Reader Sarah e-mailed this request to me:
I’m short and small-boned and hourglass-shaped, and I can find lots of advice for dressing that body type (full skirts, v-necks, nipped waists, tailored pants, etc.). However, I feel like there’s a clash between my body type and other elements: my face (apple-cheeked, not conventionally pretty), my hair (very short), and my personality (tomboyish, casual). When I wear skirts and dresses, which I do think suit my body, I feel very self-conscious, like I don’t match what I’m wearing. Clothes that I feel more like myself in (bootcut jeans, casual graphic tees) do not make me look my best. I wonder if other women struggle with this type of conflict, and how they deal with it.
In my opinion, this is a very important question. And I’m sure it’s one that many of you grapple with, if not constantly then occasionally. The world is brimming with rules and opinions about what “works best” for your figure type, and in exploring those recommendations you may find that they DO make you look traditionally stylish … but that some of them feel wrong, costume-y, or just plain uncomfortable. There’s no one right way to resolve this conflict, of course, but here’s what I told Sarah:
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The “looking your best” you’re focusing on has to do with maxims of traditional figure flattery. As a petite, hourglass-shaped woman those maxims will definitely push you toward v-necks, belted waists, knee-length or above skirts, and lots of traditionally “feminine” silhouettes and garments that will define your figure and balance your proportions. And although those styles probably make you look great by magazine-approved beauty standards, you just don’t feel like yourself in them. And in my opinon? THAT is a far more important consideration.
Looking good can impact how you feel, leading you toward more self-care-focused activities or bolstering flagging confidence. This is why I write about that look good-feel good connection: Because for many women, dressing in ways that make them look amazing can help them unlock positive feelings about themselves overall. But since the socially-sanctioned “looking good” in your situation clashes so strongly with your internal self concepts and makes you feel disconnected from your physical self and appearance, this idea needs some tweaking. That connection works both ways: Feeling “off” or badly about how you’re dressed can really impact how you feel about your body and self. Negatively.
Dressing to conform to traditional style and figure-flattery rules is never, EVER required. By anyone. If anyone ever tells you that there is one right way to dress for your body type, please send them directly to me and I will slap them in the face with a large fish. It is your body, so you get to make the decisions about how to clothe and present it. End of story. OK, not end of story, but Very Important Bit of Story. You have experimented with the looks recommended to you by style experts and seen how those looks affect your figure. But if you feel more like yourself in casual, tomboyish attire – bootcuts, graphic tees – then that is your sartorial home base. And there is nothing wrong with that. As the very wise Erin said so eloquently back in the day, you don’t have to be “pretty.” In my opinion, it is far more valuable and important to be happy, fulfilled, engaged … pretty can help, but it’s very seldom the endgame.
It might be possible to merge the recommended and internal styles a bit. Since you’ve played around with skirts and belts and suchlike, you probably know which of those items really made you feel great about your body and your looks. Can any of those work their way into your home base style? Could you try a graphic tee tucked into one of those full skirts, maybe with a fun belt? Do a fitted v-neck with your bootcuts and a cool pair of oxfords? Maybe there is a sartorial middle-ground to be had.
But there might not be. And that’s completely fine. If dressing in those recommended clothes makes you feel like you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, that just won’t work. Not in the long run. You’ve got to wear clothing that makes you feel like yourself.
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Image courtesy Refinery Shop
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