Fashion Friday: Being Your Best Real Self

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.

Fashion Friday: Being Your Best Real Self

77 thoughts on “Fashion Friday: Being Your Best Real Self

  1. 2

    I think this post would be better with photo examples of (for example) boxy vs. curvaceous and gawky vs. willowy. I’m having a hard time envisioning. But that’s probably my fashion ignorance showing.

  2. 3

    I’d just love to reply but I just don’t know what I’d say. You’ve said it all so perfectly. It’s great to look great, but ya gotta remember that when you’re with the one you love, your love is not expressed by looking at each other, it’s expressed by standing side by side looking at life together. When you’re doing that, anybody else’s opinion about what you look like is irrelevant.

  3. 4

    Greta, you should seriously write/compile some sort general fashion guide. I tend to not give two shits about fashion because (in my opinion) it’s usually a mixture of boring/insulting/mind-numbingly-stupid, but when you write about it it’s actually interesting and doesn’t make my stereotypically-masculine side cringe in horror. Which is amazing.

    This post in particular, really. I absolutely hate how prevalent the idea that your body shape always needs changing. I’m not a thin person, and proportionally I’ve got big boobs, wide hips and a narrower waistline, but ALL of the fashion advice I get when I decide to brave clothes shopping revolves around wearing clothes that hang off of me like a bag, or “minimize my bust” or other nonsense- and of course, make me look as thin as possible.

    But the thing is, I actually rather like the way my body is shaped despite the fact that it’s not thin. It’s the body type that you’d expect to see on a pirate or something, and dammit I want to take full advantage of that piratey-ness. Not wear things that cover my curves so I can pretend they don’t exist.

  4. 5

    Thanks for writing this Greta. I’m a 31-year-old straight male with an interest in fashion, or just clothing in general (I love period films and their costumes, and old paintings showing long-ago fashions). I share your views on dressing, especially since I too am 5’3″.

    Being short (or having short legs rather, since you can’t tell I’m short when I’m sitting down), I prefer to wear pants that sit on my waist, as opposed to my hips, and always tuck my shirts in. Yes, I do this to ‘lengthen’ my legs, but like you wrote, I also do this because I believe it brings a pleasant balance of proportion to my physique i.e. it brings out my best real self.

    While I agree with your points, especially your criticisms of the fashion machine, I do think that some kinds of advice or tips on how to mitigate our physical shortcomings (hah!) can be helpful in bringing out our best selves.

    BTW, your fashion posts have encouraged me to write a bit more about fashion and style on my own predominantly freethought, atheist and science blog. You’re an inspiration in those areas too. 🙂

  5. 6

    Well said! But the worst thing about fashion is that fewer and fewer stores have clothes that fit different styles, sizes and ages. I am tall and many, many stores do not carry pants that are long enough. They carry medium and short or petite length clothes. I have to pay more for pants that are long enough for a woman in her late 40s– which really stinks.

  6. 7

    Hah! I was just thinking about this topic! As I’ve said in previous comments, my job is costumer/stitcher for theatre. Just today, I was working on an *amazing* long, fitted red dress that’s really more half-dragon and half-dress for a 5’10, 250-ish pound opera singer. And I do mean amazing, I cannot describe how stunning she is in that dragon-dress.

    And it occured to me that people in my job have do the reverse of what we see in the fashion industry. We make the designs, and we sew the clothes, but we do not choose the performers. The actors/dancers/opera singers look the way they look. It is not their job to change their bodies to suit our designs, it is our job to work our designs around their bodies. It is up to us to make them look amazing. In the fashion industry, things have gotten completely reversed-it is somehow our job as consumers to change ourselves to make the designers’ works look amazing. Think for a moment how messed up that is. I say BAH!

  7. 8

    Yes, yes, yes! Dress to flatter who you are and the size you are right now! Take a good look at yourself, like what you see and dress it nicely!

    Ok, that’s way too many exclamation points, but I just can’t help it. It’s so rare to find someone who gets how fashion should work. That we as a group try so hard to look younger, thinner, fresher, whatever – it drives me nuts. Your post is a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

    And Grimalkin, check out some of the pirate websites and the vintage shops. You may even find stuff at the boutique type shops, but I’ve had the best luck with the pirate shops.

  8. F

    I’m short. 5’3″.

    Your writing skills make you appear much taller. Now I’ve adjusted my mental glasses, and your words do your 5’3″ justice.

    Thanks for braving the waters of the fashion industry for us (me).

