Counterintuitive Clothes


Here’s something I’ve learned firsthand from my style consultation business. It’ll be old news to many of you, but since it surprised the hell out of many of my clients, I thought it was worth a quick post!

Non-skinny people can look fantastic in fitted, tailored clothes.
Skinny people can look fantastic in loose, formless clothes.

Not a cut-and-dried dichotomy, by any means, as every figure is different. And, of course, taste and comfort levels influence decisions about looseness and fittedness as much as figure flattery does. But I’ve put plus-sized women in pencil skirts and petite women in flowy tunics, and both were amazed by how fantastic their bodies looked.

When you’re not skinny, voluminous clothes often conspire to make your BODY appear more voluminous. You may end up inadvertently creating the illusion of bulk where there is none. When you’re skinny, fitted clothes can be quite flattering, but depending upon your body shape, they may draw attention to your slenderness in ways you’d rather avoid.

When you’re not skinny, fitted clothes show off your actual figure. Your instincts may be to mask, but your best bet is often to reveal. Remember my mantra: It is more attractive to show the world an “imperfect” form than a formless mass.

When you’re skinny, volume adds whimsy to your overall look. Looseness must always be counterbalanced, and an unstructured top, tunic, or dress needs to be anchored by a fitted pair of pants, trim vest, or slim blazer. But slender limbs protruding from an avalanche of loose cloth can look fun and funky instead of unruly and unflattering.

Now, I generally prefer fitted clothes for women of ALL figures because I think that bodies are meant to be seen, not disguised. And, of course, volume works beautifully for some curvaceous figures and tailored works fantastically for some slight figures. Nothing hard and fast, here, as always. But having worked with makeover clients on both ends of the height and weight spectrum, I have been amazed by the unexpected flattery of instinctively-opposite styles on extreme figures. And so have the women I’ve made over!

It just goes to show that exploring options outside your established comfort zone can be extremely rewarding. You may not end up buying that sheath dress, but trying it on costs nothing. You may hate that deconstructed jacket, but no one will ever see it on you if it never leaves the fitting room. Don’t limit yourself because you think your body looks best only in certain styles, or because of arbitrary style rules. Let yourself branch out. See what happens. And this goes for EVERYONE, not just plusses and petites!

What say YOU to this? Personal experiences to contribute? Disagree completely? Agree but don’t know how to apply it to your own style? Let’s hear it.

Photos courtesy mamichan (right) and uneduex (left).

  • Laura.

    oh, i totally agree! i wish i hadn't spent all of high school (and a good part of college) wearing baggy sweatshirts! even now i feel anxious to try more creative ways of showing off my figure, thanks to you and your creative dressing!

  • Rosie Unknown

    I seem to be in that happy place where I can look good in both loose and fitted, which is very helpful.

  • Christina Lee

    yes!!! totally agree with you!

  • Becky

    My "go-to" look these days is a fitted, high-waisted pencil skirt, usually paired with a tucked-in blouse and stretch belt. It took me a few years to figure out that this fitted style is MORE flattering than most on me because it shows off my curves. A little over a year ago, I didn't even own a single belt, and now I belt all over the place! I used to think since I was a 14/16 that I couldn't "pull off" that sort of look, but time and proportion experimentation finally proved me wrong…and thank goodness!

  • jen larsen

    One of the things that delighted me about losing a lot of weight was that I could start wearing floaty tops and dresses that used to make me look a little homeless. That sort of soft bohemian thing–I loved it, and couldn't do it. And swing jackets! Now I can wear swing jackets without looking pregnant! It is pretty awesome. It almost makes up for not having a magnificent rack any more.

  • Courtney

    That makes so much sense. I've gotten considerably bigger over the years, and I find myself drawn to more and more fitted/structured pieces. Loose flowy stuff now feels like a mumu. Maybe it's a matter of balance? Structure to balance the softness of a larger form, loose fabric to balance the firmness of a smaller form?

  • bekster

    Yes, this is absolutely true… but it's a hard thing to pull off well. I rock the pencil skirt as a curvy person, but it is a real challenge to find tops that are fitted for my non-flat form. Belts help tremendously (as does fashion tape–thank you for that tip), but a good many lovely blouses still don't fit right. Jackets and vests are even worse.

    I think the key to looking good in fitted clothes when you're curvy is wearing really smooth and supportive undergarments. It's a real shame that retro style body-shapers are so hard to find these days. If we were in the 50's, I'd be all set.

  • WendyB

    "Non-skinny people can look fantastic in fitted, tailored clothes.
    Skinny people can look fantastic in loose, formless clothes." — I'm always telling people this stuff! It just works.

  • Nina (Femme Rationale)

    i personally love it when "curvier" women wear fitted clothes. there's something so sexy and confident about it. if you got curves, def. flaunt it. you're blessed.

