Yes You Can (Wear That)

Photo by Une Femme

 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.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Great article, Une Femme. I’ve been surprised too when I try something on that looked “all wrong” on the model. And I couldn’t agree more: “this is more a function of confidence and attitude than body type”.

  • http://hearth-tobelovely.blogspot.com/ Hearthrose

    I had that pleasant discovery just before Easter at the mall – I tried on a dress seemly made for moi, in my favorite colors. Perfect length, a tad tight in the bust (what isn’t?) but it zipped! Everything hitting properly.

    Later I looked it up online to show it to my friends without taking a self-photo – and didn’t bother. The model wore it a good 6-8″ shorter than I did, and didn’t look particularly happy in it.

    And that -if you’re not at all shaped like most models- can be helpful to realise. Most models have long limbs and shortish torsos, with fairly uncurvy figures. If I look a bit silly in the clothing that suits them (with short limbs, and a very curvy long torso) why shouldn’t they look silly in clothing that suits me?? We don’t all have to look the same, how boring.

  • http://ejegmama.blogspot.com/ Stephanie

    I had a funny but productive just try it on experience recently. I was at anthro with my 5 year old so time was of the essence. As the girl lead us to the dressing room I loved her dress so much I just had to tell her. She said she would look for it for me if I wanted so I told her I needed a 12. I had plenty of 12s in the dressing room all of which fit pretty well so I was not off about my size. When she returned she had the dress, it was lovely, it was a 16. I didn’t say anything but I was so sad that it wouldn’t fit but my daughter loved it too insisted that I try it on so i did. Turned out that it fit well. There was shirring in the back so size was flexible to say the least but if she hadn’t insisted I never would have known and it ended up being the only thing I bought that day.

  • Mary

    YES! Try it on, try it on!

  • Angela

    I am terrible for this. I often shop alone so I will not push myself out of my zone. I will have to male a concerted effort to do so :)

  • @R

    That’s one of the things I like about shopping thrift stores. You don’t know about the size; it’s not unusual to see things in a thrift store just because they’ve been mislabeled for size. So you have to try it on! Of course, if you’ve been doing it long enough, you start to be able to pick out your size by looking at it. I picked up a great jersey dress in my favorite colors, and a pair of Ralph Lauren for Women jeans for almost nothing this week! (Ralph Lauren jeans fit me wonderfully, size 16 or 18. I don’t know who normally sells them; I’ve only found them at thrift stores.)

    • Tina

      @R

      I have bought Ralph Lauren jeans at Marshall’s / TJ Maxx .

  • Molly

    I often wonder why I don’t see more people in the dressing rooms at thrift stores! I swear I tried on half of the dress section the other day.

  • Kristin

    Definitely try it on! Otherwise, you’ll never know! Since becoming able to pay for my own clothes (which has been some years ago) I’ve been willing to be a lot more adventurous in what styles I try on when I shop. Some of them I’ve tried enough to decide that I don’t like how they make me look, though I may like the style on someone with a different shape. Others I’ve fallen in love with, even if they aren’t always the most universally flattering on me. And there are others still that I’ve fallen in love with -and- they make me look awesome! Shopping with me can be a lengthy process since I insist on trying on everything before I buy it, but I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way :)

  • http://fashionforgiants.blogspot.com Gracey at Fashion for Giants

    Great post. I especially appreciate that you mention that ads have been airbrushed and clothes are essentially altered (with pins, clips, etc) to fit the models. It’s important to keep that in mind. It may not fit you like it fits the model, but it doesn’t fit her like that either!

  • Emily

    I can’t say that I agree with this for myself. When I try things on that are somehow different from what I usually wear, they fail on me. And then I end up leaving the store in *near* tears without buying whatever I was going to buy. I am in the “better safe than sorry” boat but I applaud others for being able to try out new things.

  • http://dressedherdaysvintage.com Crystal

    So, true. I depend a lot on alterations to help my clothes fit properly–and unless the proportions are just all wrong, it’s amazing how a good alteration can improve some garments. So glad that you are back state side, Susan. Smart guest posting, Sally!
    ;-)

  • http://newyearnewdreams.com Madame Là-bas

    We need to buy what we love. Alterations are necessary if you want clothes to fit. I’m happy to see models who look like real people wearing real clothes.

  • Brianne

    I try so hard to be open-minded, but it’s just so hard. I look at adorable peplum tops and think “that’ll just make me look fatter than I really am.”

    I’m constantly surprised by sizing. I saw an adorable white blazer on a mannequin at NY&Co. last weekend and it was the only one in the store. Size XS but I tried it on anyway and it fit like a glove. I feel sorry for the truly petite.

  • http://www.mispapelicos.com/ SACRAMENTO

    I usually like what makes me look good in my own eyes. I suppose I have trained my brain through the years LOl.
    Great post, dear friend.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  • http://www.thecitizenrosebud.com Bella Q

    You make two fantastic points- wearing what you love makes you look good- just be willing to adjust the fit (a good seamstress is your friend!) and your attitude. We are not models, we are real women and we look good in real clothes. I love the happy discovery of trying on something “outside” the norm and the often heady discovery of a new garment that is just so “you.”