Charm School: Best Dressed

Clothes make the woman and man and deny it though we might it's true.  It is generally our outward appearance that draws attention first and how we present ourselves is important.  First impressions are often the lasting impressions and that too is unfortunately true.  We might have opportunity to meet someone again but try as we might if we created that unfavorable first impression that is the lingering ideal they will have of us, regardless of how nicely we present ourselves or act thereafter.

The most common mistake made in dress is that we think the more we have the more put together we shall be.  We do not have to have a room sized walk in closet full of clothes.  We might well be limited at the time to two pairs of pants and two shirts and a single pair of shoes, but we can present ourselves in such a way that while it might dawn on some people that they've seen those pieces before, most won't even be aware that you're wearing the same thing you wore the day before...unless of course, it's obviously wrong for you, scandalously suggestive and immodest, or increasingly dirty, and in ill repair.  Starch that shirt and polish those shoes and make sure everything is scrupulously clean and that you look as well as you can possibly manage and few will be the wiser.  I know this because I lived it a long while ago!  I was never called out for wearing the same things repeatedly. 

First let us start with what we wear under our clothing.  I briefly mentioned bras and shapers in the previous post on posture.  The proper foundation garments make all the difference in the world both physically in our posture and in how they allow clothes to cover us.  No amount of money in the world can make a dress fit properly if your breasts sag to your waist  nor will it remedy that jiggly bottom.  Choosing the proper foundation garments always comes first, so take care to invest in a good bra or three, underpants that fit properly and don't dig into your flesh or create more lines and a shaper garment if needed.   Review the post on posture for links to fitting a bra properly if you must.

Learn to care for your undergarments so that they last.  I followed tips from others when I upgraded my bras to a better quality bra.  I hand washed using a gentle detergent and hung to dry.  Those bras lasted easily a year.  Compare that to the current bra which is not an upgrade and which are already showing signs of being on their last legs just five short months later.  I'll be purchasing those better bras in the future if I can only buy one at a time then so be it.  I'll take some blame on these current lot: I haven't taken time to hand wash them.  I'm not sure I'd have extended their life by much had I done so but I don't know that for sure.

There are all sorts of undergarments out there.  Try on various types and see which suits you best and what feels the most comfortable and what gives you the most invisible coverage under your clothing.   I know it's terribly hard to buy panties in a package of six and discover you've gotten the wrong cut or the wrong size but it happens.  Do NOT wear something that is ill fitting.  You'll only be miserably aware of how wrong they are the whole while and there is no savings of money because you'll need new proper fitting ones sooner rather than later.

Do you know your shape?  Mine's easy enough, because although my body has gotten larger and gotten smaller, my body shape has not changed not one bit.  I am a pear.  I've been a pear since I came into this world and I will be a pear going out of it.   I have narrow shoulders, a smaller bust, a short waist and large hips and thighs.  The joke in our family is that John got the legs.  I did not.  Hence my reluctance to wear dresses.  I've always had oversized calves and have never owned a single pair of boots because (a) none ever fit about my calf and (b) I have short fat legs and short boots do nothing but make them look shorter and fatter.

Personally I prefer to wear pants in nearly all social situations.  I feel I present my best self in pants because dresses typically are too long on me. They generally hit me about mid-calf, a wide part of my body.  I do like maxi skirts because they tend to cover the legs.  I have accidentally discovered in wearing my new nighties that a dress that hits me absolutely mid-knee works very well for me.  That's why when I altered my sundress into a skirt, I made sure to shorten the skirt to that length. 

A friend said it best back in the 90's when dresses typically were midi length.  She kindly suggested that with the big hat I'd playfully put on my head that I resembled a mushroom.  Lesson learned.  Pants elongate my figure.  Should I ever purchase a dress in the future I know to keep it to mid-knee.

Can I deviate just a moment?  I read an article on Barbara Billingsley the other day that I think just brings home the whole 'charm'.  Barbara B played June Cleaver.  Are we agreed that she always looked attractive?  There are a world of jokes about her wearing pearls though she was portraying a housewife.  Well, the article was an eye opener on many scores. 

