Putting on clothes and looking good relies entirely on proportion and balance. It doesn’t matter what the number on the tag says. Those numbers are more like guidelines than actual sizes. The truth is sometimes that 8 will not fit me the way I believe that 8 should fit me or how other 8-sized clothes have fit me in the past. But do I get frustrated with that 8? NO. I am the boss of my clothes – they ain’t the boss of me. If I have to go up a size, no big deal. What matters is where that hem hits, what the neckline looks like, the length, the cut, the seaming, the material…fit and proportion are my primary concerns when it comes to clothes. Everything else is a bonus.
Like everybody else, I work with the constraints of my body type. I’m a short, curvy woman. How short? I include an important Almost in my height. I’m Almost 5′ 3″. That’s how short I am. How curvy? I’m not going to tell you. I know this is the internet, but I have standards. So I’m short and curvy, but I can control how I other people see me. It goes beyond throwing on high heels to give me another couple of inches (but that helps). Proportions control perceptions. This is clothing magic and wardrobe sleight of hand, full of distraction, illusion, smoke, and mirrors.
Day 1: Magic Shirt
When I first tried this shirt on, I knew that it was going to be a winner. I’ve had it for years and I’m going to wear it until it disintegrates. It combines different proportion magics.
Proportion Magic 1: Wide Shoulders. This shirt gives the impression of cap sleeves without actually having cap sleeves. The style lines in the print aren’t cut off and they flow from shoulder to hem, which the eye translates to length, which translates to tallness. The width of the shoulders balances out the peplum, making the waist look little in comparison.
Proportion Magic 2: Faux Wrap. I love the look of a wrap shirt or a wrap dress, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle of real wrap style. Fake that wrap. The wrap creates a deep v neckline and that lengthens everything out, translating to tallness. The style lines in the print and in the gathers meet up at the natural waist and have a party. If this shirt was your friend, it would be the really nice friend who compliments you to other people and says things like, “Look at Ashley’s waist – look at how cute it is!” It draws attention in the kindest way.
My goal for this outfit was to create the illusion of being taller and a couple of people told me I looked taller, so it was a WIN. The shirt does most of the work in this outfit, since it has all those great vertical lines (drawing the eyes up and down) and drawing attention to a high waist (giving the impression that my legs start high up and are therefore longer). I pulled out all the trickery for this one – I wore jeans that hit slightly above the ankle and added heels.
Heels add height, but the shape of the heels can add even more to the perception of height. If you are trying to make your legs look longer, choose an open-front pump over a heeled bootie or a t-strap heel, because those styles will cut up the sight lines. You want an uninterrupted line from the top of your leg to the top of your toes.
Other sneaky details – statement stud earrings to draw the eye up, darker eye makeup and paler lips (again, to draw attention upwards), hair up (everything UP), a little detail on the toes of the shoes. Focus is controllable – the focal points for this outfit were my eyes, my waist, and my toes. This forces the eye to travel vertically – it’s all illusion. I am still only Almost 5′ 3″, but the impression is taller than that. Now you know my secrets!
Day 2: Minimizing the top half
I have been very blessed up top, which is great. Most of the time. But sometimes I want to downplay the top half, just to make it appear more proportionate with everything else. For this outfit, I started with this lovely thrift store skirt. It has a lot of print and a lot of volume. Super comfy and great for dancing! Twirl twirl twirl.
To balance out the skirt, I wanted to keep the top simple and streamlined. I chose a black tank top. The scoop neck opened up my face and neck and added some length. I steered clear of t-shirts with short sleeves, because short sleeves create a horizontal sight line right across the bust and I was trying to avoid that. Visually, the tank top created a rectangle (rather than inverted triangle) – does that make sense? The skirt was already a triangle, so I didn’t want another triangle on the top. Now, you can have the triangle-on-top and triangle-on-the-bottom shape, but it emphasizes the hips and the bust (and makes the waist look small in comparison). For a less exaggerated look, mix up the shapes.
The jean jacket helped with the summer work challenge of heat outside and air conditioning inside. I think cold air conditioning is a wonderful challenge to have. Love air conditioning. Light-colored wedge shoes helped lengthen my legs, which in turn helped out with the skirt length, which was a little longer than I would normally wear.
Day 3: Built-In Structure
The print made me pick this dress off the rack, but the complicated structure was what sold me. The designer formed the bodice by stitching together thin strips of fabric into parallel diagonal lines. The skirt flares out, but not too full. The top and bottom balance each other out. This is more of a triangle-triangle, but the tailored structure keeps it from getting too exaggerated.
This dress does all the work. I added a belt for some pattern mixing fun, but the shape doesn’t depend on the belt.
I love finding clothes that have interesting seams and some good architecture going on. A t-shirt dress is comfy, but it doesn’t get me excited. A structured blazer gets me excited. I love clothes that are engineered to fit a woman’s shape. So much math and precision and practical magic goes into a wonderful fit. Sometimes the things that aren’t immediately obvious are the best parts. SEAMS, everybody. The unsung heroes of clothing.
Day 4: Tee and Jeans
My sister-in-law gave me this gray t-shirt on Wednesday night, so I thought I’d give it a try on Thursday. There are a few design features in this shirt that really work. First, the sleeve length and fit – it’s a fitted sleeve and it comes down to the elbow. Elbow sleeves, cap sleeves, or three-quarter sleeves are usually more flattering and visually interesting than a straight-across short sleeve that hits right at the bust. If a tee looks too boxy, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them into a modified cap sleeve. Sleeves can change a look. The other nice thing is that hem goes up slightly on the sides – it softens the sight line across the hips and makes them look narrower.
I added my new favorite black pants. You can’t see it in the picture, but they have a tuxedo ribbon on the sides. Or (as I like to think of it) a Han Solo stripe. That kind of detail makes me disproportionately happy. A little thing can produce a great deal of happy.
The goal for this outfit was to create a look that was sleek and cool. The shirt is slightly oversized and soft, so I had to fight against its casualness. That’s why I added a big statement necklace – it’s probably my most Cleopatra accessory. It’s pretty major – rows and rows of faux pearls with sparkles thrown in just for fun. The shoes pulled their weight as well – they added a sleekness to the whole look. It was a fun challenge to start with a casual piece, then balance out the outfit by adding some structure and some prettiness.
Day 5: A Simple Distraction
I wanted to include some horizontal stripes in this post, because so many people say tell curvy women to avoid stripes. It all depends on the stripe width and the structure of the top. I’ve tried on t-shirts that look like I just escaped from prison, so I avoid those, but I really like striped shirts. It usually come down to the fit.
This top is a good length for me – it hits right around the hip bone and the ruffle sleeves add an interesting detail to an otherwise basic top. It also happens to be a little boxy, which can be a little problematic visually (especially when combined with horizontal stripes). Here’s where distraction and trickery comes in. The human eye is pretty lazy – it just wants to something to settle on and it is drawn to blank white spaces. So this boxy white shirt can turn into a canvas for whatever you want – a necklace, a scarf, or a tie (as demonstrated). I used this black satin belt as a makeshift tie, because I wanted to draw the eye up and down, rather than side to side. Without the tie, the eye would take in the square whiteness of the shirt. With the tie, the eye is drawn to the center and up to the face. All is Illusion.
You control your appearance and what you show to other people. You can control more than you think. These ideas are just a few of the many ways to play with proportion and perception and focal points. When you pick your outfit, think about what you want to highlight or what you want to downplay, then choose clothes around that. Just like magic.