By Debra D. Bass

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(MCT)

As we shed the mentally and physically protective clothing layers of winter, it inevitably raises anxieties about what we see in the mirror.

A pear-shaped friend asked me how to incorporate one of those sexy strapless jumpsuits into her wardrobe, and I said, "you don't."

I've got two words on this subject: Do you.

Stop right now and figure out what you love about your body.

Maybe it's your eyes. You might have a great complexion, a fantastic hair cut, chiseled arms or the cutest toes on the block.

Whatever it is, rock what you've got. Do you, because no one else can.

And, frankly, you don't have any better choices.

So, as we dive into swimsuit season and the warm weather that can often usher in a tsunami of fashion disasters, it's worth reminding ourselves to dress for the body we're in — not the body we want.

At The Little Black Dress shop in Ladue, Mo., where frenzied shoppers were snapping up their latest summer dresses, designer Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss offered some uncommon consumer wisdom recently.

"I don't worry about being trendy because I don't have a trendy body," she said.

Yet Gruss, a 33-year-old mom with a 2-year-old daughter, hit on a concept that is easier said than accepted.

Everyone has a body gripe. No matter how well-proportioned or slim, we can all make a list.

Most of us want whatever physique will complement the latest fashion must-have, and we imagine that if we do this or that that we'll suddenly look tall and stunning in skinny jeans or oh-so-hip in shorty-shorts.

But everything ain't for everybody, as my mom used to say.

Gruss started her line of dresses because she was frustrated that she couldn't find clothes that flattered her petite, hourglass figure. Too many of the breezy dresses with spaghetti straps looked trashy or ill-fitting.

Instead of squeezing in and feeling conspicuous or uncomfortable, she realized that it was better to look good than look trendy.

She started her line to create her own trends in a way. She added more support in strapless dresses and substantial straps on sleeveless frocks for the woman who needs a bra. She wanted to be more inclusive.

The same holds true for her newer swimwear line, which features 13 top sizes from A to DDD.

"I have more of a sexy shape, but I like a classic line that's not overtly sexy," Gruss said. On a woman with a small bust, a deep V-neck can be very elegant and daring, but on a woman with an hourglass-figure like hers, Gruss said, that it turns into something else. She said that everyone needs to find their comfort level and display themselves as they see fit, but as far as she's concerned, "too sexy just ruins it."

"I do get one complaint a lot, and it's that I don't design enough dresses with sleeves," Gruss said. "I don't even think about it because I like to show my arms, but people in the middle of winter are like 'Can I get a sleeve, please?'"

So what does Gruss think about all the attention and debate about whether our first lady should be flaunting her biceps so much.

"I think she's got a terrific body, and I'm glad she's comfortable with her arms," Gruss said. "I also think some of her clothes are ill-fitting. Those cardigans are not the right size, I think. I hope she doesn't get mad at me."

And Gruss offers that one of her Shoshanna shift dresses would be perfect on Michelle Obama , but she said that Obama would have to render the final verdict.

"I wouldn't tell anyone how they should dress," Gruss said. "I'll suggest, but everyone has to figure out what makes them happy" and not settle until they find it.

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