The pearls were a foil.  Barbara had a hollow at the base of her throat that always showed up as a dark shadow on camera.  She put on the choker of pearls and there was no shadow.  I do not know how deep the hollow of her throat was but it may well have been something superficial that she was insecure about.  She found a suitable way to cover up what she felt was a flaw on camera. 

But in reading the article I discovered that though it was fashionable at the time the show began  for skirts to be longer she insisted that all her dresses and skirts be hemmed to the length that best suited HER figure.  Period. There was no deviation because it was now fashionable to wear a longer or shorter skirt length.  May we all be so self-assured in our clothing choices!

So back to shapes.  I know I'm a pear, but what are you?  I might also be called a triangle by some definitions and some site or other even suggested I was some alphabet letter.   The key is to read the descriptions of body types and determine what yours is.  Once you know your body shape you'll start to realize why some clothing works for you and some doesn't and won't.

I can tell you honestly that from childhood to now my very best dress cut is A-line or Princess cut.  Always has been and always will be.  I know that a V-neck best suits me because it elongates my short neck.  I know that short sleeves work okay and three quarter sleeves work best but long sleeves are almost always too long and all wrong which makes buying coats a pain because no coat has three quarter sleeves.  Boxy shapes look horrid on me. If I wear a boxy shaped jacket I just look like a box.  I look best in clothing that has a fitted top and a bit of flare to the bottom.

Though I've been told by many so-called experts to stick to wide straight legs this is a death look for me.  Wide straight legs do not draw attention away from my hips as they are supposedly going to do.  Instead they make my bottom look very very broad and visually shortens me, though I just miss being petite in height.  So when Palazzo pants were all the rage once more...I knew full well to stay away from them.  Katie had several pair and they suited her.  Mind you she's a good three inches taller than me.  I can carry off leggings and did carry off those silly stirrup pants we all wore in the early 90's (hello early forerunner of leggings) and I like skinny jeans although some experts warn me away from those as well.  If I'm careful to balance skinny jeans with a longer A-line top, it's a good look for me.

As you see, I know my type pretty well.  So I never make a fashion mistake...Ha!  Just the other day I found a wonderful dress on the rack at Ross.  I liked it so well I chose it six times from three different racks of clothing in my size.  I brought it home and put it on and it was a huge fail.  Had it hung on my body the way it did the hanger we'd have been friends for life. I'd have gone and bought two more so I'd never live without that dress again.  But no.  It was not the style that was wrong.  I had the right style.  It was the pattern.  The dress had a border print and the middle part was different.  On my body that middle pattern became a big apron that hit me on all my biggest portions.  I looked nine months pregnant and half my height thanks to that dark middle pattern.

What was right about the dress was the color (Navy is a good color for me) and the top of the dress suited my narrow shoulders.  The sleeves were fluttery and hit me just mid upper arm as they ought so my shoulders looked broader than they are.  Because the shoulder seam ran from the neck to the hem of the sleeve I didn't have the struggle I often do with an ill fitting shoulder seam.  It had a V-neck and an empire waist and was a maxi.  All those things were right.  The one thing wrong with it however, made it terribly wrong.  There was no hope for it.  I took it back to the store.

Once you determine your body type, you can access online images to show you what will probably look best on you.  The only sure way to determine anything though is to try on clothes.  Once you know basic guidelines you can quickly eliminate those clothes that are simply not going to work for you.  If at some point you are confused by a piece of clothing because you don't know how it fits into your body shape category, try it on.  You can almost always know instantly why a piece is or isn't for you the moment you try it on.  Just like that lovely maxi dress, all I had to do was put it on to know why it didn't work, but why something similar in style could work for me.  You can bet I'm keeping my eyes open for another chance at a dress like that one in a more suitable pattern.

