The topic of “flattering” clothing has been making the rounds again, most recently at 40+ Style and Suzanne Carillo Style Files. I thought it might be fun to dust off another favorite from the archives to continue the discussion. This was originally posted in April 2013.
Flattering. It’s a word we toss around quite a bit. The cut of the jacket is flattering. That color is flattering. Hem length X or Y is most flattering. In general usage, “flattering” could, without stretching too hard, be translated to mean “that which makes the wearer appear closer to the cultural ideal.” In our particular time and culture, this often breaks down to: tall, thin, young, pretty. (Just an observation, not an endorsement!)
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our “best,” when we serve “flattering” above all else, it can squelch our expressive style. Think of many of the women who are considered style icons; at one time or another they broke the rules of what’s considered flattering in order to honor their personal style.
I think that the reason some women can look great in clothing that’s not conventionally flattering isn’t because they’re a size 0 or were born with some recessive Style Gene. I think it’s because they choose items that are an organic expression of themselves. When we dress in a way that’s aligned and integrated with who we are, we create a kind of harmony that comes through even if we’re not following the rules of flattery. Looking at the photo above, would you call this outfit “flattering”? The proportions shorten and widen, yet there’s a gorgeous mix of color and texture, and unexpected shape. I find it pleasing to look at, even though it doesn’t conform to accepted notions of what’s flattering. (We’ll leave aside the practicality consideration for now, as that’s a whole ‘nother discussion!) Some could argue that you see the clothing rather than the woman, and yes there is some of that. But if style is expression, we’re seeing a version of her as she’s chosen to express through her clothes.
We should also consider how a particular style or color or piece of clothing makes us feel when we wear it. While black is probably objectively not my “best” color, I love how I feel in it. I love how I feel in clothing that moves, even though it may sometimes have more volume than is considered optimal for my short stature. I love how I feel in boots, even if they can shorten the look of my legs. Confidence and joy are flattering too in a way that transcends pure physical appearance.
For some of us, personal style does align with what’s most conventionally flattering, or we prioritize flattery in our style choice hierarchy. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the notion that “it’s not flattering” is keeping you from wearing something you love, perhaps it’s good to let “flattering” take a back seat from time to time. Or perhaps we broaden our definition of “flattering” to include harmonious, aligned, balanced, powerful, a true expression of who we are.
How do you define “flattering?” Are your style choices based primarily on what’s conventionally flattering? Do you ever let go of that, and if so, what motivates you to do so?