Your Most Flattering Neckline

When it comes to choosing a T-shirt, blouse, sweater or dress, it’s the neckline that is likely to make all the difference between a look that flatters your figure and one that accentuates your less-than-perfect parts. “Often, when an outfit doesn’t work, it’s because of the neckline,” explains Houston stylist and fashion show producer Todd Ramos.

On the other hand, choose the right cut, and you’ll appear taller, slimmer and more stylish. How to create this magic? You have to factor in your bust size, neck length, height and even face shape. Here’s a guide to discovering which necklines work for you.

Sweetheart, Scoop Neck, V-neck and Square Neck
The collarbone and decollete region is one of the most alluring parts of any woman. Wearing an open neckline that shows it off is going to make most women appear longer and leaner, says Ramos. Lower, open necklines like a sweetheart (which is shaped like the top of a heart), scoop, square or V-neck tend to look good on almost every body type and size. “They bring attention to your face and elongate your upper body, especially if you’re petite or have a short neck,” says Ramos. Just make sure you don’t reveal too much.

  • Tip: If you’re not well endowed, sweetheart and scoop necklines are best at creating the illusion of curves.
  • Bottom line: Great for everyone, unless you’re top heavy or have an especially long neck.

Crew Neck and Boatneck
If you have a long neck, narrow face, small chest or sloped shoulders, a high neckline -- one that rests on or very near the collarbone -- is your best bet. Crew necks and boatnecks draw the eye out to your shoulders so you appear more balanced and proportioned. In this case, the more substantial neckline gives the illusion of square shoulders, a shorter neck, a fuller face and more ample bust.

  • Tip: If you’re pear-shaped, look for dresses in this cut to balance your upper and lower body.
  • Bottom line: Crew necks and boatnecks balance out narrow necks, faces, shoulders and small chests. But on the flip side, these necklines can make you look bigger than you are if you have generous curves, a short neck or broad shoulders.

Cowl-necks, Mock Necks and Turtlenecks
By choosing the right amount of coverage, you’ll find there’s no need to shiver in the name of beauty. A true turtleneck that hits a couple of inches below the chin will whittle away your height, making it best for those who want to offset a long neck or face. A cowl-neck, which is a looser version of a turtleneck, naturally drapes at the chest, creating a vertical line that elongates the body. A mock neck hits slightly lower than a turtleneck and serves as a good midpoint if you can’t part with your more covered-up sweaters.

  • Bottom line: Trade turtlenecks for mock necks or cowl-necks unless you have a long face or neck. 

A Universally Flattering Neckline
Whatever size you are, a halter will flatter your figure. “It gives support and lift to a big bust,” says Ramos. If the halter has a built-in bra, it can create curves where there are none, which is why you see a lot of halter-style bathing suits and wedding dresses. If your arms or shoulders are your trouble spot, Ramos advises topping the halter with a fitted jacket.

The Neckline to Avoid
Strapless clothing may be on every rack in every store, but stylists agree it’s a hard look to pull off -- unless you’ve got flawless proportions and a yoga bod like Jennifer Aniston. “A strapless cut can make top-heavy women spill out, and tall, thin women look giraffe-like,” says Ramos. The silhouette may, however, be a boon to petite women, helping them look taller.

Tweak Unflattering Necklines
If you wore crew necks before you figured out it’s not your most flattering neckline, work the scissors. “Cut a crew neck a few inches straight down the middle,” says Ramos. A T-shirt may fray a little, but that’s in vogue, he says. And if you cut a sweater, a few minutes in the dryer will prevent it from unraveling.

With any lower necklines, there’s the risk of going too low and looking inappropriately sexy. Whether your top goes too deep or a V-neck is not your best look, try it over a camisole or slim-fit collared shirt before you toss it. “Layering can breathe new life into a too-revealing top,” says Ramos.

Must-have Spring Accessory: The Belt

Updating your spring and summer wardrobe is a cinch this year. All it takes are a few well-chosen belts. If the statement necklace was last year’s must-have fashion accessory, the bold belt is 2012’s style essential. From skinny, neon waist-nippers to embellished corset-like hip-huggers, the belt was everywhere on the spring runways.

