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Thoughtful Dressing

Yesterday I was in a meeting with a client –that’s right, I’m going global– and the client brought in a couple who were also making a pitch. Awkward. But, as they walked in, my eyes nearly went out on stalks. He was dressed in his very finest Generic White Guy Horrible Plaid Shorts, a charming death metal tee and bizarrely flat-ironed hair. She was resplendent in a white jersey gypsy skirt tied in various places for maximum skin exposure, a flimsy tanktop with bra straps on full display (and lest anyone accuse me of not being thankful for small mercies, I give her credit for actually wearing a bra) and a cheap bag. They both had ridiculous sunglasses perched on their heads.

To.

a.

meeting.

I liketa died. This isn’t a formal place but there’s a difference between laid-back professional and going The Full McConaughey.

I wonder what they thought about what message they were sending by arriving in their Bonnaroo best. My guess is they didn’t think at all.

I’ve had several of you write in over the years asking for styling advice for situations where you’ll be making your first impression and my answer is always the same: Be Thoughtful.

We’ve got to assume fatness counts against us in the interview process. I’m not saying it always does, but it’s a mean old world out there and it’s better to err on the side of caution, so we’ve got to dress even more thoughtfully than maybe we otherwise would.

What do I mean by thoughtful dressing? Let’s take what I wore to a meeting yesterday and the thought process behind it:

Shoes: Olive snub-toed snakeskin flats from All Black. Normally I’d wear heels, but now that I’m in a more openly macho culture, I didn’t want to threaten anyone’s delicate manhood by standing a foot taller than they do instead of my normal six inches. I know, I rolled my eyes too, but I also put on the flats.

Pants: The denim trousers from Coldwater Creek I mentioned a few weeks ago. This is an informal place, so denim is appropriate, but there’s a difference between a tailored pair of trousers  and your grungy clam diggers. Admittedly this is a fine line to walk and if you’re going to be interviewing or meeting with someone who was old enough to fight in WWII you  might want to err on the side of caution. It’s an overstatement of course, but to a certain generation, denim will always be “play clothes” so skip the dungarees if you want the job.

Belt: I used a brightly-colored thin shawl popular with the women here as a belt.  I wanted to incorporate some local flavor and convey the message I’m not some Ugly American coming down to take all their money and ransack their culture, but I also know I’m not Mexican and won’t insult them by coming “in costume”.

Sweater: Fair skin is a sign of beauty here and to a degree social status. I’m pretty much the fairest in the land, or at least this sleepy seaside village, so a dove gray sweater that accentuates my Snow White complexion is an understated way of subtly emphasizing these indicators.

Jewelry: A pair of sparkly 1940’s earrings say “classic, but not common” while a single piece of elegant fine jewelry worn casually can say “I’m successful enough that I don’t have to be showy.”

Bag: The Birkin, of course. Not that I expected my client would have any inkling as to what the bag supposedly means, but people can recognize quality, so a well-made leather bag in a classic design is a way to say you’re stylish but serious. You appreciate quality and neither you nor your bag are throwaway trends.

Hair: Clean, naturally. I left it curly because I wanted to fit in as much as possible and curly hair here is much more common and professionally acceptable than it is in the states (there is a whole book to be written about anti-curl bias, but I’m not going to be the one to do it).

Makeup: They like a heavier hand with the old makeup trowel down here so I dialed it up just a bit. Obviously this is regional. What may seem Spartan in Georgia might read as Deranged Pageant Queen in Vermont. A barefaced Connecticut girl might look positively sickly in Dallas.

Grooming: Scrubbed clean and pink as a piglet of course, but also did my necessary facial hair maintenance. My eyebrows in their natural state yearn to become one, and before my lovely lovely laser hair removal I could’ve given an Amish farmer a run for his money. We can rage against it as much as we want to, but generally speaking if a man shows up half-shaved or a woman shows up in a serious unibrow, that’s not saying “I’m So Serious I Don’t Care About Stupid Things Like Eyebrows” it’s saying “I’m socially tone deaf or haven’t put thought into the message I’m sending, and I’ll be equally tone deaf and thoughtless while representing your company.”

Fair, maybe not always, but them’s the breaks.

And yes, I got the client. Of course it’s because I’m naturally the greatest thing since sliced Botox, but my thoughtful dressing didn’t hurt my cause the way the other folks’ thoughtless dressing hurt theirs.

