28 December 2006

The horror of constrast stitching

28 December 2006
Corner of 16th and M Streets

Age: mid-20s
Height: 5'3" in (shudder) white cross-trainers
Size: 6-ish
Hair: dry, mousy brown, just above shoulders
Coloring: pale, pale, pale

Women's fashion magazines, from Vogue to Lucky to Redbook, all advise women just starting out in the professional world to purchase at least one versatile business suit. Something in a basic black, gray, navy or a subtle pinstripe. To skirt suit it or pant suit it is a personal choice, but whichever way you fall, it's assumed you'll buy the other - either a matching one or a coordinating one - to further enhance your options.

Though I don't really buy into the whole suit look myself, I think this is pretty sound advice for most young women, especially those looking to assimilate into the drip-drab DC workforce.
This young woman - who, honestly, from across the street looked 10 years older than she was - reminded me of Brooke Hogan trying to pull off sexy. In other words, she failed and failed HARD.

On paper, she had most of her boxes checked. Suit in a sensible color? Check. Sheer *black* hose now that we're officially into Winter? Check. Actually, now that I look at my notes (yes, notes!), those might be the only two she got right. And once we get to the specifics of her suit, her accolades may be whittled down to celebrating her choice of hose alone.

As for what was wrong, let's please start with the all-white cross-trainers and thick tube socks. There's not much else to say about the shoes other than they make a young woman look like a Mom. I'm not trying to criticize anything about being a Mom other than their stereotypical (though often well-earned) lack of fashion sense. I hear all the time from women of all ages that walking to work in heels is a non-negotiable discussion for them. Frankly, I respect their decision. I disagree with it for myself, but it is a style conviction, and like I have a conviction for wearing them, other women have a conviction for shunning them. In choosing to pack those heels in their bags and set off in the morning will full sock scrunch and mall-walker stride, these women should know there's no getting around the fact that they look like the kind of overly practical woman who only has sex in the bedroom on a Saturday evening. And only then, because they're moving their sweatpanted selves from the couch to the bed and find it utterly if not unavoidably inconvenient to decline the request.

If it goes through my mind, imagine what goes through a man's.

I don't need to include a disclaimer about how I'm not advocating dressing only to get positive male attention, do I? The point is, if heels aren't your bag and you have an open mind about leaving the marshmallow shoes at home, there are plenty of other, more comfortable options out there that look a whole lot more age appropriate. Like a pair of cute flats. A pair like these Tory Burch ballet slippers are pricey (aboive, $195 at toryburchonline.com), but from what I read in customer satisfaction surveys, they wear extremely well, take to re-soleing extremely well, and above all, score very positively in the comfort category. If you're on a tighter budget, try the Trebble flat from Steve Madden (left, $69.96 at stevemadden.com). For half the cost and almost double the number of available colors, you can retire the "Working Girl" look and traverse the 3-6 blocks to ConnAve in comfort and up-to-date style.

Now, the suit. Oh goodness, the suit. It was a solid navy blue, a pretty navy, not the matte polyester color we often see on older women who have stopped caring - or fitting into - suits made of natural fibers. As is the case 9 out of 10 times, the suit fit just awfully. It was reasonably well-matched at her shoulders but was literally the same width at the top as it was at the waist. The only reason I knew she was a size 6, is because I stole a glance at the label in her coat while we waited to cross 16th St.

Once I got past the sandwich-board look of her jacket, I moved to her bottom-half. Her pants weren't faring much better. By the cut of them, I could tell she bought them at a store whose clientele are considerably older than she is. High-waisted with a narrow band and tapered at the ankle is a classic "Mom" cut. For some reason, somewhere in the late-'80s, early '90s, someone decided elongating a woman's ass and making her legs look like sugar cones was flattering. Thankfully, this woman didn't have the cursed single or double pleat slapped on top of her upper thighs. Unless you're Dennis Hastert-sized, there is no excuse to ever, EVER wear pleated pants. They don't hide a belly, they only make a person look dated and well, like (s)he has a belly to hide. If you're a woman with a tummy bulge, here are your 3 instructions : first, wear Spanx or a control top hose, then, wear a longer jacket that falls over your waist, and third, start exercising and cutting out the pasta salad.

I wasn't completely forthright when I said the suit was a solid navy. Atop the navy was the most confusing choice of stitching I have ever seen on a dark suit. Not only was it contrast stitched, but it was a wide, untidy stitch reminiscent of a slow Kindergartner's attempt at tying a sneaker. Instead of working with what she had, I find it easier to recommend an entirely new outfit.

As young, petite, belly-less and averse to wearing high heels as she was, I'd recommend the Trebble flat in black (to walk to work), the mid-heel Maverick pump by Charles David ($101.95 at zappos.com) (to wear during the day), and if a suit is the preferred uniform at her place of work, this pant suit by Tahari by ASL ($209.99 at macys.com). The jacket is a bit longer than I would wear, but to be frank, she didn't have a toned enough bottom to pull off a cropped jacket in this thin a material. If she were willing to purchase a winter suit in a thicker material like wool tweed or herringbone, then a shorter jacket would work just fine. Normally, with a woman of shorter stature, longer jackets aren't recommended, but with the heel, she would be around 5'5", which just passes the height test. Under the jacket, if you want to throw in a punch of color, try a ruby red or silvery shell. If you're more traditional, nothing is more reliable than a crisp white Oxford shirt. Something with sleeves, though. If a girl doesn't put the effort into her bottom, you can be sure she doesn't invest it in her arms, either.

As for hair, I'm loath to give too much specific advice. If she is as much a minimalist as her appearance this morning implied, she should get a haircut that allows her to wash and go without too much fuss. As I wrote in a previous post, I'm a big proponent of the low ponytail (be sure to use a holder that matches your hair color) and wide headband. Or, the low ponytail and sideswept bangs. Both lend an air of sophistication difficult to achieve otherwise, and both require zero prep time.

As for makeup, this woman needed a serious intervention. An above-my-pay-grade kind of intervention. From what I could tell, the only cosmetics she used that morning were black eyeliner (not blended at all and too thick in the corners by her eyes) and blush. Red blush. Her skin wasn't bad, but it wasn't Rachel McAdams-esque, either. A bit of time with a sponge brush and some concealer would have easily taken her face from a 5 to a 7. Toning down the eyeliner, replacing the blush with a few subtle swipes of a good bronzer (try Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess, $29.50 at neimanmarcus.com) and adding a single coat of mascara (reserve the second coat for the Happy Hour), and she might have even pushed an 8.

Fashion for a woman is less about eliciting a reaction from others based on what she's wearing, and more about eliciting a reaction from others based on how she feels in what she's wearing. And judging by the downward looks and cuticle picking my subject was engaged in for 38 straight seconds, I could tell even she doesn't know she's capable of a 3 number jump.

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