Elements of Flattery

You’ve heard me spout endlessly about the importance of figure flattery. My little arsenal of tutorials was created specifically to help you decipher which styles work for your unique bod, and just this week I wrote about the importance of learning to flatter yourself stylishly. But what makes something a flattering piece or ensemble? What separates the cool and stylish from the staid but complimentary? What are the elements of flattery?

When I’m contemplating a potential clothing purchase, flattery figures into my decision-making process 99% of the time. And to determine if an item is truly flattering, I generally consider the following factors:

What is the shape of the garment? Does it give any hint as to the shape of the body inside it? If not, it will remain in the realm of the unflattering. Example: I love giant, boxy, slightly-cropped sweaters. LOVE them. And I’ll be damned if they don’t make me look like a burly construction worker. I can offset a boxy sweater with skinny jeans to create an artsy-cool look … but if I want to appear feminine and svelte, I need to pick another cut of sweater to flatter my figure.

Do the colors within an outfit enhance or deaden your complexion, eyes, and hair? Do the colors within an outfit play well off of each other, or do they fight for attention? In my experience, color, or lack thereof, is the most neglected element of flattery. The wrong color can make you look like a flu victim, but the right color can make everything about you glitter and glow. Learning to utilize color is essential to flattering your natural beauty.

Can you tell from 50 yards away that it’s made of cheap, flammable crapfabric? Can you tell from 50 yards away that it’s made of expensive, handspun cashmere? Are the seams neat and secure, or jagged and sloppy? Clothing made from inferior materials via shoddy workmanship will generally be less flattering than high quality, well made clothing. Not ALWAYS true, of course. But generally speaking, well-made fabrics tend to flow better, and well-designed garments tend to fit better. A higher price doesn’t automatically denote a higher quality item, as we all know. But a piece that you’re certain has been well designed and constructed from good materials is more likely to flatter.

Can how you accessorize an outfit affect its ability to flatter your form? Yes and yes. If I try on a skirt that will hit me mid-calf, I must think very carefully about what my shoe options will be. If I try on a crewneck sweater, I must think about how I will downplay that unflattering neckline and decide if it’s worth constantly working around that feature with scarves and necklaces. Accessorization can make or break the flattery factor.

Fabric drape
How does the material fall around the body? Related to quality, drape is essential to flattery. Clothing that moves and flows when you move and flow looks natural and elegant. Clothing that is stiff and brittle may rack up some coolness points, depending on how it’s styled, but it’s unlikely to flatter your female form.

Does it show bits of bod it shouldn’t? Does it mask absolutely everything? Go to far in either direction, and you hit “unflattering.” A hat, turtleneck, oversized sweater, wideleg slacks, and pair of tall boots is a look … but not one that is likely to showcase your delicate collarbone, slender calves, or fantastic rack. A tube top, miniskirt, and strappy sandals is a look … but not one you’d want to sport anywhere that isn’t a nightclub. Erring on either side of modesty will interfere with your efforts to flatter your figure.

Does it fit to the natural curves of your body without clinging or pulling? Although closely related to cut, fit has a bit more to do with garment size. You can select a cut of clothing that is exquisitely flattering to your shape – like an a-line skirt or sultry halter top – but if it doesn’t fit you properly, it won’t flatter you. If it’s a size too big or small, or if the construction is shoddy and it pooches or pulls, fit is compromised. But with fit in your favor, flattery is easily achieved.

Not sure I’ve hit all the high notes, but it’s a start! Very curious to hear if anyone disagrees with my choices, or has other items to add.

When you think of figure flattery in clothing, what elements spring to mind?

All images courtesy Boden.

  • Songy

    fit, colour, fabric, quality and accessory… in that particular order. I usually always have a ring, bangle or bracelet and a bag.. never go out without.. if i do I feel naked.

  • Casey

    I definitely agree with all of these: and use most (if not all) of these guidelines when selecting new garments or putting together outfits. Personally, for me, the issue of hiding my figure isn’t the biggest one though: I tend to like wearing little, tent-style minis every once-in-awhile. But I’ve found the key to not looking like I’m pregnant is to wear a long, heavy chain necklace that defines my tum by the way it hangs. ;) lol.

    I think another area I tend to be aware of flattery is shoes. Does the style of the shoe flatter my leg/ankle/foot (I have wide feet, so this is a consideration! ;)? Does the style compliment where the skirt hem hits on my leg or the pants leg? So figure flattery extends from head to toe, imho! :)

    Great post again: you’re a style star, Sal! :D

  • Christina Lee

    I think you’ve touched on it all! Great post! Also, you made me want to go now and shop on the Boden site!