How do I know?

Because when I was invited to stay and the under-dressed applicants were asked to leave, the door was locked and the two senior partners laughed.

 

 

 

 

Review Revue + How To Wear: Wide Leg Pants

Do you ever just get an image stuck in your head and declare “THIS. THIS is what I want to be wearing right now, and I shall never know another moment of joy until my dream is realized!”?

Well that’s what happened with me when I saw this:

It was exactly, exactly the feel of what I wanted for my upcoming adventure as a mex-pat. Not the exact outfit per se, but the breezy early 1930’s sportswear feel so I searched and searched until I came upon these:

Silk and Linen Wide Leg Trousers

Fabrication:

70% silk, 30% linen, acetate lining. Obviously I would’ve preferred a silk lining, but we live in a broken and sinful world, so a girl can’t have everything. The silk/linen blend is lovely with an excellent drape and just a slight slub in the material. The lining isn’t bad either, a nice solid twill with good tailleur details you’d expect to find in a much more expensive piece.

Cut:

When they say wide leg, they MEAN wide leg.

In fact, I’d probably categorize them as true tailored palazzos. Stay with me, I know we’ve been burned by palazzos before.

Are there words that strike deeper fear in the hearts of the big-boned than “polyester georgette palazzo pants”?

I think not.

Still, these are very good, just perfect for the loose, 1930’s Biarritz meets Marisa Berenson style I want while I’m in Baja.

We’ve been due for a resurgence of pajama dressing for a while, what with the natural order of things (the 70’s coming back), the undying influence of Poiret and YSL and Karl Lagerfeld bringing back the old Sara and Gerald Murphy trope a few years ago for Spring 2008, which was brilliant but ahead of its time.

Plus it’s not like pants can get tighter, so there’s nothing new or interesting fashion-wise to “say” there. Even Hermes got in on the (slightly more tailored) act for its most recent ready to wear collection.

The cut is elegant and thoughtful. Whoever designed these trousers knows their stuff. The front pleats (stay with me now) are sewn down through the waist and stomach so you don’t get that gut-level poochiness one usually associates with front pleats.  Instead you get an elegant trimness through the waist and hips. There are side pockets and besoms in the back. Nothing too distracting, but it adds a great sportswear look.

Fit:

Long-legged girls, you’re in luck. On me these are entirely too long –I’m 6’3″ in 5″ heels and I’ll still need the taken up at least 2″ inches– so unless you’re half giraffe, you’ll probably need to get these hemmed.

The drape is excellent and although I would’ve liked a slightly higher, narrower waist, that could be user error since I’ve got a high, narrow (er, comparatively) waist to begin with and I really could have/should have gone down a size.

My experience with the plus size range in Spiegel is they run about a size small, so being a pear-shaped 18/20 I ordered a size 22W. I’d still err on the side of caution if your trunk comes with its own considerable collection of junk, but I don’t think you’d be led too far astray if you ordered true to size.

From the side they look like heaven. From the front it’s a little harder to get used to, but once you try them  on as part of an entire outfit instead of just “naked plus pants” it comes together beautifully.

How To Wear It:

One thing you want to remember with all dressing, but especially when you’re playing with dramatic proportions, is to stay balanced. If you’re wearing gorgeous billowy trousers, then your top needs to be slim and there needs to be some structure to it. Look at the American magazine and the Hermes still. 80 years apart, but still the same basic idea: wide, flowing pants require a slim, structured top and/or other elements to offset it.

I don’t have just a ton of experience wearing this silhouette, I don’t tend towards separates in the first place and palazzo pants can be a hard look to pull off in a way that looks chic before one is Of a Certain Age, especially if one is fatly, since fatties as a species have been done so grievously wrong by bad palazzo pants in the past.

Still, I’m determined to do loose, 1930’s Biarritz meets Marisa Berenson style while I’m in Mexico, just for my own enjoyment, so on with the show.

Current plans for deployment are with mile-high espadrilles –I’m going to be a foot and a half taller than everyone in the country anyway, might as well make it an even two– an absolute armful of thick lacquer bangles in solid brights (optional) and a scarf tied on the diagonal as a top which is surprisingly effective and flattering, covering all less-than-gracile parts of self, while putting my best features –my shoulders and neckline– on display, sans cleavage, with a cardi for modesty when I’m not on the beach or lounging at home.If you even have to ask if I’m going to be wearing a big hat I’m not angry, just disappointed. I thought we knew each other.

