November 3, 2013

Leggin’ It

Getting a Leg Up!

Generally speaking the skinny pant or legging is one of the toughest looks to wear well for any but the most twig-like among us.  They tend to make us all look a bit like carrots or in my case, an ice cream cone.  But even so, the skinny jean, skinny pant and legging seem to be holding fast to the top of the fashion must-have lists season after season.  So much so that even the most resistant, including wide-legged pant loving me, have succumbed to their ubiquity.   

So yes, everyone is wearing them.  But wearing them well?  Uh….yeah…not so much. 

Usually made with lycra or other nifty stretchy stuff to make them more comfortable, these form-fitting pants tend to lull us into a false sense of confidence regarding fit, and since they make our legs look pretty awesome we can neglect to note that they may not be doing our behinds or tummies any great favors.  Worse yet, as these pants have become more and more mainstreamed most women have drifted away from wearing them with bottom-covering tunics and now wear them with just about anything.  The results can be disastrous.

We have probably all seen a “don’t” example or two.  You know the looks – garments clinging far too tightly to intimate areas; shiny material creating a very odd moiré effect across a generously proportioned bottom; flimsy jersey wretchedly highlighting one’s cellulite or, even worse, being basically transparent wherever it is stretched beyond its relaxed state.  And while a longer top or jacket will hide a few of the main sins, they cannot hide them all!

To make the skinny look work a girl needs to take fabric and construction into careful consideration and style looks to best suit the garment and how it looks on an individual body.  Not all pants are created equal.  And even the most expensive among them can turn on you – just ask Lululemon about transparent yoga pants!

The cut of skinnies and leggings are not forgiving to ones figure, no matter how comfy they may feel.  Construction and fit are crucial.  While some skinnies are actual pants, with seams, darts and curves meant to create structure and shape, others are more like a piece of hosiery – with very little shape or seaming, relying solely on the fabric’s stretch to conform to the body.  If you want to be able to wear a pair of pants with short tops as well as long ones, choose pants with more structure and make sure they aren’t too tight. 

Selecting darker colors and heftier fabrics will also help make a skinny cut more forgiving.  A ponte knit is going to have a little more substance without being too bulky.  While many retailers have ponte offerings, JJill is my favorite for great fabric quality at a moderate price.  They are showing several options in both pants and leggings that are great weight and have cool details like zippered ankles and front seams.    

Fabric changes when stretched over your body so be sure to try things on.  Check to be sure a print or texture doesn’t turn on you when and where you least need it.  This is especially critical with any sort of shine or anything with a stripe or geometric pattern, which can get a bit wonky when they are adorning one’s curves.  On the other hand a well placed color block can be terrifically flattering.  And if you are loving shine but its not loving you try some cleverly placed shine rather than an all over shiny fabric.   I really love the flattering effect of a tuxedo stripe like these options from Vince Camuto and NYDJ.

 To test for sheerness I like to do the “white panty” test.  Try pants or leggings on in a well lit room, while wearing white panties – granny panties are best if you can bring yourself to do it – and see how they look, especially from behind.  Can you see the white coming through?  If so then I would steer clear, go up a size, or at the very least NEVER wear them without a very long top.     

Never forget that true leggings are meant for layering rather than for being worn as full-on pants.  Even if you find a pair with “control” to be truly flattering they really do need to be paired with longer tops, tunics and even skirts.  Eileen Fisher has a pair out that are actually a short skirt and legging in one.  I was skeptical about these babies until I saw a woman wearing them and they looked super chic.  I now own a pair and I am finding they really are the answer when you want the legging look with tops that simply don’t go the distance in terms of bottom coverage. 

There are soooo many options out there from jersey to leather, fast fashion to haute couture.  Selected and styled with care, even the curviest among us can rock the skinny look and show off our best assets without ALL of our…ahem…assets  being on display!

 

 

October 20, 2013

No Sweat!

No Sweat!

 

Recently I have been obsessed with the embellished sweatshirt – and this is quite notable since presently I don’t even own any sort of sweatshirt.  They just haven’t been my thing.  This obsession all started this summer when I saw one on Pinterest, pinned by my very fashion savvy 12 year old niece, Darby.  This wasn’t some basic Hanes sweatshirt emblazoned with a sequined pumpkin or other seasonal or cutesy motif.  No this was a super-chic fashionable sweatshirt – navy blue with sequined sleeves in silver, gold and copper. 

