FF: “Floppy” upper arms

I don’t really mind my upper arms, but they’re definitely what you’d call… …floppy. I have great shoulders, and I’m super-strong, but when I raise my arm and wave? Well, there’s some motion there, is what I’m saying.

For more summers than I’d like to admit, I sweated it out in elbow-length sleeves and flutter sleeves and anything with fabric to cover this area up. I was totally self-conscious about them from about the time I was 17 onward. And I still don’t like the way I look in a typical short-sleeved shirt.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing the matter with how I look and people definitely aren’t going to run away screaming or anything. But I’m uncomfortable, and don’t feel quite as awesome as I’d like to. And if I’ve learned anything from the past five years, it’s to think about why I might not like something.

For me, and short-sleeved shirts, it harkens back to my first rule of visual principles in clothing:

If you want to broaden the appearance of some part of your body, paint a horizontal line over it.

And that’s the key, for me and short sleeves. They draw a line across a part I’m less fond of, broadening and calling attention to it (and often denting in that very soft skin/flesh there, which is doubly noticeable).

Putting that rule together with short sleeves was an “aha!” moment for me. Because it meant that I didn’t have to cover them up anymore. I just needed to draw the eye elsewhere. Like, say, my rocking shoulders.

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As you can definitely see from the side, it’s not that my arms are actually any smaller or more toned. But the eye is drawn elsewhere, to parts I’m more fond of. Particularly from the front, I feel like my arms play definite second fiddle to my shoulders, collarbone, and face–all parts I adore.

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So there you have it. As the temperatures here in New England climb and we’re all looking for ways to cool off?

Instead of trying to cover up the parts you don’t like, try drawing the eye to those you do love, instead.

Fashion “Friday”: Reunion weekend

Hi all! Fashion Friday got away from me this week, since I’m in my hometown celebrating my 20th high school reunion. (Eep!)

So I thought I’d take this “Friday”‘s post to go through the dress I chose for the occasion (and why)–and show some other dresses that I loved, but discarded because I knew they wouldn’t work for me.

Boden is a go-to place for me when I want something a little nicer and less corporate than my usual work fare, so that’s where I started. I found several dresses I loved that I thought would work for the formality of the event and what I hoped to achieve, style-wise:

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These would all be lovely dresses for the event, which is “nicer than jeans” but not super-formal. They’re beautiful prints, they’re summery and perfect for my coastal town without being too casual. All of them would be terrible for my figure, though! Here’s why:

  • Structured waists. These dresses look great on curvy-waisted mannequins, but they make my own very straight waist painfully obvious. Painting a horizontal line around my actual waist as a style element just highlights the fact that it’s the same apparent width as my hips and bust. (I say “apparent” because my waist circumference is quite a bit smaller, but when viewed from the front I’m straight as a board.)
  • Cap sleeves or wide tanks. I have thicker upper arms, which is a topic for a future FF, and this makes cap sleeves, short sleeves, and thick tanks a less comfortable choice for me. All of those sleeve lengths paint a line around or draw attention to the upper arms–and make me less comfortable.
  • Higher necklines. I love the look of a higher neckline, but paired with cap sleeves and/or the portrait collar of the tank dress, they’ll push my bust visually down toward my waist.

All in all, any one of these dresses is going to make me look thick around the middle and arms, and like my bust has dropped several inches from my high school days. I love them, and wish I were comfortable wearing them? But I’m not.

So what did I choose?

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This dress is pretty much the opposite, visual-feature-wise, than the dresses above.

  • Deep neckline, elbow sleeves. Particularly when combined with the stripe pattern, these elements firmly associate my bust with my head/neck rather than my waist/hips, and the eye is drawn up to my head.
  • Less structure. The knit fabric skims over my straighter waist, rather than focusing attention and structure on it.
  • Faux hourglass. In contrast to the plainer-fabriced dresses above, which highlight someone with a natural hourglass waist, the stripes on this dress create one for me: My shoulders are broadened by the V-stripes on the bodice, and the extra vertical strips starting at the hip broaden my hips and tush, both of which make my waist appear smaller.