Parting Shots:

These are Very Good Pants Indeed, especially on sale for $29.99. It’s a lot of capital F Fashion payoff for a dead comfortable and effortless look that still has the whiff of “she took hours to look that effortless” about it, and who doesn’t love that?

You’ll probably want to give these a steam or let them hang for a while when you first get them, but after that, don’t worry too much about creases. Even though it reads more silk than linen, you still don’t want these to be pristine as crisp shirting. The key is easy, soft, a little rumpled and utterly, utterly fabulous. Kind of like me, actually.

Thousand Dollar Shoes on a Hundred Dollar Budget

I get a lot of people who ask me how I manage to have the things I do –particularly my shoes– with the job I have.  Now ignoring for a moment that it’s kind of a rude question,  I do have a bit of wisdom to share as to how I managed to amass a shoe collection worth more than what I earn in a year without hooking, selling my kidneys or getting into credit card debt. While finding thousand dollar shoes for a hundred dollars is a bit on the ambitious side of things, if you follow my lead (and learn from my mistakes) you will be well on your way to your own enviable shoe salon.

Here goes:

Know what’s out there.

There is life outside Louboutin. In fact, I kind of feel that loubies are just a wee bit déclassé at the moment.

For every brand that gets namechecked and overexposed there are dozens of smaller houses making shoes just as interesting and luxurious, who have the talent and the quality, but not the advertising budget.  This is where you can find your best deals off-season.  You can mark down last season’s Dolce 20% and people will snatch them up as a bargain, but in order to move product of a lesser-known but every bit as talented shoe designer like Nicole Brundage, the retailer will cut deeper and faster just to get them out of the store.
Often you can bring home a $600 shoe –and worth every penny– for $150, maybe less.

Know what you like.
As you expose yourself to more designers (uh, as it were) you’ll also get a better feel for who and what you like.

Designers rarely change horses in the middle of a stream, so if you see a current shoe you love but can’t afford, look at the past season or two. Same thing goes for trends.  Odds are you’ll find similar themes or shapes in the sale section. This is particularly true if the house has any sort of signature look, like Valentino’s bows.

Speaking of Valentino, when you have a house that traditionally skews a bit older in clientele, the odds of finding an iconic shoe at a great price increases.  Valentino, even with the current chuckleheads trying to singlehandedly ruin Maestro Garavani’s house with their bid for the Chloe set (ptui ptui), will always always always release some iteration of  bow-embellished d’orsay.

Want some but don’t have one particular design etched on your heart? Give it time and keep your eyes on the sales racks. The right one will come down the pike sooner rather than later.

Patience Grasshopper.

Unless it is The One True Shoe (in which case you must buy it immediately regardless of price, lest you wake up in tears of regret every night for the rest of your sad, anticlimactic life) I don’t mind taking my chances and shopping the luxury clearance sales. Neither should you.

The Green Dior Anniversary is my One True Shoe and it got away. It haunts me in my dreams.

I’ve had particularly good luck at Neiman Marcus Last Call for a bricks and mortar experience and YOOX.com for online. YOOX lets you create a Dream Box. This is particularly handy because even if something is megabucks now, in six, nine, twelve months it might be a fraction of that. Plus every once in a while they’ll send an email with a coupon code for a percentage off everything currently in your Dream Box (no, you can’t go add things). If you still love it, buy it and rejoice. If you don’t still love it? You’ve saved a ton of cash avoiding a passing fancy you would’ve worn once.

Know what you won’t wear.
Every time I buy a pair of slingbacks I SWEAR I will never do it again.
In fact, I know as a gospel truth that somewhere floating around stately Chateau Gateau are at least two pairs of painfully fabulous slingbacks that have either been worn for less than an hour (I’m looking at you, magenta silk satin Brian Atwoods worn for half of midnight mass 2009) or not at all (iridescent mercury pebbled leather Guillaume Hinfrays) and even a pair of black croc house-brand slingbacks I bought at Saks several years ago rarely get worn now, and why? Because the damn sling always slips.

