Animal Prints

 

Last week fashion reporter Teri Agins of the Wall Street Journal, responded to a reader’s question.  I thought you might find it interesting in it’s entirety.

Question:  I am north of 40 years old, and want desperately to wear animal prints this spring.  But I don’t want to look terribly trendy –or too young.  What is the best way for me to integrate one of the hottest looks of the season into any wardrobe?  L.L., New York City

Answer:  In recent years, the malls have been full of animal–print pencil skirts, blouses, shoes, and handbags.  These timeless, abstract prints – such as leopard, tiger and snakeskin patterns – are neutral and versatile enough to be combined with black, brown, red and even purple.

I happen to love animal prints because the designs look lush and urbane – absolutely perfect for women of all ages.  Even the cheapest T-shirt top or scarf in a leopard print packs a punch and imparts a bold accent.

But take care when donning these jungle patterns.  Go easy, with simpler jewelry.  In clothes, stick with smaller patterns that won’t make you look thick.

Every gal should have a pair of animal-print pumps and a handbag – just don’t wear them together.  Handbagheaven.com is one retailer that offers many affordable animal-print bags, which are much fresher than standard black or brown purses.

“Animal prints are one of those novelties that women are enthusiastic about, and they always sell out quickly every season,” says Edward Wilkerson, designer for women’s label Lafayette 148.  The call of the wild from Lafayette 148 this spring includes: a “zebra” pony-skin jacket and a leopard-printed silk blouse and pencil skirt.  “We keep them looking new with colors, like a tiger print against a fuchsia background or leopard with cobalt blue,” he says.

Beryl’s comments:  I thought you would enjoy this article, as we have not discussed animal-prints for spring.  I don’t think animal prints are for everyone.  Having just an accent, perhaps a scarf, shoes or bag could work for most people.     When you move to a blouse or jacket, watch the scale of the print and color contrast.  A zebra print will only work if the wearer has strong coloring, strong personality and a strong presence.   Animal prints are quite forceful and can easily overpower a small person or someone with a quiet, reserved personality.  Use the “blink” test when choosing whether this is a look for you.  Standing in front of the mirror, close your eyes for a few moments then open them quickly and observe what you see first.  If you see you first then recognize that you are wearing an animal print, it probably will work.  If you see the print first, it is too strong.

Happy hunting!

Styles for Men Changing in 2009

The last few years have not brought about a great deal of change in men’s styles but all that changes this year – at least for some.   I wonder how much of the style change is linked to the change in the White House.  George W. Bush always wore a traditional suit – pleated trousers, cuffed with fuller legs, jacket with a bit wider shoulders and shoulder pads, wider lapels and a lower button stance.   Now, Barak Obama, who is tall and very trim, looks great in his fashion forward suits.

So what ‘s different about this year’s suit?  First of all, the silhouette is slimmer.  The shoulders are a bit softer and narrower, less constructed.  Armholes are higher and chests more sculpted, allowing a greater range of motion.   Lapels are narrower with a slightly higher button stance.   The new, more fitted jacket, features slightly shorter sleeves.  This shorter sleeve requires a shorter shirt-sleeve as well.  The shirt should extend ¼ “ to 3/8” beyond the sleeve with the new length being right at the wrist with the jacket just shorter.    Trousers are closer fitting with flat front, slimmer legs and slightly shorter length.   The new, shorter pants can be worn with cuffs of  1 ¾” to 2” or worn without cuffs.  The pant should just “kiss” the top of the shoe having only a hint of a break.

Ties are also narrower – no wider than 3 ½” and may even be slightly narrower than that.   Shirts also have softer shoulders, shorter sleeves and are more closely fitted to the body.    In keeping with the shorter trousers, shoes are being shown with a narrower look and a higher vamp.  There should be no sock visible between the shoe and pant.  Belts need to match the shoe, not necessarily an exact match but in the neighborhood.  A brown shoe requires a brown belt and suede shoes need a suede belt.  As you might imagine, the new wallet is slim so that it will not create a bulge in the slim trousers.   Topping the look off is a pocket square that blends with the tie but does not match it.

