Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC's "What Not to Wear," shares his expertise on dressing, eating, entertaining and more in his new book, "Freakin' Fabulous." In this excerpt, he offers suggestions on how to dress your best — whatever your body type.
How to dress
As you can tell by the ridiculously long subtitle of this book, fabulousness requires mastery — or at least perceived mastery — of topics ranging from style to manners to gastronomy to décor.
I’ll begin by teaching you some of the most important components of style because, quite frankly, if you look like hell, nobody will ever find you fabulous. People might say, “Oh that Mary sure throws an amazing party. Did you know she speaks six languages? And isn’t it swell how she single-handedly rescued that busload of blind children from the Mississippi River?” But they will never use the word “fabulous” to describe you if you did it all while wearing tapered acid-washed jeans.
I’ve said it hundreds of times before and I will say it hundreds more, I’m sure: “What you wear tells the world how you expect to be treated.” And take it from me, being treated as though you’re fabulous is way better than being treated like a schmuck.
So, I want you to forget everything your mama taught you about how to dress yourself. I am your new mama. But you can call me Big Daddy… I like that.
If you’re large-busted but narrow from the waist down…
This body type is typically referred to as top-heavy, and most women I know don’t want to be anything “heavy.” Sure, being boobalicious can be fun, but you don’t want to give people the impression that you could face-plant at any given moment. The solution is to add more volume or attention to your lower half so that it looks proportionate to your top half.
- An A-line skirt
- A pleated skirt
- Wide-leg trousers
- Lighter-colored bottoms
If you’re flat-chested but curvaceous from the waist down…
This body type is commonly referred to as pear-shaped, but I don’t think it does anyone any good to compare herself to fruits or vegetables — unless we’re discussing Paris Hilton’s mental acuity. Then, feel free to compare her IQ to that of a summer squash. Anyway, trust me: The best way to take emphasis away from your lower half is by adding emphasis to your top half.
- Scoop necks
- Neckline embellishment
- Horizontal stripes
- Lighter-colored tops
If you’ve got a tummy…
The question I am asked most frequently — by far — is, “How do I camouflage a tummy?” And, look, I get it: If you’re a woman and you’re carrying weight in your midsection, you probably don’t feel as though you’re anywhere near that idealized hourglass body type. So the first thing I’m going to tell you is not to freak out. You are certainly not alone. About half of the women I have dressed carry some weight in the tummy. For some women, it’s the first place they gain a few pounds. Others see changes after giving birth or after menopause. It’s not the end of the world, not even close. And it’s certainly not a good reason to give up on style.
The best way to camouflage a tummy is with a jacket. Hands down. Don’t even try to argue with me because I will win. In fact, I will mop the floor with you.
The right jacket will strengthen a shoulder, which balances out a midsection. The right jacket will also have some seaming and darting, which will create the illusion of an hourglass waistline, even if you don’t have one.
Blazers can also create the illusion of verticality on the body because of the V that’s created by the lapels. This extra visual “height” helps balance out a little width.
Now, some of you are undoubtedly saying to yourselves, “Sometimes it’s too hot for a jacket.”
True. If so, the next-best way to camouflage a tummy is with a shirt or blouse that floats away from the body, like an empire-seamed top. Now, I hear some of you saying, “But I feel like I’m pregnant in an empire-seamed top.”
OK, well, that’s understandable because maternity tops often have empire seams. So, I’d encourage you to look for empire-seamed tops that are not heavily ruched or pleated under the bust. Think of it as an A-line skirt from the seam down.
And if all else fails, wear a tunic, the coverer of all sins.
If you’ve got narrow shoulders…
That classic V shape is hard to achieve if you’re built like a lowercase "i". I should know because that’s the shape I had for about 30 years. You might want to avoid monochromatic looks because they’ll emphasize your narrowness. Add some emphasis to your top half with:
- Horizontal stripes
- Raglan sleeves
If you’ve got a gut…
I’ve told the ladies this already, but it’s worth repeating: The best way to camouflage a tummy is with a jacket. A good jacket will take the emphasis away from the midsection and bring it to the shoulder.
- Monochromatic looks
- Untucked shirts when appropriate
Tucking a shirt will usually draw attention to the gut. This can be offset by topping your outfit with a jacket. But for casualwear, you can leave your shirt untucked. Just make sure the shirt isn’t too long. A shirt that covers the crotch will visually shorten the leg. If your legs look shorter, you look shorter. If you look shorter, you look wider.
If you carry your weight in your lower half…
Sometimes a man carries his weight in his lower half, which can be a little feminizing even if you’re a total macho stud. The best thing to do is shift the emphasis to the top half of your body and lengthen the lower.
- Dark bottoms
- Light tops
- Jackets, yet again
- Pinstripe pants
Assorted other body-type concerns
On the preceding pages, I address the concept of proportion, specifically how to create the illusion of an hourglass shape for women and a V shape for men. Now, let’s tackle some other issues.
If you’re a woman with no curves…
You can take comfort in the fact that most runway models don’t have curves either. Women with this body type often have the easiest time wearing high-end designer clothes. The best advice I can offer you is to use volume to create the illusion of curves but be very careful not to be overwhelmed by it. For example, you could wear a full skirt, but pair it with a top that fits close to the body. Or, wear a ruffled top, but pair it with a skinny jean. Women with thin frames can look scrawny if their clothes are oversized of just hang on the body.
