This post has been on my to-do list for quite a while, but I’m finally writing it now, because of a conversation I overheard on the train yesterday.
I sat next to a group of girls, all of them 12, perhaps 13 years old. One of them wanted to buy a new pair of jeans and she talked about what kind she might want to get. “I don’t like high-waisted jeans but I have to wear them because I’m a pear shape. They are just so uncomfortable”, she said. “Just make sure you get black or dark blue ones to make your legs look smaller. And wear that with something white on top to balance it out”, said one of the other girls. “I wish I was an apple. That way I couldn’t wear tight tops, but at least I could wear dresses and short shorts. That’s good for the summer." They all agreed.
That whole situation seems so absurd to me now, even though I remember when I was their age, I also already was very aware of my body type, my ‘flaws’ and ‘assets'. And that’s because for decades that idea of ‘dressing for your body shape’ has been everywhere. A staple in fashion magazines and books, that is so commonly accepted, even tiny 12-year-olds know ‘their type’.
Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll probably already know that I’m not a fan of the whole concept, for one simple reason:
The concept of dressing for your body type feeds into the idea that looking slim and attractive according to today’s societal ideals is much more important than wearing clothes you personally like, self-expression and having fun with fashion.
Dressing for your body shape is all about choosing clothes that flatter your body. And let’s be honest: “Flattering” is really just code for “makes you look thinner, taller, more curvy or less curvy”, whichever side your body falls on in comparison to what’s currently considered ‘ideal’.
The girls on the train did not for one second talk about which types of jeans they liked or wanted to wear, they talked about which types of jeans would make their legs seem smaller and which jeans they are ‘allowed’ to wear.
And that’s exactly what articles and how-to guides on various body shape typologies convey to women. That the first and foremost objective of clothes is to manipulate, hide or minimise their body.
Plus, they promote what most women already do way too much of: obsessing over and rating every little part of their bodies. For example, a typical recommendation for the 'Pear shape' could go something like this:
“find clothes that enhance your waist because that is your smallest part (smallest = best), and go for A-line cut skirts and dresses that skim over your wide hips and thighs (wide = must be minimised) to make your body seem more proportionate (as if a pear-shaped body, perhaps the most common female body type, is somehow dis-proportionate and must be altered to look ok)".
It’s a strange kind of nitpicking of women’s bodies that I think is so absurd, totally outdated and a dangerous message to send.
Of course you should feel confident in whatever you are wearing! Definitely! But I believe that confidence should stem from the fact that you love your outfit because it expresses your personal style and is uniquely you, not because it makes you look 2lbs lighter or half an inch taller.
I also think that because of the concept of dressing for your body shape, we have all become a little brainwashed to believe the basic premise that has to be true for body shape typologies to make any sense at all, and that is the idea that only a small range of cuts and silhouettes doesn't make us look terrible.
It’s lead us to overestimate the effect clothes have on the way our body looks.
Now, I’m not denying that perhaps a few more extreme cuts and silhouettes can visually alter your overall proportions somewhat, but really, that effect is going to be small at best and definitely not something worth compromising your personal style for. Your body is what it is, and clothes can’t magically change that.
I write a lot about finding your own personal style and building a great wardrobe here on the blog, and I try to cover as many techniques and concepts as possible, because we all have a different creative process and find different things helpful. But I’ve never written about body shape typologies before and I never will, because of all of the things above, but also for one very practical reason: If you are trying to cultivate a strong sense of style, you have to first go through that experimentation phase and try a ton of different cuts, colours, styles and materials, to figure out what you love and develop your own aesthetic. Trying to dress according to the typical guidelines for your body type at the same time would completely ruin that process, because it would make you dismiss a huge range of pieces and combinations, that could possibly have turned out to be essential to your style, right off the bat.
So, if I could send those girls from the train a message, it would be simple: Wear clothes that you like! Wear clothes that express your style and that feel good. And forget about all of the rest of the stuff, body shapes, what supposedly flatters you, all that. If you find high-waisted jeans uncomfortable, don’t wear them! Even if you are a pear shape and have been told your whole life that low-waisted cuts don’t work with your hips. If somebody tells you what you’re wearing doesn’t flatter you, ignore them. Because it’s not your job to wear something that makes you look as close as possible to whatever’s currently considered ideal.
Wear whatever you like. And let’s all just stop using the word ‘flattering’, ok?