Bypassing the Cult of Denim

My favorite time of the year for fashion is the autumn. Each summer I can hardly wait for the huge September issues of the fashion magazines loaded with fresh ideas and the most complex, lush styles of the year.

Alas, every year, just before those fabulous September issues, arrive the August issues. Somehow every fashion editor drinks from the same Kool-Aid and concludes that the August issue simply must be devoted to denim. Here’s Anne Fulenwider, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, writing in the August 2015 issue:

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“My entire relationship with denim rests on the almost-mythological notion that I’m just one store away from the absolute perfect butt-hugging, leg-lengthening pair of jeans.  But that’s the thing about denim, the reason why we’ve devoted this issue to it. It’s the one article of clothing that, in its purest form, promises utter transformation. It is at once sexy, cool, youthful, and swaggering. You don’t just wear a great pair of jeans so much as rock them.”

News flash, editors:  To many of your readers, denim is not all that.

Granted, for those readers heading off to school, where denim is de rigueur, and to those with actual or wanna-be careers in music or Hollywood, a review of the latest denim styles can be valuable. But for many successful career women and for most women of a certain age, denim is simply not an important part of our wardrobes.

Part of my bias against denim stems from my mother, who despised denim. To her, it reminded of farmers’ overalls, a style most certainly not considered chic at and after the Great Depression (think Grapes of Wrath).

Part of my bias is that I am simply not shaped properly for denim. My legs are short and sturdy, and no jeans in the world are ever going to make them look long and lean.

Consider, editors:  Why not dedicate a similarly substantial number of pages of your magazines each autumn to finding the perfect pair of flattering black pants that can take a woman through the autumn and winter? That’s an item of clothing that women of every age and circumstance can embrace.

It’s Healthy to Feel Younger Than Your Age

Worthy of note is a research paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine in December 2014. The study, performed by Isla Rippon and Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London (UCL) Epidemiology & Public Health, examined the relationship between self-perceived age and mortality in a long-term study of aging in Britain.

The results of the study were noteworthy and downright exhilarating, concluding that “older people (the 6,489 individuals studied had a chronological age averaging 65.8 years) who felt three or more years younger than their chronological age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or who felt more than one year older than their actual age,” according to the press release from UCL. Professor Steptoe is quoted by CBS News: “People who felt younger than their real age were more likely to survive over the next eight years or so compared to those who felt older.”

The UCL press release reports that the “mechanisms underlying these associations” merit further investigation:  “Possibilities include a broader set of health behaviours than we measured (such as maintaining a healthy weight and adherence to medical advice), and greater resilience, sense of mastery and will to live among those who feel younger than their age. Self-perceived age has the potential to change, so interventions may be possible. Individuals who feel older than their actual age could be targeted with health messages promoting positive health behaviours and attitudes toward ageing.”

Sadly, some journalists have taken this study as a green light for lying about one’s age. The study does not suggest, however, as published in O, the Oprah Magazine, that “Shaving a few years off your age may actually help you live longer,” or, as published by CNN:  “Go ahead lie about your age. It may be the very thing that helps you live a longer life.”

Feeling younger than one’s age is very different from lying about one’s age. And indeed, about two-thirds of the individuals studied by UCL met the criterion of feeling three of more years younger than their actual age (the average self-perceived age was about 57).

I very much enjoy the surprised expressions on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. Isn’t that much preferable to pretending I’m, say, 10 or 15 or even just three years younger?  What’s the point of that?  I feel significantly younger than my chronological age.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that living with a rather large whopper of a lie about one’s age is likely to cause additional stress, shortening one’s life. Whether and when there will be a medical study on that issue remains to be seen.

I say embrace your real age — revel in it, with all the experiences and adventures of your life.

Oh yes, and, in case you’re wondering, as in the last line from one of my favorite movies of all time, Murphy’s Romance, let me conclude by saying, “I’m  sixty.”

A Broader View of Beauty

Being an outlier when it comes to beauty, as someone far too short and wide to meet the standards of classic loveliness, I have always taken an expansive view of what constitutes attractiveness. The world of fashion has gradually gone farther and farther down the path of embracing the quirky, from the French concept of jolie laide (“pretty/ugly”) to such features as gaps between front teeth and outsize feet.