I know it’s probably not quite as compelling as actually seeing me in the less-flattering choices, but hopefully hearing my process of deconstructing the visual elements in a garment before I buy it was helpful too!

I’m having a blast at the reunion festivities so far, and can’t wait to share more knitting progress when I get back home, too. Have you been to a reunion in the past few years? How was your shopping process? What did you wind up with, and did you love it?

FF: Beating the heat

The Fashion Friday goal that I struggle hardest to achieve is to make it something different than “Hey, look at this cute outfit!” I think one of the most poisonous aspects of most fashion advice out there is that most of the advice looks something like this:

Just take these three easy steps/hide this thing/be thinner/be curvier/etc. and find effortless beauty!

I hate this. (And I don’t use the word ‘hate’ lightly.) There’s so much wrong with these messages. They imply that (1) there’s something inherently wrong with the way you are, and (2) it’s the only thing standing between you and a perfect appearance.

Bullsh*t. The truth?

  • There’s not a single thing wrong with the way you are, and
  • No figure looks great in everything.

And I don’t mean that in a sit-around-the-campfire-singing-songs kind of way. I mean literally, there is no figure that is flattered by everything. Every single one of us, including both you and that woman you think is “perfect”, can look great or less-so depending on how we frame our figures.

So with a mini-heat-wave in my neck of the woods, and my friend Jackie over for lunch, we decided to do a “beat the heat” FF edition–with awesome and less-great choices for both of us.

This is harder than it looks, not because it’s tough to find clothes that are unflattering on our shapes (it’s not at ALL hard), but because we both tend to be very brutal about eliminating such things from our wardrobes.

So! Here’s me, in two “beat the heat” outfit choices:

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They’re both super temperature-friendly, both very comfortable, and yet one is something I’d never wear, and one is in fact what I’m wearing today. Let’s think about the differences between them.

  • On the left, my skirt length hits me mid-calf, which is not only the widest point of my leg, but is also precisely where my leg gets super-short. (My thighs are on the short side but not tremendously so; I feel like my calves were squished up somehow when I was developing. They’re very wide around and very very short.) Vs. the right, where my skirt ends at my leg’s narrowest point.
  • On the right, the snugger tank top helps differentiate between my bust and my waist–this distinction is lost on the left, where the baggier top makes my bust look smaller and my waist larger.
  • I carry some of my weight in my upper arms; this isn’t super noticeable in the tank because the eye isn’t really drawn to the arm (rather, I’m drawing the attention mostly to my shirt and face). In the tee shirt, however, the lines of the neck and sleeve draw the eye to my arms.

And here’s Jackie, in her two outfit choices:

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You can see the same differential here (perhaps slightly less drastically, because we were at my house and hence had more Amy-options and fewer Jackie-options). More differences:

  • On the left, the wide neckline draws the eye up to Jackie’s broader shoulders and neck, widening them further. On the right, the eye is drawn in a vertical line down the front of the sweater.
  • On the right, the full skirt broadens Jackie’s hips to match her shoulders. On the left, the skirt is slimmer and does not balance her shoulders. Note how this longer length looks fantastic on Jackie, whose long, more slender calves can handle the horizontal line of the skirt.
  • On the left, Jackie’s bust, waist, and hip all look equally wide due to the line of the dress and its allover pattern. On the right, Jackie looks more curvaceous thanks to the hourglass impression given by snugger top and wider skirt. The vertical lines of the tank play up the curve in Jackie’s bust.

I will say that I think the outfit on the right is less Jackie’s typical style than the one on the left. Usually, when I see Jackie on hot days, she’s wearing a great pair of shorts (she looks fantastic in them) and a breezy tank top with a similar shape to Minx, the sweater she’s wearing on the right here. Same visual impression, and a style slightly closer to the tank dress on the left. Oh, for infinite wardrobe choices with these FF posts!

