l 'll be honest. It has taken me awhile to come around to leggings in their current incarnation in no small part because of the number of walking disasters I see on the street. But I'll concede that there are many reasons to wear leggings. Like the current look they add to the classic proportion of volume on top/skinny on the bottom. Let's add comfort, strategic shaping and seasonless looking knee and vein coverage to the plus column. But while I am loathe to lay down laws, there are rules of engagement for legging wearers of a certain age.
To my eye, leggings look great and ageless (worn by designers Vera Wang and Donna Karan both in their early 60's) as an under layer. Their looks work for two reasons: First, the volume on the top looks sleek, not sloppy. Vera Wang wears a shift dress that skims her body and her leggings meet the top of her sandals for a kind of chic art gallerist look. Donna Karan, the godmother of easy jersey combinations, wears grecian draping to define her curves. Her cropped leggings offer ideal knee-o-flage. And Second, both looks balance black leggings in tonal combinations for an unbroken line from head to toe.
Hem lengths remain annoyingly short and sales people will tell you that leggings are the solution under any too short dress. Wrong. Shift, shirt and tunic dress shapes work. Flouncy anything does not. High contrast combinations will break your body up into blocks of color which is never a sound visual strategy for looking longer, leaner and youthful. Be a leggings purist and wear black only if your goal is sophistication. Wear them with monochromatic top layers or in tonal combinations like Vera and Donna. Prints and patterns should incorporate plenty of black in the design to unify top and bottom.
Leggings worn in lieu of pants set off my mutton alarm. It's crucial to get the combined proportions just right. A bottom clearing jacket like a boyfriend looks right worn over a top of a similar length in jersey or a knit. A layer with shape and drape under your jacket is key to avoid looking blocky.
The tunic (left) above looks sleek and clears (just) anything that needs to be covered. The same line in a mid-thigh to knee length tunic dress is the right idea. The rock chick intimations of the look on the right are for girls in their twenties. It doesn't matter how in shape you are, dressing to look 10 or 20 years younger (especially in leggings) makes you look older, fact.
What about shoes? Ballet flats always work. And flat or chunky wedge heeled sandals provide the right balance for a covered leg in the summer. When the temperatures drop bring on the booties and tall boots. Avoid the I Love the Eighties look of leggings and pumps. The Spanx leggings below are convertible so they can be worn at ankle length or pulled over the top of the foot as a sock compromise.
Simply Vera Vera Wang at Kohl's carries cotton and lycra cropped and full length leggings for $20. Danskin has a range of cropped and ankle length styles in supplex that run from $25.00 to $35.00 and are available in regular and plus sizes. The next price jump is from $65 to $75 for lines like Splendid and James Perse made of a blend of cotton, lycra and modal for softness in regular sizes and Caslon in plus sizes. They are all available online at Nordstrom. Long inseams should try Long Tall Sally for the Alba leggings at $49. Donna Karan Collection leggings are priced at a stratospheric $495 for the kind of luxe lycra jersey used for her ready-to-wear.
It's a 90 degree July day and in retail world that means it's time to start shopping for fall clothes. Unfortunately, I never got around to shopping for the bathing suits I need (rather desperately) in February when I was supposed to. One piece suits are on my list and apparently I'm not alone. I read recently that something like 63 percent of women prefer one piece suits. No mystery here since the population of over 40 bathing suit-wearers outnumbers all other female shoppers. But there are more reasons to love the one piece than just 'bits' coverage. Just like wearing the right bra, a one piece suit can be a feat of architecture in lycra and spandex.
I've done some legwork on-line. The 8 one piece suits below were available as of yesterday ( Monday, July 12) many on sale and in a range of sizes and colors. Since nothing is more depressing than the glare of a fitting room fluorescent trained on a half naked body, I prefer shopping for swimwear online. Before I commit to a purchase I perform a fit ritual in front of my bedroom mirror. Try this: Bend over, reach, squat, sit down on the floor indian style. If the suit passes the 'bits' containment test then move on to a color inspection in daylight. Ocean side strolls require skin flattering (and sophisticated) shades. And you don't have to fall back on solid black to look slimmer.
I especially like the look of shirred and ruched styles inspired by the 40's and 50's with feminine lingerie touches. Nothing offers clever camouflage like draping, gathering and embellishment in the right places.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Enhance or fake an hourglass shape in The Original Norma Kamali Swimsuit in black
(also available in white, cobalt and a bright acid yellow). The front of the suit has a shirred top layer over an under layer for a shaping fit. Check out the site's Try Before You Buy option. They'll even help you via Skype. $98 normakamali.com.
