Wednesday, 04 February 2015
The Dressing Well Blog
Mary Lou Andre

Four Good F Words

By Mary Lou Andre

Welcome to the inaugural issue of our Dressing Well Blog. We are excited to bring timely and relevant fashion tips and ideas to you a few times each month using this new format. Some of our ideas will be shared via bulleted tips. Other times, our stylist team will share personal and client stories to make an interesting style statement.

We’d like to make our blog as interactive as possible. Please leave a comment about something we’ve shared (we love the power of group commentary!) and don’t forget to let us know what you’d like to hear more about. We’re listening and eager to respond.

To get things started, I thought I’d outline our signature “4 Good F Words” that are the cornerstone of the work we do helping clients develop their personal style. Whether shopping in your closet or shopping at a store, adopt these words as a way to build a wardrobe that truly fits and flatters all your many personas: 

Fit. Many people settle for a less than perfect fit, which negatively impacts overall style. Take the time to know your correct size in the brands you wear the most (women: petite, missy, plus or some combination; for men: regular, short and long are the standard differentiators.) Proper fit is the single most important factor in wearing your clothes well. Designers and manufacturers cut and size clothing differently, so experiment by trying on more than one size to achieve perfect fitting clothes. Also, don’t skimp on alterations. There is no substitute for a good fit.

Fabric. Today’s fabrics are as comfortable as they are fashionable. Gone are the heavy, stiff fabrics of yesteryear. Now, you can find clothing that fits and flatters any figure type, and you don’t have to sacrifice comfort. Be sure to look for fabrics that are appropriate for the climate as well as the situation you are wearing them for. Some fabrics greatly aide a polished appearance while others detract from it. If you work in a formal business environment, save your most casual fabrics for weekends and the like. Fabrics should also work for your internal thermostat and skin tolerance. If you run cold, wear and layer multiple natural and manmade fabrics. If your skin is sensitive to a fabric, consider layering it over silk or cotton which typically irritate skin less. If you are often too warm, choose natural fibers, which breathe well.

Function. Making your wardrobe relevant to your life and easy to wear on a day-to-day basis is another key concept of our dressing well philosophy. When trying on core pieces in your wardrobe, take them through the paces of your typical day. Raise your arms as if reaching high on a shelf. Is your mid-section bared in an inappropriate way for work? The slit in your skirt may look cute while standing in front of the mirror, but does it reveal too much when you’re seated at a meeting? Take public transportation to work? Commuter shoes, along with protective and sharp outwear for each season is a must. If playing with kids fills most of your days, mobility is probably important, so shoes and casual separates that get you out the door fast (and are easy to wash and care for) probably make the most sense. Shop with function in mind and you’ll be sure to actually wear what you’ve bought with more confidence (and style!).

Flair. When you’ve got the first three F words mastered in your wardrobe, it’s then time to consider adding some flair. How will you make the outfit your own? Think like a professional painter. He or she starts with a clean canvas and then creates their masterpiece. Color, jewelry, belts, bags, hosiery, shoes and outwear are all ways to add a healthy dose of signature style when developing how you want to present yourself each day. Many people start with flair on their quest to be more stylish. Yet, if you don’t have a handle on how fit, fabrication and functionality of core pieces in your wardrobe interplay with your accessories, you end up having the outfit wear you instead of you wearing it.

Last Word
Taking the time to get master these 4 concepts is the key to dressing well – promise!

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About the Author

Mary Lou Andre

Mary Lou Andre is a nationally recognized wardrobe, dress code and corporate image consultant, speaker and author. She is founder and president of Organization By Design, Inc., a Needham, Massachusetts-based wardrobe management, fashion and image consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations understand the power of being appropriately dressed in a variety of situations.

Learn more about Mary Lou » 

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Kristy Alberty 2015-02-04 12:08

Of all the "F" words (giggle), the one I struggle the most with is: Fit.
I had my first professional alteration last year after much trepidation. But, it wasn't as expensive or scary as I thought, and now, I set aside skirts for alteration before I wear them.

The "F" word that has meant the most to me, following Mary Lou's book, has been to identify fashion "function" in my life--afterwards, I worked to audit my wardrobe to fit my current lifestyle, and to re-organize my closet into the "work" side and the "casual" side, then the "special events" section, etc.

