I promised myself at the time that I wasn’t going to write about the Royal Wedding – every aspect of it has been written about in so much detail that I couldn’t imagine it would be useful to add more here.
But it’s looking to me like the style choices of Kate and Carole Middleton for the big event could herald a more general shift in attitudes to style among British women. I’ve been travelling quite a lot in the past couple of weeks and for the first time that I can remember, people are complimenting British women (well, two British women anyway) on the way they chose to dress in public.
I talk and write a lot about Personal Confident Style, and I have to say that the bride and, in particular, her mother got it exactly right – they clearly had excellent and highly experienced advice and wore clothes that fit and suited them perfectly, accentuating the body. You could tell that despite the scale of the occasion they knew they looked great.
I predict that in the coming years we’re going to see British women looking more confident and assured in their own personal style. Even on big occasions it will be increasingly acceptable not to walk around in ‘Garden Party’-style floaty, fluffy, floral bits of fabric and to start to look more elegant and desirable.
Women will continue to need good advice and to take some care over how they look; but as more role models appear this will become more of a norm. I’m optimistic that we’re going to see a new generation taking us forward to a new era of modern classic style in British fashion.
The top half
I was watching TV while travelling recently and, as often happens, was wondering whether women presenters are given any advice or help with their choice of clothes. It must be hard being on TV most days and needing to think about what to wear each time when they presumably haven’t had any advice on how to put together a look.
On this occasion, I couldn’t help noticing that the bust darts of the jacket this particular presenter was wearing were not in the same place as her bust. I find this to be a very common problem: women generally don’t pay enough attention to the way that their garments fit across the bust area.
This is a combination of the individual’s bust (which will only go one way as we go older), the cut of the garment and the bra that they wear.
Here’s the gravity defying tip: the best way to avoid the apparent sag to an otherwise well fitting garment is to check that your bra straps haven’t become loosened during washing (they often do). It is very important that, each time you put a bra on, you check that both straps are equal; and you should be aware that after several months of washing the straps may become stretched and need to be adjusted.
The fit of a garment be it a jacket or dress or blouse, in particular whether or not the garment gapes is largely due to the positioning of the bust, and the effect of the apparent droop is if it doesn’t fit is magnified; so it’s worth keeping an eye on your bra.
Even if you’re not on TV every day.
The bottom half
If you’re finding as the majority of women do, that as you get older, your bum is getting flatter and spoiling the look of your favourite garments, there is something you can do. With the help of a good tailor the back of the trouser can be lifted into the waistband which gives a much better shape to the bottom and legs. This also can apply to dresses and skirts with waistbands if you want a more tapered look.
In a comment to a previous post, I’ve been asked for advice on “prescribed” personal ideal colours for clothes and makeup and the use of specific colour swatches used by a number of style consultants.
I thought this worth its own post as I’m asked about this at pretty much every workshop I do. And I have to say it’s a particular bête noire for me. I believe the approach is simplistic and most often taught by people who do not have enough experience working with women and fabrics.
Telling people on the basis of holding up a single piece of blue cotton next to a person’s face that blue either suits them or doesn’t is just silly. A blue in velvet, a blue in silk, a blue in cotton, wool or any number of modern fabrics will look different. Is it a yellow-based blue or a pink-based blue – the base hues have a massive effect.
To my mind there is only one way that the appropriateness of a colour can be judged for a human being: and that is when the actual person is presented with a specific garment in a specific colour.
Every time someone comes into Wardrobe with their colours done, we have to ask them to forget it and work with us because every single one has been wrong or at least far too limiting.
I remember one time a woman came into the shop dressed head to toe in aquamarine – I mean literally every garment and accessory was aquamarine. Her colourist had told her that it was her best colour. It took me more than a year to persuade her to throw away her book of colours.
It is true that there is a basic link (for Caucasian skins at least) between skin colouring and the colour of clothes you should choose. Pretty much everyone has either a pink tone or a yellow/golden tone – and these are the only two you need to consider. I have a yellow base to my skin and look terrible in any fabric with a base tone of pink.
But it’s hard to tell ‘as a rule’ whether particular colours will work for you as different tints can work at subtly different levels. In my opinion, you are more likely to make mistakes approaching your choices by following hard and fast rules, rather than looking at each garment’s colour/cloth combination with the advice of an experienced salesperson or stylist.
Having dealt in previous posts with the money and time excuses for not making a start on developing your Personal Confident Style, this week let’s look at the fear of other people’s reactions.
If you start to take your appearance seriously and change your look, your work colleagues are likely to comment on it. They may think you’re trying to get one step ahead of them. They might be right! When you hear negative remarks – remarks often borne out of jealousy – the simplest response is: “I haven’t got time to mess about in the morning, so I’ve decided to adopt an easier way of dressing. Getting myself together makes my life easier.”
