Holiday style: How much cleavage is too much?

The Charlotte ObserverDecember 18, 2013 

— Too much cleavage and too little dress.

From holiday parties to black tie galas and fundraising luncheons, some observers of the fashion scene say they’re seeing more of the style misstep over the last few years.

The majority of women get it right, but there are always one or two whose display is not quite appropriate for many of the social and charity events that go on this season.

When man-about-town Jordan McGee, manager of the women’s boutique Coplon’s at Phillips Place in Charlotte, N.C., is introduced to a woman showing too much of a good thing, he says “Hi, nice to meet you!” But “good lord!” is what he says runs through his mind. “Then, as the night goes on, I try to stay close enough to witness any Janet Jackson/Super Bowl XXXVIII action that may happen,” he quips.

Yes, showing a bit of cleavage is a classic look that will never go out of style. But when you get it wrong, you run the risk of becoming the joke of a party or making guests feel uncomfortable.

That’s what happened to actor Alec Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Thomas recently when she attended a gala in Washington. The top of her gown did not leave a lot to the imagination. Twitter was abuzz with mocking commentary the following day.

Cleavage do’s and don’ts

For the do’s and don’ts of cleavage, we turned to Shelly Domenech, owner of I.C. London lingerie at the Village at SouthPark in Charlotte. For more than two decades, she’s been fitting women in bra sizes from 30A to a 46M and beyond.

“Don’t mash them and smash them together,” Domenech says. “What you want is a ‘Gentle Valley' – just a hint of curve that’s sexy without being Frederick’s of Hollywood. The breasts should have a natural shape and they should not be touching.” As a general rule, the amount of cleavage that should be visible is 1 or 2 inches – 3 inches at the most.

When the breasts are pushed up into unnatural shapes and more than 3 inches are exposed, it’s called Hard Cleavage. If that same look occurs, but the breasts are touching, it’s what fashion insiders call the Butt Crack. You'll see this look at formal social events in Charlotte. It may have had its moment a decade ago, but it’s outdated now, experts say.

Look back at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2003 when Heidi Klum was the star “angel” modeling the million-dollar bra. Her bosom was pushed up and deeply exposed. Last month at the 2013 show, this year’s star “angel” Candice Swanepoel rocked the Gentle Valley down the runway.

Some cleavage catastrophes happen because of breast enhancement surgery that was done before some of the newest technology was available. But thanks to new technology, women are better able to gauge the best size implant for their body.

The right fit

Whether your breasts are natural or enhanced, Domenech says problems with cleavage begin in the dressing room. “Don’t try to fit a size 8 bosom in a size 6 dress,” she says. “Always buy a dress to fit the largest part of your body, then have an alterations person take it in.”

No matter what you’re wearing – V-neck sweater or a formal gown – always make sure to wear a properly fitted bra. The correct bra will lift your bosom so that if you turn to the side, you see that the breast’s highest peak is at least halfway between your elbow and the bottom of your shoulder. A bra should lift and separate your breasts, but not push them together. And the cup size should be big enough so nothing spills out, giving you the dreaded “Double Booby.”

If the cup is too small, it pushes the breast tissue out and creates another on top and you can see the hard line of where the bra makes an indentation in the flesh, she says. “That’s not attractive and it’s working against what you’re trying to do.”

Then there are the women whose cleavage is flawless, but they’re wearing a strapless dress that isn’t fitted properly. Tugging a dress upward all night long is not a good look. For that dilemma, Domenech recommends fashion tape to anchor everything in place.

One way to avoid any cleavage mishaps is to embrace the off-the-shoulder looks or higher necklines that keep cleavage under wraps.

“Baring shoulders is the new way to exude sex appeal,” boutique manager McGee says. “It goes without saying that there is no harm in leaving something to the imagination. I’m not saying to waist-belt a Hefty bag, but there are plenty of body-conscious, yet covered, silhouettes that translate into a classic and feminine appeal.”

Domenech’s main message for women is to not worry about the size of a dress or a bra. No one else will ever know the label inside them, she says.

But they will know if what you’re wearing doesn’t fit.

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