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A Little Power and Pizazz

By Retha Hill
Washingtonpost.com Staff
Monday, April 6, 1998

  Dress Me


    Bright green suit with double-breasted jacket A fitted double-breasted jacket over slim pants won't make petite and curvy women look chunky. (Illustration by Donald T. Earley for washingtonpost.com)
Q: I'm 5'3", weigh 120 pounds and have a classic hourglass figure. My strong point is my waist, which I like to emphasize (if I don't, I can look chubby). I'm having problems finding professional and casual attire that fits my proportions, isn't "old-lady" looking and doesn't make me look boxy. I've found that Nordstrom has an okay petite section, but it's really pricey, and even then, a lot of its clothes are not exactly stylish. I hate those elastic grandma waists, cheesy colors and cheap materials!

Casual clothes are another nightmare. I'm looking for fun, sexy and classic styles. Any suggestions?

Tricia,
Arlington

A: Dear Tricia of Arlington,
You call being 5'3, 120 pounds and a classic hourglass figure a problem? Are you, like, incredibly beautiful, too, with a head full of naturally curly hair? We know, we know, it's a curse but you have to live with it.

But seriously, being on the short side and shapely does present its own set of challenges for appropriate dress. Most styles are cut for long and lean women or, at the very least, women of average height and build. Transferring those looks for a particular season – when the styles are long and flowy, for example, or cut loose and boxy – can spell disaster for women not shaped like Courtney Cox. Remember how unflattering Elaine can look on some episodes of Seinfield when she's in her Laura Ashley phase with those little ankle socks and Chinese slippers? Why any grown woman would wear little anklets with a dress is beyond me, but that's another column. Suffice it to say, don't do it.

Because you have what many women would die for – curves that aren't lost in folds of poundage – take advantage of it. Look for suits and dresses that are fitted at the waist or double-breasted if you need more room at the hips.

"The smaller people who have been the happiest are the ones that buy two-piece (outfits) with a fitted top," comments Susanne McLean, owner of the stylish boutique Catch-Can with stores in Upper Northwest in Washington and Kensington. "Tops that come to the waist, nothing longer or higher, is so flattering on a smaller person."

"I think someone with an hourglass figure has a lot of options," says Amy Schoen, owner and buyer for La Petite Classique in Bethesda. "A lot of the suits are becoming more fitted, shaped to the body." Schoen recommends lines such as Albert Nipon and Kasper, which are reasonably priced and found at her store and many area department stores. Gianni and Kenar are designers who make stylish and fitted coordinates. You can later pair the blazer with straight-leg slim pants for a different look.

Whether you go for longer, flowing dresses and skirts depends on the cut and your style, but keep in mind they can swallow you up and make you look dowdy. If you do choose a longer, looser skirt or dress style, make sure it is for petite proportions.

Stay away from palazzo pants (you'll look "clownish," McLean warns), sack suits and long thick sweaters over bulky pants. (However, a longer sweater in cotton or a soft wool over stretch flares would look nice and give admirers a hint of your curves without showing too much.)

Use a similar strategy when it comes to casual dress. A fitted above-the-knee twill or denim skirt paired with a knit top is perfect for tooling around on a summer weekend, as is a flippy little flowered skirt in rayon or silk that can be paired with a crisp short-sleeve, double-breasted shirt in linen or a soft flax. A petite-cut sleeveless chemise with a slight shaping to the waist would look just right for dinner at an outdoor cafe on a Saturday night. Or, you can pair a slim-leg linen-blend pant with a shell and fitted matching cardigan for another look that would work on dress-down day at the office. The Gap, the Limited, Ann Taylor and other casual dress stores all carry stretch twill pants in khaki and black and sometimes light colors that, paired with a crisp white or pastel T-shirt, should carry you through many a summer weekend. Again, stay away from very wide-leg pants, especially those that can get baggy and saggy, crinkled and wrinkled in humid Washington weather. You don't want to look like you're wearing a laundry bag.

Anytime you are taller, shorter, bigger or skinnier than the average woman, you are going to have to look around longer and maybe spend more on clothes that look stylish and fit well. First, find the stores and designers you like, then keep an eye out for specials and sales. At upscale Catch-Can, for example, a different group of merchandise goes on sale each month – shoes one month, tops the next. When your favorite store or designer is having a markdown, snap up the items that fit you well. If you follow this strategy, it is less likely that you'll wind up with a closet full of mistakes.

Bonus Question:
Liddy of Washington asks whether one should wear a brassiere with popular spaghetti-strap dresses or go without.

The answer is, it depends. If you are – what's the politically correct way of putting this? – flat-chested, try going without, especially if the top is not made from a clingy fabric. For others, try a body stocking or body suit such as the collection from Victoria's Secret. The collection is made up of a unitard with spaghetti straps, a long or short slip, a bodysuit with spaghetti straps or no straps and a camisole. The great thing about them is that they all come with a built-in shelf bra for support. But remember, spaghetti strap dresses and tops are not for the office, even on casual dress day.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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