Posts Categorized: reader requests

Reader Request: Young Clothes, Old Clothes

young clothes old clothes2

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Reader Kristin popped this one into the suggestion box:

If you haven’t done one before, maybe a post about what aspects of clothing are typically considered “young”, which ones are “old” and which ones can be variable? Sometimes I get confused when someone identifies something that I like or a store that I frequent as “old lady” or “twee” when I don’t see it that way at all. Then it makes me wonder if I’m managing to inadvertently age myself or look childlike by my wardrobe choices.

A tough and fascinating question. First off, I feel compelled to say that I don’t really believe in hard-and-fast age-appropriateness guidelines. Each woman needs to make her own decisions, individually, about what she loves wearing, feels comfortable wearing, and feels is a good match for her internal age, chronological age, or both. That said, there are features and designs that read as “young” or “old” due to trend cycles and socially reinforced preferences. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, avoid them, or embrace them, but it’s hard to deny that they exist. A pink tulle skirt will read young to most people, and a lace shawl will read old to most people. However, in many cases …

It depends how you style it

ruffles

Both of these women are wearing garments with ruffles. The garments have some design features that set them apart from each other: The white dress is short and low cut, the blazer is high-necked and tweedy. But consider this: If a 60-year-old woman took that white dress, threw on a pair of leggings, a scarf, and a longline blazer, she’d look pretty sharp. And if a 20-year old tried that blazer unbuttoned with a graphic tee, boyfriend jeans, and heels … well, those bell cuffs might throw it all off a bit, but it’d come close to working. Most items that read as “young” or “old” can be styled to appear fairly neutral.

Also keep in mind that some items that feel “old” actually feel that way because they’re dated. Let’s look again at the images from the top of this post.

blazers

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The blue blazer has a high stance, Peter Pan-esque wide collar, and wide 3/4-length sleeves. Any one of these elements might work on a simple blazer, but mushed together like this they look a bit stodgy. The high stance is the real killer here. Contemporary blazers typically have no more than two buttons and a much lower stance. So if someone is wearing this blazer, they might look older because the piece itself is somewhat dated in design.

The pink blazer is a drapey knit with little shaping and tiny, stylized lapels. This piece will look dated someday, but right now it reads as “young” because it’s a fairly new, trendy shape and style. But while the dated blue blazer would be tough to update and transform into a younger-looking piece, the trendy pink blazer would be just fine on an older woman if styled to suit her.

Can you tell I’m a little reluctant to make a big list of traits that fall solidly into one camp or another? What I’ll do instead is offer up a few, and then turn it over to you to discuss. I know that this is an extremely subjective topic that will prompt different responses from women of different age groups and cultures, so I’d never say that my own picks here are carved in stone. But I’ll get the ball rolling.

YOUNG

  • Distressed/torn anything
  • Peter Pan collars
  • Tulle skirts
  • Babydoll/empire-waist dresses
  • Rompers
  • Cropped tops and sweaters
  • Printed leggings
  • Short shorts

OLD

  • Pleated, tapered pants and jeans
  • Applique sweatshirts and jean-style jackets
  • High-stance jackets and blazers
  • Twin sets
  • Paisley print
  • Collared sweatshirts
  • Zip-front vests
  • Tweed
  • Crocheted sweaters and some crochet accents

Interesting to note that nearly everything on my “old” list is either a fringe trend right now (pleated, tapered pants) or something that hipsters have commandeered (tweed). And some items from my “young” list (Peter Pan collars) have “old” iterations. Just depends on the garment and how it’s styled. TRICKY, EH?

Another point of clarification: I don’t think of young as good and old as bad. And I don’t think it’s unacceptable for young women to wear tweed or for old women to wear Peter Pan collars. There’s no black and white in this issue, only shades of gray. Which means that even if some of the people in her life feel like Kristin is wearing clothes that are too old or young for her, that is merely their opinion.

Over to you: Are there certain garments or styles that read as inherently “old” or “young” to you? Do you agree that it can all come down to styling?

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Reader Request: Dressing an Hourglass Figure

what_to_wear_hourglass_figure

Reader Gretchen sent me this request:

My trouble is finding outfits that work without making my hips/butt look huge. My waist is 28″ and my hips are 38″. If I wear flow-y tops or pants, I look like I have gained about 10-20 pounds because everything falls in line with my hips; however, if I wear more fitted clothing, my hips and butt stick out. Flow-y with belts around my waist perhaps? This doesn’t seem like a common problem for women anymore as it seems the true hourglass figure is getting lost somehow. So it’s been tough to find information.

