Dressing to flatter your figure can be a tricky business. And I don’t just mean for those of you who define your own figure flattery priorities and chuck the traditional ones because they don’t suit your tastes and needs. Even if you choose to dress in a way that aligns with the current set of stylistic mandates – even if you dress to create a tall, balanced, slim-looking figure – your task can feel confusing and challenging because certain bits of stock style advice may not work for your unique figure. And even more confusingly, other bits may go against your fashion-y instincts.
Here are three of my favorite pearls of counter-intuitive style wisdom:
Sleeveless garments are more flattering than short sleeves
If you are self-conscious about your upper arms – and many of us are – your best bet is generally a three-quarter sleeve since it will both flatter and conceal. But if it’s summer, or you live in Hawaii, or both, then THAT isn’t gonna fly, am I right?
Most gals who aim to keep cool while keeping covered go for short or cap sleeves. But since short and cap sleeves often bisect the arm where it’s widest, they can actually make arms appear larger. (Not a problem for those concerned about thin upper arms, but definitely an issue for those concerned about large upper arms.) Any garment with an opening or hem that falls across a limb will draw the eye to its own ending spot, emphasizing whatever is happening at that spot.
A sleeveless garment has the advantage of the unbroken line: The observing eye sees your arm from shoulder to wrist, with no sleeve to highlight one portion of your arm over another. Even if your upper arms aren’t tan and toned, they will generally look longer and leaner in a sleeveless top. And even if you’d like your arms to appear fuller, a sleeveless look may create a more graceful line.
Depending on your proportions, a floor-length skirt can actually make you look TALLER
Maxi skirts are constantly cited as Nefarious Tools of Stumpification, and they certainly can be! But more so on some gals than others. If you have long legs – especially if your long legs happen to be attached to a short torso – a skirt that disguises most of your lower half may make you look shorter overall. But if you have fairly balanced proportions or a long torso and short legs, a floor-length skirt may give the impression of height. Even if you’re a short gal overall.
That’s a big “may” right there, though, especially since bust size and shape, the cut of the skirt, shoe choice, and where the skirt’s waistline falls on your bod can all affect how a maxi will impact your figure. But the point is that the big, sweeping, intimidating rule about long skirts making women look short can sometimes be so wrong that its opposite becomes true.
Fitted garments make you look slimmer than loose ones
If you are self-conscious about your weight, shape, or size, your instincts will probably tell you to do everything in your power to cover and distract from your weight, shape, and size. And that is totally fine, especially if the very idea of revealing your figure makes your eye start to twitch. But if you’re looking to dress in a way that makes your body look slender and shapely, no matter how big or small it may be, fight your instincts and go for tailored, fitted garments.
I know I’m not the first to say this, and I certainly won’t be the last: When you wear loose, formless garments that mask all aspects of your body’s form, including where it curves and dips, you give the impression of more bulk. It may feel strange to think of tighter clothing as flattering to a larger body, but showing the world a defined form will create a more pleasing silhouette than showing the world a formless mass.
As is the case with all style guidelines and figure-flattery advice, these bits should be considered from your own personal style perspective. If you feel exposed in sleeveless garments, forget ’em. If you’d rather find easier ways to make yourself appear taller than tinkering with the maxi-skirt-torso-length formula until you hit on the magic combo, try a mini and heels instead. If you will never be comfortable in tailored garments, embrace the loose.
But always remember that style guidelines and figure-flattery advice can be wrong. Our instincts about what will flatter us can be wrong, too. Never be afraid to tinker, bend, and experiment because you may find that your style world is on the other side of the looking glass from the rest of the world.
Image courtesy Nordstrom
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