I’ve taken them to my shoe whisperer, I’ve done all the pads, everything.  The rise of my heel is simply too high for 99 out of 100 slingbacks.

A quick visit to Bluefly tells me the average Brian Atwood and Guillaume Hinfray both go for about $750 a pop and I seem to recall buying the black heels at Saks for retail, which I’m guessing was around $300.  So conservatively speaking, I have $1,850 worth of shoes that are just gathering dust, and those are just the ones I can remember right now. Granted I think I probably paid about $300 each for the Atwoods and Hinfrays, but that’s still close to a thousand bucks I could’ve saved if I’d remembered that I don’t wear slingbacks.

Never forget a name
We all have That Perfect Shoe. The one that fits like it was molded to your feet, makes your legs look like eight miles of heaven and miraculously works with everything in your closet? Find out the model name and set an eBay saved search. Don’t have the original box? Do some creative searching with Google Image or on department store sites you know carry that brand. Already found a shoe you want online but aren’t sure you’re getting the best price? Put the model name into any search engine with a shopping features and compare different sites on one screen. These are the Manolo Blahnik Caldos. If I find a Caldo in a size 41 I buy it. That’s it. Don’t care about the fabric, print, whatever. They fit my feet like a dream, I can walk a million miles in them and they can go from day to evening to formal evening like a song.

Elements of Style: Too Hip For The Room

Today we’re going to learn about the phrase “Too hip for the room.”

Comics use it to describe what happens when they die on stage, not because the material is bad, but because it wasn’t the right material –generally too sophisticated– for their audience. If you’ve got a fart joke crowd and you start making Schopenhauer gags, you’re going to get a bottle thrown at your head.

I think you see where I’m going with this.

While yes, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, being too hip for the room is a pit into which even the most seasons fashionista –and I’m including myself– can occasionally fall.

Case in point:

New Year’s Eve is amateurs’ night, and if I didn’t have an annual tradition of celebrating it at Beerland (the happiest place on earth) with two of my dearest friends, I would stay home in my underpants and Barcelona jersey painting my nails, the way Leo Messi and the Good Lord intended it.

But a girl’s gotta make an effort and since I was planning on seeing the impeccable Lady Bunny (and if you’re not imagining a choir of hot houseboy angels singing upon mention of her name, you’re clearly a broken person and I feel sorry for you) the next night at Oilcan Harry’s, I wanted to test run my outfit.

The outfit was as follows:

-a beautiful pair of tobacco brown slim-cut suede “cargo” pants
-a black, Elizabeth Taylor-style lace-top slip
-my favorite push up bra
-a blonde mink stole
-my big Cleopatra necklace

You might have noticed there wasn’t a shirt mentioned. The slip+bra was enough, with the mink for warmth and upper-arm coverage. It was a variation on an outfit I wore to Towndanceboutique a reunion night of the legendary Velvet Nation in DC with great success in October.

The outfit was great: a flawlessly executed combination of hard/soft and high/low and I looked SMOKIN’.

HOWEVER.

I was too hip for the room.

I gauged my audience incorrectly.

What is a perfect acceptable level of rackitude for a gay disco where ain’t nobody interested in your ladybidness except the occasional seven foot-tall drag queen named Cookie who just has to check if they’re real (what? I’m tall and wear big jewelry, mistakes are bound to happen) is way, WAY too my cleavage for a straight club full of drunk dudes.

I still looked great, but I was too hip for the room and had entirely too much of the wrong sort of attention the whole night, to the point where my friends’ hugely tall and gallant husband literally had to orbit around me with his arms out to get the crazies to leave me alone.

Don’t let this happen to you.

There’s nothing wrong with being the best dressed person in the room (except if you’re at a wedding or trying to sleep with someone else’s husband) but know your audience, and if you’re going to overshoot it, do it thoughtfully. Don’t be too hip for the room.

The Garment Bag of Death

Let me explain to you once again the importance of having a Funeral Outfit ready at any given moment. It’s important. WAY important, and there’s no excuse not to have one at the ready. That way you can save yourself the trouble about worrying what on earth to wear and get to the important things: Judging the people who left the crusts on the finger sandwiches.

Funerals are hard, you’re grieving and if you’re not grieving you’re concerned about someone who is. You don’t really have the time or the brain space to devote to putting together an appropriate outfit on the spur of the moment. Unfortunately there’s no occasion where the appropriate outfit is more important and gaffs are more obvious so the stakes are pretty darn high.

