Five for Friday: Universally flattering? I don’t agree

I’ve been thinking about body shapes and clothes and colours, and what is flattering recently.

It started with an offhand comment someone made about circle skirts, and how they are flattering on everybody.  Totally not true.  Circle skirts are one of my worst looks.  They emphasize my thick waist and short torso, make me look very pear-shaped rather than a tiny bit pear shaped, hide my awesome bottom (which I quite frankly love), and, in short, don’t look nearly as good as most other shapes do on me.

I’m not saying I look really bad in them: just that they bring the focus to all my least favourite bits and hide all my most favourite bits (ahem.  bottom.), so they aren’t flattering.

So, anyway, here are five things that are frequently held up to be universally flattering, but which I think look good one some people, and not on others, because hey, we all have different shapes and faces and skins and figures.  But that’s just my opinion.

  1. Black
    Black does not look good on everyone.  Sorry, it simply doesn’t.  In fact, I think that black is actually slightly unflattering on more people than it is flattering.  With that said, there are different shades of black, and different fabrics will reflect light differently, and it can change depending on whether the black is up around your face, or cut lower over your chest (which is a different skin tone).  Black tends to be particularly unflattering with pale winter skin and muted, dull, winter light.  And when does everyone wear black?  Winter! So bad!

    Black does, however, look awesome on me.  It’s one of my best colours.  This is something I really struggle with, because it feels so boring to just wear black all the time when there are all these amazing colours, but I also know that it makes my skin glow and turns my hair to gold and hey, I’m vain (well, is it really vanity if you want to look gorgeous all the time, but also want everyone else to look gorgeous, and don’t even mind if they look more gorgeous than you, as long as you look your best?) so I kinda do want to wear it all the time.

    Black is my colour

  2. Circle skirts
    Good on many figures.  Not the best look on slim waistless figures, or if one of your best assets is your…ummm…ass.

    50’s circle skirts & 1940s blouses.

  3. Wide belts
    Why, oh why, do all those ‘how to dress’ shows keep telling women how awesome these are?  What a great way to thicken your waist and cut your figure in half!  Some women do look great it them.  Just not all.  They are terrible on me.  I do love a good thick sash though (see the photo that goes with entry #1)!
  4. Wrap tops.
    So good on some women.  So very, very, very bad on me.  I just look no breast, all ribcage, and I see the same effect on lots of other women.

    Even a 1940s wrap dress probably isn’t a good idea on me

  5. Strapless.
    True story:  When I was wedding dress shopping (before I decided that time or no time, making a dress would be less of a headache) I asked to only try on non-strapless dresses.  This isn’t because I don’t look good in strapless dresses (I look great in them), but because I was stuck on being different (insert eyeroll here).  Anyway, one wedding dress consultant told me that “no one will know you are the bride if you don’t wear a strapless dress”.  (really?  Who else is planning to show up in a fancy white dress and might be confused with me, only their dress will have straps?).  Every other wedding dress consultant when on and on about how flattering they are.  It’s not that they are flattering: it’s just that that is what most manufacturers make.  And not only are strapless dresses not the best look on everyone, a badly fitted strapless dress is just about the worst look you can wear.  It makes me sad.

    The laurel dress as a strapless dress

So what do you think?  Have I just committed total fashion/sewing heresy?  What have I missed?  Do you like the way you look in these things, or not?


  1. Yes on the circle skirts- they are also deeply unflattering on my pear shaped self.

    On the other hand, I think black is not so bad on a lot of people! I think it looks good on more women than it looks bad on. 🙂

  2. I completely agree with the circle skirt one – they don’t do much for thicker girls or boy-shaped girls (like me) at all! Give me a good pencil skirt and that’ll bring out the curves 🙂

  3. Totally agree about the wrap dress bit — I don’t think I’ve ever tried one on that I have found flattering. That said, I always shied away from circle skirts ’till I got one (from the darling Megan over at PrettyPrettyPretty.com) at a clothing swap. Although I have a narrow torso and sticks for legs, it actually seems to work!