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The June 1, 2015 issue of People magazine (“The 2015 Body Issue”) announces on its cover “The World’s First Size 22 Supermodel!” and adds:  “From Bullied Teen to Plus-Size Star:  Tess Holliday on her traumatic childhood and inspiring journey: ‘You can be beautiful regardless of your size.’”

With reportedly over 800,000 likes on Facebook and almost 700,000 followers on Instagram, Holliday caught the eye of the U.K.’s MILK Management and became, at size 22, “the largest model ever to sign with a major agency.” People continues:  “At 5’5″ and 280 lbs., the heavily tattooed Holliday is a pinup for a brand-new era: body-positive, outspoken, social-media-savvy and no one’s idea of a cookie-cutter mannequin.” Noting other plus-size models currently making waves, including Candice Huffine, Denise Bidot, Ashley Graham, and Robyn Lawley, the magazine poses the question: “Maybe the fashion industry has finally realized that women wearing size 14 and up account for 67 percent of the American population?”

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Without comment, the same issue of People includes a one-page spread on the “Not-So-Real Housewives” of Orange County, who “dish about their plastic surgery and Botox.” Not a mention of liposuction appears in the article although the most senior of the five women reports having had a tummy tuck more than 15 years ago. Three of the five women in the article admit to having breast augmentation, three have had nose jobs, two have had “chin jobs,” one tried a lip injection, and all five have had Botox injections. 51-year-old Shannon Beador comments that she wants her three daughters (ages 10-13) “to grow up loving their bodies. I don’t want them to think that they’re going to have to change anything.”

Overly Photoshopped images seem more and more passé as consumers protest when advertisers go too far in correcting perceived flaws or in striving for an unnatural level of perfection. Has there finally been a sea change in appreciating the beauty in every individual, whatever her size?

Awkward Necklaces

“Necklaces should always be chosen with the neckline you’ll be wearing in mind. ” Thus I concluded my blog post in September 2013, ” Necklines & Necklaces:  The Issue When Everything Is the Same Perfect Length.”

A spate of recent examples in the fashion press of necklaces not chosen to coordinate with necklines prompts my post today.

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A pair of examples derive from the same fashion spread in the March 2015 issue of More magazine. The first example pairs a thin rigid collar necklace with a drop, visually creating a Y-shape, with an overly large knit tee shirt that looks to be puckering rather than lying flat. The necklace hangs awkwardly over the neckline of the tee, further drawing attention to the problematic neckline. The top was not chosen with consideration for the necklace or the model. In my opinion, the necklace is also too delicate a design for the model, who is tall and has strong features.

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A substantial necklace more flattering to the model appears in the second photo, but again here, the neckline of the ensemble clashes with the necklace. The necklace, with its rigid chunky lattice design, is placed over the vee shape of the neckline, creating a jarring visual effect. The lovely flowing lines of the ensemble would be much better served with a long pendant necklace, which would extend the vee of the neckline.

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My final example is modeled by actress Kelly Ripa, whose necklace dips to meet the neckline of her camisole in this photo from the March 2015 issue of Shape magazine. The necklace is just about at the sweet spot of her first balance point, as is her neckline. The result: a visual clash. The necklace looks droopy, not an adjective that any woman of a certain age wants to embrace. Shortening the necklace a couple of inches, or choosing a different necklace at a shorter collar length, would make all the difference.

Button-Front Shirts & the Busty Woman

In the March 2015 issue of Lucky magazine, a reader asks:  “How can I get button-downs to fit correctly? If you don’t know what I mean, ask any woman with large breasts.”

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The editor who fielded the reader’s question responded by consulting with another editor at the publication. Their response: “If a button-down’s gaping or straining in any way, you’re wearing it too tight. This doesn’t mean you have to go with a shapeless men’s shirt–it’s a button-down moment, so there are many cuts right now. ” So far, so good.

The recommendation continues: “There are purposely slouchy, rounded-back ones, and T by Alexander Wang makes them slim and straight, rather than hugging the body.”

