The Trouble With Fashion Advice

*collage by me
If you blog long enough no matter how misguided your fashion sense might seem to your friends and family, people will eventually contact you because of your blog and ask advice. I'm always surprised when people see me as some sort of fashion expert since I consider my knowledge limited and my actual interactions with fashion being more of the fan perspective. I enjoy clothes, I like looking at editorials, and I share the things I like on my blog. An editor shouldn't share things they like in a magazine, they cover news, analyze collections, and predict trends. I'm not an editor and I get to be driven by personal preference, so fashion advice from me would also just be driven by my personal preference. Still, for awhile I did write articles for a couple of different sites and while I mostly enjoyed curating street style from around the world or showing micro-trends from bloggers, I also occasionally was asked to give fashion advice in areas I had personal experience. So, I would give tips on how to look taller and slimmer when you're short or how to de-emphasize your bust and ultimately you realize that every question is seeking the same thing--how to look taller, slimmer, more like the model who was wearing this trend/style/dress when I saw it. It's not always blatantly said outright, but that's what is being communicated. I have never read an article on how to look shorter or emphasize your thighs, but magazines predicting the popularity of crop-tops to continue in Spring 2014 add "don't forget your crunches this winter!"

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look taller or slimmer or more model-like. I'm a slave to it as well and while I experimented with style more a few years ago recently I've settled into clothes that I feel comfortable in and am less likely to try out trends or styles that might add bulk to my figure. Even the way I pose in pictures is affected; I analyze my posture because a funny outtake where I'm slouching on Instagram almost immediately receives comments about the size of my belly and questions of how much weight have I gained recently. A larger waistline is not a fashion ideal and ironically the same day I can receive an e-mail asking how to "wear a fitted dress while still looking slim, because you pull it off so well." The thing is: why do we buy into this idea that looking good means looking lanky? In person, I enjoy being petite; even when I think about how I'd like to be taller it's usually one or two inches that would make reaching the top shelf in a grocery store more feasible but keep me on the petite side of things. Yet, in a picture for the blog, I know I can only look petite if I still look proportionately long; i.e. can't make my legs look short but can can look dwarfed by a forest. So, fashion advice becomes catered to a very specific set of rules and it stops being about having fun with personal style.

And the edict "real women have curves" sounds good until we realize we're being sold another message of how women should look. It isn't just that thin or so-called tube-shaped women are excluded from the message (which is problematic enough), but that once again to be a "real" woman you have to look a certain way. If we buy into that saying we are only buying into another form of body policing; we've traded one set of rules for another. Then it's about what dresses will give me curves, while maintaining a tiny waist..."Pulling off a look" means fitting into a mould of looking conventionally attractive/how society says we should look; it never means looks as if she feels very comfortable in her own skin or is having a good time.

But back to my foremost point: fashion advice. Obviously when I receive an e-mail or ask I want to be helpful; I try to answer the question with my personal thoughts on "how to look slim in _____" but I think it's important to either preface or end the message with a disclaimer. Something along the lines of "these rules might help you look a certain way, but rules restrict your creativity and fashion shouldn't be about rules, but about fun and personal style starts to happen when you figure out what clothes make you feel good."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing body image from both perspectives. Real women can look like anything and wear the clothing that makes them happy. - Leah, wisestyle.wordpress.com

Sonya Mann said...

Loved loved loved the nuance & care in this piece.

HaleyPants said...

THIS. this is why I love your blog. thank you!

Lauren said...

Great, insightful post! I am stunned to hear that people would comment and ask if you've gained weight. How cruel!

I appreciate what Tina Fey has to say on this subject, which I think echoes your comments on looking slim and being curvy at the same time, "Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits."

So much beauty is in imperfection, if you ask me.

Sienna Rose said...

We all are real women and every one of us is different. I agree with what you think about how society want us to look and it is not easy at all to get away from this ideal image that the media has created.
I personally find a woman very attractive(not in any gay way lol) when they show their confidence which does not necessarily mean their appearance but can be found in the way they feel proud of whatever they enjoy.

Actually I could imagined you as a petite person from the pictures and don't get me wrong, I personally think that adds more attraction because you have such adorable, amiable atmosphere around you from top to toe. Top models may be tall and slim but that can be a little intimidating sometimes if you know what I mean.
Besides, it'd be so boring if everyone looks the same. ;)

Sienna xx

Sienna Rose said...

Oh, by the way,
I almost forgot to say, I'm really surprised that some people would actually comment and ask if you've gained some weight. How shocking!
I've always thought the opposite and I think you're so outrageously gorgeous! :)

colormebrazen said...

This is spot on! I actually wrote about a similar issue back in June. You might be interested in reading my piece: http://colormebrazen.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/hating-your-body-in-ten-easy-steps-an-affectionate-fuck-you/

Jennifer L said...

Love your writing, and I think you handle this sensitive topic super well. Also, I'm really surprised and sorry at the weight haters - I have always thought you looked your quirky mix of ethereal and cute in all of your pictures :)

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@Sienna Rose & Jennifer L, thanks for your sweet comments--the positive comments I receive definitely outweigh the negative. I just mentioned that thing to illustrate that the pressures aren't just internal, but come from outside as well and the most minute change in posture or weight is likely to be noticed. Society's comfort online & offline in publicly policing bodies could be a post for another day.