For this reason, you need a Garment Bag of Death.

The Garment Bag of Death should hang in your closet at all times and contain the following:

One conservatively cut, minimally embellished black dress with a hemline no higher than the bottom of your knees and which covers your shoulders and upper arms. When I say black I mean black. I don’t mean a pattern with black in it, or a dress with a black skirt and cream bodice. Solid black. I don’t care if you don’t like black or if you never wear it except to funerals. Funerals are Not About You, so show your respect for the deceased and the solemnity of the event by sucking it up, putting on your big girl panties, and conforming, just this once, to the social norms. A fitted, well-tailored suit is also appropriate.

One pair of appropriate and polished dress shoes that don’t hurt your feet.
I’ve said before Armani makes excellent funeral shoes because they have nice solid heels that are elegantly shaped but not too high. Flats are perfectly acceptable provided they are not scuffed or too casual. If you choose to wear heels, don’t go for stilettos, you’ll thank me if it’s a graveside service.

A fabric clutch, prepacked with two handkerchiefs (one for you and one for someone who needs it), a pen, a pad, and a mirrored compact. I hate big clunky day bags at funerals. They’re sloppy and incongruous, and you always have to dig around for Kleenex or a pen or who knows what. Having a small, fully-loaded clutch or fabric bag hanging and ready means you don’t have to think about anything. Just drop in your keys, phone, ID and cash (if necessary). You’re appropriate and ready to go.

Accessories. A strand of pearls is always ideal. Buy an inexpensive vintage costume strand at a local antique shop and hang it around the hanger. A brooch is also nice and appropriate, provided it is understated and could not in any way be described as a novelty item (e.g., a rhinestone dachshund).

Appropriate Undergarments. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I had the dress, the slip and was absolutely perfect except there was not a clean pair of my preferred species of underpants to be found at stately Château Gâteau for love nor money. Whatever you require to make your funeral outfit look seamless, have it ready and in the bag.

Ideally you should switch your Garment Bag of Death contents to reflect the season. There’s one GBoD outfit for spring/summer and GBoD for fall/winter. As soon as you wear it, wash everything and pop it back in the bag.

What’s Worth It?

When compiling your perfect wardrobe, you’ll get a lot of advice about getting ‘investment pieces.’ These are the staples of your closet that will form the building blocks for your personal style for – hopefully – years to come.

The thing to remember when you’re on a budget is that not everything you buy needs to be an investment piece. In fact, there are some things that do not make good investment pieces.

So what is it worth spending as much as you can possibly scrape together on? What’s a waste to spend big bucks on? Here are my choices.

Investments:

Good shoes. Say what you will, your feet are important. Taking good care of them is important to your legs and spine as well. Never wear shoes that don’t fit properly. Don’t spend a lot of time in shoes that don’t offer good support. A good classic pair of boots, a classic pair of pumps or flats (both if you can afford them), a solid pair of athletic shoes appropriate for the activity of your choice, and a pair of sandals that actually support your foot properly should cover you for all the basics. Keep the styles on these classic and simple. Stick to colors you know will never look inappropriate. These are worth spending good money on because they will be with you for as long as you can make them last.

A really good winter coat. Again, keep it fairly classic in both color and style because you’ll be wearing it a long, long time if all goes to plan. Make sure it’s well constructed and adequate to the conditions of the winters in your area. For instance, my winter coat is also my fall and spring coat because there’s only a few degrees difference around here between those seasons. It’s more a case of how often it gets worn.

A business ready skirt, pair of trousers, and jacket. Even if you don’t work in an office, these can be useful separates in your life. Get the best quality you can afford, check the seams and hems for good construction, make sure they’re properly lined. Again, keep them classic.

At least three quality bras. You need something to support you properly, and enough of them that you can always have at least one in wearable shape every day.

A fairly simple dress in a neutral color that can go to the office, a nice dinner out, a wedding, or a funeral in a pinch. Most women cover this with the infamous ‘little black dress’ but we all know how I feel about that. If black works for you (in which case I’m going to beg you not to wear it to weddings), go for it. For the rest of us, consider brown, beige, navy, forest green, or any other relatively neutral color that appeals to and flatters you.