Finally, and most importantly, note how Jackie and I are both lovely women, capable of looking gorgeous and not, depending on our clothing. I really want to emphasize this. The world (sometimes) tells me:

You’re definitely on the athletic-frame-with-padding side, and so to look great you need to slim down.

The world (sometimes) tells Jackie:

Since you’re naturally slim with long legs, you’ll look great no matter what you do.

I’ve got the curly hair and cheeky smile, so I’m going to look great. She’s got a more athletic neck than a swan-like one, so should try to cover it up. These kinds of messages are toxic, pervasive, and I think the only antidote is to step back, and take a reality check.

In reality, what works for each of us is as unique as we are. And there are no flaws to be found.

Fashion Friday: Top-heavy sweaters

I believe our bodies are perfect just as they are. My goal in Fit to Flatter, and Fashion Fridays, and really everything I do, is to help you understand how to choose clothing you love to wear, and wear clothing that makes your body shine.

I was thinking about this as I went through the gray shirt outfits from last week’s post, and then I thought: But wait. How helpful can these posts really be, if you’re only ever seeing my straight, proportional, long-torsoed form? What about other body types?

So I talked to my good friend Jackie, and she agreed to let me use a few of her pictures for this week’s FF. We’ll come back to the gray shirt next week.

Jackie is a broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped (or top-heavy) shape. Of all body shapes, I actually think small-busted, top-heavy shapes can have the toughest time getting sweaters that fit properly. Much of the common internet advice (go negative ease in the bust!) steers them horribly, horribly wrong–a small-busted top heavy shape needs extra room in the shoulders, almost always requiring some positive ease in the bust. So I’ve seen a number of women through my classes with this shape who complain about their sweaters being constricting and uncomfortable.

Being a helpless victim around for a lot of my musings, we’ve figured out some great strategies for Jackie. Here are a few sweaters that fit her well and make the most of her lovely figure.

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Snowmates is such a fantastic choice. The super plain top narrows her shoulders and doesn’t distract the eye from the real star of this sweater, the graphic color work on the bottom. That color work, the longer sweater length, and the 3/4 sleeves broaden Jackie’s hips and make her appear perfectly proportional (with a tiny waist, too!).

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The same effect (drawing the eye down, narrowing the top) is achieved in the following sweater too, the lovely Metro. The difference here is that the addition of a narrow, deep neckline narrows Jackie’s entire torso. Doesn’t she look great? (Also! Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all of our sweaters made us feel this way?)

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Finally, the same lines (again) in my favorite sweater Jackie has knit, a modified version of my New Towne cardigan. Over the original, Jackie added length and shortened the sleeves to create that same narrow-top-and-broader-bottom look.

I love these sweaters for lots of reasons–they’re hand knit, they’re superbly knit, they obviously make Jackie feel great–but even more than those, I love them because they’re a great example of how the lines of the clothing are so much more important than the style. The first sweater is totally mod and bold; the second, a very preppy look (perfect for the country weekend she was enjoying); the third, a more polished version of a kid-friendly day-to-day routine.

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Different styles, same great effect on the figure.

I hope you enjoy seeing someone else’s shape on the blog! (If you’d like to participate in Fashion Fridays, please let me know.) Do you have lines and wardrobe elements you come back to again and again, regardless of “style”?

Fashion Friday: Day off

The silver lining to a grueling, 9-hours-of-sleep-in-two-days kind of business trip is the ability to take Friday off from my day job, and spend a morning puttering around and making my house my own again.

I’ve really been enjoying the day, and am now super-ready for an afternoon with the boys and a dear dear friend, preparing a birthday celebration for the husband. (Who didn’t even give me any grief about me being away on a business trip on his birthday. He’s really quite the guy.)

