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May 29, 2012

Don't Tell Me How To Dress!



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?

Jump in!


65 comments:

  1. oh, I am so with you... I bought a used copy of that same Margolis book and I was hoping for more of the "fit" side of sewing advice, but her first main piece of advice is that everyone should lose 10 pounds!

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  2. I wear what I like, that has changed over the years (And the sizes!) I wish I could wear what I wore pre being a Mum; But that's NEVER going to happen, plus I feel happy in my own skin. I think a confident person can wear most things :)

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  3. The tricks to look good while dressed up are lots like the decorating tricks people use to dress up a house .. In my mind, those tricks just make eveything look the same and they fall flat. I would rather see a whole bunch of "wrong" everywhere (clothes, interior design..) than anymore "right" ...

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  4. Can people get so wrapped up in the rules that getting dressed becomes frustrating? Sure. But I honestly think most people would like to know that certain styles just don't help them look their best, so I see nothing at all wrong with some guidelines. Doesn't mean that some won't chose to wear whatever they want... and sometimes breaking the rules works out great depending on the person, etc. Having looked at some guidelines for myself, I can see well how breaking them just doesn't look good on me - but before I started researching this subject, I honestly didn't know why some things looked great on my friend (7 inches shorter, pear-shaped, short waisted) and yet look horrid on me (5'9", long-waisted, inverted triangle). Now I can make a more educated choice about my wardrobe selections, and I choose to take those factors into account. Glad I have the option!

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  5. If the "do" and "don't" suggestions for camouflaging figure ... discrepancies ... had changed over the centuries, I'd agree that it is entirely presumptuous of fashion "experts" to dictate to us what to wear. But the suggestions are often based on sound scientific principles of perspective and visual perception. You don't HAVE to choose to wear something that makes your legs look proportionally longer than they are in relation to the rest of your body, but you MAY choose to wear that thing. Ditto your choice for what NOT to wear.

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  6. The problem being that if I wore the stuff geared for my "shape" as these authors claim, I'd be stuck in frumpy awful stuff covered with sequins. Because everyone knows, when you have a 44" chest you want glitter and pastel butterflies on it. When I make something myself, I can make something cute, and flirty, and short if I want it, because I have long legs and even if I am a big girl (around a US 18/22) I still want fun clothes. I also wear EGL (Japanese Lolita fashion) and according to these rules, that has everything I should avoid. Well. I don't think so. Leave me and my ruffles alone tyvm.

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    1. My main problem with those books is that I so strongly disagree with my own eyes. For instance, they tell larger women to never wear anything fitted above the waist... like they haven't ever been witness to the aesthetic beauty of a larger woman in a corset and skirt. That may be related to your frumpy complaint.

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    2. if you do like the way you look in your clothing then you are ok, no matter what. I have a 44" chest myself and I like my t-shirts to be fitted at the chest and maybe a little looser but not baggy below the waist. If I look in the mirror and I like what I see than I don't see any problem!

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  7. Amen! I find it too prescriptive. However, I'm also not bold enough to break out of the images in my mind. I think some things look better on some figures (and mostly keep it to myself) but I also see women looking fantastic in certain outfits. Unfortunately, were I to put one on, I don't think I could carry it off. Right now, I see me in a matronly body that would love to be wearing fun, youthful, sleeveless styles. But I simply do not feel comfortable in them - or at least in my mind's image!

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  8. Angela put it eloquently. It's like cooking--some people can improvise and it turns out great, and others not so much.

    I'm with you on the bubble skirt--another incomprehensible fashion trend that can't die too soon, like exposed bra straps.

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  9. This one's tricky. I certainly don't think anyone is entitled to tell someone else what they should or shouldn't wear, paid stylists excepted. BUT - and there's always a but - an awful lot of people today seem to have done extensive research into what they should never, ever wear because it makes them look absolutely awful - and then they wear exactly that. Rules of proportion don't change with fashion, and up to a point, neither does the concept of tastefulness. In addition, a little grooming never hurt anyone (most working-class straight guys today dress and groom themselves like they NEVER WANT TO GO TO BED WITH A WOMAN AGAIN). Many women are just as culpable (Hint: any pair of Daisy Dukes requiring bikini waxing to wear is too short for decent society).

    I remember when people made an effort to make the world a nicer place visually through grooming and dressing as well as they could afford, and I am definitely old fogey enough to say that I miss the hell out of that.

