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Dressing down no call to get shirty

Date

Wendy Squires

MANY years ago I had the surreal experience of waking up and hearing one of my dearest friends being interviewed on the radio.

After being told he had won an award at a ceremony the night prior, I heard my old pal Mark Patrick ask excitedly, ''Do I get a prize?''

''Er, no,'' came the reply from the female announcer. ''You won an Ernie Award for the sexist comment you made that women over the age of 35 shouldn't go sleeveless.''

''Oh,'' Mark replied dejectedly. ''I don't understand what's sexist about that. It's true. Are you sure there's no prize?''

Lying in bed hearing this mess I both laughed and groaned simultaneously. You see, Mark really didn't think his comment was offensive. I know him well enough to realise he meant it as a community service of sorts.

As someone with long history in fashion, design and public relations, as well as a having an innate and enviable sense of style, he believed he was simply imparting a well-known fact.

Once he was off-air I rang Mark, only to hear my friend still crestfallen. ''Good dress sense isn't about sexism,'' he told me. ''It's about making the most of your strengths and knowing how to disguise your weaknesses.

''It's the same as saying men with bad legs shouldn't wear shorts or that hairy-backed types and men over a certain age must never wear singlets as outerwear,'' he continued. ''It's just modesty, manners and respect. I am just honest enough to tell women what their best girlfriends should, but don't.''

The reason I am recalling this story now is that in the past few weeks I have been shopping with friends for New Year's Eve outfits. And despite being a diehard feminist who believes women should wear what they want, when they want - mutton be damned! - I have to admit I've bitten my tongue on several occasions when girlfriends have asked me ''what do you think, honestly?'' of their style choice.

I'm not sure there is a right answer to this question - it's like the male quandary when asked by a female partner, ''does my bum look big in this?'' So, in light of my New Year's resolution to be more honest, and based entirely on my personal aesthetic and sartorial ethos, here's what I would have said if I was as blunt as my friend Mark.

Thought about a cardigan? I don't like my upper arms. Yes, I'm eternally grateful to be able-bodied so please don't bother tweeting me to point out my good fortune. I just don't like the dimpled skin texture, the wobble, the way my bra forms fatty folds resembling breakfast snags under my arms. And so, since I turned 40, the sleeve, shrug, cardigan and wrap have become my constant friends.

So, to the friend who tried on a strapless gown for my judgment that gave her an extra shelf of breast, unsightly back flaps and bingo wings, when I said ''I personally love a princess neckline'', I meant that dress is not flattering. At all.

Tight ain't always right. All women should celebrate their shapes from Christina Hendricks' curves to Kate Moss' concaves. The trick is to buy clothes the right size. Squeezing into something too small means underwear lines, muffin tops, bra dimples and an inability to breathe. So, to my friend who refuses to accept she is no longer her teen dress size, just because you can still squeeze into a size 10, it doesn't mean you should wear one.

Don't over-egg the pud. Sequin dress, fine. Sequin dress and so much jewellery you've become a human wind chime is not. Pick one item to dazzle, not all, to avoid looking like a kooky kaleidoscope or a certain friend whose Christmas party outfit choice was so strobelight spangly it could induce an epileptic fit.

Leggings are not pants. Camel toes belong on dromedaries. And even then they are unsightly. If in doubt things are a bit snug around the rug, wear a long shirt. Or even better, a skirt.

Undies aren't always optional. Feel free. Be liberated. But if you are wearing a miniskirt, please still wear knickers. Yes, that means you at the recent party dancing Gangnam and flashing gyno.

Beware of wearing weapons. The new trend of studs may be fashion fierce, but they also can pierce. So, to my giddy friend at the party's end last week, helping you to a cab was my pleasure. Your studded handbag and jacket my pain. Such outfits should come with HAZMAT tape and a first aid kit.

Honestly, I could run a marathon in these heels. This, I am afraid, is a lie women tell often and rue daily. No, my friend who wears those ludicrous drag-queen-from-hell clumpy monstrosities gay designers are torturing women with of late, you can't run in them. You also can't walk in them. And when you attempt to, people overtaking you on the footpath are laughing. They think you are silly, not stylish. And I don't think their opinion would soften if they knew each pair cost you $1K-plus for your pain.

Wow, being this honest is liberating. Maybe it's time I point out those false eyelashes some women are sporting lately look like dead cockroach legs, or that fluoro colours should be seen on Guantanamo Bay inmates, witches hats and cyclists' jackets only.

Then again, that's because apparently I looked like a giant basketball when I wore a bright burnt orange dress recently. How do I know this? Why, I have friends as kindly as Mark to tell me.

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