To me, getting dressed in the morning happens between ahem, loudly telling my 3-yo son, K, to get dressed, turning on the coffee machine, and figuring out what the day may bring. And whether I’m going to work at the office, or dropping my kid off at school then to yoga, I want to look good while doing it – not purely because I’m vain and superficial (which I am), but I truly believe that the world will see you as you present yourself, and will treat you accordingly. Either way, getting dressed in the morning has gotta be fast, and has gotta be a no-brainer.
As with many things in life, to achieve a maximal effect in a minimal amount of time on a consistent basis, one does need to put in a little effort, thought, and practice ahead of time. But the rewards are vast and fulfilling – kind of like our other job, being a parent. And remember, it takes just as much effort to put on a fabulous dress as it does a pair of sweats and sweatshirt – as long as that fabulous dress is easy to put on and comfortable to wear.
Here they are: my highly unscientific methods to the art of looking good as a busy, working mom.
1. Figure out what looks good on you.
This is the most important question you need to ask yourself. Think back to a recent day when what you’ve worn just made you feel good. That day, you held your head just a little higher, you walked with just a little more flair, you smiled just a little bit more. Think of your “go-to” outfits that make you smile, that earn you compliments from other women in the street. Think of the outfits that make your husband not want to take his hands off you, of a color that everyone says looks good on you. You’ll start to notice a pattern. Maybe it’s menswear tailoring (a crisp white shirt and stovepipe pants), maybe it’s form fitting knits and separates (a cashmere sweater and a pencil skirt), maybe it’s all-out glam dressing (a slinky evening dress). Find that outfit that makes you shine and emanate confidence, and figure out just what it is that makes you look and feel so good. Add your favorite colors, and that is your style.
I’ll use myself as an example. For a lack of better description, my body is pear-shaped – meaning, I have a narrow top, a small waist, and ample hips – and every time I wear wrap dresses, I get tons of compliments from men and women; the salespeople at the high-end stores I sometimes pass by during my lunch breaks smile at me; the cranky bus driver says hi to me. So I have a lot of dresses with strong necklines, a nipped-in waist, and an A-line skirt. I also love prints – so voilà, that’s my style on any standard day.
2. Play up what you LOVE about your body.
Do you have gorgeous collarbones? (most women do, by the way) Do you have a swan-like neck? Do you love the shape of your perky breasts, despite exclusively breastfeeding both your kids? Do you have strong, muscular legs? Do you have a great decolletage or derriere? (and it’s not a coincidence both words are French – the French truly appreciate a woman’s sensuality) Your go-to outfits will have a focal point, and that will be the body part you are most proud of. If you have great collarbones, a beautiful neck and small shoulders, boat necks will look gracious on you. If you have a tiny waist (even with a little belly roll below!), a cinched belt and an A-line skirt that glides over your belly will look great. If you have muscular legs, then I am jealous – you can wear above-the-knee skirts and dressy shorts to show off those hard-earned gams; the trick is to find the right shoe. If you have a great ass, any pant will look good – as long as they fit right.
3. Downplay your flaws.
Let’s face it – there are incredibly few people who have the perfect body; even Angelina Jolie, my celebrity girl-crush, in my opinion, is much too thin with large feet. You will not feel good if you feel like what are your flaws are constantly exposed. Although this is also where a little bit of reality check is in play: ask your bestie who will tell you the truth, because what you might think is a flaw may just be a mole hill, not the mountain you imagine it to be.
Again, these methods are devised based on the population of one, so I’ll use myself as an example. I have thick thighs – my inner thighs always rub against each other when I walk, and when I stand straight up, the width of my two thighs is wider than my already-wide hips. It’s genetics, and skinny thighs to me are not worth the time and effort on a treadmill at the gym (plus, I HATE running!). So I never wear hot pants or short shorts outside the house (they look ridiculous on anyone who’s over 16 anyway); I don’t wear skinny jeans (i can’t get them over my thighs!) – the contrast between the width of my thighs and the small of my ankles looks completely ridiculous; and I don’t wear jeans with fades over the thighs. But do I wear thigh-length dresses or mini skirts? Absolutely! The trick is to find the right shape of the skirt, as well as the right tops to wear to balance out my lower body.
If you tell me about your body parts you’d like to play up or down in the Comments section, I will try to answer your questions about the most common body types.
4. Learn about fit.
Tim Gunn from Project Runway is absolutely right when he chants “Pay attention to the fit” over and over like it’s a mantra. You can have a fabulous dress or killer shoes, but if the fit isn’t right, you won’t feel or look good, period. Something that fits is neither too big nor too small, neither too loose nor too tight. Something that fits will glide and hug, rather than bind you up or hang from the highest point of your body shapelessly.
Here are a few examples of how you check for fit:
- The seam of the shoulder on a shirt or a jacket sits right at the slope between your shoulder and your arm.
