Hannah2 popped this request into the suggestion box:
I was hoping you could do a post on how to come to understand and appreciate what looks and makes us feel good—without having to buy the clothing and hang it all first. I feel like I’m starting to make progress in understanding myself but because of small weight gain (just enough to make lots of stuff fit wrong) and because of deeper appreciation for my body, even things I bought with concern and attention after purging my wardrobe fit funny, feel funny.
Obviously, the weight gain was unexpected and even potentially reversible … but is there a shortcut to learning what fits me as ME without spending lots of money on clothes to be dumped a few months later or without spending hours trying on every piece of clothing in the mall just to see?
Hannah’s got several questions floating around in there, I believe. So let’s tease this out a bit.
The body transitional
If you are actively working to build a new style and making progress toward self-love, then your body shifts and few of your clothes fit properly, it can feel unspeakably frustrating. In my experience, loving your body is much easier if you feel like you know and understand your body. When your body does unexpected things – gets injured or ill, changes shape or size – you can feel disconnected, confused, angry, and frustrated. I honestly don’t have a recommended course of action for this, since body shifts are intensely personal and can spring from infinite sources. I can point anyone who can relate to Hannah’s feelings to this post about dressing the body in flux, and this one about non-body transitions that can impact personal style.
Sussing out your figure
Understanding your figure is a lifelong project. I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear, but it’s true. Just this winter I learned that several of my pairs of boots hit so high on my leg line that they throw my lower body proportions out of whack. NEVER noticed that before. Now I realize that certain boot heights will work better than others, have sold a few too-tall pairs, and will be more careful about any future boot purchases. Not only do bodies shift, but our understanding of them shifts, too. Again, I’m sad to report that I don’t have a magic formula for figure analysis and comprehension. I don’t believe that women fit neatly into body type categories (I am not a pear, I am SALLY, dammit) and I don’t think that reading fit or flattery theory can substitute for experimentation and experience. It’s a long, slow process and will be different for every woman.
How to eyeball clothing fit
Now that I’ve served up two bits of disappointing news, allow me to give you something concrete. Eyeballing fit I can teach ya. Trying stuff on is ALWAYS the best way because you’ll never bat 1000 based on visual assessment alone and because some garments will be unexpectedly amazing on you even if they look lackluster on the hanger. However, a little practice can help hone your visual judgement.
Start in your own closet. Pick out three to five perfectly-fitting tops that you already own. Try to select from several categories of top, such as blouse, sweater, tee, cardigan, and/or jacket. Then pick out a top that is either very fitted or actually too small. Pick out a top that is either very boxy or actually too large. Set perfectly-fitting top number one on your bed, and place the too-small top next to it. Swap in perfectly-fitting top number two, three, etc. Then do the same thing with the perfectly-fitting tops and the too-large top. By the end of this drill, you should have a vague idea what a top that would fit you looks like. Repeat with dresses, skirts, and pants. There may be loads of yet-to-be-tried styles and cuts that will look fantastic on you, but this exercise will still begin to give you an idea of what might look good on you based on what you know looks good on you. And just to reiterate: This ain’t foolproof, but it should help.
Know your stats
Eyeballing fit can help when you’re shopping in person, and if it generates ideas about which styles and cuts work best, it may also help when you’re shopping online. But knowing your actual measurements will be invaluable if you’re looking to purchase new clothes online.
Measure your shoulder width, actual boobs, below boobs, narrowest part of waist, widest part of hips, and inseam. (This page has some fairly standard advice for how to get accurate measurements, though nothing ever seems to be universal.) You can also measure garments that fit you perfectly – which is especially helpful if you prefer that your skirts and dresses hit your leg at a specific spot. Write your stats on a cheat sheet, and keep it next to your computer. You can also bring your handy dandy tape measure shopping with you, and measure garments in the corresponding spots. If measuring flat, be sure to multiply by two. Now this method may seem like it should be foolproof, but it’s not. You are unlikely to get completely accurate measurements with your tape, and many manufacturers post brand-wide measurements that don’t reflect garment-t0-garment accuracy. Truly, the only foolproof method is to actually try the dang thing ON. But checking the numbers will get you in the ballpark, and is somewhat more accurate than eyeballing.
Again, none of this work is going to be easy, especially if your body is still shifting and you’re not sure when it will stop. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can impart is this: Try to be patient with and kind to yourself. You’ll feel irritated and confused at times, but if you can try to temper those feelings with a little tenderness, you’re less likely to emerge feeling disconnected from and angry at your physical form.
Image via MSNlivng.