Read an Excerpt
Few things are more seductive than fashion=the transformative quality of clothes that really fit and flatter us. New clothes offer us the potential to reinvent ourselves a little bit each time we get dressed. Wearing a great outfit provides salvation on a lousy day, armor for the tough meeting, the courage to walk into a cocktail party full of strangers. Our choice of clothing can be one of our most creative forms of self-expression. The colors and shapes we wear telegraph how we see ourselves. Like it or not, in a rabidly visual, image-obsessed world we're assessed in nanoseconds, dozens of times per day, based on what we are wearing.
I have been a fashion stylist for over fifteen years yet I often feel that when reading the top women's fashion magazines, I have come in in the middle of a conversation. If I have this sensation (being familiar with all the references) it's no wonder that so many women are mystified by fashion coverage that seems to be aimed at 8Ite girls, socialites, and actresses.
Somehow, good advice is not getting through to many women. I see evidence of this every day: women dressed in clothes that don't fit properly or don't suit the shapes of their bodies. A whopping disconnect exists between what women read in fashion magazines or see on celebrity style television and what they really need to know about dressing themselves well.
I've written The Pocket Stylist to be your style compass in a confusing fashion terrain. You can and will be a woman who knows how to shop for the best shapes and fit for her individual shape.
You can be the savvy girl who knows how to mix well-edited trends with your classic pieces. Real personal style often has little to do with what is considered fashionable in any season (or week). Style is a state in which a womanfs own sense of what works for her body, and what does not, overrides the marketing hysteria that ushers in the newest, hottest, must-haves. Style is not only the province of iconic swans like Audrey Hepburn or Jacqueline Onassis, it is learned behavior and a simple and gradual process of training your eye to lock onto your best silhouettes and proportions in any season, any year. For now, however, let's start with three of women's biggest misconceptions about fashion.
Big Fashion Misconception #1
To truly look great in your clothing you must maintain a modelfs figure. Ludicrous, not to mention really unhealthy. High-fashion models, the anointed superstars of the runways and magazines, are the rarest of body types. Many are built straight up and down like boys, but with boobs and broad shoulders. Their preternatural shapes are one in several million, the genetic equivalent of winning the lottery. Rationally, we all know this, but we live in a culture that barrages us every day with the message that extreme thinness is the body ideal of any stylish woman. Your only fashion ideal should be you at your best, and that means well-dressed for your body as it is now=not ten pounds from now, or six months of Pilates from now, but right now.
Big Fashion Misconception #2
Your style quotient is raised whenever you wear the must-haves of any season=wearing the BIG LOOKS assures that you look like you have an insider view of fashion. Just not true. Hunting down the latest runway looks=original or adapted=with no regard for how theyfll look on your individual proportions is where style ends and fashion enslavement begins.
The woman without a realistic sense of what fashion can and cannot do for her wastes her money, drives herself crazy trying to get a look, and often still feels like nothing in her closet really works. We've all seen her: The logos are mixed and matched; she's an unrestrained cowgirl; a new romantic; flouncy in folklorica; or a rock chick on the prowl in crotch-high leopard and platforms. Shefs a walking billboard for the sensibilities of a design house or has embraced, all too literally, what is promoted in fashion magazines, but she hasnft cracked the code of truly individual style.
Consider two characters from HBOfs Sex and the City as examples. Carrie Bradshaw, whose wardrobe schizophrenia establishes her as the fashion risk taker of the group is, from a costume design perspective, a vividly drawn character and memorable in every scene. From a style perspective, she's fashionfs prisoner. In an early episode, one of Carriefs outfits consisted of a Salvation Army cape that swamped her small frame (yes, capes were spotted on the runway at that moment and yes, her thrift variation was meant to bestow a kind of insider credibility on this getup), and was accessorized with white gloves and a silk flower the size of a satellite dish on her lapel; she was teetering, as always, in skyscraping stilettos.
Charlotte, on the other hand, has figured out how to dress as a stylish individual. Her look is current, not slavish: a Prada skirt here, a Chlo+ top there, suggesting that she has an eye for trends, but wears them selectively. Her clothes fit her perfectly in part because they fit her proportions.
