If your New Year’s resolution includes your closet, read ‘Style Evolution’

  What better time than the start of a new year to take stock of one’s wardrobe and decide if an upgrade is in order. Yes, for many of us, money is tight and times are tough, but fashion pros will tell you that money isn’t the key to being stylish — it certainly hasn’t helped the assorted Hollywood actresses who go around looking like bag ladies and/or hookers.
   The key to looking good is simple, while easier said than done. It is choosing the right clothing, the right hairstyle, the right makeup — for you. To that end, Kendall Farr comes to the rescue. She wrote the terrific book "The Pocket Stylist," which helped a woman analyze her body shape and choose the most flattering clothes for herself. Farr takes the concept a step further with "Style Evolution: How to Create Ageless Personal Style in Your 40s and Beyond." Despite the title aimed at “women of a certain age,’’ "Style Evolution" should be on the bedside table of any woman ready to create a grownup, signature style for herself.
   Many of us find it difficult to objectively look at ourselves and know whether a particular kind of garment would look good on us. Or, we might realize that we’re a little — or, maybe a lot — outdated, but we don’t know where to start to update our look.
   Farr, a New York-based stylist, explains and demonstrates (with illustrations by Anja Kroencke) why certain styles of pants, skirts, tops, jackets and dresses work best on particular figures. For example, slim-cut cigarette style pants would best flatter one woman, but another would look better in bootcuts — or in a particular style of skirt.
   For those of us — you know who you are — who look like a walking shrine to those college days of feminine glory, Farr provides guidance in updating. And for those who let no trend go untried, she had a different kind of advice. After all, the term ‘‘mutton dressed as lamb’’ is not a compliment.
  Does this mean we should throw all our clothes in the nearest donation bin and go buy more? Absolutely not, Farr says. Rather, weed out those clothes that are worn out, that don’t fit properly, that don’t make you feel good when you wear them. It’s better to have one outfit that makes you feel pretty or classy or like a million dollars than have a dozen mediocre ones.
   From then on, buy less, but buy better. Save up — don’t go into debt — for quality clothes and shoes that are a pleasure to wear, that make you feel and look great and that will last for years. Add those items slowly, one by one, after thoughtfully considering what you need to build on what you have.
   In a time when people are losing their jobs and their houses, fashion might seem to be a frivolous pursuit. It isn’t. In difficult times, it’s even more important to take care of ourselves. It’s nurturing. It’s soul-satisfying. It’s smart. A good appearance might be the tipping point in persuading someone to give us a job or a break. Taking pride in the body we have leads to taking better care of that body, feeding it better, moving it more, getting out and participating in the world.
   One of the pleasures of watching movies from the ’30s and ’40s is noting how women dressed then. The words ‘‘grownup,’’ ‘‘elegant’’ and ‘‘glamorous’’ come to mind. True, we live in a more relaxed and laissez-faire society. However, trend-watchers say Americans are easing into more formality in dress. On their way out are the drooping, beltless pants, clothes that resemble pajamas or, the skimpy garments worn by other denizens of the night. Gaining ground: serious clothes for serious times. For job hunts, for negotiating with money people, for getting some needed respect. To that end, "Style Evolution" is a great handbook.
   I’m reminded of photos from the ’30s, of lines of people waiting for soup or bread or a job. Women in dresses or, if they had them, tidy little suits, men in trousers and shirts with collars and jackets. Clothes faded, perhaps, or mended, if need be, but neat. Dignified people, doing their best to cope.


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