  9. 10

    I agree with those who feel all fashion writing should be like this. I weigh in with the short people, 5’2″ and for many years I could pretty much wear anything I could find as long as it wasn’t pants. I had a tiny waist, large hips and a moderate bust. Blouses fit fine, dresses (unless they were straight up and down) fit fine, full skirts fit great. I think in all my almost 55 years I have had 2 pair of pants that actually fit me. (stretch pants don’t count). I loved being able to wear pretty much anything I wanted.

    But I do agree with you that fashion should be about making you look good where you are now. Now unfortunately I have the peri-menopausal belly which has pretty much wiped out my waist and a back problem that is making walking difficult much less any more strenuous exercise. Urgh. Now it’s really difficult to find clothes that fit that don’t make me look dumpy.

  10. 11

    First of all… I love that Vogue cover, I’d kill for that dress! 🙂

    I liked this! This is how I’ve been trying to see things, too, as I grow older. But yeah, the fashion industry aren’t helping any!

    I’m also far from the “ideal”! I’m even shorter for one thing, 5’1″, and I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pair of pants that I didn’t have to shorten the legs of. Buying a long dress is not easy either since usually the whole dress is longer than the whole of me!

    It’s also funny that with all the talk of hour glass figures… if you actually have one it’s not so easy to find clothes either! My bust measurements is 27 cm (10,5 inches) bigger than my waist measurement, and… they don’t make clothes like that. If I find clothes that fits around my boobs they are way too big in the waist and the fabric hangs straight down from my breats making me look like a huge tent! If I find clothes that fits my waist, there’s usually no way I can close them over the boobs. Stretch fabric is my salvation, but you don’t always want that look!

    So, yeah, I like my body. I don’t mind my figure or my shortness! I’ve been dieting lately (and lost 48 lbs so far) because I had really gained a lot of weight and my health wasn’t good at all. But, yes, with a more healthy weight that makes me feel stronger and more movable (I can jog again :-)) I have no problems with my body at all… It just annoys me that when buying clothes I am often made to feel that there IS a problem!

  11. 12

    Sewing and knitting my own clothes has been liberating for me, and changed the way I look at clothes. So many styles need to fit really well to look good! Pencil skirts is a really obvious example. They never fit me in rtw, but made to fit – they compliment my fat ass and look hot. So one of my “problem” features is not really a problem anymore. Now that I can make most of my wardrobe, I feel in control of my look for the first time in my life (I’m 31).

  12. 13

    Wow, I just read a fashion post… 😉 Seriously, this was brilliant. I think a lot of my resentment towards anything fashiony is that it’s usually exactly like what you describe in your article.
    And not just the advice part – as scramble said at #7, clothes are often made in a way that suggests the designers just though “well, if we keep on making clothes for women with x-y-z shapes/sizes, they’ll eventually fit into them, somehow…”.
    So, last time I went pants-shopping I had a pair of jeans I liked, but the waistline was way too large, although the jeans fit snugly on my hips (as always). The sales assistant saw that and told me comfortingly that this was normal and a problem that most women had.
    A problem that “women” had. Most of them, even. You know, the design is perfect, if only those stupid women would just bring up their waist-to-hip-ratio…

  13. 14

    For the record, you do make 50 look awesome (I hope I didn’t offend… )! I can only hope to look half that good in 8 years. Plus I love love love the sentiment about looking good for your age and/or size. I just wish some of my former girlfriends had figured that out.

    As for me, I’m not an easy-to-fit man; through my growing years I have been “half-sizes” for the most part, and being from a poor family, I have struggled with crappy fashion for most of my life. The clothes that my Mom bought me were either too big or too small, there didn’t seem to be a happy medium that fit me.

    Nowadays it’s not much different, except that I have the sense to spend more, get less. Over the years, I’ve discovered that it’s quality, not quantity that counts.

  14. 15

    Ha, that reminds me of the time I picked up a copy of a “what not to wear”-guide (a very cheap one), purely so that my fabulous fat sister and in-betweenie me could have a good laugh about it.
    It pointed out “figure flaws” – too much/too little chest, short legs, no waist, etc. – pretty much the stuff you find in fashion magazines and gave “solutions” for the …err, “problems” (I’m running out of scare quotes here).

    What we observed was this:
    1) If you’re actually fat (as opposed to just having a slightly bigger bum or so) you’re apparently beyond help anyway.

    2) If you have more than, say, three or four of the “flaws” (like I do), it becomes pretty much impossible to follow the advice, since the proposed solutions start to interfere with one another.