Don't get me wrong: Seasonal trends can be irresistible. They infuse excitement into an often monotonous landscape of basics and clothing that looks the same season after season. But a little bit of a good thing may be enough. Ifll show you how to choose what works for you.
Big Fashion Misconception #3
Ready-to-wear actually is ready to wear. In fact, an affordable perfect fit right off the rack is as impossible to find as a Herm-s Birkin bag on sale. Great tailoring (and thus clothes that fit you perfectly) is the single most critical factor in raising your style profile. One universal truth about women with great personal style is that their clothes fit=really fit. Ifll show you how to find a tailor wherever you live, and how to ask for the alterations that will transform the fit of your clothes from passable to perfect.
I love fashion magazines. They are visually exciting and can be great entertainment, but their mission is not to instruct you. Their job is to report what is new and whatfs next. Their goal is to produce exciting fashion pages=and to service their advertisers. Selling ads keeps them in business. When a designer spends a lot of money on advertising, implicit in the bargain are numerous editorial mentions. Entire stories may promote his or her newest designs, meaning that much of the information and advice you get will always be weighted in the direction of the designers with the deepest pockets (regardless of the appeal of their collections). Ever notice that those token runway-to-reality-clothes-for- your-figure charts include mostly advertisersf clothing? That's business, but it can be a problem if it misleads and confuses us into buying stuff that is flat-out wrong for our individual shapes and proportions.
Let's not shoot the messengers, however. Designers need to sell clothes. They need to create runway buzz every six months to capture the attention of an excruciatingly jaded fashion press, store buyers, and assorted tastemakers who they hope will photograph, buy, and wear their newsmaking riffs on the new season.
This is no mystery to me. I've styled many stories for fashion magazines and been a part of this very cycle, so I realize just how confusing fashion can be. As often as not, the gulf between what makes exciting images and what youfll want to wear=and invest your money in=can be wide indeed. Add to that the celebrity factor: The media (entertainment television in particular) that covers the fashion beat has transformed getting dressed (as it relates to Oscar nominees and pop stars) into high drama. Why? Because fashion draws in women and we read, we watch, we listen, and we buy things= to the tune of billions of dollars annually.
This showbiz view of fashion as consisting of red-carpet clothes, tour wardrobes, and sitcom costumes, has established the actress as arbiter of style. Most actresses I've worked with have enough pressure just performing their jobs. That the media focuses on them as de facto runway models every time they walk a press line or attend a party has produced an over-the-top, near hysterical take on fashion that couldn't be less relevant to real personal style. Style doesn't come with proximity to celebrity=it comes from knowing yourself. That's where I come in.
What is a stylist?
In my career as a fashion stylist I've spent years learning about women's bodies, and the fabrics, styles, and fit that will create gorgeous images in front of the camera. I'm hired for my eye=an ability to distill what I see on the runways, on the street, in films, in magazines, and to translate trends into clothing and accessory options for my clients. I spend time with private clients helping women figure out their personal style and choosing clothes that complement their body types and lifestyles. Whether you'e a size 2 or 22, you can use a simple formula for finding the best possible proportion and fit to build a wardrobe that enhances your appearance.
Within my job description, I wear many hats. As a freelance fashion editor, who has produced stories for magazines here and in Europe, I conceive of a story idea (using a trend of the season) and choose the best clothes and accessories to illustrate the idea. I then choose the photographer, the hair-and-makeup team, and the model who will make it all come alive on the page. For print and television advertising, I choose the wardrobe that creates a stylish image of the woman who uses a product. Even when all you see on your screen is a flash of a neckline or a quick glimpse of an outfit, it is the result of racks of clothing options that have been considered by the team=the photographer- director of the ad or commercial, the art director from the ad agency, and the client=to arrive at just the right look. I've dressed actresses for all kinds of magazine shoots (both as models for fashion stories and for glammed-up portraits to promote their latest films) and as private clients for the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the Cannes Film Festival. I've styled album covers for pop singers and opera singers alike, and on-camera wardrobe for talk show hosts, newscasters, and sports figures. Altogether, they represent a wide array of bodies from petite women like Julie Bowen and Courtney Thorne-Smith; to curvy women like Halle Berry, Cindy Crawford, and Angelina Jolie; to tall women like Diane Sawyer, Sigourney Weaver, Andie McDowell, Connie Nielsen, and Mandy Moore; to full-figured women like models Emme, Kate Dillon, and The View host Star Jones.