Weekend plans include a book signing at Hub Mills, lots of seaming and blocking and cuddles and knitting and great company, food, and rest. Oh, and enjoying the gorgeous late-spring weather–this is one of my favorite times of year. And not an airplane to be found.

Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

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I’m starting off the weekend with comfort as pretty much my only guide. Slouchy, lightweight top? Check. Super-comfy jean skirt? Check. Kick-em-on-and-off sandals? Check check check. (Adorable necklace the boys got me for mother’s day? Check.)

I’m not necessarily going for any particular figure-flattery with this outfit, though my love of dolmans on my long-torsoed figure is absolutely present. Instead, I’m letting my figure’s natural shape come through, in a style that makes me feel utterly at home in my skin. Despite this flaunting of “the rules”, it works. I don’t look bombshell, but that matters so much less than my own comfort and confidence.

(But, for those wondering: If my main goal were to narrow my waist, I’d pair this broad-shouldered top with a structured A-line skirt. If I wanted to lengthen my legs, I’d match the shirt with my floor-length-with-heels gray knit maxi skirt and perhaps add a belt worn a bit high on my waist. If I wanted a look a bit more practical for the office, I’d likely group this with very long earrings, a cuff, black boot-cut jeans, and heeled boots.)

Hm. Maybe for next week, we’ll step through these variations? What do you think?

FF: Sleeves (the basics)

(I’m super-excited about the response to make. wear. love. so far. We have only around 10 spots left in the retreat as of this evening, so if you’d like in on this wonderful weekend please let me know soon! I’m really looking forward to summer and wouldn’t wish it away, of course… but now I’m really looking forward to the fall, too.)

This week in Fashion Friday, we’re going to take a quick look at sleeve length and how it changes an outfit. To illustrate the difference between the 4 basic sleeve lengths, I’ve chosen a pretty plain outfit–cardigan, over tank top and jeans. These were all taken seconds apart, with no retouching or tricks or anything.

The basic principle is this: In the average case, the eye will be drawn to the part of the body where the sleeve cuff ends. That part of the body will gain more prominence, visually speaking.

Let’s start with long sleeves first: They draw the eye down, to the legs.

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Now, 3/4-length sleeves. They tend to end in-line with the hem of a top, and so paint a visual line around both the arms and the mid-hip.

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Elbow sleeves draw the eye to the waist (real or manufactured with clever use of clothing).

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Gold star to anyone who can predict where short sleeves draw the eye. (grin)

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That’s right! Short sleeves are probably the most visually bust-enhancing thing going on.

There are lots of other things to keep in mind about sleeves, too–but we’ll save that for another week. For this week, just think: Where are your sleeves drawing the eye? Where would you like the eye drawn?

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My personal favorite sleeve length is a tie–I love both 3/4 and elbow-length sleeves, and wear them both frequently. Do you have a favorite?

Fashion Friday: Wearing Hand-Knits

This week in Fashion Friday, I wanted to focus on the hand-knit. And specifically, on how we wear our hand-knit sweaters.

Oftentimes, we tend to wear our handiwork as art. And there’s some truth to that! It takes skill, and perseverance, and love to make the things we make. We should be proud of them. And there are some sweaters that truly are objects of art, first and foremost. This post isn’t about them.

It’s about the other sweaters, the ones we want to wear every day “as clothes”. For a long time, when I’d wear a hand-knit it would be the center focus of the outfit (no matter the color). I was wearing a knit! It fit great! So I’d style everything else around it very subdued.

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I see this around me, too. I think we’re maybe a little confounded by our sweaters. We are proud of them, we want to show them off–and sometimes I think that blinds us to what the sweaters truly are. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this outfit, exactly. I like the lines it’s painting on my body, I like the way everything fits and looks… it’s just a little bit too much about the sweater.

And here’s the thing: The sweaters aren’t the art.