Fake a flat tummy, a fuller bust and a smaller bottom in J. Crew's Ruched Femme Tank in neon purple. Available in a D cup. $80-$82 jcrew.com.
The Chikara Anastacia tank with rosette details is designed for women who have had left, right, or bi-lateral mastectomy. Ten percent of the proceeds of Chikara sales are donated to Komen Greater NYC, an affiliate of Susan G. Komen For The Cure. $160 chikaradesign.com.
Ruching, a vertical ruffle and a high cut leg make for a longer, leaner and more hourglass appearance. Suit has a high back and is available to size 16. Karla Coletto $292 everythingbutwater. This site offers great suggestions for different fit questions.
LEFT TO RIGHT: A colorblock design from Spanx creates waist definition, de-emphasizes a tummy. Underwire construction supports and lifts the bustline. I like the slim-appeal of black in a non-black suit.
On sale for $119. The horizontal ruffle detail on this style (detachable straps) also from Spanx, draws the eye upwards from a full bottom and adds volume to a small bust. High cut leg openings make gams appear longer. On sale for $107. Both available spanx.com.
Plus size style Sonatina by Miraclesuit has waist shirring to disguise a tummy and a high cut bottom for a leg lengthening effect. $142 cyberswim.com.
Color blocking, side drape, shirring and a graphic, mid-sized pattern add up to a defined waist, tummy coverage, a minimized bottom. High cut bottom lengthens the legs. Chamberlain sweetheart neck bandeau by Miraclesuit. On sale $70.99 saks.com.
It started with an article I read last week in the New York Times. "The Long Road To Adulthood Growing Longer" explained that while baby boomers are the generation that hangs on to a kind of 'perpetual adolescence" forever, now a younger wave of women in their 20's and 30's is following their example.
Apparently, "independence no longer begins at 21" and women now officially take much longer to finish school, leave their parent's homes, achieve financial independence, have kids---and regardless of our age, many women are dressing to show that they still feel like teenagers right up into our sixties.
The day after I read the article, I met with a new client. A well-known writer. Just turned 40. A very talented and very sexy girl with an emphasis on the 'girl' part when it came to her wardrobe. Having been engaged to help her evolve her style but still retain her signature look, ( did I mention sexy?) I went through her closets and found them filled with plunging necklines, tight, short short, faddish, disposable gear. "Young' was putting it mildly. As I pulled out the second short shorts jumpsuit I explained that these looked very Forever 21 to me. Not 'youthful' or hip just flat out young. "But shorts shorts are super cute," she said. And then she layed it on me. "What's wrong with looking young?", she asked as she tossed her very long, layered hair.
So, let's take a second to talk about 'super cute'. On my list: babies in little rompers. Little girls in sweet dresses with bows or tiny ruffles. Teeny tiny flower prints. Puffed sleeves. Baby doll anything. Coltish teenage girls in the outrageous and short looks of the moment. Grown women need to pack away 'super cute' with their yearbooks and move into a sophisticated update of their personal style. Problem is we can't seem to nail down when 'grown woman' begins visually.
Another day and NYC's first sidewalk-searing heat wave. Nothing brings out the short short lengths like savage humidity. I was shopping for a job in the contemporary department at Saks (ground zero for women of a certain age shopping for 'super cute') when I spotted La Romper, a 50-ish woman stepping from the dressing room to take a turn on the selling floor in a cotton romper ( that would be a thigh-gripping pair of bloomer shorts attached to a strapless blouson top). As I gawped, I heard this exchange:
Saleswoman: "That looks soooo cute on you!"
La Romper: "I probably shouldn't be wearing this right? I've always liked to dress for my legs."
Saleswoman: " Oh no. It's great. You should get it! You look FABULOUS".
She did have a pair of well-turned calves along with a braless and drooping bust, slack skin on her upper arms and some cellulite and a riot of busted capillaries on her thighs. In short, a normal woman. Normal aging. Big deal. But I wanted to say "Geez Romper! Why not show off your great calves and cover the rest of the bits that expose the age you are working so hard to deny?" Now, if you are out there thinking "Oh c'mon! She is clearly delusional." Maybe. But aren't the romper-wearing 50-year-olds of the world like distress flares sent up over dark, open water? Isn't a woman dressed like a teenager a livid reminder of how far our culture's morbid obsession with growing old will drive some women to avoid looking old?
