The Pocket Stylist
Behind-the-Scenes Expertise from a Fashion Pro on Creating Your Own Look
A celebrity fashion stylist reveals the tricks of her trade and shows women of all sizes how to pull together their own polished, individual look.introduction
Whether she’s petite, average, or plus size, every woman has experienced the frustration of searching for flattering clothes. In The Pocket Stylist every reader can have a consultation with her own personal stylist and use the author’s behind-the-scenes wardrobe wisdom:
Best of all, The Pocket Stylist features specifically edited shopping lists for various body types. Four “styled” looks for each silhouette—from jeans-casual to cocktails—illustrate ideal proportion and fit. The reader becomes Kendall Farr’s client and will learn to shop and dress herself like a pro. The Pocket Stylist delivers the behind the camera expertise of a veteran stylist in one purse-size indispensable guide.
Few things are more seductive than fashionóthe transformative quality of clothes that really fit and flatter us. New clothes offer us the potential to reinvent ourselves a little bit each time we get dressed. Wearing a great outfit provides salvation on a lousy day, armor for the tough meeting, the courage to walk into a cocktail party full of strangers. Our choice of clothing can be one of our most creative forms of self-expression. The colors and shapes we wear telegraph how we see ourselves. Like it or not, in a rabidly visual, image-obsessed world weíre assessed in nanoseconds, dozens of times per day, based on what we are wearing.
I have been a fashion stylist for over fifteen years yet I often feel that when reading the top womenís fashion magazines, I have come in in the middle of a conversation. If I have this sensation (being familiar with all the references) itís no wonder that so many women are mystified by fashion coverage that seems to be aimed at ìItî girls, socialites, and actresses.
Somehow, good advice is not getting through to many women. I see evidence of this every day: women dressed in clothes that donít fit properly or donít suit the shapes of their bodies. A whopping disconnect exists between what women read in fashion magazines or see on celebrity style television and what they really need to know about dressing themselves well.
Iíve written The Pocket Stylist to be your style compass in a confusing fashion terrain. You can and will be a woman who knows how to shop for the best shapes and fit for her individual shape.
You can be the savvy girl who knows how to mix well-edited trends with your classic pieces. Real personal style often has little to do with what is considered fashionable in any season (or week). Style is a state in which a womanís own sense of what works for her body, and what does not, overrides the marketing hysteria that ushers in the newest, hottest, must-haves. Style is not only the province of iconic swans like Audrey Hepburn or Jacqueline Onassis, it is learned behavior and a simple and gradual process of training your eye to lock onto your best silhouettes and proportions in any season, any year. For now, however, letís start with three of womenís biggest misconceptions about fashion.
The woman without a realistic sense of what fashion can and cannot do for her wastes her money, drives herself crazy trying to get a look, and often still feels like nothing in her closet really works. Weíve all seen her: The logos are mixed and matched; sheís an unrestrained cowgirl; a new romantic; flouncy in folklorica; or a rock chick on the prowl in crotch-high leopard and platforms. Sheís a walking billboard for the sensibilities of a design house or has embraced, all too literally, what is promoted in fashion magazines, but she hasnít cracked the code of truly individual style.
Consider two characters from HBOís Sex and the City as examples. Carrie Bradshaw, whose wardrobe schizophrenia establishes her as the fashion risk taker of the group is, from a costume design perspective, a vividly drawn character and memorable in every scene. From a style perspective, sheís fashionís prisoner. In an early episode, one of Carrieís outfits consisted of a Salvation Army cape that swamped her small frame (yes, capes were spotted on the runway at that moment and yes, her thrift variation was meant to bestow a kind of insider credibility on this getup), and was accessorized with white gloves and a silk flower the size of a satellite dish on her lapel; she was teetering, as always, in skyscraping stilettos.