After that first one I began seeing them everywhere, especially as the pre-fall and fall seasons rolled out.  Tarting up a comfy sweatshirt is hardly a new concept and nearly every fall season sees one verion or another, but lately there have been more than a few versions that are fashion far beyond the sequined kittens octogenarians wear at bingo.  It’s tricky to articulate just what combination of color, cut, and embellishment elevate the lowly sweatshirt past cute or fun and right on to chic, but every once in awhile one does with a bang.  I pulled together a sampling of my current favorites – from couture to fast fashion:

  1. This confection from Lanvin, is without question a fashion statement – the color, the cool cut of the raglan sleeve, and the sequins in varying sizes, the whole thing is fab.
  2. This is the one that renewed my interest – its a sweatshirt and doesn’t hide the fact, but it does so in a super cool way.
  3. With the embroidered bell sleeves this particular number is so much more than a sweatshirt. Can’t you just see this with white jeans and a sparkly statement necklace?
  4. I am especially drawn to designs where the embellishment is thoughtfully placed – like the lacy patterning on the shoulders of this Dorthy Perkins Collection piece.
  5. This cutie, in traditional grey jersey graced with lady like pearls, in a cropped cut is…like..totally eighties, and since its from Delia’s its also totally affordable.  

How to wear the look?  Well, clearly these babies are meant to glam-up your Friday casual or weekend looks so don’t kid yourself into thinking they are appropriate for dressy occasions like a cocktail party.  Just as critical as where you wear it is, how you wear it is even more important.  When you are creating an outfit around one of these fancy pieces it’s all about balance

 First off, choose jeans or slouchy boy-friend cut pants, or pair with a maxi skirt for some season transiting fab.  Solid colored bottoms are the safe choice, but if you are feeling adventurous you can absolutely go with a print or texture as well.  Just be sure to balance the visual impact of print and embellishment carefully.  If you want a narrow pant, make sure it is a true pant and not just a jersey legging unless the top is tunic length.  Actually, this advice applies to EVERYONE – Leggings are meant to be worn with longer tops since jersey doesn’t cover as well as you hope it will when it is stretched across even the tiniest bottom!!  

Sweatshirts can be bulky and make you look wider and shorter than you might want so select both the top and your accompanying bottom with fit and the overall silhouette in mind.  If the top has that traditional banded bottom, make sure it fits well (no over stretching or riding up) and hits you in a flattering place.  If you aren’t loving where the band hits you, you may be able to have a tailor remove the band which will be a more forgiving boxy swing silhouette.  

You will want to keep the rest of your accessories balanced and complimentary rather than matchy matchy.  To avoid looking like a Christmas tree keep shoes and bags on the simple side without going too sporty (or it will just look like, well, sweats.)   Select jewelry that doesn’t compete with the embellishment but balances it.  What does that mean?  Well, if you have “fancy” sleeves and a plain body, you don’t need tons of bracelets, but a sparkly bib necklace or pendant might be just the thing.  Conversely, if the embellishment is on the front or all over than leave off on the necklaces but maybe toss on a sparkly cocktail ring for a cheeky pop. 

With winter and the holiday season coming up I am sure you can find quite a few occasions for a tarted-up sweatshirt, I certainly know I can.  Also, before you write this off as a single season wonder, Jason Wu showed a light version with almost floaty embellishment in his Spring 2014 Runway show that was gorgeous.  So if you love this look as much as I do you stay tuned for more opportunities in the months to come.  Now I just need to find the perfect version to add to my own wardrobe!

 

October 5, 2013

THE White Dress – Epilogue

 

weddingbelle

 

Looking back at old posts recently I realized we are coming up on our first anniversary and I never did finish up my dress odyssey.   So here is how the story ended, or at least what came right before “and they lived happily ever after”. 

My final wedding look ended up being a collection of fortuitous “make it work” moments from a blend of talented helpers, my own editing skills and just pure luck.  As some may recall, unlike most brides who start by actually trying on a sample dress and then trying on veils, shoes, etc.  to go with the dress,  I had a dress made for me based on my own sketch, so bringing all of the elements together required some vision.  Little did I know just how much!  

Shelly, my designer, started with the bodice since we knew that getting the fit right would be tricky.  It took weeks, but it was perfect – just the right amount of detail, good fit, and the corseted design flattered my Rubenesque body.   While she worked on the dress, I ordered my tiara, made my veil myself (easy peasy), did my hair and make up trials, got my shoes and figured out jewelry.  Since the dress was to be the focal point, I was keeping the other accessories simple and classic. 

