May 7, 1996 in Features

Suitable Style Your Wardrobe Whould Work As Hard As You Do

Elsa Klensch Los Angeles Times Syndicate
 

First of two parts

Since you spend so much time at work, a large part of your wardrobe is your career separates. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t love what you wear to the office. And there’s no reason your career basics shouldn’t take you into evening and even into the weekend. So building a solid versatile work wardrobe is important.

I’m often asked, “How much should I spend on clothes?” The answer is simple: “As much as you can afford to spend.” Work clothing should be viewed as an investment.

Jackets

A jacket is the pivotal element of any wardrobe. It adds sophistication and polish to any piece that anchors it - from skirts to pants to city shorts. And a well-cut jacket can conceal most figure challenges.

A jacket lends presence and importance. It affords women the same authority and power that a man’s suit provides. It’s the first thing people notice when you’re sitting at your desk. And with heating and air-conditioning making work environments seasonless, the jacket has earned its place as a year-round wardrobe item.

Jackets are cut in three basic shapes: straight, fitted and cardigan-style.

A straight-line jacket should never be really straight. It needs the gentlest curve to be flattering.

A fitted jacket can be as simple as an easy blazer or it can be trendy and snappily cut.

Considerably more relaxed than the others, a cardigan-style jacket, like those of the incomparable Coco Chanel, needs only a minimum of detail to be savvy enough for the office.

Finding the right jacket

Shoulder fit is all-important. Seams should sit straight and smooth across the shoulders, and the jacket should fall straight.

If you’re tall and thin, shoulders should be broad. Try dolman sleeves. If you’re small and narrow, you’ll want narrow shoulders and set-in sleeves.

Well-placed pockets are essential. They can soften the line of a jacket or lend a casual ease, as well as being functional.

Length is critical. Too short looks skimpy with pants; too long looks dowdy or heavy with a skirt.

Look for a full lining. It means better quality and it adds to the shape and comfort of the jacket.

Check for other signs of superior workmanship: neatly finished collar, hem, buttonholes, cuffs, pockets.

A trendy jacket is a luxury item that you should buy only after you have the basics.

Skirts

A slim skirt - whether straight, A-line, pleated or wrapped - is best for work. It’s the most business-like cut, and the most useful as a quick and able partner for a jacket, sweater or blouse. Worn inventively, the same skirt can take you straight through the workweek.

The simpler the skirt the better, and the longer it will stay in style. The requirements for longevity are few. Ideally, it should have a narrow waistband with loops. Elastic in the back helps to ensure a good fit. The hem should be about two inches wide (so the skirt falls properly) and meticulously finished.

The three perfect hemlines

Each woman has three hemlines that are perfect for her legs: above the knee, below the knee and below the calf.

To find your perfect skirt length, stand in front of a full-length mirror and note the three places where your leg naturally curves in.

On most women, one spot is about four inches above the knee, another is about one inch below the knee, and the third falls about two inches below the widest part of the calf. Because of the indentations in your leg, a hemline that skims any of these three points gives the illusion of slimness above it.

Of course, short skirts look younger and are more comfortable on a busy schedule. But if you’re not proud of your knees or thighs, and don’t like dark-toned hose (a great disguise for less-than-perfect legs), go for a longer length. Remember, longer lengths, too, have their charms. They’re more graceful and they have a certain seductive quality. But bear in mind that too-long skirts look dowdy and too-full skirts appear clumsy.

Finding the right skirt

Go to the designer racks of your local department store to see how skirt linings, pockets, seams and hems are finished. The better the quality, the more unobtrusive they are. Then, go to the department that fits your price range and choose pieces that come as close as possible to that quality of tailoring and those desired details.

Make sure pleats are stitched down on a skirt, so they lie flat over the stomach.

A plain skirt must fall perfectly straight.

Choose a back zipper over a side zipper for the smoothest-falling line.

If the waistband doesn’t fit or sit right, neither will the skirt.

Unless you’re really skinny, don’t buy a skirt with pockets. If you must, keep them stitched closed.

Make sure fabric is substantial: Too flimsy and every lump and bump shows through; too bulky and you look weighted down.

A wrap skirt for the office should be full enough to cover your thighs.

A back slit, while allowing freedom of movement, should overlap to provide leg coverage. The backs of the knees aren’t anyone’s most attractive feature.

