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Fall/Winter 1998, Part 1

Wardrobe Tips  1 to 4

by Judith Rasband, Conselle Institute of Image Management


The Conselle Trendsletter provides you with a lengthy update on fashion and image trends. It offers an evaluation of what’s available, what works, what doesn’t, and why. The information will aid you in deciding what to adopt, adapt, or avoid before feeling tempted or pressured to buy. Presented within the context of all 12 Wardrobe Strategies, coverage relates to wardrobe management and is complete in scope and sequence, making it a valuable learning tool.

Wardrobe Strategy #1 -- Rely on clothing as a resource -- a tool that you can control and use to help you achieve your personal and professional goals.

The world is finally large enough to better allow fashion options of all kinds, for all kinds of people, with all kinds of lifestyles roles and goals. The value of diversity is finally recognized and even politically correct.

Finally, fashion professionals realize we don’t have to look like everyone else. They are finally allowing emphasis on fashion as a matter of personal choice -- personal style. "Don’t commit to the latest look or label. Commit to the latest look or label. Commit to what works for you ," is the good news.

The bad news is, too many fashion professionals too often bait and switch. They profess allegiance to the concept of personal style, then immediately address the latest headliners as "must haves," for all.

Don’t fall for this latest marketing ploy. Don’t become the proverbial fashion victim. Be aware of what’s available, open to what’s new, then go with the good news. Select only those fashion options that meet your needs, clothes you can depend on to help you achieve your goals -- in the home, church, school, community, and in the workplace.

Fashion advertisers have long featured unrealistic supermodels and movie stars in unrealistic clothes. Most recently they’re tapping a new role model -- real-life people in real-life clothes for real lifestyles. In place of models, they’re putting the spotlight on people who lead model lives. What counts is education and achievement -- and the kind of clothes that help get them there. Looks like a trend worth watching.


Wardrobe Strategy #2 -- Rely on clothing as an art form -- personal pieces of wearable art, with you as the artist and part of the composition.

Each piece of clothing is designed with lines and shapes, in color, on fabric. That’s wearable art. You can’t separate yourself -- your face or figure -- from your clothes. They’re all part of the artistic composition -- the outfit. And you're the artist, the person who put the outfit together -- indeed, your whole wardrobe.

A few fashion professionals are venturing forth to state their concern over how terrible people look in the uniform of today -- grubby jeans T -- shirt or sweats!

Betty Halbreich, author of Secrets Of A Fashion Therapist, was asked, "How do you think women are dressing today?" She answered in alarm, "They look awful! People, both men and women, have become very sloppy. We’re just too casual." Referring to Casual Friday she added, "It should be blown off the map! It’s become so casual … they’re coming to work in their pajamas." ( The Weir/Wolf Report, Vol. 1/Issue 1, January 1998.)

Even the cartoon character, Dilbert, agrees. "I love the 'Business Casual' look for the way it combines unattractive with unprofessional while diminishing neither."

Wendy Cheslea, Canadian image management consultant, reports, "People look terrible. They just don't care how they look! They'll spend $10.00 on a tacky T-shirt and call themselves dressed."

"How did this happen?" Asks Cheslea. "Where is it leading? And what can we do about it?"

Since the 60's and the attitude of "down with the establishment," traditional ways of dress have been giving way to more casual dress on all occasions. It's part of the casualization of America. And Canada is right on our heels.

"People have become lazy", asserts Halbreich. "People don't want to have to think about what goes with what. Jeans and a T-shirt is a no-brainer." And that's what most people look like -- like they don't have a brain.

"It doesn't matter what I wear," stated a disgruntled consumer at the thought of image improvement. "I don't have to impress anyone."

"Don't worry," chimes in Cheslea. "You won't"

Where it's leading is discussed in the article "America's Going Down the Tube in a T-shirt," available from Conselle.

What we can do about it is approach our clothing as a valid and valuable art form, worthy of a little time and attention in selecting and coordination our clothes.

Wardrobe Strategy #3 Rely on separates in basic styles -- clothes that are simple or plain in style lines and shape - adding an occasional costume and one-piece garments as needed.

Both basic and costume clothes are out there. In fact, there's a battle between basic minimalism and opulent costume looks, between basic and bohemian, between conspicuously basic and downright scary "theatrical gothic."

"Spare" and "relaxed chic" are words applied to conspicuously plain basics paired together this season. The look of a plain top with a plain bottom, each in a different solid color, borders on boring. It would benefit with another piece or accessory in the mix of colors to coordinate them and create a focal point.

Many of today's basics are so form-fitting that few women can wear them attractively. The body-conscious cut walls attention to every body bulge we'd wish the world wouldn't focus on. Choose carefully and then consult the mirror for a full length look -- from and back, standing , stooping, and sitting.

Headlining basic pieces that fall into the "relaxed chic" category include pullover tops with 3/4 length sleeves or sleeves pushed to 3/4 length -- turtlenecks, cowlnecks, funnel- and rollnecks, crew- and V-necks, as well as twin sweater sets. They're paired with long, straight or flared skirts and with jeans. Watch for funnel-necks to outsell turtlenecks and turn up on jackets and coats another season.

Related to "relaxed chic" is "utility chic," a look created for speed and efficiency, not for looking pretty. The clothes are logo free. Carpenter pants and overalls abound. The more adjustable straps and toggles, the better. New toggle pants take on the look of costume with too many toggles that become confusing and time consuming. Where's the utility in that. Day backs, bulked up versions of the 80's fanny packs, continue to make headlines.

"Sports chic" includes performance sports basics -- sweatshirts, sweat skirts, sweat pants and parka suits. "Farm and forest chic" includes everything from Eddie Bauer and lots of Land's End. Basic blazers are generally wise buys. Shirtwaist and float dresses are comfortable and flattering options.

