Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 26, Tuesday July 1, 2008


designer disguises

You know what they say about the importance of first impressions, and how they have a lasting impact. Now, call it unfair, but the first judgment people make of you is usually based on what you wear. Clothing is the first clue absorbed by the eye before the brain judges first impression. In fact, clothes have become the most important judging factor of first impression, and in this day and age, where the package counts as much as the product, it could be the difference between a new job and another rejection; it could be the beginning of a love story.

"I always say good clothes open doors." This comment came up over a cup of coffee with bespoke couture designer Samuel H. Fresh from the UK, Samuel made his debut in Dhaka on December 15, last year, in a special showcase featuring his menswear collection. The only male designer at Etc's recent Fashion Exclusives launch, he introduced Diva-esque, his western clothing line for women exclusively for Dia Asiana, and is soon floating his fashion PR and model management company Slash Inc, along with co-partner Mehnaz Faisal.

Asked about the rising emphasis on presentation, Samuel, munching on one of the delicious cookies he's recently gotten hooked on, said, "Of course the pressure to look good has gone up. On one hand there's the increased exposure to international media. On the other is the fact that disposable income has risen in the past few decades. More people can actually spend more on personal effects, and one of those things is image. Even designers aren't spared!"

"I think the particular danger for people in Bangladesh right now is that they're not entirely sure of their identity, in terms of style. What with the whole Bollywood/Hollywood thing coming on top of our own cultural heritage, we're talking a major case of information overload. This leads to unrealistic standards of beauty. Let's take this Subcontinent's insane obsession with fairness, for example. You walk into a supermarket and find a dozen different fairness products, and realise that they're on the shelves because people actually buy this stuff. And that's just the beginning"

Injecting some optimism into the conversation, Samuel added 'There are positives too. With more women opting for higher studies, entering the corporate world, going out there, as they become more aware of the importance of good presentation, they are not only aiming for it themselves; they are demanding more of it from their men. They're saying, alright, you want a beautiful partner, but why should I settle for a sloppy, unkempt guy? That in my opinion, is real girl power, not the Spice Girls formula of baring skin and wearing platform shoes."

Steering the conversation to focus on the deshi scene, Samuel says, 'An interesting thing about the local scene is that people here are not brand-obsessed as people are in the West. Sure, brand names are important, but here you find the flexibility that allows people to experiment with new names and new products. And of course, there's Gausia, and there's New Market; proof that the best buys don't necessarily have to have a designer label attached to them."

So what are the rules for dressing to flatter one's physique? Smiling impishly, he says "Forget dogs, forget diamonds; a good tailor is your best friend!" According to the designer, the popular adages about black being a slimming colour, and so on and so forth, are highly exaggerated. "If you weigh something like 300 lbs, black isn't going to magick the flab away. More than colour, the cut and the texturing of the fabric works towards creating the desired shape." So here are Samuel's tips on how you can have muffin tops and still make hearts stop.

For men
The average height of men in Bangladesh is 5' 7", and the physiques range from ultra-skinny, to beefy (tendency towards muscles) and, well, obese.

For thin men, it's a good idea to opt for layering techniques, like wearing a vest under the shirt, or going for double-lining or double stitching. This might be difficult in the hot summer, where the only other option is to avoid stripes, and bold prints, and instead select fabrics in solid colours, preferably neutrals. Opt for richer fabrics when wearing white, to add solidity. Hide a skinny neck with polo shirts.

For muscular men, there is that annoying tendency to flaunt their bods. Usually, this backfires. Rule of thumb for t-shirts should be that they drop below the waist and cover the belt. Shirts should be one size larger, instead of body-hugging, and sleeveless shirts are a big no-no, unless you're in the gym.

For those men who are carrying evidence of prosperity around their bellies, avoid bold prints, and stick to thin stripes or patterns with a vertical effect, and pastel colours. As far as possible, avoid tucking the shirt in, and if this isn't a viable option, go for a shirt that's at least one size bigger than yours. Choose strong colours for trousers and go for regular fits or straight-cut jeans.

For women
Again, the deciding factor is the height. The same curves can lend a tall woman an attractive hourglass figure, but end up making a petite woman look pear-shaped. With the average height for women being around 5' 2", the odds are usually against us. Of course, we have the advantage of being able to wear high heels, so we're a little better off than our male counterparts. Try out these tips and tricks to further that advantage:

Slim down a chubby bod, or add height with vertical-effect patterns like pinstripes, chalk-stripes and herringbones. Opt for monochrome, and dark, solid colours in smooth fabrics in light to medium weight. Long, narrow necklines in V and U shapes would also have a slimming effect, as would long, tapered sleeves or raglan sleeves.

Camouflage flabby arms by avoiding sleeveless blouses, tops and tees. The best options would be well-tailored three-quarter length sleeves or pagoda sleeves.

Baby's got back? Hide a large seat with a pencil cut skirt, or a fitted jacket that cuts the behind at mid point. De-emphasise a burgeoning belly by opting for empire waists. Baby-doll tops, which are all the rage right now, would be just the thing. The empire line is suitable for the woman with heavy hips. The cut hides bottom heaviness because the seam, known as the empire seam, is sewn directly below the bust line, allowing the skirt to flare out underneath.

Loose clothes make a large woman look tent-like. Instead, go for clothes that are fitting, but not tight. Busty women should avoid plunging necklines in tops if they are conscious of their large bust and go for draped necklines, wrap over or classic fit tops. If you've got broad shoulders, on the other hand, avoid wide necklines. It is advisable to stick to V, U or even round necks that can be flattering if styled well.

One question that heavy women over here find themselves asking at some point in their lives is: to churidar, or not to churidar? The good news is, yes, you can. A pear shaped woman can still wear churidar with fuller gathers at the calf provided its paired up with high heels and the slits of the kameez is not more than 2” as opposed to nearer the hips.

Skinny women can find recourse in padding for curves and baggy or regular jeans as opposed to skinny jeans. In terms of dresses, the princess line is perfect for a slim figure. It imparts the silhouette and accentuates body contours.

In the end, dressing tricks can help flatter your assets and downplay your disadvantages, but nothing beats a healthy lifestyle, with a proper fitness regimen that's suited to your unique needs. As Samuel H puts it, “There are various dos and don't in fashion but the rules are irrelevant as the primary focus of personal image and style is a positive attitude towards life, confidence and to dress according to age and social grace.”

By Sabrina F Ahmad
Note: Keep a lookout for the conclusion of this two-part article, which will focus on fitness and health issues concerning body image.


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