Drawings of 3 jacket styles

MEMO: Excerpted from the book “Style” by CNN fashion commentator Elsa Klensch (The Berkeley Publishing Group).

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR LEGS LOOK SLIMMER: Avoid pegged skirts. An A-line style is more slenderizing. The movement of the skirt - whether it’s pleated or flared - diverts attention away. Camouflage them with color. Match pantyhose and shoes as closely as possible to your skirt. That toned look elongates your silhouette and makes your legs seem slimmer. (You should only wear a pattern if your legs are perfect.) Wear a heel that’s substantial enough to support the weight of your legs - and is in proportion to your skirt. You’re better off with a feminine shoe rather than a clunky one.

2. THE JACKET STYLE TO CHOOSE IF … You Want to Minimize a Large Bust: Opt for single-breasted styles. Small to medium collars are OK; breast pockets are not. Make sure the jacket can be worn comfortably both closed and open. If it pulls even slightly at the bust, it’s not for you. Keep details to a minimum. Avoid exaggerated shapes such as dolman sleeves, which take on extra inches, or waist-cinching styles that emphasize what’s on top. Go for dark color, a thin vertical stripe pattern, to downplay size. Your best fabrics are flat - jerseys or crepes. Those with some dimension, like mohair or wool boucle, visually increase size.

You Want to Shrink a Large Bottom: Select jackets that fall past the derriere. Fingertip length is a good guideline. Choose from a variety of loosely fitted or flared styles, such as the straight or A-line jacket, to camouflage heaviness. Opt for a jacket with wellshaped shoulders to balance your torso. Details that bring the eye up - such as epaulets - can really help. Slash or diagonal pockets can trim inches off your hips. Leave them sewn up for a smoother, flatter line. Avoid patch or cuffed pockets. Avoid fully- or half-belted waists if your waistline is small and completely out of proportion to your hips. It will only bring more attention to them.

You Want to Make Your Neck Look Longer: Choose collarless or V-necked styles that elongate. Under them wear V-necked or low crew sweaters (making certain the neckline comes under the jacket collar line). Also try shirts that you can liven with a string of beads. Collect wrap blouses that follow the line of a V-necked jacket.

Excerpted from the book “Style” by CNN fashion commentator Elsa Klensch (The Berkeley Publishing Group).

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR LEGS LOOK SLIMMER: Avoid pegged skirts. An A-line style is more slenderizing. The movement of the skirt - whether it’s pleated or flared - diverts attention away. Camouflage them with color. Match pantyhose and shoes as closely as possible to your skirt. That toned look elongates your silhouette and makes your legs seem slimmer. (You should only wear a pattern if your legs are perfect.) Wear a heel that’s substantial enough to support the weight of your legs - and is in proportion to your skirt. You’re better off with a feminine shoe rather than a clunky one.

2. THE JACKET STYLE TO CHOOSE IF … You Want to Minimize a Large Bust: Opt for single-breasted styles. Small to medium collars are OK; breast pockets are not. Make sure the jacket can be worn comfortably both closed and open. If it pulls even slightly at the bust, it’s not for you. Keep details to a minimum. Avoid exaggerated shapes such as dolman sleeves, which take on extra inches, or waist-cinching styles that emphasize what’s on top. Go for dark color, a thin vertical stripe pattern, to downplay size. Your best fabrics are flat - jerseys or crepes. Those with some dimension, like mohair or wool boucle, visually increase size.

You Want to Shrink a Large Bottom: Select jackets that fall past the derriere. Fingertip length is a good guideline. Choose from a variety of loosely fitted or flared styles, such as the straight or A-line jacket, to camouflage heaviness. Opt for a jacket with wellshaped shoulders to balance your torso. Details that bring the eye up - such as epaulets - can really help. Slash or diagonal pockets can trim inches off your hips. Leave them sewn up for a smoother, flatter line. Avoid patch or cuffed pockets. Avoid fully- or half-belted waists if your waistline is small and completely out of proportion to your hips. It will only bring more attention to them.

You Want to Make Your Neck Look Longer: Choose collarless or V-necked styles that elongate. Under them wear V-necked or low crew sweaters (making certain the neckline comes under the jacket collar line). Also try shirts that you can liven with a string of beads. Collect wrap blouses that follow the line of a V-necked jacket.


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