Posts Tagged: style

Reader Request: Contradictory Figure-flattery Advice

conflicting advice

J. added this question to the suggestion box:

What about advice for when your sense of what’s flattering is self-contradictory? Most advice only addresses one dimension at a time, and sometimes the applicable bits of advice directly contradict one another. To give an example – I am very chesty but also have a tiny waist and an hourglass figure. Sounds easy: cinch in that waist with a belt. But I am also tremendously short-waisted and can’t wear anything but the narrowest belt at my natural waist. Therefore I should wear a very narrow belt, or wear the belt a little on the low side where I am still fairly slim. But I’m also short … I imagine that many women struggle with this same type of problem, and I’d love to get your advice.

Oh yes, it’s true, addressing one figure-flattery priority may monkey with another. And isn’t THAT aggravating? I wish I had a simple, straightforward solution for this one, but I’m afraid I just don’t. Here’s what I can tell you.

Prioritize your priorities

The most important and effective thing you can do is to decide which figure-flattery priorities take precedence within an outfit. If wearing a belt shows off your waist, but also emphasizes your short-waistedness, you’ve gotta pick one or the other. Is it more important to show that waistline, or to make your silhouette appear more balanced? Pick one, let the other go.

Adjust your eye and expectations

Figure-related advice can get really nit-picky. Add that nit-pickiness to the mental catalog of comments and observations about our bodies that has accumulated over the years, and you may end up with a distorted view. That floaty blouse could be the perfect color for your complexion and help you downplay your midsection, but it might simultaneously make your bust look bigger. As it turns out, THAT IS COMPLETELY OK. Not only is it extremely difficult to flatter your everything all at once, but in all likelihood no one but you notices the figure-related minutiae of your outfit. Try to let your eye adjust to things that may be deemed “unflattering,” but are really just fine. Then adjust your expectations of your outfits. One in 40 will be perfect, the rest will fall short. Luckily, most everyone else has that same track record, too.


Advice should always, ALWAYS be a jumping-off point. As J. points out, most style advice is given in a vacuum: Sure, it’s great to know how to make your legs look longer, but depending on your unique proportions those techniques might create disproportionality or add volume or do any number of other less-than-desirable things to your figure. So try to carve out some time to experiment. Say you’ve got a dress that makes your waist look great and your butt look not-great. What happens if you add a wide belt? A long jacket? A crinoline? What if the hemline were shorter? How about drawing attention upward with a statement necklace? What would happen if you put a skirt you love OVER the bottom half of the dress and leave just the top half showing? Sometimes, you’ll find a garment that is amazing in one respect and disappointing in another. It’s up to you to determine if there are work-arounds, or if you should just donate and move on.

Unsatisfying, no? For me, too, friends. But as Mick says, you can’t always get what you want, especially if what you want is for all of your outfits to flatter your entire body. I might’ve added that last bit myself.

Images courtesy Nordstrom

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Clothing Versus Body

clothing versus body

In college, I wore what my peers wore. I had a limited budget, limited resources, and limited interest in style so I just imitated what I saw. And what I saw was jeans, jeans, flannel, Doc Martens, jeans, oversized sweaters, jeans, long-sleeve tees and, jeans. Also jeans. And the jeans that were in style at the time were flares, which balanced my hips relatively well, and I wore them without thinking and assumed I looked as good as I  possibly could.

After graduation I moved to San Francisco where I traded my flare jeans for wide-leg black dress slacks. And, again, I wore them without thinking and assumed I looked as good as I possibly could.

It wasn’t until I moved to Minneapolis in 2000 and began exploring my personal style in earnest that I realized I didn’t look as good as I possibly could because I was wearing clothing that fought my body. Since I carry some squish right where low- and mid-rise pants hit, their waistbands were cutting into me even when they fit “properly,” and some muffinage was inevitable. I was wearing blocks of color that bisected me and drew attention to my butt and hips. I never, ever layered, instead opting for heavy, bulky single-ply tops and sweaters.

