How do I pick a dress for my wife?

2014-03-21 10.31.01

Last night I had two female friends over for dinner, while Barbara was out as a judge for a Business Woman of the Year Award. When she came home, my friends oohed and aahed over the dress she was wearing, and Barbara told them that I had found it for her. One of my friends asked me later: “How do you figure out what dress would look good?”

I am sure that not everyone would care, but I do have a methodology, and I thought I would take the time to share. Many people won’t read it, many more won’t finish…and at least a few women will print this out and staple it to their husband’s foreheads!

Getting Started

First, I have developed a sense of what colours in general work for Barbara. As a natural blonde with a few strands of silver in her hair, blue-green eyes, and usually a bit of suntan from hiking or running outdoors, there is a whole palette of colours that look good on her. And some that make her look like she just got out of prison! I almost always use colour as my first filter.

Next, there are certain cuts that don’t work: she has a long torso, and looks hideous in anything with an Empire waist. Because she is so slender, many dresses look great, but certain lower necklines can make her sternum look bony. I think a 52 year old woman with the best legs in the world has nothing to fear from a mini-skirt! But some dresses can have features that are too girlish, and inappropriate for someone Barbara’s age. Pussy bows. Pouf sleeves.

Since this post is intended to be read by men, I can picture someone not wanting to learn about pussy bows and all the other nomenclature. Fine: you don’t need to know a single one of those terms. The basics can be found here, and as long as you think of any dress as being composed of these 5-6 elements, you are good to go.

Often I just buy a dress because I think it will look nice. But sometimes Barbara needs one for a specific event, and that usually informs my thinking and helps me find the ‘perfect’ outfit.

Case Study #1: Reykjavik Speech

This is about the dress Barbara was wearing the other night. B had been asked to give a keynote speech in Reykjavik in March, to about 250 women at a financial literacy event. Barbara has always said that nothing boosts her speaking confidence like wearing a new dress: she feels sexy and powerful and energized. The picture at the top shows her being interviewed by the Icelandic State broadcaster in the new Harpa Concert Hall.

Not only does Barbara look good in that specific blue-green shade, but the colour makes me thinks of the sea. Not the Mediterranean blue, but a kind of North Atlantic on a sunny but cool day. Next, the white semicircles reminded me of whitecaps, and the seas around Iceland are always whitecapped due to the constant wind. It felt very nautical, and just a bit resonant with the natural surroundings.

Finally, the dress has hundreds of tiny cutouts, so that you can actually see Barbara’s skin (or lovely lingerie) peeking through. Not very much, and nothing inappropriate. It wouldn’t work for an audience of mainly older men: too much prurience. But for an audience of young, fashionable, Scandinavian women, I thought it was a bit daring, a bit edgy, and with just the right whiff of sexiness. Not only would Barbara be energized wearing it, but the women in the crowd would be impressed by her audacity, and more receptive to her sometimes-provocative message.

 To me, the dress REINFORCED who Barbara is, what she was saying, and where she was saying it.

Case Study #2: Tel Aviv Video Shoot

One of my other tips to prospective male dress-buyers is to have a few go to stores. When we are in Vancouver, there is a small boutique on Alberni St. called Blubird. I don’t think I have ever been there and NOT seen something that Barbara liked, and frequently on sale. This January I was in Vancouver on my own, and found two dresses that I was very confident she would like, so I bought them, even without her trying them on! (Warning to husbands: this is the advanced class. I wouldn’t have done this a few years ago.) I stuck them in my suitcase, and surprised her with them when we rendezvoused in Calgary the next day. She was thrilled, and I told her that one would be perfect for her upcoming video shoot in Tel Aviv on International Women’s Day. How did I arrive at that conclusion? Take a look at the picture below:

2014-03-08 10.21.19-1

As always, I started with colour. Tel Aviv is also known as The White City, due to the large number of Bauhaus buildings. We had managed a holiday in Hawaii before the Predictions road show started, so I knew Barbara would have enough of a tan to pull off bright white. This was for a video shoot. The first thing to remember about video is that the camera loves solids. Any kind of colour contrast can be distracting, so the monochromatic would be best. As a final subtle touch, there was a texture to the dress that reminded me of the plaster detailing used on some of the Tel Aviv buildings.

Unlike the Iceland dress, the Israel choice was not sleeveless, but had t-shirt sleeves. I would be the first to say that I love Barbara’s arms and shoulders: she works hard at the gym with weights and kettle bells and even gymnastic rings to get that muscle definition. But older women who are very fit tend to have lost some of their subdermal fat, and at certain angles their arms can look very “veiny.” That’s not much of a problem when you are on stage; the audience is too far away. Still photography also is fine; the photographer chooses shots that don’t look unflattering. But video is problematic, and it is all too easy to have a few segments that do NOT look good. So some sort of sleeve was a good idea.

Finally, Barbara gets nervous about video shoots. Like many other women, she tenses up, and stands like a little girl with her legs crossed, and rolls her shoulders forward. Which looks TERRIBLE on video. What works best is a strong, upright, and balanced stance, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The dress I chose had a very fitted bodice (shoulders back!) and the flared skirt naturally encouraged Barbara to adopt a power stance. The results speak for themselves.

Case Study #3: Did I mention the importance of colour?

2012-08-10 17.45.18

The price was good, the neckline is good, and the jewels are a nice touch. But for a blonde with blue green eyes, the dress above will always make them look amazing. We picked out this dress YEARS ago, and Barbara still wears it multiple times per summer.

I think every husband should get to have as much fun as I have been having. It allows us to turn something that might be a chore into an activity we both can participate in. It saves us tons of money, because Barbara never ends up buying outfits that don’t look good: the most expensive dress you will ever own is the one you don’t wear! Instead, she knows I love her outfits, and that makes her happy, empowered, and adored. Which is a good thing for me too. 🙂

[Special thanks to my friends Jane Dragone and Marcia Wisniewski, for providing me with the inspiration for this post.]

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