Heading into August everything was right on track.  Then, as Shelly draped the skirt, she becamed concerned, and before she got too far along she did a quick pin and baste up for me to try.  When I came to that fitting I was bubbling with excitement – things were coming together.  But Shelly was quiet, practically holding her breath waiting to see what I thought.  I put the dress on and there was a long silence in the fitting room. 

I could immediately see what she was struggling with – it simply wasn’t right.   Despite the fact that the design was made up of elements I knew worked on me, when we put it all together the overall effect was awful.  The proportions were off, somehow making me look even bigger and more ungainly than usual!  I was on the brink of tears, but I didn’t want to hurt Shelly’s feelings.  This was more about my body than her effort.  It just didn’t work.  Oh. My. Gosh.  It was the beginning of September – we had seven weeks until the wedding!!  

After the initial shock I pulled myself together – I took a big step back and tried to be rational and objective.  What could I do?   There wasn’t time to buy anything else.   We needed to make this work.   Forget my original dreams.  Forget fabulous.  Forget special.  I just needed to create something that I would not cringe about when I looked at pictures.  Shelly and I dissected what we had and discussed options.  We had some good elements that we could work with.  As for the rest, we agreed we just needed to rethink. 

Step one – simplify the top.  I had wanted a shrug or sleeves to cover up my ham-like upper arms, but everything we tried made me look squatter.  So we opted for an off-the-shoulder detail in organza – it still showed my beefy arms, but at least it broke up the vast expanse of pudgy shoulder and framed the décolletage (a bonus if you ask Mr. Commando).  Step two – redo the skirt.  Plain it looked horribly drab so we knew it needed something and after some playing about we settled on asymmetrical tiers for visual interest while avoiding having horizontal lines.  

Traumatized, I went to the next fitting in dread.  And my fears were realized when I found myself in a dress with puffy sleeves and tiers in a frilly lettuce edge which, paired with the tiara and veil, created a complete Princess look worthy of Disney.  This would have been great on someone 25, but on someone 45 it was utterly ridiculous.   I was appalled, it was soooo not me.   Shelly quickly grasped my concerns and we de-puffed and cut off the frilly finish – hmm….better.  Not wonderful but…fine.  Pragmatically I decided it would have to do. 

Thoroughly demoralized, I thought about what I could do to save this and came to the conclusion that I would use the same approach that I use for everyday.  I decied to make up for a lack of truly designer plus size clothing and my less-than-fashionable body with good styling and fabulous designer accessories.  I started a shopping frenzy to replace my understated accessories with some really posh goodies.  For jewelry I chose my Tiffany diamond heart pendant my beloved gave me and added a beautiful and dramatic pair of earrings and bracelet of delicate porcelain flowers from MaapStudio, a designer on Etsy; then I snagged a pearl encrusted heart clutch at BHDLN, and treated myself to the coolest sparkly Mary Janes in champagne from Miu Miu.  Now *that* was more like it!

Weddingaccessories

But the veil had to go.  At my second to last fitting we tried a myriad of options with no awesome results.  Shelly sent me home with some stuff to play with including a beautiful handmade silk flower and a mini veil of French net.  When I got home that night there was a package from my mother-in-law-to-be.  It contained a beautiful vintage brooch – a bumble bee of topaz with jeweled wings.  It was an exquisite family heirloom with a wonderful story behind it;  I was so touched and charmed, here was the perfect something old!  And then an inspiration hit me.  Playing with the brooch and the flower, and the veiling I created a sort of hat – it was quirky and a little cool.  I took a quick pic and sent it to my wedding planner.  She LOVED it.  Then I called my hairdresser, Liz and she had me come in for a quick check – she came up with a nifty asymmetrical ‘do to work with it.  Problem solved!  And with only one week to go!!!!

When it was all put together, along with simply stunning make up from artist cum magician Jessica, the final result looked pretty good.  Of course everyone said I was beautiful, but then they have to say that, it’s a rule.  The pictures don’t make me cringe and as a bonus I came in WAY under budget for dress, jewelry, etc.  Best of all, I captured what I was going for – timeless, elegant, with just a touch of quirky and  I managed to achieve my dream of having an original and fashion-forward look top to bottom.  In fact, since the dress was created from individual layers of candlelight and blush, my wedding dress was truly a unique color and wasn’t even white.  No, my white dress was actually PINK!

brideCredits: Photos by Chard Photography, Hair – Liz Ward and Jenn Smit, Vogue Salon, Make Up – Jessica at Flawless Faces

September 22, 2013

Creating a Flap…per!!!!