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Here’s the only T by Alexander Wang button-front shirt in the designer’s current on-line collection. It is cropped, and available on the designer’s web site only up to size 6 (the model pictured is 5’11″ and a size 2). The cropped and unfitted top is decidedly not a look for a woman with large breasts — assuming a size 6 would accommodate her chest, the shirt will stick out in front in a most unattractive manner.

The advice continues: “Then there’s long in back, short in front, which is just–a thing now. If ever there were a season to find your ultimate shape, it’s now.”  No example or picture of this style is provided, but the cropped shape above seems to be a related style.

The editors’ response does include an illustration, a picture of a model wearing a plaid button-front shirt over a white tee (and under an army jacket). As lovely as she is, a sample-size model is not one who can provide perspective on the issues unique to large breasts.  In the picture the shirt is buttoned only at the top button and does not demonstrate correct fit at all. This provides no solution to the reader’s issue.

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The type of blouse styling to which the reader more likely refers is exemplified by the classic front-button design Michael Kors white shirt pictured above in the March 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  The shirt is pictured on a model with long-waisted proportions, tall and slender with a modest bust.

The issue with button-front shirts is that they have a strong propensity to gap when buttoned over large breasts.  The reason for this is a flat garment design is not meant to accommodate the dimensionality of full breasts.  Going up a size or two (or three) may well not resolve this issue.

One important factor in finding a shirt or blouse that does not gap is selecting a design that has buttons spaced so that the garment buttons at the biggest part of the breasts, in line with the nipples. This placement will vary from woman to woman — this is a matter of an individual’s height and body proportions.

The necessary button placement to avoid a gap can be difficult if not impossible to find.  The larger the spacing between the buttons, the more likely the garment will gap, as there is more opportunity for it to pull while being worn. The more closely spaced the buttons, the more likely a gap will be minimized. However, there is a secondary issue that arises with a garment with front buttons, especially with closely spaced buttons:  the buttons themselves bring attention to the front seam and, with that, to the wearer’s chest.  One mitigating suggestion I might add:  Blouses with soft bows attached and scarves draped over the front of a blouse or shirt can help mask the issue.

If you are busty and want to wear a button-front shirt buttoned, the shirt must be tailored to your shape with darts and seams that accommodate your shapeliness. A straight cut, like that of the Michael Kors shirt, will probably require significant tailoring to make it work for you.

This is one time that engaging a tailor to custom-make a garment may be the best, albeit not inexpensive, solution if you have a large chest and simply must have a classic button-front shirt.

Signature Looks: Fashion Insiders’ Tips on Personal Style Uniforms

Every day, you need to dress  in garments that suit your activities and lifestyle. Whether you have a walk-in closet the size of a bedroom, or a closet shoe-horned into a tiny space, you need to be able to pull together from your wardrobe an ensemble that meets your practical needs and  pleases your sense of aesthetics too. Irrespective of whether you love to start each day putting together an ensemble that suits your mood, or whether your career dictates the parameters of what is acceptable in the workplace, you need to determine what works for you — the practical side of dressing.

It should come as no surprise that many designers default to a certain look — their personal style uniform, in essence. Designers like Vera Wang and Mary Katrantzou design colorful pieces but themselves dress in black;  designers Michael Kors and Roberto Cavalli dress in jeans, tee shirts and black blazers.

Even if you enjoy piecing together a creative look, there are occasions when a tight schedule dictates that you have no early morning fashion decisions to make.

One image consultants’ trick is to keep a list or spreadsheet detailing favorite ensembles from head to toe; if you can add a photo, so much the better, though the photo is not necessary.

In the March 2015 issue of Glamour, four of the magazine’s editors share their personal highlights of the spring shows during Fashion Week in New York, Paris, London and Milan. Each reveals her personal “show uniform”:

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  • New York, “A pair of 3×1 jeans, a silk blouse, and a clutch”
  • Paris: “a crisp button-down shirt layered up with my signature silver jewelry, a pencil skirt, and heels”
  • London:  “I live in dresses during fashion month. The less I have to pack, the better. A structured leather belt helps pull it all together.