There isn't anything natural or even familiar with the way we age now. We can Botox, porcelain veneer, fraxel, lipo, fortify our stressed and aging tresses with miracle conditioners so that we can wear them very long. And as long as media holds up celebs like Madonna and Demi Moore as the standard bearers of aging well through 'yoga and diet' the greater the age rollback among average women.
Our concept of what 'old' looks like is as skewed as our culture's trajectory from Forever 21 to womanhood.
Altering our bodies to look decades younger doesn't mean we won't look ridiculous dressing decades younger. So, here's how I reconcile the mid-20's age I feel in my head with my reasonably fit but middle-aged body. It's my ageless equation ( and the raison d'etre for my book Style Evolution) for looking great in your skirts or shorts or your anything this summer: Concentrate on real body awareness. A clever conceal wherever needed plus a subtle reveal wherever flattering equals grownup style intelligence. Easy.
If your legs look good and your knees are intact - one inch above the knee in skirts and dresses. Don' t care how great those stems are. Sleeveless is not your friend if it puts aging skin front and center. Wear clean-lined or pretty sleeves. And no rompers past college graduation.
I'm mad at Tom Ford. With the launch of his new lipstick line a few weeks ago-at $45 a tube-he has created the lip color equivalent of the $1200 pump. Let me explain. While there are many drugstore products I swear by, I have always splurged on department store lipsticks reasoning that you get what you pay for. That just like a great pair of shoes, lipstick should look gorgeous, feel great and be long wearing. And let's not forget about the wow factor. Just as more expensive shoes are made of great materials, have a sophisticated designer palette and are beautifully packaged, well, so too expensive lipsticks.
I couldn't write about Mr. Ford's 'lipstick wardrobe' as it is billed until I 'd plunked myself down at Bergdorf for a test drive. Well, his lipsticks are sublime. Twelve gorgeous colors including one of the best reds I have ever tried and a beautiful range of corals soft or vibrant enough for any woman's style or age. The finish is just slightly matte but the feel is very creamy (thanks to a blend of the emollients Brazilian murumuru butter, soja seed extract and chamomilla flower oil). It stays put and lasts. Naturally, the packaging is gorgeous? But for $45 dollars?
I asked my friend and talented makeup artist Shawnelle Prestidge (you've seen her work in lots of ads for L'Oreal and Sephora among many brands) what could make a formulation worth $45? Says Shawnelle, " I don't know if the adage 'you get what you pay for' is always true but let's not forget the effect of gorgeous packaging. Often what we pay for is access to a fantasy. And if the product feels incredible and smells great the sensory ritual is a little piece of the fantasy with each use." "But don't forget that drug store brands spend TONS of money to constantly upgrade their products and color formulas to compete with more expensive brands" she reminded me. "But what about the murumuru butter? " I sobbed.
Maybe this is why lipstick is recession proof. A woman can always reason that instead of buying the pair of Prada shoes or the St. Laurent skirt she spent a mere $45 on an anti-depressant in a tube. I may try out this bit of fashion and beauty logic on my husband.
A few of the exits in Diane von Furstenberg's Spring 2010 show featured black jersey day dresses styled with ethnic accessories. Among DVF's colorful prints these combinations appealed to my practical side because who doesn't have a simple, solid colored dress -black or otherwise- that couldn't use a transfusion of 'right now' accessories? This summer's global bazaar of baubles, bags, and sandals are available at prices from bargain to very high. The tribal trend looks especially fresh when paired with something straight-forward. That white cotton dress that feels a bit precious whenever you put it on? Show it some tough love with a tie-dye clutch inspired by Indonesia. A stack of soft kente cloth bracelets, a straw bag and a woven leather sandal will change the landscape of a simple frock. So, here are a few suggestions:
1.DVF's dress has an interesting sarong-like drape in the front. The silhouette is easy going and looks right with a mix of ethnic accessories (image from style.com). 2. Dookie bracelets are $10 each at nakumuli. 3. Tie dye clutch available at Club Monaco stores. 4. Woven hobo $175 at jcrew.com 5. Beaded mesh bib necklace with snap closure $725 roarkejewelry (Yes, big price tag but interpret the Aztec beads idea in your range) 6. Loeffler Randall perforated pump is $550 at loefflerrandall.com (this will go on sale any minute. I tried on a pair and they are great looking on the foot and comfortable too).