Charlotte, on the other hand, has figured out how to dress as a stylish individual. Her look is current, not slavish: a Prada skirt here, a ChloÈ top there, suggesting that she has an eye for trends, but wears them selectively. Her clothes fit her perfectly in part because they fit her proportions.
Donít get me wrong: Seasonal trends can be irresistible. They infuse excitement into an often monotonous landscape of basics and clothing that looks the same season after season. But a little bit of a good thing may be enough. Iíll show you how to choose what works for you.
I love fashion magazines. They are visually exciting and can be great entertainment, but their mission is not to instruct you. Their job is to report what is new and whatís next. Their goal is to produce exciting fashion pagesóand to service their advertisers. Selling ads keeps them in business. When a designer spends a lot of money on advertising, implicit in the bargain are numerous editorial mentions. Entire stories may promote his or her newest designs, meaning that much of the information and advice you get will always be weighted in the direction of the designers with the deepest pockets (regardless of the appeal of their collections). Ever notice that those token runway-to-reality-clothes-for- your-figure charts include mostly advertisersí clothing? Thatís business, but it can be a problem if it misleads and confuses us into buying stuff that is flat-out wrong for our individual shapes and proportions.
Letís not shoot the messengers, however. Designers need to sell clothes. They need to create runway buzz every six months to capture the attention of an excruciatingly jaded fashion press, store buyers, and assorted tastemakers who they hope will photograph, buy, and wear their newsmaking riffs on the new season.
This is no mystery to me. Iíve styled many stories for fashion magazines and been a part of this very cycle, so I realize just how confusing fashion can be. As often as not, the gulf between what makes exciting images and what youíll want to wearóand invest your money inócan be wide indeed. Add to that the celebrity factor: The media (entertainment television in particular) that covers the fashion beat has transformed getting dressed (as it relates to Oscar nominees and pop stars) into high drama. Why? Because fashion draws in women and we read, we watch, we listen, and we buy thingsó to the tune of billions of dollars annually.
This showbiz view of fashion as consisting of red-carpet clothes, tour wardrobes, and sitcom costumes, has established the actress as arbiter of style. Most actresses Iíve worked with have enough pressure just performing their jobs. That the media focuses on them as de facto runway models every time they walk a press line or attend a party has produced an over-the-top, near hysterical take on fashion that couldnít be less relevant to real personal style. Style doesnít come with proximity to celebrityóit comes from knowing yourself. Thatís where I come in.
Within my job description, I wear many hats. As a freelance fashion editor, who has produced stories for magazines here and in Europe, I conceive of a story idea (using a trend of the season) and choose the best clothes and accessories to illustrate the idea. I then choose the photographer, the hair-and-makeup team, and the model who will make it all come alive on the page. For print and television advertising, I choose the wardrobe that creates a stylish image of the woman who uses a product. Even when all you see on your screen is a flash of a neckline or a quick glimpse of an outfit, it is the result of racks of clothing options that have been considered by the teamóthe photographer- director of the ad or commercial, the art director from the ad agency, and the clientóto arrive at just the right look. Iíve dressed actresses for all kinds of magazine shoots (both as models for fashion stories and for glammed-up portraits to promote their latest films) and as private clients for the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the Cannes Film Festival. Iíve styled album covers for pop singers and opera singers alike, and on-camera wardrobe for talk show hosts, newscasters, and sports figures. Altogether, they represent a wide array of bodies from petite women like Julie Bowen and Courtney Thorne-Smith; to curvy women like Halle Berry, Cindy Crawford, and Angelina Jolie; to tall women like Diane Sawyer, Sigourney Weaver, Andie McDowell, Connie Nielsen, and Mandy Moore; to full-figured women like models Emme, Kate Dillon, and The View host Star Jones.
Iíll show you how to edit your closet and replace the discards with pieces that will raise your style quotient. Weíll go on a virtual shopping trip and make choices together. I outline specifically how I shop for my private clientsóand myselfóand the indispensables no well-conceived wardrobe can be without. We will talk about the trends that resurface with regularity and that are worth investing in.