If you’re a woman with lots of curves and an hourglass shape…
I highly recommend doing everything in your power to emphasize your waistline. Look for wrap dresses, faux-wrap tops, anything with a belt or a seam to bring attention to your narrowest part. You’ve got the ideal shape, so show it off.
If you’re a woman with lots of curves and a tummy…
I’ll be honest with you: Your body type is one of the most challenging to dress. I don’t say that to make you feel bad about yourself; it’s just that, for whatever reason, most designers aren’t creating clothes with you in mind. I’d like to see that change. In the meantime, I want you to look for clothes with STRUCTURE. The average T-shirt has two seams, one under each arm. That is not enough. Look for blouses that have darts under the bust and seams that create a waist. Instead of covering yourself in an oversized button-front shirt, wear a lightweight jacket. And when it comes to dresses, go for deep V-necks, defined waistlines, and skirts that float away from the body.
If you’ve got thick thighs…
The best way to camouflage them is with an A-line skirt. Second best: wide-leg trousers.
If you’ve got cankles and you want to wear a dress…
This one’s a toughie. First of all, never, ever wear an ankle-strap shoe. While a high heel will narrow the ankle’s appearance a bit, a super-sexy shoe will draw the eye down to your cankles. So, look for a dress that brings attention upward and a shoe that blends. If you have cocoa skin, wear a brown pointy-toe. If you’re beige, try a nude patent shoe. If you are still not comfortable with the way you look in a dress, a pair of tuxedo pants and a sparkly top can be very chic for evening.
If you’ve got thick calves…
Look for a dress with a skirt that floats away from the body and hits just below the knee. Avoid embellished hems. Instead, wear solid colors on the bottom and use embellished necklines to draw attention upward. As for cropped pants, have them hemmed to about an inch or so below the widest part of the calf.
If you’ve got Bingo Wings (a.k.a. plump arms)…
When you carry your weight in your upper arms, you may find the sleeves of many garments to be too narrow. Generally, I tell clients with this issue to look for lightweight knits, preferably a spandex blend, which will stretch slightly to accommodate larger arms. If it’s too warm to wear a knit, look for lightweight tunics that have kimono-style sleeves; they’ll provide nonbinding coverage. Many short-sleeve shirts can also be altered to fit a larger arm. I have often asked tailors to cut a banded sleeve and add either a button-and-loop closure on the outside of the sleeve or some hidden elastic on the underside.
If you’ve got narrow shoulders and a large bust…
It’s pretty rare that I’ll recommend a shoulder pad, but in this instance they can be incredibly helpful. A larger chest looks more at home on a larger shoulder, or at least a straight shoulder. If your shoulders have a natural slope, you can appear as though the weight of your bust is pulling you down. Ask your tailor to reinforce the shoulders of your jacket with quarter-inch pads — not with Linda Evans-style pads — and your body will look more balanced.
Where the boobs are
When I’m speaking to a large audience about style, I will occasionally get bored of listening to myself yammer on about structured jackets and medium-rise, dark-wash, straight-leg jeans. So, I will abruptly change the subject by declaring, “Do you know what time it is? It’s time to talk about your boobies!” Nervous giggles inevitably erupt.
I’ll say, “The most significant thing a woman can do to change her silhouette is to be professionally fitted for a bra. It’s true! Nine times out of ten, a woman’s narrowest part is under the best — if her boobs are sitting in the ideal spot. Would you like to know where the ideal spot is?”
Eyes widen and heads nod. Some women will even plead, “Please, Clinton, tell us!”
And I continue, “For the ideal silhouette, your breasts should hit halfway between your shoulder and your elbow.”
This next part amuses the crap out of me. Inevitably, I will see the tops of many heads as women gaze down at their chests, and I make a mental note about the collective IQ of the group because I like to judge people. It makes me feel smarter.
“No, no, no,” I say. “You can’t see where your own boobs hit by looking down at them! You have to go home, strip down to your bra, and look in the mirror! Or better yet, you can invite a friend over and have her draw a line on your arm with a Sharpie and write, ‘YOUR BOOBS HIT HERE.’ If your line is in the crease of your elbow, you need to hoist those babies up. If your line is on your shoulder, you need a new plastic surgeon.”
Then we all just tip our heads back and laugh and laugh … But seriously, when shopping for a bra, you need to be fitted by someone who has been professionally trained, not a 16-year-old who’s got a part-time job at the mall. When fitting themselves, most women make the mistake of buying a bra that’s too small in the cup and too big in the band. With a good bra, most of the work is done by the band, not the straps. That band should be snug but comfortable, and it shouldn’t pinch. If you can fit one finger between the band and your body, you’re probably on the right track. If the straps are digging into your shoulders, that’s a sign that the band isn’t doing enough of the work and you might have to go down one band size.
Excerpted from "Freakin' Fabulous" by Clinton Kelly. Copyright (c) 2008 by Clinton Kelly. Reprinted with permission from Simon and Schuster.