  • La Belette Rouge

    I cannot do boxy cardigans or jackets—very bad. I also have to do skirts with a structured fabric( no clingy rayon or silk skirts for this weasel). No to cropped pants or matchstick pants–no over the knee skirts. Those are major rules I cannot break. There are other items that are judged on a case by case basis.

    Great post, as always!!

    Add, hey, that green jacket is making me go over to Boden.com. Thanks for that.;-)

  • Melissa de la Fuente

    Thank you for your wonderfully sweet comments Sal! They always brighten my day and I am so happy to have you over in my neck o the woods! Here is to hubbies in slippers! :)

  • Always In Style

    Excellent post – it’s so important to shop keeping these tips in mind…too many purchases are made based upon emotion.

  • Emily

    you mention of boxy sweaters made me laugh. this weekend, i was obsessed with 3 jackets at jcrew, all of which made me look like the Hulk. though i’m always drawn to that stuff, as women, we need to be aware of things that don’t nip in at the waist. great post!

  • Budget Babe

    EE! I was just browsing Boden’s website and I saw those outfits in the top picture AND I said to myself, “This is a Sal outfit!” (referring to the first one on the left, orange jacket, teal skirt.) You must buy it, I think it would look amazing on you. I was going to send you a link to it but now I don’t have to since you read my mind.

  • Make Do Style

    Cut and cloth always those two above all else!

  • The Seeker

    Great post Sal.
    Indeed one must take care of those aspects.
    Colour… it’s a thing I do by instinct, interesting that when I try to racionalize it things become very hard and I get too nervous.


  • lopi

    I totally agree with you Sal.
    Personally, I always keep questioning myself on what suits me, and I try not to fall into a rut. We have to take advantage of fashion and the way it throws completely new images at us every season. I try and consider everything, from ponchos to harem pants, and figure out objectively if something suits me or not. So my first piece of advice is: don’t be prejudiced.
    My second mantra is much simpler: don’t wear anything that you’ll have to constantly pull down or rearrange, anything that is so tight it leaves marks on your skin, or anything that doesn’t let you walk, eat or sit freely.

  • enc

    I agree with all this. Usually, I stick to the same shapes and colors and fabrics that I’ve tested over time, and with which I’ve had success. I suppose that lands me in a nice, deep rut, but at least I look good in it.

  • drwende

    I’m going to have to link to this one when we start talking Stalwart Staples around my place, as “staid but complimentary” is the very definition of the Stalwart Staple.

    ENC, I think a well-chosen rut is a wonderful place to be. If your choices are relatively classic — or so outrageous that “classic” is irrelevant — or based on criteria that can be maintained when styles change — then why waste time messing with what doesn’t work?


    cut, color & propotions r the keys…but again I always like this quotes; 'A woman's dress should be like abarbed- wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view…' fm the fab Sophia Loren! ;)

  • MR style

    i adore those posts !!

  • Miss Karen

    Sal, you NEED to put all this information into a book and publish it for everyone to read. This is such important advice. I think a lot of people are willing to justify the flaws of a piece of clothing because it’s from a certain label or it’s a very trendy item. That sort of thinking needs to go.

  • K.Line

    I think you’ve hit every major point and you really need a book deal.

  • fashion herald

    great information! I love nice woven fabrics and dark earthy tones.

  • Valerie

    i love coming here and reading your insight on style. regarding the snow, it was a bittersweet surprise…i looked outside and there it was! but, it practically melted in an hour because it started to rain, so it wasn’t that depressing or alarming.

  • Kate Coveny Hood

    I think that the reason we can all get away with some of the cheaper lines (Target, Forever 21, etc.) is that the pieces we select hit a few of those areas so perfectly for us. So if I find a dress at Target that has a cut that works well for me, a color that looks great on me, and a perfect fit, I can probably get away with missing some of the quality details. And if I accessorize it well and walk with great posture and confidence…people will probably think that it’s twice as expensive as it is.

  • Spandexpony

    I would recommend to anyone that they read that 70’s book about what “season” of color they are. Very illuminating. There’s even a section in the back that recommends what style of clothing you should go for based on coloring and body shapes. Tall, thin winters should wear artistic clothing, while curvier spring or falls should wear “romantic” clothing, and athletic summers should wear classic, sporty clothing like trench coats. Also, I recommend for the larger boobed not to buy those fitted, curvy oxfords. Too sexy librarian. Instead, go for a looser cut, whose buttons don’t gape (!) and has a button that hits right at or slightly below your cleavage. Leave untucked for a “newlywed painting their apartment” look. Flattering!