3 Jul 2010

It's a Question of Style

Ali and I are having a lovely discussion/ pity party in the comments of a previous post regarding body vs style. The style I love just doesn't suit me, how to find one that does but also suits my tastes?

So I'm doing some research, the tried and true method of determining what style clothes I should be wearing based on my body shape. I am, unsurprisingly, the rectangle or boyishly shaped. My measurements currently stand at 34-29-37 ... ish. It's a little hard to measure yourself accurately. I am also high waisted and have something ridiculous like a 29" inside leg measurement. I'm not even 5'3" tall, I'm all leg baby. This means that the guidelines for looking good when you're short and boyish in shape are contradicted by the length of my torso and legs. I am in a no win situation here. But what did surprise me is that Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman are also considered rectangles, and this gives me some hope!

When wearing modern fashions I tend to wear low slung jeans, hipsters rather than the kind you fall out of every time you bend over, to make my waist look lower. But found that it also negated what little waist line I had because it was covered in the drape and billow of the bagginess of the tops I was wearing to cover the almost total lack of curves I actually had. It's a fine line between a top that looks like you've got curves you're covering rather than a top that highlights your lack of waistline due to being 'figure hugging' or so baggy you can swim in it. It's one of the reasons I wanted to indulge my love of vintage styles, the silhouettes hinted that just maybe I might be able to prove I have a waist. I think I was wrong based on the photos of the previous post. Or at least wrong about the styles I chose.

It's rather strange because my first love is the 40's, always has been and I seem to draw that era to me when it comes to homewares (I own a vintage Aga and now a vintage Singer sewing machine but more on that later!). The strange part is that I seem to be fixated on 50's fashion styles. For example:

{ Source: Vintage Pattern Wikipedia }
McCall's 9211

This rather lovely 50's dress with pleats. I tell myself the drop waist and pleates will make my hips look bigger and the sleeves will widen my shoulders. All of which should, theoretically, make my waist look like ... well, a waist in all honesty. Something that goes in or is at the very least smaller than my bust and my hips. Would it though? Or do I once again think that if I wear this dress it will magically make me look like the pictures?

And, realistically, where the hell am I going to wear this dress anyway? I'm currently looking for work clothes and summer clothes. This pattern does not fit that criteria.

But it is pretty!

{ Source: Vintage Pattern Wikipedia }
Advance 7955

Or there's this lovely dress. In my head the raglan sleeves and high collar will accent my piddly bust and broaden my shoulders and the full skirt will accentuate my hips. If I'm really lucky I might even end up looking like Ulrika in her fabulous yellow dress (see here for pictures). But I have to remember the pictures of me and remember that's fantasy. A piece of clothing can't give me what I don't have.

When looking at my measurements, if I could get my waist down an inch I would meet the measurements for quite a few 40's and 50's patterns. But that doesn't take into account my high waist which negates everything.

Ali suggested looking at patterns from the 60's and 70's instead. Or the 20's and 30's as our shape (yes, Ali is inflicted with the same problems too) and measurements more closely resemble those of that period. She suggested choosing a vintage style that suits my shape rather than the styles I'm currently in love with and failing miserably at.

I'm a little wary of the 20's and 30's because I don't need any help to look boxy and I'm worried that's what they'd do. Saying that, I do like some of the fashions of the 30's and may look into that a little more in the near future.

Which leaves the 60's and 70's. Plenty of choice, more so than the earlier periods, at least on eBay anyway.

Except I find myself going for styles like these. Which is really just a 50's style carried over at the turn of the decade.

{ Source: Vintage Pattern Wikipedia }
Advance 2752

{ Source: Vintage Pattern Wikipedia }
Vogue 9967

Or this (which I am actually bidding on because I'm curious to see if the belting and looseness of the dress will work in my favour).

{ Source: Vintage Pattern Wikipedia }
Simplicity 1008

Have I really learned anything? Am I pattern hunting with my shape in mind?

I think, realistically, the answer is hell no! I am not only blind to but also in total denial of my shape and seem to be clutching hold of the firm belief that if I make or buy a dress I like then I will somehow end up looking like the picture that drew me to it in the first place. And that is impossible.

I think the fact that I'm undecided about what I want to make doesn't help. I need some work clothes and I need them fast. I refuse to go out and buy anything but coming from an industry with no dress code to an office environment with a smart dress code my current wardrobe is not only seriously limited but also seriously young. I have no grown up clothes and I hate that. But I have no idea what I mean by grown up clothes. See? Undecided.

