There is No One Right Way to Look Great

There is no one "right way" to look great. Period.

Tall, thin, hourglass. This is NOT the only beautiful form.

I’m getting increasingly annoyed with style guides and experts that only ever steer women in this direction. If you WANT that, go for it! And honestly, I do want it for myself most of the time. But my body has some hourglass-y leanings naturally and it’s not a huge stretch for me. Tall, thin, hourglass is a huge stretch for the vast majority of women. And it’s not the only option, not the only figure with inherent beauty, sensuality, and appeal.

Allowing women to embrace and flaunt their varied body types instead of masking them furthers the goal of expanding the global definition of beauty. Convincing women that the only way to look great is to wear clothing that makes them appear as tall, thin, and hourglass-y as possible fosters feelings of shame about the figure shapes they naturally possess.

I don’t believe that style gurus are intentionally fueling some giant, insidious movement designed to give women inferiority complexes. But I do believe many of them are not on board with a diverse beauty paradigm. The idea of female beauty as a vast, encompassing, diverse concept is harder to fathom, messier, new, and foreign. But it’ll be the paradigm of the future, if I have anything to say about it.

There’s nothing wrong with dressing to make yourself appear tall, thin, and hourglass-y. But there’s nothing wrong with making other figure flattery concerns your priority, either.

Images courtesy (clockwise from top left) the frog’s eyebrows, corazones rojos, black dress project, annaliviaplurabelle, bloomie, SweetNee.

Originally posted 2010-05-20 05:23:00.

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37 Responses to “There is No One Right Way to Look Great”

  1. Rachel

    Great post Sal. I will never be tall and hourglass. I will always be short and boyish with out of proportionally long arms and legs. C'est la vie eh? (although it did take me a while to create that attitude).

  2. lopi

    I know what you mean, I'm a definite hourglass shape, but sometimes I just get fed up of wearing outfits that accentuate my waist and just go for tunics and sack dresses. I want variation dammit – even in the way my body shape looks each day – or I get bored.

  3. Jessica

    I agree with you. I don't think it's some hideous well-schemed plot to make us feel bad whenever we look in the mirror. But I do think the fashion industry and the media especially are very slow to incorporate new shapes and sizes or show us that not everyone has to look ONE (tall, thin, curvy) way to be considered beautiful.

    Your last statement rings especially true and I think Dress Your Best Week at Academichic brought it to life. Be proud of your features, whether you love your legs or arms or even your cheeks (either ones work!), flaunt it if ya got it.

    It's easier to say than do, for sure. I'm starting to work on dressing more to highlight what I like instead of hiding what I don't. Which is a pretty new thing for me.

  4. RenaTsan

    i love the juicy lady with the dots outfit so smart on her……..

  5. Great Canadian Bealge

    I love this message so much you don't even understand! I get so frustrated when style shows/sites tell us that we shouldn't be wearing X or Y because they're not lengthening, or they don't show off the waist to its best advantage or whatever. My biggest peeve is being told not to wear things that don't lengthen me. I'm 5'5". I like being that height. I appreciate that I know ways to show off my startlingly average height with skirts that hit at the right spot or the perfect pair of shoes. But dammit, that's not always my top priority, so if I want to wear flats because I walk around all day with 8 year olds or if I want to wear my skirt that hits at that funny place because it twirls so nicely, then I am still beautiful. I don't always have to be striving for the tallest or thinnest or "best proportioned" version of myself.

    As you say, if the standard idea is your goal, there's nothing wrong with that, and you should go forth. But if you want to bend convention a little and wear things for reasons that don't have anything to do with hourglasses or waist definition or heigh or whatever, who are "experts" to tell us nay?

  6. Deja Pseu

    Right on! And those women in the pics you've posted at the top all look AMAZING!!!

  7. Fer

    Sally, if you don't mind, I would like to copy a paragraph from this post in my own blog, translate it to Portuguese for my readers, and point them to your post (and blog). Please let me know if it's ok for you.

  8. Toby Wollin

    all of the women in the photos look great – pulled together, clever stuff (why is it I can never find tangerine colored tights?). Not one of them is standing there looking as if she rolled out of bed in her jammies and flipflops. All of them, as we used to say back in an earlier incarnation,got dressed for the game.

  9. eek

    Sal, you really have the best posts! There are days when I wish I could be Kate Moss-skinny, but then I catch myself and wonder why I wish that! Some people were born with curves and some not and we should take care of and embrace what we got 🙂

  10. K.Line

    You know, with my shape it's about the only look I can work effectively 🙂 (not the tall or thin, but the "proportioned hourglass"). I do love a chance to try and look boyish – that's one of the reasons I love skinny jeans. And sometimes, I throw caution to the wind and wear something that adds volume to my frame. It's not my job to look skinny for all eternity. Sometimes I like to try a style that emphasizes everything.

  11. Daisy Dukes

    Amen, Sal. The world would be pretty boring if everyone were shaped the same. It would be like us all having the same face.

  12. Rad_in_Broolyn

    Awesome. While I don't think individual style blogs are necessarily a revolution, there is something great about our ability to see a all these women embracing their shapes. I love when folks ignore rules of figure flattery. I can go hourglassy and leg lengthening, but I also like dressing kind of weird, voluminous, and tomboyish. I like dressing to make myself happy, not forcing myself into a limited mold.

  13. purpleshoes

    Thank you. I get so annoyed with the "here is how to make yourself look exactly 5'7" and slender" advice. I am right at the line – at 5'8" – where depending on the fashion advice I get advice on how to make myself look taller or how to hide how tall I am! It's so hard to find fashion advice that's about making yourself happy and finding pleasing proportions for your clothes without verging over into "here is how to conceal your hideous, hideous flaws". Which is one reason why I have started reading your blog!

  14. Vanessa

    I'm a chubby hourglass, and proud of it 🙂 Love the post!

  15. Jenniferocious

    I, like many, will never be tall/thin/hourglass shaped. I seem forever doomed to be an average height, average size, average gal. I have a small chest but somewhat wide shoulders (or at least wide enough that I have to be careful when buying jackets), a decently sized booty but no hips, a nearly nonexistent waist (due mostly to the lack of hips), and generous thighs. But I don't find myself "striving" to be hourglass shaped. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to be, but I more focus on working with what I have, and bringing the best assets to light. That just seems so much easier than trying to alter my body type with clothing.

    As I said, it doesn't mean that I wouldn't love to have a more "ideal" body type. I often have days when I sigh over my unimpressive bosom, or over that jacket that is just too tight in the arms/shoulders, or the fact that my lack of hips means that I will forever be yanking my pants up, even when I have that belt cinched as tightly as it will go. I would love a classic hourglass shape, or to be a tall, willowy creature. But you just have to make do, and try to be happy with, whatever you have. Work what works for your body, and get over what doesn't. We'll all be much happier when we do. 🙂

  16. monkeypuzzled

    Hallelujah! I'm a short-waisted, big-busted apple, and I'm incredibly sick of reading body shape advice for apples that start with the equivalent of "oh, you poor dear" and then proceed to tell me how to wrap my midriff in the equivalent of a burka. You know what? I don't have a waist. So what! My ribs sit right on my hips, you (not you Sal, a hypothetical fashion editor "you") wouldn't have a waist either if that was the case, there's no room! I mean, I don't want to burn anyone eyes out with a really unbalanced, disproportionate looking outfit–but I don't want to "disguise" myself or my parts either. It's not me that's out of the proportions, it's the bad outfit!


  17. Stacie

    I'm so glad you wrote this! I hate that everyone talks about looking like an hourglass! Try as a might, I don't think that's going to happen for me! I'm a short apple — thin arms, thin (but muscular!) legs, and a nice chubby belly! 🙂 It's how I've always been and how I'll always be!