    3) Some things that are considered flaws are so fucking ridiculous it’s beyond words. *Ankles* that aren’t delicate enough? Seriously? (The photos in the book meant to illustrate the “problem” didn’t really help, either.

    It’s just completely idiotic.

    And now excuse me, I need to go and wear the hell out of my jodhpur-like khakis which don’t make my thighs and arse look smaller at *all.* (Instant badassitude, I highly recommend them ;))

  15. K

    Your post rings so true! I think what’s been really helpful for me is watching some of TLC’s ‘What Not To Wear’ when I’m in North America: sure, the hosts try to generalise, but mostly their advice is sound and about emphasizing your shape so you look, you know, well-dressed and proportional.

  16. 17

    Being medium height and hour-glass (leaning to apple), I can tell you now that things aren’t better for us than they are for you. If you’re hourglass, forget–forever–getting jeans to look right on you. I haven’t worn Levi’s since I was in 10th grade for this reason; the gap in the back was embarrassing, and cinching with a belt meant having to wear a sweater or a heavy enough shirt untucked to hide the bunching at the waist. The high-waisted jeans from the 70s were the only ones that ever looked right on me, and those are hard to find now.

    I think another thing you might not have mentioned in your “slender, hourglass-shaped, slightly taller than medium height” is the boobs issue. If you’re anything but a smallish B cup, forget getting anything to look right on you. I can’t speak for the A women, although they’ve told me repeatedly how difficult it is to get things to look right, but I can tell you that we C and above women (and even some of the women with a generous B cup) nearly lose our minds shopping. If you get things that fit in the boobs, your waist utterly disappears in the yards of cloth swirling around your waist. And if you get things that fit in the waist–well, it’s not pretty to have your boobs oozing over around and through everything. Or busting buttons.

    I finally gave up, and now I simply wear stretchy tops all the time. I don’t think I’ve work a tailored blouse since… Since… I can’t remember when. Maybe when I was in the military.

    BTW, I got out of KP in basic training because my freakish hourglass figure required getting my blue uniform items tailored to fit me properly. The skirts, especially, were a nightmare. My hips are actually on the slim side, across, but I have a J-Lo bubble butt, so getting the skirt that fit in the hips meant taking up the waist several inches, but with a long enough zipper that I could open the waist enough to get the damn thing over my ass.

    I had long ago given up getting anything but A-line skirts or those with a stretch waist. But when I finally had a zip-up skirt that fit right and wasn’t yet another boring A-line–it was a mechaiah!

  17. 18

    Yes, yes, yes! Great post, and great comments. I hate trying to find shirts and dresses that fit, because I’m busty, and I get the tent thing too if the material isn’t stretchy. I end up wearing lots of t-shirts, which is okay where I work, but I’d like to look more grown-up without looking frumpy. I’m 41, but can pass for late 20’s (thanks, genetics!), so I’m in that no-woman’s land between Juniors and Frumpy Business Separates. If I have to dress business-y, I look like I’m in Work Drag. It doesn’t come off as genuine.
    I hate the magazine features that say what style of X clothing is best for what body “problem.” I look at the photos and can tell that what they’re saying I should wear would not look good on me. I can shop for myself, thanks. I only get general ideas from magazines, like what colors are in, what accessories are hot, what is out of style. Generally I take my cues from my co-workers and add my signature pieces, like my pink and purple Chucks and my one-of-a-kind leather watch that a friend made for me.

  18. 20

    In keeping with scramble’s comment @7 about costume designers & tailors accommodating performers, I’m told that the legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head (partial inspiration for Edna Mode in THE INCREDIBLES, I’m sure)apparently had this view: clothing she designed for ‘civilians’ was intended to flatter by evening everything out (striving for an almost generic figure and silhouette) while her costumes for movie stars were intended to show off what she considered the features that made those stars unique. Grace Kelly’s freaky long neck, for instance, she made look even longer with the costumes’ necklines. Whether Head’s viewpoint is a good one is obviously up for debate, but it was hers and there’s no question that she was talented. And of course, outfits for movie stars can be tailored and tweaked to the nth degree and wearability on a film set is a different thing from working or living out in the real world.

