If you’ve ever wanted to find out how to change up your style, revamp your wardrobe, or become a sassy shopper, you’ve probably come across the idea of dressing to flatter your body. Everyone from fashion experts in magazines, on TV and in the image consulting industry typically follow this approach, and headlines like the following will may sound familiar…
“My secret style tips to make you instantly shed 10lbs”
The idea of dressing to compliment, shave off lbs, or highlight your body’s best bits isn’t an idea that’s particularly new. So much so, that it’s often thought if you’re not marching to the beat of this drum you’re somehow not doing ‘style’ right.
But before we start to peel back that idea and take a deeper look, it would be helpful to explain what I actually mean by ‘flattering’. To be honest I thought I had a really clear definition, but when I started writing this and giving it some thought I found it more and more difficult to pin it down to one thing. So I feel it’s important to clearly define it before moving on.
In the first instance my mind is drawn towards dressing in a way that ‘shows off’ the bits you love about your body while disguising the bits you aren’t too keen on. But then dressing in a way that’s flattering could also mean dressing in a way that really suits or makes your personality shine. Taking a person’s personality, and turning it into an aesthetic. To me, that’s also dressing in a way that’s flattering, but of one’s personality rather than body.
I think it’s important to recognise there’s actually nothing wrong with dressing this way. Dressing in a way that puts everything you love about your body in the spot light, while making you forget about the bits you don’t like may feel like the holy grail to you. You’re not alone, 90% of the people I work with really want to dress this way too. But that’s not the only way and you shouldn’t feel as though it is. There’s always another way of styling yourself and if you’re not comfortable or just don’t want to flatter your body when dressing, then a lot of advice out there may feel redundant to you. The more choice you have, the greater the chance you’ll find an aesthetic or style that really resonates with you and makes you feel great. And that’s what great style is all about.
So why does it always have to be about flattering?
I’m in a coffee shop with a friend discussing some work she was doing on my website (shout out if you’re reading this). Naturally the topic of style comes up and she asks the question ‘why does style advice always have to be centred around being ‘flattering’. She goes on to mention she’s the least bit interested about wearing things that are flattering when it comes to her own personal style. We carried on talking about this and what other alternatives there are. I admitted that I have been guilty in the past of only pushing that message.
Having that conversation inspired me to write this to illustrate the following… if you’re not interested in dressing to flatter there’s still other ways and advice out there to suit whatever aesthetic you feel most aligned to.
So what else is there?
First off I’m not a fan of labels, but for the purpose of this post and to illustrate what I’m harping on about I’ll need to use some. They’ll help paint a picture, and I hope the examples will get you thinking about alternative aesthetics and ways of dressing that aren’t focused on being flattering.
So here are a few alternatives to consider:
Ok let’s break them down a little…
Edgy – Instead of wearing clothes that flatter, you may want to dress in way that’s ‘edgy’. This is essentially anything you consider daring or innovative. It could simply be wearing dark make up and a leather jacket (I am aware of how much of a cliched ‘edgy‘ look this is) or a decadently embellished dress and architectural heels. Notice I said YOU, that’s the important thing here. Find what you feel is edgy and dress that way. Experiment. A couple of personal examples of people I feel are edgy are Lady Gaga and Andre3000. I think ‘daring and innovative’ is quite fitting for both.
- Write down three items you consider edgy
- Explore your wardrobe do you own anything you’d consider edgy?
- Research online different looks you personally feel are edgy
Trendy – There can definitely be a conflict at times between finding items that are on trend and also flattering. So one option is to just fully commit to the trends you like without worrying whether they’re flattering or not. May be you’ve dismissed a trend in the past you’ve really liked because you felt it wouldn’t suit you or wasn’t quite right for you. You could fully immerse yourself in the trends each season without worry or just pick out your favourites.
- Research the current trends – see what’s currently ‘on trend’ for the season + next
- Check your wardrobe first, are there any items that fit these trends
- Create a moodboard/list/pinterest board of the trends you currently like
Sexy – The first thing that springs to mind when wanting to wear clothes that make you feel sexy may be that they have to flatter your body. However, for some of you out there that may not be the case. This one is much more self defined than the others. Items that flatter your body shape may make you feel uncomfortable or less confident than other cuts or styles, and therefore less sexy. It goes without saying this is something you absolutely need to define and be comfortable knowing yourself.
- Think back to the last time you felt sexy?
- What was it you were wearing?
- What was it about the style/items that made you feel sexy?
Cool – This is another one that’s quite hard to define. Again, don’t be afraid of coming up with your own interpretation of it if you feel this is the aesthetic you want to pursue. For me, I see ‘cool’ as being a step beyond trendy. In the early 90s a new type of career emerged in the form of ‘cool hunters’. Their sole purpose was to make observations and predictions in changes of new or existing cultural trends. Essentially sourcing what’s cool to filter down and determine the trends we fall in love with. For me cool is a unique aesthetic that someone has of their very own, that’s not influenced by current trends.
- Look out for those with a really unique style that you feel matches your definition of cool
- What is it about their clothes you love?
- Check what you already have in your wardrobe – does anything match?