    "If only her petals curled up a little more, she'd be all right." - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

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    1. Walking along a busy shopping street the other day was a woman in Daisy Dukes that did require a bikini wax, but this was – very, very obviously – a woman who didn't go in for bikini waxing. It was eye-catching – rather in the way a car crash is – but she seemed perfectly happy and confident. Live and let live I say. Personally I like good grooming, too, but there's room for us all.

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    2. Amen to Sandy. Not sure how to think about people who imagine that the whole world wants to see their pubic hair, but it is a gift people give to each other, strangers particularly, to make an effort to be decent. My mother used to say it is more important to make an effort for your intimate family than for anyone else, but it cuts both ways. We all learn somehow that other people respond more positively to attractive people, so why not be more rather than less attractive? I see no conflict between comfort and attractiveness, but I also hope to see modesty come back. It is so much more becoming than too much skin plus too much hair hanging out.

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  10. I have that book - the Adele Margolis book. I enjoyed reading it. She was truly an outstanding writer of sewing - and in my opinion no current sewing book writer has come even close.

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  11. I guess rules don't bother me because I don't think that rules apply to me! I agree with LinB about perspective and proportion, though, and find rules or guideline very helpful. I'm less offended by something "wrong" as opposed to "lazy." In fact, I'd love to see some cray-cray now and then. I'm exhausted by the terminal casualization of dressing today.

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  12. SeamsterEast@aol.comMay 29, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    As a young man starting my career in the corporate world, I found certain clothing types, certain colors, certain fits increased my pay shown in my commission statements each month. Plain and simple, when I "dressed right" people bought more from me, when I didn't, they didn't.

    Clothing, in the end, is always a uniform (save those occasions when weather protection is important). Clothing is a chosen statement of how we want people to react to us, how we want the world to see use, how we chose to identify the group(s) we find common ground with.

    Outside of the work-a-day world there is the world of meeting-and-mating, an EXTREMELY important world to virtually ALL people at some point in their lives (for some people, many points). After meet/mate has been mastered, then "parenthood" clothing (an age, not a biological fact) takes over, then "grand-parenthood" clothing, and then maybe "geezerhood" clothing.

    John Molloy's "Dress For Success" (probably thoroughly dated now) was an important book to young men in the corporate world. Young women have similar important books giving help and advice on how to master the meet/mate scene.

    Forty years ago foreign leaders (and foreign teen-agers) each dressed in ways unique to their country. Today all foreign leaders dress like American businessmen, and all foreign teen-agers dress like American teen-agers (where allowed by law).

    A charcoal gray suit with white (or blue) shirt with maroon tie and highly-polished black wing-tip shoes is THE mark of "corporateness", while skin-tight blue jeans on a 22-year old woman is THE mark of "meet/mate readiness".

    All recent presidents (except the stuffed shirt Richard Nixon) took to wearing Gap style jeans and a pressed cotton shirt when they left the White House. That was their uniform and statement they were "out of the harness now". Wealthy Mitt Romney wears Gap jeans as a statement he is "gee shucks, just one of the folks, guys" and we are lead to believe he knows how to change a flat tire without calling AAA.

    BTW, men with lots of cash usually buy bespoke suits expressly to cover up __their__ body "flaws". Check out Joe Torre baseball manager (waaaaaaaay past his athletic days) doodied up in a fine woolen suit to sell whatever products.

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  13. I guess i disagree. I think guides on dressing can help. Do you have to follow them, no, but that's what guides are.

    I also think people are mixing up guidelines for clothes with the body shape the garment may have been designed for. I think corsets look awesome on women with more flesh, and kinda lame on a size 0. Just like I think slip dresses (who still wears those!?) looked better on a thin frame than a larger one.

    This isn't discrimination, its optimization.

    No, I don't think everything looks equally good on everyone, or can. Equality isn't sameness, and if something looks better on someone else then it does on me, then Ill find that thing that looks good on me.

    But I have reserved tastes, I guess that's why I dress vintage. I think a little cleavage goes a long way on a larger bust, whereas a smaller bust needs to show more to compensate.

    I see these guides as helpful, not restrictive, in making you look like the optimal you. Its up to us to agree or disagree, but like Peter, I often mental check people on their fashion since, and have seen some brake the rules very successfully, but I thin that works only because they follow a set of rules to brake.