A TIP FOR PETITES: If you love the look of tribal necklaces but feel the scale is too big, look for small scaled pieces - lots of little beads or a small scale link, for example. Then layer. Combine 2 or 3 necklaces ( the same or mix it up) to create visual volume minus a proportion that swamps your upper body.
It happened at H & M. Recently, as I rummaged through the racks for a project, I spotted a perfect mid-gray cotton jersey sleeve...a longer sleeve cut in a semi-kimono shape. A crew neck and a row of small buttons from neck to mid-back made things look even more interesting. But yack! When I pulled it free from a snarl of hangers it was just another thigh-high tunic dress. This has happened to me a lot this spring. In my ongoing quest for the perfect tee I've been suckered by too many crotch-high jersey 'dresses'.
But this time, I ran my tape measure across the low hip and doubled the number. After pulling the jersey to test its' give and stretch, I reasoned that if shortened, the dress would make a good-looking tee. And it does. After removing the attached belt loops ( of course a belt was needed to make this thing even shorter) I took la tunic to my trusted quickie alterations lady at the dry cleaner and she reduced the length to just above my low hip.
The spring sale racks are filling up - many stores are on sale at 40%. Don't dismiss that annoying tunic dress. You may have found your next great tee.
You could call it the Hanes Principle. The staple of all wardrobe staples, the tee shirt, has undergone a subtle loosening up this summer with a fit that's closer to a men's classic 3-pack than the baby tees (that never looked good on anyone but Kate Moss) or the cropped and sprayed-on fit of the last decade. Or you could call it the Alexander Wang effect. The CFDA nominee for 2010 Womenswear Designer of the Year has re-worked the tee to reflect a 'boyfriend fit' and the average-woman-on-the-street has taken notice. Below
T by Alexander Wang tee shirt in lightweight rayon jersey $78 lagarconne.com
The shape starts with a skim fit that's flattering to the average female midriff. Time to weed out anything tight or very stretchy. Nothing emphasizes rolls of any variety like lots of elastin. Lightweight cotton, rayon jersey, tencel. modal and silk blends are fabrics that create drape over feminine curves and smooth over bra bulge. The shoulder has changed subtly from high and tight to a slightly dropped line with short sleeves that are a little longer. This is a visual improvement over cap sleeves which cut into the fullest part of a woman's upper arm. The longer line of the boyfriend fit is elongating and flattering when it hits at just above the low hip. Pass on any tee that rides up above your belly button. So, there are three reasons and here are two more. A tee shirt that is shrunken and too tight looks dated and is a look-blower. When you keep your tees modern-looking, you 'll look modern in what you pair them with. And nothing gives a girl more high/low versatility than a good old white tee paired with anything from denim to an evening skirt. This season's statement necklaces look glam not precious with a tee shirt. So look around for a style that works for you.
I recently conducted a workshop and among the most frequently asked questions was " What kind of tee shirts should I buy?" " Should I tuck them in? Leave them out? " "How do I wear longer tee shirts?" Which brings us to tucked vs. untucked. Tucking your tee into low waisted pants and blousing it slightly provides waist definition without any clinging. The half-tuck ( below left) is kid's stuff and looks too sloppy for grownups. If you leave your tee untucked, the hem should reach no longer than low hip or it can have a widening, blocky effect. Choose a bottom that won't look bulky underneath.
Left to Right: Michael Michael Kors plus flutter sleeve tee $69.50 nordstrom.com.
J.Crew softspun cotton tee on sale for $24.50 jcrew.com. James Perse pocket tee on sale $49.50
If a slouchy boyfriend tee isn't your look then go with a trim boat neck tee and a v-neck or u-neck that is just slightly more fitted. And a here's a tip: if you happen to find your best fit in a long sleeve style ( check out the Gap and lines like 3 Dots, for example) then buy a few colors and have the sleeves hemmed to your perfect short sleeve length. It's a simple cut and sew job that the drycleaner can handle.
Left to Right: Kain silk and modal tee $90 and Kenneth Jay Lane necklace netaporter.com.
The Oscars of fashion is the annual Vogue-sponsored red carpet fete for the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. But this year's show "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" happens to run concurrently with an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum "American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection featuring a beautifully curated 85 masterpieces of couture. Along with Elsa Schiaparelli pieces like the surrealist plastic disk necklace crawling with toy insects ( below left) and elegant, here-and-now-looking pieces by Norman Norell (below right), the show has an interesting focus on the forties-a pivotal time in American fashion. Couture customers stranded stateside by Germans in Paris discovered a talented group of American women designers. Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Valentina (whose designs were worn in films by Garbo and Kathryn Hepburn),Carolyn Schnurer and Vera Maxwell had the business incentive and freedom to express a "national identity' with their designs. Enamored of Schiaparelli's surrealist sportswear like divided tennis skirts and one of the first (if not the first) pant suits they created clothes that broke with the formality and rigor of French fashion.
