Do you remember Trinny and Susannah? Growing up, they were the queens of everyday style (as exposed to me by shitty TV and tacky ‘chat’ magazines), reinventing women by overhauling their wardrobe, spicing up their hairstyle and fondling their tits. Some of their most popular titles were ‘What Not To Wear’, ‘The Body Shape Bible’ and ‘What Your Clothes Say About You’; their key messages, it seems, centered around your body being the priority, and your style being secondary. The main purpose of dressing was for the sake of other people – to communicate a certain message, to impress or entice. Whether you actually preferred what you were wearing over something else was an afterthought.
With this mentality, whether you “look good” or not is a power that is placed into the hands of others. It’s more important to avoid dressing badly than to enjoy dressing well – it’s a philosophy of taking away instead of adding value to. It’s a philosophy of relying on the external, ignoring how you feel about your body and the way you choose to clothe it. In this sense our bodies don’t belong to us, and we’re duty bound to not offend ole’ Roger down the road by showing too much tit or Janet in the office by wearing tight trousers that simply do not flatter our fat thighs.
Being petite, I’ve been especially party to this “dress for your shape” way of thinking. I’m told not to wear anything that ends at the ankle for fear of making my legs look stumpy, to never go for boxy oversized shapes that might drown my “small figure” and to wear heels at every opportunity possible. And this is the case for every body shape that doesn’t neatly slot into the ‘regular’ expectation. ‘Tall’ women are told not to wear mini skirts, ‘plus size’ women are told not to wear stripes and god forbid if ‘a triangle’ (a.k.a. a person with broad shoulders but a slimmer bottom half) should dare not to “balance themselves out”. Dressing for your shape essentially means dressing to hide – whether that is to hide short legs, a wobbly belly or a small boobs. Again, it caters to that mentality of taking away.
But we are more than shapes. We are more than an ‘apple’, a ‘pear’, a ‘triangle, a ‘square’ (couldn’t resist the temptation to not rhyme), and what we wear shouldn’t be controlled by the skin that we’re in, but rather by the shit that we actually like. Of course, there is a certain element of body awareness involved in feeling good – if a dress clings awkwardly and you don’t feel comfortable sashaying around the dance floor in it, then it’s not the right fit. That decision, however, should lie solely with you, and the key focus is your comfort. If you pop on a mini-dress – as I did here – and your big thighs keep a’flashing and your calfs do a wobble and your pouch keeps poking out and your boobs aren’t quite big enough to fill it out, but you still love it, then wear it. Own it. Be Beyoncé in it.
I wore this dress out for dinner with Keiran the night before my birthday, and I feel like it’s one of the most special pieces in my wardrobe; it makes me feel sexy and curvy and like the red dancing lady emoji. Despite all of the reasons that I shouldn’t be wearing it, it makes me feel confident and I love it. The way a piece of clothing makes you feel should always trump what it might make others think, and ‘rules’ for dressing will inevitably box you in to the same few cuts and the same few colours without leaving any room for you to try new things. If I had listened to petite dos and don’ts, I never would have gone through that minimalist phase of wearing strictly oversized jumpers, trousers and Adidas Superstars. I never would have gone H.A.M. with oversized earrings and I certainly wouldn’t be swanning around in a tight fitting red mini dress which shows more thigh than a high street butchers.
Dress for your shape, not your style? No, dress for your style, not your shape. Pick items that excite you and make you say “actually, would you mind just taking a few more photos from this angle?” and dare to try new lengths and new styles because you.want.to. Don’t feel obliged to “accentuate your waist” just because you’re above a size 14, and don’t adhere to the “no busy co-ords” rule because you’re on the shorter side of life. Fashion should be a creative outlet that you enjoy, not an anchor to way you down every time you open the wardrobe doors.
This year, I’m challenging myself to take more risks. I’m experiencing somewhat of a trouser-less renaissance, where I’ve gone from religiously pulling on a pair of jeans every day to dipping my toe into the dress and skirt pool and absolutely loving it (not to mention my crotch has been well and truly liberated). I’m discovering a new way to express myself and suddenly, getting dressed in the morning has gotten a little bit more exciting. I’m like a painter with a new paint-brush, a builder with a new drill or a musician with a new instrument; I’ve found a new tool with which to feel good and to say “hey world, this is me, chubby body and all – take it or leave it.”
So fuck Trinny and Susannah. Your body belongs to you, and you can put whatever the fuck you want on it. Dressing is not about “hiding your defects” or trying not to look “tarty” as the sartorial duo proclaim, but about making yourself feel good and enjoying the process of wearing great clothes. Self-confidence comes from within, not from the approval of others or adhering to made-up dressing standards – I mean, if we all did that, wouldn’t we all look like the same, accentuated-waist-just-the-right-length-not-too-much-boob-on-show-clone anyway?
“But I’m sure she has a degree?…” Ah, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Yes I do have a degree,...