In fashion and style, is there a difference between trying to “hide your flaws,” and trying to make your good features stand out?
I’ve been paying very conscious attention to fashion and style for about a year now. I’ve always cared about it to some extent — I rarely just threw on any old thing — but for the last year or so, it’s become much more of a serious hobby, into which I put a lot more thought. I subscribe to fashion magazines, read books about fashion, watch TV shows about fashion, etc.
And there’s a pattern I see a lot of in these books/ magazines/ TV shows… a pattern that drives me nuts. Way too much fashion advice is about hating your body and trying to make it look different. If you’re tall, there’s advice on how to make yourself look shorter; if you’re short, there’s advice on how to make yourself look taller. If you’re busty, there’s advice on how to minimize your bustline; if you’re flat-chested, there’s advice on how to make your boobs look bigger. If you’re fat, you can bloody well bet that there’s advice on how to make yourself look thinner — it’s probably the single dominant theme of fashion writing (with making yourself look younger coming in a close second) — but if you’re skinny, there’s also advice on how to make yourself look more voluptuous.
Basically, if you’re anything other than a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties, you’re supposed to look different from what you are. (Assuming you’re a woman, that is.) You’re supposed to look like… well, like a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties.
All of this comes with some very mixed messages. The fashion industry has been getting an earful about promoting body hatred, and many folks in the industry are taking this earful to heart. But at the same time… well, among other things, promoting body hatred, and the products that promise to fix it, is where their advertising income lies. So you’ll often get good and apparently sincere articles on how to love yourself the way you are… and then, right on the next page, you’ll get an article on why your skin/ hair/ belly/ wrinkles are horrible, and what you can do to conceal their horrors.
It drives me nuts. And I’ve been looking at a way to re-frame it. I do, of course, want to look my best when I get dressed. But I’m trying to think of this, not as trying to look different from who I am, but as trying to look like my best real self.
Here’s an example. I’m short. 5’3″. And I’m happy being short. I love my shortness. I don’t want clothes that make me look taller. What I want is clothes that make the height that I am look good.
There are outfits that make my shortness just look weird and awkward; outfits that make me look like a fire hydrant or a Hobbit. Capri pants, overly long shirts, too many layers with too many horizontal lines of demarcation… none of that looks right on me. It’s not that it makes me look short. I’m fine with looking short. It’s that it makes my shortness look lousy.
So when I’m shopping or getting dressed, I don’t like clothes that make me look stumpy, or squat. What I like is clothes that make me look petite, or compact. I like clothes that make me look like a bundle of energy neatly packed into a small frame, thoughtfully put together but itching to burst out and blow the world away.
Dressing with an awareness of my height isn’t about trying to look taller. It’s about making my shortness look awesome.
Ditto with my age. I am not interested in looking younger than my age. I’m interested in making the age that I am (fifty as of this last December) look awesome. (A topic I’ve written about before, and am planning to write more about soon.) So when I dress with an awareness of my age, I’m not trying to find outfits that look young. I’m trying to stay away from outfits that look prudish, frumpy, out-of-touch… and am looking instead for outfits that make me look elegant, classy, sophisticated.
And the same was true when I was fat. I hated, hated, HATED the overwhelmingly ubiquitous heaps of fashion advice on how to make yourself look thinner. I didn’t want to look thinner. I wanted the size I was to look good.
But not all clothes look good on a fat woman. Just like not all clothes look good on a thin woman, or a medium-sized woman. (There are definitely styles that I wore the hell out of when I was fat, and which simply don’t look right on me any more.) When I was fat, I didn’t like clothes that made me look chunky or stocky or boxy. I liked clothes that made me look voluptuous and curvaceous.
And think this can apply to lots of different body types. If you’re tall, for instance, dressing with an awareness of your height doesn’t have to mean trying to look shorter. It can mean avoiding making your height look gawky or awkward, and instead work on making it look willowy, commanding, statuesque. If you’re flat-chested, you probably don’t want to look bony or scrawny — but you can go for lean and athletic.
It doesn’t have to be about hating your body. It doesn’t have to be about trying to make your body look like a slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height woman in her early twenties. (Unless, of course, that’s what you are.) It doesn’t have to be about hiding the features that make you unique. It can be about emphasizing those features in a way that shows them to their best advantage.
It doesn’t have to be about looking like someone else. It can be about looking like your best real self.