When studying this new fashion look, I wonder how many men have builds that can carry the new, trim look.  It seems to me that well over half the population of the United States still need the fuller cut and pleated trousers.  A pleated pant is very forgiving to large legs.    Personally, I prefer slim, flat front trousers without a cuff.    A cuff is needed to give “grounding” to pleated pants but is not needed for a slim, flat front pant.  Also, on a shorter pant, cuffs will make the leg look shorter.  This new slim look will exaggerate any hint of a tummy, and a large tummy trying to squeeze into that slim cut would be laughable.  And how is a man with a wide foot going to fit into slimmer-cut shoes?

In conclusion, I find the new, slim look very appealing.  In reality, it should be left for the very trim man who can carry off the look beautifully.   But, don’t look for the traditional cut pant and jacket to disappear.    Millions of men need to stick to traditional!

Which Frames Work for Me?

My husband has been sorting through stacks of old pictures and I was horrified when I saw the glasses I wore fifteen to twenty years ago!   What were we thinking with styles so large they covered the entire top half of our faces?!   Fortunately, I no longer need to wear prescription glasses but whether one wears prescription or not, sunglasses are always a fashion accessory so a look at which style flatters which face is appropriate.

Eyeglasses are a pricy investment so taking time to choose a style that flatters the face is important.   Many people treat prescription glasses as fashion accessories and have a collection to match different moods or occasions.

If your face is balanced – oval or hexagonal, you have a wide range of style options.  An oval face should have some roundedness to the glasses, especially if your brows are arched and your face has softness while a hexagonal face will look wonderful in strong angles, especially if the brow and mouth are dominantly straight lines.

Oblong, round, teardrop or heart shaped faces will need some curves, especially if one has rounded features.  Glasses for the oblong face should have be deep vertically and be slightly wider than the face.  This will make the face appear shorter.    A round face will look good in frames that are rounded but shallow in depth (sort of a horizontal oval) and should be just shy of the full width of the face.  This will give more length to the face while supporting the roundedness of features and face.  The teardrop face is fuller at the jaw line than the temple so glasses should give the illusion of width at the temple.  Frames with a strong horizontal line and detail at the temple will add width, helping balance the face.  In the same fashion, a heart shaped face should avoid wearing eyewear that adds width to the temple.  Frames should be slightly smaller than the face, of a uniform color and design details toward the bottom of the frame.

Rectangle, square, triangle and diamond shaped faces are all angular so the eyeglass frames should reflect those angles.  We are assuming that each of these faces is also dominated by straight lines.  The frames should have straight lines, sharp angles and geometric shapes.  One would use the logic of the previously listed face shapes except using angles instead of curves.  The rectangular face should shorten the face with more depth in the glasses like the oblong but use geometric frames rather than curved, the square face would choose glasses similar to the round face but select a rectangular look.  In the same way, a triangular face will be most complimented by following the advise for a teardrop face but choosing geometric shapes and the diamond will use the guidelines for a heart shaped face but choosing styles with geometric angles.

Frames in brushed metal can be very attractive for both men and women who have gray or dark brown hair.  You can have fun with tortoise-shell or even colored frames such as red or navy.   If you choose a definite color, be sure it will work with your clothing.  Red frames and an orange shirt could be a disaster!  Frameless glasses with non-glare glass and subtle wire temples are a great option if you want them to disappear.  If you wear bifocals, choose ones that are blended.

Vertically Challenged

 

If you have a male friend or relative who falls under 5’ 8”, this is for you.

