When I first discovered my personal sense of style, it was at the height of a Mad Men frenzy. Christina Hendricks strutted through the show in fitted pencil skirts and nipped in sheath dresses, oozing an unapologetic confidence about her curvy figure. Meanwhile, supermodel Kate Moss was making media rounds again with her effortlessly cool way of combining leather jackets with cocktail dresses and worn-in t-shirts with just about anything. Ultimately, I planned my wardrobe around these two style icons with a hefty ounce of J. Crew chic. At the time, I was at my most svelte, and while I could find pencil skirts and cardigans and breezy t-shirts and kick ass leather jackets, the sheath dress remained elusive. J. Crew had some understated and sophisticated options in their wear-to-work collections, but the size which fit my lower half never had enough space for my boobs. Frequently, the zipper wouldn’t budge, but on those rare occasions when shallow breaths yielded results, breast tissue, desperate to escape the extreme compression, migrated under my arms or up to my chin. As the years passed, I bought many beautiful dresses, but true fitted sheath dresses never worked. Outside of a chic black number from Biu Biu, the bulk of my dresses are usually jersey or ponte blends with a considerable dose of stretch, so when Kristen of Exclusively Kristen offered to send me her new bust-friendly dress for review, I was giddy.
Of course, my life proved to be pretty tumultuous this year what with pneumonia and weight gain and spider bites (oh my!), but through all of it, Kristen has been the epitome of grace and patience. For the review, Kristen sent me both the 12 and the 14, but I had the sneaking suspicions the 14 would be the winner. When I first received the dress a couple months ago, the 14 was snug and coaxing the zipper required a firm hand. However, when I was finally well enough to take pictures, I had lost five pounds (woot!), meaning the zipper now glides like a dream. For reference, my current measurements are 47″-36″-46″, placing me firmly in the size chart recommended 14. I love an accurate size chart! It’s so much easier to order online knowing it will fit true to size.
A structured, bust-friendly dress speaks to Kristen’s ambition because sheath dresses are notoriously challenging to fit off-the-rack. The preciseness of the cut requires every component to be perfect, and I half-expected to need tailoring. However, the Exclusively Kristen dress nails it for my hourglass figure. The bust is slightly snug with my Comexim bras although I am at the fuller end of her suggested measurements, and I love how it immediately nips back in under the bust and at the midsection. For me, I’m all about showing off my waist, especially when I am at a larger size, and I feel like the design maximizes my best features. On the hips, I have plenty of room to zip around the shop, a task made easier by the thoughtful back vent, but I do need to watch how I bend. Strategic darts on the top and bottom allow room for curves while still providing a tailored fit. Furthermore, the structured nature of fabric forgives lumps and bumps for a sleek silhouette.
Body-conscious dresses can be scary because they do show off your figure . . . for better or worse. With Exclusively Kristen, the mid-weight polyester exterior sports a textural quality similar to wool and combines with a full interior lining to camouflage problem areas while highlighting curves. My only gripe with the fit (indeed the dress as a whole) is that I do have bunching on the lower back, but I frequently have this issue with anything not containing spandex. As I understand, this has to do with my torso length and its relationship to my booty. It’s pretty minor, and I’ve seen a lot of sassy TV ladies who run into the same issue. Belts conceal it perfectly too. The day of the pictures began with a gorgeous, sun-drenched morning of 85 degrees with 1000% humidity, so I opted for fewer layers.
Sheath dresses are at their best when they keep it simple, allowing the focus to be on the wearer. With its cool elegance and subtle vintage nod through the peter pan collar, the Exclusively Kristen dress artfully uses minimal details to create a timeless classic. And the color! Oh what a beautiful shade of burgundy! Burgundy and Olive are two colors I treat much the same way as traditional neutrals like black or navy, and sure Kristen could have gone with a solid black too. However—and I can’t believe I, a black and white clothes addict, am about to say this—I am glad she didn’t. I think the choice of such a rich color distinguishes the dress while still providing a neutral palette for accessorizing.
Furthermore, given the price is roughly $150, I think the classic design and seasonless quality ensure the dress remains stylish for years to come. In winter, I plan on pairing it with sweaters, blazers, and tights, and for summer, I’ve been wearing it with chic sandals and statement jewelry. The quality is also fantastic. The stitching, the attention to detail, the careful way the liner was sewn in to prevent bunching—all of it highlights what American manufacturing can do. We sometimes forget that bringing jobs back stateside means goods will cost more, and to be honest, I think this dress is a phenomenal deal not only for the excellent fit and quality construction but also for a small business committed to US manufacturing. Bonus points: Buying an Exclusively Kristen dress directly supports a woman-owned small businesses.
One final word about the price issue: When I posted snapshots on Facebook and Instagram, I did receive messages about the price of the dress being too expensive. First, not only do we each have our own budgets but also priorities. I find it unfathomable to spend $50 a month getting my nails done but won’t flinch at spending three times that on a good pair of shoes that don’t kill my feet (still looking for those, by the way). As such, I don’t think categorizing the dress as too expensive is really fair. It’s actually a great price for the fit and quality, and for me, I prefer fewer dresses which fit perfectly then a closet full of so-so, especially if the quality is low enough to warrant replacing frequently. I’ll save money on t-shirts or cardigans to have the budget for a quality piece like this. For me, it’s all about the cost-per-wear. I hate how we are manipulated into feeding this “more, more, more” cycle. When my mom was alive, she and I were polar opposite on the shopping front. She literally had items she forgot she owned because her closet was so stuffed. Meanwhile, all of my clothes could fit comfortably in a large suitcase. If I love something, I’m going to wear it repeatedly until it falls apart. My way of shopping isn’t for everyone, of course, but I thought discussing my philosophy provided context for my commentary.
In closing, the biggest compliment I can pay this marvelous dress is to say that it makes me forget about my weight gain. I’ve been battling those body image demons hard core, especially because people are still making comments about my weight now vs. my weight in the photo on my counter. Some days, I barely muster up the confidence to wear anything other than yoga pants and a baggy t-shirt, but my Exclusively Kristen dress makes me feel awesome every time. I feel like Christina Freaking Hendricks, ready to kick ass and take on the world. I feel beautiful and perfect. I don’t feel like someone who hides away in loose clothes because I’m ashamed of my body or my weight. I feel like I own my body and rock this dress. And ladies and gents, that’s a damn fine feeling. Buy your own from Exclusively Kristen cuz you certainly ain’t gettin’ mine.
P.S. More obligatory photobombs by Lord Rayden while trying to get pictures of the dress . . .