Working with women over the years, I've been asked the same question again and again: Why can't I shop for myself as well as a stylist shops for me? You can. I have written The Pocket Stylist to help any woman of any shape and size to shop for and wear the clothes that will fit and flatter her best. Think of this guide as your own personal stylist, on hand for a consultation whenever you shop. The Pocket Stylist has been designed to guide you through an understanding of fashionfs fundamentals: the elements of proportion, fabric, and color that are the tools that designers use to make clothing that has line, shape, drape. You will come to know how these elements relate to your best silhouettes in any season, in any year.
Ifll show you how to edit your closet and replace the discards with pieces that will raise your style quotient. We'll go on a virtual shopping trip and make choices together. I outline specifically how I shop for my private clients=and myself=and the indispensables no well-conceived wardrobe can be without. We will talk about the trends that resurface with regularity and that are worth investing in.
Ifll discuss finding a good tailor and show you how to talk to him or her. Custom-made pieces are the stylistfs secret weapon; youfll see how simple, satisfying, and unintimidating this process can be, particularly for women who find a good fit hard to find.
I will explore the critical connection between wardrobe, hair, and makeup and how all these things must work together for a womanfs best style to emerge. Advice from hairstylist, author, and Allure columnist Kevin Mancuso makes it simple to get a good haircut. Bobbi Brown, makeup expert and CEO of Bobbi Brown Professional Cosmetics, explains how to find your perfect foundation and concealer, and then what to do with them! Sonia Kashuk, makeup artist and author, shares her tips for choosing the right tools and discusses classic combinations for lips and cheeks. Dida Paraschivoiu, the eyebrow and manicure guru behind the scenes of beauty commercials and fashion magazine shoots, explains perfect arches and nail tips.
I weigh in with my favorite foundation pieces for underneath-it-all for all sizes (straight from my kit bag), plus other tricks of the trade. The old saw about buying this seasonfs hottest accessories and wearing them with clothes from past seasons only works when a woman understands context, proportion, and scale, and youfll learn how to bring a look together with accessories in all price ranges, as well as what to look for in investment jewelry new and old.
The Pocket Stylist is a portable guide to help you create a versatile wardrobe, assemble a closet balanced between well-edited trends and stylish practicality, and decide when to break the bank and when to save your money. Read on: you are now my client. Let's open my kit bag, metaphorically speaking, and start developing your 8eye,e so you can learn to shop for yourself like a pro.
Form and fashion
The first thing I do when choosing any piece of clothing for a photo shoot is to visualize how the cut will fit the body. Will the silhouette flatter the subjectfs shape and size? Will the fabric drape and smooth over her contours? Will the color(s) flatter her skin tone? Are there any interesting details that set it apart from the ordinary? Only after all this do I consider its place in the current trends landscape. Because, frankly speaking, that is the least important factor in how it will look on the subjectfs body or yours.
In this chapter, Ifll ask you to look at your own clothes this way. Since the last rule left in fashion is that there are no rules, a girl first needs to have the clearest possible understanding of her body in order to pull her wardrobe together. To train your eye for your best options, you need to know the basic principles that designers use to construct the clothing you wear. Our work together begins with a brief glossary of fashion fundamentals.
SILHOUETTE: Outline of an outfit (picture a black cameo against a white background), its shape and cut. Designers first express their ideas for a season with the silhouettes they send down the runway. Most important, think of silhouette as the outlined shape or contour of your body and what will flatter it best.
PROPORTION: Individual pieces of an outfit in relation to one another. On the runways, the seasonal combinations of long with short, wide with narrow, tight with loose, that designers devise to keep things new, and which instantly relegate the trendy portions of our wardrobes to obsolete. Examples: a cropped jacket with wide-leg trousers, midthigh- length coat worn with knee-length pencil skirt. Most important, think about proportion in the context of your body proportions and how the clothes and accessories you choose can work in scale and balance with your individual size and shape.
