The feature below resonated so much with me – for years I too chose clothes dictated by some ‘fashion-laws’ or rules – Moses in my case said ‘you shall not wear horizontal stripes if you’re fat and short’!
Dare to be different whether you’re skinny, plus-sized, short, tall or something else … but first read Helen’s words below for why …
GUEST POST: As Moses descended from Mount Sinai, he proclaimed, “Thou shalt not kill”, “Honour thy mother and thy father”, and, if fashion was to be believed in the Noughties, he added, “Thou shalt not wear a tank top if thou hast broad shoulders – seriously, it’ll make you look like a coat hanger; don’t do it.”
The Rules, as they were laid down, were – and still are – an incredibly prescriptive, specific list of dressing dos and don’ts. Peddled by the likes of Trinny and Susannah, Gok Wan and every glossy magazine going, they dogged our shopping trips and had you asking yourself in the mirror if you were in the possession of an apple, pear, triangle, cylinder or hourglass body shape. Even Coco Chanel subscribed to a Rules way of thinking, saying: “To show one’s knees, they need to be perfect.” What does a perfect knee look like, I wonder?
If you, like me, had big tits and big hips, you were shoved into an A-line skirt to “make the most of your small waist” and a cross-front shirt with everything cinched in with a waist belt to “draw the eye”. T-shirts and jeans were out of bounds if you had boobs bigger than a C-cup and a bum bigger than a size 10. Women with flat chests were padded out with chicken fillets and everyone was encouraged to wear stretchy, ruched suede-effect knee-high boots for some reason that I can’t fathom.
If you’ve been told that an A-line skirt is the right skirt for you, even though it makes you feel like a shed, then you’ll find that it is, in fact, not the right skirt for you at all
The Rules were, and are, sold to us as wearing clothes that “accentuated your good points”. Rules, that if you follow, mean that you will never again have to worry if you look good in what you are wearing. Hurrah! But they are also mired in traditional attitudes – the assumption that every woman wants to look tall, slim, have big boobs and a small bum.
And The Rules start young. Earlier this month, Discovery Girls magazine published an article called “What swimsuit best suits you?”. The magazine, which is aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds, instructed girls which swimming costumes to wear if they are “curvy up top”, “straight up and down” or “rounder in the middle”; a move that prompted a Twitter outcry, as it was quite rightly called out for being irresponsible and damaging.
Having been a reluctant observer of The Rules since my teens (no colour on the bottom half, “flattering” V-necks), I have noticed that their power is starting to wane. Thanks to the rise of street-style images and the boom of blogs, a more diverse group of people – not TV personalities or magazine editors – are being looked to for inspiration.
Tess Holliday, the size-26 model and social-media phenomenon who kicks against thin-normative fashion, has become a poster girl for defying The Rules. Her inner voice shows on the outside – she posts photographs of herself in outfits that aren’t designed to dress for her body type or hide her fat. In her first Tumblr post in 2012, Tess set out a revolutionary agenda for bigger women: no muumuus, no cardigans to cover thick upper arms, no saying “no” to clothes you love.
She wrote: “I don’t know about you, but frankly I am tired of getting told what curvy/fat/plus size girls are ‘allowed’ to wear. For everyone that says we can’t show our tummies, wear a pencil/form-fitting skirt, wear a bikini, wear sleeveless tops… YOU can! I want YOU to join me in wearing ‘daring’ fashions and stop hiding your body because society tells you to.”
Debra Bourne, founder of the body-positive fashion campaign All Walks, tells me that feeling good and staying true to self is the key to enjoying getting dressed. “The only *rule* is feeling confident. How one arrives at that place really requires a sense of self-knowledge, and not just giving over to images that we see in the media,” she says.
“What is useful is seeing diverse body shapes and beauty ideals in the media, so we have more to choose from and, on the rare occasion, we do find someone not sticking to a rigid ideal.”
And it looks like big brands are now getting on board with this. Selfridges’ campaign, Incredible Machines, shows women of all different shapes and sizes in their underwear. It is about everyone being different (and that being a good thing), rather than being styled to look the same, in a statement necklace to “draw attention away from a flat chest” or a bolero to “disguise bingo wings”.
Granted, some people may find The Rules useful. If you are one of the many of us who lack sartorial self-assurance, then tips and advice can help us understand how to choose clothes amidst ever-changing trends. But, then again, if you’ve been told that an A-line skirt is the right skirt for you, even though it makes you feel like a shed, then you’ll find that it is, in fact, not the right skirt for you at all. Any clothing can be “yours” – you just need to buy it and enjoy wearing it. Whatever you choose to do, just please don’t let anyone bully you into those ruched boots.
Courtesy of Helen Nianias for The Pool