Fashion has always been fascinating to me. The first object of my affection was a white and black polka dotted creation worn by child star Shirley Temple. With its ruffled ballerina skirt and bright red-ribboned waist, her petite frame and curvy legs were showcased to perfection. How I loved that look! But from curly hair to twinkly toes, we were totally dissimilar - she cute and chubby - me tall and gangly. Obviously, a few fashion lessons concerning the rules of proportion were in order.
Then, my stylish aunt gave me my first perfect outfit - cream linen full-legged overalls - very Katherine Hepburn - which lasted me for many seasons mixed and matched with different shirts. This classic styling continues to reinvent itself over the years under different names - pyjama, lounge or patio pants – the only requirement being a clever tweak to create a fresh and timeless look once again.
Fashion was a simple progression in my youth. One left the school uniform and graduated to a plaid tartan skirt from Straith's (still one of Victoria's fashion destinations!) teamed with a twin sweater set and topped with a beautifully carved and painted brooch - a sporty little pheasant in my case! Then it was on to the Dior Look – narrow-waisted, full-skirted and ladylike, or following that the breakthrough Mary Quant mini-skirt.
At that time, a handful of top designers ruled the fashion world, and their word was law. But now women are confidently taking control of their image by adopting an eclectic mix-and-match philosophy. Anything goes in fashion, which can be a good thing, but also a trifle confusing, so here are a few guidelines to help in the quest for your most flattering look.
Start with a good undergarment. Topping the list is Spanx, which is one of the hottest brands on the market today. Comfortable slimming garments that minimize figure flaws; Spanx manufactures a line of bras, bodysuits, tummy slimmers and hosiery – an investment guaranteed to reward you many times over.
As a model and, later, as fashion co-ordinator for Eaton's, I learned that creating illusions is an important key to effective dressing. It's a trick the French term "trompe l'oeil," which means leading the eye where you want it to go. If your neck is short don't reduce it even more by wearing turtle necks. Opt instead for a low cut V-neck style, drawing the eye down for the appearance of length.
To project the illusion of a smaller bust, try combining a pale sleeveless shell under a darker V-neck top. The contrasting shades effectively establish a lighter look. Even the simple act of buttoning your sweater halfway down and wearing it over a white blouse will have a slimming effect.
The mature figure does best in pants with a relaxed fit. Search for a brand that caters to your size and shape. Information as to cut and proportion can be found on many labels. Wide leg, relaxed fit, pleated front and high waist are all good options, together with capris for casual wear.
Be careful of appearing in stretch pants and high boots after age 60, unless you're in perfect shape - even your Spanx will find it difficult to compensate for the forces of gravity. You also run the risk of being labelled a "cougar" - a slightly sardonic term for an older woman with an eye for younger men! On the other hand, if you're up for a challenge - go for it! Forewarned is forearmed!
Another wardrobe staple is a good jacket. Classic man tailoring designed for your figure type will see you through many seasons, but be sure it fits well at the hip for a smooth line necessary for a polished look. If you're on the petite side, check out the short cropped styles featuring a more contoured waist.
Unless your waist is small and slim, steer clear of colourful belts that are too wide - a narrower version matching the colour of your outfit will be much more flattering. Interesting dramatic buckles are also a plus - drawing the eye inward for the illusion of slimness. Belts fastened too tightly are sure to add an inch to your hips. So, a notch lower, if you please, to give that svelte look. Develop a flair for making an outfit your own by adding one important accessory - whether it’s a belt, jewelry, a dramatic scarf, pashmina or handbag. Highlighting is the key with "less is more" being the golden rule here.
A technique known as colour blocking gives punch to your wardrobe. Try combining two complementary colours for a dramatic effect. Rich chocolate brown mixed with the vibrancy of purple; black teamed with electric blue; or grey with Tangerine Tango, the colour of a bright Seville orange. Leave the patterned prints for another time and let pure colour do the talking!
Choosing colours with global appeal is one of the most important components of the fashion agenda. Pantone, a worldwide authority on colour has been surveying a myriad of sources for almost 50 years working with designers, the entertainment industry and travelling art collections all over the world. They spot the trends, the moods and influences affecting us - even psychology comes into play. The decision is in for 2012: People are feeling hopeful and on the optimistic side, so we're seeing sunshine-y yellows, pale greens and mauves together with lots of orange, like Tangerine Tango, to maintain our cheery mood.
It's clear we've come a long way since those days of being told how to dress. We've become mature enough to laugh at our insecurities and that's a good thing. Because that old adage still applies - the most important fashion accessory is your smile!
JULY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE