Reader Request: When Flattery and Preference Clash

unflattering clothes

Mollie submitted this great question:

What do I do when the clothes/cuts that I find meet my figure flattery goals (for me fitted but not clingy) don’t match all the aesthetics I’d like to include (interesting structures, relaxed fits)?

I’d wager most of you have wondered this very same thing. You adore a garment, it feels marvelous against your skin, but it doesn’t show off your figure in a way that pleases your eye. Do you sacrifice figure-flattery in favor of design, or do you prioritize the silhouette you prefer over a love of certain aesthetics?

As you might expect, I’m not going to issue some stuffy edict or proclaim that there’s one right answer to this question. Advice is all opinion anyway, and while I’m honored to know that some of you trust mine, I hope that your own desires and instincts trump … well, everything. But I’m also not gonna say, “Screw figure-flattery, wear whatever you want whenever you want!” Because as I’ve said before, some may hear that rallying cry and feel empowered to shirk the rules and truly wear absolutely anything that makes them feel fabulous, but others may feel like it’s the equivalent of being told, “Stop asking frivolous questions.” Or worse, “It doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t care.” If you can implement the “F*ck Flattering” philosophy in your life, rock ON. If you can’t, you rock on just as hard. Feeling good about how you look often begins with conforming to traditional standards of style before branching off into individuality, and there’s nothing wrong with using your clothes to highlight what you love about your figure.

SO! There are a few routes you can take when your figure-flattery and clothing design preferences clash.

Seek similar versions

This won’t be possible for every single garment, but it’ll work for a few. If you love the look of bodycon bandage dresses but feel they fail to make you look your best, seek out dresses that have some of the same design elements but work better for your figure. Dresses with fabric tiers, sheath shapes, and criss-crossed bust detailing all share features with actual bandage dresses, but may have other aspects that complement your body better than the real thing ever could. Look at the object of your lust and identify what is is about this thing that makes you drool. Asymmetry? Flow? Color? If you found those traits in a different garment, could it stand in for the original?

Brainstorm some hacks

Again, only possible with certain items, but worth exploring. If you love the look of sharkbite-hem tops, but they interact with your features in a way that displeases you, throw some other clothes or accessories into the mix. Does adding a structured jacket help? Can you belt? What if you switch up your undergarments? Do taller or flatter shoes change the overall look? Items that don’t “work” worn on their own can often be made to work when placed in the context of an accessorized outfit.

Balance your priorities

I’ve come to believe that it’s helpful to own two or three items that you know to be wildly unflattering by current standards, but that you love SO VERY MUCH you can wear them happily with nary a worry. Those pieces can serve as a reminder that it’s not your job to be visually pleasing to everyone who sees you, and that you don’t have to dress for figure-flattery every moment of every day. If you find an impeccably designed item that makes you look wonky by the current beauty standard, you can absolutely buy and wear it if it brings you joy. You might wear it twice a month, and spend the other days sticking to items that are more traditionally flattering.

That said, if flattering your figure in traditional ways is important to you, filling you wardrobe with pieces that fail to flatter your figure is a bad plan. Two, three, a small handful, yes. Everything, no. If flattering your figure in traditional ways is NOT important to you, you probably don’t need me to tell you that you can buy and wear whatever you like.

And of course, everyone everywhere can buy and wear whatever they’d like. But if presenting a certain silhouette is important to you and clothes that fail to create that silhouette stress you out, use your best judgment, pick a few can’t-live-without-it items, and decide from day to day if you want to focus on flattery or unflattering fun.

Are there any styles or silhouettes that you adore, but that fail to meet your personal figure-flattery priorities? What are they? Do you wear them anyway? Sparingly or regularly? Other advice for what to do when your figure-flattery and clothing design preferences clash?

Image courtesy Nordstrom

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8 Responses to “Reader Request: When Flattery and Preference Clash”

  1. Wendy

    I’m drawn to the minimalist look, with drapey fabrics and simple silhouettes. I adore those boxy tops that are back in vogue. But I’m short and busty with fleshy arms. Instead of looking chic and modern, I look like an extra from Fiddler on the Roof. I stick with more structured clothes that fit, and I often take my tops to the tailor to have the sleeves shortened.

  2. Lisa Wong

    When I wear something with an interesting structure or a relaxed fit (hello, cocoon coats), I find it helps to balance those pieces with fitted items or styling tricks that will do the figure-flattery heavy lifting so the relaxed, loose piece doesn’t have to. So if I’m wearing a big loose coat or sweater, I’ll wear skinny trousers or jeans. If I’m wearing boyfriend jeans and an oversize shirt, I might roll up the sleeves or half-tuck the shirt and cuff the jeans so I’m not completely dwarfed by my outfit.

  3. Nebraskim

    Angie at You Look Fab has the concept of JFE, just flattering enough. So say a garment lacks on some elements (in the above image, for instance, that topper works generally for me but the color is horrible) but hits other elements, such as function, or need, then you might go with it as a JFE that can be propped up via a colorful scarf, for instance. Or it fulfills some necessary function. You don’t want an entire wardrobe of JFE garments, but there’s room for items that aren’t grand slams but solid base hits that fill in holes.

  4. Elaine Drew

    As a very petite, athletically built girl, I’ve always heard that I shouldn’t wear larger prints…Without fail (& usually when spring hits in MN;) ), I will fall absolutely in love with a certain large botanical prints & end up looking like I’m dressed as a plant. My thought is- I’m just going to wear them anyway. I hate the thought of punishing or depriving myself just because I don’t happen to be tall & thin.

  5. Cynthia Peterson

    I absolutely love long, swinging, gypsy skirts. I am short, busty, and a bit plump, so can be overwhelmed by flare. But I do have a couple of these skirts that I wear in the summer — just adore that feeling of fabric swishing around my ankles. I can’t do tank tops but I try to keep the top I wear simple and more fittted.

  6. Sadie von Scrumptious

    I’m another short and curvy commentor who either does my own alterations or gets them done professionally. Alterations can make all the difference with those boxy-minimalist styles. The two most effective ones are making sure that the length is JUST right, and adding curves for your waistline.
    It’s also useful to consider the minimalist-boxy-kimono-duster style as just a style and remember that this, too, will pass. To quote a Nancy Mitford character: “If you’re like me and get fond of your clothes and want to wear them forever, the first rule is to stick to the female form.”

  7. Lainey Kay

    I have this issue with color at least as often as with fit. I have light olive skin, and find that the colors that are my absolute favorites (most shades of green and some purples) tend to make me look sallow and sickly. I just bought another green top, and I definitely look less than glowing wearing it, but darn if I won’t continue to do so because, in my head, green just feels like “me.” On that note, I know you’ve done some posts on this site on choosing colors that work for you, but I’d love to see more! I’m pretty good with knowing what cuts and styles flatter me, but I feel like I have a way harder time than I should with choosing colors that both make me happy and look good with my coloring.

  8. Erika

    I tend to soothe the love of unflattering garments by buying a few and then mixing them in with my more flattering clothes…but the catch is I have to ADORE the piece. I’m average height and hourglassy, so long flowy tops often hang like a patterned tent on me, but I have an undying love for them. This summer I found a wonderful gauzy print top that looks darling over leggings and is light weight enough to cling if the wind blows. Is it Capital-F Flattering? No. Does it make me feel cute and joyful when I wear it? Yep! Therefore, it fits the criteria.