Two words of advice in choosing clothing.  Choose clothes that suit the life you HAVE not the one you wish you had.  I well remember a friend of mine showing me all her lovely evening dresses.  She never went out any place where those dresses would have been suitable.  She lived in a rural county with limited night life opportunities and most of those were barbecue or hayrides. Had she lived in a city with unlimited access to ballet and symphony and ritzy nightclubs straight out of a Hollywood movie she might well have been the best dressed woman there.  Alas, she wasted her money and the clothes hung unused in her closet.

We are all guilty of thinking that if we only had this piece of clothing or that, we'd somehow be transformed.  You are best transformed by working on your attitude towards the life you lead and dressing appropriately for it.

My second bit of advice is this: you do not have to have a roomful of clothes to be best dressed.  Today's capsule wardrobes are nothing more than a return to what was wisdom in the 1940s and '50s when women were urged to buy a suit that could be worn as separates and expand their wardrobe by adding in three blouses and a vest and  a second skirt all of which coordinated and created multiple outfits.  In the late 1990's Lane Bryant put out a book called Fashion Math which stated the very same principle.  The idea of a capsule wardrobe is timeless.   The beauty of it is that you can add one quality piece at a time to your wardrobe and spend no more than you'd have spent on thirty pieces that don't go together and leave you with the deep desire to scrap it all and start fresh.

I would like to share one bit of what I consider sound advice from the book Lessons in Loveliness.  There are colors that suit us better than others but the book suggests we never say we can't wear any one  color.  The author says that if you must wear black (or brown) and it doesn't suit you  add a blouse or scarf in a color that coordinates but does suit you.  She suggested a limited range of colors for black or gray etc., but I say get yourself a color wheel and learn to use it.  I printed off one from online and I can tell at a glance if a color 'goes with' another.  It's a wonderful tool and not utilized outside of decorating as it ought to be.  I think it's the perfect tool for building a wardrobe.  You'll find that most colors you do like will go together.  It's instinctual to choose things we like.

It isn't just what you wear but how you wear it.  For instance do you have a cardigan sweater?  Do you know what length cardigan looks best with which style?  Enter in a search engine and the next thing you know you've a dozen sites to choose from to see all the do's and don'ts of wearing a cardigan.  Try it...

I could spend all day showing your photos of examples but it really is best to figure it out for your own shape and height. 

Don't forget accessories.  I've shown you examples of my own wardrobe in other seasons and you'll note I always accessorize.  Often it's not the clothes but the accessories you use with them that makes the outfit a standout and creates that appearance of being all pulled together.  Accessories also see basic clothing items across seasons of use.  Shoes, purse, jewelry, hat, scarf... It's my opinion that money spent on accessories never goes to waste.

Remember the basic rules here:  Learn to dress your body shape.  Be critical about what works on you and what doesn't.  I have to share that after studying this section on dress, I correctly identified a body type that was not my own and knew within seconds why the shrug she chose was unsuitable for her.  She'd have done well to wear a cardigan or jacket that hit her mid-hip. 

Dress for the life you lead, not the one you wish you had.  If your circumstances change then you can change your wardrobe to go with the new life.  In the meantime dress as well as you can for where you are.

Capsule wardrobes are economically sensible.  Invest in accessories and foundation garments.


Debbie said...

I loved this post. My body shape had changed dramatically as I have aged and I need to dress much differently than I used to. I had the hourglass shape for many years and now, well I have thickened up in the midsection way more than I ever could have imagined and those tucked in at the waist thinks no longer work for me at all. I find that empire waist long maxi dresses look best on me now and hide a lot of my weight gain. I just wish they would make more of them with lots of coverage around the bust area since I am also well endowed up top and always have been.

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

There was so much helpful information in this post. I have been ordering clothes from a couple of plus sized clothing catalogs for quite a few years now, but here lately there are so many
problems with that. The sizes are not correctly indicated. Many
of the clothes are huge on me. I am using their sizing chart, but apparently they aren't. Today I took one pretty, but hugely oversized top to a seamstress shop to have it taken in. It was such a nice print and the fabric felt so good. I had no idea what size it would have had to be reordered in. The seamstress charged only $3 more than it would have cost to just return it.

