Many women, including myself, shudder a little at the thought of a “classic” piece. Something very stuffy and white ango-saxon protestant pops into my mind when I hear the term bandied around, even by style ‘gurus’ like Tim Gunn.
As a way to revamp the word ‘classic’ I would like to propose we use instead the term ‘flattering.’ Certain cuts, styles, and silhouettes will never truly go out of style simply because they are the most flattering to all female figures. After experimenting and playing with style, even the most outrageous trend follower comes to a point when she wants her body to look good in clothes.
What are the staple pieces that flatter a woman’s body. Here are some basics, with tips on finding the right fit.
The Belted Coat/Jacket/Trench – Any coat, single or double breasted (rule of thumb, if you don’t have much in the boobs department, get the double), in a natural fabric that falls above the knee and has belt loops with a sash will make your body look amazing. The fit, however, is critical to make this magic happen. The coat MUST be fitted but not shrunken. Fittted is the smallest size you can wear without the buttons pulling when you move your arms. I’m not talking major motion here, just everyday activity. Circling the arms around like you are doing a throwback exercise from 1910 will probably result in choosing a garment that is too loose. This jacket is meant to be a fashion statement, not protective sports gear. The belt is for accentuating the waist that is already created by the cut, not creating a ‘paper bag’ effect. When you try on a jacket, button it up and look like a perfect hourglass you have officially struck gold. Stick with a natural fabric and you will literally be able to wear it forever. Don’t be surprised when your daughter starts eying it up in a few years. But just for me, hang onto it, and wear it. Moms deserve to be fabulous too.
The Boot Cut Pant/Jean – Some concepts seem like no-brainers when presented via TV or web in the comfort of home, but in the heat of a cramped dressing room at the mall become virtually useless. Advice about finding flattering pants and jeans falls into this category. Much of the frustration comes from misjudging the clothing in the store. If you have never worn a garment from a particular manufacturer or label, do NOT try on any pant that is folded up in a pile. Look at the clothing on hangers. A label reading ‘flared’ or ‘bootcut’ slapped on a shelf of tucked away pants is useless. When a pair of pants is hanging, you can look at the proportions and judge for yourself. Maybe the leg looks too wide or the rise is so low only a 5 foot anorexic would be able to shimmy her ass bones in and actually zip. Already you have spared yourself from the clown pant and the one-size-fits-none pant.
Bottom line: seek balance. If the flare is noticeably bigger than your hips, you’re in bell-bottom territory. If the leg is narrower than your hips, you run the risk of looking like you have a big ass and/or short legs. If you are tall and narrow-hipped, this can work in your favor. If you are under 5’9″, I wouldn’t even go there. Evaluate the front view based on balancing width of hips with width of pant leg. Evaluate the back based on fit and pockets. If you’ve got ‘back’ avoid side pockets like the plague. If you have a straight figure, front and back detail, like flap pockets with buttons can keep you from getting lost in a loose cut style.
The Perfect Top – Here is an area where goal-setting is necessary. Many times the bust size is over-emphasized in choosing a flattering top. Forget the bust. There is only one thing to consider when deciding which style is right for you: how much do you want to narrow your waist? A voluptuous chest and nipped-in waist have never in the history of civilization ruined a look. A visible spare tire, however, can compromise your outfit. Once again, it’s all about proportion. The goal is an hourglass. Even if you are a size 22, if you have a comparatively small waist and hourglass shape with no bulges in the middle, you can pretty much wear any style of shirt you want and look great. Go fitted but not shrunken, that is all I ask.
If one wants to create a narrow waist, a plain cotton t-shirt is not going to do the job. A stiffer fabric and tailoring, specifically darts at the waist, will serve you much better. Blouses with belts are easy to find, and the right one will look amazing. For those times when you don’t want to be stuck in a button-down shirt, go for a v-neck or polo, in a heavy weight fabric with stretch. You want to create shape. Even if the shirt doesn’t hide every flaw, the thick fabric will give the top structure, and structure is the absolute BFF of any woman trying to narrow her waist. If all else fails, go buy some Spanx. We’re women, we reserve the right to be vein. If you can’t get the look you want with clothing alone, go for the shape wear. Just carry a bag large enough to stash it if clothes start coming off.
The High Heel – I cannot emphasize enough that the most stylish body enhancing garment in existence is a sleek, high heeled shoe. They make the body look taller, thinner, shapelier and the shoes themselves look good on your feet. The eternal debate, one of comfort vs. style, has raged on for centuries. Podiatrists, god love ’em, don’t help us on the ‘style’ side of the argument make our case when they condemn any narrow, high heeled shoe as damaging to the foot. Now, for those swayed by these appeals, have you seen the shoes they offer as alternatives? Do you want to wear crocks in public? Sure, it’s fine for those days you just don’t care. Even the most stylish have days they just want to lounge in comfy clothes. By all means, do so. This is a sign you are not insane. But don’t build a wardrobe around stuff you would wear just to run in the gas station.
I will argue as a woman who wears athletic, heeled and flat shoes alternately, that a heel is more comfortable than a dress flat. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. A dress flat gives no arch support, most have no cushioning to speak of, and their awkward shape will rub some part of your foot raw after eight hours. A high heel is actually closer to the natural shape of the foot, cut to fit the foot better, and much less likely to result in aches and pains associated with no shock absorption in the shoe. Since the heels defy gravity, your arches are not pounding the pavement with each step. Sure, they are contorted. I like to think of it as a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, as opposed to, say, the bound foot of an aging geisha. A pretty contort practiced and used appropriately, not too much or too seldom. As far as the Podiatrists’ stance on the issue: as long as you wear the correct size, do not sleep in them or wear while running the New York Marathon, I think the high heel is a perfectly safe shoe in your rotation. It may even benefit the foot. Ok, probably not, but you won’t need a hip replacement at age forty if you wear a cute pair of heels out on Saturday night.