"Unflattering" Clothes Are A Myth & Here's Why

by Sebastian Zulch

There are so many stories out there that "helpfully" lay out the fashion rules for all body types, guiding us away from the more "unflattering" choices, of course. But anyone who has a body positive attitude knows that unflattering clothes are a myth. Ideas of fashion rules for short girls or clothing to help flatter fat bodies, for example, elicit nothing but eye rolls from me. However, writing such article headlines or "rules" off is a privilege of mine that most teenage girls can't afford. Before I discovered body positivity, I know these rules had devastating effects on my own self esteem.

In my adolescent years, I had a subscription to many a fashion and beauty magazine. Each one informed me that I was wearing the wrong clothes and that my proclivity for rompers, flat shoes, and long sleeves was doing nothing for my 5'1" frame. I was afraid to leave the box of apparel appropriate for short girls, let alone to wear anything that accentuated my tummy. Although the opinions of the Gatekeepers Of Fashion Cool prevented me from trying most looks I wanted to experiment with, I luckily began abandoning them all as I grew up and immersed myself in dialogue about self love. The notion of "clothing exclusive to certain bodies" thankfully seems archaic to me now.

The bottom line is that these "rules" are not based in reality or any body positive rhetoric. Here are just seven of the reasons why the notion of "unflattering" is make believe.

1. The Rules Are Always Changing

The rules fashion people and publications claim are set in stone are constantly changing. For example, many of us have heard the rule that only tall girls can wear short shorts or miniskirts (since these things apparently make petite people appear to have shorter legs). However, the famous fashion rule popularized by the TLC show What Not To Wear that any woman cannot wear miniskirts after age 35 (even if she's tall) provides another layer of confusion.

The rules also change over the course of history. Corsets pushing up the boobs of busty ladies to create cleavage of epic proportions during the Victorian era definitely contrast with the fashion world today, which sometimes seems to demand big-breasted people wrangle their chests to make them fit into trendier tops. The use of shoulder pads in the '80s is also starkly different from today's beauty ideals, which often seem to suggest that tall and broad shouldered women need to play down those features.

2. Famous Ladies Of History Wore Unflattering Clothes & Looked Amazing

Marilyn Monroe was America's sweetheart in the '50s and is thought to have set a lot of beauty and fashion trends that still live on today. According to media site Curiosity Aroused, she was about a size eight by modern standards, had a cup size of 36D, and wore tight garments that accentuated her larger breasts and wider hips.

Her legacy has stood the test of time, since she continues to make headlines decades after her death. And I'd say her fearlessness to rock body-hugging clothing as a busty, more voluptuous woman has definitely made her an icon to remember. Although "flattering rules" for hourglass figures sometimes suggest wearing clothing that highlights one's curves, more often than not bustier women are told to cover up (be it for the sake of modesty or so as not to traumatize passerby with their fuller figures). Monroe, thankfully, never allowed a bustier aesthetic, "flattering" rules linked to propriety, or anything else get in the way of her sartorial power.

3. And Fashionable Ladies Of Today Are Still Doing So

Many women in Hollywood today like Lena Dunham are bending and breaking the rules of fashion and throwing out ideas of what's "flattering" out the window. For her HBO show GIRLS, Dunham has her costumes specifically designed to be "ill-fitting," according to The Daily Beast, and she purposefully reclaims trends that may not be considered flattering for her size or shape (like her famous rompers).

Fashion bloggers like Essie Golden and Ushshi Rahman also rock outfits that are not necessarily considered "flattering" for plus size people, from crop tops to bodycons to horizontal stripes. But the fierce looks that they consistently serve up on their blogs and Instagrams prove just how arbitrary the notion of "flattering" actually is.

4. The "Flattering" Rules Just Don't Make Any Sense

There are a number of rules pertaining to why straight size girls can wear this while fat girls can't wear that. But personal style and comfort should be dealt with on an individual level. If you're a short woman and want to try to imitate the style of a tall person you admire, then go for it.

For example, the two models in the photo above stand at drastically different heights (the person on the left is 5'9" and the person on the right is 5'1"), yet they look equally amazing in this outfit. Again, visuals help make those of us who have internalized beliefs surrounding "flattering" clothing realize that the rules are entirely mythical and only useful for diminishing our self confidence.

5. Beauty Standards Are Invented

Standards of beauty and gender are totally made up. They often feel created by an elite and non-diverse group of tastemakers and fluctuate constantly. It's up to you to rewrite the rules, and claim the things you love to wear, whether they are "unflattering" or not.

6. "Unflattering" Isn't Negative, Even If It's Framed That Way

Dressing in something "unflattering" is perceived as the fashion equivalent of a mortal sin. However, part of debunking the myth of "unflattering" is exploring the other connotations the word can have.

As it applies to fashion, "unflattering" often implies that your body doesn't look good in what you're wearing. However, if you claim outfits that are "unflattering," you can abolish former practices of hiding parts of your body and instead embrace them as a loving act of body positivity. Show off your tummy (flat or wobbly), boobs (big or small), and frame (whether it be broad or petite), so long as you're comfortable doing so.

7. You Are Beautiful No Matter What You Wear

In the end, what you wear and how you wear it doesn't make much of a difference to anything. Your intention and the way you feel about yourself will ultimately affect how you rock an outfit way more than some pre-determined rule. If we can stop consuming awful listicles that outline all of the made up dressing rules for different body types and instead listen to our actual bodies and hearts, we can rock anything and look totally fierce while doing it.

Want more body positivity? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle’s YouTube page for more self love inspo!

Images: Meg Zulch/Skylar Belt