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  • Milan:  “I start with a perfect white shirt, then pair it with a full printed skirt and heels that don’t quite match.”

These are uniforms for women who know they are going to be photographed and who are circulating among people for whom fashion is their life; they need to look terrific, and yet they can find a streamlined way to dress.

A few pages farther back in the issue, freelance writer Emily Holt contributed a piece entitled “Yes, I Will Be Caught Wearing the Same Thing Every Day.” Glamour elaborates:  “Some of the world’s chicest women walk around in essentially the same look year in and year out. Emily Holt makes a case for the art of uniform dressing.”

Holt reveals her personal habit of wearing pants with a sweater and sandals. “The pant-sweater-sandal combination emerged during college in Los Angeles, where that laid-back attire was appropriate year-round.” Now living in San Francisco, she tweaks her wardrobe seasonally. “But while components change, the refrain remains: pants, sweater, sandals, repeat. And why not? It works.” Her look can take her comfortably–ah, there’s a key word–”from a breakfast meeting to a visit with a designer friend in her studio to a work dinner and even an after-hours drink. (Occasionally, I’ll swap the flat for a higher heel.)”

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The article includes photos of British Vogue fashion editor Sarah Harris, “consistently chic in crisp shirts, ripped jeans, and standout accessories” and J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons, who “always pulls everything together with an oversize, tailored jacket atop her shoulders.”

Holt provides tips on how to find one’s personal style uniform:

  • Look at how you dressed when you were a kid. What you wore–or refused to wear–before you knew how to spell runway says a lot about your true sartorial nature.
  • Forget trends. Designer Carolina Herrera tells Holt “It’s important to know what looks good on you, not what’s fashionable.” Herrera’s signature white shirt is “something she’s been wearing since she was required to don one as a child in Venezuela as part of her school uniform. ‘Eventually I became accustomed to it,’ says the designer.’”
  • Embrace being different. Jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth “tends to wear colorful, patterned, feminine frocks that cinch at the waist and fall to her ankles”; fashion editor Sarah Harris is a devotee of androgynous jeans and blazers.
  • Think of it as branding. “The best part of a uniform is that you consistently look like you,” citing Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Audrey Hepburn, Celine designer Phoebe Philo, J. Crew president Jenna Lyons, Ellen DeGeneres, and First Lady Michelle Obama as examples.
  • If all else fails, jeans. “There’s a reason they’ve been America’s uniform for more than 100 years. But if they’re your daily fare, Harris has a critical warning: ‘Jeans can look lazy, so you have to amp up the accessories.’ Which means chic, dressier elements are a must. Harris goes for blazers by Stella McCartney, pumps with a heel, a men’s Rolex, and a pair of diamond hoops.” Harris explains: “It elevates the look and helps people think I made an effort. . . . It’s not that I don’t love other clothes. It’s just that in jeans, I feel like me.”

Crisp button-front shirts and jeans appear to be popular choices for personal style uniforms. You’ll find neither of these items in my wardrobe, however. Black slacks provide the common element in most of my looks. They are less informal than jeans and much easier to dress up. And shirts that button are a no-no for busty women (more on this in an upcoming post). I prefer a silk or cotton knit tank or tee, topped with a lightweight cardigan sweater or jacket. The third layer adds polish and also allows for adjustment of layers as the temperature dictates.

Think about what pieces work best for you. Learn what colors are most flattering to you, and wear them near your face. Add jewelry and accessories that are comfortable and, most important, make you smile. Feeling comfortable in your choices, you can relax and “consistently look like you.”

Make Anything Look More Expensive

The February 2015 issue of Lucky magazine, amid a display of fashions that unmistakably target a younger demographic than the readers of this blog, contains a piece entitled “Stylist Confidential:  Make Anything Look More Expensive.” Drawing upon the expertise of four top stylists, the magazine highlights “cost-saving fashion tricks” that elevate the perception of one’s personal style.

