Most of us develop a personal style over time. It may be casual, quirky or carelessly elegant. It may lean toward bright colors or stick to neutrals in subdued patterns. If it's been a while since you revisited your look, it could be time to review your assumptions about what's fit to wear. Your body shape and lifestyle may have undergone some changes since the good old days when you were trying to find a date for the prom. The fashion choices that worked for you a decade ago may not (well, probably won't) work today.
This can be a big, scary deal. Having a familiar style is comforting when you make an assault on the clothing racks at the mall. Every year, there's a new fashion color palette to contend with as well as a bewildering array of neckline, hemline, skirt, sleeve, blouse, dress and pant styles to consider. Knowing a big shirt paired with a comfortable T and a quality pair of jeans works for you -- during the weekends at least -- can be pretty reassuring.
Time can be unfriendly, though. When some of your bouncier attributes are sagging southward or your silhouette is looking bulkier than you'd like, find a three-way mirror and host your own reality show. Think of it as an intervention designed to save you from ending up on the "What was she thinking?" section of someone's Facebook wall.
If you're paying attention to the style mavens, dressing for your body shape is the key to looking good. The only problem is that the instructions for discovering and dealing with your shape can get as complicated as trying to land the space shuttle on a garage roof. Are you diamond shaped? Can anyone actually be diamond shaped? Is that, like, total structural failure or something? Wouldn't it just be simpler to have a few clues about clothing (in English) that will help you look -- better? Let's leave the geometry to the high school textbooks and look at some common sense ways to choose the right clothes for the real you.
Get Real about Your Weight
Most people weigh more than they'd like, and those who don't stress about a few extra pounds generally think they're too thin. Only about 10 percent of adult women are comfortable with their current body weight. Often, this means women are either ignoring weight gain by cramming themselves into clothes that are too small because the size on the label is somehow reassuring, or they're using one of a number of camouflage techniques -- usually jackets, big shirts, sweaters, dark colors and other layering methods to trick others into thinking the extra bulk is really just fabric.
Choosing the right size garment, whatever your size happens to be today, is an important element of looking good in clothes. Unless you're swaddled in spandex, and maybe even then, insisting on a size 6 when you should be wearing an 8 or larger isn't doing yourself any favors. It could make you look even bigger due to the bulkiness. Covering up the problem with outerwear designed to drape and conceal probably isn't fooling anybody, either.
Forget the skinny model ideal and own your body. Models are super thin to make the clothes look good. Dress to make you look good. Take measurements of your bust, waist and hips and buy clothes designed to fit the real you, or find a good tailor if you do have a hard-to-shop-for body. Your clothes will last and look better longer that way, too.
Use Shading to Your Advantage
Whether you believe black is the only real neutral or pink is the prettiest color for a dewy complexion, color does more than reflect your personal style and complement your shoes and skin tone. Think of your body as a map. The goal is to create an hourglass shape, even if your natural contours lack definition.
Using color in the right places can create some pretty amazing illusions. Place light colors for emphasis (to make shoulders, the bust or hips look larger) and dark colors to minimize (areas like the stomach, hips, bust and broad shoulders). If your hips are larger than your bust, wear light colors above the waist and dark colors below the waist. If you want to create the illusion of a smaller waist, wear dark colors at waist level in belts or the banding on blouses, shirts or jackets.
Showcase Your Best Attributes
Colors like red, white, bright blue and yellow draw the eye. When you wear them close to your best features, you pull attention were you want it instead of, say, on the extra 5 pounds around your middle from your latest breakup. If you have lovely hands, show them off with a colorful clutch handbag or an eye catching bracelet. If your face is your best feature, wear interesting necklines and collar styles in colors that flatter your skin tone. Learn to make the best use of scarves to complement your waistline, bustline or neck. Accentuate the positive; it's one of the oldest tricks in the book because it works.
Collect Some Basic Pieces
One of the smartest ways to develop an effective style is to have a core wardrobe of classic garments. This is the little-black-dress approach to dressing. Here's how it works: The little black dress is that one go-to dressy dress you know looks great on you. (We all pretty much know when we look great, right?) If turquoise is in this year, wear the black dress, but enhance it with a turquoise shawl and maybe a coral bracelet or evening bag (complementary colors on the color wheel usually work together well).
The little black dress takes the stress out of dressing up. Because it's so basic, it never looks trendy (that's what the accessories are for), but it still always looks good on you. It's a classic. Your little black dress can be short if you have great legs or long with a V-neck if your legs are just OK but your upper body is nicely proportioned. It can be sleeveless or belted, and made from any of a variety of materials. Because it'll probably be a keeper over a number of years, you can invest a little more money in it than you would a one season wonder, too.
It turns out there are lots of garments that work like the little black dress in your wardrobe. Most fashion experts have their own lists of must-have essentials. After you've found a few quality pieces that work for your lifestyle, use them as building blocks to enhance your look.
Respect the Rules (Most of the Time)
You may think adding unexpected or outlandish touches to your wardrobe makes your look distinctive. Just remember that your style choices are most effective when they complement your features and your body. You probably already understand some of the essential rules of good dressing as they relate to your body type. If you ignore them, you could end up a fashion casualty instead of a trailblazer. No one's going to arrest you for wearing horizontal stripes across your impressive bosom or outfitting your cankles in day-glo shoes with plenty of elevation. If you want to look great in what you wear, though, make a conscious effort to strike a balance between what's hot and what's right for you.
A lot of women use their bra as a pocket when they have no other options. HowStuffWorks wonders why bras don't come with pockets.
- Beauty By Bella. "How to Dress for Your Body Shape." (3/14/12). http://beautybyella.blogspot.com/2007/11/how-to-dress-your-body.html
- Franklin, Caryn. "Inspirational standard shape fashion tips that will compliment your body shape and wardrobe..." How to Look Good. (3/14/12). http://www.howtolookgood.com/dress-for-your-shape/standard/
- Kelly, Clinton and Stacy London. "Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your Body." Three Rivers Press. 2005
- MIT - The Tech. "Dressing Your Body Figuring Out Fashion." 4/4/08. (3/14/12). http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N16/fashion.html
- News Medical. "Study finds most people dissatisfied with their bodies." 11/21/07. (3/14/12). http://www.news-medical.net/news/2007/11/21/32752.aspx
- Shop Your Shape. "Calculate Your Shape." (3/14/12). http://www.shopyourshape.com/
- Style Makeover. "What's Your Body Shape?" (3/14/12). http://www.style-makeover-hq.com/body-shape.html