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Holiday style: How much cleavage is too much?

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/11/19/05/rNQGt.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Kevin Winter - Getty
    DO: Sofía Vergara’s natural and elegant look at a movie premiere in Hollywood is a cleavage “do.”
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/11/19/05/TnAgn.Em.138.jpeg|473
    Cindy Ord - Getty Images
    DON’T: Vergara’s famous bosom is mashed and smashed at a gala in New York City.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/11/19/37/GDUac.Em.138.jpeg|457
    Jason Kempin - Getty
    DON’T: Singer Jennifer Hudson’s breasts are pushed up into an unnatural shape and more than three inches of cleavage is showing. Not a good look for Charlotte social events.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/11/19/37/1mUH3C.Em.138.jpeg|495
    Andrew H. Walker - Getty
    DO: At the 2013 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, model Miranda Kerr shows why the Gentle Valley is the cleavage ideal. Her breasts have a natural shape, they’re not touching, and less than three inches of cleavage is showing. This classic take on cleavage is always in style.

More Information

  • Choosing the right bra
  • Do’s and don’ts

    When it comes to putting your bosom on display, here are guidelines from the experts.

    Do dress for the occasion. A glimpse of cleavage is a classic look, but for any kind of work-related event it’s inappropriate. Stick to higher necklines that keep cleavage under wraps.

    Do take care of your décolletage, the skin that covers your chest. If you’re unhappy with that area, skin brightening ointments such as Lytera or laser resurfacing may help.

    Do go to a professional for a bra fitting. The correct bra will lift and separate your breasts, but not push them together. The cup size should be big enough so nothing spills out.

    Don’t try to fit a size 8 bosom in a size 6 dress. Always buy a dress to fit the largest part of your body, then have an alterations person take it in.

    Don’t show more than a maximum of three inches of cleavage (one or two inches is ideal). If you show too much you run the risk of becoming the joke of a party, or making guests feel uncomfortable.

    Don’t mash and smash the breasts together. The breasts should have a natural shape and should not be touching.



Too much cleavage and too little dress.

From holiday parties to black tie galas at the Ritz-Carlton and fundraising luncheons at Ballantyne Hotel & Resort, observers of the Charlotte fashion scene say they’re seeing more of the style misstep over the last few years.

The majority of women get it right, but there are always one or two whose display is not quite appropriate for many of the social and charity events that go on almost daily in Charlotte.

When man-about-town Jordan McGee, manager of the women’s boutique Coplon’s at Phillips Place, is introduced to a woman showing too much of a good thing, he says “Hi, nice to meet you!” But “good lord!” is what he says runs through his mind. “Then, as the night goes on, I try to stay close enough to witness any Janet Jackson/Super Bowl XXXVIII action that may happen,” he quips.

Yes, showing a bit of cleavage is a classic look that will never go out of style. But when you get it wrong, you run the risk of becoming the joke of a party or making guests feel uncomfortable.

That’s what happened to actor Alec Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Thomas recently when she attended a gala in Washington. The top of her gown did not leave a lot to the imagination. Twitter was abuzz with mocking commentary the following day.

For the do’s and don’ts of cleavage, we turned to Shelly Domenech, owner of I.C. London lingerie at the Village at SouthPark. For more than two decades, she’s been fitting women in bra sizes from 30A to a 46M and beyond.

“Don’t mash them and smash them together,” Domenech says. “What you want is a ‘Gentle Valley’ – just a hint of curve that’s sexy without being Frederick’s of Hollywood. The breasts should have a natural shape and they should not be touching.” As a general rule, the amount of cleavage that should be visible is 1 or 2 inches – 3 inches at the most.

When the breasts are pushed up into unnatural shapes and more than 3 inches are exposed, it’s called Hard Cleavage. If that same look occurs, but the breasts are touching, it’s what fashion insiders call the Butt Crack. You’ll see this look at formal social events in Charlotte. It may have had its moment a decade ago, but it’s outdated now, experts say.

Look back at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2003 when Heidi Klum was the star “angel” modeling the million-dollar bra. Her bosom was pushed up and deeply exposed. Last month at the 2013 show, this year’s star “angel” Candice Swanepoel rocked the Gentle Valley down the runway.

Some cleavage catastrophes happen because of breast enhancement surgery that was done before some of the newest technology was available. But thanks to new technology, women are better able to gauge the best size implant for their body.

Dr. Stephen Finical of Charlotte Plastic Surgery said a device he’s been using for about a year scans the patient’s body, and then lets the patient vary and view the size of the potential implants in 3-D to see exactly how they will look in a bikini and tank top.

“Before, we would put an implant in a bra and have the patient try it on with a tank top,” Dr. Finical says. “This new way is so much more accurate and really helps women make a better decision.”

New changes in implants also create more natural-looking breast enhancements, he said. “Saline implants were all we had for 15 years,” he says. “Now we have silicone gel-filled implants that are softer to the touch and more mobile, which creates a more natural shape.”

As with any surgery, if you’re considering breast enhancement surgery, consult your physician first and do your research to make sure you understand the risks and potential complications.

Even if you have a perfect bosom, showing off your cleavage is pointless if you haven’t taken care of your décolletage, the skin that covers your chest.

“We have people come in as young as 30 with sun damage in that area,” Dr. Finical says. He recommends a new skin brightening ointment, Lytera. It takes the pigment out and smooths the skin tone. If there’s more aggressive sun damage, laser resurfacing is an option.

A good fit

Whether your breasts are natural or enhanced, Domenech says problems with cleavage begin in the dressing room. “Don’t try to fit a size 8 bosom in a size 6 dress,” she says. “Always buy a dress to fit the largest part of your body, then have an alterations person take it in.”

No matter what you’re wearing – V-neck sweater or a formal gown – always make sure to wear a properly fitted bra. The correct bra will lift your bosom so that if you turn to the side, you see that the breast’s highest peak is at least halfway between your elbow and the bottom of your shoulder. A bra should lift and separate your breasts, but not push them together. And the cup size should be big enough so nothing spills out, giving you the dreaded “Double Booby.”

If the cup is too small, it pushes the breast tissue out and creates another on top and you can see the hard line of where the bra makes an indentation in the flesh, she says. “That’s not attractive and it’s working against what you’re trying to do.”

Then there are the women whose cleavage is flawless, but they’re wearing a strapless dress that isn’t fitted properly. Tugging a dress upward all night long is not a good look. For that dilemma, Domenech recommends fashion tape to anchor everything in place.

One way to avoid any cleavage mishaps is to embrace the off-the-shoulder looks or higher necklines that keep cleavage under wraps.

“Baring shoulders is the new way to exude sex appeal,” boutique manager McGee says. “It goes without saying that there is no harm in leaving something to the imagination. I'm not saying to waist-belt a Hefty bag, but there are plenty of body-conscious, yet covered, silhouettes that translate into a classic and feminine appeal.”

Domenech’s main message for women is to not worry about the size of a dress or a bra. No one else will ever know the label inside them, she says.

But they will know if what you’re wearing doesn’t fit.

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