    Make sense?

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  14. Taking into consideration an occasional suggestion from some one who actually knows what they are talking about with regards to appropriate styles etc wouldn't do anyone any harm. If they know what they are doing they will not automatically assume people are overweight lazies and insist they lose weight. They will consider all factors: age, finance, health and mobility and make suggestions as to what might work best.

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  15. Well, I’m on the fence about this one and I can’t even tell you why, exactly. Being humans, we are products of the cultures we grow up in. We do have a long way to go in many respects but, for the most part, I don’t think we should have to apologize for ourselves. We all have opinions on how others look and that just goes with the territory. Thinking you can rise above that for good is naïve. I think there are a lot of people who find dressing well (what they perceive as “well”) an anxiety-producing daily hell. So they go the easy route and just dress in something that makes them forget about their clothes. In many situations, dressing nicely is culturally expected: weddings, job interviews, appearances on TV. There are others where it should hardly matter (the airport), but the laziness rankles nonetheless.

    There is a woman where I work whose mode of dress makes me nuts. We dress very casually here, but she pretty much wears pajamas: over-sized knit shirts with floppy knit pants. I was surprised at myself for finding that inappropriate. Why should I care what she looks like? It doesn’t affect her work or mine.

    I’m with Shelley J. I see the guidelines as helpful, not restrictive. They aren’t laws, you know. But thinking everyone should just dress without regard to their shapes doesn’t indicate body acceptance to me. It discounts our differences.

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  16. I have had limited success trying to follow advice on dressing my body type. As a 5'3" pear shaped lady I have been prescribed a-line skirts only and to avoid pencil skirts and maxi skirts at all cost. However, I have found that I often look better in the things I am not supposed to wear. Other people have also confirmed this so I am pretty sure I am not deluding myself. Anyway, I think these rules for covering our flaws are flawed themselves, and a person should just try different looks until they find the one that suits them.

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  17. Many people don't know what looks good on them.They have never paid attention, and they want rules to make life easier.I contend that if you are clean and neat and comfortable in your clothing, you are fine. Some people want more than that.

    Rules are guidelines and they don't work for everyone. Finding what works for you takes time, and the help of at least one other person.

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  18. Living in France I find some of the do's and don'ts I grew up hearing in America amusing now, because women here feel freer to rock more styles, and a line like "no miniskirts after 35" would be met with raucous laughter (or at least an astonished raised eyebrow). Sometimes clothing is meant to be flattering, and sometimes it's meant to be wearable Art.

    I've always been fanatical about colors being flattering, but living abroad has also encouraged me to choose only those clothing items that really flatter my body or that just make me feel good wearing them, and I've altered/tailored every item in my closet that didn't fit perfectly off the rack. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and that includes your opinion of the bubble dress, but at the end of the day, I go with the following mantra: Mirror don't lie. Or if you prefer: Mirror, mirror on the wall, Can I rock this frock at all?

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  19. If I am totally honest I can get a little judgey when people are wearing things that are totally unflattering (i am thinking in particular of tights as pants, shirts that are tooooo tight and/or too short, emphasizing the "third tit" as I like to call it (I have one, kept under wraps), flats with midi skirts, mid-calf boots, VPLs etc etc). I think women should wear whatever the hell they want but I reserve the right to think "Well, that looks terrible" in my head. It's the curse of a designer/aesthetic mind - proportion & form is key in everything I do, so obviously this carries into how I look at clothing and fashion.

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  20. I think that there are two separate but related elements in my answer to this question. The first is body shape and how wearing various clothing shapes or putting certain colors or design elements in different body locations may be more visually "pleasing". We can't all be art majors, spending years on learning artistic principles, so getting info on just the parts that relate to how to achieve a certain look can be helpful.

    The second item that I think has a bearing on this has to do with how garments fit (not to be confused with how fit one's body is). The idea of a round hole and a square peg seems to be appropo at this point. If one's body is shaped a certain way, it is often easier to acheive good fit by selecting clothing that parallels the outline of the body. Since most ready-to-wear doesn't come with a line drawing of the clothing shape, the way patterns do, having books that show clothing shapes compared to body shapes can be helpful on a fit level.