Fashion – I know you’re probably thinking ‘but you’ve already got trends on here?’. I think the trends are selection of what’s fashionable, but doesn’t encapsulate everything. There’s also ‘fashion’ as an aesthetic in itself. Not everything that’s ‘fashion’ or fashionable ends up being a trend for that season. For me I see fashion as being slightly out there and bolder pieces that mimic what’s on the runway but aren’t necessary a trend. Perhaps a look that’s unique to one particular fashion house but hasn’t featured anywhere else for that season. Alternatively, some of the crazy pieces you see on the streets at fashion week. That’s what I’m talking about.
- Research and observe people who’s looks resonate with you
- Go out and find items you love – try themon, experiment, get an idea of your comfort zone and what you like the look when you’ve tried it on
- Look online for inspiration and really define what fashion means to you
Comfortable – So this might appear to be a strange one, but I view comfortable in a few different ways… one in that you feel comfortable within yourself in the clothes you’re wearing. Another is that your clothes aren’t causing you any physical discomfort, e.g. they’re not itchy, too tight or digging in. Again, in an attempt to flatter one’s self certain compromises may or may not have been made. The final way I view comfort is as an aesthetic, which definitely lends itself to the Autumn/Winter seasons. Think cosy outfits, the Hygge of style. So there’s that way of viewing it as well.
- Define what comfortable means to you
- Find your comfiest clothes, would you wear them out?
- Repeat the activity in shops finding comfy clothes that match your lifestyle
I want to highlight I’m very much aware you could choose any one of these aesthetics and still select clothes that flatter your body. There’s no doubt about that. But it does potentially limit the options you have when it comes to selecting clothes and this post is for those that are either fed of those limitations, or don’t really feel any desire to dress in a flattering way. You might not want to be defined by any labels, but they help as a starting point to enable you to source inspiration and create your own aesthetic.
So how do you actually do this?
- Observe – One of the best ways of gaining inspiration when starting to define an aesthetic of any type is to observe others around you. Keep your eyes open when you’re out and about and absorb the personal style of those that cross your path and resonate with you. If you live in a place where this may be difficult, jump online and check out sites like lookbook.nu, Pinterest even a bit of search on Instagram can yield great results. At this point it’s all about being inspired and getting those ideas flowing.
- Imitate – I think one of the most often overlooked steps in changing/growing/creating a unique personal style is taking the opportunity and time to experiment. It’s ok to do this, you don’t have to get it absolutely right first time. In fact, we’ve all been guilty of a hideous outfit or two while trying to figure things out. So having said that… start to experiment with the looks you’ve been inspired by. Try and imitate any outfits you really loved, see how different looks work when fused together to create something new and unique. You can spend as little or as much time as you want on this step. Enjoy the process of shopping to experiment rather than actually purchase at this stage.
- Define – This is where you’ll drill down and start to define your aesthetic or maybe aesthetics as you may have a number of themes you’re working with. If you want to tag a label to them to help you define them then so be it. If not, that’s ok too. As long as you‘re clear in your own mind about the looks or clothes you’ll commonly be wearing as this will be needed for the next step. If it helps at this stage write it down, create a Pinterest board do whatever you feel you need to be really clear about how your aesthetic will be defined.
- Lifestyle – This is a big one. There’s no point having a wardrobe full of clothes, no matter how they look or how much you adore them, if they’re not going to fit in with your lifestyle. An example may be if you work in an office and have a business dress code, but the look you’ve defined is casual. If they jar, you’ve got a couple of options:
- You can either go back to the previous stage and redefine your aesthetic/s to make sure it/they fit your lifestyle better.
- If you’re happy having a completely separate wardrobe, despite spending more time in it, carry on to the next step.
If you go back to the define stage, think about whether you need to completely rethink your desired aesthetic or whether there’s a way you can make it work. Let’s continue the example from above, let’s say you’d describe your aesthetic as ‘edgy’ but quite casual. You could see how you can work certain pieces into your workwear or even edgy elements, such as accessories or shoes.
- Check – It should go without saying, once you’re happy with your aesthetic and you’re comfortable with it working with your lifestyle, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with your wardrobe. You may have the sudden urge to start shopping for new clothes, but that’s not the right move… just yet. Work through the items you already have and see if there’s anything you feel will still work with the look and style you’re moving towards.
- List/buy – I specifically said ‘moving towards’ as this doesn’t have to be a quick process where you clear out your wardrobe one weekend, then spend a ton on a new wardrobe the following weekend. If you want to do that, that’s ok. If you want to transition slowly over 12, 18, even 24 months that’s fine too. Once you’ve been through your wardrobe, write a list of the items you feel you now need to transition into this new aesthetic and way of dressing. This will be your shopping list. You can dive right in or cross the items off bit by bit depending on how you feel and your budget.
I hope this post has at the very least has given you another angle to consider when it comes to developing your personal style. Especially if the never ending quest to find clothes that flatter your body has left you feeling frustrated and a bit fed up. I wanted to show you there isn’t one prescribed way of styling yourself and that there’s always another way when it comes to your style.