If you’re like me, you’ve read “style for body shape” articles in style books and ladies’ publications to help you figure out how to dress in a pleasing fashion. They’re…nice, but I don’t buy it and haven’t for as long as I’ve been sewing clothes for myself. Limiting style choices by body shapes is irrelevant for anyone who can sew.
My skepticism is based on three things: observation, the nature of RTW/Sewing, and the fact that “flattering/pretty/pleasing” is in the eye of the beholder.
I’m drawing on my experience with the “hourglass” shape and the common wisdom associated with it because it’s simplest for me. I’ve read plenty of contradictory, confusing, or silly advice for other body shapes, too.
I have the dimensions of a so-called “hourglass” figure type. I first started to doubt the common wisdom for dressing my own shape after reading things like “You have the best/easiest figure to dress!” “An hourglass figure looks great in everything!” and “Wear a Wide Belt”.
Let me tell you, it is not easy to dress an hourglass figure well. It’s a delicate balancing act between “sexy” and “frumpy.” In my book, “dressing well” means I dress in a way that prevents me from accidental indecent exposure but is also feminine and comfortable. I have my own sense of style I express through colors and textures and cuts, which is a personal preference.
When almost every article I read patted me on my curvy backside and assured me I’d look great in anything despite my own experience struggling to dress myself, I smelled a rat. (Also, the last half of the second paragraph above directly contradicts the “no ruffles or bows or bulk on your bust” rule found elsewhere. )
The Nature of Shopping vs. Sewing
This is pretty typical style advice for an hourglass shape, and I remember struggling to find button down shirts and blouses to fit me properly when I only wore RTW (Ready to Wear) clothing. Everything gaped open over the bust from the time I was 13 or so. Sometimes a well-placed safety pin came to the rescue, but over time I learned to simply avoid these styles.
And a minimizer bra? Of course! Why didn’t I just bind down my breasts so I could slip into a button-down shirt? It makes so much sense to alter my body shape so it’s more suited to the garment. I’m shocked it never occurred to me.
What is this, 1923?
I get it though, I do. In the interests of mass-producing thousands of shirts at one time, the multitude of shirts are cut from standardized patterns. The patterns are usually based on skewed sizing data compiled in the late 1940’s. Most RTW brands still tend to draft for a B cup size, too, regardless of the overall size of the garment.
When I understood that, it made sense to me that I didn’t fit in those off the rack shirts. Then one day when I was sharpening my sewing skills, I discovered the Full Bust Alteration for bodices and shirts. I could wear button down shirts again!
This is just one simple example, based on my own experience but I suspect other sewists out there have had similar “Ah-ha” moments while sewing. What’s yours?
“Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like to dress prettily. I regularly slosh on my makeup and twirl around to take photos for your amusement. But “pretty” can be a cage, a small place to lock yourself inside every day. “Pretty” is also harmful when it’s the sole measuring stick used to judge another human being. Erin, the wise and witty writer of Dress A Day has a huge impact on the way I think about the way I dress, including this piece titled You Don’t Have to Be Pretty:
But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don’t have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be “unflattering” or “unfashionable” — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn’t a “good” color on you? So what if you are “too fat” (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.
Agreed. I think a great deal of the often arbitrary and contradictory style advice we’re given comes down to the subjective perception of what’s “flattering” or pretty, and what isn’t.
To return to my hourglass example: I’m not supposed to wear “boxy” tops. This one says jackets, but it’s a common thread. I’ve broken every rule on this list, anyway.
But boxy tops are comfortable, practical, they’re simple to make, a great way to show off pretty fabric and I like them. Sure, maybe some people who see me think I’m fat, but who are they? Why do I care if someone thinks I’m heavier than I am? Why does that matter? People will think what they think and they’re entitled to their opinion. But why would it matter to me? Fat or thin or indifferent, I am a woman with my own personality, thoughts, achievements and flaws. My waistline is hardly my defining characteristic, and I’m secure in that knowledge. (Let me tell you, it took me years to find that security.)
And by the way, I know I look rad in turtlenecks.
I Don’t Buy The “Styles” for Body Shapes Wisdom
I believe in good fit, nice fabric, pretty colors and solid stitching.
Exhibit 1: The Tiramisu Dress
I’m not supposed to wear this dress, I always knew to avoid surplice fronts and underbust seams when shopping because the surplice would gape and the underbust seam would barely cover half my boob. The Tiramisu Dress suits a variety of figure types, just check out my Pinboard of Tiramisu Dresses from blogs and the internets to see for yourself.
Exhibit 2: The Pavlova Wrap Top
Finished Pavlova Wrap Tops are cropping up on the Pavlova Community Gallery page and in the Flickr stream as Sewalong-ers finish up their entries for our friendly House Prize Race. They’re cute! On curvy bodies, on willowy frames, and on body shapes in between. The common thread here is good sewing and good fit. (By the way, entries close by midnight on the 26th, so do hurry to upload before the deadline!)
It Doesn’t Really Apply to Us
I’m not saying that the “rules” for body types and styles is completely irrelevant. I just think we sewing people should take them with a hefty pinch of salt, because this advice doesn’t really apply to us. These style guides are produced by ladies’ magazines and various publications in relation to “off the rack” clothing. Those clothes are mostly created with little or no allowances made for the simple fact that two women can have the same exact measurements but entirely different body topography.
If we can sew, then we can sew the clothes we like to suit our bodies.
What do you think?
Have you found yourself less than impressed with this type of style advice? What advice would you give a fellow stitcher in pursuit of personal style? What are your standards of being well-dressed?
(no post tomorrow, I need to tally up the Sewalong house winners and get ready for the Hummingbird Presale!)