    Maybe you could do a sort of Trinny & Susannah type guide, Leimomi, on what flatters certain figures. I’m not talking pear/apple/hourglass, but more: “If you have sloping shoulders, wear…” or “If you were a former swimmer and have enormous shoulders, try…”

    Or maybe describe The Ultra-Perfect Figure for Each Historical Period!

    • Ooh, I’d love to hear about historical perfect figures! I’ve got to have the right shape for SOME point in history!

      • I wouldn’t say ‘historically perfect’. More ‘historically ideal’. But even then, there are lots of people with figures that aren’t the ‘ideal’ for an era who still look gorgeous in the clothes, and lots of historical beauties that weren’t the ideal of their era. But I will try to do a post on it.

        • Elise says

          I think that’s the best part of this blog: We are all included, and we all have an opportunity to glom to the times that suit us each best!

    • I actually find wrap dresses a little better than wrap tops, but they are still tricky. I’ve owned two that worked on me. One does minimize my bust, but it also minimizes my ribcage, so it balances.

      I don’t like the Trinny & Suzannah type guides, because there are an infinite number of bodies, so it isn’t just “do you have sloping shoulders” but “do you have sloping shoulders and a long neck/short neck/slim neck/thick neck. Are your shoulders wide and sloping, or narrow and sloping? Do they have prominent bones, or are they round? Are they sloping and round, or sloping and square at the ends? Do your sloping shoulders have dents in the slope? And what about your bust? Are you small or large”. Really, every body is totally different. Just wear what you are happy with, and what makes you feel good 🙂

      But I will talk about historical beauty ideals!

      • Oooh. Another vote for talking about historical beauty ideals. That sounds fascinating. ^_^

        • Yay for historical beauty ideals! I’m envisioning a new series of posts that complement your terminology ones…

          (I was once told by an artist that I have “flat bones.” I’ve always wondered what that meant, and if she was enjoying drawing them or found it difficult.)

      • Another vote for the historical beauty ideals “talk” – or just talk about your models in your clothes, if they are willing to participate. 🙂 I’m always fascinated by how much beauty there is, with all those different women and different clothes.

  4. Mona says

    You make many good points! Why is strapless considered the pretty much only acceptable wedding style dress? (Even my wedding dress was strapless. Myy friend gifted me her old one, a wonderful raw silk dress otherwise far out of my price range. I did wear a high-necked, long-sleeved 1890’s style lace bolero over it). It’s not only the bride, also the bridesmaids, I saw a funny picture lately: bridesmaids photographed from the back, sitting in church pews – no straps or sleeves in sight – looking naked 😉

  5. Mona says

    You make many good points! Why is strapless considered the pretty much only acceptable wedding style dress? (Even my wedding dress was strapless. Myy friend gifted me her old one, a wonderful raw silk dress otherwise far out of my price range. I did wear a high-necked, long-sleeved 1890’s style lace bolero over it). It’s not only the bride, also the bridesmaids, I saw a funny picture lately: bridesmaids photographed from the back, sitting in church pews – no straps or sleeves in sight – looking naked 😉
    I like circle skirts for myself, and rarely wear black – personally I think navy blue or dark grey are much nicer.

    • Hehe. I can see how that photograph would work. Your idea of wearing a bolero sounds gorgeous.

      Navy and dark grey don’t suit me, but I love that women use them as alternatives to black.

  6. I hate strapless with a fiery burning passion…and I especially hate that they are almost the only kind of wedding gowns you can find.

    Burning. Passion.

    Every time I try on a strapless dress all I see is flesh, flesh flesh flesh. I feel naked, cold, and so very exposed.


    • Are you trying on wedding gowns now? If so, as bad as it may be, it’s a dozen times better than it was 7 years ago when I tried to find a wedding dress. The only ones with straps then were cut down to the dimples in back and the navel in front. It’s still hard to find a dress with straps now, but at least sweet is in!

      • swuuj says

        @abbyleyn: Me, too. And most women seem to feel uncomfortable in strapless dresses, they collapse or constantly pull at the top.

