Monday, March 21, 2011

Tips for Layering Dresses

The other day, Erin playfully accused me of cheating to maintain a slim line while layering dresses.  I do sort of cheat in that I stand sideways; I’m slimmer from the side than the front.  However, one can’t just go through life sideways so I thought I’d offer some tips on how I keep my layers long and lean.

Layering can be hard – done wrong, it can add pounds to even the smallest frame (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, I’m looking at you).  It can also make you look like a hobo; and I don’t care what Erin Wasson says, hobo chic should not be a thing.  Layering can also be binding and uncomfortable.

But, it can also look very chic and help keep you warm when you’re riding your bike to work in the middle of winter.  So, how do you navigate that fine line between chic and hobo chic?  That territory between slim and looking as if you layered over a snowsuit? 

I have four tips for how I control bulk when I layer dresses. The first is using thin layers.  The thinner the layers, the less bulk you’re going to add to your body.  Try to avoid anything full or blousy or heavy.  And if your thin layers are made of things like silk and wool, you’re going to be both slim and warm.  And if the layers are knits they are generally less bulky and more comfortable to layer than woven fabrics.

The second tip is keeping your lines long.  The longer the lines of your layering, the more the eye is going to read your outfit, and you, as one long, slim line.

The third tip is belting for definition.  Belting is especially helpful if your layers aren’t as thin as you like.  A belt can give you some definition and help control some of the bulk.

The fourth tip is judicious use of contrast.  You can easily layer black on black or red on red – a single color is often more flattering than blocks of color because once again, the eye sees you as one continuous line.  However, if you layer colors, you can use one color to focus the eye on the other, strategically placed color.

I used all four of the above tips in my first dress layering experiment:

The layers in this outfit are all very thin.  Tights, a thin cotton turtleneck, a thin jersey dress and a thin wool dress. Both of the dresses are similar lengths with similar lines – both are A-line, and cut close to the body.  A shorter black dress over the red would have chopped my body in half, making me look less lean. 

My studded belt was used in part to keep the open black dress in place, but also serves to define my waist.  I wouldn’t have had that definition if I had just left the black dress open and loose.  Finally, in pairing black and red together, I used the black to focus the eye on the red.  The black is negative space drawing the viewer’s eye to the strip of red down the front.  The strip of red is thin, therefore the viewer is fooled into thinking I am too.

I’ve found that while I don’t have to utilize all the tips all the time, I usually won’t ignore them all.  For example, in my second dress layering attempt, I ignored tip #1 in that my bottom layer is woven, blousy and sort of full:

Although the blue dress has a fuller cut, it is made of very lightweight polyester (I think it’s from the 80s).  Because it was so lightweight, the blue dress’ volume was easily controlled by the tighter-fitting, heavier outer layer.  So, I still kept my lines long and lean with the outer dress and even though it controlled a lot of the bulk of the blue dress I still used a belt to give my shape a little more definition.  And this time, the slim black is the focal point because there is no competing color on my torso.  It’s even more effective if I stand sideways.

I hope this was helpful.  Does anyone have any tips or tricks that I missed?  Is layering dresses something you do?  If not, do you think you might give it a shot now? 

I hope everyone has a wonderful week, and remember, when in doubt, you can always stand sideways.