How many times have you been out shopping with a friend, and watched as she picks up something lovely from the rack, looks at it longingly, sighs, then puts it back, saying “I can’t wear that; I’m too _______.” How many times have you done this yourself? How many times do we say and hear, “Well, that only would look good on a model?”
I grew up hearing the refrain, “you can’t wear that.” No horizontal stripes, nothing tucked in, no two-piece bathing suits. I learned early on that only certain body types “should” wear certain styles, that “some lucky women can wear anything and look good,*” and that the rest of us mere mortals must make do with more limitations. And I’m here to tell you, as the old song goes, ” ’tain’t necessarily so.”
We all know now that images in magazines, in ads, and often on television are digitized and manipulated to elongate, erase lumps and bumps, and “perfect” images. Nobody and nothing looks the way it does in a fashion editorial, where everything has been manipulated for artistic effect.
Clothing for online and catalog shoots is often pinned in back or otherwise adjusted beyond recognition to fit the model’s body. While we should continue to lobby retailers for models of all shapes and sizes to better represent how the clothing will look on a variety of shapes, in the meantime we must remind ourselves that often the item of clothing shown won’t look like that on us; in fact it won’t look like that on anyone because it’s far less tailored than it’s been manipulated to appear. (One personal red flag: if sweater or jacket is always shown belted though it doesn’t come with a belt, that’s a sign the fit is funky.)
Even though a celebrity may be snapped in public wearing the same Gap jeans that you wear, chances are hers have been painstakingly altered to fit her body perfectly, and that a stylist helped pick that particular tee (hemmed perhaps just an inch or two), sweater and bag she’s wearing with them to create perfectly balanced proportions.
So we need to let go of thinking that if an article of clothing looks different on us than in the catalog or online image, or on a celebrity or model that it’s somehow wrong for us, or that our bodies are “wrong” for the style. Just as no single item of clothing looks great on every body, there is no single body type that looks great in every style.
I’ve discovered, much to my surprise and delight, that some items of clothing may actually look better on us than they do on the models in the shoots or ads. I recently tried on a jacket in a department store that fit me wonderfully and looked fabulous on. It curved where I curved, and was a perfect length. I went home to search for the same item online to see if I could find it at a discount anywhere, and couldn’t believe the images I saw were the same jacket. On the models it looked boxy and stiff, not at all how it looked on me, and I never would have given it a second look had I seen it on online or in a print ad first. (And I’ve also found that sometimes a couple of simple alterations are all that’s needed to take an item from “meh” to “wow.”)
I’m not arguing against proper fit here, or in favor of wearing something that doesn’t suit you or your style. What I’m saying is that if it fits (or can be altered to fit), if you love it, then Yes You Can Wear That even if your waist is thicker than the model’s, or your legs shorter, your shoulders broader, or your backside curvier. Clear your mind of preconceptions of how it “should” look. Try it on. You might be pleasantly surprised.
*I’ve come to believe that this is more a function of confidence and attitude than body type.
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Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-six, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, Une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.