Friday, July 30, 2010

Four ways to avoid the dreaded gap

Button down shirts might be the most difficult item to wear in a professional woman's wardrobe. There are so many potential pitfalls. We already saw the problem Blanche Lincoln had with her bra showing through. Now we see Rep. Mary Fallin, who is running for Governor in Oklahoma, in a remarkably similar ad (candidate in the middle of a big field) with a decidedly different problem with her shirt:

Oh, the dreaded gap.

A visible gap between buttons is probably the most common problem that women encounter wearing cotton button down shirts. What to do?

  1. Buy shirts that are sized by bra size, not dress size. This kind of sizing system allows the designer to account for the difference in size between your bust line and your rib cage, just like your bra does. If the shirt has too small a difference, you end up with a gap. Rebecca & Drew Manufacturing is one of the best-known makers of these shirts.
  2. Buy a larger size to fit the bust well, and tailor down around the waist. This a more time consuming and possibly more expensive option, but you'll be assured a perfect fit. And the useful thing about these shirts is that they are so neutral, you can wear them over and over again.
  3. Pins, tape, velcro and other clever devices. This will work if the gap is very slight, but in general a force fit is no fit.
  4. Just don't wear them. The thing about putting a distinctly menswear clothing item on a woman's body is that it simply does not work very well, particularly if the woman has particularly womanly curves. There are so many options available to us, we really can just let this one go.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Get the advice you need

We all know that getting dressed in the real world is a lot harder than reading a "do and don't" article in a magazine. Or reading a blog. What's the right color? The right shape? For me specifically, not some generic person with maybe the same haircolor?

Help is on the way.

Who: women, men, politicians, candidates, staffers, policy wonks, political junkies and those who aspire to be.

What: the advice you need. Maybe one of these:
When and where (NEW DATES ADDED!):
  • New York City, August 29
  • Washington, DC, August 8, August 13-15

How: Call Christina at 908-642-2745 or email for a confidential appointment.

"Could you FedEx this?" or How to be Mistaken for an Intern

There are two levels of consideration for professionals when getting dressed in the morning. The first is whether your outfit meets the basic minimum standards for looking professional in your job. The second is whether your clothes are working for you, by dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. When the job you want is a seat in the US Senate, you're going to have to expand your wardrobe beyond the basics.

Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell discussed her candidacy, and her opponent, at a conference recently:

There is nothing technically wrong with this outfit. The blogosphere rages with debate over wearing shirt collars outside or inside a jacket, and while I prefer the inside look, I wouldn't dock you any points for disagreeing. Hoop earrings can be very nice, although these are pushing it on the size. A neat, low ponytail can assist with a multitude of hair styling challenges.

But the combination is key. Dark suit, white shirt with collar spread outside, big hoop earrings, ponytail hair with a ribbon big enough to be seen from the front.... when you put it all together, she starts to read as the very most professional 22 year-old intern in the office, instead of a 42 year-old candidate for US Senate.

This would work better:
I am not an internFashion Trends & Styles - Polyvore

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer, summer, summertime

Rep. Michele Bachmann can wear pink very well - light peachy pink. But last week she chose a dusty raspberry seersucker for an appearance on Fox News, and it didn't work nearly as well:

Seersucker is a great summer fabric. But have a look at Rep. Bachmann's skin here. She's clearly gotten a bit of sun, making pink a poor choice. It just makes her look pinker, and not in a good way.

Here's a seersucker look that might work better, which we created for Seersucker Thursday last month:
Seersucker Thursday!Fashion Trends & Styles - Polyvore

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to wear coveralls

The need for coveralls, overalls, lab coats, flight jackets and other protective gear comes up with predictable regularity on the campaign trail and in public office, as candidates and officials visit the industrial drivers that make their districts tick. But there are (visual) risks in covering up your carefully selected outfit with the standard uniform of wherever you are.

Governor Jennifer Granholm shows us how to do it right at an aviation plant recently:

She follows the two basic rules:
  1. Don't look naked. You have to wear something underneath your coveralls with a high enough neckline to show above the collar. Otherwise, you'll look like you're naked underneath. Governor Granholm's blouse shows nicely above the collar. (For an example of the "naked" look, see her female aide standing behind her, unfortunately.)
  2. Make use of your best colors. Now that your blouse is showing, make sure that it's the right color to complement or counteract the color of the coveralls. In this case, the baby blue is a pretty good color for the Governor starting out. But she pairs it with yellow and green that blends together well with the blue and works for her coloring.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Honey, I Shrunk the Speaker

In general, I'm a great fan of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's style. In fact, she was one of the first people to inspire me to write this blog. But the jacket she wore for a speech on the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act was a serious misfire:

The proportion of this collar is so out of whack, it looks a bit like she shrunk after she got dressed, leaving her with a huuuuuge jacket. And in this case, her signature big-round-bead necklace only adds to the effect.