        @The Dreamstress: I really enjoy reading your blog. Your dresses are awesome! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
        In Germany, wedding gowns are usually strapless as well. 13 years ago, I was lucky to find one with belly top and fishtail .. uk-designed, actually.

        • I’m feeling the strapless dress hate too! Sooo many summer dresses or beach cover ups are strapless (and the bridal gowns, ugh). My A-cup chest can neither hold up a strapless garment or fill it out, making me look even flatter than any other garment. And yes, at least now more boatneck or strappy wedding gowns can be found, thank goodness!

  7. I’m so with you on “black isn’t always best!” My alternatives right now are dark jewel tones – blues, greens, teals, purples – and very dark chocolate brown.

  8. Nope. You’re on the money across all areas here. I can’t stand strapless wedding gowns – and hate that everyone wears them because the majority of time it doesn’t look good! I honestly thought it was a cheap and easy way out for wedding dress designers. Fitting shoulders into the picture makes a dress harder to adjust/fit and is just generally more complicated. I’ve yet to try circle skirts and I’m a little suspicious of them to be honest. As for black, can’t stand it either. I live in Melbourne, which is famous for wearing black, which means I’m the only commuter in a bright royal blue coat or a red suit. I like that.

    • Sigh. Places that are famous for wearing black. Melbourne. Wellington, the whole South Island, New York, San Francisco. London. It’s so sad!

      • Montreal too! Egads! So much “very chic” black! It’s especially hilarious in the dead of winter when there’s a foot and a half of snow on the ground and we’re all scampering across the white in solid black…looks like ants from high up.

        (You’re totally on point with all of these, by the way. I’m lucky enough to be fine on the top 3 but I have wrap top issues as well–though the all breast, no torso kind–and far too much, er, poitrine/upper chest area? what is that even called, above your bustline? to wear a strapless without it looking like it’s falling down at all times…)

    • The centre of Brno in winter, too. Not the whole of it. It’s rather funny – it’s a small city; move a few blocks away to the proximity of the Faculty of Arts and the outfits change completely. 😉

  9. Kate says

    Black — so I look like a large BLACK blob, hmmm. Wide belts, not good on the short, and stapless . . . let’s just say “No”. — I would go with small straps, a drop waist that drops at the front and back but stays at the side waist.

  10. Yes, I agree to all, especially the strapless dress thing. Just what every bride wants, back cleavage.

  11. You are so right!!
    Wide belts…you’re right.
    Black…you’re right.
    Circle skirts…ditto.
    You looking good in black and strapless…ditto.

    Ok, you are right on everything here. ha ha! And I know what you mean about strapless dresses! Please! A few years ago my sister (DD girl) there wasn’t ANYTHING else. And when we pointed this out all the consultants said…oh we can put straps on any of them. Yeah, useless little things that didn’t do anything to hide the spillage, cleavage or back cleavage….or shelf boobs. 🙂 Glad there are a FEW more options these days.

    One thing you missed… sheath dresses. They say everyone looks good in them. Um…not everyone, thank you ma’am!


    • Well, thank you! It’s good to be right 😉

      And gosh, you’re poor sister! At least I knew I looked decent in them if I had to suck it up and buy one!

      Yep. I’ll add sheath dresses as a bonus 6th.

    • I too feel your sister’s pain. For future reference, adequate boning would probably have fixed the issue. A couple of strips of plastic boning on the seamlines is just not adequate for boobs that size, and it bends when it encounters body heat, thus creating the dreaded “booby shelf”. 1/4″ spiral boning would probably have done the job a lot better.

      • Actually, she ended up making her own dress and it was beautiful. That’s a good idea to use spiral boning! I’ll have to keep it in mind in case that’s all I can find when I get married. I hope not though!


  12. You know, I’ve never ever tried on a circle skirt – and I’m dying o know if they would be awesome or awful on me!

    Other styles “truths” that I question would be skinny jeans and midi and mullet skirts… but those are much more fleetingly trendy styles.

    • Really? You’ve never tried a circle skirt? I tried for years before acknowledging they weren’t a happy thing on me.