  19. 21

    Hm, interesting comment about Edith Head. Perhaps her reasoning came from the fact that she lived in a time where different rules of propriety applied to celebrities and regular people? Back in the day, I think it was considered unclassy for a lady to show herself off in the same manner of movie stars, whose job it was to do so. My grandmother used to talk about a time when it was considered very unladylike to tell anyone that you’d dyed you hair, for heaven’s sake! I’d be curious to learn more about whether women ever dressed like, say, Marilyn Monroe, or whether that was considered far too risque.

    And, yes, Head was a genius! 🙂

  20. 22

    I totally understand this! I’ve been 5′ and 32DD since 5th grade, and I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with being very busty when clothes for my age were… not meant for busty girls. I’ve found that a lot of retro fashion is good for accentuating busty, curvy shortness and making it look spunky and womanly- I have a pair of capris that are designed to look very 50’s ish, they hug my legs just so, and when I roll them up and put on a halter top (which I absolutely could NEVER wear when I was younger, because I was afraid of people seeing how huge my chest was), it makes me feel like Bettie Paige. I like it that my boyfriend calls me a little pin up girl, it makes me feel rebellious and sexy. I think if we look back to retro fashion, and see what body type was most “in vogue” at a certain period and what flattered them, we can apply it to ourselves. I really love the flapper look, but I know I can’t pull it off- shift dresses make me look like a chubby midget. But I look great in corsets of all kinds, and the curvy retro clothes that are coming out nowadays are great for me. All you have to do is ignore fashion advice (which will generally say you should be exactly in the middle so it can reach the widest audience) and follow what looks good on people who look like you.

  21. 23

    Maria @#11 and Carolw @#18:
    If you’re a busty hourglass shape (like me!) I heartily recommend Bravissimo’s Pepperberry clothing range for tops and dresses.

    Their clothing is designed for women with DD-L cup boobs and is sized in 2 ways – normal (UK) dress size based on waist/hip measurement, each of which is available in ‘curvy’, ‘really curvy’ or ‘super curvy’ versions based on cup size. I wear a J-cup and have rarely bought a top or dress anywhere else for the last 10 years.

    Greta, I really think this post goes to the heart of your fashion vs style thesis. I’ve always felt ‘style’ was dressing in a way that suits my body shape, rather than trying to fit my body into the clothes dictated by current fashion trends.

  22. 26

    I have a pair of capris that are designed to look very 50′s ish, they hug my legs just so, and when I roll them up


    I could never–ever–wear any kind of rolled up pants, or the peg legs. If I did, they made it look like I was lugging pumpkins on the back end. That’s the problem with a bubble butt–you have to be very careful about not making it take over everything, even your top half!

    I still can’t believe that women get butt implants for a feature I’ve been battling all my life. The first time I heard about the implants, I was horrified. Who would want a shelf on the back end?

  23. KG

    Like [email protected], I’d pictured you as considerably taller. Subconsciously, I suppose I associate being strong-minded, forthright, etc. with being tall. I wonder if there’s any way of getting rid of such prejudices? I’ll try just reminding myself of the obvious counter-examples on a regular basis!

  24. 28

    I am an avid motorcyclist, whose clothing reflects the necessary gear to ride safely.

    Believe me, fashion it aint.

    As I approach my 60th year, I find that I’m more and more dressing for practicality instead of fashion.

    I’m also a 6’4″ woman. Just -try- finding attractive clothing anywhere than specialty shops. I find myself wearing more and more mens motorcycle apparel, and I just don’t care how it looks. Clothes for me reflect the biker I am. In the end, I’d rather favour my skin than my vanity.

    Besides, I’m in Canada. Canadians all look uniformly stupid in the winter anyway, what with oversized down jackets and toques.
    I suppose that’s why we all run around half-naked during the summer…

  25. 29

    I’m looking forward to your fashion post where you explain how to look good with cat hair all over you! Whatever I wear, flattering or not (mostly not), I can’t get out of the house in the morning without cat hair on my top, my pants, everything!

  26. 30

    I can’t get out of the house in the morning without cat hair on my top, my pants, everything!

    1) To keep your cats away from your closets and dressers, put something that smells strongly of citrus near them. I used to tape down a small cotton ball with plenty of grapefruit oil on it to the door jamb near the floor, and kept grapefruit oil sachets in the bottom drawers of my bureaus. Cats hate the smell of grapefruits. They hate lemon even more, but I’m not wild about the smell of lemon.

    2) Run the clothes in the dryer on the air/cool setting for about ten minutes.

    3) Never lay your clothes on a surface in your house. Always keep them on a hanger until you’re ready to put them on.

    4) Feed the cats just before you dress and leave to make them too distracted to bother you.