I read an article recently offering some great suggestions for the shorter man.   Even though one third of men in the United States fall under the height of 5’ 8”, we don’t see stores targeting that market.  There are numerous big and tall men shops so why don’t we see specialty shops for shorter men?  The answer in part, may be the assumption that regular clothes can be altered to fit a smaller frame.  That is easier said than done.  The proportions of regular clothing do not adapt to a smaller frame so that the tailored garment still looks out of scale.  Quite often the collar is too broad, the elbow falls too low, not to mention the scale of pockets is too large,   armholes are huge and the rear of the trousers droop.   Smaller men look even smaller if their garment appears baggy.

If you are wondering why appearance is so important for short men, take note of this statistic.  Height for a man portrays power and will earn about $600 more per year per inch in height, provided that his qualifications are equal.   Height is also an important factor in attracting a mate.  This leaves the shorter man at a definite disadvantage.

Jimmy Au has a specialty store in Beverly Hills catering to the man under 5’ 8”.  He, standing at 5’ 2”, has a selection of clothing from jeans to tuxedos.  If a man is 5’ 7”, he must go the store’s tall section.  The scale of all the garments is adjusted just enough to fit the shorter man – smaller scaled pockets, slightly narrower collars and sleeves and higher crotches.   He even offers smaller socks and shoes.

Mr. Au’s customers include a “Who’s Who” list of professions that cater to smaller statured men among which are jockeys, astronauts, and jet pilots.  His celebrity clients remain nameless but he sent a large assortment of outfits to the Grammys.

Interestingly, research has found that a man who had an early growth spurt but ended up being short will be perceived as taller than he actually is.  Conversely, a man who got his growth late will often be perceived as being shorter than he is.   Apparently, the self-perception of being tall or short appears early and carries over into adulthood.

The article told of one man from Boston, 5’ 5” tall, who discovered Mr. Au’s shop and purchased a suit, several jackets and slacks as well as casual wear.  He has subsequently placed other large orders.   He stated, “I get compliments from people who say, ‘something is different about you.’”

Taking all of this information into consideration, I would like to suggest several strategies for the shorter man.  First, if it is not in the cards for him to go shopping in Beverly Hills, he should consider having his suits and slacks custom made, making sure the tailor scales the pattern for proper fit and proportion.  Secondly, choose styles that fit closer to the body unless you are a stout build.  Suits should be one color and might even have a small, subtle, vertical stripe.   Lastly, slacks should have a trim fit without a pleat if you have a trim build.  Do not add cuffs as that breaks the vertical line.

When someone starts getting compliments like Mr. Au’s client from Boston, he will undoubtedly carry himself with more confidence and appear taller.

 

Designer’s Paradigm Shift

 

A look at fashion week in New York, featuring the fall 2009 collections, gives us all hope for more reasonable priced clothing.  The event has just wrapped up with a lot less fanfare than in the past.   Fewer celebrities were sited, a number of designers scaled back on their shows and the clothes were generally more wearable.  No really big trends emerged as designers tried to show clothing that stores would order without fear of buyers rejecting the extreme and frivolous.

Vera Wang, originally known for her bridal gowns, has taken the message from buyers to heart.  She appeared on the scene nearly 20 years ago and has since expanded to include two other lines, Vera Wang Lavendar, which has been compared to big Italian names like Prada and Marni, and Simply Vera – Vera Wang clothing line sold at Kohl’s stores.  This season, however, Ms. Wang not only scaled back her New York show but also has a collection of clothing retailing for less than half of previous collections.  Her traditional palette of mostly black now includes colors with styles fitting closer to the body.     The goal:  to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

Another trend from the runways is metallic lame clothes that shimmer.  Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani are two designers who included shimmer in their collection.  We generally think of shiny dressing for evening but the trend is bridging into daytime with shimmery jackets and sequined cardigans.

Interestingly, shimmery clothing date back at least to the 17th century.  Having the metal fabric catch the sunlight or candlelight tends to lift the spirits.   These shiny fabrics were used extensively during the 1920s and 1930s when our country was in the great depression.  I’m sure the resurgence of this look is due to the present economic climate.  One boutique owner summed it up this way:  you can have shimmer and shine without appearing ostentatious by wearing lots of jewelry.

