Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Dated Trends That Need to Expire

Hi Belle,

I wanted to ask your advice regarding tie-back dresses. I’ve provided an example I’ve found on Garnet Hill.

I’ve been told that for women in their 20s and 30s, these type of dresses are too infantile and not age appropriate. Would you agree with this? I have a wardrobe with some older tie-back dress pieces that have are in great condition and perfect for the upcoming spring and summer months, but I want to make sure they are fashion forward. Is there a way to tailor the dress to make it not tie-back anymore? Do you recommend just doing away with this sort of dress, or do you think it’s still worth it to keep them as-is for work and casual environments?

Thanks so much! I appreciate all of your help.


I have an answer for Kimberly’s question, but her letter got me thinking about a topic that I think is of great importance to middle class women everywhere: What former trends look so dated that it’s time for them to go the way of the dinosaurs.  

After all, we’re starting a new season, and what better time to talk about the styles that are no longer stylish?

As you read this, please keep in mind, that at some point, I owned every one of these items.  I saw the error of my ways, and I just want to spread the good news.  It’s time to move on from these dated trends and into something more flattering and less frumpy. 

Since you brought it up, let’s start with tie-back dresses and tie-back tops.  Until last fall, I owned a handful of tie-back pieces.  Then, one day, I caught my reflection in the mirror and thought:  “Oh my God, I look like a 13-year-old girl living out on the prairie.”  And that was the end of that.

Tie back pieces aren’t particularly flattering on anyone over the age of 16.  What does the tie accomplishment?  Nothing.  In fact, on many women, I think it only draws attention to things that they would rather hide.

If you want to look summery and stylish, buy a nice cotton dress.  Something with structure that emphasizes your waist and flatters your figure.  Perhaps a nice poplin shirtdress like this number from Ivanka Trump.

Empire waists are the next on my list.  Several years ago, someone sold American women a bill of goods.  We were told that an empire top would just glide over our slightly paunchy or Rubenesque bellies, and so we started buying them in bulk.  But why we thought that emulating the fashion choices of pregnant women was a good idea is anyone’s guess.

A few seasons ago, I emerged from the malaise and realized that adding volume from your bra band to your hips doesn’t conceal the flaws on your torso.  Instead, it tells the world, “Hey, I’m trying to hide something.”  Plus, it throws off your proportions, emphasizes petite figures, smaller busts and/or wider hips.  Not the look most women are going for when they choose a shirt.

Instead, if you have a belly to conceal, buy the shirt one size up and have it tailored.  I know everyone groans when I talk about tailoring, but clothes aren’t meant to come off the rack and fit perfectly.  Your body is uniquely shaped, and you’re never going to look your best wearing cookie cutter sizes.

Plus, empire waist tops look incredibly dated.  They look like the kind of thing that Soccer Moms in Lawrence, Kansas would wear to run errands on a random Tuesday.  And God loves Soccer Moms, but that does not mean they’re stylish trendsetters.

Capri pants were trendy once.  In 2000.  When Justin was still N’SYNC and Lindsay Lohan was still famous for her acting.  Gosh, those were the days.  This trend should have faded soon after, but sometimes, pure buying power can keep a trend in stores long beyond its usefulness.

Now, before you rush to the comments section, let me be clear, there are three lengths of shortened pants: ankle, crop and capri.  Ankle pants show no part of the calf, just the foot.  

Crop pants show a small (smaller than 3″) portion of the calf.  These don’t look good on everyone, but when cut correctly, they can be flattering.  

Then, there are capris.  Sometimes called high waders.  Also known in my house as 21st Century Mom Jeans.  Capri pants are not flattering.  They shorten legs.  They emphasize cankles.  They widen hips and thicken thighs.  It’s atrocious the criminality.

And if you’re still not convinced let me leave you with this tidbit.  My Mom once asked a French woman how should could tell that someone was American just by looking at her.  Her response, “You can always spot the American tourists because they’re the only people on Earth who wear capris.”

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  1. jen says:

    Somewhere, Zooey Deschanel is crying a silent, twee tear. ­čÖé

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  2. Helena says:

    Except I recently encountered Germans and, gasp!, French women in capris and visors while traveling in South America. Not saying they're stylish, but their reach is still global.

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  3. Francine says:

    I am so with you on all of these. Tie-back dresses: No. Empire waist shirts and dresses: Great if you're pregnant. Capri pants: Dear God no, and why have they hung around so long? I can proudly say I never bought a pair and yet I still see them!

    I would add low-waist jeans with bare midriff. Uggs. Those hoof-y looking YSLs. Anything with a visible crinoline underneath.

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  4. jar says:

    Unfortunately I have 2 of the 3 items listed here… I will promptly be going to my closet to remove them. They'll have a better life at Goodwill. Thanks!

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  5. import to Lawrence, KS says:

    For the record, Kansans know zip about soccer so they're probably the pseudo-hipster moms on the way to gymnastics. And yeah, unfortunately once the farmers market starts back up, we will be seeing way too many shapeless shifts.

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  6. Lurker says:

    I have several expensive, “Elected Official” worthy, silk print maxi dresses with tie-backs. Can I cut the tie-back off and substitute with a cute leather belt or something? Seems so wasteful to toss these out… Help!

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  7. GCH says:

    I agree with Helena on the Germans in capris… we love them (I don't, but oh well)… My hubby once spotted a German dude in see through white capris… ahhh, Europe, we are so much better ;D

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    Lurker: I would goes that because the tie doesn't really “tie” they could remove the tie and put in a couple of darts. Or they could remove the tie and you could wear a wide leather belt. It'll give you a slightly more blouson look, but nothing extreme.