    5) Dress as close to your exit door as possible, to avoid your cats before you leave.

    6) Use tape turned inside out to take off any remaining cat hair when you get outside.

    Can you tell I have a shed-a-licious white cat?

  27. 31

    I forgot on #2 to put that you run the clothes you’re going to wear for the day in the dryer. The dryer can get more hair and lint off more quickly than you ever can.

  28. 32

    I am a 5.83 feet tall woman (according to some metric converter)
    I’d very much like to know how to look ‘commanding and statuesque’… Could ya throw me some ideas? 🙂

  29. Kay

    Thank you for this! Ever since I started taking how I dress seriously, I’ve adopted the motto of: dress for the size you are, not the size you want to be. I have a veeeery long waist that ends in a wide-hipped curvy bum. I don’t want to make my waist look shorter or my bum look smaller- I love them! Why would I not want to flaunt them and make them look their best? The idea of diminishing our features only adds to body-hate makes people feel insecure about their bodies.

    And I totally second the people saying you should write a fashion how-to ;).

  30. 34

    You are awesome! I love your take on fashion. It’s so liberating. I was always interested in fashion but deprive myself of it–well for one, because, like you say, fashion “advice” tends to be so negative–I deprive myself of it mostly because it can be superficial, materialistic, and considered not feminist to be into fashion. So, from you I get a sense that caring about looking good and confident doesn’t have to be those negative things. So, thank you!

  31. 35

    @Cynthia- Oh wow, at first I thought you were being sarcastic/taking me overly-literally at first… but I ended up looking up pirate-y/vintage shops out of curiosity and really, the clothes DO look like they’d work for my body type (well, the ones that aren’t costume-y anyways). I guess the waist-cinching boob-poofing aspect of that fashion style just works that much better for people who look like tents in normal clothes.

    And now I’ve found a vintage shop nearby. Oh lord, I’m going to go on a mission for normal fitting clothes and end up steampunk.

    @Maria- I feel your pain with trying to find clothes that fit on every part of your body. I’m all too familiar with getting something that fits my waist, only to have my boobs not go in, or end up like a tent. Makes buying dresses a huge pain, for one.

  32. 37

    If you have the time and inclination then learning to sew for yourself is the best way to get out of the “fashion” rut and make clothes that work for you. It’s taken me about five years, but now the only question I ever ask my husband about clothes I sew for myself is “Does it make me look muttony?” and that’s only because occasionally I sew something for myself that I think may look a little too young so I may look as though I am “mutton dressed as lamb”. Because I sew for myself, I no longer care about my size because it no longer exists (sewing patterns are bizarrely sized so I now just know my actual measurements). I have a few tried and tested patterns that I know fit me and look good so all I need is new fabric.

    On the rare occasion I see fashion magazines I no longer desire any of the clothing because either a) I know it will look bad on me or b) I can make it for a fraction of the cost.

    Maybe this works for me because I really don’t care about fashion, but I like it because I feel really good in all of my clothes.

  33. 38

    As mentioned by a couple of posts upthread, making your own clothes is a great way of getting clothes that fit you well. I just want to mention for those who don’t have the time or the inclination to learn how to sew clothes that well, you can always get things tailored.

    I have a large but and hips and a relatively small waist, so finding pants that fit off the rack is almost impossible. But I can buy pants that fit my waist and hips, and have the waist taken in. Same idea goes for busty women–get clothes that fit comfortably over the bust, and have a tailor take in the waist.

    Yes, you end up spending more per item of clothing, but it’s worth it to have things that fit correctly!

  34. 40

    Fantastic post! (Still hoping for a bit of PR commentary but hey.)

    This reminds me of something I heard a costume designer say — those actors on TV always look so good, right? Well, it’s not b/c they’re all the same body type, it’s cuz every single article of clothing, even if it’s just jeans and a t-shirt, is tailored to fit them exactly.

    Sadly we’ve got this mass production economy and income inequality, which means that our society is structured to make clothes that actually fit you a privilege of the 1%.

  35. F

    @ KG

    It’s the size of the mind.

    I could be physically looking down to make eye contact with someone considerably shorter than myself, but because of the qualities of the person and their intellect, my mental image is one of looking up to the person. I don’t know if that is just mental imagery informed by neurology, or more of a cultural or personal thing that could be negative and tend to form prejudice.

    I’m not uncomfortable about the way this operates for me, but I’m certainly open to suggestions if anyone thinks there are negatives to associate with this.