These trends will not be so evident in the spring collections because of the long lead-time required in the garment industry.  However, in the fall we will certainly be the winners when designers no longer have the luxury of presenting far-out clothing boasting incredibly high price tags.  Not only will the average customer have better odds of finding a great designer item that they can afford and wear but also this trend should trickle down to moderate priced clothing, which are the mainstay of most of our closets.   My only concern is that the quality of garments may suffer.   Manufacturers are sending their garments to countries with cheaper labor costs and will be using less expensive fabrics.  Before purchasing, be sure to check out the fabric content and look at the construction of each garment.

Dressing to the Nines – Part II

 

Last week we began looking at the list of nine items Neiman Marcus had selected as their top nine looks for the spring season.  The first four items were: pink, one-shoulder dressing, snakeskin and statement shoes.  This week we will complete the list.

RUFFLES come in every size, configuration and fabric.  This season handbags even feature ruffles.  Mark Jacobs has a large bag with slight ruffles on the flap while a bag designed by Valentino features what appears to be a rose in soft leather ruffles covering the entire front of the bag.  Clothing ranges from multiple rows of tiny ruffles to something simple with just an accent of pleated ruffles.  They can be tiered or cut on the bias.  Most anyone can find something that will work, even if you are the all out sporty type who just wants a touch of femininity.  The key will be to choose the scale and intensity of the ruffle that harmonizes with your body scale

Dressing to the Nines

 

As you know, Neiman Marcus chooses their top fashion trends for the coming seasons.  This year they have chosen nine looks for spring.

  1. Pink
  2. One-shoulder dressing
  3. Snakeskin accessories
  4. Statement shoes
  5. Ruffles
  6. Carryalls
  7. Colorful cardigans
  8. Graphics
  9. Bold jewelry

Let’s look at each item on the list and see if this could add an updated punch to your wardrobe.

PINK has been featured several times over the last few years, but this year is emphasizing hot pinks.  Jewelry, handbags, belts and shoes in hot pink are being shown in many fashion magazines.  Clothing is shown in blush tones as well as the hot pink.  You probably have some pink in your closet so you might be able to pop it by adding a belt, a snappy pair of shoes, or a blouse.  If your coloring is toasted (warm) try coral as your “pink”.   The warmer tone will give the same light, feminine effect as hot pink but will work much better with your warm coloring.

ONE-SHOULDER dresses and tops are a new style being shown in all the fashion publications.  This is a look with some real pizzazz but is not that easy to wear.  Consider what undergarment you are going to wear with it.  You certainly don’t want straps showing but most ladies need some support.    Before buying this new trend, try it on with the proper undergarment, look at the back as well as the front and then decide if this is a look for you.

SNAKESKIN ACCESSORIES add a lot of versatility to your accessory wardrobe.  Because snakeskin has a range of colors, it can be worn with a wider range of clothing colors than a solid color.  It can also go fairly dressy and fairly casual, offering many occasions where it can be worn.  One thing to keep in mind is pattern.  Since the snakeskin is a pattern itself, be careful when pairing it with a patterned garment that it harmonizes and doesn’t “fight” with the garment.

STATEMENT SHOES are still a big fashion item.   Extremely high heels and platforms are widely featured as well as more variations of the high vamp.   Many of the vamps extend several inches above the ankle.   This is definitely a trendy look so I would be surprised if it sustains for many more seasons. Sprained ankles and damaged feet are often a very real byproduct.  I always wonder how much fun is it to dance with someone who is a head shorter?  All joking aside, the high vamps really shorten the leg so; unless you have very long legs, take time to assess the proportions when considering some of these styles.  I know that many ladies love their Jimmy Choos and Louboutins but, these designers do have less trendy shoes in their lines, so might it be wiser to choose a great classic style that will carry you through another season without looking dated?

