Mar 132014

I pulled this post out of my first month of blogging, because of its illustration of the Gestalt principle of Figure and Ground; that is, how the eye differentiates between a figure and it’s background. It is reflecting on an event from December 1, 2005; but the principle is no different now, eight years on.
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Flashback to last Thursday, that is. I just can’t get over how slim and elegant some of the ladies looked at the event I attended. How they did it:

  • Each one created an outfit within her natural silhouette.
  • The ubiquitous notion that black makes everyone look slimmer really works for dimly lit evening affairs- but NOT for swimsuits!
  • Obvious reflective elements, like glued on little mirrors or glitter, caused their outlines to be less distinct.

Something else about this event that was fun: it was ladies only! No flashbacks to the high school dance, when you were all decked out and your date arrived in a sweater.

Feb 032014

… in which I discuss my own body image issues in some detail.

Last week I listed to a podcast on weight and body image. Hearing women describe their parents’ criticism of their bodies in childhood was shocking. That is not my story.  Nevertheless, I asked myself, “do I remember any comments critical of my body from vulnerable times?” One instance came to mind: in early elementary, a gymnastics teacher pointed out my saddlebags and told my mom they were a hindrance to my ability to perform the moves.  I could have used a few more years before I had to notice them.

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Fast forward to today. Most of my wardrobe mistakes stem from trying to wish away my thighs. When I weigh 145, I look normal and my clothes fit fine; at 135, I start getting ambitious about being able to wear other silhouettes. The wrong silhouettes.

The solution is to stick to my natural silhouette. And my next action, after realizing this, was to biff the magic underwear. Any garment which needs them should be replaced with one that doesn’t.

Jan 212014

Fashions cycle in a manner both mysterious and predictable. Recently I read a designer quoted as saying whatever has been out the longest is what will be in next, and IMO there’s truth in that statement.  Especially as it applies to recurrent traditional looks such as:

  • Nautical
  • Animal print
  • Boat shoes Wait a minute, that’s nautical, right?
  • Safari suits

There is also a strong case for the idea that fashion trends move so fast these days as to be all but irrelevant. Watching TV shows from 10 years ago on Amazon’s Instant Video is one way to see how things have subtly changed (and free with Amazon Prime).

Previously on this blog I have made a case for seven-year fashion cycles; in other research, I uncovered a theory of (approximately) 50-year silhouettes predominating in a predictable sequence – another cycle. Are these both valid? Are they relevant?

In 2007, we appeared to be changing from a sportswear emphasis to a more sophisticated silhouette. According to the (five- to) seven-year cycle, we should be seeing more “saucy” looks: prints, warm colors, fun dresses with fuller skirts, etc. Um. Yes, please!

According to the generational silhouette sequence, the pencil will once again be the height of elegance. That straight silhouette is hard for me to rock. Knowing what looks do not flatter and leaving them behind is foundational to developing personal style, and a bit of a challenge for me. I always seem to look for a way to wear what’s “in”, even if it’s not best.

On closer examination, the pencil can be done with high, low, or natural waist (thinking of looks popular a century ago). As long as I stick with the natural waist, I may be ok. I have been thinking about a flapper dress, though.

Oct 302013

“Many pitfalls of frumpiness can be avoided by not mixing shapes within an outfit.”

A few years ago, I made the above remark without a satisfactory explanation. Yesterday, I was feeling frumpy. Now I have lost the previous article. Oh well!

In the previous article, we established satisfactorily the link between unflattering fit and frumpiness. Unflattering fit and mixing shapes within an outfit are closely related. Both create silhouette problems.

The key to a flattering silhouette is maintaining a recognizable shape. Different theorists have developed different silhouette profiles; I like the system taught in The Triumph of Individual Style. Within this system, there are six different silhouettes which could be realized by the head-to-toe shape(s) created by clothes on the body: rectangle, hourglass, A-line triangle, inverted triangle, figure 8, and oval. Mixing within an outfit results in an outline deviating from these shapes. A classic example is the pear:  that is, usually, a rectangle top paired with an oval bottom.

But I don’t think that is my problem.

The word frumpy implies:

  1. unflattering fit,
  2. conservative or matronly fabric too stiff or too drapey,
  3. outdated (as opposed to classic) less current than the critic would prefer ;),
  4. inappropriate to the setting.

In this case, I am my own worst critic. And, before putting money and energy into Fall/Winter 2013/14, I will be revisiting the Three Fashion Cycles.   Because I think my offense is against principle number 3.

Aug 012013

sage green Bermudas, with jacketIn my attempts to wrestle the brain and schedule into submission and re-habituate to the blogging life, I have tried a couple of remote blogging locations.  I mean coffee shops, mostly. Last Friday morning I spent a couple quiet hours semi-productively at the Hardback Cafe inside Hastings.  I was dressed like this:

  • Breve-colored slip-on Italian loafers.  These are comfortable and classy, even if it’s not so classy when I slip them off and put my feet up on the couch or coffee table 😉
  • Sage green short-sleeved pants. Perhaps not the most fashionable, but I consider these “just get dressed” summer clothes. As usual, I wore them with a belt and my signature key ring hanging from a belt loop.
  • Also, “just get dressed” summer clothes: Mod Bod tank in ivory.  Now, I love these tanks and have them in several colors, but this summer I haven’t worn them much.  They seemed boring. However …
  • This short, puffed sleeve jacket in a crispy cotton fabric and neutral putty color is just perfect for converting just about ANY “just get dressed” summer outfit into business casual.  Why didn’t I think of that before?

