It could be because the mannequins never show the clothes the way they are supposed to look on a regular person (unless you are in Britain, where they are finally test-driving the normal-size mannequins)... It could be because the department stores are so huge, it's impossible to know where to look for the right thing... It could be because trying on one thing after another after another and not finding a single one that fits and looks right, we dread the thought of a fitting room... It could be because so many women think that if they show a glimpse of leg at work, it will be immediately associated with the lack of gray matter upstairs... Whatever the reason - I am seeing fewer and fewer women wearing dresses these days. You might see an occasional skirt in the summer, but in the colder months it's a disaster! Women encase themselves into boring rectangular business suits on weekdays and transition to jeans and t-shirts on weekends.
Ladies, I beg you to reconsider. A dress is not only one of the oldest garments in the history of fashion (think of Indian sari and Greek tunic), but it's also one of the easiest to wear - you just put it on, throw on shoes and earrings and you are done! The trick is to ignore what's "trendy" or "in" or "latest designer" and find what works with your shape in a color that compliments your complexion, eyes and hair. Instead of going to the department stores and risk being overwhelmed and dealing with snooty sales associates (who don't know where anything is anyway), consider going to smaller places and trying on things you have never thought of before - you might be surprised.
Little black dress
While I am eternally grateful to Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn for introducing and popularizing the LBD, I do want to remind the ladies out there that it doesn't just come in a sheath shape. That is not a bad thing, because sheath has only ever looked good on Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Renee Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair. For the rest of us the sheath can be a kiss of death, because it makes our necks look too short, our arms - too big, and our figures - rectangular.
That said, there is an LBD out there for you. The first thing to try is different fabrics. Go for something soft and forgiving, like cashmere or stretch cotton to skim over your shape instead of clinging to it. Play with different lengths. It's not true that petite women cannot wear long dresses. If the shape is right and the design is simple, long works just fine. Another thing to remember that there is no law against wearing an LBD with something other than the little black pump. Try boots, try fishnets or textured tights, try colorful shoes with matching jewelry - see what works.
Here is another news item - an LBD is now available in the most forgiving form of all times: the wraparound. It does exist! Macy's has it, Chadwick's has it, Target has it - go try it on. Unlike the sheath, the wraparound adheres to your shape, emphasizing your waist and gliding over your hips. If it's a true wraparound, you can wear it both on your skinny days and your bloated days - and nobody would notice the difference.
Alternatives to black
As versatile as black is believed to be, it's actually not all that. Some people should not wear black, because it washes them out and makes them look tired regardless of how much sleep they've had. Who wants that?
The good news is that the elegant slenderizing effect of black can be had by wearing just about any other dark color. One of my personal favorites is dark rich brown, like the color of dark chocolate or coffee.
You'll be surprised to find out that a lot more colors look much better with brown than they do with black, including some delicious combinations like brown and royal blue or turquoise, or brown and raspberry red.
Another great alternative to black is dark blue. A word of caution - try different shades (navy, midnight, royal) to find the best one for you. You'd be surprised how different you look depending on which shade you are wearing. I suit the cooler richer blues, for example, but navy blue makes me look as if I haven't slept in three days.
While silver is traditionally considered a better color to accessorize with when wearing dark blue, don't rule out gold entirely. Look to old decorative fabrics and vases for inspiration - many of them combine royal blue and gold (Lomonosov china is a great example, where blue and gold are actually the signature colors, by which that particular china is identified).
Purple is a color that took me a while to try. Being short, I was afraid of stumbling into a wrong shade of it and looking like Barney. As with blue, I suit rich jewel-tone purples and having identified the right shades, I happily brought more of this wonderful color into my wardrobe. It has proven to be a true godsend in the winter, when I tend to wear too much black and gray - I was starving for some color and purple turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Being dark-haired and dark-eyed, red has always been my signature color. I have since branched into other color groups, but I still wear a lot of red. Why? Because it always lifts my spirits. There is just something about it that appears to instantly turn the lights on for me. Because red is such a huge favorite with me, I have at least one red garment to work with for each season. As with other colors, I had to work some to find the right shade of red for my coloring. Brownish or orangeish reds don't work quite as well for me, but bluish or purplish reds do, so I stick with them.
