Vivian Cherry has lots to like about her looks – clear, youthful skin, a warm smile, slim figure and long, lean legs.
But with a job hunt underway, she was ready for a new style that would modernize and freshen her first impression for the next job she lands.
“I feel like I need a new change in my life,” Cherry said last week, while undergoing a one-day makeover at SouthPark Mall.
Friend and fellow Delta Sigma Theta sorority member Sondra Hines nominated Cherry for the Charlotte Observer SouthPark Mall makeover contest, saying she hoped the makeover would boost Cherry’s spirits during her search for an office manager/administrative assistant role with a nonprofit company.
“If she was down to her last dime, Vivian would give it away – her heart and spirit are huge!” Hines wrote in her nomination letter.
Suzanne Libfraind, SouthPark Mall’s personal stylist, worked with Cherry on a makeover that included a wardrobe consultation, hair and makeup services and a $100 Simon Mall gift card.
Libfraind borrowed clothing, shoes and accessories from a variety of stores to create looks that would educate Cherry on ways to dress stylishly for work, weekend and nights out.
At Carmen! Carmen! Salon e’ Spa on the top floor of Belk, senior stylist Lisette Johnston colored Cherry’s hair to make it a tad richer and darker, cut about 2 inches off the length, added side-swept bangs and showed her how to style it to frame her petite face.
Cherry said she had a “light bulb moment” when esthetician Shana Mills waxed her brows. (She had plucked in the past, but waxing created the illusion of bigger, brighter eyes.)
At the end of the day, Cherry walked away with a new look and a new outlook on shopping, dressing and grooming her petite figure.
“The little tips that she gave me about being petite and buying clothes that are petite were helpful, and I’ll think about that when I’m going shopping,” Cherry said. She said she’ll also shop armed with fabric swatches showing the colors she and Libfraind picked out as their favorites.
The 5 key takeaways
Power-dress a petite frame. Cherry is 5 feet 3 inches tall, which puts her in the “petite” category, according to American designers.
Women who are 5-3 or shorter should almost always shop in stores’ petite departments, Libfraind says, because petite clothing is cut smaller to accommodate higher armholes, shorter inseams, sleeve lengths and hemlines. (Companies that don’t have petite departments in their brick-and-mortar stores often have petites online, so check websites.)
Petite women can create the illusion of height through several strategies.
▪ Wear pants that are straight or have a slight flare to create an elongated line. Short women shouldn’t wear tapered pants or extreme bell-bottoms, Libfraind says. Pant hems should break just on top of the foot. For summer, cropped pants should fall just above the ankle – never at mid-calf, which makes legs appear shorter.
▪ Dress and skirt hems should fall in three places: just above the knee, just below the knee, or just above the ankle. Maxi dresses shouldn’t graze the floor on petite women, Libfraind says.
▪ Shirts should end at the hip bone or slightly higher, to give the illusion of longer legs, Libfraind says. Three-quarter-length sleeves or those that hit midway between the elbow and shoulder are good because they make arms appear longer, she says.
▪ Pencil skirts are both slimming and lengthening, and waistlines should sit at the natural waist; low-waisted pants make women appear shorter.
▪ Belts should be the same color as the garment or at least in the same color family; highly contrasting belts create the illusion of cutting a figure in half, making it appear shorter, Libfraind said. As for pattern, stick with smaller, tighter prints. Large prints make petite women appear smaller.
Match your colors to your personality. Cherry gravitates toward neutral colors, so Libfraind pinned fabrics in a variety of colors around her neck to see which made her skin and eyes glow. They settled on six hues to add to her wardrobe: navy, olive green, merlot/wine red, bright red (with bluish undertones), bright white and deep plum.
Black, while striking and safe, conveys a more serious attitude, while navy makes people appear more approachable and relaxed, Libfraind said. “It’s so important to choose the right colors, not only for your skin tone, but for your personality,” she said. “When you wear black, make sure you have a pop of color around your neck,” such as a scarf or necklace.
Scale accessories to your body. Oversized jewelry, accessories and purses overwhelm a petite frame, Libfraind says, so choose modest-sized pieces or stick to only one large piece and keep the rest small.
When carrying a large tote, Libfraind says not to sling it over your shoulder but instead to carry it in your hand. When choosing a purse to wear over the shoulder, make it one that doesn’t extend far past the elbow, she said.
Eyeglasses also shouldn’t be over-embellished or oversized on a petite person, Libfraind said.
Have fun with footwear. Pointy-toed shoes lengthen the appearance of legs, Libfraind says, so petite women should choose pointy over rounded toes. And narrow heels are preferable to chunky ones.
Tall boots should always hit just below the knee – never mid-calf – for petite women.
Libfraind picked a pair of lace-up lace Vince Camuto espadrilles for Cherry’s casual look, to go with black suede skinny pants and a Lacoste button-down shirt and Porche Designs denim jacket.
For her night-out look, Libfraind paired fringed black suede stiletto booties with dressy black shorts and a gold sequined top.
It was a classy but sexy look that Cherry said took her slightly out of her comfort zone, but she would welcome wearing it.
“If I have the right date,” she said, smiling.
Extra tips for petites
“Petite” refers to women who are 5 foot 3 inches tall or shorter, no matter what size. Plus-sized women can also be petites. Stylist Suzanne Libfraind offers these extra tips for petite women:
▪ Buy petite-size hangers. Regular size hangers will leave creases and eventually wear down shirts along the shoulder and upper sleeve, so using petite hangers can increase the life of a garment.
▪ Shop the children’s department. Stores’ children’s sections are often great places to score basics like T-shirts, sweaters and jackets that fit well, Libfraind says. Prices are often lower, too.
▪ Keep belts and waistlines high. If wearing a belt, keep it just below the breastbone or at the natural waist. Choose a belt in the same color as your garment to create an elongated look: Wearing a belt in a contrasting color visually cuts the torso in half, shortening the look, Libfraind says.