How To

By Lauren Flaum

Picture, if you will, a store full of dresses and you’re looking for the perfect frock for yourself. All shapes, colors, sizes and fabrics. Clothing racks become your enemy; you’re weighed down with an excess of options and nothing that looks just right. Some say shopping is therapeutic, but when the heat is on and you need your dream dress, you just might need therapy when all is said and done. Be it a wedding, work function, meeting the boyfriend’s parents or even your own birthday party, for some getting dressed is more than half the battle.

This season, designers have tapped into these concerns and come up with a solution that is so simple it might induce some forehead slapping. The idea, my friends, is one dress for many occasions. Can it be done? With the right attitude and a closet full of accessories (which I’m guessing you have or are more than willing to purchase), it’s as easy (on the hips) as Weight Watchers cherry pie.

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The New York-based clothing designers behind the Purdy Girl line (www.purdygirlnyc.com) have got you covered. And if you wear their new line of frocks, you’ll be covered in 60′s inspired prints, muted tones like yellows mixed with browns and other Purdy prettiness. The founders, sisters Nadine and Corrine Purdy, believe that the perfect dress is one that doesn’t cost a bundle of your hard-earned Washingtons and one that you can “get a lot of longevity out of.”

For their spring collection, Nadine looked to the past. “I was inspired by old girly films. Old Hollywood,” she said. This translates into “lots of prints; lots of color. We have mini dresses, and we have floor length (dresses),” Nadine said. “We have dresses for every occasion.”

Although the designs themselves take inspiration from the past, you shouldn’t. Single-situation clothes are passe’ – after all, we’re New York women on the run, we can’t be bothered to pull a Clark Kent phone booth change every few hours. Purdy Girl is confident that their dresses are versatile enough to live up to your schedule. “We have dresses that you can wear to a wedding and then throw on flip-flops and wear to the park,” said Nadine. Now you just need to figure out where to stow the picnic blanket during the ceremony.

Iconic designer Norma Kamali has taken the idea of the multi-occasion dress to Evel Knievel heights. She designed a dress for the Spiegel catalog (www.spiegel.com) that can be worn eight – count em, eight – different ways. Ladies, this is definitely not your granny’s dress. “For me it is a dress that is timeless and classic and appropriate for many different body types and it’s great because it’s only $79 and it can be worn eight different ways,” Kamali said about her Timeless™ All-In-One Short Dress. A jersey material and machine washable to boot, the dress can be worn strapless, as a halter, one-sleeve, long-sleeved, shorter, longer, as a skirt or as a combination of the aforementioned. With a dress this good, you find yourself forsaking pants.

Kamali believes one-occasion dresses are old-fashioned. Instead, she thinks the perfect dress for today’s city gal is “something that is timeless, easy care and that she can have a lot of fun with.”

As for the dress with more uses than a Swiss army knife, Kamali believes it’s a style that looks good on anyone, no matter her body type – or trimester (yes, you can even wear it with a bump).

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Another brilliant pick for any body type is Susana Monaco’s Bra Gather Dress. A favorite of the Purdy Gurls (and Oprah!), it’s practically guaranteed to please. “This dress just looks good on everyone,” Nadine said. “It fits everybody. It’s forgiving in the hips and flattering to the chest.” Gathered in the top, with a v-neck, the dress comes in long and short sleeve. Find it in one of the Purdy Girl’s three NYC boutiques or on shopsublime.com for $154.

The ultimate accessory to complete your newly frocked self? Shoes, shoes, shoes. According to stylist Christine Struble, your choice of shoe can change everything (and maybe even bring world peace). Struble has worked with some of New York’s finest, including celebs and recording artists, not to mention one very famous (or should I say infamous) socialite. One of her clients even includes the MVP of the NYC fashion scene herself, Ms. Sarah Jessica Parker (sigh).

Her shoe picks going into spring include two blasts from the past that will make you wonder why you hobble around on stilettos like you have stigmata. “Platforms are huge right now – and Mary Janes,” she said. “Everyone wants a pair of Mary Janes.”

Purdy Girl Nadine says she’s “a wedge and platform kind of girl.” Her recommendation for bringing a formal look down a few notches: leather flip-flops, but, she gushes, “I think a great wedge just goes with everything.”

Hang on, ladies, not done yet. There’s still the finishing touch, the piece de resistance, if you will: the purse. And when wearing a dress this upcoming season, not just any bag will do, according to Struble. “You gotta always go with the classic clutch,” she quips. Sure, but what if you’ve got a lot to carry? Consolidate, toss it, make your man carry it…whatever! It’s all about the look. Struble’s advice: “If you’ve got a beautiful dress and a hot pair of shoes, you don’t want to have something hanging over your shoulder. You want a clutch.” These are the sacrifices we make for fashion, so suck it up, dahlings, and hold on tight (to your clutch, that is).

When choosing a dress this spring – no matter the occasion, no matter your body type, no matter your budget – and even if you only glean one itty bitty thing from this article, just remember this of stylist Struble’s stellar suggestions and you can’t go wrong: “If you’re going to follow fashion, then you need to learn to tweak it and make it your own.”

Originally published February 2007
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