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From Kate Young: “Be careful with prints, as they can look inexpensive more easily. Instead, opt for items in bright solid colors or black, which is always a safe bet.” Not only can prints look expensive, they tend to be memorable and can be a look you tire of after multiple wearings. I would amend Young’s advice to suggest also generally avoiding bright solid colors, unless you know that they flatter your coloring. Generally, complex and subtle colors are more expensive to produce than brights and have nuances and shading that is more flattering to most complexions.

From Kathryn Neale:  “A good tailor can be a game changer. Hemming pants or cuffs to fit you perfectly costs less than $20 and adds polish.”  Unfortunately, the photo of Neale shows her in a skirt, not pants, so there is no visual representation of her tip. Image consultants, like stylists, will tell you that proper tailoring of your garments is the single most important way to upgrade your look. Good tailoring is worth every dollar you spend.

From Karen Kaiser:  “Elevate your basics–like a white shirt, structured blazer and wide-leg trousers–with splurge-worthy accents. I always invest in shoes, outerwear and a great pair of sunglasses.” She is wearing wonderful sunglasses, but her shoes are hidden by ground-dragging pants that might benefit from hemming. Since the point of the exercise was to provide “cost-saving fashion tricks,” “investing in” expensive shoes seems beyond the intended scope of the article. And, of course, there’s the issue that shoes must be kept in perfect condition, which can be expensive, as nothing makes an ensemble look more unkempt more than poorly maintained shoes.

From Jessica De Ruiter:  “Go timeless, not trendy.” Great advice, if you are able to sort out what is timeless and what is trendy. I would characterize the short-sleeve blouse she wears as trendy, although the skirt is classic. Pumps would be much more timeless than bright blue T-strap open-toe wedge shoes. I would have liked to see De Ruiter wearing what she considers a timeless ensemble.

The take-away from all this advice:  Buy classic styles in flattering solid colors or black, and have them tailored to fit. Know the style rules, and then feel free to break them to express your own personal style. Having your own unique personal style is priceless.

The Practical Versus the Editorial

It’s intriguing to see a quirky styling for the first time, and then to see it repeated by additional stylists, becoming a mini-trend of sorts in the world of fashion.

Sometimes the styling is borne of necessity in order to display clearly all the items being promoted. It does no good, for example, to have the model wearing a stunning cuff or stylish wristwatch that gets covered up by a long sleeve. The result:  stylings showing the bracelet or timepiece worn over the sleeve.

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The October 2014 issue of Harper’s Bazaar pictures a model wearing a pantsuit (a trend on the upswing) with a turtleneck sweater. Along with a necklace, she wears a cuff bracelet over her sweater sleeve with the jacket sleeve pushed up.

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The September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Magazine pictures a model in a Saint Laurent blouse and blazer, with a Chanel watch worn over the jacket sleeve.

This styling trick actually has a practical side as well:  when it’s brisk, or downright cold, outside, or in the environment in which you find yourself, protecting the skin of your arm from cold metal might be much appreciated.

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Trickier is a necklace styled over a coat, as pictured here in the July 2014 issue of  Glamour. It looks interesting, hair in and half out but the wearer must remember that the necklace is on when she takes off her coat so that the necklace isn’t flung aside and damaged in the process.

Other styling trends have little or no practical purpose, however. One example that is seemingly ubiquitous in the fashion press this season is the style of tucking long hair into a sweater or scarf, no matter that the hair might tickle or feel hot against the neck.

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The trend was reported in the May 2014 issue of Allure, which featured several photos from the fall 2014 runway shows of Anthony Vaccarello, Nina Ricci, and Sacai. Calling the style “Laissez-Hair,” Allure notes: “You’re probably already familiar with the coolest hairstyle of the moment:  you just don’t know it’s a style. Haristylists tucked the hair inside turtlenecks, scarves, and popped-up coat collars, creating a relaxed style that looked accidental.” Allure explains the appeal of the style:  “The result has all the benefits of a bob–it hugs the jaw, lifts the cheekbones, and makes fine hair look fuller–without the commitment.” Vaccarello wants to convey the look of “a realistic carelessness.”

