Picking apart fashion faux pas

Style show hosts tell people 'What Not To Wear'

— For a fashion victim, the first step toward recovery is admitting the problem.

Once she acknowledges a flabby tummy, short legs or thick waist, it's fairly easy to find the camouflage that will best hide the figure flaw and let a woman concentrate on her assets, which -- believe it or not -- are sure to outnumber the problems, say Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, hosts of Britain's "What Not To Wear" TV show.

"If you know what's wrong, you can do it right," Woodall says.

Woodall and Constantine, who also inspired but don't star in the U.S. version of the show on TLC, recently visited New York to promote their new book, also called "What Not To Wear" (Riverhead Books), and, of course, to shop.

On their TV show, the women pick apart the wardrobes of people who have committed one too many fashion faux pas. Constantine and Woodall are ruthless, having their clients (or victims, depending on whom you ask) try on every garment in their closets and take long hard looks in the mirror; anything that's unflattering goes straight into the trash.

Then they build on the few pieces that do work, which become the basis for a new wardrobe.

In the book, though, it's Woodall and Constantine who do the modeling, showing in full color photos why unfitted, sleeveless shells are not the right choice for Constantine's large bust and thick arms, and why Woodall and her saddlebags steer clear of long wrap sweaters.

To top it off, both women are now pregnant, which has made them even more acutely aware of their body shapes and what works for them. And, they add, it's because they are so honest and open about their own looks that women trust them.

'It's about looking good'

On this day, Constantine, 41, wears a striped, knit cardigan in shades of brown, red and pink over a white tank top that hugs her bulging belly with a fitted below-the-knee skirt; Woodall, 39, has on a polka-dot tunic with a deep V-neckline surrounded by ruffles and loose, long pants.

They are each other's voices of reason when it comes to hideous prints in unflattering colors that Constantine might fall in love with or dresses that squeeze Woodall's rear a little too tightly.

"We do know the answers about good style, but we do know how to get it wrong," acknowledges Woodall.

There are at least two universal fashion "don'ts" (tapered pleated trousers and big baggy T-shirts) and all women should wear bras that fit properly, Woodall and Constantine advise, and a one-button, knee-length coat should hang in every woman's closet.

Another edict: Teenagers have the right to experiment, trying all sorts of wacky styles that may or may not fit their shape, but once people are ready to interview for their first full-time jobs, they should figure it out and stick to their most flattering look.

"Having style isn't about fashion, it's about looking good," Constantine says.

Here are some guidelines featured in Woodall and Constantine's new book:¢ For a big bust, the best T-shirts have either a wide-open neckline or a V-neck while the worst choice is a high-neck, sleeveless T; the best jacket is very fitted with a deep V, with the hem cut to the hip and a small lapel, and the worst jacket is boxy and short-waisted.¢ For a small chest, the best dress choices are plunging necklines or high necks in a sheer fabric, and the worst have empire lines or spaghetti straps; the best tops are halters or sleeveless shirts with detailed front panels, and a corset is the worst.¢ For thick arms, the best dress has fluted sleeves -- and its even better with a small pattern, and the worst options are spaghetti straps or a sleeveless shift dress; the best bracelet is a delicate one, not a big bangle.¢ For a flabby tummy, try a ruched or wrap top, and avoid tight tanks; the best dresses have a low-slung waist or an empire line, and the worst has a "sprayed-on Lycra" look.

Shoppers -- and women in particular -- make excuses to buy clothes that don't work for them because they either love the color, plan to lose weight or can't resist a bargain-basement price, Constantine observes, but they also instinctively know to keep these less-than-stellar purchases from seeing the light of day.

Finding something positive

Most people know what looks best on them but they just don't want to limit themselves, the "What Not To Wear" women say. But, they add, you're far better off experimenting with trendy colors, fabrics or patterns than silhouettes.

Don't be discouraged if the ruched-front skirt that flatters a flabby tummy or the flared trousers that complement thick ankles and calves aren't among the season's "trends" featured in magazine layouts and store windows, Woodall says. These garments are available year after year because there are always people who want -- and need -- to buy them.

Constantine says she has trouble holding her tongue when she's in a store and sees people, even those who haven't asked for advice, about to make a mistake.

She recalls seeing a teenage girl trying on a choker necklace that was to be her 18th-birthday present from her mother.

"The girl had a very short neck and it was a very thick choker that looked like it was strangling her," Constantine says. "I said to her, 'I'm really sorry, please excuse me, and you don't have to take my advice at all, but your mother is about to spend a lot of money on that piece of jewelry for your birthday and you'll never wear it.' She didn't get it."

But both women say they won't criticize anyone who is all dressed up and on the way out the door. There is no point undermining someone's confidence when there is absolutely nothing she can do about it, they explain.

"It's OK to launch in before the damage is done, otherwise try to find something positive," Constantine says.


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