Evolution of an Outfit: a lesson in styling

For my birthday this year, one of my best friends suggested we attend Herr Kettner’s Kabaret, which was hosting a special event with The Candlelight Club. My answer was something along the lines of “Squee!” which is 13-year-old girl for “what a great idea, let’s do it!”

Fortunately, during my recent online shopping binge, I discovered this plum-coloured fringed dress by Phase Eight, on sale from £130 to just £29:

You can’t tell from my terrible photo, but it’s a mini dress with sleeves and VERY long fringe.  Now, when I bought this dress, I knew that the sleeves and neckline were perfect for me.  I also knew that the length would be awful, showing my pudgy knees.  Worst of all, the long fringe hanging from my chest would completely hide my waistline, making me look like one gigantic lump from boob to chubby knees.


Don’t believe it?  THIS is what the dress looks like on me:


I defy ANYONE to refer to this as “flattering.”   This is one of the worst photos I’ve seen of myself recently, and I’m posting it here publicly for your amusement.  That’s love, people.  That’s dedication to my craft.

I HAVE to show you this appalling photo, because otherwise you won’t appreciate the final transformation.  No, it’s not the MOST unflattering dress I could wear.  Yes, there are many women built like me who wear dresses like this all the time.  THIS is why they shouldn’t.  Just because you have pudgy knees and a kangaroo pouch from carrying 20 lbs of newly-minted human inside you doesn’t mean you have to LOOK like you have fat knees and a marsupial belly.

Now, I’m already wearing micro-fishnets, which have the miraculous ability to make the tree-trunkiest legs look toned and shapely, but the first thing to fix with this outfit is the length and lack of definition around the waist.  I did this by turning the dress into a shirt, and topping it with a midi-length firm-knit pencil skirt (this purchased in the half-price sale at Wolford, a UK-based luxury hosiery company):


Notice how merely covering my knees instantly makes my legs look infinitely better? I bet you didn’t even realize how much you were looking at my knees until I covered them. THIS is why I worship the midi-skirt, wear lots of opaque tights, and cry when my things shrink in the wash.

Seriously, if you have unattractive knees, just admit it to yourself, and cover them.  I know it’s not easy.  Most clothing manufacturers are either too cheap to use the 2″ of extra fabric necessary to make skirts knee-length, or they think all their customers are teenage girls.  Fortunately, black opaque tights conceal all ills, and never go out of style.

The skirt also gives some desperately-needed definition at the waist, although it is still largely concealed by the extra-long fringe. I could solve this with a belt, but for this occasion I’m going a step further.

For ultimate waist definition, I turn to one of the heroines of my wardrobe, the Morticia corset from What Katie Did:

I have a “curvier” figure. That is to say, I have a natural 12-inch difference between hips and waist (10 inches is standard). With most corsets, by the time they begin to cinch in my waist, they have also created extremely unsightly fat bulges on my hips and back. Niiiiiiice.

As you can see, there are no such issues with the Morticia. I can cinch my waist as much as I like without any overflowing flesh anywhere else. I’d like to add that while this corset is quite expensive (especially for a woman who can’t stand to pay full-price for anything), it is worth every penny. It’s constructed to survive a nuclear holocaust and is surprisingly comfortable.

At first I wasn’t sure if the corset would go over or under the fringe, or even over the fringe at the sides but under the fringe at the front and back, but I LOVE the way the fringe looks dangling from the hips, so over it is.

Now on to accessories:


There’s a lot going on just with the purple fringe. Plus I’m wearing pink-and-gold brocade 1920′s style flapper shoes (sadly largely concealed by the grass), so I decided to keep everything else pretty minimal.

I’ve finished off the outfit with long black jet vintage beads, a black leather wrist band with an antique cut-steel buckle (made by me – the bracelet, not the buckle.  I’m not yet old enough to be able to claim to have made actual antiques), an antique silver chainmail purse, silver-and-pearl art deco earrings, and a silver headband.

After this photo was taken, I remembered a feathered headband I’d made several years ago which ended up being perfect, which you’ll see in later photos.

I topped it off with a 1930′s black and red reversible silk-velvet cape (discovered at an antique mall in Salina, Kansas, where it was disguised as a child’s Dracula costume).

Outfit assembled, on to hair and makeup!

Photo on 14-06-2013 at 16.35 #2I went with super-pale skin, LOTS and LOTS of black eyeliner all around the eyes, and dark purple-red lipstick at the center of my mouth for a subtle cupid’s-bow look.  I didn’t bother with marcel waves or pincurls as I was commuting to the party by train and I knew the wind and possible rain would just ruin the effort.


Here I am, posing for a stranger as I arrived at Kettner’s in the big gay heart of London.  The commute was particularly enjoyable as people literally gasped as I walked past.  I’m guessing the swinging fringe made quite an impact.  One woman even gushed that she’d just seen The Great Gatsby and said I looked like I’d just walked out of the film.

Please note that I was 100% correct about the British wind ruining my hair.  Fortunately I had remembered to put a tiny comb in that purse.

So, that’s the lesson: If you know your body well and understand what to hide and what to show, with a little creativity you can take something that looks awful on you and make it look freaking amazing.

That’s the power of styling, people!

I’ll leave you with some of the amazing photos from the night.

PS. The professional shots are by Hanson Leatherby, Gentleman Photographer.  He’s St Martin’s-educated,  bursting with talent, and for hire.



on “Evolution of an Outfit: a lesson in styling
3 Comments on “Evolution of an Outfit: a lesson in styling
    • I have long dreamed of the day you’d say that! I’ve been dressing people up out of my wardrobe since I was 8 years old. I see no reason I shouldn’t continue doing so for many years to come.

  1. Pingback: Dana Forlano | Dressing Well is Part Magic: a tutorial with terrible stick-figure drawings

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