 

We will discuss the last five items in next week’s blog.  Don’t forget to first shop in your closet for those forgotten items that will launch you right into the spring season!

What is Style?

I just reread a book that I had purchased back in 1994 when it was fresh off the press titled The Power of Style. The authors spent four years researching archives of such publications as Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Town and Country as well rare book shops to amass a collection of a hundred stylish women. They narrowed this list down to just fourteen ladies. Curiously, neither movie stars nor royalty were included. So what seemed to be the common denominator that resulted in these fourteen women being selected? People have different opinions about what constitutes style. For example, Jacqueline de Ribes was quoted to say, “Style is what makes you different,” while Givenchy advised, “With style, you must stay as you are.” Coco Chanel, probably the greatest lady of style of the twentieth-century, commented that “Fashion changes – style remains.” Let’s look at some of the ladies who were chosen. Elsie de Wolfe is known as the first interior decorator, transforming the dark, somber interiors of the 1920’s into light and cheerful rooms filled with Chintz. She came from a middle class background and was, in her own words, “ugly”. At about the age of twenty, she spent time in Scotland with relatives complete her education and being introduced to society. After discarding her drab school uniform to be fitted with appropriate dresses, she discovered that the lovely, soft colors of her new dresses in silk, linen and cashmere transformed her appearance and revealed a delightful figure. She decided that she need never again be ugly. Elsie de Wolfe was a gifted interior designer and an adept businesswoman but she perfected her style by recognizing who she was and what colors and styles best complimented her. Her focus was on her positive attributes and never seemed to go back and dwell on those she did not possess. Jacqueline Kennedy Oanssis was also one of the fourteen women featured. She had an incredible sense of style. In looking over photos of her clothing during the campaign and the time she served as First Lady, it was easy to see that each garment was designed for the same person. She had a skeletal line (her bone structure was prominent) so she selected designs that looked like sculptures, beautifully complimenting her line. She was a reserved, private person and her clothes reflected this – nothing flamboyant but refined and elegant. I don’t believe I have ever seen a photo where she was not appropriately dressed for the occasion. It is evident that she understood her own personal style and remained true to it. The book also included ladies like Diana Vreeland, fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar and later Vogue, Coco Chanel, and the Duchess of Windsor. Some ladies were great beauties, others not. Some came from common, disadvantaged backgrounds, others from wealth. All of them had excellent social skills but I think what truly gave them style, is that each woman knew who she was and built upon that knowledge. Some, like Elsie de Wolfe, accepted that she was not a beauty but emphasized those attributes that were outstanding. Each lady, recognized her “personal style” and made the most of it, thus, each was chosen as an icon of style during the twentieth century. Now, let’s look at the seeming contradictory statements defining style from the first of this article – “Style is what makes you different” and “With style, you must stay as you are.” If you know your individual style, you will be uniquely you, having a different style than others while at the same time, staying true to who you are. Thus, the quote from Coco Chanel rings true, “Fashion changes – style remains.”

Wonder Woman – Matured

 

I was a bit startled at the recent cover of Town and Country featuring Diane von Furstenberg.   This is the lady who gained her prominence as a designed back in the 1970’s with the jersey wrapped dress.  If you have ever seen pictures of her at that stage, she had very strong features, dark brown hair and dark make-up.  What caught me by surprise in this cover picture was how she has softened her look.  She still has the appearance of being a strong woman but gone are the dark, dark hair, dramatic black eyeliner, and shadow, and ruby-red lips.  At age 62, she has lightened her hair to a medium brown, her eyes are more subdued but still dramatic with brown liner and shadow while her lips are barely discernable.   I find her more attractive now than back when she was at her height of popularity with the ubiquitous jersey wrap.  So, what’s the difference?