  18. p-enguin

    I agree with you 100%. I'm a plus sized girl and all Ive ever heard is that I need to dress in a way that makes me look smaller or curvier. I personally like to disregard that advice, I love making my hips look even bigger and I hove stripes, who ever decided big girls couldn't wear horizontal stripes anyways lol. Love your blog !

  19. Suzanne

    Thank you for posting these thoughts. I've always found it odd that there is considered one best figure that we should all aim to have or to emulate via selecting certain clothing styles. Variety is a good thing.

  20. Anonymous

    I've just decided to take more of an interest in how I dress. I really don't wear anything unique or special but jeans and t-shirts. So when I read online about what kinds of clothes I could wear for my body type, it just got confusing and I was starting to get frustrated. Why do I have to hide that fact that I have hips, an ass, and broad shoulders? Those are really obvious things! I don't want to hide my body. I actually love seeing those different shapes in women.

  21. Colleen

    I do think there is a difference between choosing to wear something that is not conventionally "flattering" in the name of style, and not knowing what is flattering in the first place. I think most of the media assumes that people who don't wear flattering things don't *know* how to look taller, leaner, more hourglass, etc. What Not To Wear supports this theory – almost all the nominees are shocked and unhappy at how they look in the secret footage of them in their "before" clothes. I don't think they are shamed into feeling this way, I think they are confronting their skewed self image (i.e. their misconception that they look smashing, or at least presentable, in their stained sweat pants). And many of them seem genuinely thrilled to look taller, leaner, and more put together in their "after" clothes.

    I am all about challenging convention but I think it's important that it's purposeful. If you want to wear, say, neon orange with neon pink, go for it – some people might say it clashes but I think with enough chutzpah you can pull it off. But someone who has color contrast identification issues and thinks those colors match or complement each other will probably wear them in a way that looks accidental and awkward.

    I guess I just see a difference between dressing uniquely out of a sense of style and just dressing badly. And so the term "unflattering" does have it's place, IMHO, to describe looks that are not doing the wearer any favors and aren't conscious style decisions.

  22. Sal

    Colleen: I hear ya. And I think that it benefits everyone – men and women alike – to have a working knowledge of what certain clothes will do to their proportions. Those who aren't aware of how clothing is influencing their figures have a different set of challenges.

    My gripe is that "taller, thinner, and more hourglass-y" is all anyone ever champions. Even to women who already know a bit about clothes and figure flattery, even to women who don't have a prayer of ever looking that way. What if you want to look more hourglass-y, but don't care about looking taller? What if you LIKE having hips that are larger than your bust? The assumption that someone who knows how to look taller, thinner, and more hourglass-y will WANT to is what irks me. It's a good answer, it's just not the only answer.

    The point is not to be contrary for the sake of contrariness, the point is to allow for more than just one idea of flattery. And beauty, eventually. I'm not encouraging women to actively seek out weird clothes that make them look wildly disproportionate. I'm encouraging women to set their own figure flattery priorities.

  23. Audi

    This is so true, Sal. In today's society, a diverse beauty paradigm means there's less stuff we need to BUY. If we're all struggling to acheive a certain body type that almost no one naturally possesses, then we need to keep buying shapewear, diet pills, high heels, and whatever the latest trendy clothing is that will help us look that way. This is true for all sorts of aspects of beauty — why, for instance, is blonde hair a beauty ideal when only about 2% of the world's population is naturally blonde?

    I believe these things came about for a number of reasons; it may have been the case long ago that rare qualitites such as a thin hourglass figure or blonde hair were seen as exotic (or, going back far enough, they were seen from a genetic diversity/reproductive success perspective), and therefore desireable. But over time companies have learned to capitalize on this fact — the rarer a trait is naturally, the larger the population of consumers to buy items that will help them mimic that trait. The important thing is that we realize where these so-called ideals are coming from and don't fall prey to them.