Skirts were a revelation: They sat at my natural waist where there was extremely limited waistband dig, they flowed gracefully over my hips, they FELT AMAZING. Learning to layer gave me a far more artful way to stay warm than just throwing on the thickest, heaviest sweater I owned and disguising everything about my body in the process. Once I started wearing clothing that worked with my figure instead of against it, once I stopped pitting my clothing against my body, I looked like a completely different woman. I felt so much more comfortable in my outfits. And my confidence skyrocketed.

Sometimes, wearing clothing that fights your body is unavoidable: If you must wear a uniform, if you dress for dirty or dangerous tasks you may end up in garments that work against your figure. But it’s also possible to simply default to clothing that fights your body, to wear it because you’re not sure what else to do, to stay within certain parameters and never explore beyond them. And you may not even realize you’re doing it. Here are some signs that you may be pitting your clothing against your body:

Pinching, pulling, and subdivision: This is one of the most obvious signs of clothing fighting a bod, but it merits mentioning. Clothing that works with your form will sit flat and quiet against you without cutting into you, dividing up your torso, or otherwise hurting your physical form. I know this can be an especially tough one depending on how you’re built. But if you can make a goal of finding and wear non-pinching clothing as often as possible, you’ll feel more comfortable and look sleeker.

Unexpected results: You see a garment on someone else, like the look, purchase the item, wear it, realize immediately that it looks utterly different on you than it did on your inspirational model, silently admit that it might not be a good style for you, yet continue to wear it. Now, there’s no “right” way to wear certain garments, but in this situation you can see that something is “off.” The look or looks you’re creating displease your own eye, but you’re stuck on the vision of how they look on other people.

Wardrobe malaise: If you either loathe everything in your closet or feel utterly indifferent to everything you own, it’s possible that you’re buying body-fighting garments. Exclusively. Nearly all people own a handful of items that make them look and feel utterly amazing. Everyone has the occasional, “I’ve got nothing to wear” moment, but if you suffer from a perpetual wardrobe malaise, you might want to reconsider some of your dressing choices.

If you feel like you might be in a clothing vs. body situation and don’t know where to begin making changes, try going drastic. If you’ve been wearing nothing but skirts for 10 years, try pants. Skinny pants, wide legged pants, flares, straight legs, any pants. If you’ve been doing loads of layers, pare down to a single layer of garments for a while. If you’ve been wearing low rise bottoms, try high waisted ones instead. Whatever you’re doing now, try the opposite. You’ll probably end up meandering back to a middle ground eventually, but starting out extreme will allow you to explore the gamut.

Finding clothing that caresses your body, flows with its natural curves and accents its natural angles can be extremely challenging. I don’t mean to imply that it’s a snap for anyone and everyone. But questing for garments that work with – instead of against – your body is a worthwhile project. Because once you find them, your confidence will skyrocket, too.

Images courtesy Gap.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

This is a refreshed and revived post from the archive.

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This Week I Love …

… Halle Berry.

For many years, I was unable to identify a style icon. I loved bits and pieces from various women’s personal styles, but I never did land on a single person who dressed exactly as I wished to. But now? It’s Halle Berry. All the way. I am yet to find someone who does creative badassery any better, and her outfits always look comfortable, chic, and re-create-able.

halle berry outfits 1

one | two | three

Interesting proportions, asymmetry, amazing boots, mixed prints. Gah, I love it ALL.

halle berry outfits 2

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Variations on a (truly fabulous) theme: Leather jacket, scarf/cowl, tunic, leggings, boots. I’ve had the photo on the left in my inspiration binder for almost five years. Love those Fiorentini + Bakers.

halle berry outfits 3

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Drop-crotch pants, a studded belt, and a boatneck sweater. AMAZING. And neutrals all around, but never boring.

I’ve never cared much for red carpet style, and seldom see celebrity street style that inspires me. Halle doesn’t knock it out of the park every time, but even her oddly proportioned outfits look comfortable and interesting. She’s a stellar actress, supports 20 charities including domestic violence intervention, and at 49 pushes back on Hollywood’s tendency to ignore actresses over 40. Also? I feel like she’d be SO FUN to hang out with. And she loves French fries, so clearly we’d be friends.

Anyone else love Halle’s edgy-cool casual looks? Which one of these is your favorite?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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