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Be Your Best in a Dress

A flattering dress is the busy woman’s most important wardrobe essential. Here’s how to find the perfect fit and simple style for your perfect shape.

Jeans may be the most-worn item in your closet, but the right dress can be your most valuable wardrobe essential for an easy, simple style.

A dress is easy and fast: Zip it up, slip on your shoes, and you are instantly pretty and put together. With so many different styles available these days, there’s at least one to flatter your specific body type, accentuating the positive and hiding the rest.

Check out advice from fashion experts below and learn how to find the best dress style for your body shape.

If You Are: Pear Shape
For those smaller on top than on bottom — like Charlotte (Kristin Davis) from Sex and the City — emphasizing your bust and shoulders and minimizing the bottom half of your body will help balance your look and style. Here’s how:

  • Go for A-line “The word ‘A-line’ should be a permanent term in your vocabulary,” says Christina Joy, a New York City-based personal stylist. The shape is more fitted to your body on top, and starting at the waist, gradually flares out, like the letter A.
  • Add interest up top Simple styles with a scoop neck or V-neck draw the eye up to your decolletage. Both enhance your bust ever so slightly, helping to offset a wider lower body. Pleats or ruching (gathered fabric) along the neckline also focus attention upward.
  • Play with color Seek out styles that feature a bright color or print on the top portion of the dress, and slimming black or a darker shade on the bottom.

If You Are: Full-figured
If your M.O. is to cover up in flowing, loose-fitting styles, try to change your thinking. The extra fabric can end up visually tacking on extra pounds. Instead, go for body-skimming dresses that are neither too clingy nor oversized. Queen Latifah’s simple style is a perfect example. Here’s how to do it:

  • Look for an empire waist This style of dress features a band or seam that sits just under your bosom rather than at your natural waistline. The silhouette helps minimize and smooth a rounder middle while emphasizing your bust and neckline.
  • Avoid too much structure Structured dresses can be hard to fit. Instead, try boxier sheaths and simple shirtdresses, says Joy. Bonus: They’re incredibly comfortable.
  • Try prints Instead of vertical stripes, which everyone expects, go for something fresher, such as a subtle, vertical animal print like zebra or python, says Lloyd Boston, host of “Closet Cases” on The Fine Living Network and author of Before You Put That On.

If You Are: Curvy or Hourglass
If this describes you, proportion is working in your favor with a similarly sized bust and hips and smaller waist — picture Joan (Christina Hendricks) on “Mad Men.” A dress that shows off your slim waist is the perfect fit. Here’s how to get the look:

  • Be a wrap star Wrap dresses are easy to wear and appropriate for work or an evening out. They tie at your waist, nipping in the area and bringing attention to it, and the V created at your bust subtly accentuates that area.
  • Belt it Dresses that come equipped with belts and flare out slightly also compliment this feminine shape. Or you can choose a simple shift frock style and add your own belt. Black patent styles go with nearly everything and can be dressed up or down, says Boston.
  • Choose fabrics wisely You may want to avoid shiny satins, which draw attention to everything that’s underneath. Also avoid jersey and fabrics with a lot of spandex, which hug your curves. Wools, cottons and linens (even those with a touch of Lycra) will fall nicely.

If You Are: Slim or Athletic
Several styles and fabrics work for your frame and can flaunt hard-earned muscle tone. But because these body types tend to be straighter, a dress that creates subtle curves and has a feminine touch will get you noticed. Check out these tricks:

  • Consider halters Halter dresses, which wrap around your neck, not only spotlight buff shoulders and back; they can lift and boost your bust, adding some shape. It’s a perfect cut for a party dress or sundress.
  • Create a waist Slim figures lacking curves can get them easily from a wrap dress or belted style. They nip in at your waist, giving the illusion of an hourglass figure, says Joy.
  • Have fun with prints Prints and abstract patterns, plus textured fabrics, add depth to your frame.

If You Are: Large-busted
Many amply endowed women consider their figure both a blessing and a curse, says Joy. The curse part comes when you’re trying to find dresses that flatter without revealing too much. Here are a few tips:

  • Stay smooth Skip styles with ruching, ruffles or other extra fabric or embellishment at the bust line. They only add to what you’ve already got going on in that area. If you like embellishment like beading or sparkles, look for it at the waist or around the hem.
  • Try crewnecks A sleeveless crewneck sheath dress is a great conservative pick for a simple style, since without added cleavage, attention is often diverted away from your chest. Find one that also cinches in at the waist and narrows at the hips to emphasize the rest of your shape.
  • Visit the tailor If you can’t find a dress that gives you enough room up top, buy a larger size and have it altered to fit. Yes, you’ll spend a little extra, but if a dress fits everywhere, it will make you feel great, and you’ll wear it often. And if you do find a serious bargain, getting it tailored to fit perfectly can make the item look more expensive.

If You Are: Petite
Everything on you is smaller, so try to avoid any flourishes, large, busy prints or styles that will overwhelm your body. You do, however, want dresses that help you stand out; otherwise, it’s easy to fade into the background because of your size. Think sleek and minimalist with a twist, such as color or embellishments. Here’s how:

  • Avoid extra material Maxi dresses are trendy, but their wider cuts, added layers and floor-length hems swallow up a small frame. Body-skimming silhouettes that fall anywhere above the knee are better style choices.
  • Pay attention to seams Dresses with seams in the center front and center back can elongate your body, helping you appear taller.
  • Love color Petite women can “disappear” in a room when wearing black, says Boston. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you, by choosing other colors even if it’s, say, a deep blue. But also think beyond the standard hues and try metallic bronze, silver or gold dresses.
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