    Unfortunately, the commercial world, fashion included, thrives on making people feel bad about themselves. It therefore, creates in people a "need" to buy products to make themselves feel better. The books sell a promise to make oneself look better, and to fulfill this they start by telling us we don't look good enough so that we feel we "need" the books. This, in turn, fuels clothing sales, and the worse the book can make us feel about ourselves, the more clothing we will probably buy. My advice to anyone contemplating reading one or more of these books is to take them with a grain of salt. Read as much as you find interesting about art and geometry. Apply as much of what you learn as makes you feel good about yourself. Don't buy into the lie that you can't look good if you don't look a certain way. Don't let fear of failing in fashion choices hold you to a life of not trying to choose. Think, "If I had my 'perfect body', what would I wear?" then wear it in the size you are now.

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  21. In a perfect world we could wear whatever we wanted and be happy and accepted for what we are rather than the clothes we wear. But let's face it, that's not going to happen - clothes tell the world about you, your social status and your social group, and they have since we first skinned a bear and wrapped it around us.

    I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with wearing whatever the heck you want to, but at the same time there's nothing wrong with wanting to look the best you can and wearing things that are flattering. Flattering is subjective though. I look at some nice young lady walking down the street in too short shorts that make her thighs look much larger than they are, with a muffin-top and a bulging bra under a too-tight top and I see wasted potential. But that's me, perhaps her dream guy thinks she looks hot, I don't know. Or perhaps she doesn't care? Or realise what she looks like? Or maybe she doesn't feel the need to conform and is comfortable with her body, in which case how excellent. There's so many variables it's hard to really know what to think, other than I find myself staring in the same way I can't look away from a bad car crash as I drive past. And yes of course, people make judgements about you based on your clothes, I don't see the point in pretending they don't.

    In a day and age where people seem to think it's acceptable to go the the supermarket in their pyjamas at 5pm then I think perhaps any global notion of dressing appropriately and to flatter has pretty much gone out the window. I look at some of the clothes the parents of the kids at my daughter's school think are appropriate for them to wear and I shudder - it's only going to get worse...

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  22. Some people want and need guidelines as to what will make them look their best. Okay. But some of the "Rules" can really take the fun out of life. When I was entering adulthood (early 1960s) it was much worse! If you are tall, wear flat shoes, or if you are short, wear high heels. If your complexion is rosy, wear yellowish foundation or if your skin is olive, wear pinkish foundation. Etc.,etc. Everything must be "corrected". The idea, apparently, was to have everyone look alike. Ugh! Glad that's over.

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  23. I live in a beach resort area and I see way more of people's bodies (the bodies of people? you know what I mean) than anyone should. I agree with Jacqui, some of them are so bad you just can't look the other way! They are just plain scary. True, I don't have to look, but it's difficult to drive down the street with my eyes closed. Sometimes I wish they would just cover up, who cares if it's too tight!

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  24. I think.. Not everyone will look good in the same clothes. Some styles are more flattering on some bodies than others, some are not flattering at all. My sister and I are the same height, and have the same bust measurement. Acording to RTW clothing, we should wear the same size, and probably the same styles. HOWEVER. Clothes that look amazing on her make me look like I threw on whatever I could find in the nearest thrift store, and clothes that flatter me are just all kinds of wrong for her.

    I don't think slavishly sticking to body type rules is a good idea, but recognizing that "if you have xyz feature then be aware that {insert item here} might not flatter, so have a good, sensible, look in the mirror before you leave the house" is probably a good idea.

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  25. Okay, okay, but there IS one universal rule of dressing: Fit makes all the difference! Squeezing into a pair of pants that are way too small, creating a camel toe effect and forcing excess flesh to bulge up and out at the waist band, is not flattering on ANYONE, no matter how small the number is on the tag inside the pants!

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  26. Well, living in a hot country means that people frequently wear a little less then they perhaps ought to.

    I am not saying people need to wear knee length skirts, but mini skirts midrift showing tops don't flatter every figure. One only has to go to sea world or wet'n wild and then you can see that bikinis come in all sizes, but again a drawstring bikini is maybe not the most flattering in a size 20 or so.

    In short I sadly have to raise my hand and that I inwardly cringe when I see the above mentioned things. Would I go and tell them? No :-)

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  27. I love reading all those style / colour / body shape columns! I don't take it all to heart (especially 'cause some stylists have styles that really don't appeal to me), but if you are going to go to all that effort to sew your own clothes, you don't want to get to the end and have a garment that doesn't make you feel good because the shape was not flattering or the colour not your best.