  36. 42

    I remember a book my mom had at one point that had various different figure traits and advice for either de-emphasizing or accentuating them depending on preference. I wish I remembered what it was.

  37. 45

    I admit that I dress myself strategically to minimize certain body shapes while emphasizing (or creating) others, but I have reasons other than body hatred. I dress to minimize the perception that I’m trans. I don’t do this because I’m ashamed that I’m trans–far from it. Rather I do it to make my daily interactions with the world easier. I do it so that I don’t get stared at when I’m shopping for groceries, so that I don’t look like a target when I’m filling my gas tank (well, more of a target, anyway), and so that waiters and clerks don’t call me “sir.” I do it to minimize the amount of discrimination I suffer in the public sphere. It’s a survival mechanism. I’m luckier than most trans women in this regard. I’m only 5’6″. That helps. I don’t have an adam’s apple, either, which is an enormous help, and my boobs are a C-cup without needing implants. But I have broad shoulders and narrow hips and I hate that I do and I hate that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, so I guess I’d be lying if I said that I don’t suffer from body hatred or dress the way that I do because of it. But that’s not the only reason or even the primary one.

  38. Art

    Well said.

    IMHO we have slid from relatively healthy models being the norm toward anorexia being a condition of employment as a fashion model. Models today just aren’t attractive to me and they don’t make me desire the products they are draped over. No amount of makeup or creative lighting can cover their unhealthy shapes. When did being a starving refugee, or starved coke addict, become sexy?

    I’ve been told many of the poses and expressions are supposed to look like the woman is in ecstasy. To me they look like they are about to pass out from hunger and are draped across the product because they lack the strength to remain standing.

    Perhaps I’m strange, but I don’t find weakness and helplessness to be attractive. I want a strong, healthy co-creator that can contribute. I neither need nor want a waif or bendable toy. Never got into the playing with dolls thing.

  39. 49

    I guess I am fortunate, Greta. I’m a cripple with unique facial hair. I can wear the most horrific outfits, but people are either staring at my sticks, my wheels or my pointy devil-beard and never notice my penchant for mixing my linens.. Lmfao

  40. 50

    I mentioned this in another post somewhere that it’s that focus on presenting this perfect vision of “womanliness” that makes it so difficult for me to transition, or even begin to discuss transitioning.

    I’m tall (6’0), I’m skinny, I’ve got long legs, a middlish torso, and that very obviously “man” shape (inverted triangle – shoulders wider than hips.) My face isn’t particularly feminine – although amazingly it’s not very masculine either. I have awesome hair (that’s bugging the CRAP out of me today.)

    When I dress, I want to call attention to the one major thing I have going for me – legs (the woman who does my leg waxing says she’d kill for my legs.) Short skirts, stockings (which is why I want neat patterns,) and short heels are what I wear for that. If you take a look at me dressed fem, you’ll see the bottom half looks stunningly feminine, but then I have NO idea what to do with the top half of me to not look like a boy in a dress…

  41. 51

    You made some good points, Greta, which also caused me to think about my plight. Being petite all the way around, which I am also happy and content with, except when shopping for clothes, then I’m frustrated. I’m 4′ 11″ (shorter than you) and 100 lbs (no comment), the size of many 9 y.o. girls, which gives me a added problem, which sometimes causes me to have to shop in the big-Little Girls section. It’s not that thrilling for one to wish for, at least when it comes to clothes shopping. While I can wear a 3 in Juniors, that size isn’t always available in all stores, forcing me to shop in the girls section. Try attempting to find something that looks more or less mature in that section of a store. I don’t want to look like a grown woman trying to dress like a little girl (a couple outfits I wore to Skepticon were a size 14 Girls). I want to look like a little woman trying to dress her age in this modern era. I’m not sure if it is this new fear that a 1 or a 3 will push women to be anorexic or if it is because smaller sizes for legitimately smaller women don’t sell, because little women are a minority. I maybe little, but I’m not a little girl or anorexic and I feel sorry for women who are shorter than I am and have get their clothes tailor made to avoid this issue. I am of course referring to women who have a from of dwarfism. Primordial dwarfs, for example, are not necessarily overweight, but I’m sure those who reach adulthood desire the same things all women do too- to look like a woman with clothes becoming of her figure.

    Shopping can become painfully difficult when you do not fit clothing makers standards. I really wish they would stop attempting to put everyone into a box. “One-size fits all” really gets my goats, because it is not true.