      And I don’t think anyone even tries to claim that skinny jeans and mullet skirts are universally flattering. The most they can try is that they look good on someone, somewhere, so we should all wear them! 😉

  13. Black: I’m too much of a Wellingtonian to evaluate that claim objectively.

    Circle skirts: I’m with you there. Back when I was still wearing skirts circle skirts were one of my favourite types precisely because they hide the ass. My figure does not put the “ass” in “asset”.

    Wide belts: agreed.

    Wrap tops: for some reason these make me uncomfortable. I’m not sure why.

    Strapless dresses: fine if they fit, but a total disaster if they don’t. And so very often they don’t. I find it quite hard to get a good fit on a strapless dress.

  14. Laura says

    I just love black with pale winter skin. But I’m a goth. You also look lovely in black. But it IS true that not everyone looks good in black. I actually like darker skintones rather less in black. I think only people with a yellowish tone to their skin look BAD in black, and maybe nothing quite goes right with that.

    I’m sort of the same with circle skirts. I don’t know that they look BAD on anyone, but they’re definitely not the best on everyone.

  15. “no one will know you are the bride if you don’t wear a strapless dress”.
    As if the bride would be able to tell her dress apart from another bride’s dress.
    They all look the same except some beading here, different skirt there or some aloft draping around the legs.
    Personally I think it’s a way to keep from having to alter sleeves for anyone over size 16.

  16. Natalie says

    When I was wedding dress shopping I told every place I went to that I absolutely refused to wear strapless. It’s not that I don’t like it it’s that I have big girls and I wanted to wear a real bra. I didn’t know then that if the strapless was fitted correctly it could work. But I’m glad i didn’t take the chance.

    As for a wide belt I’m short and short waisted. A belt makes me look fat.

    And while I love circle skirts they swallow me up. I keep trying though.

  17. Jordan says

    I So agree with most of these comments. I don’t like wraps at all. I look like a rugby player if I wear a strapless dress and wide belts do not help me at all, even though I’m lucky to have a narrow waist (Not hips though – sigh).

    Haven’t decided about circle skirts yet.

  18. This is so funny, because almost all the issues you mentioned are EXACTLY the same for me, only for completely different reasons as we have very different shapes!

    Black is my best colour – it makes my skin creamy and brings out the red highlights in my hair. Circle skirts don’t work at ALL – I have a fairly narrow waist, but between my full bust and my full hips, there’s just too much fabric. Wide belts are mostly okay, actually, but I’m tall, so they’re not *as* wide on me as on many others! Wrap tops – just make me look shapeless, and as wide as my bosom all the way down. And strapless… well, I suspect if I were 30 pounds lighter, I’d look good in a strapless dress. That was VERY well designed so as not to fall off. But I think unless you’re the size and build of a runway model, strapless tends to be unflattering more often than not!

    Also- on the topic of strapless wedding gowns – I’d never wear one, because I have this oldfashioned idea about looking modest and virtuous on my wedding day. I don’t think that is very easily achieved in a strapless gown (especially on my figure.) Plus I would be constantly worried that it would fall off!

  19. LadyD says

    I’m competely opposite on all of the points everything mentioned flatters me…well except the strapless top (and wide belt depends on where it is placed I either look even shorter or my waist looks tiny depends on where its put). But that shows different shapes/personalities suit different things. I have an hourglass shape…but I’m always trying to disguise the fact and make myself more ‘up n down’ shaped.
    When it comes to wearing black I tend to avoid it just coz I think its a bit…well a bit like a uniform, it has to be black with patterns for me like a black floralprint. But then I go for prints more than block colours in general.
    Because I’m on the short side most clothing has to be the right ‘length’ to flatter me or else I look either squat or like a kid wearing adults clothes.

