"I don't think the rules ever change. People want to look taller and thinner. No one says, "Ooh! Let me buy that dress because it makes me feel matronly!"
-MICHAEL KORS, designer
One day not too long ago, while I was in the dressing room of one of my favorite stores, trying to figure out just which, of the all black pants I had in there, was the perfect pair, I heard the woman next door chatting with her saleslady. Since I was rather preoccupied, their conversation was just background buzz until I heard the woman ask loud and clear, "Does this make me look fat?" Hey, I thought, that's just what I was thinking!
Now, truly, I'm not what you'd call fat. Neither was the other woman. I sneaked a peek at her when I left, and she looked like a blond Julia Roberts. But you know what? When it comes to self-perception, size doesn't matter. We all feel fat, or think we look fat, at one time or another, no matter what size we are! I must have heard the phrase "Does this make me look fat" a gazillion times during my twenty-odd years in the fashion business-from every size woman imaginable.
If you've picked up this book you've probably said, "Does this make me look fat?" too. And you might not even be close to fat! You could be one of those women who people think are totally nuts when they even mention the F-word. Or you could be average. Or you could be a plus size. It really doesn't matter-being fat or feeling fat-in a crazy way, it's all the some. We stare in the mirror and focus on every little bump, bulge, and protuberance until our body looks like a Himalayan landscape to us. We all know this is not particularly healthy, but we do it anyway.
There's no sense in me trying to talk you out of your neurosis, as I've been trying to talk myself out of mine for years. It's a fruitless endeavor. (I'm fairly sure a twenty-five-year ascetic meditation retreat would set me straight, but who has the time?) So what to do? We switch to plan B and handle the problem in the time-honored American tradition-we cover up whatever's making us crazy. We disguise it. We make it go away. You can't be too neurotic about something that you can't see.
All we have to do is choose the right clothes-clothes that camouflage any real or imagined figure flaws rather than highlighting them-and learn how to do it with style. That's what I call Camouflage Chic!
When you think about it, there are really only two kinds of clothes in the world-those that make you look fat and those that don't. All the rest is just details. There are, of course, degrees within those two categories. In the fat-maker category, there are some clothes that will make you just a teensy weensy bit heftier and others that will pack on an extra five pounds. And in the nonfat category, there are clothes that are virtually neutral and those that can make you look five pounds skinnier. This book is about zeroing in on the last kind of clothing. Does This Make Me Look Fat? is dedicated to the proposition that we'd all rather wear clothes that render us slimmer as opposed to heavier-and while we're at it, taller rather than shorter. The fact is that tall and slim is a good look.
Before I go any further, let me nip any potential dissention in the bud and slip in a disclaimer for any plus-size lobbyers out there who may be tempted to pick on me for not taking a total "Big Is Beautiful" stance here, as well as for any hard-line feminists who feel this entire subject is demeaning and that we women should be judged not by how we look but rather by our brains, character, and mettle.
To the first group let me say that big may be beautiful, but it can be even more lovely with effective camouflaging. Nobody-be they size sixteen or size six--wants to look heavier than they actually are. That's just a given. I've dressed a lot of women over the years and not one has ever asked me to help them look shorter or stockier. And yes, we should absolutely learn to love and accept ourselves as we are-warts, potbellies, and all. But who says we have to exhibit those features to the world, at large?
And to my feminist sisters, let me say that I agree with you wholeheartedly. We should not be judged by our appearance...but we are, so get over it. It's been that way since cave babes started wearing fur. This book is egalitarian-it's for all women of all sizes (and of all political persuasions) who want their clothes to work for them instead of against them. It 's as simple as that.
"In the end, fashion is not such a silly thing. Even if you say you don't dress, it's not true. Either way, you make a choice."
-MIUCCIA PRADA, designer
Here fat is a relative term, used in the purely unclinical, semi-obsessive, sartorially savvy, fun-loving sense of the word. It doesn't matter whether you're five ounces over your fighting weight, thirty pounds overweight, or just want to make that totally fit body of yours look as sleek as possible. If you really want the answer to "Does this make me look fat?" this is where you'll get it-no holds barred. Here, clothes that add heft are taken to task and those that diminish it are cheered. In these pages you will find out exactly what you need to know to make you look slimmer, taller, and better proportioned in your clothes. (Out of clothes, I'm afraid you're on your own.)
A truth in advertising moment. The information in this book is not going to transform a 160-pound woman into Kate Moss or a five-foot, one-inch woman into Xena, Warrior Princess. This is, after all, a fashion book, not a Course in Miracles. But it can help you knock off a few virtual pounds, grow an extra virtual vertical inch or two, look generally sleeker, and make your fashion life a lot easier.
When it comes to camouflaging, most of us have heard about the perils of wearing broad horizontal stripes (eek!) and the like, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a slew of other camouflaging principles that are much more subtle-and just as important. In my workshops, participants are constantly amazed at the difference a simple placement of buttons, the shape of a lapel, the width of a strap, or a slight shift in color tone can make on the girth meter. It's not a religious experience exactly, but it definitely changes the way these women see clothes and the way they buy them. Moreover, this knowledge can be used for the rest of their lives, because the principles are timeless and apply to whatever new cards fashion may deal us.
