POSTED ON NOVEMBER 28, 2007:
Sweater Safe than Sorry
How to beat the fashion challenge of the season
Extreme Dressing. Any woman that's ever tried to zip herself into an outfit in the morning can appreciate a dress that doesn't require dislocating your shoulder.
I am a very meticulous shopper. No item goes unturned as I make sure I've seen every top, bottom, dress, shoe and pair of earrings that a store has to offer. This attention to detail often makes me confront completely perplexing things.
Most often the items shoppers find in a store are pretty self explanatory. Find a t-shirt and you can automatically find the right place, time and way in which to wear it. Going about your typical shopping, you build a comfort level until you're finally bamboozled by some creation that you can't even begin to wrap your brain around. Everyone has spotted the item or ensemble when you're completely baffled? Who would wear this? How do you wear this? Why would you wear it?
Most often these are extreme pieces, like the suede swimsuit I once saw in a magazine. A long time has passed since I saw that conundrum and I still cannot determine how those two opposing elements came into one outfit--a water-based ensemble made of a water-weary fabric. To this day it makes me just shrug my shoulders and shake my head in complete confusion. But extreme examples like this are generally just a designer or label thinking outside the box. They know a random person here or there will invest in these pieces and find ways to make them look great and practical, but these bizarre, questionable items aren't the looks that become trends. Well, that was the case until this fall.
This fall's trendy puzzling new piece has such promise. Unlike suede swimwear, it's practical. Well, practical-ish. It's in every store, in an assortment of textiles, a range of colors and shapes and at a full spectrum of cost. And yet, I've never seen anyone wear one or standing in line to buy this item and it always seems as though the racks have never been touched. They sit in the same spot as when they were put on the shelf by the employee, completely unbrowsed through. And that's because it boils down to those pressing questions: who would (could?) wear this? How do you wear it? And where?
I fear that all this build up is going to result in a real letdown when I reveal this mind boggling item. It's not a bedazzled fedora or a fleece vest covered in ostrich feathers. No, I'm afraid to say it's nothing more than a sweater dress. But that's what makes it all the more worse. How is it something that sounds relatively easy to wear presents such a challenge? Let's look at the facts.
This latest trend is a great piece in that it will easily transition from the chill of the fall to the possibly frigid winter. (I say possibly because I hear it is going to be a warm winter this year). Either way, this look can work. On top of that great transition, it has the ability to flex between potential workday wear to evening wear while still retaining that comfort factor. Oh the sheer joy of putting on a dress in the morning simply by throwing it over your head. Any woman that's ever tried to zip herself into an outfit in the morning can appreciate a dress that doesn't require dislocating your shoulder.
The easy to wear ability is also highly valuable in a time of year that could see you working your typical nine to five followed by holiday parties in the evening or post-work holiday shopping. Finding a 12-hour outfit that can accommodate these three distinct areas of life is pretty impressive.
Its final redeeming quality is that the sweater dress has exploded on the scene in more ways than can be imagined. While a trend like the high waisted jeans or say, the thick headbands from earlier this year had minimal variation (besides a change in print, per say), these sweaters range from sleeveless to cap sleeve to long sleeve. And that's not even mentioning the assortment of options once you decide on a sleeve, like color. There is a plethora of both typical shades (have you heard about this craze for a little black dress?) and the more exciting options (emerald green!). They come in turtleneck, cowl neck or just plain crew neck. They come in ribbed knits, cabled knits and smooth, thin knits. They can look like grandma made them. There's such a vast pool of sweater dress options, you could probably imagine one right now and then Google that description and find one. That's why these seem so right.
Provisions and Decisions
It is these special qualities that should beckon the average woman to grab one in her size and dash toward the dressing room. Or at least I pray she's heading toward the fitting room. Poor woman who buys it off the rack and drives all the way home to make the disappointing discovery. She'll have to find a time to drive all the way to back to the store to return it, asking herself on the drive over, who can wear this sweater dress and look decent?
What these dresses offer in fantastic options of colors and materials, they lack in the cut of the garment. First, there is the shift dress, which looks about as flattering as cutting arm holes in a burlap sack or trash bag. Women want to look curvy or thinner, but rarely do they feel they need to look squarer. And by that, I mean the geometric shape, not some cutesy way of saying nerdy. The second option (and sole other choice) is the body hugging sweater dress. I've no doubt there are some ladies out there with bodies to die for that could wear this snug option, but are these the types of girls that also wear sweater dresses?
Maybe it's not the shape that I (and I'm assuming others) find so difficult about this trend. Is it the idea of expanding one of the itchiest items across the body? Don't get me wrong, there are cotton and silk blend sweater dresses. There is also cashmere--which, if we were all so fortunate, we'd wear head to toe throughout the winter--options, but the most economical and most prevalent textile in the sweater dress industry is wool and merino wool. I mean, do you feel itchy from shoulder to thigh just reading this?
But enough is enough. The sweater dress is not entirely evil. It's there for the buying so let's determine how to wear it.
Attention to Detail
If you purchase the sleeveless sweater dress, treat it like a jumper, unless it is a turtleneck or cowl neck. These neck embellishments require sole attention, so additional pieces are overkill.
Another note in keeping this looking good on you is to focus on the skirt. These dresses are all knee length or higher, but the way the garment is made as it hits the knee or higher will determine if it looks good on you. Some of the dresses, as with most mini dresses as of late, end with a band. This six inch or so area of fabric will cinch in slightly. This is to assist in giving the sweater dress some shape by accentuating the hourglass figure. However, if the bottom of your hourglass shape is very "sand heavy," nix this dress. The cinched bottom will become more like a triangle effect, with your knees looking very narrow and every thing above them look wider and wider.
For women wanting to accentuate a narrow waist but trying to mask bigger thighs or butts, try to find a sweater dress that has empire waist qualities. Many sweater dresses do not have actual empire waists, but if you can find a dress constructed to create an a-line skirt (where the skirt bells out slightly, making the skirt shaped like the letter A) that is your best option. Also, I've discovered an occasional sweater dress with a built-in sweater belt. This might sound ultra unattractive, but with the right garment can come off looking like a wrap dress made of sweater. Still, that description sounds gross, but needless to say, a wrap dress looks good on every gal.
Often I'm afraid you will simply find sweater dresses that are shifts. Unlike the regular cotton or jersey shift, you can't toss a belt on top of the dress to give it shape. A belted sweater is flattering; a sweater with a leather belt on top is frightening. It's going to take some time in front of a fitting room's full-length mirror as to determining if you the individual can look good, not lost in a sheath of wool.
And lastly, while I would generally advise that with a trendy piece like this you tone down the rest of the outfit, the sweater dress, as I've already pointed out, is a weird variation.
In fact, you can't go wrong adding more of today's trendy items to complete the look. Tights are a must. They are the it accessory of the moment. Remember to go with the real thing--no footless tights, no cropped leggings. You need the full length in a dark color. It will help elongate your legs, only adding to the leggy effect that a mini can offer. You'll find they are making tights out of thick materials with cables. This is a case of over trending your outfit; stick with something basic like a dark color, possibly with a simple pattern or print, in a thin or almost sheer material. Sexy look for day and night in addition to providing you a sweater-skin buffer for your lower body. Add a pair of boots--cropped, knee length, stiletto or flat--for a chic, fall/winter glam look.
It sounds effortless, doesn't it? Well, now it should be. There are pristine displays of sweater dresses everywhere so go and (hopefully) conquer this nearly impossible feat.
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