Iíll discuss finding a good tailor and show you how to talk to him or her. Custom-made pieces are the stylistís secret weapon; youíll see how simple, satisfying, and unintimidating this process can be, particularly for women who find a good fit hard to find.
I will explore the critical connection between wardrobe, hair, and makeup and how all these things must work together for a womanís best style to emerge. Advice from hairstylist, author, and Allure columnist Kevin Mancuso makes it simple to get a good haircut. Bobbi Brown, makeup expert and CEO of Bobbi Brown Professional Cosmetics, explains how to find your perfect foundation and concealer, and then what to do with them! Sonia Kashuk, makeup artist and author, shares her tips for choosing the right tools and discusses classic combinations for lips and cheeks. Dida Paraschivoiu, the eyebrow and manicure guru behind the scenes of beauty commercials and fashion magazine shoots, explains perfect arches and nail tips.
I weigh in with my favorite foundation pieces for underneath-it-all for all sizes (straight from my kit bag), plus other tricks of the trade. The old saw about buying this seasonís hottest accessories and wearing them with clothes from past seasons only works when a woman understands context, proportion, and scale, and youíll learn how to bring a look together with accessories in all price ranges, as well as what to look for in investment jewelry new and old.
The Pocket Stylist is a portable guide to help you create a versatile wardrobe, assemble a closet balanced between well-edited trends and stylish practicality, and decide when to break the bank and when to save your money. Read on: you are now my client. Letís open my kit bag, metaphorically speaking, and start developing your ìeye,î so you can learn to shop for yourself like a pro.
In this chapter, Iíll ask you to look at your own clothes this way. Since the last rule left in fashion is that there are no rules, a girl first needs to have the clearest possible understanding of her body in order to pull her wardrobe together. To train your eye for your best options, you need to know the basic principles that designers use to construct the clothing you wear. Our work together begins with a brief glossary of fashion fundamentals.
Think about these qualities before you worry about whether or not a piece of clothing falls into one of the big trends of the season. This is important to keep in mind, since the idea of anything this basic (but critical) can all but dissolve when you try to navigate the floors of a department store. Listen, I do this for a living and I sometimes feel like Iíve been caught in a windstorm of must- have big looks. I see racks filled with silly, shrunken proportions, crotch-high skirts, butt-crack-grazing jeans, tricky constructions and details, and versions of the same shapes, colors, and prints from label to label. (This is not fashion telepathy, by the way. Design companies subscribe to trend-forecasting services that provide much of the style prescience needed to predict what we girls may want a year in the future.)
Lots of best of the season fashion ideas seem crazy to me in their disregard of what it means for a woman to move comfortably in her clothes. As Iíve said before, the ways in which designers tweak and change silhouettes and proportions each season is what keeps fashion interesting (and keeps us buying). But a little of a trend can go a long way and itís often best expressed with accessories (weíll get there in chapter 7). Remember, a trend is only relevant for you if it has a shape that fits and flatters your body. In fact, there are only two kinds of clothes in the fashion universe: those that fit and flatter your body shape and size, and those that donít. Simple, right? There are many ways for a girl to express an individual sense of style without looking like a fashion casualty. The best place to begin is to make trends work for you, rather than trying to turn yourself inside out to adapt to whatever designers are pushing in any season.
We all have a tendency to define ourselves by the parts of our anatomy that give us the most grief in the fitting room. And why wouldnít we? Everything weíve ever read about dressing for our body types deconstructs our bodies, one part at a time, into a series of hot spots. None of us is our boobs, butts, hips, or thighs; rather, we are uniquely the sum of our parts. Yet just about every woman I know and many Iíve worked with (yes, many famous women, including models who are paid for their proportions) will immediately talk to me about her perceived hot spots. Trust me, this is not the first step to understanding the shape of your body. Shopping for clothing fixated on one body part rather than considering your silhouette is a recipe for disappointment. This hot-spot body insecurity is just one more way that we women can be self-defeating when it comes to making good fashion judgments. Not anymore.
