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Retro Re-Run: The Occasional Woman’s Back to Basics

| Oct 5, 2015
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Our favorite seamstress and theatrical costumer Lorraine Anderson is up to her eyeballs making corsets and other costumes. This is her busy time of year. So she is taking a break from her column this month. May all her stitches by tight. Here is her very first column for TGForum, Back to Basics. The advice is as good now as it was back then.

A hearty hello and compliments of the season to all you ladies out there. I am Lorraine Anderson, A.K.A. The Occasional Woman. My business is making sure YOU look good, and your clothes fit. I make clothing and costumes for the crossdressing and transgender community, and will also alter your wearables. I have been asked by the lovely (and infamous) Angela Gardner to write a monthly column on clothing, dressing, fit and style.

I thought I would start with some basic clothing terminology and my own insights — as I am assuming many of you did not have the double-edged sword of a mom saying “You are not leaving the house like that, young lady!” I will endeavor to take on that role. First, some definitions and suggestions!

First off, one must have the proper undergarments. It’s like the chassis on a car, or the framework of a house — if the understructure isn’t right, what is on top won’t look or be right. We start with a well-fitting bra. It should never ride up in back — that means it is too big or just worn out! It won’t do the job of keeping “the girls” perky and in the right neighborhood. A correct bra wraps snugly around the ribcage just below the actual breasts, containing whatever you have that needs containment. And — let’s get rid of WHITE BRAS! Brassieres should be either skin color, black or whatever matches the outer garment. (Or red.)

slip is an undergarment that keeps a dress or outfit, if unlined, from clinging to you in an unsightly manner. It allows your outer garment to glide cheerfully over you, and can be nice and slimming. They come in full slips with straps, or as half-slips, which look like anemic skirts.

Hosiery: Never go too light — it makes your legs look bigger and weirder. Do NOT make the mistake of wearing white pantyhose, unless you are prepared to give someone CPR or perform the Heimlich Maneuver. White stockings are for nurses, or people dressing up as George Washington.

Now, some definitions.


Click for larger view.

sheath is a basic straight dress, without sleeves or a waist. Looks best on the less-curvy figure, unless you are Sofia Vergara. She looks great in anything.

An empire waist dress has a short bodice (the top part) that ends just below the bust line. It then proceeds down to have a skirt attached. This is particularly attractive on a medium-busted person, and can camouflage a tummy that is a bit more generous.

Empire dress

shirtwaist in an old term for a dress that has a very defined waist. A skater dress is kind of an updated version — 1950s housewives were frequently portrayed vacuuming in the shirtwaist with a giant puffy skirt and pearls; the skater dress is more form-fitting and has a sassy little skirt on it. Adorable, especially if you have an “hourglass” figure.


drop-waist dress has a long bodice, coming to about 6-10 inches below the waist. Think 1920s “flapper” dress. They are good for the more straight up and down figure.


gown or formal is a fancy long dress. Whee!


a line skirt

An a-line is a universally flattering cut, fitting well at the waist and then flaring out a bit. This skirt is generally worn at or just above the knee.

pencil skirt

Pencil skirt — this one fits close and tight! They frequently have a built-in slit at the back, so one can walk without hobbling. If it cups the butt too tight, it can look rather ho-ish — which is fine, if that is the look one is going for. If you want to look chic and classy, go a size up and let it skim the figure. Your choice!

peasant skirt is very full and long — think Woodstock, or last century Romania. Cute for a Phish concert, but if it is too bright and patterned, and you are not a wispy girl, you do run the risk of looking like a billboard.

A mini skirt is short and either sassy or hookery. It’s up to the individual.
midi skirt is long, between calf-length and a bit longer, best worn with some snazzy boots.


A blouse

Blouse is a term for a less casual top — they often have fill sleeves, cuffs and a collar and buttons.

knit top is usually more light-hearted, like a grown-up T-shirt.

shell is a straight sleeveless top, most often worn under a suit.

sweater is, well, a sweater. Unless it is a dress, in which case, it is a sweater-dress.

A jumper

jumper is a sleeveless dress, meant to be worn with a blouse or top under it, unless you are in England — then a jumper is a sweater. (Editor’s Note: The jumper style is called a pinafore in the U.K.)

Sweatpants should only be worn at home, in a gym or while painting things. Or raking leaves, or going to the emergency room.

cowl neck is akin to a long, loose turtleneck — and it can hide a multitude of sins!

Today’s Tip

By far, the most important way to make you and anything you wear look wonderful is to simply stand up straight, and be proud of yourself — this will make even a burlap sack look 95% better!

Thank you for your reading, and your interest in looking your best!


Lorraine Anderson
The Occasional Woman — One of a Kind Dresses
for the Once in a While Woman

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Category: Style, Transgender Fashion

The Occasional Woman

About the Author ()

I am a native Californian who has been based in the Philadelphia area since 1984. My first CD fashion creation was a gold lamé dress for the now esteemed editor of this publication. Since then I have made tons of fabulous frocks and other fashion apparel for the crossdressing and transgender community. Contact me for custom clothing or alterations via email: Visit my Facebook page, @alterationsbylorraine

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