How big is too big? How small is too small? Too narrow, too bright, too whatever? Try this: if the defining characteristic can be described as really _____ then it's probably too _____.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Patterns on television, part 5

Rep. Candace Miller gives us a new twist on the patterns on television problem: a pattern that looks distorted, but isn't. This is what it looks like:

I'm willing to consider that this pattern might look better in person. But on television, these sharply contrasting colors mixed in an irregular way have become really distracting. The problem is not just the colors themselves, but the fact that this type of pattern makes us wonder, "Is it supposed to be like that? Or is it distorted?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pastels can be powerful

Pastel colors don't work for everyone. We know that. But if pastels are in your color palette (have you booked that color analysis consultation yet?) they're a great choice for summer. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison shows us how it's done:

The Senator makes spearmint into a power color by wearing it in a very structured jacket. The prominent shoulders are a subtle but effective nod to the '80s fashion moment we're having this year. She stands out against her male colleagues in the background in just the right way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ginny Brown Waite gets it right

We've seen before that there's a right way and a wrong way to wear animal print. Rep. Ginny Brown Waite's House remarks on the National Flood Insurance Program gave us another example of the right way:

She follows our two basic rules of wearing animal print:
  • Abstract scale - this is a large leopard print
  • Minimal proportion in the outfit - the bold print appears on the scarf, and the rest of the outfit is relatively simple.

See? It's easy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A winning Senate wardrobe

I wrote a guest post on Corporette that was posted today, and it's generating A LOT of comments.  Some of the Corporette readers really don't like my choice of photos for the post, and that's probably because they didn't start out as photos - they started out as videos. When Kat (who writes Corporette) asked me to switch to stills, I was a little thrown, so I used screen grabs. As you know, I prefer to use video. So. Here's the post with the video embedded. Enjoy!

And you should read Corporette. It's great!

There is one question I am asked more than any other in writing The Style of Politics: Who is the best dressed woman in government? It’s a difficult one to answer, actually. There are a number of women who look great more often than not: Senator Susan Collins, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But my personal favorite wardrobe on the Hill belongs to Senator Claire McCaskill.

There’s a lot to think about when you get dressed in the morning, but I suggest you keep two elements at the forefront of your mind: color and shape. Senator McCaskill does both of these really well. You can do it too. 

First, color:

Senator McCaskill knows her best colors are light, warm and clear. She looked great in saturated pink at the World War II Memorial:

How do you know what colors are best for you? Try this test: gather tops or scarves in three pairs: a light and a dark, a warm and a cool, and a clear (or bright) and a muted color. Put each on one and have a look in the mirror. Which one in each pair looks best? If you’re not sure, look specifically at the area around your nose and mouth - if it looks ruddier, that’s not the right color for you. Also look under your eyes - if circles or bags become more pronounced, that’s not the right color either. A good color will make your skin tone look even and your eyes look bright and awake. (Or go for a color analysis - a great investment!)

Second, shape:

Senator McCaskill knows her best shapes are those that define her waist and elongate her torso, without being too stiff or boxy. She wore a great navy blazer and lemon yellow top on the Senate floor recently:

This jacket is tailored, defining her shoulders and waist, but she wears it open to keep it from boxing her in. The light color of her top underneath provides contrast with the jacket that creates a strong vertical line on the body. She looks authoritative and professional. 

There’s a lot going on in that moment in front of the closet: What’s the weather like? What did I wear yesterday? What do I have to do today? What looks the most like that great dress I just saw on corporette? But color and shape will never steer you wrong!

Reading glasses matter too

Do you buy your reading glasses at the drug store? Do you choose them carefully? Do you let your niece choose the frames, because they're "just" your reading glasses, and hardly anyone will see them anyway? Life can surprise you sometimes. In her opening statement before the Senate Banking Committee, Sarah Bloom Raskin said that she never expected to be nominated to the Federal Reserve Board.

I'm going to assume that when Ms. Bloom Raskin chose these reading glasses, she wasn't expecting to end up on C-SPAN. It's the only reason I can think of that the "confetti" look would be ok. These glasses are so distracting. Do yourself a favor: save the "fun" patterns for the case.
Select-A-Vision Fifth Avenue Reader, Animal Print, +1.50

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's different for girls

Yesterday, DCist directed us to what they called The Best Campaign Video You'll See All Year. Here it is:

Council candidate Bryan Weaver does a fine job with the video and his wardrobe: nice tie, good colors. The shirt is maybe a tad too big. But all fine.

This video got me thinking, though, about how frustrating it is that the campaign trail equivalent of "loosened tie, rolled up shirtsleeves" for women is "it depends." It depends on the place, the time of year, the activity at hand. But let's imagine this video was made by a female candidate running for the Ward 1 Council seat. What should she wear? What says "I just stepped out of my office where I was doing Very Important Professional Work to speak with Regular People in a Relaxed Manner" in just the right way? And allows you to "run" across the Ward? I would suggest this:
Campaign trailFashion Trends & Styles - Polyvore

A shirtdress is dressed up and relaxed at the same time. A full skirt allows plenty of movement, probably more than lined dress pants would. Ballet flats are practical and professional enough to hide your toes. Stud earrings add just enough sparkle without dangling around and being distracting. And sunglasses are a nice nod to the season, the outdoor setting and the "dressed down" moment. When a woman can't roll up the sleeves of her shirt, she can push her sunglasses on top of her head.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What they're wearing around the office