FABRIC: Naturally, you know what fabric is, but you might not know that it must complement and support the silhouette. For example, an A-line skirt or gored skirt in cotton twill has pup tent potential, whereas the same shapes in midweight jersey will drape and move with your body. Pay close attention to the surface quality of fabric, since weaves that add texture to a garment can also add some very unflattering bulk; a surface with shine adds more volume than a matte finish. Some examples: flat versus boucle or mohair wools; matte jersey, which drapes and skims versus high-sheen satin jersey, which adds width and outlines every lump and bump. Matte stretch fabrics and lycra are a girlfs (of any size) friend and ally. Fabric is critical to supporting the line of tailored clothing and this is where cheap stuff is the most telling. (We'll talk about when to spend on better fabrics and when bargains will work just fine in chapter 4.)
OPTICAL ILLUSION VERSUS DELUSION: All women should worship the almighty unbroken line. Meaning, we're always looking for silhouettes and proportions that will create the longest-looking body line. This also means that if a 8must-havee piece youfve clocked in the fashion pages doesn't help you achieve the vertical line it created on the model, youfll leave it in the dressing room and look for a version of the idea that works for you.
Think about these qualities before you worry about whether or not a piece of clothing falls into one of the big trends of the season. This is important to keep in mind, since the idea of anything this basic (but critical) can all but dissolve when you try to navigate the floors of a department store. Listen, I do this for a living and I sometimes feel like I've been caught in a windstorm of must- have big looks. I see racks filled with silly, shrunken proportions, crotch-high skirts, butt-crack-grazing jeans, tricky constructions and details, and versions of the same shapes, colors, and prints from label to label. (This is not fashion telepathy, by the way. Design companies subscribe to trend-forecasting services that provide much of the style prescience needed to predict what we girls may want a year in the future.)
Lots of best of the season fashion ideas seem crazy to me in their disregard of what it means for a woman to move comfortably in her clothes. As I've said before, the ways in which designers tweak and change silhouettes and proportions each season is what keeps fashion interesting (and keeps us buying). But a little of a trend can go a long way and it's often best expressed with accessories (wefll get there in chapter 7). Remember, a trend is only relevant for you if it has a shape that fits and flatters your body. In fact, there are only two kinds of clothes in the fashion universe: those that fit and flatter your body shape and size, and those that don't. Simple, right? There are many ways for a girl to express an individual sense of style without looking like a fashion casualty. The best place to begin is to make trends work for you, rather than trying to turn yourself inside out to adapt to whatever designers are pushing in any season.
What distinguishes good fit for any body at any size? Clothing that skims the outline of your shape. Nothing clings or pulls, nor is anything so oversized that it hides your bodyfs natural outline. When I look at clothing on a body thatfs in motion in front of the camera, I watch how the construction, fabric, and fit look in a three-dimensional, circular sense; how the front blends into the sides, around to the back, and to the front again, whether the wearer is walking, sitting, or just standing. Is anything pulling, puckering, gapping, or bagging? The next time you put on your favorite pair of pants and a fitted jacket or button-front shirt, rotate slowly in front of your own mirror (try this in heels, please), stand up straight, and roll your shoulders back to add instant length and posture. Stand, walk in place, sit, and pay attention to the following areas.
nWherever buttons close nAcross your bust nBra lines under your arms and across your back nAround the armholes nAcross your sleeves and shoulders nAcross your stomach nFabric across your hips and belly nAcross your bottom and crotch
If any of these places are visibly tight or loose or if you see deep, obvious creasing or gapping, the line of the outfit in total will be thrown off. The line and fit of your clothing are critical elements of your personal style. Regardless of how much youfve paid for something or whose name is on the label, bad fit is never going to flatter your body shape. If it's not flattering, whatfs the point of wearing it? For that matter, whatfs the point of buying it?
We all have a tendency to define ourselves by the parts of our anatomy that give us the most grief in the fitting room. And why wouldnft we? Everything we've ever read about dressing for our body types deconstructs our bodies, one part at a time, into a series of hot spots. None of us is our boobs, butts, hips, or thighs; rather, we are uniquely the sum of our parts. Yet just about every woman I know and many I've worked with (yes, many famous women, including models who are paid for their proportions) will immediately talk to me about her perceived hot spots. Trust me, this is not the first step to understanding the shape of your body. Shopping for clothing fixated on one body part rather than considering your silhouette is a recipe for disappointment. This hot-spot body insecurity is just one more way that we women can be self-defeating when it comes to making good fashion judgments. Not anymore.