The jacket has a slightly-fitted shape which, combined with the rounded sleeves and a pair of shorts that taper slightly creates a smooth figure 8 ish silhouette.  I have had the jacket a few years – never worn it much – and it was a thrift steal: Caslon (NORDSTROM) tags on when I bought it for next-to-nothing.

I always feel more like myself when dressed with a business edge.

Jan 102013

One woman’s “tailored” is another woman’s “tight”.  Have you ever wondered why one woman can look casually elegant in an unstructured outfit while another looks frumpy?  Or why some just can’t do turtlenecks? Clearly there are many possible reasons; allow me to propose one.

Hypothesis:  process-oriented personalities prefer less precision in fit

Application? One would be if you were looking for a coat now, say, on clearance at Nordstrom.  (New markdowns at NORDSTROM. Plus, get free shipping and returns.)  As I was thinking about this question, I thought of my own coat.   The easy, belted styling, IMO, would be structured enough for most.  The blankety-soft wool/cashmere blend is comfy enough to take the edge off the tailored tidiness.  If I were a more process-oriented person, though, I would have bought the next size larger.

Of course if the personality connection doesn’t work for you, it could still be helpful to consider:  do you prefer more or less structure in the way your clothes fit?

Mar 132011

I have a strong dislike for the term “pear shaped“; thus, while this post could be taken as addressing that figure type, I will instead be using my own, more flattering, term: Type A. Well, that does have other associations as well, but what I mean is A as in A-line. Nothing unflattering about that!

Do you need a size at least two sizes greater on bottom than on top? If so, this post is for you.

Making the mental change from thinking of yourself as a pear to thinking of yourself as an A, or a triangle, is step one in the process of visualizing flattering looks. The reason? Your overall silhouette needs width at the hem, otherwise you risk appearing lumpy. Like a pear.

More do’s:

  • choose A-line skirts
  • wear dark jeans and trousers
  • enjoy attention-getting details on top (accessories, necklines, sleeves)
  • try slash pockets (I swear these can move me from a figure eight to an inverted triangle)

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  • tapered pants, UNLESS they are worn under a long A-line top
  • tops that by-pass the waist and are tight on the hips (such as a sweatshirt)
  • above the knee skirts with big horizontal lines going across the hips

What favorite tip would you share?

Dec 292010

God, in his infinite wisdom, has woven certain rhythms into the fabric of our world.  One of them is the seven year cycle.  Who can forget in the Laura Ingalls Wilder classic The Long Winter (Little House), when the Indians came in and told the settlers about the one bad winter every seven years?

Does that affect what you wear?  I think it does.  Recently I took another analytic look at Suzie Woodward’s fashion cycles (which we last discussed in June of 2009).  If I assume a seven year trend cycle, rather than the five years Suzie suggests, the three silhouettes fall right in place with what I’ve experienced, say, in the last forty years.

  • we are now solidly in a sophisticate cycle (in 2007, we were debating whether we would wear baby doll tops, jeans tucked into boots, or leggings).
  • prior to this, we were in a separates cycle (think Clinton and Stacy)
  • most of the ’90s was characterized by the “saucy” cycle.  And puffed sleeves.
  • following the seven year cycle back, puts the sophisticate cycle back in the days of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the TV show Dynasty.  Right where it belongs.
  • Prior to that was another separates cycle, from the mid-1970’s to the early ’80s.

I don’t remember much prior to that. 😉

Oct 072010

The very first thing I have written in my notes for Nonverbal Communication:

What are you saying and do you mean to say it?

Nevertheless, I have found our study of somatotypes slightly disturbing .  The idea that people would draw conclusions about our personalities from body-type seems somehow un-American or something.

Somatotyping is the system of body typing and constitutional psychology based on research by William Sheldon in the ’40s.  Most of us have heard the terms endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph.  What we troubled me was research showing the following characteristics related to body type:


softer, shorter, old fashioned, warm-hearted, less strong, amiable, talkative, dependent, trustworthy


stronger, more masculine, better looking, adventurous, younger, more mature, self reliant


very thin, very tall, very ambitious, suspicious, tense, pessimistic, stubborn

Yikes!  How many of us would fit these descriptions? And do we tend to get grumpy and difficult when people assume things about us that are not true?

But look at this chart I found at, overlaying somatotype with myers-briggs personality type.

somatotype/mbti chart

At first glance, this fits at least myself and the hero fairly precisely.   How about you?

Aug 122010

At one time or another we’ve all asked the question. Does this make me look fat? It might.

Is it:

1) The wrong silhouette, or shapeless altogether?

2) Too small?

3) Put together in such a way that it creates a focal point where you would rather not have one? Like the wannabe glamourous young lady in black pants and black sweater, swath of white lace encircling her hips & derriere?

(A friend of mine used one of these long shirts with the lace hem to create a much more flattering look: matching the lace to the color of her skirt, she created the effect of a coordinating lace belt, and wore a contrasting top over.)

If creating a slimmer appearance is your foremost fashion concern, the book Does This Make Me Look Fat?: The Definitive Rules for Dressing Thin for Every Height, Size, and Shape, may be worth investing in. Read a lengthy excerpt at her website.