Future Reflections         Special Issue: The Teen Years

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Looking Good Without Looking:
A Guide to Personal Style for the Visually Impaired

by Linda Zani Thomas

Linda with her daughter MarissaReprinted from the Braille Monitor, January 2010

From the Editor: Linda Zani Thomas serves on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey. In 2009 she conducted a fashion workshop at New Jersey's state convention. The workshop was so popular that she decided to put some of her tips into writing. While most of this information is geared for girls, guys may find a few helpful hints as well.

Introduction

As a blind person you will have much more success in becoming a style and fashion icon than a sighted person. Oh yes, you heard me correctly! Vision can be misleading, and in personal style it can be just plain confusing. Sighted people tend to copy the fashion sense of those they admire, and this can get them into trouble. Just ask a sighted friend, and you will hear a litany of fashion disasters, from dressing like Madonna to trying to copy that popular girl in class. Chances are you look different from other members of your family, your friends, or your classmates, and one of them probably wishes she or he looked like you. Trust me, having vision causes people to make lots of errors when they aspire to have the image of someone else instead of accepting and celebrating their own physical gifts. Discovering and embracing your assets is the cornerstone of your unique style and image.

Self-assurance in your personal style will help others see you as smart, self-disciplined, a good decision maker, and someone who pays attention to detail. As you become more comfortable in your skin, your self-confidence increases, putting others at ease and leading to better personal relationships. Cultivating your own personal style is a discipline that will benefit you in all areas of your life.

In this article you will learn:

What looks best on you.
How to choose fashions and trends that fit your personal style.
How to determine what colors suit you best and how to use color to convey your personal style.
How to master shopping tips, tricks, and resources.

Step 1: Find Your Natural Shape

For this all-important first step, you will need a measuring tape. A tactile tape measure is available at the NFB Independence Market  (<www.nfb.org/nfb/NFB_Market.asp>) or at  <www.independentliving.com>. Measure yourself in your underwear. You will also need a small notebook and scotch tape for this and the other steps. This notebook will become your personal stylebook. Jot these numbers down in your stylebook so you will have them to show the salespeople when you go shopping.

You will need to record five basic measurements:

Circumference of your shoulders. Measure around from the outer edge of one shoulder until the ends of the tape measure meet at the beginning.

Circumference of your bust and circumference underneath your bust. Measure at the fullest part of the bust and then again just under your bust, over the ribcage. The first measurement gives you your bra size, and, if you subtract the second measurement from the first, you will get your cup size. An A cup is a one-inch difference, a B cup is two inches, and so on.

Circumference of your waist. Measure at the smallest part, above the navel.

Circumference of your hips. Measure at the fullest part of your hips.

Now for the fun part, determining your body shape and figure type. There are five basic body shapes.

Hourglass: Bust and hip measurements are about the same, with waist at least 25 percent smaller. This shape is the most balanced figure type. Personal style goal: not to throw your look out of balance.

Linear: Bust, waist, and hips all have about the same measurement. Women with this body shape tend to be athletic-looking or thin. Personal style goal: to add the illusion of curves.

Upper Curvy: Shoulders or bust are the widest parts of the body. Personal style goal: to balance the upper and lower figure proportions by minimizing the upper figure or maximizing the lower figure.

Middle Curvy: Bust and waist are about the same measurement and are much larger than the hips, or waist is the largest measurement. Personal style goal: to minimize the waist and balance the upper and lower figure proportions.

Lower Curvy: Hips are the widest part of the body. Personal style goal: to balance the upper and lower figure proportions by minimizing the lower figure and maximizing the upper figure.

Step 2: Determine Your Clothing Size

Now that you know your measurements, you can determine your clothing size. You may be two different sizes, one on top and another on the bottom. What follows are typical American sizing charts to help you get started.

misses sizes

size

x-small

small

medium

large

x-large

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

bust

32

33

34

35

36

37

38½

40

41½

43

waist

24½

25½

26½

27½

28½

30

31½

33

34½

36

hips

34½

35½

36½

37½

38½

39½

41

42½

44

45½

 

women's sizes

size

1X

2X

3X

16w

18w

20w

22w

24w

26w

bust

43½

45½

47½

49½

51½

53½

waist

37

39

41

43

45

47

hips

45½

47½

49½

51½

53½

55½

Step 3: Choose the Right Silhouettes for Your Shape

Now for some more fun--choosing garments that give you the right silhouette to balance your figure or, for hourglass-shaped women, to keep you in balance. Here are some basic dos and don'ts.

Hourglass: Fitted clothing looks great on you. Floaty tops are fine, but make sure they are fitted to the small of your back to emphasize your waist. Wear flat-front pants and skirts to keep a smooth line. Color trick: dark bottoms and lighter-colored tops. Cropped tops, boxy miniskirts, short-pleated skirts, crewnecks, dropped-waistline, or empire-waistline dresses are probably not going to work for you.