    Whenever I wear neutral colours people ask me if I am unwell. Who wants to look sick when they could look vibrant and well, just by changing the colour of their top?

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  28. Just like the dressing for your seasonal color books, my main problem with them is that my eye disagrees with their recommendations.

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  29. Very well put, Peter!

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  30. My shape is somewhere between hourglass and pear - my hips are a good size bigger than my waist size according to pattern measurements. If I followed the directions (particularly those on patterns) about what styles I should wear, then I would have to throw out most of my wardrobe. I'm also told women my age shouldn't wear skirts above the knee. There goes most of my skirts. I use the method that Sarah above describes - I take a good look in the mirror each time I get dressed. Rebecca Grace above mentions correct fit and I agree with her, too. I think we just need to use our brains when we get dressed. I've enjoyed reading the other comments about this very much!

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  31. Hi Peter, and friends. Just LOVE Adele Margolis, and she is a great writer. I have 2 books from her, and searching for more. Those books on what suits/flatters can be very helpful. I am about 200 lbs., with a 46 inch bust, and LONG legs. Even though 62, I like my clothes to rock. Montreal is a bit like Paris. I like unexpected touches of colour, embellishment, etc. As someone wrote, I especially love vintage (fabric snd patterns). And I do get compliments. Then there's doggie wear for my outings with Tica (functional/sporty). Cathie, in Quebec.

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  32. I am a big fan of dressing for your body shape, but more than that I am a big fan of dressing for your comfort. By that I mean, wear what you feel comfortable and confident wearing. I am not confident wearing skinny jeans or midriff tops, so I don't buy them. I prefer jeans that have a little flair at the bottom or boot cut, so those are the type I buy. Same with colours. I wear lots of black, white, red, with some blue, green and pink, but I avoid yellows like the plague as they make me look drawn out and ill. I think if you stop following what fashion dictates and start going for things that you would actually wear beyond one season, then you'll have a more cohesive wardrobe and you'll never have nothing to wear.
    I also follow the mantra "don't follow the fashion, follow what the fashion designers wear". Works like a treat!

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  33. I think if it looks good to you in the mirror, then wear it! I'm short-waisted compared to a standard size, and there are all sorts of 'rules' for dressing around that - I break them all! Apparently I'm not supposed to wear wide belts at the waist - but with a snug top and full skirt and flat shoes I think it looks fine on me. And who said I'm supposed to be making my waist look lower anyway?! Where it is, is where it is, and that is that. I think there is a lot of over-analysis re what looks good. If it fits properly, I think you can wear almost anything and it will look good. Take the rule that pencil skirts are not for pear shapes - well I think when properly fitted they can look fabulous, you don't need to hide your curves under a dirndl!

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  34. Peter,
    I'm a little surprised to hear you post about this topic because you recently have put up a Pintrest board focusing on your idea of ugly patterns for women. I get that you think they are funny, but somebody thought they were great when they bought them. Everyday I sell patterns that somebody else wouldn't be caught dead in, but to that person it's exactly how they see themselves..or want to.
    Maybe we all could "work to create a more accepting, less critical world when it comes to appearance?"

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    1. Here's the link should anyone be curious what "What-I-Found" is talking about:

      http://pinterest.com/peterlappin/worst-women-s-patterns-ever/

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  35. I think some guidelines can be helpful, but then I agree that the most important thing is that the garment fit the body correctly. I think most styles can be made to fit every figure. But there are tons of things in RTW that I don't even bother trying on because I know they won't fit me right.

    I do get tired of hearing that pear shaped women should wear flared pants. I feel short and wide in flared pants!! I don't think they are flattering at all. I prefer a well-fitted pair of straight leg pants. No skinny jeans for sure, but a narrow boot cut or straight leg seems better on a pear shape to me! So that's when I say screw the expert advice--I'm going with what I like best.

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  36. I think that people should wear what they like and feel comfortable in. If you are a non-sewing person, you might just have a problem finding what you like or feel comfortable in. Especially if you are plus size. Some designer/fashion goddess decides that if you are over a size 16 and god forbid, even larger, you are relegated to giant floral patterns on polyester knit. I am amazed when shopping and can tell what women't department I am in by looking at the fabrics. And if I reach in for something in a really nice print, I find when I pull it out, its a 6 in the wrong spot. And also, I guess plus women only like white and beige bras also. Thanks for letting me vent. Pet peeve.

