‘Black slims you down. Tall girls shouldn’t wear heels. Ruffled bikini tops balance out small breasts.’
Disguised as friendly advice, the mantras go on and on. Every magazine, online blog, Instagram page or YouTube channel that is in some way related to fashion has potentially done something on ‘flattering fashion’ or dressing for your body type at some point. This is undergoing a drastic intervention.
The magic words are now ‘body positivity.’ A popular little comic BuzzFeed posted on Instagram shows a girl getting dressed while instructing: “Step 1: Put on whatever the fuck makes you happy. That’s it!”. Cosmopolitan articles are explaining which fashion rules should be broken. From every side it seems that the rules of fashion we grew up with have become grossly outdated.
But they certainly aren’t entirely bad. What I love about fashion – and I am sure most people do too – is the power to transform, to create illusions. I adore that a perfectly placed seam can make me seem taller, that shoulder pads give me an edge I don’t normally have, that a belt accentuates my waist.
What is more important than the effect these rules teach you to achieve, is how they force you to get to know your body. Do you know your measurements? Your skin undertone? Your proportions? Most people do not. And this makes them victims of an arbitrary sizing system, colour trends and cuts they do not understand. Did you know that the sizing system is updated every few years? Have you ever noticed how drastically they vary from brand to brand and country to country? I’m a 38 in France, a 36 in Germany, a XS in the US and a size 4 in England. In a German pattern from the 70s, I’m a 42. Is any of these numbers more true than the rest? No. They do not mean anything. Centimetres or inches however, those are precise and stay the same everywhere.
The problem is not in knowing the basic facts of your dressing canvas – your body – the problem is in the rhetoric these makeover stories employ. Breasts are suddenly breasts that are ‘too small,’ thighs that are ‘too big,’ stomachs that are ‘too wobbly,’ arms that are ‘too flabby.’ But what are these comparatives measured against? And by whose standards? In calling for one norm, they fail to appreciate the diverse range of body types and the different forms of beauty in each.
Whatever fashion guidelines and tips you’re reading, whether it is gently suggesting that this top will make your arms look more ‘toned’ or straight up telling you to avoid shorts, they always make it seem as if something is wrong with your body. That there is a problem which the ‘right’ clothes can fix.
This whole concept is a bizarre perversion of priorities. Clothes exist to serve your body, and your body never has to change for them. But being aware of the body as a canvas for self-expression through fashion is incredibly empowering. So, use all the advice you’ve read or been told as a chance to learn about yourself – with no judgement but gentle curiosity.
But please, there is no use in wearing yellow just because it is in fashion. If you absolutely have to, at least keep it away from your face and choose yellow wellies.