Dressing to Highlight


At the beginning of virtually every conversation about style, I ask a very important question:

What do you love about your body? How do you dress to highlight these features?

Can you answer this question for yourself? If you cannot, you’re not alone. The vast majority of women I speak with – as clients, at my classes and workshops, at Corset, and elsewhere – are stumped by this question. They’ve been taught to think of their bodies as a mass of negatives, flaws to be disguised, weaknesses to be downplayed, features that need to be masked and minimized at all costs. Getting dressed is primarily about hiding what causes shame. Considering dressing from a positive standpoint – focusing on features to highlight, aspects that inspire pride – is a novel idea, and a challenging one. When asked to name even one physical feature that they’d like to dress to show off, most women draw a complete blank.

I’ve got hundreds of posts that will tell you what to wear to show off this or that, and this specific one about playing up your assets that offers three tips that work almost universally for highlighting what you love about your body. But much of that will be useless to you if you cannot think of a thing about yourself that you love enough to highlight. So I’m gonna keep my rantings to a minimum today and give you some homework:

Make a list of three aspects of your figure, body, or appearance you want to dress to highlight. If your legs and waist and bust are right out and you’re having trouble landing on body parts that feel right, think about your skin, your bone structure, your hair, your eye color. But do try to come up with at least one directly dressable aspect of your body to throw in there. If you have to look at in from the perspective of “this is what I dislike the least,” do that. You are not alone. But if you take the time to think about what you dislike least about your body, and then put some effort toward dressing to highlight it, you may find that “minimal dislike” shifting to “netural,” and maybe eventually tiptoeing over the line toward “like.”

If you feel comfortable sharing your list in the comments, I would LOVE that. But just promise me that even if you never tell a soul, you’ll start working on that list today. It could change your life.

Images courtesy The Tiny Closet, Le Blog de Big Beauty, and Solo Lisa.

Originally posted 2014-03-05 06:15:56.

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25 Responses to “Dressing to Highlight”

  1. Heather Harrell

    I have gorgeous muscular shapely calves, a slim waspish waist and hypnotic eyes that change color to reflect my moods and the color I’m wearing.

  2. Janice Harper Jones

    I have always liked my hair and get compliments on it to this day and I am celebrating my 67th birthday today! I like my smaller waist and long fingers. I used to hate everything except my hair, especially my heavy legs until I saw someone born without any legs. Life continues to make me appreciate what I have and that it works well. Looks don’t matter so much. I still want to look nice and not frumpy, but what if I don’t look like a 20 something. It is alright. I am at peace with myself. The sooner you can reach that point, the happier you will be! God did not make us all alike! Be YOU!

  3. Cynthia

    I am dressing 1) my posture, 2) my fluidity of movement and kinetic nature and, if a body part must be named, 3) my square shoulders. It took me a long time (and an expensive journey through bodycon dresses, belts, and pencil skirts) to embrace that, because in styling for women, so much emphasis is placed on bust/waist/hips. But the defining dimension of my body is my fine rack of shoulders, and anything that drapes easily and movably off them tends to flatter the rest.

  4. Stefanie Hollmichel

    Eyes, shoulders, wrists & hands and even though I am only 5’3″ I love that I have long legs

  5. Gi Csome

    I like my hair, my big boobs and my even bigger butt. For years I´ve learnt to cover them ´cause they´re ´too big´ (me being a plus size gal and all), but you know what? I like them! So I´m starting to learn new ways to highlight them. And if somebody doesn´t like it, they can look elsewhere.

  6. Am

    I love love love this more positive approach to dressing! I dress to accentuate my long legs, my dainty bust, and my blondish hair.

  7. Genevieve Viv Gaida Smith

    Needed this today. Eyes, height, strong calves.

  8. Jamie

    I think I have a cute butt. I also like my colar bone and neck. My legs are nice.

  9. Emme

    Hair, Teeny Waist, chest (not really bust or neck, but the chest itself). I have an interesting scar and a lovely milky white complexion.

  10. Natalie

    Yay! I needed to be reminded to think positively about my body today. I had an easy time coming up with two, but the third was difficult. I’m trying to work on my self-consciousness.
    Eyes: they’re bright blue, so I love wearing blue to highlight them.
    Legs: I have strong, muscular legs that love to climb mountains, cycle, and run. They consequently look nice.
    Upper arms: mine are larger and therefore often difficult to dress. They’re strong, rock-climbing arms. They may be big, but they’re all muscle. I’m learning to love them, despite the media noise that tells me women should have slim, delicate arms.

