, out to dinner, and occasionally even to a business meeting. The excuse that nearly every one of them gives is that it’s comfortable. But there are plenty of comfortable outfits that are more appropriate for going out in public. Stacy and Clinton’s suggestion for casual outfits is generally something like this:
Start with dark wash jeans and a cute top, then add in some accessories appropriate to what you’re doing. Add fun sneakers for running errands, sensible but stylish flats for an informal meeting, and bright wedge sandals for a night out. Throw on a leather jacket or a cardigan sweater, add an oversize bag or a bright clutch, wear a bunch of bold chunky jewelry or a single gold chain. A few minor changes help make sure that what you’re wearing is right for where you’re going and what you’re doing. And it’s still comfortable!
3.      Wear Clothes That Fit
Jessica Chastain has an amazingly toned body. But that’s no excuse for wearing a dress that is too small, like the gown she wore to the SAG Awards this year. The seams at the waist are visibly straining, her belly button is clearly outlined through the fabric, and there are telltale wrinkles across her groin that indicate a poor fit (and probably some degree of difficulty in sitting down). Not only does she look uncomfortable, she looks – let’s face it – a little paunchy. And if SHE can look paunchy in badly fitting clothes, what hope is there for we mere mortals? There is hope in tailoring, that’s what. Well-fitting clothes – even if you don’t like seeing that larger number on the size label – are always more flattering than poorly-fitting ones.
Fortunately, her Oscar gown redeemed her, with its fitted but figure-hugging (rather than strangling) cut. Clothes should skim, not cling. She looks like she lost 10 pounds between the SAG awards and the Oscars, but I bet she didn’t. A good tailor is better than a good diet.
4.      The Devil is in the Details
Small details like color, trim and accessories can make or break an outfit – they can let it fade into the walls, or they can play up your personality. A classic outfit jazzed up with accessories is the best way to both stay trendy and express your personality without having to spend a fortune or replace your entire wardrobe every season.
I love Adele, and I think that she is stunningly beautiful as well as charming and funny. But at the Golden Globes, her fashion did not reflect either her beauty or her personality. Her face was colorless, her dress was colorless (and voluminous), and there were no accessories to brighten her up or make her look interesting.
Jessica Alba, on the other hand, chose a flattering color gown highlighted by a pop of a more intense shade of the same color in both her bright lips and her feathery clutch. The simplicity of her bodice and neckline set off the beautiful V-shape of her diamond necklace. Obviously, most of us won’t be picking out million-dollar diamond necklaces as our go-to accessory, but a single inexpensive but eye-catching piece of jewelry can make anyone look – and feel – like a million bucks.
5.      Be Yourself
The final – and possibly the most important – piece of fashion advice I have is to be yourself. If you’re a tomboy, you don’t have to wear frilly dresses. If you’re a bohemian at heart, you don’t have to wear a tailored suit. If you don’t like bright colors, don’t wear them. There are a million variations of just about every piece of clothing that exists. It takes time to find what suits you, but it’s time worth spending.

What suits you??

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