Embracing the belt can add shape and chic to the most humdrum outfit, says Phoenix stylist Fawn Cheng. “You can refresh a tired dress or an oversized top by cinching it with a brightly colored belt,” she says. The smocked tee that feels about as sexy as a tablecloth? The boho peasant blouse you wore to death last summer and now seems as fresh as expired milk? “They’re both scorning to be tuned into new silhouettes with an eye-catching belt,” says Cheng.

Belts are also crafty accessories when it comes to flattering your figure. If you’re short-waisted, sporting a low-slung belt will create the illusion of an elongated torso. Try a chain-link version for a modern look. Long-waisted? Balance out your proportions with a wide belt worn at your waist.

Here are four belts you’ll want to add to your warm-weather wardrobe:

1. Glitzy. Skinny or wide, elasticized or leather, the statement belt of the season features a bold medallion buckle in plated or hammered gold, silver or brass. Cheng likes to see the wide version worn high on the waist -- right under the rib cage -- to add edgy glamour to a body-conscious dress. Or put a slimmer medallion belt through the loops of your flared jeans or trousers for understated elegance. The Italian designer Balmain offers a half dozen takes on this signature piece, ranging from $800 to more than $3,000. You can find stylish alternatives at stores like Urban Outfitters and Zara for a tiny fraction of that price.

2. Colorful. “Shocking sorbet” is what Cheng has dubbed this season’s collection of belts in vivid hues -- fuchsia, tangerine, baby blue, coral and chartreuse. They’re the perfect way to introduce color into a neutral or all-white outfit. Or, to update a preppy look, consider a neo-neon combination like a carnation pink cardigan punctuated with a lime green patent-leather belt.

3. Safari-inspired. For spring, Michael Kors showed his version of what a chic woman might wear while enjoying cocktails at a luxe gaming lodge. Models strutted down the runway in animal and camouflage prints -- and utilitarian colors like khaki, olive and brown -- all in supple fabrics. The standout accessory was his fashion-forward interpretation of the frumpy fanny pack: a gorgeous burnished leather strap slung twice around the waist -- once through the belt loops and then just below -- tied on one end and with a small leather purse on the other. The purse-belt is perfect for hands-free toting of your essentials. Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Fendi, Hermes and Yves Saint Laurent are all offering their luxe take on the belt bag. You can also find affordable versions from LeSportsac and, of course, Michael Kors.

4. Corset. Thick, waist-cinching belts show off a woman’s ladylike curves. They’re an edgy match -- especially in metallic -- for the peplum skirt you’ll be wearing this spring and summer. You’ll also find casually playful versions in more forgiving woven leather. These look smashing with a traditional trench, a structured jacket, or high-waisted trousers and a white shirt. Corset belts might be a fleeting trend, so you probably don’t want to make this an investment piece. Instead, have a fling with an inexpensive option from a store like Forever 21 or Anthropologie.

Photo: Getty Images

The Most Wearable Leggings

Leggings. The word sends shivers up the spines of women packing even an ounce of extra padding below the waist. But the clingy bottoms -- which traipsed back into style a few seasons back -- aren’t going anywhere. In fact, some of the edgiest names in fashion recently unveiled amped-up new versions of the body-hugging staple for spring 2010.

Never fear. You don’t have to be a size 2 to rock the hosiery-inspired pants. With everyone from Marc Jacobs to Lindsay Lohan creating leggings collections, there’s an avalanche of fabrics, patterns and fits to choose from. And the best news is, leggings -- when they fit properly -- can feel as comfortable as a pair of flannel pajamas.

Leila Baboi, the West Coast staff stylist for Women’s Wear Daily, contends that there’s a pair of stretchy, skintight leggings for every woman -- regardless of age or body shape. What’s the key to pulling off the look? “Pair them with a long and slouchy top,” says Baboi, who has dressed Scarlett Johansson and Ashlee Simpson. “A cropped top or a too-tight tank will throw the balance off.”

