May 17, 2010

On the Discourse of "Flattering"

This 3.1 Phillip Lim dress was an ebay bargain and also a gamble. I had no idea what size I'd be in this style since I'd never tried it on before. In my experience, 3.1 usually runs very big but one or two dresses I've tried have been very narrow in the hips.
3.1 Phillip Lim bib dress (similar here, here, and here)
Balenciaga flap bag (similar here, here, and here)
Chie Mihara green pumps (similar here, here, here (with closed toe), and here)
Bracelet gift from my mom (I think from Macys)

This dress was not cut narrowly in the hips (this is a 10 but I could have taken an 8). The square cut sleeves and bib style are examples of things I like enough to ignore how "unflattering" they are on me.

It's interesting how the word "flattering" at least when applied to clothing, almost always presumes the word "figure" in front of it. Flattering so often refers to something that makes a woman (at least in my size range) look thinner or smaller or something else deemed conventionally valuable.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately thanks to some of the discussion on a messageboard I frequent (BCO). On a discussion about fashion and feminism a poster named Maitland brought up the curious and often limiting/normative language of "flattering" and I thought it was so astute and something I hadn't previously thought much about.

Although I fall into that language trap often when I think about clothing and style, I don't subscribe to wearing clothing that always tries to "flatter" my figure in the "make it look thin" sense.  I am not lithe and since middle school my body has been hour-glassy and on the "ample" or curvy side of average, so I wear things that I find aesthetically and stylistically pleasing, even if that means wearing what Stacy London or Clinton Kelly would deem "unflattering" to my figure.

What about you? Do you always go for clothing that hits the narrowest part of your body or hugs in places that make you look smaller?

13 comments:

Rad_in_Broolyn said...

Great question. I like to flatter sometimes, but more than that I like to have fun. I find that the rules to "flatter" one's figure horizontally (like bum, tummy, shoulders) often contradict the rules to "flatter" one's figure vertically (leg to torso proportions). So screw the rules. I love the dress by the way. Bibs are my new fascination.

Brianna said...

I think it's very flattering on you and absolutely adore everything you are wearing! But if you ever decide to find it a new home let me know, it may fit me if it's big on you, and if's too small I will starve myself to wear it!!!

and about the fit, I usually need to find some way to define my waist otherwise I look too 'hippy' because I am a pear shape.

Jesspgh said...

Rad_in_Brooklyn, you raise a very strong point about how contradictory the discourse of flattering can be, depending on the specific part or even direction of the body's shape one is intending to minimize or emphasize. Though rules can be useful in many spheres of social interaction, clothing rules are things I tend to ignore.

Brianna, Thank you for your kind compliments. I will let you know if it doesn't make the upcoming clothing weedout cut. I think I *should* work harder to ensure waist definition in what I wear but I don't always. And with my bustline and hips it can have a potato effect but I kind of don't mind that either.

Desert Flower said...

I think that this dress is flattering. My definition is maybe unique or different. If a person looks comfortable, as in not awkward, and looks confident and put together I think that is flattering, whether the specific shapes are classically flattering. While I know there are certain items of clothing that suit the proportions of my body perfectly, I do wear pieces that aren't chosen for that reason. Its more fun and interesting to choose based on other criteria such as print or fabric or draping, and while the criteria of figure flattering cannot be completely discounted, it doesn't have to be top of the list each time I buy something.

I love your shoes and bag, too.

Little Miss Plump said...

I try to wear things that flatter my curvy body, such as belting my waist. But I also try and wear colours that flatter my skin tone, especially near my face. So I try to wear tops or scarves in colours that make me look less pale and doesn't highlight shadows under my eyes. I've found that pink and navy, for example, make my skin glow. I'd never wear lime green - it'd make me look ill!

I really like that dress on you :)

Persephone said...

Great post, Jess. I've talked about this on the board some. I definitely do not necessarily dress to flatter my figure. That would mean tight and anything that made my hips or bust look bigger. I try to stay from silhouettes that are just awkward in and of themselves, but generally I dress to achieve a certain aesthetic, not to achieve a certain body type.

Sharon said...

Jess--that dress is amazing on you--suits your style to a T and you wear it well. I love Phillip Lim but most often his clothing fits so strangely. This is an exception--you look wonderful!

Jesspgh said...

Desert Flower, I agree with you that confidence is perhaps the most flattering of all!

Little Miss Plump, I need to think more about which colors are more suited to my skin and hair coloring. That's something I've never fully grasped so I need a tutorial or something.

Persephone, I definitely think that having a strong stylistic point of view *should* be considered flattering in the same way that being confident flatters. I also have thought a lot about the idea of "flattering" and the promise of externally perceived "attractiveness" (most often, in a heteronormative configuration-- so endless issues of Cosmo-type magazines, women are promised that they can attract a mate with the right clothing). I have never followed that rubric consciously. I definitely think my interest in clothing aligns more closely with dressing to achieve an aesthetic than dressing for a body shape/type or mate goal.

Sharon, Thank you so much. You are too sweet. I think the style of the dress suits me even if the cut/shape don't, necessarily.

Lady Cardigan said...

I quite like that dress, and don't think it's unflattering on you. I honestly don't see anything about your figure that needs to be camouflaged. You're a nice looking woman with a nice figure.

I hadn't thought about this, either, till you brought it up, but if everyone's trying to emphasize the smallest part of the body, lengthen the legs, etc., doesn't that mean everyone is trying to look the same?

I'm trying to figure out what looks bad on me and go with shapes that are more flattering, but I rebel against rules and do my own thing, too. For instance, I don't have much of a waist, and don't do much to try to create one because I like loose, unbelted tops. And I've started wearing some colors that aren't great on me, just because I feel like wearing them. I want to look OK, but I also want to wear what I like.

Jesspgh said...

Hi Lady Cardigan! You are very kind. I do think that it makes me look top heavier than I am already, as a busy gal. I know one of the "rules" for busty women is to avoid double breasted anything.

While I do think for every person, "flattering" is subjective, most of us have also presumably socialized with similar standards via global media regarding messages of beauty and desirability. While that standard of beauty is definitely not universal, within the fashion world it can seem overwhelmingly homogeneous, at least in the type/shape of body that is repeatedly utilized toward being the "model."

I think it is liberating to disregard some of those rules. And am glad to hear others enjoy that too!

altocat said...

I think you look great in that dress. Over the years, I've read a ton of articles about what's "flattering" & "unflattering" - I can even remember being a pre-teen & reading an article about "style types" in which the author stated that only tall women could be "dramatic" in their attire. You can imagine how that went over with 5'3", bling-&-pouffy-skirt loving me!

I probably tend to follow that sort of "rule" with regard to clothing more than I do with accessories, esp. jewelry. When Jim & I got together, he was amazed at how well I pull off huge rings, long earrings, etc. Attitude helps a lot - if you love a piece & feel confident wearing it, you're going to look better than you would in a "correct" item that you don't really like.

Jesspgh said...

Thank you altocat! I am glad so many women agree that these rules are arbitrary and confining and enforcing them or following them would make for a much less interesting sartorial landscape! Confidence is the best accessory for sure.

mark a. said...

i think this dress is very flattering!

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