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The August 2014 issue of Glamour reports that the hair tuck “is  now an actual hairstyle, as seen at Tory Burch, . . . Burberry Prorsum, and Calvin Klein Collection” and notes that high-collared tops and coats are necessary to make the look work. The scarf as an option appears a bit later in the fashion press.

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The December 2014 issue of Elle pictures this look, featuring brownish lipstick and hair tucked into a turtleneck sweater. Elle notes: “Like a visible bra strap, sexily tucked hair should be a happy accident. So bundle up and let your hair runneth over.”

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The October 2014 issue of Marie Claire features a model who forgot her pants (wearing a top as a very short dress with bare legs), but somehow managed to wrap a scarf around her hair, presumably so she wouldn’t feel cold.

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“Boost Your Street-Style Cred” suggests InStyle Your Look 2014, issued this autumn:  “Tuck the Tresses.” Two varieties of the style are pictured.  The first is simply an extra-long scarf looped around the hair — a style that requires a fairly long neck to carry off. The article continues: “To look even more carelessly chic, pull a funnel-neck top over your locks. Leave a few tendrils lose to avoid appearing too contrived.”

It looks as though the models didn’t finish getting their look pulled together. Contrived?  Happy accident?  Either way, this trend won’t outlast the winter.

 

The Scale of Dress Straps: Choosing What’s Most Flattering

One of the best tips for selecting clothing that will genuinely flatter you has to do with your face — or more precisely, with the size of your facial features. If you are blessed with huge eyes and luscious lips, you  can wear clothing with larger scale detail without that detail distracting from your face. If, like most of us, your features are small to average in size, you are likely to find that smaller detail on your garments will be more attractive on you.

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Case in point:  Actress Rose Byrne appearing on the cover of the November 2014 issue of Lucky magazine. She is wearing a gorgeous jumpsuit from the Roland Mouret Resort 2015 collection.  The jumpsuit is black with thick white edging at the bustline that crosses and becomes the straps of a halter-style neckline.

While the jumpsuit is beautiful, and the actress even more so, the detail of the wide white straps distracts from Byrne’s lovely face, even though her eyebrows and eyeliner are dark and dramatic in the styling. With her slender frame and the dark body of the jumpsuit, what the eye notices first are the thick white straps and, correspondingly, her bare shoulders.

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I came across two examples of similar designs, with straps of smaller scale, that might be more flattering on Byrne. The first is a David Koma dress modeled by actress Gabriella Wilde in the March 2014 issue of InStyle. The garment has the same style of white straps that crisscross and become the halter-style neckline, but they are narrower and therefore significantly less distracting. You see the woman, not the dress.

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Another example of the effect of straps, this in a different style, reversing the dark and light portions of the garment and with a square neckline, is a dress by Michael Kors pictured on actress Halle Berry in the November 3, 2014 issue of People. The thinner straps, while still providing a dramatic accent to the dress, do not distract from Berry’s beautiful face.

Incidentally, these principles apply to everyone, irrespective of body size or shape, and apply to all styles of clothing, from demure to dramatic. Never let the dress wear you.

A Season of Elegant Handbags with Small Scale Detail

This season, more than any in recent years, designer have foregone some of the logos and labels and extraneous buckles, straps and accoutrements, that have made handbags (and other accessories) chunky and sometimes downright unwieldy. This is the season of the return of the elegant, ladylike handbag.

If you have small to medium bone structure, rejoice!  Image consulting principles suggest that the appropriate scale of the construction details of your accessories, including handbags, shoes and jewelry, is most flattering to you when they relate to your physical features. Small to medium size wrists suggest that the  hardware and other details of your handbags are most attractive when they too are not overly large in size.

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A current ad for a Hugo Boss handbag presents a bag with a smooth surface, a small clasp, and minimal hardware on the bag’s handle. Notice how these relate to the small wrist of the model holding the purse.

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In a current ad for Max Mara, actress Amy Adams is pictured with a bag of beautiful smooth surfaces and minimal hardware, and a medium-width strap, which looks perfect with her average-size wrist.

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A current ad for Coach also reflects restraint in the size of handbag details, although there are significantly more “bells and whistles” on these casual designs with their studs and hangtags and relatively chunky hardware.