  11. 33

    I am proportional. If I gain weight I gain all over. If I lose weight I slim down all over. I start to embrace my small chest. I also dress to showcase my slim ankles and shapely calves (I am an avid hiker). Nobody is perfect (at least in her mind). I really like the message in this thread: dress for your best features. I need to keep this in mind always.

  12. Amanda

    I like my legs. They’re a little long in proportion to the rest of my body, and pretty shapely. I like my slim waist, too, and don’t define it as often as I’d like (except when I go to Ren Faire, in which case I’m laced in as tightly as I can be). I really like my collarbones, and the green-blue shade of my eyes.

  13. Stephanie Ganger

    I didn’t realize until I read this that I already do this. I had read as a young lady somewhere that you want to give people something to look at when you get dressed. I generally like myself and especially love my natural coloring as a redhead with freckles and auburn colored eyes. So I dress in colors that highlight my coloring and make my hair stand out better. I especially am in love with every shade of green. As I have gotten older I can now wear yellow which I adore and now a bright royal blue in addition to purple.

  14. Anna Miller

    I almost always dress to show off my legs. After that, the list might include my bust (collarbone, breasts, shoulders), and then maybe…my face?

  15. Claudia Gray

    My best features are tough ones to highlight. I’d appreciate any advice on how to show off very toned legs that, unfortunately, are also very short — and really nice shoulders, when my upper arms remain gelatinous despite constant workouts. Any thoughts?

    • Sally McGraw

      For sure! How do you feel about shorter hemlines? Mini skirts can be balanced with long-sleeved tops if showing that much leg makes you feel exposed. You can also try tunics and leggings – you won’t be showing bare legs, but their shape and toned-ness will be evident. If you’re short-legged, you’re likely long-waisted, so you can balance your figure with above-the-knee dresses that feature relatively high waistlines.

      Shoulders are a little tougher if you’re not comfortable showing your upper arms. In summer weather sleeveless dresses worn with wraps/shawls draped below the shoulder can be very elegant, but not practical for all occasions! You can try portrait collars and boat necklines and, of course, off-the-shoulder dresses when possible.

      Anyone else have suggestions for Claudia?

  16. Kieran

    Legs! My legs are short, but I love the way they’re shaped. I also love my colouring…and after that it gets tricky! I love my waist, but I always feel that highlighting it makes my bust look even bigger, which I DON’T want. I love my hips from the front and back, but side on I think my butt is a funny shape…

  17. olivia hillmer

    I like wearing green to make my eyes pop, and dressing to accentuate my movement – does that count? I dance a lot, and my favorite outfits to compose are the ones I know I’ll be dancing in! Having trouble coming up with a third, but there’s my two for now anyway.

  18. shayelea

    For someone who is a frequent mess of body image issues, I have an awful lot of specific things I can point to that I like about my body. In a lot of ways I benefit from having a body that conforms to super-traditional ideals of feminine beauty – pale skin, slim waist, full bust and hips – so even though I’m plus sized, I get a lot of the benefits of thin privilege. I often wonder if part of my body acceptance is simply that I’m fat in the “right” places. Starting to dress in vintage helped with acceptance, because my proportions are naturally the same as those that women of yore poured themselves into girdles to achieve – and although I enjoy dressing what I like about my body, I’m also conflicted at times about what playing into these traditional ideas of beauty says to others. Still, that being said, here’s my list:

    -Proportionally small waist (and so I have to appreciate my bust and hips too, otherwise this wouldn’t be true)
    -Slim wrists, ankles forearms
    -Nice collarbones
    -My hair (long, curly and red – I’ve been told it’s “mesmerizing”)

  19. Goober

    1) the very dramatic swoop in my back. The medical term is lordosis but I just call it hotness.
    2) My wrists
    3) My deltoids

  20. contrary kiwi

    My bum! I don’t know what makes it nice, but it is. I wear tight, high-waisted pants to show it off.

    My boobs. They are big-ish and give me shape just where I need it. By wearing things that cling to them and my underbust, it makes my boobs look bigger and my torso nice and trim.

    And finally and most importantly, my legs. They are short and chunky and hairy and awesome. I wear skinny jeans or above-the-knee skirts to show them off. Although I like a pair of long, slim legs as much as anybody else, I love how powerful my legs are (especially since I don’t exercise them – they’re just built strong) and I think they’re great. Definitely no thigh gap here – I barely even have an ankle gap xD My legs love each other too much to be apart like that.

  21. nesspas

    Love this! Bust, cheekbones and my forearms (I love seeing my tattoo peek out!).