  20. For me black is extremely flattering, if it’s on my bottom half!
    Admittedly it’s not as bad as olive, that makes me look like I was buried a week ago.
    Not sure on wrap tops, though I seem to recall having one some years back and it did work on me, back then I had a waist. Now it probably wouldn’t work so well.
    On the wide belts, like the wrap top they used to work…..
    Never done strapless as they don’t feel secure to me, probably because I’ve never been in one that’s properly fitted.
    Full circle skirts look ok on me, I wear them for how they feel though, even at 41 I still love to twirl 🙂

  21. My goodness, are there really people who thing that one look fits all? Well, of course it does, but still…

    I have been told that I shoulde wear wrap tops because I have large breasts. What happens in a lot of the cases is that the wrap slip and slide and I show off my bra very well- which I don’t particulary aim too…

    • Louise says

      Having a G-cup myself Iknow what you mean, the gaping is awful.

      I always wonder who came up with the idea that large breasted women should wear wrap tops, because the ones you can buy in stores just dont work. They are always made for people with a B-cup or there about. But maybe they could work if there were any made for the bustier women.

  22. I love black but it’s not always my best color. I think you’re right, it does depend on the type of fabric, style, etc. I tend to stick with earth tones for the most part and occasionally wear something bright just to change things up a bit. I have mixed feelings about circle skirts. I like them but I’m not sure I like them on me. I love a nice pencil skirt or a nice 1940s style with just a bit of flare.

    As for strapless wedding gowns, I’m glad to hear that others have similar feelings. There’s very little variety out there! I’ve been dress shopping a number of times with friends and family members (hopefully I’ll get to shop for myself one of these days). All the dresses out there just look the same to me. And yes, all the consultants say “we can add straps!” but really they don’t do much. Strapless gowns -wedding gowns and bridesmaids- look great on some but on my figure I feel like I don’t have enough to keep the dress up!

  23. I really believe there is no such thing as universally flattering. I have been a bridesmaid enough to prove this. I look great in black, wide belts, and strapless, but I have friends who don’t.
    As good as I look in strapless, I chose to avoid it when I got married too, the lady that made my frock suggested a slight cap sleeve, and noone I know had a cap sleeve wedding dress, so I went for it. actually, I have never, ever seen a wedding dress like mine. Even without strapless, the ivory color, cage veil, and bouquet announced to every passing stranger that I was a bride.
    Circle skirts just emphasize the fact that I am a short, plus size, apple shaped woman with way too big breasts. I can kinda get away with it on a 1950s style dress (but still not as flattering on me as a sheath), but somehow it never works with a skirt and blouse.
    wrap shirts and dresses are hit or miss for me, it all depends on where the waist hits, material, how low cut, etc. sometimes they look great, sometimes they make my boobs look way too matronly.
    I saw someone mention sheath dresses. These look great on me whether I am at my thinner hourglass shape or my fatter apple shape but I have a few friend who look horrid in sheath and shift dresses.
    I personally think there are only 2 things that are universally flattering. The first is a smile, we are all more beautiful when we smile (even me with my jacked up teeth). The second is the birthday suit that mother nature gave us, we are all more beautiful naked. In clothes (and I do love clothes) I frequently look fat and dumpy, naked, I feel curvy and worthy of a renaissance painting.

    • That is so sweet Lynn! I definitely agree with the smile! And I may look good in my birthday suit, but I don’t like to show it off 😉

  24. Yes! To pretty much all of this, but especially the wide belt. I hate the wide belt. I rarely see someone improve their look with the wide belt. For me–I already have a pretty defined waist, and a wide belt would actually mask it. Can this trend/advice just go away, please?

    And black doesn’t look good on everyone, but it least it doesn’t look as awful as some “try wearing it, you’ll love it! Anyone can wear it!” colors I’ve heard suggested, like yellow. Yes, it’s a happy color. But it makes me look like I have consumption. Which is, ironically, not at all happy.

    • Ah, you see I’m a fan of yellow. I do think that yellow can suit everyone, but it has to be the right shade of yellow. There are so many shades! Cool yellows, warm yellows, muted yellows, vivid yellows. It’s all about the right one for you. I’ve found the Ninon dress suits a whole range of people who think they can’t wear yellow. My theory is is that it’s a combination of how low cut the dress is, and how luminous the fabric is. All that sheen and luminosity just makes your skin glow. Shiny yellow polyester will never have that effect!

