This Not That

Despite growing up in a home that was full of present- and future-tense estrogen, discussion around clothing generally focused on cost and hmmmmm, cost. I certainly didn’t know there were guidelines about how to chose a shape or proportion to highlight—or downplay—one’s specific attributes.

It wasn’t until my past contained peach hotpants, high-waisted pants, ankle straps galore, leggings, thigh-length jackets AND boxy sweaters that I tuned into the buzz surrounding the various What Not to Wear franchises. Only then did I cotton to the fact that dressing for one’s body type is a subset of the style industry.


Naturally I ignored said industry until my intervention. At which point I ignored it some more. But eventually, 4 or so years ago, I started accumulating sometimes-contradictory advice books that focused heavily on fit and proportion issues.

And I felt so liberated! I could leave the milk bottle on the table—er shake the dust off my Ed Grimley past—and never look back.

But THEN I started reading style-related forums and blogs. Granted it’d been awhile since I read Ms magazine cover to cover, but I was quite surprised to discover that the concept of dressing for one’s body type is highly politicized. Apparently on the repressiveness scale, body-centric style advice falls somewhere between polygamy and infant ear-piercing.

[Except when a far-right conservative derides the notion of flattering formulas; then style recommendations are as much an affront to personal freedom as reproductive rights and national health care.]

Now that I’ve been enlightened, I feel a bit alone in hewing to various rules. I’m talking all the other chicks are having a blast in the sack, and I’m refusing to take off my chastity belt alone.

Especially when it comes to resisting current shoe trends.

However (and sadly for those as shallow as I), skin-toned shoes only elongate one’s legs and streamline one’s ankles but so much. As I’m not expecting a post-40 growth spurt that results in Bambified gams, booties/shooties and the eternal T-strap offerings are a no-go. Instead, I’ll do a little harm reduction with a pair of more staid, blends-with-my-superpale-skin pearlized Clarks…even if their vamp is a smidge too high to be ideal.

Because compare plus contrast tells the whole tear-inducing tale.

[Though I’ll admit there’s something very sculptural about the metallic shooties, okay? Bonus points for looking less mean than the still-popular gladiators.]

Now there’s no denying that rules evolve in a cultural context, and rules can certainly—happily—be broken as a cultural “screw you.” The Gilded Lily’s world isn’t right unless she’s wearing something that screams 16, not pushing-70. [Current love: feather earrings from a body-piercing parlor. She hasn’t mentioned if the feathers were her only purchase, and I haven’t asked.]

But if you’d prefer your legs to look a little meatier, your hips to appear more balanced, or your vertically-challenged neck to evoke a swan, liberation won’t get you very far. Trying to create illusions requires a lot of pragmatism.

Or as Kenny likes to say:

You got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em*

Know when to walk away / Know when to run”

Those who chafe at stylistic constraints can and should go their own way. When you’re looking to beat the house, though, it’s wise to keep your heart from making calls your body can’t cash.

* If you want to know HOW to “know when to hold ’em/know when to fold ’em” when shoes are the topic, check out Imogen’s  leg-lengthening tricks at Inside Out Style.

Featured shoes: Clarks Indigo Soybean Thong Sandal; Kelsi Dagger Karina Bootie; Hive and Honey Saira T-Strap

The icing on the camel’s back

In the nearly 20 years I’ve known you, you’ve always been prone to wearing clothes that are black and baggy. But now they’re black, baggy, and covered in cat hair…and that’s just one thing too many.”

–my friend “SilverTongue” to me, Summer 2005

If you’re thinking, “OMG I would never speak to her again!!!” remember that she was beyond right and HILARIOUS. I find it a tough combination to resist.

Four years after my friend’s challenge, my exterior is more stereotypically Mainstream Professional than Dickensian Anti-Chic. And four years after her gauntlet-throwing, the intersection of fashion, personal style, commerce, and women’s bodies remains ever-political.

Think it’s tediously womyn’s lib to believe a “politics of fashion” exists? Me, I feel better knowing something about how fashion and women have rubbed along in the past. Forewarned, forearmed. Couture’s technical stars hold appeal, but so do the everyday women who’ve been risk takers and rule breakers. Give me those who stepped out in bloomers and those who slashed skirt hems sky-high; let me applaud those who created high-performance compression wear and those who flung their bras into moldering clumps. Bring on the sauntering hemp wearers and let the with-2%-stretch fans cartwheel by!

One woman’s meat is another’s poison, of course; my nearly 70-year-old pal lets me look to the past while she scans the horizon for what’s coming next. Granted, the horizon-scanning may be because she finds much of what I wear depressingly sedate as well as a mismatch with my trucker vocabulary. “THINK CAMOUFLAGE,” I hiss at her when I see her making that face she tends to make when she registers that I’m once again in sensible separates to her gold lamé.

See, I’m not such a born-again that I can’t respect those with a variety of viewpoints, like LAME IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. This includes “non-viewpoints,” too: if someone prefers a utilitarian approach to clothing, he or she can have at it. Naturalists? Ditto.

But if you’re on the fence about this whole style thing, and your choice is between clothing that flaunts a characteristic you love about yourself vs clothing that helps you fade into the background? Choosing the former can be a lot more transgressive than you think.