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Geometry Lessons in Spring Outfits

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sartorial students, take note: Spring brings with it an assortment of bold, geometric prints that restore a sense of order to racks otherwise filled with girly ruffles and pretty pastels. These aren't your standard-issue stripes and spots, though -- designers have gone out on a limb with zigzag patterns, scribbled graphics and abstract takes on elementary shapes.

And it's surprising what a few artfully drawn lines can do: The trend can evoke grown-up glamour, a la Diane von Furstenberg's chevron-patterned silk dress, or a carefree-casual vibe, by way of Alexander McQueen's bright printed top. Dip a toe into the trend with Marni's towering sandal or Old Navy's graphic bikini. Or spice up a work wardrobe by pairing Vera Wang's breezy patterned skirt with a white tee.

But when it comes to such graphic content, even the savviest shopper runs the risk of looking like she's donned a circus tent. Local stylists Margaret Lilly, 30, and Pascale Lemaire, 46, offer a few tips to help you work all the right angles:

Balance a larger frame with a small-scale print. "A larger print is going to exaggerate the bigger parts of your figure, so go for smaller prints if you want to tone down a particular area," Lilly says. "If you're bigger on top, go for a smaller print blouse."

Add some hourglass appeal to a boyish figure with a larger print. "The second you do a larger print, it's going to add volume, so you can use a big print to play up a small bust," Lilly says.

What about curvy girls? "It's really all about the material -- if you're curvier, you want to stay away from silk jersey, which is clingy," Lilly says. Instead, opt for a more structured shift.

For petites, balance is key because "you don't want to be overwhelmed by a bold print," Lilly says. But if there's a big print you just love, Lilly suggests trying it on a small item, such as a blouse, as opposed to a dress. "Or do a bold pattern and put something solid over it, like a blazer or a cardigan, to tame the print," Lemaire says.

Make sure you're wearing the piece, not vice versa. Lilly likes black-and-white patterns with "a pop of color in a trench or a clutch," she says. "That way you're making it your own but you're still making it unified." Try bright green, cobalt blue or yellow.

Keep an eye on proportions, too. "The rule of thumb is to balance something full with something narrow," Lemaire says. "If your skirt is full and patterned, wear something clean and close to the body up top."

That's a lot of "rules." But wearing a fun pattern should be, well, fun. So don't be afraid to take some risks:

"Try a geometric print with a floral, but be sure to go smaller with one of the prints," Lilly says. "A more conservative dresser could wear a geometric blouse and add tweed to mix up texture." Or follow Lemaire's advice and pair a bold print item with a bright, fun shoe or a chunky cocktail ring.

-- Holly E. Thomas


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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