Here are some of the stylist’s savvy tips on how to work the lean-and-mean look -- without adding extra pounds or delving into overly trendy territory:

Choose Long Over Cropped
Capri leggings are for spinning class -- not the office. They cut up the line of the body and can make your bottom half look shorter and chunkier. (We’ve yet to meet a woman who wants that!) Instead, get a long-and-lean look by choosing leggings that hit at, or even slightly below, the ankle. Skip the gimmicky stirrup legging: It’s an overly complicated style that’s likely to peter out soon.

Skip Prints
If you wouldn’t have stripes or polka dots on your regular pants, don’t try to pull them off in a legging. Cheetah-print or metallic leggings are strictly for fashion-forward 20-somethings -- and if worn with something simple and oversized on top, can be adorable. Over 35? Stick to solid black leggings or subdued prints, such as a gentle acid-wash or tone-on-tone all-over paisley. Designer David Lerner’s weighty, well-made versions have a marked slimming effect.

Opt for Big Tops
Avoid looking like you’re wearing a unitard, which means you’ll want to balance the tightness of a legging with a roomier style up top. That’s a cinch these days, since big is definitely huge in fashion right now. Boyfriend blazers, oversized tunics, slouchy button-down shirts and baggy sweaters are all perfect companions for leggings.

Look for Length
Pear-shaped figures aren’t exempt from wearing the look but look best with an even longer top. A fetching outfit: Leggings paired with a roomy tank or tunic underneath a knee-sweeping cashmere cardigan.

Legging Jeans
Denim leggings, coined the “legging jean,” are a sexy alternative to all-jersey leggings and offer a bit more thickness of fabric than all-knit varieties. Citizens of Humanity, J Brand and Goldsign all make chic legging jeans. Choose ones that have five-pocket styling on top to avoid the maternity-ish elastic waist.

Leather Legs
Leather and PVC leggings aren’t just for Rihanna and Lady Gaga. The decadent-looking drawers are a chic nighttime option when paired with towering stilettos and jackets and tops that are cut on the longer side. Nor is it a look solely for the young. Worn with a crisp white button-down shirt and statement earrings, leathery leggings are uber sophisticated. But be prepared to sweat -- your legs won’t be catching even the suggestion of a breeze all night.

Shoe-pairing Options
Leggings work with a bevy of different shoe styles. Ankle boots -- heeled or flat -- strappy sandals (again, high or low) and classic flats are all cute options. Just steer clear of ’80s-esque pumps that don’t have a covered vamp (the part of the shoe that covers the smooth, top side of your foot), which can turn a leggings ensemble from sassy to sour in seconds.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/KRproductions

From the It Bag to the Do-it-your-way Bag

There’s good news for style seekers who couldn’t afford the it bags in previous seasons. Today, even celebrities and the most hardcore handbag fans are seeking out styles that don’t scream Gucci or Balenciaga. Instead, in what might be a response to these economic times, fashion buffs are craving something low-key and singular. There’s plenty to choose from: Some designers are hand-stitching peace logos onto sleek little clutches, and others are using faux skins like ostrich and snake and adding a metallic sheen to them.

“I think what’s happening now in handbags is about people having a better eye, about seeing something different,” said Los Angeles-based Daniel Schiffer, whose Endless Leather peace sign-stamped leather bags have been purchased by singer Pink (in pink, of course) and Michelle Obama. “Women want to find a bag that’s classy and that has a real vibration to it, without spending thousands of dollars.”

With prices running anywhere from $100 to over $1,000, consumers have a lot to choose from. The core fall and winter trends include crushed leather, fringe and surface details like studs and grommets. The key? Make it a bag that is not instantly identifiable as coming from a highly publicized designer.

“Having everyone know how much you spend on luxury goods by carrying the obvious it bag is not in good taste anymore,” says Lainie Schreiber, national sales director of the niche handbag line Latico Leathers. “Subtle brands and the confidence to carry bags you love is what’s hot.”