- When you stand straight, you neither have a muffin top nor do you have to keep pulling or adjusting your pants.
- If you have rolls over your stomach, they are not visible under your shirt when you stand straight up.
- Your silhouette has a waist – whether it’s your natural waist (at your belly button), or at the narrowest part of your body (usually just at the bottom of your ribcage).
- Your pants are not too short or too long – they do not drag on the floor when you walk, and they make a slight break over your shoes when you stand straight up (unless you want to show your ankles like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face!).
- Your shirt does not squeeze your breasts uncomfortably, nor does it resemble an over-sized sweatshirt.
- The fabric in your shirt, pant, dress, jacket does not stretch when you are standing still (unless it is meant to, e.g., spandex!).
In America, we are a ready-to-wear country (unlike my son’s father’s country of origin, Vietnam, where many articles of clothing – down to the pj’s – are made-to-wear). So unless there is a piece that you just absolutely adore, my advice is to only buy things that fit, rather than getting them altered. Because let’s face it, does anyone know a tailor who’s good and affordable? (if you do, please send me her name and number!) But we can buy very good quality clothes at affordable prices. It’s also a higher return to own one item that fits that may cost a little more, rather than buying 5 sale items that don’t fit. So unless it’s something simple like altering the length of a pant or a sleeve, only buy items that fit you just right. In other words, shop like you’re Goldilocks!
Of course these rules are not made to hold true 100% of the time: in each instance I can think of a great outfit that looks great but unapologetically breaks one or all these rules. But there is usually one great piece that fits the wearer to a T – whether it’s a beautifully tailored shrunken top to sweatpants, or a fabulous bag and accessories that fit the wearer’s flair and personality.
5. Think about proportions.
The human eye is drawn to symmetry, contrast, and balance. They sound like opposing things, but they are not. The earliest things our babies can see are sharply-contrasted colors and shapes. When they first look into our eyes, they are looking at the sharp demarcation between the whites and the colored parts of our eyes. When they seek our faces, they are looking for our two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose in the middle and a mouth down below. Our eyes naturally look for things that balance each other out, things that contrast each other but coexist in perfect symmetry.
So how does this translate into getting dressed in the morning? When you pick two things to wear, think balance. A tight shirt never looks good with a tight pant. A loose top never with a baggy pant. An exposed midriff never with miles of legs (unless that’s your profession!). A body that’s completely covered up without showing its shape. Think contrast when you get dressed. You can absolutely wear something tight, as long as you wear something loose. That’s why a busy peasant skirt looks so good with a simple, tight white tank top. That’s why those models look good with big boyfriend blazers, because they wear tight leggings to balance it out. The most interesting thing to wear with a tuxedo pant is a soft top with big ruffles down the middle. When we look at a person, we automatically look for a top and a bottom for symmetry. Think where your top ends and where your bottom begins. And the best is to balance out your body with your clothes.
Take a measuring tape – measure from the top of your head to your pubis bone (where you would do a Brazilian wax!), then measure from your pubis bone to the floor while standing. If the two numbers equal each other, then you are neither long- nor short-waisted. If the top is more than the bottom, then you may be long-waisted; if your top is shorter than your bottom, then you may be short-waisted (or if you’re tall, then you have enviable long legs). The human eye wants there to be a top and a bottom, with the waist being just above the middle. So if you are long waisted, then you may want your “waist” to be higher than your “natural” waist – you will look good with a dress cinched at the narrowest part of your body – just at the base of your ribcage. If you are short-waisted, then take care to find the “center” by cinching your waist at your belly button. You will look good with hip-huggers, you will look good with tunics or a longer shirt.
6. The hard part.
Now comes the hard part. With all your new knowledge about yourself, go to your closet, and put together outfits that are tried and true. Toss out the ones that don’t fit, have hopeless stains on them, or that you thought were fabulous when you bought them but you never wear because they just don’t look good or feel right. Even if you end up with just two outfits, that’s ok – because you will always look good. Coco Chanel never veered away from her “uniform” of black dresses and mountains of pearls – but she is one of the chicest women in history.
And when the time comes for you to go shopping – at Target in between getting the vitamins and the shampoo, at the mall where you steal away during soccer practice – you will know what to look for, because you already know what looks good on you, what fits right, and how you can use the new pieces to balance out pieces you already have in your closet.
These six steps are the basis for how to change your wardrobe, how to put together outfits in 5 minutes, and how to make your morning routines much easier. So even if you’re stuck in a “style rut” – you’d still always look good! (I don’t believe in “style ruts” anyway – no one ever said Audrey Hepburn or Jackie O was in a style rut – but they tended to wear the same styles over and over. If you find something that works for you and is timeless – by all means, stick to it!)
Now go do these 6 steps, and come back for Part II of “How to Look Good: the Busy Mommy Version”!