This season of awards shows, it can seem as though everyone in Los Angeles has a closet full of evening gowns. That impression is most assuredly not correct. Still, the occasional formal gala, wedding or party finds its way onto many a woman’s social schedule. And this, of course, presents the question – what to wear?
The most popular look in formal dresses today is the look of bare necks, shoulders and arms provided by strapless dress designs and the highly wearable variations of strapless designs that feature sweetheart necklines. A strapless design, of course, has nothing anchoring the dress to the shoulders. In its simplest variation, the top of the dress—its neckline—is cut straight across. A sweetheart neckline is a shaped neckline that dips in the middle, often looking like the top portion of the shape of a heart. The curves of a sweetheart neckline can be subtle like a gentle wave or plunge into a deep V. Sweetheart necklines beautifully frame the face and are a favored look in all types of evening wear, strapless or not.
The importance of fit with strapless designs cannot be understated. If a strapless design has you noticing the woman first and then the dress, it is doing its job well. If you notice the dress first, it may well be because it doesn’t fit well, and the wearer looks as though she must be tremendously uncomfortable jammed into the design. Or maybe you wonder how the body manages to stay encased in the design and whether you’ll be witness to a wardrobe malfunction, perish the thought!
[One major exception to the what-you-notice-first rule: If you’re into fashion and inherently fascinated by the construction of a garment and what holds it securely up. Anyone who saw the interview of red carpet host and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi at the 2006 Golden Globes literally groping Scarlett Johansson to ascertain how her stunning red gown was engineered, will never forget it! What’s more, her dress wasn’t even strapless. But I digress.]
While strapless dresses present a beautiful bare expanse of skin perfect for adornment with jewelry, necklaces are not currently the ornamentation of choice. In the absence of a necklace, earrings are de rigueur. A lack of earrings makes the ensemble seem unfinished unless the wearer’s hair essentially serves as adornment and covers her ears. Even then, stud or smaller earrings that sit on her earlobes add polish. Happily, almost any style goes in earrings today, so whatever the wearer’s physical attributes and personality, she is sure to find something she loves. Bracelets, often worn in multiples, and cuffs, along with brooches and cocktail rings, add important finishing touches of sparkle to a strapless evening dress.
If you are assisting a customer in selecting jewelry to coordinate with a strapless gown, pay attention to the top edge of the dress. Is it a straight line across the body, or does it curve and dip? The March 2008 issue of In Style magazine shows a sampling of variations on the sweetheart neckline.
Here are several of the featured looks from In Style. Notice how a well-chosen sweetheart neckline relates to the features of the wearer. Tyra Banks is shown to the left, above, wearing a Georges Chakra gown with a neckline in a deep, pronounced V highlighted with feathers. The shape of the neckline is reminiscent of the shape of her smile and the curve of her brows, as well as her pointed chin. Her demure choice of earrings is likely related to the lavishness of the trim on her gown as well as her hairstyle.
To the right, above, Jennifer Connelly is shown wearing Alexander McQueen. Notice how the comparatively straight neckline relates to her strong horizontal brows and the slight curve of her upper lip. This look is sleek and controlled, accented by the strong line of her black belt and one strong bracelet. She wears simple stud earrings to complement the sleek look. I think that strong, simply designed earrings of a larger scale also would have worked with this look.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, shown below, wears a classic strapless gown by Reem Acra with a sweetheart neckline that is straighter yet, but which still has gentle curves. Her diamond drop earrings repeat the gentle curves and perfectly set off the dress. They are of appropriate scale both for her features and for the sparkling detail at the waist of her dress.
The photo of Reese Witherspoon at the 2007 Academy Awards, shown above, depicts very much the classic strapless evening gown by Nina Ricci. The neckline is horizontal with no center curves. Her long hair hides her floral diamond earrings, which sit on her earlobes. The large diamond cuff bracelet is a strong, perfect accent for an elegant Old Hollywood look.
In helping your customer select jewelry, look first to the woman, and second to her gown. A well-chosen gown will have taken the physical characteristics of the wearer into account. The straight or curved choice of neckline gives you a design element to consider as you help your customer choose the perfect jewels.