Category Archives: Strike a pose

Working what your momma gave you

Vogue, April 2011

Vogue’s April issue, their annual shape issue, features a piece about dressing to emphasize your height – with a short girl talking about her love of flats and oversize clothing, and a tall girl rhapsodizing about how powerful giant heels make her feel. My first reaction was to scoff. This is revolutionary? I’ve been doing just this for years! (I’m short, and I love oversize sweaters, ballet flats and a certain pair of flat motorcycle boots that I would wear every day if I could.) What a way to state the obvious.

Then I thought about it a little more. On the surface, this seems obvious. Wear what you like, screw common convention about ‘figure flattery’. But, then again, maybe not. Most ladymags stress ways to flatter your figure – but not by making the most of what you have. By telling you the best ways to minimize those hips, create a waist, seem taller or smaller or curvier or straighter. Clothes shopping is tough enough without worrying about how to create a body you don’t actually have.

So the obvious isn’t quite so obvious. And occasionally a bit counter intuitive. See, not only am I short, but I’m hipless. Shaped like a 12-year-old boy is perhaps more apt. So when I try on dresses and skirts with shape, I end up with folds of fabric sticking out awkwardly rather than being gorgeously filled in. And that’s frustrating – there’s a lot of things I can’t wear because of my lack of hips. And I sometimes would love to look a different way. But rather than lament my shape, I’ve learned to live with it. And lately, I’ve been gravitating to fuller, higher-waisted skirts. I still get some shape and get to play with volume, but I’m not imagining body parts that I simply don’t have.

Besides, body ideals have swung from one extreme to the next. In the 1500s, being plump was desirable because it meant you were wealthy enough to eat well. The Victorian Age saw waists whittled by corsets and bottoms emphasized by bustles. In the 1920s, the flapper look called for a small bust and narrow hips. In the ’50s, it was Marilyn Monroe. The ’60s revolved around the gamine – Twiggy, Audrey. The ’90s brought Kate Moss and waif-chic. And now, well, the ideal seems to range from model tall and skinny to athletic to curvy. (Though that whole “real women have curves” thing annoys me – since I’m not curvy, where does that leave me? I do not want to add gender anxiety to my daily routine.) So who’s to say what’s ideal?

Though Vogue champions the same handful of models and a lifestyle comprising designer clothes, perfectly-behaved children and access to personal trainers and facialists, this message of embracing the shape and height you were given is definitely enlightened. And definitely something we can all get behind.

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Middling length

Stop the presses, ladies, the new skirts are here. The spring 2011 fashions have arrived just in time to put an end to that confounding dilemma: mini or maxi?

Chloe, from Style.com

Past seasons have sat with extremes: the mini skirt, ranging between above the knee to dangerously short, and the maxi skirt, an ankle-grazing option that can swing elegant, bohemian or even punk. There was a mild flirtation with full, swingy fifties/early sixties-style knee-length skirts, but just like that time I fell for “The Leader of the Pack,” it wasn’t meant to last.

These new midi skirts range from just below the knee to mid calf. They are fitted and Pink-Ladies-style sexy, pleated and flowy or alarmingly sheer and paired with granny panties. Which only works on the runway, and sometimes not even then.

Though this new length can be quite difficult to pull off – mid-calf length is not the most flattering to women or legs – the number of options makes me think this is a challenge that can be won. Some, like Chloé’s pleated, cocoa-colored option, call to mind an extremely elegant ballerina. And the movement of the skirt would prevent the hemline from cutting the wearer in half and making her resemble some sort of mushroom.

Chanel, from Style.com

Others, however, are less flattering. Chanel’s petal-pink dress with ruffled sleeves and underskirt evokes a baby’s christening gown rather than couture. The trapezoidal silhouette doesn’t do anyone any favors either. Seems this middle length would be most flattering if worn with something fitted up top, just to remind others that you do, indeed, have a figure under there.

Multiple spring runways also paired these skirts with ballet flats, again emphasizing the ballerina look. But unless you are six feet tall or have ankles like popsicle sticks, you are in danger of doing the mushroom. Heels might be better – like Tyra always says, best to look tall, even if you aren’t. The resulting look would make Audrey Hepburn proud.

So, rather than swing from long to short, let’s settle for somewhere in the middle. Perhaps this new length will bring balance to things other than just our fluctuating hemlines.