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  37. "Personally, I don't think the bubble dress flatters anyone..."

    This made me think: is it so important to wear clothes that flatter? I recall your post last year about Advanced Style and your irritation at its message that one should look appealing, unceasingly, until the end of one's days.

    Can we look at the bubble dress and its ilk in isolation from its propensity to flatter (or not)? I don't think I'd wear one but I'm glad that others do because they are slightly ridiculous and they make me smile. Isn't that enough? Flattery doesn't quite get you nowhere, but it certainly isn't everything! Sometimes if it swooshes satisfactorily and puts a spring in your step, it matters not a jot whether it sets off a collarbone or an ankle or whatever.

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    1. ditto! Bubble dresses make me smile: i love them so. I'd never wear one, but love the style none the less...fun and playful are the words that come to mind.

      My daughter chose one for her formal two years ago; albeit a trifle understated in the bubble fullness department. i couldn't help but smile; she looked fabulous and loved her dress. Her choice set her apart from most of the other girls who chose safe gowns/dresses currently on trend or who chose boobs & bum dresses (showing all their wares).

      I like the fun aspect of clothes!

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  38. I think the big thing is that all these books are someone else's opinion. Just an opinion ... Not something cast in concrete. I was commenting to my DH not to long ago how I thought some skinny jeans made some women look really hippy. His comment ... "not everyone thinks that is a bad look.". That comment made me stop and think. I try to not judge people by their clothing cause I know I don't know what they were thinking when they got dressed. Maybe they think they are rockin it. For myself, I am trying to dress in a way that looks good to me, but I dress pretty casually and know it isn't to everyone's taste. Why should I dress frou frou just cause somebody else thinks I should?

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  39. Sometimes "advice" could be presented differently. Such as this will "emphasis" or "accentuate" certain features and this alternative thing will "disguise" or "reduce the appearance" of particular features. Or this will draw the eye towards... etc.

    So instead of saying that bootleg pants suit people who have short legs,and capri pants suit tall people, you would say that bootleg pants can lengthen legs, whilst capri pants have a tendency to shorten them.

    It's all very confusing, as one person's figure flaw is another person's... hey, what DO you call it when someone thinks something looks good? I am so used to hearing about covering up flaws I think we all should just wear a blanket over our heads and be done with it.

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  40. I really don't care what people wear. If it makes them happy then that's all that matters. I agree these are just opinions and what one person might not like on another, another person will absolutely love. Dress for yourself and what makes you feel good. If you want guidance then it is out there.
    The last thing on my list is what people wear.

    Josette

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  41. It's an interesting conundrum which I'm rediscovering through my 12 year old daughter. Having inherited my hourglass figure, she's discovering that certain types of clothes look good on her while others really don't. Her difficulty is in reconciling the current trends she'd like to wear, that her friends are wearing (some of whom are barely even developed yet), with what actually looks good on her. It's almost heartbreaking to watch her try on things and look crushed because she can see in the mirror that they look terrible on her or nothing like they do in the magazines... Her next step is going to have to be to either rise above the trends and determine what does look good on her, or stuff it all and wear them anyway. If it's the latter, she'll be fine whatever, but if it's the former, it'll be useful for her to read on how to valorise the positive (I can tell her, but will she listen...). Personally I wish I'd had such literature available to me when I was growing up in France - one of the most judgemental and conformist places I know when it comes to how to dress or not to dress. I'm sure it would have helped build my confidence sooner to know that not everybody has the same body type, and hey, it's OK... you can still look good despite the differences.

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  42. I love style books and though I'm quite ashamed I pretty much own them all. In addition to this I have a black belt in women's fashion magazines ;) What have I taken from all this? Well some things do look better on some shapes more than others. Though the most important thing is fit and proportiom. When your clothes hit you at the most flattering points and your clothes skim your body (not tight or too loose), you look fantastic. When you sew, its even easier to put these concepts into practice.

    BTW: an earlier commenter wrote about the molloy book, well I just wanted to add, the women's book may be from the 90's but the information contained is still relevant and personally netted me an $8k payrise.

    Audreychrysalis

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  43. I need to find a copy of that book!