As we age, our skin thins and begins showing some lines.  Our hair starts to grey, adding a natural softness to compliment the changes in our skin.  However, since we live in a world influenced by the allure to look youthful, we color our hair and take advantage of cosmetics.  We often lose sight of reality and see ourselves as we once were.  How many times have you seen a lady of 50+ who had maintained her very dark hair color while her skin has relaxed and become lighter?  Add some bright red lipstick and very dark eye makeup and the effect is harsh and uncomplimentary.  Or, in the case of a blonde who continues to wear the strong dark eye makeup and bright lips, you see the eyes and lips before you see the face.

Diane von Furstenberg has adjusted her makeup and hair adeptly to reflect the natural changes in her skin.  Her hair, although still dark, is a lighter brown and much softer against more mature skin.  Her choice of eye makeup is also softer, and is harmonious with her softer hair color.  The most dramatic change is that her lips are barely visible.  As the years advance, many people get noticeable signs of sagging around the jaw line.   If you add a bright lipstick, it draws attention to that area. Von Furstenberg has wisely emphasized her eyes, albeit softer, where there is not as much evidence of the ageing process.  Her very pale lips give her a softer appearance, showing her lips but not drawing specific attention to the lips.  When you look at her picture, you first notice her eyes.

Is it time to reevaluate your makeup?  Having gone through this process within the last six months and, although it took a paradigm shift, I am pleased with (what I hope) is the subtle improvement.                                                

Inaugural Dresses

 

At the historic inauguration on Tuesday, all eyes were on Mrs. Obama’s choice of dresses for the occasion.  As everyone is weighing in on her choices, I have to join the crowd.  I was especially disappointed in her inaugural ensemble .    Although I thought the style was good for her, the mustard yellow color was very unflattering.  The ornate brocade, in my estimation, did not support Mrs. Obama’s strong, athletic, natural beauty.   Likewise, with the evening dress she chose for the balls.  The one shoulder design of the dress was good but I would have preferred seeing it in a rich satin with accents of crystals.  This would have given her an understated elegance. The gown, covered with frills, would have worked better for a very feminine, romantic wearer.

The media has been quick to compare this youthful first lady with Jacqueline Kennedy, who was only 31 years old when her husband became president.   This seems to me an unfair comparison, as Jackie is still known throughout the world as a fashion icon.  It would be nearly impossible to match her style and, it certainly didn’t hurt that she and her mother-in-law habitually shopped in Paris and spent some $30,000 a year.  That is not pocket change when you calculate the value in 1950’s dollars!

Jackie had an incredible sense of which styles looked best on her.  She did not give her designer a free reign on what they made for her.  In fact, she became the target of criticism for not choosing American designers so she selected Oleg Cassini.  He was a surprising choice as there were other more highly acclaimed designers.  As it was later discovered, Jackie had cleverly selected a designer whose ego was not so large that he refused to take direction from her.  She simply got advance information of French designers new lines and had Cassini replicate them!   I just picked up a book (on the close-out table) picturing some of her wardrobe from the presidential years.  The structured, simple elegance of her clothes from suits to evening gowns, all perfectly complimented her skeletal bone structure and quiet elegance.

I applaud Mrs. Obama for deliberately selected young, emerging designers with a wide variety of backgrounds.  Many are immigrants.  Not only is she giving them a little push to get national recognition, she is deliberately spotlighting the possibility of achieving the American Dream.

My hope is that she will become more involved in choosing what really fits her “signature style” and not defer to the designer’s concept of what will get his/her name in the limelight.  I think Princess Diana fell into that trap and never recognized her best style, thus was often a fashion victim at the hands of designers.    It will be fun fashion watching Michelle Obama grow in her style sense.  She comes across as a “take charge” kind of lady so I fully expect that she will take charge of her fashion as well and we will see her emerge as a new fashion icon – not with the precision of Jackie nor in the frequent mistakes of Princess Di but with a fresh, believable style of the “girl next door” turned First Lady.