Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fashion - Undergarments and a Good Foundation

Since the holidays are in full swing, I think it's fair that we discuss "New Year's Resolutions." We all make them and most of us go for some variation on "This year, I will lose weight." And then what happens? Maybe you join a gym and kick butt for a few weeks, months even, but work/relationships/life get in the way and then you are "too tired" or "too busy" to keep up. I've been there - multiple times. I know it's a real bummer; you get so down on yourself and all that hard work goes right out the window - along with your self-confidence. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you really want to make a New Year's Resolution and you want it to be focused on losing weight, I'm not going to tell you otherwise. Try to keep in mind what your goal is and why you want to get there.
Now, what the hell does all this have to do with fashion?! When you look good, you feel good - not exactly rocket science. And while a flat stomach and a rockin' booty would make anyone feel like a million bucks, it's not going to happen overnight. That takes time and dedication. What can you do in the meantime to give your confidence a little bump? Dress well, often. Preferably all the time. Think about your favorite outfit and how you feel wearing it. There's a little strut in your step, huh? Imagine feeling like that all the time! 
The very idea of "fashion" can be daunting for some men and women - and who could blame them! Flip through any magazine and you can see complex, but gorgeous, confections that I, personally, would never have thought of but appreciate to their fullest. And that's where it gets tricky: you see something and think "I would have never thought to put that and that together!" But you don't have to feel panicky whenever you step into a shop; all you need are the fundamentals of fashion and you'll be well on your way to looking like a million bucks.
My personal fashion guru is the fabulous Janie Bryant, Emmy award-wining costume designer for Mad Men and Deadwood. Ms. Bryant's career, and the road to it, has been solid: studying drawing and painting at Georgia State University, she moved on to fashion design at the American College of the Applied Arts. After school, she moved to Paris and then New York, where she studied under designer John Scher. Bryant found her calling after meeting a costume designer at a party; she began to work in movies and commercials in Manhattan. You're probably already familiar with Mad Men and the sensation it's caused - so have many high fashion designers. Micheal Kors (every one's favorite bitchy tangerine) based his 2008 collection around it, same with Prada's 2008 line.
While Ms. Bryant is most well-known for her exceptional use of vintage clothes, she has an excellent eye for modern fashion. Most of all, she knows how to combine the two - and I love that. 

A Good Foundation

Much like a building or house, you need a good foundation to build on. And the best way to get that for your body is to live well. Eat healthy and in moderation, exercise as often as you can (preferably 3-4 times a week, 30 minutes each) and take care of your body. But, as we covered above, that's not instant - it's going to take time to get there. So, what are we to do in the meantime? It's all about underwear. Like anything you put on your body, underwear should fit well. No bulges or bunches! It should be smooth lines for as far as the eye can see. To achieve that you need to take a moment to asses your ... situation. 
In Janie Bryant's fantastic book "The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men", she discusses defining your silhouette and dressing your shape. Just because we want to be a curvaceous Joan Holloway or a rugged Don Draper, doesn't mean that we are. It's nice to dream though. Don't get down on yourself - there should only be love. If you're overweight and don't like the way you look, you know you can change that. But instead of focusing on all the negative things you think you see, find some positives! It can be anything - your hair, eyes, nose, ears! Anytime you find yourself nit-picking, stop and focus on the things that make you happy. It's fine to acknowledge what you don't like - and then decide on how you want to change them. But don't dwell on it.

First Things, First!
You're never going to dress well if you don't know your measurements. So just suck it up, take out the tape measure and get to going. Even if you want to faint, don't. Remember how I've said you can change the things you don't like about a million times? Well, it's the same here. But you still have to take those measurements.

Start with your Bust: Loop the tape around your back and across the center of your breasts. Be sure to lay the tape flat, but don't cinch. For men, this is your Chest measurement. You'll need someone to help out with this: raise your arms slightly and relax your stomach; snake the tape high around the chest and be sure to circle completely across the shoulder blades.
Then your Waist: You can find your natural waist with your hands by placing them on the narrowest point of your abdomen. (Your ribs are above your hands and hips are below.) Now use the tape to measure around that narrow point. Again, this is the same for men; you won't necessarily have a "narrow point" but use the placement of your ribs as a guide.
And, finally, your Hips: To find your hip size, measure to exactly seven inches below your waist. Don't forget to go around the buttocks and, again, no cinching. Yes, guys, same for you! A side note: for anyone that is overweight, you will notice that your hips measurement is a much higher number. That's OK, your booty is a little extra juicy and you may have a tummy going on there. This number will change when you lose weight - so keep up the measurements! 

(A side not for men: if you don't have a tape measure or just don't want to do this, then I highly suggest shaking a tail feather and going to a tailor. Or a good department store that has a suit section. Or a suit shop. Anywhere there will be a gentleman with a tape measure is where you want to go. Plus, this will give you a leg up for when I discuss suits!)

Jot down these measurements because you will want them on hand when you are shopping. Ms. Bryant suggests using a little notebook to record all this info. 

Four Basic Body Types
We are all beautiful snowflakes, different and fantastic in every way! But that doesn't mean we don't fit certain body types. Again, when you're overweight it can be a little difficult to pin-point which type your body best fits. Try to make the best decision - there are certain traits that are undeniable to each body type and you will notice them on yourself. Just make sure to re-asses your type once you've lost weight!

The Delicious Apple
As an apple, you tend to carry most of your weight in your midsection. This tends to make you look shorter and wider if you don't counteract the proportions. 
Your Objective: to minimize the midsection and draw eyes to other parts of your body.

