Breaking the “Rules” & Getting Away With It

I’m pretty much a maverick – not a fan of rules at all – especially when it comes to styling my clients and myself.  I seldom even use the word, preferring to think in terms of “guidelines” instead.  Even so, when this dress violated every principle I usually follow, I wanted to identify the loopholes that made it work …

I sewed this dress myself, but the “rules violations” apply equally to ready-made clothes.  In fact, the project was inspired by this ready-to-wear garment ( that broke my two most basic guidelines: fit (waistline hit 2″ too low on my body) and color (way too warm for me). I love it on my friend Sheila, but no way would it work for me.

I had this print fabric on hand – a gift from a friend who works in garment manufacturing. The scale of those giant flowers is technically too large for my 5’3″ frame.  But it has 3 off-setting factors:

  • The royal blue doesn’t have too much light/dark contrast against the black background, so the big blossoms don’t really pop.
  • The lighter stems and leaves are deep cream instead of bright white, so they don’t create excessive contrast either.
  • The semi-sheer fabric and it’s crepe-like texture further softened the contrast of the print.
  • The skirt falls in soft folds, breaking up the oversized motifs.

I wouldn’t normally choose a fuller skirt style either.  If you don’t already know my stance on flare vs tapered, you can read those guidelines HERE.  But again, there were mitigating factors at work:

  • The fabric is soft, so it falls in against the body rather than standing away and emphasizing width.
  • The skirt is cut in wedge-shaped panels, with much more fullness at the hem than at the waist, so it doesn’t get too bulky.
  • The shaped hemline – higher in front, lower in back – doesn’t cut the look (and shorten my frame) as abruptly as a straight hemline would. My simplistic attempt to re-create a straight hemline/hi-lo hem comparison gives you the idea.
  • Then I tried it with the top unbuttoned over a royal blue tank.  That formed an elongating deep “V” of contrast color over my short torso, providing or elongation.
  • And finally I tried it un-buttoned all the way down, worn as a duster over black leggings. Suddenly there was color continuity head-to-toe and I looked amazingly taller/trimmer.  Popping the shirt collar up in back adds to the illusion of height too.
  • Although that duster effect was the styling that drew me to the red inspiration dress in the first place, I was afraid that look would be too out-of-the-box for me.  But turns out it’s my favorite of the three.  In fact, I think I’ll wait to wear the other versions until Fall when I can add black tights to extend the visual line of those as well.

Hope you can take some of your extra at-home time this week to play around with some of your own clothes and find more flattering ways to wear them – especially those that break some of your usual style “rules”.  We’d love to hear about your results!


About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Tammi Packer on July 4, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    LOVE the dress as a duster! I appreciate you demonstrating multiple ways to style one dress.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      Life is too short to waste time on closet orphans and what a friend of mine calls “one-trick ponies”. Versatility is the key in my opinion. Of course you can’t do it every time. But it’s a worthy wardrobe goal.

  2. Helen on July 4, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Love this, Nancy! You give the illusion of being much taller than 5’3″ in person. Love the duster look you illustrated.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      That may be because nobody except my husband ever sees me in anything less that a 3″ heel, making me appear 5’6″. If only … I joke that I’ll start jogging when they make high-heeled sneakers!

    • Barbara Webb on July 15, 2020 at 9:20 am

      Like everyone else I love the duster look!

  3. Mary Longren on July 4, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I do love the duster look the best. You look so hip!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Gotta admit that “Hip” is not something I’m often called. Can’t wait to tell my kids!

  4. Cindy Vance on July 4, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    The duster style is definitely the most flattering for you.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks Cindy. What are you sewing these days? I so enjoyed riffing on that color blocked sheath your did a while back.

  5. Sherry on July 4, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    I have fallen in love this year with the duster look and I love it on you too ! That’s my favorite version of this garment ! Happy 4 th !

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      Dusters are high on my list of Fashion Formulas, but I was still a bit anxious about interpreting it this way. Appreciate the positive responses.

  6. Sandra Mowat on July 4, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    Sew very nice on you!! Is there a pattern #?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:43 pm

      McCall 7682, but I did a lot of modification. You can read about that in detail on My username there is Nancynrice

  7. Linda on July 4, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    That last look is amazing! You look fantastic!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      Very sweet of you to say so. It’s fun to push out of one’s comfort zone occasionally.

  8. Marie on July 4, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    You rock with this duster look, Nancy. Color continuity with the black leggings makes the difference. Happy 4th. Here’s to a smile on your face, love in your heart and happiness in your soul. Cheers.

  9. Ann on July 4, 2020 at 8:37 pm

    The duster is fabulous! Happy 4th!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:29 pm

      I love it too. Anxious to try the other variations with black tights – which hopefully will give them a similar lengthening vibe.

  10. Tina Colombo on July 5, 2020 at 11:43 am

    Wow, that duster look is great! Love it!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks Tina. Good to hear from you – hope all is well.

  11. Elaine Earnshaw on July 5, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    The duster over your leggings makes you look taller and slimmer. The most flattering look I thought.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Those strong verticals are magic, aren’t they? It’s one of my formulas, but I’ve usually done it with long cardigans. This shirtwaist dress approach is new for me.

  12. Alice on July 5, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    I really like the open duster look on you. I would have never considered wearing a duster, you have given me something to think about.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 3:23 pm

      It’s exactly the longer, open-down-the-front concept we were talking about with the j.jill duster sweater. Lengthening, slimming magic!

  13. sona on July 5, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    I am 5’2″ (shrunk from 5′ 4″ )with large legs from thigh to ankle. Clearly I cover them most of the time, but summer poses a heat problem. I wear linen pants when appropriate, what might I consider for comfort and coverage other than them, thinking long dresses/skirts make me look shorter.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 5, 2020 at 5:25 pm

      There is no reason for a long skirt or long dress to shorten your silhouette compared with pants. Just keep the garment shape relatively close to your body – not too full or flared out – and add vertical detailing whenever possible. Soft breathable knits like cotton or rayon with a touch of spandex for shape retention would be ideal choice. You can see that vertical emphasis going on in my versions of the Liesl+Co Belgravia dress. One has vertical top-stitching and bottom slit; the other has vertical contrast binding. They aren’t long, but the same concepts apply regardless of length. Find them on – username Nancynrice.

  14. Valerie on July 7, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    amazing – love it! and the tips are always so wonderful and welcome

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 11, 2020 at 9:53 am

      Thanks Valerie – we love out international followers like you!

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