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Just Don't Call Me `Baby'

You can wear this '60s-style dress without getting cotton-candy cute. Nicole Chavez has done it for starlets -- now it's your turn.

June 17, 2007|Melissa Magsaysay | Times Staff Writer

ARE women beyond worrying about being "baby dolls"?

If you look around this summer, the answer would seem to be yes. The baby-doll dress, with its demurely tented silhouette and playful, above-the-knee hem, is everywhere, cramming the racks from Barneys to H&M.

And -- OK, we'll admit it -- they look adorable. So easy, so summery, you've probably already snapped one up.

But as sweet as these '60s throwbacks are, they also have an evil side that reveals itself only once you get them home: All that volume, all that cotton-candy cuteness, is almost impossible to pull off. Call it Betty Friedan's revenge.

Still, we have seen evidence that you can look good in them -- in Hollywood, of course. And the person who makes sure Ashlee Simpson, Rachel Bilson, Jamie King, Scarlett Johansson and other lovelies look perfect in this season's hottest style is Nicole Chavez. Starting in "The OC's" costume department, she's been styling celebrities for seven years.

Here, Chavez tells how to take back the baby doll.

Go figure

When buying a baby-doll dress, the first thing to consider is proportion. To keep from overwhelming a short frame, she suggests "a solid color -- no prints." Rebecca Taylor's white sleeveless lace dress with a bib collar is a good bet for a petite frame. And, of course, wearing heels or platform shoes creates the illusion of longer legs. Opaque tights can do the trick too, Chavez says.

Taller girls can take the opportunity to flash some leg. "I loved that look that Cameron Diaz wore" to the "Shrek the Third" premiere. "She was in a raspberry pink Chanel dress that was really short. She's so tall and lanky, that bold color and short length worked with her long legs."

Baby doll or bust

Baby dolls can be tricky on the bigger busted. (The tent becomes that much bigger, Chavez says.) But they are doable. To create definition, she suggests adding a cropped jacket. A cleavage-enhancing dress can also draw the eye upward. But stay away from pleats. "They double the volume."

Slip up

Jersey might be the most comfortable fabric for a baby doll, but it clings. If you wear jersey, Chavez recommends a slip or Spanx underneath. But in general, a more structured fabric such as lace will hide more.

Oh, grow up

It's important to wear a style that is age appropriate. For a more sophisticated look, Chavez recommends a baby doll with more coverage and structure.

"Juicy Couture does a great baby-doll dress with three-quarter-length sleeves in a beautiful bright yellow called 24 Karat," she says. "It has more coverage because of the sleeves, it's not jersey so it's not so clingy, and the neck is a wide scoop so it's not too revealing."

Edie does it

When it comes to the '60s silhouette, the look should seem inspired by -- but not completely achieve -- "Factory Girl." Chavez suggests it might be tempting to channel Twiggy and sport cropped hair and colorful tights but advises that "you have to mix in elements that are current."

That cute Peter Pan collar that Mia Farrow wore so well in "Rosemary's Baby" can be too costumey. "That kind of collar is OK if you're waify and have an indie vibe about you," she says. "But you have to counterbalance it with something edgier so you don't look like a schoolgirl. Pair a Peter Pan collared dress with some rocker ankle boots and messy hair. There has to be a disheveled element."

When Chavez dressed Bilson in a black D&G baby doll for a recent movie premiere, she paired it with a cropped black leather jacket from Mike & Chris. "The hardness of the black leather against the chiffon looked fresh and modern."

Take cover

When sporting something thigh-high, leggings can be a godsend. "Wearing leggings underneath makes for a more casual look and is also more comfortable for me since I have to bend over and kneel a lot while working," Chavez says. At night, black opaque tights can offer the same coverage.

Simple chic

When accessorizing a baby doll, Chavez favors long, layered charm necklaces for a dressier look and gold hoops for something more casual. She advises staying away from belts, because they obstruct the silhouette.

"I would take a baby-doll dress to a tailor before I wore a belt," she says. "They could take a few inches out of the dress without losing the shape."

melissa.magsaysay@latimes.com

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