  • leesilbeeblog

    Spot on!!!

    But *sigh* it's such a challenge to balance out an outfit on someone like me who's smaller/flatter on top and curvier on the bottom.

  • Oranges And Apples

    I agree, and am surprised that anyone is surprised by this! as (quite) a big girl I always make sure I wear something fitted around my waist, or I end up looking massive. Its the one reason I wish I was skinnier, so I could wear billowy tunics.

  • evanadine

    as a plus-sized gal myself, i can only say that when i want to feel sexy, i always turn to my fitted clothes.
    they show off my curves!
    they key is to get fitted items that actually (*shocker*) FIT — dont get too-tight, painted-on items.

    of course, when im at home, cleaning the oven, the baggy clothes work just fine. :)

  • Lemondrop Marie

    It is a hard concept to get! If I gain any weight my instinct is to wear looser so I can't see it! But that's totally unflattering. Keep preaching the truth- we NEED to hear it and stay away from the clothes that are in opposition to what we have naturally!

  • ~Hurricane B~

    Come to Belgium, me my style consult. You are one uplifting person. I am really thankful I came across your blog.

  • Gillian

    Holy crap Sal, you need to stop giving such good advice or I'm going to have to take a trip down to the Twin Cities. You know, not to shop, but give you a piece of my mind. *cough*cough*

  • Melissa

    I would like to sound a loud AMEN! I am loving the many blogs that stand on a soap box to proclaim that volumninous is beautiful. I love the belted sweater look that your model is wearing – your blog is fantastic and I hope to become a frequent commentator!

  • Sharon Rose

    I agree, but skinny or fuller figures can still make horrendous mistakes with the cuts and fits all the same-I think its more a style issue!

  • mamichan

    hey, that's me :)
    I didn't understand my body until my mid-20s. I like looser things lately — I have a long torso and it's hard for me to find a "good" waistline with more fitted tailored clothes so longer loose tunics take care of it!

  • fleur_delicious

    I absolutely agree. I would add that I think hemlines have a lot to do with things, too. I won't wear one of these cute cropped tunic dresses that are everywhere these days because I have hips and athletic legs, and it just seems like too much roundness all together. However, I will wear a long maxi skirt, provided it fits through the waist and hips. (Thanks for the link, by the by, that WAS me; I missed it in my size, though.)

    On one point, I disagree with you. I think we should have a little wiggle room in the disguising/revealing bodies dichotomy for affects of style. Clothes certainly are tools, as you've said before, but can they not also be art? A swathed body may not always signify a lack of confidence, but could instead be a splashy display of incredible textiles or couture craftmanship. True, it's NOT for the workaday world (which means, probably not for most people), but I should be very disappointed if the world of dressing and fashion was ONLY about maximizing assets. What say you?

  • Sunny

    I'm very petite and skinny, but I'm afraid of looser clothes, I'm worried I'll get lost in them, and even though I like it on other people, the skinny jeans/leggings + large t-shirt look always makes me think of being dressed like that as a little kid. I'd LOVE to be able to get over that and try out looser clothes.

  • Meli22

    I am 'skinny' according to some people- but honestly I am a medium build. I have some nice curves, and an hourglass shape. Fitted clothes look best on my top half, on my midsection up. Volume works best for my bottom half- wide leg trousers, a-line pleated skirts, etc. Of course I can pull off fitted clothing on the bottom half, but they make my VERY curvy hips more obvious…

  • Sal

    fleur_delicious: Very true! And I find myself more and more willing to disguise my favorite figure aspects for the sake of a gorgeous, unstructured garment … however, I think a solid knowledge of how best to flatter your bod is essential before delving into artistically disguising it with yards of gorgeous textiles. Got a post coming up on this very subject, as Jennine of The Coveted raised similar questions a few weeks ago!

  • Deja Pseu

    I'm not comfortable in super-fitted clothing, but these days tend to feel I look my best in what drapes and skims over curves, but doesn't cling. I avoid anything stiff and voluminous, preferring lightweight knits with some movement.

  • Tina Z.

    This style "law" has more to do with body type/silhouette for sure, rather than size alone.

    I LOVE loose flowy looks but have a very curvy figure. Form fitting clothes still look best on me even though by all other accounts I am fairly small. It took me 10+ years to finally learn this. My 20s were a fashion disaster!!!

  • lisa

    I definitely agree! I see so many Korean and Japanese exchange students in downtown Vancouver who rock the loose, drapey, unstructured look because they're so slender, and curvier ladies who look fantastic in tailored jackets.

  • Sal

    Tina Z.: No laws here! Just a boundary-pushing suggestion.

    And while I agree that it's all down to body SHAPE as opposed to size, a lot of women think, "I'm a size 18, so I couldn't possibly look good in fitted skirts" or "I'm slim, so obviously I'll get lost in anything voluminous." We limit ourselves because of size without ever exploring what works best for our shape, ya know?

