Curvy women of the world, raise your hand if you’ve ever been told the litany of things plus-size women aren’t supposed to wear. If you’re pear shaped avoid pencil skirts; if you’re apple shaped don’t wear body-con dresses; if you’ve got thick thighs do not go anywhere near shorts for fear you may insult the public. Truth be told I find this advice outdated, offensive, overly simplistic and frankly, uncreative.
Style advice columnists boil it down to a simple formula: If you are <insert fruit type here> you should wear X and not wear Y. Forget this advice. You aren’t a fruit. You’re a human, and your body shape is, you guessed it, human. If you’re sick of looking for clothes to align with your designated fruit shape and prefer to wear exactly what you want, read on, I’ve got a better way to look at getting dressed.
The notion of dressing for your shape or dressing to “flatter your figure” comes from the premise that all women want their bodies to appear slimmer, less curvaceous and hide their “lumps and bumps”. Has anyone ever said to you, “wow that dress is so flattering” or “I like your new haircut, it really makes your face look slimmer”? We know these aren’t meant to be insults, but lately in the plus-size and curvy community the word flattering has become a trigger. There was even a bit of backlash directed towards style-icon, Tim Gunn, for his now viral article insisting designers create for plus-size women. In the article Gunn acknowledges the lack of clothing in plus sizes and also lends style advice to plus-size consumers which alluded to the dressing for your shape premise. We know Gunn was in no way, trying to insult the plus community, he’s clearly trying to champion us and encourage designers to dress us! But when you’re plus, and you’ve been told since you crossed the size-12 precipice that you need to dress to flatter your figure, it’s hard not to have a reaction when you’ve reached a state of body-positivity.
Instead of telling people to find their shape, I like to ask women what’s your favorite asset? What do you love to show off when dressing? Maybe it’s an ample bosom, thick thighs, a soft tummy or a svelte waist. Or maybe it’s everything (in that case, go ‘head girl). Look for garments that highlight the assets you want to show off. Buy garments that FIT and this is key. So often I see plus and curvy women (I used to be one of them!) squeezing into smaller sizes because it’s on sale or they really like it or they’ll do a cleanse next week and fit into it or they simply want to wear a smaller size. No garment is worth it if you have to change your body to get into it, I don’t care what the price tag says.
Instead of changing your body to fit the clothes, change the clothes to fit your body. If you can identify with the overwhelming majority of women and don’t fit into ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing straight off the rack, get to know your local tailor. With intermediate sewing skills or connecting with a tailor, nearly any garment can be taken-in and shaped to your body. Do you wear a different size on the top than you do on the bottom? Buy the larger size then take the dress to the tailor and have the bigger part taken in. Unfortunately most RTW garments do not contain enough ease or have a large enough seam allowance that allows for making the garment larger, so often times taking the garment out is not an option (without serious alterations and fabric additions).
So what’s a plus size woman to do? One, get to know your measurements, specifically bust, waist, hip and inseam. Each time you shop online or in store check out the sizing chart. The sizing discrepancies between stores is well-documented and out of control. Two, find a tailor and/or learn some basic sewing techniques. Any fashionista should be acquainted with basic sewing skills and have a fundamental understanding of how garments are constructed and where alterations can be implemented. Three, remember it is not your job to make others feel comfortable. If you like something wear it, rules of flattery be damned.
As curvy and plus-size women we are conditioned to believe that there is something inherently wrong with our bodies. I’ve experienced and witnessed real shame in disclosing your size, measurements and weight. Shopping trips can leave us feeling depressed as we find store after store that refuses to design around our figure. Society has equated our value with a smaller dress size and our worth determined by our measurements.
When we get dressed each day we have to actively fight conformity. A society that says big bodies should be hidden under “flattering” clothes and angles. A society that assigns us to a specific fruit then prescribes a menu of styling options we’re to choose from. Resist the urge to conform, wear what you like, find a tailor you love, learn some sewing skills. Your wardrobe and confidence will thank you.