For now, Ifll ask you to suspend all of what you think you know about the shape of your body. I don't know about you, but I've never found it particularly instructive to think about my body as a piece of fruit or as a geometry exercise. For now, please forget about every hinky chart or graph youfve ever followed, along with every inane so-called figure fixer tip youfve learned since high school, and shift this to a completely spatial perspective. Ifll ask you to look at yourself straight on (in a bra and panties, please) in a full-length mirror and absorb this: you are your frame=your silhouette=first. Your individual measurements, which refine your fit, come second.
Coco Chanel said it well: 8Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.e Like architecture, we are looking at your natural frame. Your size may go up and down in your life but your frame is constant. When I have an initial fitting with a client, I first look at the shape of her torso facing me straight on. So, let's now focus on the shape of your torso. Visualize a dress form: shoulders to hips (not by coincidence the very tool that fashion designers use when they create clothing silhouettes). Designers have to conceive the shapes=the silhouettes=before they consider how a womanfs individual measurements will factor into the equation. It is your torso silhouette that will basically determine the line and the clothing shapes that are best for your body. Although we all hold weight differently and have different sized breasts, in general I've encountered the same three combinations of torso proportions that illustrate our first three body types: A, B, and C. Body types D, E, and F have the same basic proportions as A, B, and C but represent plus-sized bodies. Here's how to find your body type.
nIs the width of your shoulders and torso smaller than the width of your hips? You are a Type A.
nAre your shoulders and your hips roughly the same width, with a defined waist? You are a Type B.
nIs the width of your shoulders the same or wider than the width of your hips with little definition at your waist? You are a Type C.
Remember that body types D, E, and F represent women who are fuller variations on A, B, and C. Body type D is a voluptuous, full-fashion version of body type A, E of B, and F of C. Your body type as defined by your torso silhouette is the very best initial determination of your most flattering shapes and body line, at any size. You can be a size 8 body type B or a size 14W body type E and many of the clothing shapes, focal points, and balance recommendations will be the same for both and the best route to finding your most flattering looks.
As you stand in front of your mirror, take in a spatial impression of your whole body, meaning the relationship between all of your body parts. Now wefll also consider the size of your neck, the size of your breasts, the size of your booty, and the length and shape of your legs. With these features in mind let's concentrate on your individual measurements. Now Ifll ask you to do something that youfll probably resist: measure yourself. Stand up straight, roll your shoulders back to open up your chest, and really look at your body. Take in the full view, not just your front and back. Consider your circularity, the three- dimensional quality of your body in all its glory. Having this visual picture in your head=an awareness of your body size and shape=is essential to making the right choices for yourself when you shop.
Okay, now take your measurements and fill in the appropriate spaces provided here (in pencil, as these will change over time). A handy tip straight from Parsons School of Design: with the exception of your shoulders and your rise, always hold two fingers under your tape measure to build in the right amount of ease.
nShoulder to Shoulder: From the edge of one shoulder to the edge of the other shoulder.
nBust: under your arms, around the fullest part of your chest.
nNatural waist: At your navel .
nLow waist: Approximately one inch down from your natural waist.
nHigh Hip: 4 to 5 inches: from your natural waist.
nLow Hip: 8 to 9 inches: from your natural waist.
nThigh: At its widest point.
nRise: Measure from natural waist down to crotch, holding the tape a little loose, through the legs up to waistband in back; repeat for low waist.
Stay with me. If we were working together in real life, this is exactly how we would begin=with a fitting=and start the process of finding whatfs best for your individual shape and size. And I'd ask to measure you after youfd had a healthy lunch so that I'd get the most accurate read of your body (not to mention that all of us, at any size, retain more fluid by afternoon). Yes, girls, more joys of womanhood. Taking and understanding these measurements will help you think about your entire body proportionately and will help you find better fit. I promise.
Unless you commit to the few minutes this takes, the very specific shopping list that I've created for your body type in the next chapter simply wonft have as much value for you. I promise again: looking at your measurements on the page as a gauge of your proportions is the best way to find fit. Refer to your measurements when you shop in stores, in catalogues, or on the Internet, and stop worrying about arbitrary size tags.
