May 29, 2012
Men have them, women have them. I speak of the highly contentious concept of "figure flaws."
Or do we?
How, exactly, can a figure be flawed? We're not talking factory seconds here, we're talking about bodies, our own bodies, and every one is different; we come in all shapes and sizes.
The photo up top is a page from Bob Mackie's book Dressing for Glamour. It's not particularly original -- just one of a gazillion books that tell people (mainly women) how to "play up what's good and play down what's not" to quote Mackie. Dressing for Glamour dates back to 1979, but publishers are still pumping out books like How to Dress a Pear-Shaped Body and Look Fabulous and Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right For Your Body, and I can see why after a certain point, we want to burn them all and dress the way we please.
Last week, a reader left a rather critical comment on my bubble dress post, suggesting that I was telling people what not to wear. I understood where she was coming from, and while that wasn't my intention, I thought her comment was worth sharing:
The idea that only certain body types can wear a dress is out of step with the generally forward thinking attitude of this blog. Critiquing a fashion style is one thing; saying it only looks good on one body type, age, etc. is another. If you rock it, you rock it, and even if you don't, who the f--k are we to say you shouldn't wear it because you were born with short legs or a big ass? Life is too short for this pettiness.
Personally, I don't think the bubble dress flatters anyone, but that's not the point. The reader doesn't think anyone has the right to tell us what we should and shouldn't wear based on our body type, and maybe you agree.
I'm not going to lie, when I go down the street, I notice when people are wearing clothes that I think (you might disagree) are too tight, or too short, or too whatever -- both men and women. Inwardly, I have a reaction, some might call it a judgment, just as I would have a reaction to (what I think is) a cute dog or beautiful building. But I always keep my judgment to myself!
As a short(ish) man with short(ish) legs, there are things I avoid wearing so that I don't look like I'm wearing my father's clothes. But men in our culture receive much, much less judgment about how we should and shouldn't dress, and the rules we hear tend to be more of the "what to wear to a job interview" sort. Women are told how they should camouflage their so-called figure flaws from puberty on.
On a related note, I received this lovely book today, which came gorgeously wrapped by the Etsy seller -- though vintage pattern paper used as tissue paper always breaks my heart a little.
I love to read books about fitting, and Adele Margolis is one of the greats. But open the book up and you'll find those all-too-familiar chapters about choosing figure-flattering shapes and figure-flattering color combinations:
The message is that not everyone can wear everything and look their best. That's not a controversial statement, is it?
Readers, what's your take? Do you find the whole idea of dressing to flatter your figure (i.e., playing up your "strengths" and play down your "weaknesses" in the effort to approximate a culturally-specific ideal) helpful, needlessly prescriptive, or downright oppressive?
We all carry with us the cultural baggage of our time and place, and all of us pick and choose from what we've been taught based on what works for us -- not just about clothes but about everything. In New York City, one sees all kinds of unusually-dressed people, which is part of the charm of living in a big city. One person's way-out style is tomorrow's hot new trend, right?
Do all the "dos" and "don'ts" we're constantly being fed help us, or should we dump them and work to create a more accepting, less critical world when it comes to appearance?