But I also need summery clothes. Clothes I can layer. Woollens and knits that are to my taste and warm.

I love everything Mena makes and I catch myself thinking that if I get the same pattern then I'll look like Mena does in the same outfit. But whereas I've the body of a 12 year old boy with a small pot belly, Mena's all woman and her clothes reflect her shape wonderfully. It's hard to come to terms with the idea that I have no shape for clothes to reflect. And even the knowledge that almost all catwalk models have the same shape as me doesn't help in the slightest. I need to wake up and smell the sanity and pick clothes suitable for me and me alone ... just as soon as I figure out what that is.

But as Ali mentions in her post, that's what makes home sewing such a bonus. We can make what we want to suit ourselves and not the mass market. We just have to be realistic about what that is.

Am I the only one out there with a blind spot the size of the moon when it comes to my shape and a complimentary style? Or are there others out there to commiserate with me?

Thanks for stopping by,


  1. I definitely share your search for a style that suits my shape, and starting sewing is part of what has triggered my search. The 50s style seem to be very popular with seamtresses on the interweb, and I do think it is pretty. I'm high-waisted, but rather curvy, so I think I can pull off some of the stuff, but I think they often are a bit more formal than I would like to dress.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading about your quest for the perfect style, keep it up! :-)

  2. Kjersti, yes you're right, the formality of some of the outfits is yet another thing to throw into the mixing pot, I hadn't really thought about that before. Trying to balance out the style with the occasion the outfit is for (and often there's no occasion at all which is the problem!) and have it suit you ... my goodness, sometimes I think maybe we should just ignore what looks good and wear what makes us happy instead!

  3. Hmm, you have me wondering now if I'm drawn to the styles I like because subconsciously I know they suit my figure? I'm hourglass with full bust and small waist (less so since having Mango) and I love cinched waists and full skirts and dislike the dropped waist, flat-chested rectangles of the 1920s (not that I could ever look good in that style).

    I don't understand why, in an era when women had beaten oppression and earned the right to vote along with other rights that they would then subject themselves to conforming to a masculine shape and cropped haircuts, suppressing their curves and femininity. Thankfully the thirties corrected that and I am very envious of the fashion silhouette of the 1930s, that gorgeous elongated figure with slim yet curvy lines. *sigh*.

    I'm a big believer that period style lingerie will help make the relevant style fit better, after all not everyone would have been the same shape, however its never the perfect answer. I read a review of a re-issued 50s pattern which slated it for being a bad fit and full of fitting issues but when you looked at the person it was being made for she was never going to have been able to wear that style anyway because she was totally the wrong shape and height.

    I am reading high-waisted to mean short-waisted not long seat? When I was younger I noticed I always looked chubby in photos despite being a size 8-10. Eventually I realised it was because I have an awful combination of short waist and low, full bust (and narrow back as if that wasn't enough) which merged my bust into my hips in photos. It was only years later that I realised my figure faults meant that I have lovely, long legs to compensate (and that corsets help!).

    Style guides will contradict on what I can wear because what works for a full bust is bad for short-waist and vice versa, but I don't think they are always right, apparently I should avoid Empire line like the plague but actually it really suits me(or so I think). Generally I wear what I feel flatters my figure and there are plenty of clothes I regard with envy knowing I can't wear them.

    As for work clothes, when I was office bound I tended to wear 70s and 60s styles as these suit the office atmosphere - long or knee length a-line skirts or flared trousers with neat knitted tops or blouses, a-line dresses and on a summery day it was perfectly acceptable to wear a full skirt (without the petticoat although I have worn it). Some of my outfits probably raised an eyebrow for being a bit "dated" but I felt unique and "me"!

    In the RTW world having a suitable style doesn't always guarantee a good fit. Fitted shirts end up gaping at the bust or with swathes of fabric around my waist, tops often are too low around the cleavage. For trousers and skirts, if I shop by waist I end up with too closely fitted hips and zipper issues, if I shop by hip I end up with a gap in the waist, as a result most of my clothes sit on my hips rather than at my waistline. Another reason to love 1950s patterns!

    There's a good exercise in this book I want to try, but you need a friend. You hang a roll of lining paper on the wall, get your friend to draw round you then dissect your figure and work out all your figure good points and issues. I think what is useful about it is that you can step back and assess your figure in a way that is not possible in the mirror or pictures.

    And finally, if there was one thing I could fix about my body shape? I'd add a couple of inches to my torso so my waist is slightly lower and I'm also a wee bit taller!