The Succulent Pear
The pear-shaped body is just as it sounds - like a pear. Most of your weight is carried below the waist-line. Your shoulders tend to be narrow and you may have a smaller bust and slim midriff. This body type isn't as common in men, but it can happen!
Your Objective: detract from the hips and focus on arms and shoulders.

The Slim Ruler
Most women with this body type consider themselves to be "athletic" or "lean." And that's fair. But the basic idea is that you are straight up-and-down and slim. While you may not have a rack that rivals Jane Russel's, you do have a shape that mirrors most runway models and that allows you to wear just about anything. This body type is more common in men and is often referred to being "A Guy."
Your Objective: create some contours and add femininity by accentuating the waist. This isn't as big of an issue for men.

The Curvy Hourglass
What most women wish they could look like! Delicious, symmetrical curves with an exaggerated bust and hip line would be a good description, yes? This is probably the rarest male body type, so you guys out there may not find this a problem.
Your Objective: show of that narrow waist and emphasize that sexy silhouette! 

Don't Be Shy!

For a lot of women (and even men) the idea of a girdle is terrifying. Plus, it conjures the thought of defeat. Not so! A girdle is an important part of that foundation we were talking about. Even if you are slim and in great shape, a girdle can be very useful - it smooths out the lines of your body and gives your clothes a nice surface to lay on. They are also great for getting rid of those dreaded panty lines. A two-piece set is fine, though you probably want to invest in a full-slip for occasions that call for a dress. 
When it comes to bras, well ... let's just say that most of the female population (you know, the people that wear the damned things) has no idea what's going on. Your best bet is to just go to a department store or lingerie shop and have a sales associate measure you. If you'd rather do that at home, here are some suggestions:

How to measure yourself:
Band Measurement - You can start by measuring your rib cage under your breasts. Double-check by wrapping the tape measure snugly around your back, under your arms, and across the top of your chest. This helps give you the best indication of your band size because your rib cage expands and contracts when you breath. 
Cup Measurement - Keep your bra on and wrap a measuring tape around your back and across the fullest part of your bust. Make sure to take a gentle measurement - don't cinch or tie a knot. 
Now you have to do a little math ... subtract your band measurement from your cup measurement. If the difference is:
1 inch = A cup
2 inches = B cup
3 inches = C cup
4 inches = D cup
5 inches = DD cup
6 inches = DDD cup

Cup measurement = 39
Band measurement = 36
3-inch difference = size 36C

The Only Bras You'll Need*
Balconette bra - this is an under wire bra modeled after the demi bra. It works overtime by uplifting and slightly compressing the bust to create a shelf of cleavage. I also call it "The Hunting Bra." It's perfect for plunging or open necklines and causing traffic accidents. 
T-shirt bra - a seamless undergarment made of microfiber that is invisible under clingy fabrics, including cotton tees - hence the name. You don't have to sacrifice sex for comfort here, look for a bust enhancing version or push up. That will get the job done.
Strapless bra - this is essential for wearing anything strapless, of course. But I also recommend these for tank tops - nothing worse than an errant bra strap. And don't forget to buy one cup size smaller to ensure that everything stays put and you are provided with the proper support.
*I suppose you will want to invest in a good sports bra, something that offers support and comfort.

Make sure you have well fitting underwear, too! Just because your new full-body girdle will smooth out those lines doesn't mean you should have ratty, ill-fitting underwear. You want to feel good in every way and that includes comfort. Go through your lingerie drawer and get rid of underwear that has shot elastic, fraying, holes or just doesn't fit any more. Same goes for your bras.

Hey Guys, I Didn't Forget About You

All this talk about girdles and bras and what-not is probably freaking you out. Not to worry, you don't have to wear any of those things! Just make sure you also have well fitting underwear and that none of it has stains. If you wear dress shirts to work (bless you!), make sure you have a clean white under shirt beneath it. This will help keep a clean line and prevent any pit stains on your dress shirt. 
That covers the basics but if you want to go the extra mile (and, really, shouldn't you? Your lady friend is wearing a girdle for Pete's sake!) please consider: socks. Yes, socks. Often over-looked, socks are an important part of a man's wardrobe. Since men tend to wear shoes and socks more than women, the socks should be of a good quality. Wear comfortable and breathable socks - there's no point in stinking up the feet when you're trying to look and feel your best. Cotton is always a good choice.
As for fashion, the question of "to flair or not to flair" is up to the individual. On a day-to-day basis you probably want to wear a color that coordinates with the trouser, but don't get matchy-matchy. If you're wearing khaki, look for something in a navy or forest green. But throwing some color in makes an excellent impression. You can go as simple as wearing socks that pick up a color in a tie or dress shirt you're wearing. Or, you can be a "fashion rebel" and go splashier. A red sock with black slacks? Why not! If it was good enough for Fred Astaire, it's good enough for you.

So, we've covered the basics - the foundations. Asses what you have to work with and find what you love about it. Take your measurements and figure out what your body shape is - this will make shopping for undergarments and clothes much easier. Find the right undergarments for you and buy comfortable, quality, and good-looking pieces. And, men? This all applies to you too! Clean undergarments - no ifs, ands, or buts. Your goal is to achieve a clean line and smooth canvas for whatever you chose to wear, but you also want to feel fantastic. When you feel good, you look good!

The next fashion installment will cover finding your personal style! Now, go shopping!

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