  • gemgemsxx

    Great article and brilliant advice.

  • Eyeliah SS

    As a curvier gal, I have never been able to properly pull off anything voluminous on top. I wish!! There are so many 70s style of loose dresses and tunic that just make me look wide. Fitted is definitely the best look for my figure. To do anything voluminous, it needs that belted waist.

  • Diana

    I like this and totally agree. I've seen so many plus size women wear roomy clothes clothes that basically hide their body in a sac and make them look much larger than they actually are. With fitted clothes, you actually look a lot smaller.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    I love layering but trying not to look sloppy! I still have problem wearing bright colors & prints for some reason, but do admire them on others…

    xo*

  • Gina

    I LOVE this post and know first hand how true it is. Will share with all my clients, helping them remember they are fabulous right now!

  • Skye

    I'm sort of medium sized generally and I think loose things look a bit better than fitted things, unless the fitted things have the most perfect fit. Definitely agree with your post but as in all things it's all about the individual!

  • The Raisin Girl

    I loved carefully fitted, tailored clothes. A button up with darts in just the right places make me feel and look slimmer and more pulled-together.

    But while I love fitted, I hate clinging. There are certain materials I just won't wear because they cling too close and show off EVERYTHING, the good with the bad. Speaking as someone who routinely buys dresses in XL, I'm mystified that they even make XL dresses out of stretchy knit fabric. Every time I put one on I despair, because the most eye-catching thing in the mirror is instantly my protruding stomach.

    I used to really go for loose, because I had an in-the-middle figure, and I found that flowy empire-waisted things accentuated my curvy top without showing my little spare tire.

  • Hanako66

    that is so true! I guess I would be called skinny, and I feel my best in a boxy shaped dress showing a little leg!

  • Charlie

    Agreed! I also love the point that the female for should be shown off – no matter what size :)

  • fromsneakerstostilettos

    I AGREE!!! This is very true for me. I look much better in tailored than loose. I don't think of myself as really big, but I know that I am not really skinny. I often try on several sizes of shirts or dresses and find that the more tailored ones fit and look so much better! Thanks for putting this out there Sal. It took me a long time to realize this. :)

  • The Barely Tattoo’d Artist

    I really have to agree with you on this…

    Unfortunately, until I got my bank job, I wore mainly baggy pants and shirts…too afraid to show off my curves (when I was developing, my family thought it was funny to make fun of my body…I know they were just joking, but sometimes it sticks)…

    Then my job came along and has pushed me into trying out new ideas and ways of dressing (plus, I kind of want to show up my manager and assistant manager, both of whom have been snazzy dressers from the get go)…

    Now, all I have to do is find my style…and with help of my husband, I have started a blog myself…

  • The Barely Tattoo’d Artist

    Back again…just wanted to see if I could be linked up with your blog lists…

    laundrysoapbubbles.blogspot.com…

    Thank you!

  • fleur_delicious

    Sally –

    woo, can't wait to read that one. And I agree; I think that if you're going to break the rules with flair and panache, you need to know and be able to apply them first.

  • Sonja

    I totally agree. I think I look way skinnier in more form-fitting clothes. I don't run around in spandex or anything. But I do make sure at least a top or bottom is fitted.

  • Cal

    As a curvy woman (UK 14-16 with an hourglass figure) I've always been well with you on wearing fitted clothes – wrap dresses, pencil skirts, fitted shirts and waisted jackets….. it's a look I love.

    However, what I've also been learning recently is that we curvy gals can also make the flowing tunic, skinny jeans etc look work as well. I'd been avoiding it because I was scared that the hanging from my boobs would make me look either fat or pregnant. But with the right shapes and lengths it can totally work. (Lengths are really important here – there's probably a whole post in that!)

    (And also, I am slowly learning not to worry if a look makes me look large – so what!!)

  • Casey

    I think that what is really important when choosing the voluminous/fitted silhouette is the person's underlying figure structure. What the differentiation between the bust/waist/hips is. I've seen women at either end of the figure spectrum who look smashing in loose fitting styles because they don't have a big difference between the bust/waist/hip.

    I tend to fall in the fitted category, even those people classify me as "slender". It's because I do have a big difference between those measurements, and find that loose styles just get caught and ride up over those areas in unflattering ways! When I was much heavier, I still flocked to fitted styles because the same, underlying principle applied! :)

    Anyway, so all this to say I agree with your hypothesis, Sal! ;) It's interesting sometimes how things that are exact opposites can work together so beautifully. But no matter what category one falls into, I think the ultimate goal is finding styles that flatter. ;)

  • Alex

    As for me,I love it when "curvier" girl wears fitted clothes. It looks cute

  • Sal

    Gina: Wow, thanks so much!