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Lady in a tux

I have drooled over Yves St. Laurent’s classic Le Smoking for years. What seems so simple – one tuxedo jacket and pair of pants – has the power to transform any woman into someone sexy, powerful and confident. The combination of menswear styling and tailoring meant for a woman’s body both rejects traditional gender norms and embraces female sensuality. So much in one garment – of course I want one.

The tuxedo, however, is a garment unfortunately more fraught with complications than just a little gender-bending. What can be seen as powerful can also be perceived as threatening – that playing with gender norms endangers the status quo. Robin Givhan has an excellent article in the Washington Post about the message a woman wearing a tuxedo conveys. Check it out here: A tuxedo on a woman: What is says and what it means.

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On seasonless dressing

Elle, November 2010

I was flipping through fashion magazines earlier, as I am wont to do when I’m bored (or any other time), and I noticed something interesting. Though it is most decidedly fall – chocolate turkeys, way-too-early Christmas decorations and all – at least half of the clothes featured at the moment are meant for the beach or some other 80-degree locale. Now don’t get me wrong, I am prone to fantasizing about lying on a beach in the middle of winter as much as the next girl. But this focus on bikinis, pastels and raffia sandals struck me as just a little strange.

Given that the weather is finally cooling down, it would make sense for the focus of the fashion world to be on sweaters, coats and the perfect pair of boots. And it is, to an extent –  do not forget the countless articles exclaiming that you must buy a camel coat for winter or else suffer fashion exile. But besides the coverage of the “new neutrals” (which are most decidedly not new, just a rebranding of a classic), there seems to be little else focusing on what can keep fashionistas both warm and stylish.

The cover of the November Elle features Kate Hudson in a two-tone, pastel lace dress. The background is vaguely sunny and spring-like. But for those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring couldn’t be further away. A glance out my window shows branches shedding red and gold leaves – gorgeous, but apparently out of fashion. Guess Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.

The thing is, the fashion world runs six months ahead of schedule. The fall shows are in February; the spring shows in September. And then there are the transitional shows, pre-fall (in the summer) and resort (late fall). So from a news perspective, the sandals and candy-colored patent leather loafers are showing up right on time. But from a what-should-I-wear-today perspective, it’s a bit confusing.

Though I do like to dress somewhat seasonlessly – a lighter weight skirt with tights, or a pretty tank with a heavier cardigan – the pages and pages (both in magazines and on the web) dedicated to resort collections are overwhelming. Editors are urging us to buy that hot pink clutch now – wear it with fur in the winter, a sarong in the summer! – but hot pink is just not a fall color. No matter how cheerful and Barbie-like it may be. Sure, buy out of season – it’s a great way to get a decent price on a winter coat. But I doubt jeweled sandals are on the top of anyone’s November shopping list. Unless you are lucky enough to jet to Capri every weekend, and in that case, can I come?

In order for fashion magazines to stay relevant, they need to be aware of what is seasonally appropriate and desirable. Sure, it’s fun to see what will be in store for spring and summer, and it’s always entertaining to daydream about touring Rome in a succession of pretty sundresses. But for now, give me things warm, fuzzy and possibly oversized. It’s cold out there, and no number of jeweled sandals can change that.

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The triumphant return of pants

New York Fashion Week has arrived, sending a flurry of fashion editors, bloggers, models and the generally fashion-obsessed scurrying to Lincoln Center to see what will be big for Spring 2011. But, more interestingly, they will be wearing what’s big for Fall 2010: pants.

That’s right, pants.

By now, we are all familiar with leggings and jeggings (jean leggings) and any other leggings-tights-other material hybrid that has been big on the streets. Though these spandex wonders cover the lower half, they are not pants. Pants should, hopefully, not reveal every curve, underwear line and whether or not the wearer has shaved her legs. Camel toe is a distinct possibility. Sure, leggings are comfortable. But it seems that the discomfort of everyone staring at your spandex-ed bottom and inner thighs (whether covered or not by a long top) outweighs the comfort of being able to twist your legs into a pretzel when you sit down. At least, it does to me.

This is where pants come in. Fall fashion magazines and ads for various designers and stores (save, of course, D&G and their knit onesies) are highlighting pants. But not just any pants – higher-waisted, bum-skimming, wide-legged pants that make the wearer look tall and gazelle-like. Though the fashion mags cite the return of the ’70s, in my mind it’s the second coming of Katharine Hepburn, actress extraordinaire and one of my personal style icons. (Just watch The Philadelphia Story, and tell me you don’t want everything she wears. I definitely do.)