I recently got a chance to really stretch my creative muscles and it felt sooooo goooood! My favorite restaurateur, Bonnie, celebrated her birthday with a fabulous bash at her restaurant – Harlow’s in San Juan Capistrano.   The theme, Great Gatsby, was both totally on-trend and befit the gorgeous vintage vibe of Harlow’s, better yet – the invite said 1920’s dress encouraged – time to dress up! 

Chatting with Bonnie a few weeks before the party I got the dish on the look she was considering for herself – beaded flapper dress, feathers, the works.  This girl always looks simply gorgeous and she had several options in her wardrobe so I was expecting amazing.  As we chatted I mentioned I have a snazzy Louise Green 20’s inspired cloche and she made me promise to wear it.     

I instantly knew the look I was going for –  luxe and sophisticated 1920’s – think Lady Mary ala Downtown Abbey rather than full-on flapper.  My cloche is a daytime hat, but it is a rich brown and with the right clothes it could work for cocktail hour.  I started pondering my closet for an eveningy ensemble to wear with the hat and got royally stumped.  I have plenty of daytime options but not a single thing that would really be right for evening. 

Scouring my online sources yielded absolutely nothing.  Then I thought “well maybe I need to go black and get a NEW hat”.   (I am always ready for a new hat.)   However, after a few more scans the only dress I found was ridiculously expensive, and I would still need to get the hat and probably shoes so it was just too extravagant, even for me.  

What to do?  I was running out of time, contemplating not dressing up and doodling on a note pad as I pondered my options.   When I looked down at the simple shift dress I had sketched an idea bloomed – why not MAKE a dress?!  A few more sketches, some measurements, and I had my concept – a simple shift with slight sleeves, a dropped waist and knee length skirt but jazzed up with some sparkle and shine.  But, it still seemed a bit drab.  Then I thought “feathers!!!” and sketched in a feathered skirt.   

At the fabric store I hunted for the right materials, pulling together feathers, trim and fabrics.  I found absolutely perfect trim – black with brown embroidery and bright crystals right off the bat, and found several good options on fabric, but came up with only one not-quite-the-right brown feather boa – rats!!!  I needed eight boas to make a skirt, and without the feathers the dress was going to be beyond dowdy.  I headed to a craft store where I found, miracles of miracles, a huge pile of boas in a mixed cream and brown –and since apparently no one else has found a use for mottled natural colored boas they were even on sale – bingo! 

I set aside a weekend for my sewing project.  Pattern and muslin making took a morning and by then end of first day I had the dress fitted, zipper in, and sleeves done.  Then I spent the whole of Sunday on feather boa manipulation and hand sewing.  By the end of the weekend I was tired, my workspace was covered in feathers, but I was very very satisfied with my creation.

The final outfit came together perfectly; the color palette and every element from hat to dress to accessories worked seamlessly together.  I had snagged one of the solid brown boas to actually use as a boa, and added a pair of Mary Janes in a burgundy metallic patent from my own closet – period style, dressy and not too matchy-matchy.  My recently purchased Givenchy jewelry in bronze metal and rose crystals lent the right sparkly touches with long necklaces and a bold cuff.  Even my haircut was just right, conveniently, a swingy bob.  Best of all – that fabulous darned hat with its feisty feathers and band– LOVE!

The party was a blast – a restored Model T graced the front entrance for photo ops, there was a casino with proceeds benefiting the Marconi Foundation for Kids, and lots of folks joined in the fun of dressing up, dancing and celebrating.  While I didn’t manage to get Mr. Commando in an era-appropriate outfit, he looked good and I did get him to join me on the red carpet for a snap.  Bonnie and I had a big laugh when we saw each other and realized we had both ended up wearing dark brown.  She couldn’t believe I had made my dress and kept showing it off (so sweet).  I got tons of complements that night and the final fun came just a few nights ago – we were at Harlow’s for a casual dinner when the GM came up and asked if I had noticed that my picture, hat and all, is now on the restaurant’s “wall of fame” – how fun is that?!

Flappers

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