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The fashion whisperer: Going from frump to fashionista

One part stylist, one part shrink, one part fortune-teller; he's nixed half my wardrobe, but in a single two-hour meeting he showed me how I can look better at age 44 than I did at 20.

He calls himself a stylist, but I now refer to him as The Fashion Whisperer.

OK, he doesn't look like Robert Redford. He's an aging gay guy, but I swear he took 15 years off my arms simply by pushing up my sleeves. Who knew that my overly-long sleeves were drawing attention to my veiny, old-lady hands, and that shortening them to three-quarter length would give me a "lovely wrist line"?

I was initially loath to spend money on something so seemingly shallow and selfish as my appearance. But when my newly appointed business manager (somewhat) tactfully suggested that perhaps a makeover was in order, I knew I should listen.

Truth be told, I'd been coveting makeover shows for years, secretly hoping that a team of stylists would one day be so taken by my inner beauty that they would donate their time and services, along with tons of free clothes, to transform me. However, my thinly veiled hints that my family should nominate me for "What Not To Wear" were in vain.

So, when my manager - whose income is directly tied to my market value - recommended breaking open the checkbook and hiring someone to spruce me up, I realized it might not be a bad investment.

Like many women, I have a hard time justifying spending any time or money on myself. Who's got the energy or funds for fashion when you're scrambling to get Hamburger Helper on the table by 7 p.m.?

Stay-at-home moms may shell out big bucks for Baby Gap or orchestra camp, but when it comes to their own wardrobes, they troll the clearance racks at TJ Maxx.

And while most working women recognize that we need to look decent for our jobs, I suspect I'm not the only one who's been swapping out the same three suits for years.

However, I've finally come to realize that, like it or not, how you look affects the way people treat you and the way you feel about yourself. And after submitting my hair, make-up and wardrobe to professional scrutiny, I'm glad I did it.

What did I learn?

If you're going to color your hair, it should match your complexion, not your favorite blouse. (Note to self: There are no natural redheads in your family; copper is more becoming on a fox.)

Buy for your body type. If you're sporting heavy jowls, turtlenecks are not your friend, and if you're saddled with a thick middle and matronly bosom, give all your short-waisted jackets and elastic belts to Goodwill.

Skinny ankles may look lovely, but that doesn't mean you should wear your jeans at half-mast to show them off. Cowgirls aren't the only ones who benefit from boot cut.

Color is everything. Just because it looks good on Oprah doesn't mean it works for you. Know your best colors and stick with them.

You needn't fork out a fortune to look nice. If I didn't make my living doing speaking and TV work, I certainly wouldn't have hired an image guy. But in perusing my old photos, I do wish I had paid more attention to my appearance in earlier years.

So don't make the same mistake I did.

Don't waste the best years of your life feeling like a frump. Get help from a friend, a fashion whisperer - or even just your own mirror - and always put your best foot forward.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.