A couple statement accessories. Whether your thing is hats, rings, brooches, earrings, scarves, or bracelets, get one or two that will last you forever. Ignore classic or trendy in this and go for what speaks truly to your heart. These will be your style calling card, and you want it to say your name loud and clear.

Not Investments:

Sure to be short-lived trends. Sure ruffles and metallics are big right now, but what about two or three seasons from now? Other things that you can guarantee will go by the wayside very quickly when they appear: lime green, neon, extreme platform shoes, open-toed boots, very long or very short skirts, puffed sleeves, harem pants, short shorts, gladiator sandals, and very large or very small glasses frames.

These are things where if you choose to follow the trend, it’s better to go cheap and cheerful. After all, by the next time they come around, either they won’t fit anymore or you probably won’t be into the trend anymore. Me? I have loved gladiator sandals all along and probably will until the day I die (don’t tell Plummy!), but I’ve seen the trend come around and disappear often enough not to bother investing big money in it.

A quick word about classic cuts and colors. When I say classic cut I don’t mean that everyone needs the same one. When I say classic color, I don’t mean you’re limited to black, beige, grey, and brown. What I mean is something that isn’t an extreme trend. For your perfect coat, you may choose cherry red. It’s not boring, certainly, but it’s a color that will never make you look like a fashion victim. My jacket happens to be burnt orange. It’s not always a popular color, but it’s one that comes around pretty often and always makes me look my best.

As for cut, you may find a more fitted or a more flowing style is better for you. Just don’t make those office trousers palazzos or jeggings. Whether your most flattering skirt is a pencil, and a-line, or a dirndl, get the best one you can afford. Handkerchief hems and car wash panels? Don’t bother spending too much.

A Lesson in Trends: Over-sized Sunglasses

I was a little surprised to find such shock and awe over the idea that over-sized sunglasses are in bad taste the other day and I thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about the lifespan of a trend.

If you go for a trend you mark yourself as trendy. That’s fine, but trendy has a shelf life and you’d be wise to know when to jump off that band wagon before it drives itself into gas station and dollar store wasteland.

Let’s talk about over-sized sunglasses. The trend? She is over.

I have three problems with oversized sunglasses.  Four if you include they look dumb.

First and foremost they are played. out.

Way played out.

Way WAY played out, and have been for a good couple of years now.  They were fresh-looking in 2004 and stayed more or less on the right side of gauche (see what I did there?) until late 2007. It had a standard three year trend run. Fine and respectable. And I’m sure they’ll come back again in say, 2025 so if you bought an expensive pair, keep ’em somewhere.

However:

It is now 2010.

The industry-standard two year trickle down grace period is well over. It’s time to put ’em away.

Generally speaking, if you can buy a trend at the dollar store or a gas station, then chances are that particular trend has officially become saturated and is now followed only by People Who Don’t Know.

You are not People Who Don’t Know.

The other thing about big sunglasses is this:

They’re not glamorous.

They’re not going to make you glamorous or mysterious or interesting if you’re not glamorous or mysterious or interesting already, and if you ARE glamorous or mysterious or interesting already, you probably already know better than to make that sort of rookie mistake.  (For further reference please see fig. 142a in your texts, tit., Mathematical Odds of Women in Shirts Spelling “Classy” in Rhinestones Actually Being Classy.)

Also: You’re Not Famous (probably)

Most of us aren’t famous.  I’m the level of famous where I get recognized for who I actually am maaaaybe  once a month, and then get the “Hey! You’re! Uh! Somebody!” about every other week (we will not speak of the dark days as a 20 year-old big girl in our Nation’s Capital where I was constantly mistaken for Monica Lewinsky) and yet somehow I manage to avoid the papparazzi glare on a regular basis.

I’m not Jackie Onassis and this isn’t 1974.  I can get away with regular sized sunglasses. I’m pretty sure you can, to0.

The thing about a trend is you’ve got to know when to let go.  I’m not talking about the hyper-militant Fashionistas who wouldn’t be caught DEAD wearing last year’s Balmain military jackets. That’s dumb, but a good rule is if you’re playing the same card now that you were three years ago without a significant tweak in a modern direction then maybe you want to go ahead and give yourself a little revamp.

Hope this helps! Ask questions in the comments field

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