We are the art. You and me. The sweaters? Frames done by a master craftsman. And when I think of the sweater as a showpiece in and of itself, I (personally speaking) lose that perspective. My outfit becomes about the sweater, not about me.

When I try to focus myself on using the sweater to frame me, I find an outfit that makes me feel much more sparkly.

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Interestingly, I feel like the sweater actually shines brighter here, too. The colors and layers and jewelry all bring the sweater into a coherent outfit, rather than placing it on top of my neutral layers. In Fit to Flatter terms, these outfits are very similar. Of course the pants lengthen my legs more than the skirt, but the overall silhouettes being painted on my body are almost identical.

What’s magic to me about the second picture is that it really feels like I’ve made the sweater about my own style, rather than making my outfit and style about the sweater.

How about you? How do you wear your hand-knits? What makes you feel best in them?

(And yes, I know, I chose dark yarn. I wear deep purple like this all the time in my daily life, so when I was choosing yarn to knit my own version of Draper (from the book
naturally) I chose the lovely Grand Street Ink for the Lorna’s Laces Sportmate. I am wearing the heck out of this one.)

Fashion Friday: Love affair with the heel.

I know, I know. Heels are evil, you say. Health problems! Oppressive and restrictive pictures of what it means to be beautiful! I know.

But I love mine.

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(Skirt: A recent Banana Republic sale find. Tee: Also Banana, can’t find a link now though. Sandals: Born.)

Heels visually stretch out my foot and make it part of the leg, which makes them appear longer than they are and brings my lower half closer to balancing my top half. (My legs are athletic, thick and quite short for my height–I am 5’6”, have a 27” inseam, and a 17” calf.) Heels are an integral part of my wardrobe, so this week I thought I’d spend some time talking about how I work them into my daily life without getting sore feet.

First, as you saw in the first Fashion Friday, sometimes my “heels” are essentially just platforms. I love my clogs, it must be said, and wear them all over the place. Something with a little bit of heel that I can run in? Sign me up!

But I also love proper heels–the chunkier the better, to balance out my wider legs. And at least for me, at least so far, I’m completely comfortable in my heels all day without any of the nasty side-effects one reads about. Dansko makes some of my faves, but I’ve also had great luck with Clarks, Sofft, Ecco, and Born. I hear tell of these glorious Fluevogs that are comfy enough to do Disneyland in, and someday my budget will let me verify. There are some things that all of my heels have in common, though:

My daily-wears have a maximum of about a 2” heel and a nice solid foot bed. Nothing precarious for me, thanks! My Danskos came with me on a recent trip to NYC and we walked all over Midtown, with nary a problem.

I do sometimes extend this to about 4” with platforms, like the Born sandals I’m wearing above. I don’t think I’d do Manhattan in them, or a day with the kids, but I find them completely comfortable for an average all-day wear.

I love putting them with a super-long pair of jeans or skirt:

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This whole outfit makes me feel about ten feet tall. (Skirt: Boden from a few years ago–this one is similar. Shirt is Gap from 2010.) I have another, similar pair from a couple of years ago from the brand Naya, and they’ve been quite comfortable too. No matter how tall the overall shoe is, for me to be really happy at the end of the day the arch in my foot needs to correspond to no more than a 2” heel. I have no idea how widely-applicable that number is, but thought it worth sharing. It’s probably also worth noting that we have a shoes-off household, so I spend a decent portion of every day with bare feet and do stretch my calves daily.

I feel like I should close this post by reiterating that I believe fashion should be subordinate to our lives, rather than the other way around. For all that I love heels, and am very comfortable in them, I spend a fair amount of time being active outside with the boys. And no way are my clothes going to get in the way of that. So when you see me at the playground, I’ll be looking like this…

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…and totally happy with that. How about you? Do you prefer heels, flats, both? Does it depend on the outfit?

(And yes, before someone asks, I have two kinds of jeans–ones hemmed for heels, and ones hemmed for sneakers.)