If you’re worried that being seen to spend time on how you look will mean that you’ll be taken less seriously, here’s something that may change your mind. Some years ago an internationally renowned business school carried out a survey to find out to what extent a professional woman’s wardrobe mattered. Half of the respondents – all MBA students – listed their appearance as a top priority; half claimed not to pay much attention to how they looked. Five years later, those who had made the effort had progressed far more quickly than those who hadn’t considered it a priority.
A good way of judging your female boss is to study her reaction when you change your appearance. A confident boss will be delighted if her subordinates look good because it reflects well on her. She’ll be the kind of boss who will enjoy helping you progress. My husband developed a theory during his time as a management consultant that first rate managers hire first rate staff; second rate managers hire third rate staff – usually because they feel insecure about their own careers.
This is going to be a short post.
For most of us, looking at fashion magazines and thinking about how to apply what they show and talk about to our own style is more likely to drain confidence than build it.
Unsurprisingly, I read a lot of fashion mags. But I don’t read them to keep up with the latest advice on how to dress. I read them for the artistic direction and some interesting (and not necessarily fashion-related) articles. For me fashion, magazines are a way of taking the boredom out of air travel, hair colouring and dentists’ waiting rooms
Magazines are now much more about fashion stylists doing artistic photo-shoots, and journalists wanting to be seen to be trendy, than about showing clothes that the average woman can wear. They are also advertising vehicles and shy away from exclusive clothes or expensive ones unless they are from companies who advertise.
None of which is unreasonable – it’s just business. But as a result, one of the most common concerns I hear from clients is that reading fashion magazines makes them feel old and out-of-date as they can’t imagine themselves in the clothes that are shown – even in features aimed at working wardrobes. The opposite of helping build style confidence.
The US magazines tend to have a better approach to showing wearable clothes; and if I could have only one magazine I think it would be American Harpers Bazaar.
One thing magazines are very good at is picking up on new cosmetic products. I’ve discovered many of the products I use and have recommended in Confidence Tricks in the pages of magazines. I also think that magazines often provide very good ideas for accessorising your outfit – although shoes that look good in photo shoots may not be ones you could walk to the office in.
So my advice with magazines is to enjoy the art and the stories; pick up the nuggets of information on cosmetics and accessories; but don’t let the lack of clothes you feel you could wear make you feel unconfident in your style.
Trust me, it’s not you; it’s them.
One of the most important inputs to gaining real confidence in your style is to understand proportions. What this means is understanding what your physical differences are, and selecting clothes appropriately.
Too often people regard their own proportions as a problem. Whether it’s a big bust, wide hips, a small waist, short legs relative to your torso, sloping shoulders, a short neck – the list goes on – I regularly hear the complaint that ‘they don’t make clothes for people of my shape’.
This is generally not true. What we usually mean by this is that we don’t know how to manage the things that make us different from the ‘average’ shape – whatever that is.
Here are some examples of how you can minimise or camouflage your ‘unusual’ proportions:
- If you have a very small waist relative to the rest of your body, don’t buy things that draw attention to it such as very wide belts, especially if they’re a different colour as these will make your hips look wider. Instead, look for something that doesn’t accentuate your waist, like a skirt with a not too fitted jacket. You could go for a dress with a waist detail, but ensure that it is of the same fabric. Here are some examples:
- If you have wide hips, the trick is to balance out the shoulder area. The look you’re going for is an upside down triangle where the shoulder line balances out the wider hips. Look for shirts, tops and jackets with wider shoulders or interesting detailing around the shoulder area that draws the eye away from the hip area.
- Short legs relative to your torso can be mitigated through sensitive adjustment to skirt lengths. It’s a good idea to get specific personal advice with this, though, because it really does vary according to people’s height and length of torso. The one thing I would say is keep away from full skirts and flat shoes.
- Sloping shoulders can be padded out. But you should do this very carefully. The 80s-style massive shoulder pads that go past the shoulder are not the look you want – it’s more about gently building up the shoulder area so the slope from the neck is more gradual
- If you have a short neck, you should avoid high necklines and choose one that stands away from the neck. Make sure the rever is not too closed-in. And don’t have your hair too long as it pulls the face downwards, emphasising the short neck. Scoop and cowl necklines are very flattering; and avoid high buttoning jackets and dresses.
- The advice for a short neck also applies to a big bust, but here it rather depends on the positioning of the bust. When trying on jackets, I would go for a two button rather than a one button jacket. But again this really where you need individual help from an expert: in general, the problem with a one button jacket is that it can gape over a large bust, but I have also seen it look very, very beautiful. (You can find more tips for the bigger bust in this post from last year.)
These are just a few of the more common proportion-type issues that we help with on a regular basis. I’ll be happy to address others if you have concerns about another aspect of your body shape, so please let me know.
The advice here is general and it’s always good to ask for personal advice when buying as everyone’s proportions are different; and you will find that stylists in the better shops will be able not only to point you to the right clothes, but also work with a tailor to alter clothes to suit your proportions.
Next time: how to use fashion magazines