Claire McCardell had an especially modern design sensibility. With casual and uncomplicated silhouettes, her 'play clothes' pioneered a distinctly American style that broke ranks with the fussiness of many French clothes. We can credit her and Bonnie Cashin ( among others) for the American ideal of sportswear.
You don't have to live in New York to experience some of the collection. The Brooklyn show has a virtual/interactive element too. The museum has partnered with Polyvore, the social networking site where members create and share collages of fashion pictures. Visitors to the museum's website or to Polyvore will be able to mix and match the museum's fashions with any image on Polyvore. This should thrill the world's aspiring Anna Wintours to create clever mash-ups of the iconic with the right now. Those who want to see more of the museum's 4000 holdings which include Balanciaga and Yves St. Laurent as well as Americans Scassi and Geoffrey Beene can view them on the ARTstor digital library.
A few weeks ago, I listened to a panel of fashion and beauty seers assembled by The Fashion Group International. Sarah Brown, senior beauty editor at Vogue had an interesting take on one of the hottest accessories for spring/summer. Nails. In a recession economy sales of nail polish have soared with an interesting mix of colors that are classic and irreverent.
Along with variations on summer classics like peach, coral and shell pinks there are tough, futuristic colors like dark blue, hunter green and silver bullet gray that suggest an auto assembly line more than a bottle of lacquer. Neon yellows and hottest pinks are inspired by fashion's infatuation with sport clothes like neoprene surf gear. They have a New Wave 1982 look and are purely kid stuff. The ageless and modern look? Color with sophistication. There is nothing cooler-looking than a simply dressed woman with an unexpected color on her nails. Well, toes anyway. Some of these colors can be pretty rough on mature hands but toes are an age-free zone so let it rip. The other day I spotted a good looking, 50ish woman on Madison Avenue wearing a very deep blue polish on her hands and feet as an accent to a minimalist outfit. She looked great. Experiment.
My current favorites fall into two camps: Incendiary orange reds and the kind of taupe-gray mashups that looked so great on the spring runways at Chanel and Marc Jacobs. I love the way a fiery red lights up white and a pair of tan feet. And taupe adds edge to any look and toughens up soft colored clothes.
LEFT TO RIGHT:
RGB Nails Too Red $14 RGBcosmetics.com. Essie Vermillionaire "A heart pounding red orange" $8 essie.com. Sephora By OPI Petals a vivid tigerlilly orange-red $9 sephora.com. Butter London Pillar Box Red $14 butterlondon.com.
RGB Toast $14 RGBcosmetics.com.
I have always loved the spectator shoes and sandals of summer. Any graphic combination of chalk white paired with bright color and you've got my attention. Not to mention the appeal of the Chanel ballet flat. The feminine proportion and that black cap toe have a 'forever ingénue' quality that appeals to the inner Bardot in ever woman. For summer I've been spotting many two-tone and color blocked riffs on the theme that are more cheeky than classic. How better to spark neutrals like white, khaki and black in your wardrobe? And in a season of pattern mixes, wearing a print something with a color-blocked shoe (that share at least one color in common) looks style savvy.
1.Kate Spade's sandal combines cream and caramel with fiery orange red $298 couturezappos.com.
2.Barneys New York COOP simple camel suede and gold leather sandal has a two-toned perfection that will elevate any outfit $295 barneysnewyork.com .
3.Could have knocked me over when I found this shoe from Camper - a line known best for sturdier shoes. Nude and black suede combine with a light wedge heel for tri-colored chic. Great with silk cropped pants. Walkable and $149.99 endless.com.
4. I 'll confess I am exhausted by shoe styes that suggests gladiator anything. But this style's sculpted heel, minimal platform and combination of straw textured fabric and cream leather piping reminds me of Manolo Blahnik. Expensive looking but $120 ninewest.com.
5. Okay these sandals from Loeffler Randall are patterned and not color blocked but they have a low 1 inch wood wedge heel and it's easy to see how they'll enhance neutrals and hot colored solids alike. $399 couturezappos.com.
6. J.Crew's versatile two -toned satin ballet flats are dip dyed by hand $118 jcrew.com.