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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wear this - not that!

I am not sure what frustrates me more - people who dress as if they completely don't care, or people who almost have it right if only they tweaked one or two things. I suppose at the end of the day I would rather work with the latter group, because at least they don't need convincing that looks are important and there is nothing shallow about that concept. After all, if presented with two cars that are identical in every way, except one having shiny new paint job and the other one - ugly and peeling, we would probably pick the shiny pretty one, so why should we not extend the same perception toward people?

Other than helping people give a damn about how they look, one of the hardest things when trying to improve someone's wardrobe is breaking the set ways. "But I have always worn this!", "Oh, but this is my favorite sweater!", "I have shopped at that store for ages!" are among the most frustrating statements a fashion consultant or a personal shopper might hear. For some reason women become particularly prone to the "I've always dressed this way" disease when they hit forty - especially if they've been married for awhile. It is as if there is nothing more left to life but to blend in with the rest of the furniture in the house.

Change is tough. So, why not do it gradually and take some of the looks you have known and loved for ages and make slight alterations to them? Nothing so drastic that you no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, but enough to improve the overall effect. You'd be surprised how little it takes!

The format of this article was inspired by the Eat this - not that book series (incidentally, a terrific source of information if you eat on the go a lot and would like to cut some calories), which put your good and not-so-good options side by side to let you clearly see the difference and remember it the next time you have to make a choice. Following are some of the very common outfits that betray those who are stuck in a rut sartorially speaking, and their slightly different yet more stylish counterparts.

A day at the office

The two most common office wear mishaps I see are (a) 1980's power suits complete with huge shoulder pads and matchy-match everything and (b) the waiter look (no offense to waiters - I used to wait tables too) - the black pants (frequently pleated in the front and tapered at the bottom - yikes!) and white shirt (frequently so rectangular in shape that it may have been made out of a box).

Yes, those 1980's suits were certainly built to last - they appear to be indestructible. And they may have cost a fortune. But the truth of the matter is - they are dated and make you look like a linebacker. Some of them can be rescued, if you take out the shoulder pads and have the jackets altered around the waist to adhere to your shape better. You also have to resolve to not wear the jackets and the matching skirts together. Rather, try pairing the suit jacket with jeans and a crisp white shirt (see, I am not trying to demonize white shirts) and jeans or with a feminine dress.

So the next time you hear your power suit calling your name, sneak away quietly and go for a softer look.

If you are the black-and-white type. Uhh... First of all, you need to dispell one major myth for yourself: black and white do not go with everything and not always - with each other. If you have five pairs of identical black pants, which you wear with different tops - in addition to looking as if you consist of two halves, you may also be killing any subtlety of color and pattern in your tops. Black is not the only answer, if you are looking for something slimming, elegant and versatile - any dark color will do it.

Wear a solid dark color on the larger portion of your body and a coordinating pattern on a smaller part. For instance, if you are pear-shaped, wear a pair of flowing chocolate brown palazzo pants with a cream-and-chocolate stripe blouse. You may also wear a monochromatic dark-colored outfit, but vary the fabrics and textures: such as a tweed suit with a silk blouse in, say, a luscious deep purple.

If you have black pants that are well cut, are not pleated or tapered and flatter your shape, certainly keep them, but find alternative ways to wear it: charcoal gray sweater would work, so would a black satin blouse with pinstripes of another color. In the end black goes best with...well... black.

Same goes for your white blouses - only keep them if they are fitted and crisp. Find other things to wear them with - skirts, jeans, those re-furbished 1980's jackets, but not black anything unless it's exquisitely done. Whenever you find yourself reaching for your worker ant uniform again,remind yourself that it's neither your best nor your only option. Perhaps it's time to try something else.

Casual Friday at the office

For the fiftieth time - it doesn't have to be jeans! There are khakis and corduroys if you prefer to stick to pants. But if you decide to build a casual outfit around a skirt or even a dress - nobody is going to kill you. Honestly, there is no law against that!

Or if you insist on jeans, at least don't wear the ghastly tapered ones! Find a couple of pairs in a nice dark wash and in a cut that flatters you - bootcut and wide leg jeans work really well, especially when worn with the right shoes. The same goes for the t-shirt - if jeans and a t-shirt make up your Friday casual uniform, make it an interesting t-shirt and ensure that it fits your shape. So, the next time, when suiting up for a casual day at the office, put these down and back away slowly.Go for a classier, more interesting and more flattering alternative instead.

If overly precipitous and / or trendy-looking shoes scare you, go for a boot with a sturdy stacked heel - they are quite stable, comfortable and supportive, I assure you.

Casual - lounging around

Why do so many people wear sweats? Everywhere? I know they are comfortable, but let's face it - stylish they are not, and trust me when I say - those gathered-at-the ankles sweatpants make your bum look vast! First of all, let us agree - sweats belong at the gym, as do the perpetual white sneakers you wear with them. No if's or but's about it. Second, who cares if nobody sees you as you lounge around at home? What's wrong with being comfortable and looking good just for your own sake? After all, being able to smile when passing a mirror is a powerful mood booster.

If you are toting around some extra poundage, the narrowest portion of your torso will be not at your waist but at the top of your ribcage just under the bustline. So, look for tops that hug you right around that area - you'd be amazed to discover that you do in fact have a shape and that you look 20 pounds lighter when what you wear compliments that shape, instead of obliterating it the way a sweatshirt does.

The tush is an area we all tend to treat with a great deal of criticism. Wearing tapered pants (including sweatpants) is not going to help anyone feel better about that particular body part. Rather, steer toward wider flowing pants that skim over the booty and then widen to hide whatever you want hidden.

So, don't wear this.

Wear one of these instead.

Now, it would be a shame to ruin these fabulous comfort togs with sneakers. So, ditch these

and try these for home

and these for out and about

Staying warm

Yes, most of us love the holidays. ...And want to express our holiday spirit with what we wear. ...And end up wearing it for the rest of the cold season. But maybe the snowman sweaters and Santa vests should be retired. Do you have any idea how aging those are? Why, a fabulous 40-year old dressed in one of these suddenly gains 25 years, arthritis and a tinge of blue in her hair. Not to mention the fact that holiday sweater industry stubbornly refuses to admit that garments are supposed to adhere to a human shape. Have you noticed how rectangular all of these are? Enjoy the holidays - by all means, but why not do it with a little more style?

Rules of thumb for shape: v-necks and deep ballerina necks work best for busty girls; slash necks and turtlenecks look great on the flat-chested. Again, make sure it hugs you around the narrowest part of your torso. Also, if you have slender wrists, wear three-quarter length sleeves to show them off.

So, put away this one

and snuggle into one of these

You can also take a regular solid-color sweater and decorate it with something festively stunning (or stunningly festive - either way works).

Enjoy the season in style!

Images courtesy Nordstrom, Chadwicks of Boston, Acacia, Soft Surroundings, Victorian Trading

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