Linear: Create curves with floaty, ruffled tops. Shoulder pads work on you, as do jackets that cinch the waist and flare at the hip. V-neck and scoop-neck tops work well on you. So do belted looks. Your goal is to emphasize your waist in order to create a middle curve. Boxy, straight tops and dresses and fitted, spare tops probably are not your best choice.

Upper Curvy: Your tops should contain minimal details; tunics look great on you. One-button jackets, long dusters and swing coat styles work well on you. Fit and flare skirts will work for you, as will wearing dark colors on top and brights or prints on the bottom. Lightly fitted sheath dresses look beautiful on you. Avoid pencil skirts or tops that are too fitted or tight.

Middle Curvy: Wear tops that skim the body and do not tuck them in. One-button jackets that reach your hip are a good choice, as are tops with U-, V-, or scoop necks. You will find belts difficult to wear. Try wearing light colors on top with darker colors on the bottom or monochromatic dressing (all shades in one color family). A-line, empire-fitted sheath dresses work well for you, as do flat-front, bias-cut skirts.

Lower Curvy: Balance your figure with boatnecks and cap sleeves--bell or flared sleeves are probably not best for you because they add volume when your hands are by your hips. Jackets and tunics should cover your derrière--shoulder pads are okay as are lightly fitted shirts. Boxy, double-breasted, or bolero jackets will probably not work on you. Tight tops with no structure, especially short tops, will throw your figure out of balance. Flat-front, flared-leg pants are a good choice for you, as are A-line and wrap dresses. Avoid tops and dresses with empire waists. Try light colors on top, dark on bottom.

Experiment with what looks best on you. Then record your dos and don'ts sheet in your stylebook to help you find your best fashion styles quickly when you're shopping. Most large departments stores such as Macy's, Lord and Taylor, and Nordstrom have personal shoppers who will work with you within your budget at no charge. They even may offer free alterations, including hems, on regular-price items.

Step 4: Choose the Perfect Outfit for Each Occasion

Before you go to a job interview or head out with friends or a date, take a moment to consider what you want the outcome to be. How do you want to be perceived? How do you want to be remembered? Then dress accordingly. My tip is that, if it occurs to you while you are getting ready that maybe you should wear something else, listen to that thought. Change your outfit.

Control the message

When you feel confident and dressed right for the occasion, you control your message even before you open your mouth to speak. There is much truth in the old saying that you have only one chance to make a good first impression. Sighted people make a judgment call on vision alone right from the get-go. The fact that a visually impaired person can nail that first perception with excellent wardrobe choices will be impressive!

Your choice of color can also bolster your image. Experts suggest wearing charcoal gray or dark blue for a job interview, red to stand out when taking a leadership role or speaking in public, baby pink to be irresistible on a date, and ivory to project a feeling of serenity when hosting an event. For expert fashion advice read The Look by designer Randolph Duke.

Not sure what to wear? Please feel free to contact me. I can be your personal style consultant. You can reach me at lindazani@aol.com.

Step 5: Finding Your Best Color Palette

Choosing the right colors to wear is as important as finding the right silhouettes for your figure. To look your best, you can't have one without the other. Color choices say a lot about the wearer, and, just like clothing silhouettes and styles, they telegraph to anyone with sight a lot about who you are. Each color creates a different emotional reaction and set of assumptions in the viewer. It's not only important to wear the colors that are most flattering to you, but also to wear colors appropriate to the message you want to convey about yourself. Here is a list of colors and the emotions they elicit.

Red: excitement, confidence. Red draws attention to itself and stands out. If red were a scent, it would be a blooming rose or cinnamon. If it were a sound, it would be Pavarotti holding the final note of "Nessun Dorma."

Yellow: happy, bright. Yellow also draws attention to itself. If yellow were a scent, it would be lemon. If it were a sound, it would be Mariah Carey singing her highest note. Light yellow is a soft color and would taste like lemon custard.

Blue: serene, fresh, peaceful, spiritual. In its warmer tones, blue can be calming, and it can be invigorating in its cooler tones. If blue were a scent, it would be the ocean. If blue were a sound, it would be rushing water.

Green: friendly, welcoming, relaxing, natural. If green were a scent, it would smell like mint or freshly mown grass. If you stand still in the woods in the summer and listen, that is the sound of green.

Purple: regal, sophisticated. If purple were a scent, it would be fragrant lilac. If purple were a sound, it would be a saxophone.

Orange: happy, welcoming. If orange were a scent, it would smell like an orange or an apricot. Orange feels like sunshine on your skin.

Light pink: gentle, feminine, soft. If light pink were a scent, it would be baby powder. It feels like a feather on your skin. Bright pink or rose is happy and feminine. It would taste like strawberry jam.

White: pure, heavenly, angelic, honest. If white were a scent, it would smell like clean sheets when they come out of the dryer. If white were a sound, it would be a breeze.

Ivory: warm, sophisticated. If ivory were a scent, it would be vanilla. If it were a flavor, it would be vanilla custard or dulce de leche.