The four "F words" are a great mantra to practice! :)

Mary Lou 2015-02-04 20:58

Fit is by far the most critical aspect of Dressing Well. Congrats to you Kristy for diving into the world of professional alterations. 

One of the first things I did when I moved into my home town of Needham, Ma over 20 years ago was to get a referral to a good tailor. Jimmy is now like family and we joke that the referrals we have sent his way probably paid for his two daughters weddings! My twin boys love him (mom, do you think Jimmy can fix this?) my husband is in awe of him (Jimmy fixed a rip in the tarp of his boat canvas!) and he has made my clothes fit perfectly through many stages of my life -- including a twin pregnancy! 

Bottom line, we'd rather have a client have fewer clothes that fit perfectly than tons of things that don't fully hit the mark.

Thanks for your comments. Really great!

Chris 2015-02-04 13:42

Hello Mary Lou,

I had thought of writing in to tell you my idea of a Question of the Month for your website. Where you answer a reader's question. This is a great idea: to have a monthly blog.

My question would be: should ankle pants or pants cropped at the ankle or just above it only be worn sockless with loafers or sandals or mules. Or can they be worn in early spring weather like in NYC with socks and loafers.

I know skinny jeans are worn sockless unless you wear booties with them.

So I thought these kinds of questions could be answered once a month.


Mary Lou 2015-02-04 21:00

Thanks for your post, Chris.

Many of our clients have a tough time figuring out footwear in general. Shoes can make or break an outfit so giving them some thought is important if you want to be well dressed from head to toe.

I find myself saving cropped pants for warm weather so I don't have to think about hosiery with them at all. I am a fan of peep-toe booties in a variety of heel heights as a transitional shoe for spring and do wear them both with and without hosiery with skinny and boot-cut jeans depending on the weather. 

Last year, I jumped on the Toms shoe craze and did wear those (sockless!) with my cropped pants and skinny jean when I was really casual (kids baseball games, grocery shopping and the like.) I wear skinny jeans all winter long tucked into both tall and short boots. Not sure I'd actually personally reach for loafers anymore but do understand their comfort relevance and can picture you looking cute in them in NYC both with and without socks! I recall seeing a celeb recently in a magazine wearing cropped pants with cuffs, socks, loafers and a pea coat in NYC and the look was sharp, especially with a messenger style bag and cap. It's really how you think the outfit through and piece it together.

Our stylists will be keeping close tabs on our blog so that we can all weave questions like this into our commentary. We really appreciate your comments -- thank you!

Phyllis Fredericksen 2015-02-05 10:10

Great code to help dress well. Fit is so important and I have finally learned that! It has made me more discerning when I go to the store and that's a good thing because I buy only something that fits very well or something that I know my tailor (invaluable asset!) can fix for me. This also means it has to be worth the tailoring cost.

LD Siess 2015-02-05 10:19

Oh, "Flair" is my favorite - and its fraternal twin, "Finesse"! I like how you help us to understand what makes a look work (or not). With that knowledge, we can tweak our looks to show off our distinct personalities: "Fun"! Thanks!

Boh 2015-02-05 15:59

Just a bit of clarification... Does the blog need a separate registration from the original dressing well news letter?
Love the idea.
Have to support Mary Lou and Kristy's comment re good alterations = so much more is possible

Sabina 2015-02-05 16:37

Hi Boh, Dressing Well web manager Sabina here. We’ll be sending notifications about new blog posts to the original Dressing Well email newsletter list, so if you’re on it now, you’re all set to receive future updates--no separate registration necessary. Thanks for stopping by!

p.s. For anyone reading this who isn't on our email list but would like to be, you can find the sign-up in the upper right corner of this page.

Debbie 2015-02-05 16:30

I love the idea of this blog, Mary Lou. I was always hoping you would publish another book. This will be a great way for you to keep us current. All of these wonderful words keep us from being too much of a 'frump'. We are certainly having fun with these 'f' words.
I live further north in New England from you, and I have always wondered (as Chris) about socks and skinny jeans. Will you be posting pictures?

