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Dressing Up in Travel Style, Part I

A look at travel dresses

San Francisco Bay Area, June 3, 2001 — TodayÕs traveler has more options to choose from when it comes to a travel wardrobe. No longer are you limited to khaki cottons or olive drabs; easy-care fabrics such as microfiber, Supplex and Tencel keep you looking stylish without having to fret about dry cleaning or ironing while on the road. In todayÕs article, letÕs focus on one particular type of travel garment that has seen tremendous popularity in recent years: the travel dress.

Back in 1997, travel clothing manufacturer Travelsmith began selling a product it called Òthe Indispensable Black Travel Dress.Ó Hidden within the dressÕs simplicity were a number of novel features that brought together some real conveniences for the woman traveler. Made of a combination of Supplex and Lycra, the Indispensable Black Travel Dress required no dry cleaning nor ironing, could be rolled into a ball and packed away in the corners of a bag, had no zippers, snaps or buttons to break, and could be easily washed by hand or by machine and hung to dry overnight.

However even with the somewhat steep price tag of $89, I believe the key to the success of the Indispensable Black Travel Dress was its cut. The dress features an empire waistline (still fairly uncommon among dress styles) that brings the waistline of the dress all the way up to near the bottom of your bra line. With this elevated waistline, the Indispensable Black Dress does what most dresses fail to do: Flatter almost every female figure that wears it.

This may have been a pretty simple feat, but keep in mind that this dress was being sold by a mail order company, which was hoping to keep the rate of returns low in order to succeed with this product. How many of you have purchased an item through the mail only to find that you arenÕt happy with how the item looks on you?

The empire waistline does different things to different figures, all of them positive. If you are flat-chested, the waistline accentuates your bosom and gives you a more curvy figure on top. If you are barrel-waisted, the waistline masks it altogether and provides the illusion that you have a thinner waist. Large-hipped? The slight A-line cut of the skirt portion of the dress hides most hips, and doesnÕt draw unwanted attention to the area.

In addition, the muted matte look of the fabric and its total lack of distracting buttons or decorations means you can take any accessory to the dress and give it totally different looks.

Although Travelsmith has not released numbers of how many of its dresses it sold in 1997, the response must have been hugely positive. Within the next few seasonal cycles, Travelsmith expanded on its original ankle-length, short-sleeve version to include models with long sleeves, mock turtlenecks, shorter hems, as well as other neutral colors, such as navy, heather charcoal, burgundy, and sage (light green). Travelsmith rotates the available styles and colors based on the time of year, although I havenÕt seen the burgundy or sage dresses in a while.

As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So it comes as no surprise that a number of other travel supply companies have begun selling Òtravel dresses.Ó Some, like those sold by Norm Thompson, lack the essential empire waistline. Although these work for slender women, I believe they are not as flattering without the waistline. If you are fortunate enough to be able to visit Norm ThompsonÕs stores in Oregon, give the dresses a try... but only in person.

Another mail order company that stepped into the travel dress arena recently is L.L. Bean. With its Traveler catalog, L.L. Bean chose to sell a dress very similar to TravelsmithÕs dress. Its ÒGo AnywhereÓ travel dress is similar in both cut and fabric to the Indispensable Black Travel Dress. Both companies offer petite and women's sizes as well. However, L.L. Bean's dress does have a couple of slight differences:

The Go Anywhere travel dress has a slightly waffled texture to the fabric that seems to be part of the fabricÕs weave itself. Not only does this waffle mask any imperfections in your silhouette (such as a bra line), but the fabric feels sturdier. In fact, having worn Indispensable Black Travel Dresses as well as Go Anywhere travel dresses over the course of the last year (and washed both of them multiple times), I believe the L.L. Bean dress is actually of a better quality over the two. The fabric has definitely held up better.

One problem IÕve begun to notice with the Indispensable Black Travel Dress is that after multiple washings, the fabric begins to get a bit limp (think Òovercooked wet noodleÓ here). This problem is particularly noticeable when you wear pantyhose, because the fabric likes to cling to my hose!

There is one more difference between the two dresses: L.L. Bean charges $10 less on its comparable models than Travelsmith. For example, Travelsmith sells its short-sleeve, short-hemmed travel dress sells for $79, while L.L. Bean only charges $69. Travelsmith charges $109 for its mock turtleneck, ankle-length model (its most expensive), while L.L. Bean manages to stay in the double-digits with a price of $99. While $10 may not be a lot, thatÕs a good 10% price difference on the standard model (and a lot of savings if you end up buying multiple styles and colors like me!).

If the two dresses were totally comparable in other ways, I would probably buy L.L. BeanÕs dresses when I was already buying other stuff from them, and TravelsmithÕs when I was already picking something up there. However with the ease of Internet shopping, and with the slightly sturdier fabric, my preference is towards L.L. BeanÕs.

I will say however, that both dresses produce very little lint, and do not pill, even after years of wear. To me, thatÕs a sign of solid quality.

I own both, and am still happy with both of them -- I just donÕt wear the Travelsmith dress if IÕm wearing pantyhose.

No article about travel dresses would be complete without mentioning the most original and novel travel dress on the market however, and that is Lydia SilvestryÕs Infinite Dress. LydiaÕs name may not be familiar to you, but chances are youÕve caught former the Infinite Dress on late-night infomercials.

If you think the Travelsmith and L.L.Bean travel dresses are handy, you havenÕt met the Infinite Dress. When you pick it up, it looks like... well, a tiny pile of slinky fabric. Unlike the Supplex/Lycra fabric of the travel dresses, LydiaÕs dress is made with a combination of acetate and Lycra. The fabric is much thinner, yet very opaque against your skin... and it stretches forever. But what makes the Infinite Dress unique is its pattern. No empire waistlines here; the dress looks kind of like a straight tube dress with two humongous long tails on one end. These ÒtailsÓ are what do the trick: You pull and tie these tails in various combinations (over your shoulders, across your back, and so forth) in what Lydia says can create over 40 looks.

Lydia and her Infinite Dress have come a long way in their journey, from the runways of Europe to the America. Her journey hasnÕt been smooth, but today, she is able to offer her Infinite Dress at her own Web site.

In part II of my ÒDressing up in travel style,Ó we take a close look at LydiaÕs journey with her Infinite Dress. Stay tuned!

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