Brown: warm, earthy, sophisticated. If brown were a scent or flavor, it would be warm chocolate cake. Brown sounds like James Earl Jones's voice.

Black: serious, mysterious, intense. If black were a scent, it would be incense. Black feels like the night.

Gray: a sophisticated, elegant neutral. It conveys quiet confidence. Gray feels like a cashmere pillow or a fine mist on your skin.

Determining Which Shades Look Best on You

Each color has both warm and cooler versions or shades. Warm colors have a bit of yellow to them and work best on women with warmer skin tones. Cool colors have a bit of blue in them. To determine which shades look best on you, it is helpful to determine which category you are in, warm or cool.

Step 1: Hold two necklaces, one gold tone and the other silver tone, against your face. If you cannot see your image in a mirror well enough to be sure, ask someone you trust to tell you which color is more flattering. If you look better in gold, your skin has a warm tone; if silver, your skin has a cool tone.

Step 2: Let's break it down still further. According to a great book called Life in Color by Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo, those with warm coloring can be divided into sun or earth groups; those with cool coloring are divided into moon and star groups. You can determine which of these groups you belong to by holding up two different colors to your face in natural light and choosing (or having someone whose taste and judgment you trust advise you) which looks best. These colors correspond to Benjamin Moore paint swatch colors 2020-30 Sparkling Sun and 2169-30 Oriole for those with warm coloring, and 2061-60 Little Boy Blue and 2062-30 Blue Danube for those with cool coloring. You can get paint chips at any Benjamin Moore store to do this exercise. The book Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson calls these groups winter, spring, summer, and fall. Some salespeople may be familiar with these terms, so I have listed them below as well.

2020-30 Sparkling Sun: Sun/Summer. Suns look best in clear, tropical colors with a yellow base such as saffron, coral, and apple green.

2169-30 Oriole: Earth/Fall. Earths look best in rich, deep hues with a yellow base such as berry, moss, chocolate, and deep teal.

2061-60 Little Boy Blue: Moon/Spring. Moons look best in light, clear, blue-based colors such as strawberry, sky blue, lavender, and pink.

2062-30 Blue Danube: Star/Winter. Stars look best in rich jewel tones with a blue base such as ice blue, true red, and ultraviolet. Black looks best on Stars.

Once you've determined your color group, your best bet is to choose colors with either warm or cool tones that are in your color palette. Another thing I like about Life in Color is that the book has removable color chips by group in the back. For those without access to the book, don't despair. You can hold scarves or pieces of material of different colors up to your face to determine which colors look best on you.

Once you have a pile of color swatches or scarves that look great on you, you can take those items to the paint store and have the manager scan them into the computer to determine which paint colors correspond to them. Your stylebook will come in handy again. Tape your paint color chips or swatches into your stylebook to guide salespeople at your favorite clothing stores. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can take a snapshot of any item. Use the ColorCapture application from Benjamin Moore or the ColorSnap application from Sherwin-Williams to translate your snapshots to paint chip colors.

Streamline Your Wardrobe with Your Personal Signature and Basic Colors

The best way to build a wardrobe is to choose one or two basic colors, called "neutrals," to showcase your silhouette and form the building blocks of your outfits. Neutrals are grounding and calming; certain neutral shades will work best for your color palette.

Sun/Summer. Suns look best in medium, warm brown; chocolate brown; and ivory. Grays are probably not ideal for you.

Earth/Fall. Earths look best in brown hues with a yellow base like chocolate or camel or medium light khaki. Medium or light gray and olive green are probably not a good idea.

Moon/Winter. Moons look best in cool grays and dark navy blue. Beige and brown colors are not good for Moons.

Star/Spring. Stars look best in cool medium to dark gray or bright white. Beige, mustard, and olive green will probably not work for you.

Suits, skirts, and pants in your basic colors will form a base for you to pop your tops and accessories with your signature colors. Your signature color is whichever shade in your color palette (Sun, Earth, Moon, or Star), not a neutral, gives you the most joy and makes you feel just right. It will be the color or colors that make you look the best when held up to your face and that fit your personality. Do let me know which is yours.

Step 6: Streamlining and Organizing Your Closet

First, here are some basic tips.

All-Important Undergarments

 

Linda's Modern Wardrobe Basics for All Ages

These items will take you through your errands and leisure time:

Jeans, 2-3 pairs: black, dark denim, white.

Tops: building-block and signature-color solids, a couple of prints.

Jackets, shrugs, shawls in your signature colors and silhouettes.

Shoes/boots: building-block colors (2), signature color (1).

Handbags (2): building-block color, signature color.

Jewelry: in building-block and signature colors.

Add these for working women:

Suit, 3 pieces if possible: skirt, pants, jacket in building-block color.

Dresses: in building-block and signature colors and prints.

Dress shoes: in building-block colors.

Dress coats, long and short: in building-block colors.

Briefcase: in building-block or signature color.

Hats, gloves, scarves, shawls: in signature colors and prints.

Jewelry: in building-block color and style, use signature color in work-appropriate style.

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