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    Replies
    1. I got mine from Abe books :)

      And yes, next time you go to Vogue, don the navy suit, pale blue or white shirt and red tie ;o)

      Mel (Audreychrysalis)

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  44. This is a tough one for me. I think everyone should wear whatever makes them comfortable & confident without having to endure the judgement & criticsm of others. However, a blatant fashion faux pas, for instance a thong strap showing above the waistband of jeans is fair game for me to eye roll, tsk tsk, and/or glare. If someone is showing their underwear, they are begging to be noticed. Some will notice and think it's "cool". Others will notice & eye roll and be judgemental. If you don't want the judgement of others cover up your underwear. Problem solved.
    And yes, you would be correct in assuming that exposed underwear, thongs, etc is a huge pet peeve of mine.

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  45. True, there's lots of advice out there re: what to wear/what not to wear, but just from how I see people dressed at work, on the streets, at social functions, etc., whole swathes of the population are either blissfully unaware or blithely unconcerned about fashion "rules." I suppose this is a good thing if you feel rules are repressive. Personally, I feel the best rule of all is to use a mirror--and be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

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  46. There is a top model who has a coat hanger tattooed on the back of her neck, a tongue-in-cheek statement about her profession, no doubt. Everything looks good on the very tall, thin, young pretty faced model. The rest of us have to trust our eyes and our instincts and then dress for our jobs and our circumstances. Style books can never take everything about you into account, neither can so called experts on all those how-to-dress shows.
    BTW I own a modified bubble dress and absolutely love it. (I still enjoyed reading your post though.)
    Here's my link http://www.valeriesownsewingblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/my-image-magazine.html

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  47. I always think "those pattern pieces better have disintegrated to dust"

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  48. Without reading the preceding 53 comments (which I will do shortly, I promise), here's my take on it:

    Aesthetic beauty, whether we like it or not, is rooted in proportion. Fibonacci's spiral, the Golden Mean, it's no accident that things following the "right" ratio look more "right" than things that don't follow that ratio.

    Just so happens that even our carcasses follow the ratio, and the closer our proportions of body and face follow the Golden Mean, the more aesthetically pleasing we are to our fellow human beings.

    You will note that most of those "dressing for your shape" things are guides for visually cheating the proportions of your body to look as close to the Golden Mean as possible.

    Either way, I try to work with the proportions that I have, be comfortable yet simultaneously expressive of my inner self, and if my legs look short in these jeans, meh. Just means my comfort outweighed my desire to look proportionally balanced.

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  49. I've been styling women for years and what I'd say was consistent is that the rules in women's heads about what to wear have nothing to do with anything but their mother's phobias and obsessions (e.g. blue and white is SO nice and clean!or Only tarts wear short skirts) either following them or defying them, either way there's no freedom from it. Good styling is about allowing women to reinvent their self expression in a way that empowers them. I don't use rules, I teach women how to understand things like focus and proportion, so they can explore their own ideas.
    The problem is that most books and programmes about this issue dictate what to DO, with no context for those messages. Contexts like, how do you live, how do you want to feel, what do you need to understand about clothes to make better purchasing decisions? Stuff like that.
    Lastly, I don't care what people wear, but I do care about fit. I know that if you don't sew or can't afford to have things made, there is no option but to buy what comes close. But it breaks my heart seeing clothes that are too big or small, or wrongly proportioned on a person. Chances are they are not wearing it by choice but by not having any other choice. That's sad.

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  50. I'm intrigued to know where the advice comes from in the first place – not always from design principle. Take the adage about short plump bodies using vertical stripes to camouflage. I grew up with it accepted as gospel. But in 2008, Peter Thomson told us that they don't, giving empirical evidence about perception. When his work was noted on the Skeptics’ website, people argued about the illustrations. Some commented that they saw the pictures the way Thomson suggested but others didn’t. It left me wondering about individual differences in perception and also about the source of the original stripe advice, which does not seem to have been traced to any scientific authority. Is it possible that in the period when the advice about vertical stripes was first given, many people thought they did make women look thinner so fashion advisers just followed the majority? Or did the fashion advice came from seeing some examples where an illusion was created by the style of the garment and the stripes had no effect one way or ‘tother? Or perhaps someone with influence in society had a phobia about horizontal stripes or a best friend with tons of vertical striped fabric to sell?