Before we dig in, a few things to keep in mind: Few people fit neatly into a single figure shape category. Most of us are a mix of several. Hourglass figures come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, so even if some of the body shapes used to illustrate concepts here don’t meet your own expectations, they may be helpful to others. Even if some of these tips pertain to figure-flattery goals you don’t share, they may be the goals of others. And, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. Good? Good. Let’s dig in.

Tops with flow and drape

Unless you are purposely doing something to visually alter your silhouette, you generally want to show the true shape of your figure. If you mask the places where your body curves – ankles, knees, wrists, waist – you aren’t showcasing your shape. With an hourglass figure, the primary curve in question is the waist, and tops or dresses that stand away from the waist will add visual volume to the figure. Think stiff blazers or thick sweaters that may fit in the bust or hips, but don’t really hug the waist.

fabric

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Fluid fabrics like jersey knits, poly blends, rayon, and silk will skim your curves and are lightweight enough to conform to the curve of your waist. They are also more flexible and will stretch over your bust without gapping or pulling. This is not to say that stiff or thick fabrics are out of the question, but they will work better with your natural shape if they conform to your curves. And that may mean tailoring.

Shirttail tops

shirttail hem for hourglass

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Hourglass figures often include pronounced hips, and that can mean that longer length, untucked tops cling to your bum. Shirttail and curved-hem tops are a great work-around if you want length without bunching. This style of top works best worn with pants when untucked, although it can certainly be tucked into a skirt. (And honestly, this style is great for all figures!)

Belts

belts for hourglass figures

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As Gretchen mentioned, belting can be incredibly helpful for hourglass figures. Belts are great for drawing the eye to your waist if you want to highlight it, but can also help bring in the volume of tops, tunics, and blouses as needed. Belt at the smallest part of your waist, even if that falls above your skirt or pant waistband.

If you’re belting a loose or voluminous top, try to stick to a fitted bottom: A pencil skirt, leggings (with a tunic), straight legs, or skinnies will create balance. Also bear in mind that belting a top that’s three sizes too big will just great poofing. Belting should be a minor adjustment, not an attempted overhaul.

Wrap dresses

wrap dresses for hourglass figures

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I feel like wrap dresses are prescribed for just about every fit challenge, but they really are an amazing option for hourglass gals. Faux wraps are fine, but true wraps are even better because they allow you to customize the placement and cinch-level of your waistline. Knits will conform to your bust and hip curves the best, but wovens like poplin can work, too. Experiment with wrap tops when you can find them.

Pencil, full, and A-line skirts

skirt shapes for hourglass figure

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Mini, midi, and maxi skirts may be tough on a curvy figure, especially if you want a balanced and streamlined silhouette. (Which you won’t always. Wear those minis and maxis to your heart’s content when you want to.) But pencil, A-line, and some flared skirts will all work harmoniously with many hourglass variants so long as they’re around knee length. Pencil skirts will show off the curves of your lower half, and look marvelous with a fluid, tucked-in top. A-line skirts add volume in the bottom half which balances your bust, and are great with fitted untucked sweaters and tucked blouses. Full skirts work best if they have a yoke or pleats that begin a few inches below the waistband. This prevents them from sticking straight out from the top of your hips and keeps the volume in check. Try full skirts with fitted jackets or sweaters. (And, as always, when you tuck you’ll generally want to belt.)

High- and mid-rise pant styles with top-entry pockets

pants for hourglass figures

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Hourglass figures look great in everything from trousers to skinnies. Bootcut jeans are often highlighted since the slight flare at the ankle balances curves, but they’re not the only option. Wide legs that skim the hips can work with fitted tops, straight legs are a fabulous option especially with heels, and skinnies work fantastically with tunics.

The main features that hourglass gals should seek in pants are a mid-or high rise and top-entry pockets. If you’ve got hips and a nipped waist, low-rise styles are likely to create muffin-top. And be uncomfortable. Higher rises will fit better, though they may need to be taken in at the waistband. Side pockets on pants will wing out since they are designed for women with no hips. Stick to top-entry pockets or no pockets for a smoother line.