But don’t worry, devotees of bootcut and skinny jeans (I am a big fan of the latter). All sorts of pants are big. It’s just that the focus is on a wider leg. What I think is even more important than the return of pants is the attitude that goes along with wearing them. Again, see Katharine Hepburn. There is a confidence, an insouciance, a tomboyish quirk that gives pants-wearers an extra jaunt to their step. Pants can be worn with a sense of humor. Leggings are worn with the constant worry that something is showing which shouldn’t be. And who wants to be tugging at their clothes all day?

Clothes should be worn with ease and wit. Nothing mars the effect of a smashing outfit than a fidgeting girl constantly tweaking her collar or adjusting a hemline. (Trust me, I’ve been there.) Pants should, hopefully, eliminate some of this discomfort. If you need help, look to Ms. Hepburn. And join me in welcoming back pants.

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I skinned a wookie for fashion

Though I like to think of myself as somewhat knowledgable about fashion, there is one fashion don’t I constantly commit: I wear uggs. Big, black, furry-only-on-the-inside ugly uggs. You see, my feet are always freezing. It could be 95 degrees, middle of summer, and my toes feel like I’ve just pulled them out of a bowl of ice water. I’ve been told it’s poor circulation, but whatever it is, the first time I sank my chilly feet into a pair of big, fuzzy ugg boots, I was sold. So warm. I think my toes actually sighed in relief.

So, I’ve worn uggs for years. Only with pants, though – the combination of uggs and miniskirts, especially with my chicken legs, is too awful even for someone with feet like mine to consider. However, it seems my years of loyalty have paid off. Given what I’ve seen on the fall runways, my block-like boots are on the tamer end of the fashion spectrum.

Chanel, that beacon of chic, shoved models down its fall runways (in March – the fashion industry runs six months ahead) in boots that looked like Karl Lagerfeld cut Chewbacca’s legs off below the knee. These extra-large, extra-furry boots, however, seemed tame in comparison to the furry jumpsuits that opened the show and the icebergs (imported!) which decorated the runway. Perhaps the boots were meant to keep the models from getting frostbite?

D&G, the sister line of Dolce and Gabbana, also embraced the furry boots trend, but then took the haute ski bunny look a step further. Where Chanel showed boots with fur-trimmed versions of its classic tweed suit, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sent models down their runway in knit nordic-print onesies and long-sleeved leotards. Perfect for those who like designer long underwear.

While I think I get the ideas behind these furry collections – that the apres-ski look, with its connotation of health and outdoorsiness, is back in; that fur will help keep us cozy in winter’s harsh climate (and, perhaps it will also comfort us in these tough times, though that might be a bit of a stretch) –  I find myself hoping that these collections were done tongue in cheek. Over-the-top fur (faux and real) and exceedingly impractical knitwear could be an attempt to bring some levity into what has recently been a bleak landscape, both for the fashion industry and the economy in general. Though frostbitten thighs – the only skin not covered by these furry boots and knit bottoms – aren’t exactly a laugh riot.

I, for one, plan to stick with my uggs. Though they might not be fashionable, I will never be suspect in a wookie hit-and-run. And they will keep my frozen feet safe from Chanel’s ice-covered vision of winter. Though I might have to get myself a nordic sweater. But sans the leotard part – I like to keep an open mind, but a sweater that doubles as underwear is just a bit too much for me.

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Why leather shorts are not the best idea for summer

*Or anytime, really.

Clothing these days is all about hybrids. The jegging (jeans + leggings). The sandal-boot. The dressy shorts that apparently work both for a backyard barbecue and a day at the office. And now, leather shorts.

Now, when I hear the phrase leather shorts, the first thing I think of is lederhosen. Knee-length leather shorts worn with suspenders covered in folky embroidery – definitely a statement, though not necessarily a fashionable one. Unless you are celebrating German history, of course. But I don’t think it’s quite what today’s designers are going for.

The leather shorts being shown today range from extremely short and crotch-chafing to pleated, baggier and emanating a certain swishy sound that makes it impossible to sneak up on anyone. (Spies, take note.) The pleats also serve to add extra width to the hips, which no woman wants. (This is also noticeable in the new carrot pants, which are pleated and looser around the hips and then taper down to the ankles. It’s a cross between mom jeans, trousers and adult diapers. Thankfully, no one has made them in leather yet.) Continue reading

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