Robin Carnahan for Senate just posted a "campaign update" video that asks her staffers about their favorite parts of her campaign. It gives us a peek into what they're wearing around the office:

If you ever doubted the advice to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.... you shouldn't. Her campaign manager, who hosts the video and runs the show, is far and away the most professionally dressed. If you walked in to this office and looked around for the person in charge, you'd zero in on her right away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Less is more

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper had a great outfit going here. And then something attacked her necklace:

The Congresswoman's face is a nice long oval shape. The neckline of her top hits her at just the right point to balance the length of her face. The curve of her necklace hits at just the right point to balance the width of her face. All good. And then the extra embellishment on the necklace mucks up those nice clear balance points. It's too bad.

Don't get me wrong. I like this necklace trend in general. I like stuuuuff. (I promise this is the last time I will quote Clueless in this forum.) Necklaces with multiple embellishments can add significant visual interest to your look. But if they draw that interest to the wrong spot, you haven't accomplished anything.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer brights for Senator Collins

You know I almost never gush on this blog. Almost. Well, here. I LOVE this dress that Senator Susan Collins wore for an event at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens:

But of course in my mission to help you find our own good style, dear readers, I must tell you why.

  • Bright color. It's summer. It's an outdoor cultural event. She's speaking to a large group. All of these are elements that practically demand brightly colored clothing.
  • The right color. Especially near her face. Royal blue is a great color on the Senator. If this dress used, say the yellow from the skirt as the top, but would be a no-go. (But would look great on, say, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm).
  • The right style. A full, multicolored skirt says fun. But the jacket and necklace remind us she's still a US Senator making an official appearance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Campaign ad fashion preview

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher gave us a sneak peek at her upcoming television ad on YouTube this week:

She made some great choices with this outfit:

1. Bold jewelry. This necklace is memorable but not so memorable that it would show up on Saturday Night Live.
2. Lavender color. Could Nancy Pelosi's power color be a new trend in politics?
3. Strong contrast. For someone with Ms. Kelliher's coloring, the dark black shirt under the lighter colored jacket was a good choice.

I'm a bit concerned about the jacket - I don't think three-quarter sleeves work for her, and the shape isn't structured enough. But overall, she seems set up for an effective ad, at least from a wardrobe perspective.

UPDATE: Here's the final ad. Look at how the lavender color has changed - final video production has made it much more saturated. Still a good look, probably better.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Florida cool

We've talked before about Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's ease with casual wear when she's back in her home state of Florida. Now let's look at another Floridian with casual style: gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink:

Ms. Sink is speaking to a reporter from a beach, which is a tricky locale. They're there to talk about the shoreline and the oil spill, not on vacation, so she can't wear completely casual clothes. No bathing suits, no terry cloth. But if she showed up on the beach in a suit, that would look odd too. She finds just the right medium in a brightly colored t-shirt with a high crew neck. And then (and this is the real key to looking important, I think) she pairs the shirt with professional looking jewelry - the same stuff she might wear with a suit.  Because all the pieces are very simple, they don't look mismatched, just very grown up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When does black make white?

You probably already know that too much black can make (some of) you look pale. But have you considered what it can do to your hair?

Have a look at Rep. Tammy Baldwin in her office last week:

In this case, her face actually doesn't look that pale. But look at her hair: what is usually a nice sunny blond now looks....white. This was the unintended consequence of a lot of black and overhead lighting. Blonds beware!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Asymmetry is interesting

I noticed two nice uses of asymmetry recently. The first was on Secretary Kathleen Sebelius*:

This jacket has an off-center closure, similar to a motorcycle style. The asymmetry creates some visual interest that blends well with her necklace, which has bead spaced very far apart, giving it a modernist feel.

The second example was on Senate candidate Carly Fiorina:

This time, the asymmetry was in the necklace, which gathered beads together in an organic, uneven grouping. The necklace softens the look of a very structured jacket, which could otherwise look severe.

In both of these examples, the asymmetrical details work for the wearer (and not against) because they are:
1. subtle
2. paired with a neutral color palette.

Asymmetry is like animal print. Use it, but sparingly.

*An earlier version of this post used a different clip of Secretary Sebelius, from the same day. This one is a lot easier to see, so I switched it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today, you give the advice

When Carolyn Hax goes on vacation, she often lets her readers give the advice. So that's what I'm going to do today.

I can see at least 5 distinct suggestions I would make for Rep. Kathy Castor:

You've been reading this blog for a while now, right? What suggestions would you make about her outfit?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Floral neckties are for Father's Day brunch

You already know how I feel about flag ties. But I must tell you, floral ties aren't a whole lot better. Here's Congressman Barney Frank on the Rachel Maddow Show last week:

I simply don't understand the appeal of this tie. It's busy. It's multicolored. It generally looks soft. None of those elements are features I would recommend for discussing a hard-won piece of legislation, no matter how tired you are. If it was a gift from your kids or your grandkids, fine, wear it to Father's Day brunch. Don't wear it on television.