Low necklines

bust

If you are an hourglass with a large bust, you probably know this one already. In fact, if you are anyone with a large bust, you’ve probably been told that lower necklines are ideal for your shape. V-necks, scoops, and drapes all visually lengthen the neck which balances the bust. Since some hourglass figures have lots of curves, both elongating the neck and downplaying the bust can help create overall visual harmony.

Find a fabulous tailor

I didn’t mention jackets of any kind because, in my experience, blazers and jackets are incredibly difficult to fit off the rack for everyone. Hourglass variations may have more trouble than most, especially if the waist is considerably smaller than the bust and/or hips. Buy garments that fit your largest spot – shoulders, bust, hips – and have them taken in.

Now. Gretchen asked for outfit ideas, which is a little tough since I don’t know her personal style or dressing preferences. But here are some general formulas that will work for many hourglass figures:

  • Flowy blouse, belted, over slim pants
  • Fitted low neckline sweater or top, untucked, over trouser-cut jeans or pants
  • Fluid top tucked into pencil skirt, belted
  • Fitted (potentially tailored) jacket, low-necked tank, yoked full skirt
  • Contoured tee shirt with low neckline, straight-leg jeans, heels
  • Flowy tunic, belted, over leggings or skinnies
  • Peplum top, pencil skirt (peplum will need to hit at the natural waist)
  • Shirttail top or blouse, straight legs, heels

Whew! That was a long one. Hope there were some helpful tidbits in there, and would love to hear what works for you hourglass-shaped ladies. What are your favorite garment shapes? Outfit formulas? Do tell!

Top image credits one, two, three

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Reader Request: Dress Shapes for Bodies in Flux

swing_dress

Reader S. emailed me this question:

I love wearing dresses because they are easy and usually comfortable. I have chronic Lyme disease, which means that some days by belly starts at one point and inflates or deflates to another. It also means that during relapses, I’m in incredible pain. So, I have adopted a style wardrobe that is comprised of J.Jill (because Eileen Fisher is out the the budget), eclectic “world” tunics, drapey tops, and some pieces from Free People. I want to wear more dresses because sometimes flowy pants just bore me. Jeans are way out of the question right now, too. What types of dress shapes and materials should I look for? I am working on the insides, any thoughts for dresses on the outside?

A former colleague of mine had chronic Lyme disease, and I know she struggled with body fluctuations and pain. I told S. how sorry I was to hear of her illness, though it sounds like she’s made some peace with it. Many bodies fluctuate in shape and size, but if your body is constantly changing shape AND you’re dealing with pain and illness it can create feelings of betrayal and disconnection. For some, putting energy toward dressing feels wasteful, and it certainly can be. But for those like S. who feel the urge to adjust personal style to trying body conditions, there are definitely work-arounds.

In terms of dresses, the first style that comes to mind is swing, which is basically an A-line shape that starts at the shoulders. (I own a Karen Kane one, outfit post here.) This will give the midsection lots of room, and if the style feels too loose you can bring in the volume a bit with a blazer or jacket. Some might point you to empire waist dresses which would also give you room and midsection comfort, but many of us look little-girly or pregnant in that style. You can also try for dresses that are stretchy but have some ruching or detailing in the front – this one looks fab – though depending on the style those can add volume, too. Twist fronts and cascades are in the same family, and can give some shape to the dress without being super clingy and revealing.

dress shapes for weight change

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Princess seams combined with a lack of hard waistband are another option. A dress that is shaped gently with this style of side-seaming can be a good fit for a fluctuating body and is less voluminous than the other two styles. It is the least forgiving of hour-to-hour changes, though, and depending on the cut may show off your shape. But if you add jacket or blazer that may draw attention away from your midsection.

I’m reluctant to make strong recommendations for materials since I know that pain is a spectrum and sometimes comes with fiber sensitivities. I imagine that super-thin jersey knits are far too clingy, but heavy cotton knits, ponte, heavier rayon or poly fabrics could potentially work. Stiff twills and wools aren’t the greatest options, but most of these dress styles are made from more fluid fabrics anyway.

Poking around a bit, I found great options for all three categories at:

Would LOVE to hear from any of you that are dealing with weight and shape shifts on a regular basis. What styles and shapes of dresses work for you? Any fiber recommendations or shopping resource suggestions?

Top image courtesy ASOS

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