"I started very early to believe in an inside-out concept-that if you look as good as you can, you will feel better."
-JIL SANDER, designer
There's another dimension here too: There's a real feeling of empowerment that comes from knowing what's right for you and wearing clothes that perfectly suit your body. You simply feel better about yourself. I'll offer myself up here as a case in point: I have two pairs of slim black pants, one that fits me perfectly and makes me look trim and slender, and the other that's a bit snug and makes my stomach look paunchy. Even though I only wear the snug ones with a roomy top that covers the offending paunch, I know it's lurking under there, and I feel fat when I wear the pants. I don't feel as self-assured as I do in my slim pants. How you feel in clothes is as important as how you look in them. When you feel confident you look confident.
There was a time, not that long ago, when my stomach would not have been an issue in any pants. It was flat-most of the month anyway. Not a washboard exactly, but a perfectly acceptable abdomen nonetheless. But that was then, and this is now. As many of my fellow Baby Boomers may have noticed, our bodies tend to change as we age-even with diligent exercise.
"All we can do is maintain-we can't fight aging.... Women have to accept that our bodies give in to gravity. That's life. "
-EVE LOM, skin-care entrepreneur
I've been using the concept of fashion camouflage for more than twenty-five years: first as a stylist, designer, and image consultant, then as a journalist, author, and television commentator and host. I've dealt with fashion from every angle--behind the camera, in front of the camera, in production meetings, and on the computer screen. I've dressed models, celebrities, and real people. And if there's one thing I've learned in all these years, it's this: While clothes don't make the woman, they sure do help. Any figure can be improved with the right clothes. And the right clothes don't necessarily cost more than wrong ones. You can buy totally nonfat clothes for the same amount of money you spend on clothes that are the equivalent of a double chocolate shake. It's all in your choices.
A lot of what makes a choice the right one is proportion. The first time I saw Matthew McConaughey on the big screen, for instance, I wasn't thinking, Oh, isn't he darling!, like all the other women in the audience. I was thinking, My god, he is sooo long-waisted! And Sharon Stone-I can't watch her without thinking, Great proportions! I'm a proportion nut. Balance is one of the first things I see when I look at someone. I notice if their necklines are shortening their necks, or their hemlines are lengthening their legs, and everything else in between.
Actually, my mother says I've always been this way. She remembers us all sitting poolside in Florida, when I was about eight, and me emphatically declaring that my pudgy five-year-old brother would look "really tons better" in boxer trunks than in his little Speedo--which, of course, was true. (My brother's pudginess, for the record, is long gone . . . and he now wears boxers.)
Anyway, my keen eye-or dubious talent, however you choose to look at it-has come in quite handy over the years. I'm hoping now it can be a big help to you. Although we'll be focusing on looks that slim and trim here, we'll always be touching on the timeless tenets of good taste and style as well, which is the chic part of Camouflage Chic. As you read, think about the kind of things you like to wear, what you feel most comfortable in, and the kind of lifestyle you lead. Then apply the rules and adapt some of the style ideas here to shape-or reshape-your wardrobe and personal style.
"I've known women who wouldn't be considered conventionally beautiful but because of their self confidence and humor, they're the hottest women in the room. Conversely, I've known gorgeous women whose mouths you just want to cover with duct tape."
-KIRSTEN JOHNSTON, actress
My goals here are threefold: 1. the next time you ask, "Does this make me look fat?" you will be able to correctly answer the question instantly; 2. you will not waste money on things you'll never wear or waste time trying on everything in your closet every time you get dressed in the eternal search for the least fattening outfit; and 3. you will have enough information under your belt to "just say no" to any tempting new trends that may look fetching on a fourteen-year-old, but will make you look awful.
One last word before we get going: I'm generally not big on rules-especially traditional fashion rules. You'll never hear me telling anyone they can wear patent leather only after Memorial Day, or no white before Memorial Day, or absolutely no velvet until 5:00 pm. Who made those up anyway? It's a mystery. The good news is that whoever did probably isn't around anymore, so who cares. The only fashion rules that count, as far as I'm concerned, are those based on common sense and those that we can use to our advantage-and for our specific purposes here, that means rules that can help give us the shape we want: the Rules of Camouflage Chic. These rules are time-tested and universal tenets that can give you the flattering look of the "right" proportions. All the great couturiers know these secrets-why shouldn't you?
Incidentally, you have my full permission to break any rules set down here. As long as you recognize their wisdom and break them with style, I'll be a happy camper.
"I think it's very important to use fashion only as it serves you and not to become a slave of fashion. I think what's different now is that fashion is not so dictatorial anymore. There used to be a much stricter notion of what was appropriate to wear. "
-PALOMA PICASSO, designerFrom the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Does This Make Me Look Fat? by Leah Feldon. . Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.