You'll see that "chic" seems to be the operative word lately to glamorize and popularize a lot of looks that don't really lend themselves to a lot of moods and occasions. So don't limit yourself.

For best dress occasions, headlining basics include the sheathe and slip-dress -- a surprise to some that they've stuck around so long. Matching dress and jacket or coat combinations are some of the best new looks available.

Strapless evening dresses are back in the spotlight. They're simply elegant on slim figures and wonderful to wear if you have somewhere to wear them. The most elegant feature a long train, taking them into the costume category of fashion design. If advised to pair a turtleneck under a strapless dress, forget it.

"Lux" and "opulent" describe current costume clothes -- decorative designs embellished with beads and embroidery. Basic capes and evening wraps are available and pair beautifully with these special occasion costume clothes.

Voluminous cocoon coats are themselves costume pieces and demand to be worn over a basic dress or a dress with matching embellishment, appropriate only for special event occasions.

Leftover from last season is talk about the "new sophistication," which is nothing more than an effort to make mistakes in visual design or garment construction seem like the "in" thing to wear. They're certainly not talking about "pretentious eccentricity," wearing the clothes slightly "off kilter." "Clumsy couture" or "tacky chic." Truth is, the pieces in the outfit just don't match, aren't finished, or are finished poorly.

For example, the designer might give the skirt a new spin by draping it with a sash, then deliberately mis-align the hem. The print and plaids may not match, or the seams are frayed. Whatever the detail, it looks glaringly out of place in real-life situations.


Wardrobe Strategy #4 --  Rely on classic styles -- clothes with design lines and shapes that fit and flatter most figures -- adding a current trend item is advisable.

Classic clothes are designed with nothing extreme. Picked in a size to fit, we all have places to wear them, thus maintaining their timeless appeal. The headlining classic shirt is full-cut and white. We can all use one.

Dusters are classic and currently available in more variations than ever before. Simply a classic shirt cut longer, a duster flows easily over the figure and flatters most women while looking very stylish.

Classic skirts are available in strait, A-line, flared, or pleated styles. Think twice and check the mirror to judge the look of crystal pleats which often look dated, stiff, pull flat over a larger tummy, thighs or behind and appear at odds with many tops. Bias cuts are "in" and an A-line skirt cut on the bias appears more slimming.

Skirts in classic lengths are readily available -- middle of the knee and 2 inches below the middle of the knee. Pass on skirts hemmed at mid-calf. No matter how touted, that's the fullest part of your leg. Above or below looks slimmer.

Fashionable skirts hemmed above the knee are available for those with slim knees an ankles, but the headlining hem length is long -- long to below the calf or to the ankle and some in looks we've not seen before. They make a fashion statement appropriate on social occasions, but seldom in the office -- especially those slit to the thigh. Sporty, so called, trouser-skirts may work in very casual business settings. They're a great new look for spectator sports and weekend occasions.

Petite women, shorter than average sizing, can wear the longer skirts too. Just choose a lighter weight version and hem them shorter. Sleeves too.

Classic slacks available are straight or slightly tapered, flat front or trouser pleated. Fashion forward slacks are loose-fitting. Delightfully, the camouflage in comfort. Many trousers are cuffed this season. If you have to use stairs often, you're in real danger of catching a heel in a cuff and falling. Choose a plain hem instead.

Classic jackets available range from short to long. Short jackets can look terrific on slim women, but longer looks best on the rest of us. Take a cue from menswear. The most flattering length falls just below the behind. The most fashion forward jacket is a very long, mid-thigh or tunic length worn over a specifically short or long skirt. The latter is the one that can overwhelm a shorter woman. Made up in light weight fabric and worn with heels, she can carry it off in fine style.

Other classic basics getting extra attention this season include A-line coats, peacoats, and tuxedo styles -- some in the current 7/8 (to-the-knee) length. Watch for a basic coat with matching skirt or trousers to look newer than the classic jacket suit. Not all classics are basic. Add trench coats and car coats, classic costume looks, to the list of fashion headliners.

Not really basic nor classic, there's a trend towards shirts and dresses designed with a single sleeve. The other shoulder is bared. The look is interestingly asymmetrical but extreme, appropriate for evening only and will be quickly out of style. The tiered top dress, new last spring, has been given long sleeves for winter wear. It's an excellent option for women with a rectangular or diamond shaped figure.

As the new millennium approaches, designers are looking back as well as forward for inspiration. Borrowing from the past, we see designers pulling ideas from the 40s Hollywood glamour looks. Vintage full-circle skirts are a current trend item, turning up in felt- a flashback from the 50s.

T-shirts with an 80s edge, Dashikis, disco dresses and Victorian dresses lengthen the list. You are invited to mix a little of the old with the new.

"Army chic," the newly fashionable defensive dress, comes double layered, padded and /or hooded. Fragile fabrics and stiletto high heels are replaced in this headlining look with safety flats and techno-fabrics -- waterproof, knifeproof, bulletproof. In response to the pressures of modern urban society, today's high fashion street soldier chooses high tech shoes and camouflage clothes, including combat pats with pockets inside of pockets and strips of Scotchlite reflective material. Welcome to the brave new world!

Urban armor features protective high collars, Kevlar nylon bulletproof vests, leather skirts and jackets, cargo pants, molded hard case bags, and fierce -looking boots. Just how much of this extreme style will make it from the runway to reality is open to question. Best bets might include one of the new padded, quilted dresses or jacket with hood. At least it would cover the new look in hair styling - the dirty-looking, messy, slept-in dos that ought to be don't.

Continued Fall/Winter 1998, Part 1, Wardrobe Tips  4 to 12

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