Emily e-mailed this request:
I wonder if you’d be interested in doing a post about the discomfort, early discomfort anyway, involved in making the right choices for your body type. When you wear flattering clothes, clothes that fit to the body, well, they show the body shape. And as many many guests on What Not to Wear show with their reactions to belts and waisted dresses, it’s uncomfortable, at first, to wear things on your waist when you’ve been hiding your waist under baggier clothes, or bloused clothes, or what have you.
It’s taken me a long time to learn about my body. Both in terms of appreciating its lovely form as-is, and in terms of helping it look amazing as often as possible by wearing clothes that work WITH it instead of AGAINST it. And before I learned these things, I hid inside my clothes. Husband Mike and I even called a certain segment of my wardrobe my “hide-inside” clothes. They were oversized, bulky, thick, formless, and dark. They masked every lump and bump and I felt secure knowing that no one could see my supposed “flaws” through all that billowing cloth.
But a turning point came when Husband Mike pointed out that I didn’t actually look better, prettier, slimmer, or cooler in these clothes. They masked everything about my figure, including the aspects that I liked and wanted to show off. They made me look big and formless, messy and careless. They were hindering, not helping.
And so I coined a personal mantra: It is better to show the world an “imperfect” form than a formless mass.* I started looking for clothes that showed off my assets, even if it meant exposing some of my non-assets. And the more I saw my body, the more aware of it I became. The more engaged I felt, and the more inclined to care for myself, the more able to nurture my body and cultivate my style. Yes, it’s a giant cliché, but I felt like I was emerging from a cocoon and stretching my wings for the very first time.
And, for me, that mantra still holds true. I feel and look better in clothes that show my body’s form – lumps, bumps, and all. So I gravitate toward fitted items, dresses that nip in at the waist, tailored blazers, slim pants. Sure I play around with proportion and dabble in the oversized sometimes, but I’ve learned to balance those garments with closely fitted ones. And I feel that a style based on clothes that SHOW me works better than a style based on clothes that HIDE me.
But I don’t think this mantra can be applied across the board. The underlying sentiment is that you can and should show your body’s form, no matter how short, tall, bumpy, smooth, big, or small that form may be – proudly, happily, and without shame or fear. The basic theory is that wearing nothing but oversized tops and voluminous pants will create the optical illusion of more body, larger body, out-of-proportion body. And although I stand by both sentiment and theory, the look good/feel good connection swings both ways: Some women will never be comfortable in fitted clothing. Ever. No matter how many compliments roll in. And that could be because of abuse, or anxiety, or plain old personal preference. No woman will ever look good if she doesn’t feel good, and part of feeling good is feeling comfortable as well as confident, beautiful, and powerful. So, in the end, I can only say this:
Your body should be seen. Do not let anyone make you feel like your body is not good enough to show off. Showing your figure is a right, not a privilege. If you are timid about or unhappy with your figure, bear in mind that hiding inside oversized clothes may cause the observing eye to fill in what it cannot discern with “body” that isn’t really there. Although going fitted may feel scary, it may do your body more favors in the end. But, as always, the choice is yours. Wear what makes you look as you want to look, feel confident, tap into your unique aesthetic self.
All that said – and I know it’s a lot – Emily wanted some advice specific to the mental and emotional adjustments that come with wearing fitted garments. In addition to remembering that your body is absolutely worthy of showing off, here are a couple of things to bear in mind:
- It’s a truth about humanity that hurts a bit to repeat, but here it is: Most people are far too busy worrying about themselves to notice you. Especially details about you like occasional torso bulge. Think about it: You’re self-conscious about those fitted garments and concerned about how people around you may perceive you. In all likelihood, they’re mired in their own set of worries about how they look and seem to others. What seems glaringly obvious to you is likely lost in the shuffle to most observers.
- If you’re concerned about a reaction from a peer or coworker group after you’ve made the change from loose to fitted clothing, remember that the average shelf life for interest in a sartorial change is two weeks. This nugget comes from the ever-wise Husband Mike. Several years ago, he decided to wear suits to his SUPER casual office. Every day. He wanted to make it his personal uniform. And, as you might expect, he got a stream of “job interview” jokes and curious comments. But they lasted for two weeks, then tapered, then stopped completely. When I cut my hair off, my coworkers and friends took about two weeks to get their surprise/shock comments out of their systems. It may feel awkward for a while, but just remember that it’ll end. (Tips on dealing with clothing commentary here.)
- And, finally, try to wear fitted clothing almost every day. If you force yourself to do curve-hugging garments during the week and revert to formless ones on the weekend, you’ll associate those fitted clothes with work/duty/chores/unpleasantness. Try to make them a part of your style every day. Doing so will help you gradually acclimate to their presence in your life and wardrobe.
Have any of you made the switch from relatively formless to relatively formfitting clothing? Was the transition tough? Because of your own feelings, outside commentary, or both? Can you offer any other tips for Emily?
*Imperfect, in this context, means “contrary to the dominant beauty paradigm.” I don’t believe body shapes that fall outside the norm are flawed, hence the quote marks. There is no such thing as a perfect human form and all features deemed “flaws” are no more than simple physical traits.