As with purple, it took me the longest time to try yellow - only more so. The trick was the season. I cannot wear yellow in the winter, when I am pale, but in the summer - that is a whole different matter. I don't tan very dark, but turn a nice deep shade of bronze instead, especially after a few rounds of cutting grass on my 3-acre property. That is when my little yellow dress comes out. To keep from looking like a baby chick I wear it with unexpected shoes and accessories, the royal blue pumps and necklace/earrings set being my favorite combination.
Beige is misunderstood. A lot of people associate beige with filing cabinets, hospital walls, the eternal khakis everyone seems to be wearing to the office these days, and the color of book covers of the particularly long books that were required reading at school. However, I think beige is worth another look. Think of other things that are beige, but interesting: sand dunes, unvarnished wood veneer, the heart of fresh-baked bread.
Two things separate boring beige from interesting beige: texture and what you combine it with. Nobody minds that sand dunes are beige, because they move and flow, and because we see them either under a spectacular desert sky, or near an ocean punctuated with swirls of sea grass. Beige is also a chameleon color - paired with a deeper brighter hue, it either takes some of it on (turning bluish or greenish next to a dark blue for example) or creates a dramatic contrast (like turning slightly yellow when paired with bright red). Find a beige with an interesting texture (corduroy or knit) and wear it with fun colors (instead of just black and white), and you'll discover that it's not so boring after all.
Turquoise is a color I lusted after for a long time, but didn't wear because I was convinced it was reserved for blue- or green-eyed blonds only. Then I discovered that it went fabulously well with brown, and having brown hair and eyes, I finally decided to give it a shot. Ooh-la-la! What a treat it turned out to be. Turquoise is now almost as ubiquitous in my closet as red and is worn every way imaginable: casual, business and full formal.
This particular dress is my particular favorite. It is a paler shade of turquoise, and is a faux wraparound style. The reason I practically live in it from April through October is because it is very light and flowing, is very easy to dress up and shows off my figure the best way possible. Whenever I wear it I feel girly and pretty, and that, I think, is what truly makes a perfect dress.
Being very short (5 feet even), I have to be very careful with patterns to avoid resembling wall paper, and to keep from looking as if a dress is wearing me instead of the other way around. Still, wearing solids can get old (even if they are solids in my favorite colors), so I do venture into the pattern territory occasionally.
I don't mind the pinstripe, but if possible, I try to find geometric patterns that flow vertically, but are a little more interesting, as is the case with this dress from Petite Sophisticate. Because of the cut, it is definitely my favorite bloated-day dress, but the pattern and the softer fabric keep it from looking tent-like or "pregnant", as is frequently the danger with empire-waist dresses.
I love shirt-dresses. I just do. I think the buttons in the front are sexy. :-) This particular one is a favorite not just because of the buttons, but also because of its pattern and 1950's "new look" design (little waist, wide skirt). It's black and white, yes - but mixed in a fun way (as opposed to the permanent black slacks / white shirt combination). Besides, it is very light and flowing, which makes it a staple from late spring through the entire summer.
Speaking of "new look" - anyone who knows me knows that I am positively addicted to it. I don't think that everyone should wear it - slender small-breasted women wouldn't look all that great in this cut. But it does work for the hour-glass figures (emphasizing the shape without making it look vulgar), the pear-shapers (by hiding the saddlebags) and for those who are thicker around the waist (by creating an illusion of one due to the contrast with the big skirt).
For those of us who are smaller on top and bigger on the bottom, this cut is a godsend, because it doesn't matter that our hip measurement corresponds to a larger size than our waist and bust measurement. A dress in this style fits the top portion of the body, and the wide skirt takes care of the rest. Because of the highly advantageous cut of the 1950's style dresses, I can actually risk wearing them in larger patterns like the two summer frocks below.
They are both colorful, but not overwhelming, very light (summer-friendly), very easy to dress up and very flattering. I receive compliments every time I wear them.
Finding the right dress is not easy, but the options are definitely out there, and I think it's worth it. I am not advocating going out in a full show-girl outfit, but something in a good cut and color hitting you just at the knee is always appropriate. Too long we have blended into the crowd of worker ants in the perpetual pant suits and khakis, forgetting that wearing a dress does not, in fact, kill brain cells. Let's go out there and show some leg!