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  9. Belle says:

    That should be guess. [facepalm]

    March 26, 2012/Reply
  10. guest says:

    Thanks for the laugh.
    Why do some trends hang on?

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    Guest: The really bad ones survive because they're comfortable and easy.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  12. SC says:

    Can Belle and others please comment on boot cut jeans? I heard some girls the other day bashing boot cut jeans. Problem is, skinny jeans make most women (myself included) look terrible. Do I really need to wear skinny jeans? This trend is as unflattering as tight-rolling our jeans. I guess straight leg jeans are an option too, but those aren't that different than skinny jeans in terms of the proportions they create.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  13. Belle says:

    SC: No you don't need to wear skinnies. In a year or two, we'll all be back in other styles. I like bootcut, I like flare. Really, the only style I don't think is very flattering on women are high-waisted jeans. Everything else is just denim. Choose the type that's right for your body.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  14. Alex says:

    Short dresses, especially dresses that are short AND lowcut. Hems dropped on the catwalk in 2007. Five years later, girls are still getting around in mini skirts. i appreciate that the new below the knee length is unkind to some body types but it looks so much more professional and it looks so much more sophisticated.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  15. meg says:

    Capris: I can't believe how many women still wear them. The worst is when they are worn with rubber flip flops. I think a lot of overweight women wear them as an alternative to shorts in the spring and summer. They just don't realize that it doesn't do them any favors.

    Jeans: I see a lot of flare jeans in the magazines and fashion blogs lately. Maybe those are an alternative if you feel like you can't wear skinny jeans. I'm average size and I feel most comfortable in a straight cut at the moment. Also, I'm not a huge jeans fan. If I buy them, they are usually a nice trouser pair that you can dress up a little.

    Tie Back Dresses: After being pregnant, I never want to wear them again. However, I have held on to my maternity ones since I know I'll have to wear them the next time I'm pregnant. I think pregnant women are the only people on the planet that wear them.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  16. EK says:

    SC – I'm with you. They can pry my bootcut jeans from my cold, dead hands. I own a few straight-leg pairs, but skinny jeans are not for my figure. I'll consider flares if I can find a pair that doesn't remind me of Sonny and Cher.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  17. Kat says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I have always deplored capri and its so nice to hear someone else say it. Such an unflattering trend. why anyone would want to make their legs look shorter and wider is beyond me.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  18. Cara says:

    Just went through my spring/summer clothes and I definitely need to shop for non-capri pants. Thanks to Tim Gunn, I knew that before reading this post. Even at my lowest weight, shorts have never looked good on me because I carry my weight in my hips and thighs. Any suggestions for someone living in the Southeast (a/k/a the surface of the sun) would be welcome!

    Oh, and my first inkling that capris were less than flattering were when I saw a woman wearing them with a 3/4 length sleeved shirt and realized she looked like all her clothes had shrunk.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  19. e-liz says:

    @jen – there's nothing even slightly twee about any of these looks. if nothing else, most 'twee' looks take their cues from silhouettes of the 40s, 50s and 60s–decidedly feminine eras in fashion. if someone was going for a 'twee' look, i doubt they'd reach for one of these items of clothing. i don't even care about zooey. she's annoying. just saying that if you comment was meant to be a joke/jab at her expense, you missed the mark.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  20. SC says:

    Cara, instead of shorts wear lightweight dresses and skirts! Knee length cotton skirts and dresses are my summer staple. Try dresses with elastic waistbands (so you don't need a belt). For example:

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  21. Cara says:

    SC – I love your suggestions! I'm slowly becoming a dress girl so I may have to jump on that Loft dress today since it's on sale. Thanks!

    Personally, I think Zooey Deschanel is charming. My 16-year-old niece admires her and I thank goodness for that, especially over K$sha or whatever else is out there now. But to each, her own.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  22. meg says:

    Belle – I'd love to know what you think of these shoes: crocs, toms, and uggs. I personally can't stand any of them and I think they don't flatter anyone. (Ok, my 3 year old son has a pair of crocs!) I absolutely don't think they have any business being worn in an office. Of course, everyone always says “but they are so comfortable!”.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  23. m says:

    I may catch hell for this, but the real bootcut jeans offense occurs (on women) when paired with running shoes and a baseball cap. Not cute! I wore that shit in college in the early 90's and cringe looking back on it, yet it still seems as popular as ever.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  24. amy says:

    How about the fuller-style knee-length skirts that made their appearance a couple of years ago? I have a couple and they work well with my body type, so I hate to part with them.

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  25. GoGoGo says:

    Down with empire waists! They are the worst. If ever you needed to FAKE a pregnancy, an empire waist and a slight slouch would get you half way there.

    On the quest for actual middle-flattering shirts:

    Ann Taylor LOFT has a bunch of flattering tops right now. They have a tiny elastic around the hem that gives them the look of a blousey, drapey top that's tucked in. Smart design. (There are also lots of coupons floating around. Try code “SPRING” online I think?)

    March 27, 2012/Reply
  26. Whitney says:

    Belle, I completely agree with your comment on jeans. What's IN or OUT in reference to the cut matters a heck of a lot less than finding a pair that fits and flatters your body type. I own skinnies, bootcuts, and straight-legs, and they all get worn about the same amount. People who tell you that a certain cut of denim is “out” are usually the same people who want you to spend more money on whatever jeans they are selling. Rinses, washes, colors, distressing…that's a different story. I don't know who decided to bring back floral printed denim, but it was ugly in 4th grade and it's still ugly now.

    March 27, 2012/Reply