    Sorry to nerd out on you there. 😉

  24. Kayleigh

    I have to say, I never really thought about this until I first "met" you…and like you I am pretty hourglassy naturally no matter my size, so that look works for me. But you are right, since we women come in many other shapes all those figures need to be celebrated and women should be able to find ways of flattering their natural beauty in all its forms.

    Speakling of being beautiful (good segway or what?) I've given you an award over at my blog. I've not had many chances to tell you of late, but you are quite an inspiration to me too 🙂

  25. Clare

    This is such a timely post after all the Dress Your Best Week self-love. Honestly, though, you and all the commenters said it so well that I don't have much to add. Other than: a-men.

  26. cheeky curves

    I am with you there, variety is good, at 5'1" big boobs, and no but, I am certainly not tall and hour glass. Do I wish to be that sometimes, but generally no. Its taken me a while, but I can appreciate who I am and not who or what my body is.

  27. Anonymous

    This reminds me of all those articles about hairstyles for your face shape. The goal is always to make your face look oval. If your face is already oval, congratulations, everything looks good on you!
    I can't believe how much time I spent as a teen sighing over my non-oval face.

  28. RoseAG

    I think Colleen's – choice to look as you wish vs not knowing/not caring about your look is very apt.

    If the women in your photo have one message for me it's "I respect and love myself enough to care how I appear to the outside world." That's really all I want to see.

    Tangentially, in my eyes, they've all used color and line to lengthen their line and put themselves forward in the best possible light.

  29. Kate

    Yes. I am medium height and hourglass, but plus sized. And sometimes I want to work my hourglass, and sometimes I want to accentuate my figure in other ways. And I want to see my friends and family, such a diverse range of body types, able to feel good about whatever rocks their look, whatever that might be.

    It comes back to that damn word 'flattering'. What does that even mean? It seems like people are using it to mean 'fools the eye into thinking I look more like I'm tall and hourglassy than I am' rather than 'doesn't fight my body, works with it, makes me look fab, in one or more of a variety of different ways!'

  30. Eyeliah

    yes, I’ve noticed that too. You must define your waist and you want your legs to look long and lean. Since my body shape is a pear, hourglass is the shape I am always trying to achieve, but of course it’s not going to work for every type of body. P.S. I adore corazones rojos’ sense of style!

  31. Jo

    This is an issue with Michelle Obama. Some feel she doesn't dress to balance her hips and ends up overemphasizing her hips as a result (She's a pear).
    Others think it is a good thing to emphasize hips/bottom and feel the criticism is unjustified.

  32. Maura

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this brilliant post, and all the comments! I brought up this exact same topic on a message board, and while some were with me, many others just didn't get it. I kept asking "why?" and getting very unsatisfactory answers like "figure flattery" "proportion" and "the Golden Mean" (which are all beside the point).

    I don't think it's a conspiracy, either; it's just the same appearance conformity message we've heard since the beginning of time. Conformity certainly comes in handy, when you want to get a job or a client or a first date, for instance, but I believe it is time to break out of the constraints of the silhouette du jour and enjoy everyday dressing for reasons as diverse as our bodies. I don't mean we should be ignorant of the way we look, but that we can more often go beyond the rules when it makes us happy.

  33. Jeanie

    It took til I was in my 30’s to get this. I wish I could tell my 16 year old self this! Growing up listening to the media I thought I was meant to strive to look a certain way (slim). Now I see celebrities promoting something like a Lemon Detox diet and I get that they’re probably not really agreeing with what they are promoting. One singer who promotes that is also quoted in a magazine saying how a bit of exercise every day has helped give back her zest and energy levels. You just know that her looking great has ZERO to do with that lemon diet. I’d like to be toned and healthy with curves. Skinny or thin isn’t on the list of what matters any more. Finding and expressing my personal style, embracing me is.