For now, Iíll ask you to suspend all of what you think you know about the shape of your body. I donít know about you, but Iíve never found it particularly instructive to think about my body as a piece of fruit or as a geometry exercise. For now, please forget about every hinky chart or graph youíve ever followed, along with every inane so-called figure fixer tip youíve learned since high school, and shift this to a completely spatial perspective. Iíll ask you to look at yourself straight on (in a bra and panties, please) in a full-length mirror and absorb this: you are your frameóyour silhouetteófirst. Your individual measurements, which refine your fit, come second.
Coco Chanel said it well: ìFashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.î Like architecture, we are looking at your natural frame. Your size may go up and down in your life but your frame is constant. When I have an initial fitting with a client, I first look at the shape of her torso facing me straight on. So, letís now focus on the shape of your torso. Visualize a dress form: shoulders to hips (not by coincidence the very tool that fashion designers use when they create clothing silhouettes). Designers have to conceive the shapesóthe silhouettesóbefore they consider how a womanís individual measurements will factor into the equation. It is your torso silhouette that will basically determine the line and the clothing shapes that are best for your body. Although we all hold weight differently and have different sized breasts, in general Iíve encountered the same three combinations of torso proportions that illustrate our first three body types: A, B, and C. Body types D, E, and F have the same basic proportions as A, B, and C but represent plus-sized bodies. Hereís how to find your body type.
Okay, now take your measurements and fill in the appropriate spaces provided here (in pencil, as these will change over time). A handy tip straight from Parsons School of Design: with the exception of your shoulders and your rise, always hold two fingers under your tape measure to build in the right amount of ease.
Unless you commit to the few minutes this takes, the very specific shopping list that Iíve created for your body type in the next chapter simply wonít have as much value for you. I promise again: looking at your measurements on the page as a gauge of your proportions is the best way to find fit. Refer to your measurements when you shop in stores, in catalogues, or on the Internet, and stop worrying about arbitrary size tags.
Seventh Avenueís biggest manufacturers base their data on what their market research tells them about ìtheirî woman: her height on average; her weight on average; bust, waist, and hips on average. They hire fit models whose proportions best simulate the number averages. The obvious goal for the manufacturer is to try to fit as many of us within the size as possible. This does not mean fit well. In fact, sizing is an inexact science at best, which means that finding great fit off the rack is a crapshoot. It usually translates as your bodyís resemblance to the fit modelís shape. Itís best to think of ready- to-wear as almost ready-to-wear, since it almost never fits perfectly without at least some minor alterations.
Try this same series of measurements when you look for jeans but also measure the thigh, since this is often an area deceptively slimmer than it appears on the hanger. As weíve all experienced, the jeans market defines inconsistency in sizing. The formula for a slim skirt is the same as for pants: lower hip times two.
Your stylist would rather have an MRI than spend any more time than necessary in a fitting room, particularly for no good reason. Measuring works; it will save your time and your sanity. If youíve ever grabbed a pair of pants based on the size tag alone, only to squeeze into what felt like a sausage casing, you know what I mean.
How and why did I begin measuring the hell out of everything? In a word: actresses. I dress a lot of them for magazines and advertising. Iíve often had nothing more to go on until the day of the shoot than the sizes their publicists or managers provided. Yes, in the infancy of my career, I endured a few joyless shoots because I trusted sizes alone. (Naturally, I now insist on a list of current measurements.) Buy a tape measure for your purse and keep it there (along with The Pocket Stylist, of course).
This is a process! As we hone your eye for your best proportions, think about your measurements first, in whatever you look at and ultimately decide to try on. Letís move on to chapter 2 for a more specific rundown of your body type and an edited shopping list of your best clothing options.
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