Pat Cooper 2015-02-05 17:27

Will you be doing anything on plus sizes? I have transitioned form work to retirement and I am still working on "my look". Fit is particularly difficult for me in pants as they seem to make everything so looooong now that I have become a "petite"

Michelle Owings-Chri 2015-02-05 17:39

Fit can be quite a challenge. I don't have a tailor. I have, however, decided not to buy anything if the fit is not perfect. It's nice to know that every garment I own fits me and looks good.

Deirdre 2015-02-05 18:58

I find that fit is the hardest of the "f" words to achieve but that's why I use a tailor to fix the fit. Fabric, function and flair are much easier. I enjoyed your first blog, keep up the good work.

Mary Lou 2015-02-05 22:01

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments today. Nice to log on and see them after a busy day.
Looks like "fit" got the most "feedback!" (And here I was thinking the photos of Tom Brady would get all the buzz!)
Our blog is up and running and I am grateful to everyone in our dressingwell community for keeping our message alive and well. Tune in next week for some great closet organizing tips from Sarah Zengo on our team!

Paula 2015-02-06 10:39

I need some help please. I am moving from a Corporate America job to a smaller company who say "we dress casual" but I want to fit in. Should I skip the suits and wear dress pants and blazers? When I do wear jeans in the office I usually wear a crisp white blouse and a blazer.
Can you help me convert?

Mary Lou 2015-02-06 12:12

Hi Paula --
We can certainly help. If you live in New England, I suggest a private one on one coaching session with one of our stylists. We also have a highly effective virtual consulting program that allows clients to interact with members of our team via their computer. Please email me directly at if you are interested in exploring either avenue. Happy to answer questions and facilitate getting you some help to appropriately "convert" your wardrobe for your new job.

Deby 2015-02-06 17:56

I have been a fan of yours since you published Ready to Wear, and I'm so glad that you have finally begun a blog. Every season I look forward to your 10 style recommendations for the season. I work in a casual environment, but I am a manager, and even though I wouldn't wear a suit (it would be viewed as "overdressed"), I do strive to put together professional outfits with a casual creative edge, and I find your seasonal recommendations to be quite helpful.

With regard to my particular "F", I would consider Fabric to be the most problematic for me. I am fond of natural fibers over polyester, although I have come to learn how to work with rayon. I do like ponte knit. I think the fabrics of today feel a little too flimsy at times.

Case in point, this year I sought to replace my down parka, which I wear on a daily basis at this time of year for business and casual. I wanted a parka with a bit of style, I didn't want to look like I was about to go hiking. Every name brand retailer I shopped had a variety down parka styles and colors, but since "lightweight" is the word of the day, these garments, while rated to be very warm, were usually constructed with a super thin outer shell, so that I was a suspicious of their durability. I ended up not buying a down parka this year for that fabric reason alone.

I am looking forward to your upcoming posts and advice!

Angela 2015-02-08 08:29

Fit is probably the biggest struggle for me, as I am a Tall-Plus size. Very few companies offer anything (outside of swimsuits). If you could address it on the blog (tips, company suggestions, etc), I'd appreciate it.

Jeanne OBrien 2015-02-12 21:30

Over the past several years, my business travel obligations have increased to 100%. Needing immediate help to keep my professional wardrobe looking professional, I contacted Mary Lou. Mary Lou magically reworked my closet - she updated some of my favorite outfits with different accent pieces and suggested new separates and accessories that are travel friendly. Mary Lou's attention to detail - regarding the correct fit (I am 5'9") function and fabric made it clear - Mary Lou is a subject matter expert. Thanks, Mary Lou!

Mary Lou 2015-02-13 14:47

Great to hear from you Jeanne. Thanks for sharing your experience. I don't think people always realize the unique fit challenges facing folks that are tall. Dress and skirt hems for business need to fall just right and I equate getting pants that fit our taller clients to a giant treasure hunt. We now know Theory pants are a great fit for you and longer jackets balance out your long torso. Hope these insights help others. For the record, I loved every minute of our "treasure hunt" -- here's to many more!

Nadine M Dougherty 2015-05-21 11:51

i have never used the 4 concepts but it will help me put the right things together.