  4. I'm playing catch up, Toria, and you shouldn't be disgusted for lingering so long on this question (as you mention in your next post)! I think, no matter what conclusion we come to (as in, screw all the style recommendations! I'm dressing for me! Ha!), this sort of self-discovery and awareness is important. At least for me. I've been going on auto pilot for years without taking my body into consideration. And now I will, and through this journey, will realize some suggestions are bogus and some are worth considering, etc etc.

    That said, there must've been women shaped like us during your appealing era and what did they wear? Since I'm interested in the 60s, I think Audrey (ah! But she had a 20-inch waist), Jackie, hell, Twiggy. They all are style icons in their own right and they weren't hourglass-y at all.

  5. Is it me Molly, or did the time of the rise of women's power within the workplace (ie gaining more and more higher powered jobs such as MD, CEO, rather than just secretary) also result in the fashion trend for women to wear menswear and suits? It was the 20's all over again ... at least, that's what my vague mind suggests so I could be totally wrong.

    I tried to find foundation garments that would help (boy did I!) but found that what fitted my waist bagged at my hips and what fitted my hips cut into my waist, the curse of having a waist one size bigger than the rest of me! I resorted to buying a couple of cinchers which decidedly did not do what was on the tin and have since given up. Realistically it's either drop 4" off my waistline to meet the fashion industry's idea of a one sized gal (unlikely!) or try to find clothes that don't require it. Plan B it is!

    I love your description of your work clothes and may just have to steal that idea! I have the same problem of gaping, bagging or too tight (too everything really) in RTW clothes which is why I started looking at making my own. We'll see how that turns out!

    Good idea about the wall thing, I might have to try that with my Mum, thanks for that.

    And I'm with you about adding inches to my torso, boy would that fix a lot of problems! ;)

  6. I think I was more disgusted by how compulsive I'm becoming over trying to fix it, Ali, when maybe I should just be going with my instincts. It's definitely a question I need to answer for myself in order to feel comfortable out in public. As long as I know I look good I don't care what I'm wearing or what era it's from (nor do I care about the crazy looks I get, heh)

    Audrey is my style icon! I'd love to be a little more Audrey-ish. In fact I've decided to aim for french looking fashions as I adore that style and use the retro patterns to accentuate that if possible. Not sure how that's going to turn out but it should be interesting! I'd love to find out what the 'normal' people looked like, and - like you said - what the people who looked like I looked like too. Wouldn't that shed a lot of light on things?!

  7. Hello, saw your post through Caseys blog. It's an interesting discussion. I am quite the opposite of you - pear shaped with 35-26-40 (last being the hips of course!) and even though I look quite good in wiggle dresses and other 50s items that accentuate the waist I'll never be able to pull off mod mini dresses or sleek 30s style (which I adore), because it makes me look broad like a cow or very vulgar. Point is, we all have body issues and even though we shouldn't be dictated by hour body type we still should keep it in mind. I think your body type would look great in late 30s or early 70s (e.g. like Francoise Hardy, who may be taller but still has a very up and down figure.
    Anyway, if you adore the 50s look I do think you can pull it off to some extent. I looked at your pictures in the earlier post - say you in the top one wore a top with a boat neck or a jacket with shoulderpads to accentuate your shoulders instead and in the other one pulled up the belt a bit (or wore, for instance, a navy blue dress with a black belt instead of the red one)? I think that would really do the trick. It's obvious from the photos below that you look great and somehow "right" with an empire waist. Maybe you should try the slightly a-line skirts of the early 70s in a thick fabric like denim or something. They tend to look good on a good friend of mine who's very up and down.

    Best of luck with finding the right details! :)

  8. Ah, the grass is always greener isn't it! ;)

    Thanks for the tips, I'll definitely try those, I think you're right, it's a matter of fine tuning and a leetle more experimentation ... yay!

  9. Hi there!
    I've come across this article via another blog. Although I share the interest in what kind of close are flattering to our kind of body, I do not share your body shape, as I'm a pronounced pear. But I would like to comment something that might be food for thought (or maybe much to obvious, but who knows). Every time I see an Audrey Hepburn-movie (How to steal a million, Charade ...) I absolutely swoon over the clothes, but I know I'll never be able to wear something like that with my curves and bum. You could. Not tempting?
    I think Audrey is a wonderful style icon in general, and might be even more so to someone with a similar body.
    Warm regards,

  10. I adore Audrey Hepburn, adore adore adore. You're absolutely right, I should definitely nick some of her style ideas! Thanks Sonja!


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