On her international press tour to promote this past spring’s Iron Man, a radiant and lithe Gwyneth Paltrow donned a veritable parade of dresses, all with hemlines that hovered precariously around the top of her thighs. From a lacy black Balmain number to a sparkly Sonia Rykiel, Paltrow’s mini endeavors showcased her hard-earned gams and sexy-mom attitude. More important, the frocks managed to stay put across miles of red-carpet strolls. (Lindsay Lohan and her visible-to-all Spanx may wish to take note.)
But as any fashion lover will tell you, a dress that fits perfectly while worn standing can become a weapon of massive humiliation as soon as its owner takes a seat. And such incidents are not limited to short looks that leave little to the imagination. Tightly corseted bodices morph into death traps; huge ballskirts expand to look like housing for a family of four; and delicate fabrics and sequins pull a disintegration act.
Paltrow was lucky to have enlisted stylist Maria Serra for the European leg of her premiere trail. As Serra tells it, she and the actress put those leg-baring choices through a boot camp of possible scenarios: “She walked around the house, walked up some stairs, sat on a chair,” explains the stylist of their pre–photo op ritual. For an appearance on Britain’s Friday Night With Jonathan Ross TV show, they even considered camera angles: “What’s the height of the chair or the sofa you’ll be sitting on? Some people are quite happy if their modesty is compromised. But Gwyneth doesn’t really like that.”
Neither does Julie Macklowe, a retail/consumer portfolio manager for Sigma Capital Management. And so, lacking the time and styling assistance afforded an A-list celebrity, Macklowe once found herself at a Calvin Klein Fashion Week party declining multiple barstool offers despite her aching feet. “My turtleneck dress was so short that I literally could not sit the whole night. It would have been obscene,” she recalls. It was an unusual situation for Macklowe, a self-described ballgown devotee more accustomed to the woes inherent to such large garments. At the last Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute gala, for example, she wore a voluminous tulle Dolce & Gabbana confection that nearly caused a waiter pileup near her table.
But nothing tops the Oscar de la Renta ballskirt she bought for a Whitney Museum gala a few years back. Upon heading to the loo, she found her getup too large for the facility’s toilets. “My husband came to find me, and the skirt was sitting in the middle of the Whitney corridor, right outside the bathroom, because I just couldn’t fit through the stall doors,” says Macklowe, whose hubby then stood guard outside.