    The point is that while we might accept the basic science about golden means as sound, and go from this to aesthetic principles, fashion advice isn’t about principles and perceptions in isolation- it's about perceptions and principles in context. This makes blanket and simplistic advice about what to wear inherently suspect without necessarily invalidating all the advice (and certainly without demanding that anyone follow the advice). I’m the short plump woman who wandered round university in a vertical self-stripe burgundy caftan made from jumbo cord furnishing fabric feeling fabulous, but probably looking several inches shorter and wider than my actual measurements. I didn’t know then and I don’t care now!
    (If you want to look at the skeptics page it's
    http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1653/do-vertical-stripes-make-you-look-thinner)

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    1. Not to mention that some people may find, say, short, plump women more attractive in the first place!

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  51. I don't have a problem with that type of advice, but it's like anything else in sewing, it has to be personalized to fit. I agree, the bubbledress is not flattering to any figure, but I consider it to be appropriate for little girls, about the ages of 3-6, sort of like a more modest twirly-dress, but not nearly as cute. In most RTW, I don;t see much that's flattering to anyone. Very few people look good in tight midriff-baring T-shirts paired with low-slung jeans, but that is what most people seem to be wearing. I like to dress to hide my figure flaws now that I'm 49 and have no waist, but most people seem to be comfortable with exposing every lump, bump and dimple no matter what they need to hide.

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  52. I kind of want to selfishly say both! I definitely think it's true that not every garment will flatter everyone, but I also don't think it is right to tell people off for wearing the 'wrong' thing. I know that in my mind I do judge whether I think a particular item someone is wearing looks good, but I don't - and wouldn't - say anything. It's just me seeing whether or not their clothes fit my own aesthetic opinions, but I realise that's all they are, and lots of other people probably thing they're strange and unfashionable.
    I also think I've become more accepting of a wider range of looks and styles since I started sewing, I might not wear something really weird, but I can appreciate the creativity and style like I never could before. But on the other hand, I'm more critical about poorly fitted clothes than I used to be.

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  53. Not everything looks good on everyone. And although you can wear basically anything you want now days, that doesn't mean it will look nice.

    Some people prefer looking at an ocean view and some people prefer looking at the mountains, different people do find different things nice to look at. However, the majority of people prefer looking at either of those over a dump. And since others have to look at you (you can just avoid mirrors and not look at yourself), it is kind to provide something reasonably pleasing for them to look at - not in a 'sexy' way, just in a pleasant view way. Overly tight clothing or very oversized clothing are generally not going to do that. The 'generally accepted' advice can at least avoid the dump look.

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  54. My take on this is: To each his or her own.

    Yes, there are clothing styles and attributes that will work better on my pear-shaped, hollow-upper-chested, short-legged, barrel-thighed (my mother still thinks I could have been an Olympic swimmer), body than others, but nobody is going to shoot me if I choose to wear them, anyway. In the grand scheme of things, it simply does not matter. The worst that can possibly happen is that my clothes are not as flattering as they could be, but that's not a catastrophe.

    Overall, I think fit is the most important thing. I recently discovered that I can, in fact, wear pencil skirts, despite having a Quarter Horse rump and the torso of a basset hound. As long as they fit, they look just fine. It's when they don't fit and pull around my hips, or are the wrong length, that anyone would notice that they can be a difficult style for pear-shaped women.

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  55. You asked for opinions so...

    I know that for me, there are certain styles I CAN NOT wear. They make me look fat, dumpy & short.

    I own the fact that I am overweight. For my height I should weigh about 30 pounds less give or take.

    Actually I'm legitimately under-tall due to a growth hormone deficiency as a child and so my legs and arms are out of proportion to my torso. So yeah, I'm short and overweight.

    But I don't HAVE to look dumpy. Have you ever tried shopping for clothes when you're too short but average sized in boobs & butt? EVERYTHING is either too long, too big, too SOMETHING. I have to shorten MOST pants by at LEAST 6". I can't wear petites at all.

    So I sew most of my clothes other than jeans (Thank GOD for Old Navy & "short" jeans) and tshirts which basically make up my day to day uniform.

    So if we're talking Off The Rack clothing, then YES there are certain body types who should not wear certain styles.

    If we're talking bespoke, then almost anything is possible with the right amount of fitting.

    I still maintain that spandex is a thing of Satan. I do NOT want to see other people's visible panty lines in their spandex pants that are two sizes to small and pulled so tight that you can *see* the white elastic threads of the spandex...

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  56. Have you noticed that no one every seems to tell thin people how to dress only if your "fat"

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