After 175 episodes of TLC's "What Not to Wear," co-host Clinton Kelly has a message for plus-size -- no, make that any size -- women:
"Women have a lot of shame attached to their bodies. We have a culture of hating our own bodies. Think about whom we're comparing ourselves to -- the chick on the billboard is probably computer-generated. Accept you the way you are."
But Kelly wasn't all praise and applause as he critiqued the clothing of a few audience members during the plus-size fashion show and workshop that he emceed at a Macy's store in Chicago recently.
"Please, take it off, it's hurting my eyes," he said when Chicagoan Kristy Allen took the stage wearing what he called a "grandmother-made-it" sweater over her purple knit shirt and ice-blue pants.
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Her clog-style shoes earned similar friendly disapproval.
"I try to get women to look as if they're hovering a hair's breath off the ground," Kelly said. "Heavy shoe equals heavy woman."
Kelly, co-author with his TLC co-host Stacy London of "Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your Body," liked Allen's purple and ice-blue color combination. But he advised her to wear V-necks rather than crew necks.
"If you elongate the neck and elongate the leg, you elongate the body, and that length balances out width."
He also suggested she skip the long chains because of her ample bust line and its potential to catch such chains over just one side.
About that bust line, Allen told Kelly that when she tries to wear empire-seam dresses, which the fashion show featured plentifully, the seam always bisects her chest.
Kelly's troubleshooting tip No. 1: Get a professional bra fitting to keep everything "high and mighty," he said. "The higher the boob, the closer to God," he joked. If you've gone up or down 5 pounds in the last year, you need another professional bra fitting, he said.
Kelly's troubleshooting tip No. 2: Go up in size to accommodate your widest part. See a tailor about the rest.
"Women, you've got to get used to tailoring stuff," he said. "Men tailor a suit in 10 places, but women expect to go into a store and have it fit right off the rack."
Which brings us to another victim, er, beneficiary, of his counsel, Chicagoan Annette Robinson, who was dressed in a suit.
"The rise on your pants is really low. I'm sure your anatomical crotch is not down here," he said, gesturing toward her knees as she and the audience laughed. "And the pants are just too short."
She confessed she was wearing a petite size.
"Why are you wearing a petite?" he said, incredulous, as he regarded her considerable height and told the audience that petites are generally meant for women 5-foot-4 and under.
"I'm transitioning sizes," Robinson answered, and explained she didn't want to invest in a lot of clothing because of that. So she was wearing a hand-me-down suit from her sister.
Kelly accepted that.
But at a different point he made his second major "remember-this" pronouncement, about wearing properly fitting clothes:
"The worst thing you can do for your self-esteem is to put yourself in an oversized piece of clothing. You forget you have a body," he said. "It becomes a slippery slope."
If the powers of tailoring are often underestimated, then the powers of black are often overestimated, he said.
"Urban people get stuck in a black rut," he said. "Black can be harsh for daytime. Chocolate brown is a very flattering neutral for most people, even all people, I would say."
If you want to slim yourself, "it's about cut more than color," he said.
Pay attention to the cut of your pant legs, he said, citing ones that work and don't work for a plus-size woman: "Tapered, never. Straight leg, always. Boot-cut, sometimes."
Tapered pants and some boot-cuts can make your knee or ankle the narrowest part of your body, which generally isn't flattering. "A straight leg trouser is the best."
Pant length, especially in a season of many cropped pants, is another consideration. "The most flattering length for a cropped pant is just below the widest part of your calf," he said.
Clinton offered his "divide-and-conquer" strategy for the rear end. Jackets and blouses should fall so that there's just a "peek of cheek" below the hemline.
"Women think `If I cover my butt, no one will know that it's there.'"
But you might wind up creating a square shape from behind -- not generally the intended effect.
"I'm not saying you can't ever cover the rear end," he said, "but make sure you're emphasizing the waist when you do it."
The No. 1 question he's asked? How to camouflage a tummy.
"The best way is with a jacket," he said simply.
The second best way is with an empire-seam top or dress. But look for one that has an A-line shape and a fabric with some drape, such as jersey, rather than a lot of blousy volume on the lower part, which might have people asking even the slenderest among us when the baby's due.