  42. 52

    Comment #42 – I think the book you remember is called something like Transformations – I read it back in the late 1980’s, from the library – I never was able to find it to purchase. The author encourages the reader to define their best style (gamine, classic, voluptuous,sporty,dramatic, etc.) based loosely on body type and then shows what types of clothing expresses each style. Someone with a voluptuous/zaftig figure probably would find it difficult work the gamine look, but if you embrace your voluptuousness you’ll look amazing.

  43. 53

    As a 6’3″ flat chested woman, I too would be interested in your thoughts on how to appear “willowy, commanding, statuesque”. Or references to articles and other publications that address that sort of thing.

  44. 54


    Funny enough for me, womens’ sizes fit a lot better than mens’ sizes. I was looking for a nice wool coat to wear over my suit for work (I don’t dress when I’m at work) and they just do not have my size. There are no size 28×34 pants. I’ve got a medium-length torso but large-sized shoulders.

    Womens’ sizes fit me perfect, though – everything from pants to socks to underwear.

  45. 55

    @Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort Interesting women’s sizes fit you better than mens’ sizes. Maybe I should say, I’m confused, but that’s OK. It seems like I live in a state of confusion anymore. 🙁

  46. 56

    I’m an almost classic “apple” shape — short through the torso, big on top, and no waist at all. (At one point when I was very thin, I wore a size 16 jacket and a size 11 pant.) My rump also tends to develop into a shelf when I have muscle mass. Personally, I’m envious of you folks with the small waists — clothes are designed for a 10+ inch waist/hip differential…I average about 7.5 inches.

    Fortunately, these days I have a job at a really hardcore IT company so I can go to work every day in low-rise jeans and knit shirts if I want to. It saves a lot of effort otherwise spent trying to find dress clothes, especially now that two of the chains where I bought a lot of that kind of thing (Tabi and Cotton Ginny) have gone out of business.

    I’m also bloody tired of online retailers who sell funky clothes selling them in “waif,” “ultra-waif,” and “massive speed habit.” What’s even worse is that they blame the suppliers, rather than, say, trying to find suppliers who stock (ostensibly) plus-sized clothes. (I dispute that I’m that “plus”-sized, thank you very much.)

  47. 57


    Ahah, don’t be confused. I’m transgender, so while by sex it’s intended for me to wear mens’ sizes, I find that those designed for women fit me a lot better. My body shape is unusual with consideration to the average male (tall, thin, half of me is leg) but apparently not so much with women.

  48. 58

    Style is what a person already has, and can enhance or not as one sees fit, i.e. it is what one is. Fashion on the other hand, is something that other people think suits anybody and everybody and therefore always subject to questioning, and potentially disregarding. ISTM that a person of any size and shape can look great in a bag, if they like wearing one.

  49. 59

    @Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort Oh OK. Thank you for unconfusing me. It makes more sense to me now. I also think, though I could be wrong and please forgive my ignorance if I’m wrong, it would be normal for women’s clothes to fit better than men’s, if I understand the hormonal changes (taking estrogen) in the process of a sex change. At least, I assume so due a woman becoming a man on YouTube and taking male hormones in the process. He got into muscle building and everything, so men’s clothes of course fit him better. It seems logical women’s clothes would fit you better than men’s. Of course, if I’m showing ignorance, I don’t mean any harm, would even appreciate an education.

  50. 61

    @#59 Mriana: Generally speaking, hormone therapy for transsexuals doesn’t alter the skeleton unless the individual begins hormones in adolescence before secondary sexual characteristics form. The shape of the skeleton has as much effect on the fit of clothes as weight. In other words, it’s not going to take an apple shape and turn it into a pear.

  51. 62

    My god I would love the CRAP out of a fashion mag that actually offers advice for looking good for the way you are. None of that ‘you should wear X to make Y less noticeable’ and more ‘Z flatters you if your figure is Y’.

    I’ve never been a fashion conscious person, partly because I grew up aggressively tomboyish with a mother who kept trying to fit me in the ‘girl box’ so when I see a fashion magazine it generally makes me want to walk quickly in the other direction. Still, I would like to know how to dress in a fashion that doesn’t make me look like a walking disaster… at least when I’m not in the mood to be a walking disaster (red plaid pants + bright shiny blue top and a cowboy hat, yeah I rocked that and did it intentionally!!).

  52. Ami

    Thank you for this so, so much! I stumbled on this blog completely out of the blue, only to find someone articulating exactly what I love about fashion and clothes – the ability to tailor your outside appearance to match how you feel inside.

