Okay, so this may not be the best way to start our relationship, but I’ve gotta tell you…
I lied a bit.
I know I know. ‘But Kari, you built Slowclothes on a foundation of trust.”
But I did that thing where I made you curious and want to open the article, and then I’m going to do a little backflip. It’s no secret – I dislike and do not use most marketing strategies (that work), but I think this time it was for the greater good.
Because honestly?! I’ve come to really dislike the word ‘flattering’. So while I am here to help you make sustainable and beautiful fashion choices, and I AM in fact going to help you understand how to identify the types of clothes you will wear heaps and feel amazing in, I am NOT going to tell you to figure out what is most ‘flattering’ on you.
What does flattering even mean?
Now, I am not highly engaged with the bodi posi movement, and I am not an expert on or writing about that per se. But I am curious about ethical marketing, because I am ALL about doing the right thing, not the business-savvy thing (sorry bank balance!).
I see this word ‘flattering’ used a lot. Not just in marketing trying to convince us to buy stuff we won’t wear, but with good intention among friends and family too. We all want to feel like that thing we’re wearing is ‘flattering’ on us, right?!
I consulted google. Three big online dictionaries define ‘flattering’ as:
- enhancing someone’s appearance
- helping to enhance attractiveness
- making someone look or seem better or more attractive than usual
Firstly, what does ‘making someone look better than usual’ even mean? What is usual? My natural universe-given body? My make-up-less body? My day-to-day casual-messy-mum-business-woman-academic-nature-loving self? Now I’m not delusional – we all look better and not-so-amazing depending on the day/time of month/time of year/occasion. I realise that, but those definitions all rely on defining ‘attractiveness’, do they not?
I have this inkling feeling that, most of the time, when we tell someone something is ‘flattering’ on them, what we are really saying (without meaning any malice at all) is that they look thinner (or perhaps even less thin, or less curvy, or more curvy, depending on our cultural context and preferences). We’re saying that what they’re wearing makes them look more like our preferences or our culture’s beauty norms. Perhaps, we’re saying that it enhances their best features. But what does that even mean? Who dictates what someone’s best features are?
I have this dress I love…
I didn’t wear it much for the longest time, despite this deep love, because I didn’t believe it was flattering. What I actually mean is that it didn’t show off my relatively small waist, and in committing such a crime, didn’t accentuate my thinnest part. I recently decided that I love that dress. I started wearing it with a belt. I started wearing it without a belt, my waist very much hidden among metres of luxurious linen. Damnit, I love that dress.
‘Flattering’ suggests there’s something to be improved. That we look better when we hide or accentuate certain parts of ourselves. And while, on a personal level, I often want to enhance or hide parts of my appearance or body, I think that in using this term we are probably buying into all sorts of harmful social norms and media-imposed madness.
Give your poor willpower a break!
Over the past few years I have worked pretty darned hard to bolster my willpower and buy less. Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve tried to buy less of those pieces of clothing I see that are utterly beautiful but that I know I would barely wear. You know, that glorious dress that really doesn’t fit your lifestyle?!
Learning and knowing what clothes I’m going to feel amazing in and will wear over and over and over, and then buying primarily these types of styles/fits/cuts/colours has been key to a) reducing my consumption overall and b) reducing my consumption of things that will sit unworn in my wardrobe.
I like to be surrounded by beautiful things. I was embarrassed about it for the longest time, thought it didn’t sit with my values and how I saw myself. But instead of hating my visual, lover-of-all-the-pretty side, I’ve instead focused on learning how to feed that part of me more sustainably. I’ve learnt to see beauty in utility, to only see beauty in and buy things that have been made sustainably and ethically, to just buy a bit less, and to only buy the beautiful things that I know I’ll wear oodles and oodles.
You know that feeling of having nothing to wear? It’s really almost always just having nothing to wear that feels amazing and like ‘me’/ ‘you’ in that moment, right?
Learning what cuts, colours and types of clothing items we feel amazing in (even though the individual pieces might vary so much in their vibe, cut or look) can be incredibly empowering. For me, it has meant that, more often than not, when I see that divine silky slip dress released by my favourite brand, I can appreciate its beauty while also knowing that it’s not the sort of thing I wear, the cut isn’t quite my jam, and while the embroidery is RIDICULOUS (heart flutters), I have NOTHING that will go with it. My willpower needs all the help it can get, so going through my wardrobe (eek), getting really comfortable with the pieces I wear most often, and with those that I rarely if ever put on, has been a ridiculously helpful exercise. You don’t want to have to fight your heart ALL the time. Make it easy for yourself!
Handy hints from not-a-stylist Moi:
Forget figuring out what’s ‘flattering’. Instead, focus on figuring out what makes you feel epic. I don’t mean princess, ball-gown, once-a-year dressed up epic. I mean, what makes you feel like you. What is it that you gravitate towards in your wardrobe and wear day in day out? (Apparently most of us wear less than 50% of our wardrobes on a regular basis!)
And these well-worn pieces you discover? THEY are what to invest your money. I don’t know about you, but what I wear every week are 2 pairs of my many pants, 1 of my many skirts, and an array of beautifully-fitting tees.
Invest in YOUR basics (your everyday, go to’s, whether that’s a silk slip dress and heels or trackies and a tank). And next time you see a beautiful piece pop up on your insta/email, ask:
- Will I wear this MANY times?
- Will I actually feel fab in this, given what I know about what I love about my body and the styles I gravitate to (or do I just WANT to be the kind of person who would wear this?)
- Do I need it or love it?
- Do I have something super similar that maybe I’ve forgotten about or could give a second chance?
- And finally, Impose a wait-and-think period. Sometimes, just a little time makes the shine of the advertising wear off and gives you a chance to figure out if you really want or need or will wear that thing, whether you have something similar or if it will go with what you already own. And then, if you still love and want it, buy it. Because life’s short and ethically made clothes are beautiful!
And f*** flattering.
Can we boycott that word already?
Why don’t we try,
- Do you know the story of the human that made that divine dress you’re wearing?
- Those jeans look so friggin comfy.
- I love your style.
And speaking of you, what do YOU think?
Because maybe I’m overreacting. It wouldn’t be the first time.
What do you really mean when you say something’s flattering?
I did a quick insta poll, and all of the responses were really heart-centered (you beautiful bunch of people you). Responses like, “You look radiant”, and, “that outfit really shows off your gorgeousest bits”, etc. But I’m ever cynical, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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