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The Balancing Act: How to Be Both Sexy and Sophisticated

The art of dressing “sexy” without going over the top

Ah, the fine balance. The balancing act. The . . . okay, you get the idea. We all like to dress up and accentuate various assets, but the key — especially at work events (this cannot be stressed enough) — is to choose oneOne asset to accentuate, one feature to stand out, one area to draw attention to. Naturally, it's a learning curve. But to help you avoid learning that curve in a public and/or boss-attended setting, here are four good examples of keeping it classy.

1. Back: Olivia Wilde in Gucci

Olivia Wilde in Gucci
Ah, the backless dress — a timeless choice. However, if you're baring your back, you want to avoid a plunging front or a mini skirt since a backless dress can go from eye-catching to jaw-dropping (not in the good way) in fast minute. So when in doubt, look to Olivia Wilde: capitalizing on the '40s beauty trend with her loose waves, she couples her backless style with a long skirt and accessories that bring out the dress' shimmery fabric. A stunning choice and red carpet appropriate — the best combination.

2. Sides: Diane Kruger in Thakoon

Diane Kruger in Thakoon
Not everyone has the guts to attempt the side-cut dress (this writer included), but if you're going to do it, you might as well follow Diane Kruger's lead. Thanks to her high neckline and knee-length skirt, the skin she's showing is offset — especially by the A-line cut of her dress, which tones the look down significantly. The beading and floral design also help keep the style from seeming over-the-top, as does the patterning on the side cut-outs that uphold her always-classy vibe.

3. Light cleavage: Michelle Williams in Burberry Prorsum

Michelle Williams in Burberry Prorsum
Cleavage can be a tricky thing, particularly for us bustier girls who can quickly fall into an over-exposed trap of which it's impossible to climb out of. Thus, we must look to Ms. Williams, who embraces her dress' low-cut nature, but balances it with a midi-length skirt and textured fabric (that still accentuates her figure, but doesn't cling). Also, the key is to remember the art of "light" cleavage — if it's a work outing, a family wedding, or anywhere you might want to err on the side of over-dressed, keep the neckline a little higher, particularly if you're opting out of a strapless bra. Falling out of a dress is never fun.

4. Legs: Blake Lively in Marios Shwab

Blake Lively in Marios Shwab
With the '60s back now nearly every season, you're going to want to embrace mini-skirts, and as you should. However, if you really want to follow the vintage lead, look to Blake Lively who offset her short hem with long sleeves, a high neckline, and even a very '60s-inspired plastic embellishment. Think of it this way: the shorter the skirt, the more covered up everything else needs to be. Unless you're pairing said skirt with tights, which means you can be more liberal with your top, sleeve, and back options.

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