One of the other tops I ordered was a beautiful print. I was so excited to try it on. My husband even commented on the pretty print. When I put it on, it had a pleat right in the front that made it look like a maternity top. At age 63, nobody would believe it was a maternity situation, they would just think I was buying my clothes in the maternity department because I'm fat. I'm taking a money loss on that one. It's going back. It's going to be a while before I mail order from that company again.

I look horrible in dresses. One of my ankles is permanently swollen, and with my bad knees it's hard to find shoes that work with
dresses. Most of the plus sized clothing stores around here have closed and gone to online venues.

As I was reading this post and comments, I was reminded of a saying from a movie I saw long ago. I don't know if anyone else is familiar with Ma and Pa Kettle movies, but I used to, and still do, think they are funny. They were done in the very late 1940's and 1950's. In one of the movies Ma Kettle said, "I used to have an hour glass figure, but the sands of time have sure shifted." Ma Kettle, I know just what you mean.

Debby in KS said...

Ba ha, Susie! My sands didn't shift....someone just poured in a few more buckets!!!

Clothes are a toughy for me. Buying them makes me sad! Why? Well, bluntly put, I was the best dressed girl in my college dorm, hands down. I never wore jeans to class, but dressed up everyday. That was The Preppy Handbook days in the 80's and I had everything. The beauty of that time was that Penny Loafers and Oxfords were "in", which made walking a uni campus quite easy on me. It was a great look for me, as well.

Fast forward to now....I'm a jumbo sized Autumn Pear. Remember the Color Me Mine book about wearing your best colors? Well, despite being a JSAP, my colors are always very flattering. My goals now are coverage & a pleasing color. I much prefer dresses at near ankle length. Long sleeves are hard because I have orangutan arms and everything is too short.

I LOVED the capsule formulas back then. I traveled with a men's sports team when those were big and that made packing a breeze. My favorite store was called UNITS. It was like Garanimals for adults lol. Maybe 8 basic solids, 20 different pieces including belts, and 3 sizes~ S, M, & L. I did Navy & Black bottoms with Jade and Olive tops. The belts were so neat as you could twist them around each other to make different combos. I was sad to see that store go.

Now, my friend that I've mentioned before, the debutante? She's got a minimal wardrobe, but all coordinated for any occasion. Black, charcoal, pink, & white. Completely flattering colors for her. We laugh because her husband has more clothes than she does!! But she always looks great. And, the part that really gets me? She wears EVERY SINGLE THING SHE OWNS. Only woman I know that does that lol.

As much as clothes make me sad, this was a great post.

Mable Hastings said...

Maybe it is living in Alaska, where except for the fancy-pants state capitol, very, very few people really care about dressing up/wearing make-up and so on. We fish, we hunt, we garden, we forage, we survive 40 to 60 below zero and punishing winds, so who has the time or energy for a lot of this. As I read these, I am totally amazed by the amount of time people seem to spend obsessing about what clothes match, extra handbags (I have not carried a purse since high school; that is what pockets are for), walking a certain way, fancy pedicures. I mean, I know there are super models and all that, but why would ordinary people bother? I've enjoyed reading these, as it is like a window into another world and maybe it is because we don't have a television that I am sort of ignorant about caring this much, but I cannot envision worrying or caring that much about clothes, especially. I worked as a high level professional in my younger days so wore suits most days but I had five and wore a different one each day and when one wore out I replaced it. I liked Steven Jobs, the Apple guy who always wore the same thing---it made life cheaper and easier. My husband was the same, five suits and he wore them over and over. We cut each other's hair. When we first got together 35 years ago, I told him I had hair on my legs and didn't wear makeup and if that mattered to him he could find someone else but he married me hairy legs, plain face and all. Really, I just don't understand all the fuss, although as I said I have found it interesting to read so thank you for that.

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