The size enigma
If finding your size seems more difficult than ever, or if you wonder why your size can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, let me assure you that the problem is not you. It's the process of pattern-making for the mass market. Here's how a designer friend explained it to me: Patterns of any size, let's say size 8, for example, are a standardized averaging of every conceivable variance within a range of measurements.
Seventh Avenuefs biggest manufacturers base their data on what their market research tells them about 8theire woman: her height on average; her weight on average; bust, waist, and hips on average. They hire fit models whose proportions best simulate the number averages. The obvious goal for the manufacturer is to try to fit as many of us within the size as possible. This does not mean fit well. In fact, sizing is an inexact science at best, which means that finding great fit off the rack is a crapshoot. It usually translates as your bodyfs resemblance to the fit modelfs shape. It's best to think of ready- to-wear as almost ready-to-wear, since it almost never fits perfectly without at least some minor alterations.
Another wrinkle in the fit system is vanity sizing; it's the reason your regular size can hang off your frame in some lines and fit you reasonably well in others. As manufacturers struggle to keep up with the expansion of the average American backside they downsize their size tags=great for our heads but confusing and time-consuming for finding the right fit. Always try things on until you find the lines that cut things for your combination of proportions.
Why do clothes look beautifully tailored and great fitting when you see them in fashion stories, in ads, and in catalogues? Because a stylist manipulates what is often a poorly fitting sample to look expensive and perfectly tailored. In general, if something is too small, I open up the back seams and fill them in with a piece of cloth (known as a gusset). More often, things are huge and require tailoring with large safety pins or quick stitches. Shoulderlines and necks are pulled in; arms, pant legs, and skirts are narrowed and pinned or basted down the back to create a shape and drape that doesn't exist otherwise. If a lapel or placket wonft lie flat, a little toupee tape under the offending area solves the problem nicely. The stylist and the photographer work together to figure out the best possible angle to photograph this pinned, taped creation and voilà: the appearance of an irresistible piece of clothing.
Now, armed with your measurements and tape measure, let's go shopping, say, for a pair of pants. As you reach for something in your size, hold it up and really look at the construction. Does it look like the right size? Not sure? Measure it. Try a flat-front pant, for example. Run your tape across the pant front at the low hip and multiply by two. Then measure the rise at the natural or low waist, depending on the style. If you'e in the ballpark in both places, head to the fitting room. If not, move up or down a size and don't think about the number on the tag=it's far less relevant than finding you a pair of pants that slides over your body without pulling or hanging off your frame. If youfve fit your hips and bottom but the waist is big, pinch the fabric at either side of the waistband (which is just what a tailor will do when he takes them in so that they fit perfectly, but more on this in chapter 5). Now, double-check the rise. It shouldnft feel short in the crotch or hang low. If you slide a pair of pants down to sit lower on your hips than they have been cut to do, check that crotch: if it's hanging too low it's not a pretty sight. Adjusting the rise can be tough for even the most skilled tailor to remedy.
Try this same series of measurements when you look for jeans but also measure the thigh, since this is often an area deceptively slimmer than it appears on the hanger. As we've all experienced, the jeans market defines inconsistency in sizing. The formula for a slim skirt is the same as for pants: lower hip times two.
Your stylist would rather have an MRI than spend any more time than necessary in a fitting room, particularly for no good reason. Measuring works; it will save your time and your sanity. If youfve ever grabbed a pair of pants based on the size tag alone, only to squeeze into what felt like a sausage casing, you know what I mean.
How and why did I begin measuring the hell out of everything? In a word: actresses. I dress a lot of them for magazines and advertising. I've often had nothing more to go on until the day of the shoot than the sizes their publicists or managers provided. Yes, in the infancy of my career, I endured a few joyless shoots because I trusted sizes alone. (Naturally, I now insist on a list of current measurements.) Buy a tape measure for your purse and keep it there (along with The Pocket Stylist, of course).
This is a process! As we hone your eye for your best proportions, think about your measurements first, in whatever you look at and ultimately decide to try on. Let's move on to chapter 2 for a more specific rundown of your body type and an edited shopping list of your best clothing options.