(…and yes, the ones I wear with sneakers are capris. Hah!)

Fashion Fridays: The wider, the better.

The week is continuing as it began, baffling and saddening. Our towns are in lock down. The future is uncertain. In light of today’s events, today’s stop on the Knit to Flatter blog tour, my nearby friend Thea’s blog, is postponed until the end of the tour. Please join us for tomorrow’s stop, hosted by Knitting At Large’s Julie Matthews.

I had hoped, by delaying this post, that the man hunt would be over and we could begin to put this horrific week behind us. Alas, it’s not to be. And after several hours of lock down in our small home with the boys, honestly I need a bit of a light-hearted break. So I hope you’ll forgive me for a brief fashion interlude. Be well, everyone.

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This week’s Fashion Friday is an outfit deconstruction:

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And the topics I especially want to touch on are why it’s often good to broaden the appearance of some part of your body, and what texture and color can do for us.

Let’s start with a reminder of my body’s underlying shape–I have a proportional, athletic, quite straight shape. I have a larger bust, but also a fairly thick middle that tends to shrink my bust’s appearance. In this outfit, I’m creating the illusion of a curvier figure through thoughtful use of figure-broadening elements, and camouflaging a thicker middle with texture.

When I share the technique of broadening one part of your body through the use of horizontal visual elements, I can often see students mentally tick off “Check! No horizontal stripes.” on some internal “rules” checklist. But actually, nothing could be further than the truth. It’s always (always) easier to broaden the appearance of some part of your body than to narrow it, and since our eye is pretty terrible at seeing absolute size, broadening the narrower parts of your body is a great way to change its apparent shape. I recommend this technique to some top- and bottom-heavy shapes to make them appear more proportional, but it’s a great trick for a proportional figure like me, too: If I broaden my shoulders and hips, my waist looks narrower by comparison–and voila! A curvier figure.

In this outfit, there are broadening elements both at the shoulders (those great dolman sleeves) and at the hip (horizontally-striped hem and skirt with creases and light patches). Combined with the interesting diagonal fabric cuts on the front of the shirt, my waist looks much smaller than these broadened elements. I don’t suddenly look 2 sizes larger, I simply look more curvy.

I’m doing something conscious with the patterning on my shirt, too–I often get questions about how to “hide” a thicker tummy. The answer is: put some interesting stuff on top of it.

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Texture, color, stripes, interesting cuts to the fabric, sweater elements like lace and cables–all of these give the eye something more interesting to look at than the body underneath. Placing them over your tum (or whatever) doesn’t make it look thicker or larger; the distraction makes it nigh-invisible.

(Details of this outfit: Shirt is old Anthropologie; skirt is current Nordstrom, shoes are Naya Cecilias from a couple of years ago (?)).

And that’s this week! Do you have any favorite outfits that you realize are actually broadening some part of your body? Any favorite color/texture/distracting elements? I’d love to hear about them!

Fashion Friday: Deep Necklines

This week, I wanted to explore a topic near and dear to my heart: Deep necklines.

Deep necklines break up your torso into lots of different sections, shortening its appearance and visually grouping the bust up with the head, rather than down with the waist. I love them.

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But what if you want the benefits of a deep neckline, without the cleavage?

Turns out, you still have lots of options. Any interesting stitch texture up next to the neck, fair isle color work, collar treatment, or the like still counts as part of the “neckline”, visually. As long as that treatment reaches down close to the fullest part of you bust, you get all of the advantages of a deep neckline without the drafts or the cleavage.

Here are a few examples. In this sweater (Revere House Jacket by Kirsten Kapur), the gorgeous, large, asymmetrical collar acts in the same way a deep V does:

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In this one (my own Wintry Mix), the wide, portrait-collar visually mimics a wide, deep boat neck:

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Here are a few more:

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Can you see what I mean? What are your favorite “deep” necklines? Hand knitting or not; please share in the comments!