Here’s how to shop the trends:

  • Skins These are important for fall, but if you can’t afford -- or don’t want to carry -- an all-over python bag, look for something with even a patch of faux exotic skin, says Chad Ypon, co-founder of New York-based bag line The Divine Tribe, whose bags have been carried by Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.
  • Shape Jennifer Furio, design director of bag line Tre Vero, predicts that satchels and feminine, chic briefcase bags will be a strong style for women, and Ypon forecasts a demand for roomy totes.
  • Color The colors that define this season are rich jewel shades, including gold, emerald, deep purple, metallic brown, burgundy and steel.
  • Details Look for little surprises on a bag -- a lining in a vintage-inspired pattern, an extra-wide zipper, hidden pockets for coins and cell phones. The hardware -- clasps, locks, zippers -- are all-important, in finishes ranging from antique brass to gunmetal.

Want to try your hand at designing your own bag? Designers say you can easily update the bags you already have in your closet. Charms and pins offer an instant fix. “Many of the couture fall bags are vintage-inspired,” says Schreiber. “Hunt for old pins, buttons and brooches in grandma’s attic or at flea markets, and simply affix to the flap of a favorite worn-in bag.”

Ypon suggests stitching or pasting on a leather or fabric flower patch, or stringing chains and charms through the zipper pull. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, Schiffer recommends cutting up an old, soft leather jacket and stitching together a little clutch. Not so handy? A couple of coats with a dark polish from a shoe repair store is an almost foolproof way to “stain” a leather bag, creating the popular distressed look. Bags made from canvas or fabric can be easily updated by sewing on beads, silver charms or even earrings.

Whatever bag you choose, always wear it with confidence.

Photo Credit: @ iStockphoto.com/WilshireImages

The Costume Hater’s Guide to Halloween

For the preteen set, Halloween is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. But the event can strike terror into the hearts of those who are older and more restrained in tastes. Thankfully, with a little humor, some beauty tricks and a few inexpensive trinkets, getting into the spirit of Halloween can become more of a treat than a trick.

Glamour Makeup

If the thought of donning a costume sends you screaming for the hills, simply amp up your everyday makeup for a high-glam, slightly campy look. “Halloween is a time when women can channel their alter ego,” says Boston-based makeup artist Jody Cohen. If your usual look is nude lip gloss and a swipe of a neutral blush, just wearing a vivid Gwen Stefani-red lipstick and popsicle-pink cheeks will be enough to shock your friends and leave you feeling like you’ve donned an elaborate masquerade.

The finishing touch is false eyelashes. “Really long fake lashes in the corner of the eyes convey a sexy vampire look,” says Cohen. Don’t be intimidated by faux lashes, she adds. With a steady hand, the right amount of adhesive and a little practice, the new generation of fake lashes are easy to apply.

A Head-turning Hairstyle

A statement hairdo can take you almost all the way to a Halloween getup; all you’ll need to add are accessories. One easy look is red carpet ingenue, suggests hairstylist Philip Pelusi, who owns 17 salons in Pittsburgh and one in Manhattan. Set your hair in small or medium electric or Velcro rollers and spritz with a volumizing spray for extra volume. After 15 or 20 minutes, remove the rollers and toss the curls without brushing. Pair with something satiny or shimmery, throw on some fake costume bling and go.

Another inexpensive option: clip-on hair extensions from the local beauty supply store in whimsical colors like gold, yellow and pink. Clip them randomly around your head, slip into the wildest dress from your local thrift store and, voila, Lady Gaga. Or, channel Rihanna with a clip-on hair extension along your forehead to mimic her signature fringe. Apply pomade to the rest of your hair to slick it close to your forehead and gather any long tresses into a ponytail, then tuck them into a hideaway bun. Your outfit should be a pair of skinny jeans, high-heeled boots and faux diamonds from the costume store.

Shop Your Closet
Everything you need for a sexy and spirited Halloween is probably already in your closet. Los Angeles-based fashion stylist and vintage-store owner Brenna Egan says that with a little black dress or leggings and a black tee, you’re 90 percent there. “Grab some waterproof eyeliner and draw whiskers, cat eyes and a cute button nose to morph into a kitty cat,” she says. “Fishnets -- if you’re wearing a dress -- and platforms vamp it up.”

For an irreverent wink at Halloween, don gold leggings or tights -- you can find these at your local Target or American Apparel -- along with a gold tank and lots of faux gold bangles and necklaces. Carry a small garden shovel. What exactly are you dressed as? A gold digger, of course.

Photo: Corbis Images