    Awesome piece.

  53. 64

    OK, I just need to talk about a recent Project Runway here. The celebrity client the designers were creating for was none other than Miss Piggy. “Finally!” I thought. “They will have to make clothes for somebody with curves for a change!” My figure bears a much closer resemblance to Miss Piggy than to the walking clothes-hangers that inhabit the runways these days, so I was really looking forward to seeting the results of that challenge.

    And once the outfits were finished, who did they model the dresses on? The same anorexic stick-figure models they usually use! Sheesh!

  54. 65

    Greta says, “It doesn’t have to be about looking like someone else. It can be about looking like your best real self.”

    Either way, you’re advocating fakery. If you don’t like what you are, change what you are to the degree possible: alter your weight, tone your body, fix your posture, etc. Those changes are real.

    It’s futile, however, to use ‘style and fashion’ to pretend to be something other than what you really are. You’ll know it ain’t so. And so will everyone else.

  55. 66

    @#61 Christianne I see what you are saying and you’re right. There is a difference between bulking up muscle wise/slimming down and bone structure. We are kind of stuck with bone structure. Breast can be made bigger or smaller, fat can be sucked out of butts and tummies, loose weight/put on muscle or fat, but bones can’t be altered. That could suck if you didn’t accept that about yourself.

  56. 67

    42 &ff:

    You might be thinking of _The Triumph of Individual Style_, Carla Mason Mathis and Helen Villa Connor. 1980s suggested fashion, but their images of all the ways women can look great are drawn from art from around the world and for a thousand years. They also think about color, contrast, line; excellent.

  57. 68

    I vaguely recall seeing something about someone developing a device that would let you stand mostly-naked on a platform, it would measure your shape and produce clothing fitted for you. Such a device should certainly be possible, the only question would be how much it would cost. If a Kinect game machine can follow your gestures, what would it take to make a home version of such a machine, as contrasted to one that could only be afforded by stores?

  58. 71

    @Kathrine Lorraine – you do not look like a man wearing women’s clothing, you look like a woman who was a swimmer. Some clothes accentuate the broad-shoulder look (think early 1980s fashion) and some don’t.

    I second the learning-to-knit-and-sew suggestion, but would add that some learning about custom fitting and pattern alteration are very important. The Palmer Pletch fit books are great, as is the Taunton Press Sewing for Plus Sizes and the Interweave Books Knitting Plus are terrific for any female person over a size US 12. (And if you’re a knitter, repeat after me: short rows are your friends.)

  59. 72

    @Katherine Lorraine, if you don’t need the hormones, then don’t do them, because hormonal changes are rough. I’m saying that as a woman who’s gone through puberty years ago, monthly cycles, and now peri-menopause. If that’s any example or what have you, with mood swings, headaches, and everything else (minus one thing in your case, which makes you lucky), I wouldn’t advise it if you don’t need them. Some women have it worse, I hear, with cramps and all, but you luckily wouldn’t have to deal with that. What I wouldn’t give to be a woman without that stuff to deal with.

  60. 73

    @Katherine Lorraine Just poked around on your blog and looked at your facebook. I don’t know what you are complaining about (not that you really are). You look good. So thin! I’m jealous. 😆

  61. 74

    I think the fact that Katherine finds women’s clothes easier to wear than men’s says more about the fact that fashion designers aren’t really designing clothes for the average woman, but for the aforementioned taller-than-average, slim 20-something, than it says about how stereotypically feminine Katherine’s body appears.

    In other words, Katherine, you, with your XY-chromosomed body, are actually closer to the “ideal” female body than most XX-individuals are. See also: Mriana’s comment at #73.

  62. 75

    Thanks for the compliments everyone *blush* Didn’t mean for it to turn into a Kitty pity party, just the silliness of being a strangely shaped guy yet an “ideal” woman.


    The only issue with hormones is that taking them will alter… other parts of my anatomy that I am lacking right now, and make it more possible for me to enjoy a female outer appearance that I don’t have either. And goddamn I would love to be able to stop having to shave my face every three days.

  63. 77

    @SallyStrange I think your comment #74 is very much accurate, not that I think about it. Many models are tall and extremely thin. Sometimes they are so thin that they are Twiggy and not longer have the hour-glass shape. For those who don’t know who Twiggy is or remember: She was called Twiggy, because during her modelling career, she became extremely thin and was at one point a top model, as well as a prime example of models for the day.

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