    • The same here with wide belts! I do have a waist, very much so, so why put additional layers on top of it? 😉

      And I agree with Dreamstress that there are all sorts of yellows and I think if you search long enough you may find the one that suits you. But unless you’re lucky, you’re not very likely to find it as the trendy colour in all the shops, no matter what the fashion advice of the day is.

      • Indeed. And that is why I do a little happy dance every time something that I like becomes ‘trendy’, and then I go out and stock up! And it’s also why it’s great that we can sew – and dye fabric!

  25. I hear you! Completely agree.
    1. I love black and I wore a lot of it when I was younger. I don’t look that bad in it (far from it) but it’s hard to see what you are doing when sewing black, and I am bored of it now. Plus gray is much neater and more versatile! When I was in high school in Italy no one wore black but me and the Goth kids. Now I work in an office in the UK, everybody wears black and I do my best not to! Trust me to be that kid.

    2. I would love to wear circle skirts but they seem to exaggerate my waist-to-hip ratio, which doesn’t need any exaggerating.

    3. For the same reason I can’t do big belts, they just look like they are “sitting” on my hips, shifting everywhere and always out of place and messy.

    4. Wrap tops just cling to wrong places when I try them on. I am pretty sure I have never owned one.

    5. The strapless is a massive pet hate of mine.
    I got married in a silk cocktail dress by a UK brand called Coast. It had straps, a bias cut skirt and big stripes of brown, blue, gold and lilac. I am no longer married but the dress stayed. It gets dry cleaned and handled with extreme care, since it is timeless and I have got so much wear out of it.
    I do not get the strapless at all. A lot of girls I know have done it and it doesn’t work unless you are super-toned on your upper body. Otherwise it looks like you’re carrying sausages under your arms, baguette-style, and if you are lucky enough to have a solid marriage why would you want to look at pictures of yourself looking like that for life?

  26. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Oh please do talk about historical ideals, I would love to learn about how the ideal figure has changed over the centuries! I’m tall with broad shoulders and a very oval shaped face so I think I fit the 18th century ideal better than any other.

    I totally agree with you, NOTHING is flattering to everyone. People come in an endless array of shapes, sizes and colours, saying one style looks good on everyone is as crazy as saying “one size fits all”. That phrase really makes me mad, look at a picture of Sultan Kosen and He Pingping and then tell me that one garment in one size can fit everyone. You can’t generalize the entire human race, it’s ridiculous. Black looks good on a lot of people but not everyone, I usually wear black because it looks good on me, but I have a very cheerful friend who looks best in very cheerful colours and black looks dull and drab on her.

    I hate strapless dresses, even if the wearer has the right kind of shoulders it still makes their bust look like a loaf of bread. I have seen ones with a bit more shaping at the top but most of them go straight across and look awkward and boring. I would never wear strapless, I would feel very exposed and be terrified that it would fall down. Strapless dresses hang off of the parts that they are supposed to be supporting and holding up. They are evil.

  27. I agree with you. NO one look is flattering on *everybody*, though some looks work well on a lot of people.

    Of the ones you discuss above, all look well on me except for strapless tops (unless they’re made entirely from spandex, they just don’t fit me and look weird) and circle skirts (which, frankly, I’ve never tried).

    Re: historical ideas. The ancient Romans were big on small breasts and wide hips for women; I’ve written a bit about the subject here.

  28. As recently as 15 years ago, a bride had to get permission from the priest to wear a strapless dress in church (something I often had to remind them of -nothing stresses a bride more than the church refusing to let her wear the dream dress she just forked out for!) and I can only assume that the church has succumbed! I loathe the universality of the strapless dress. NEVER has wedding fashion been so stuck in a rut as it is now.
    As for black, one very important reason why it is not flattering is that it is flat. Shows no contrast shadows against itself so the wearer looks 2-D. SO the myth that a big baggy black top is ‘slimming’ is such utter bollocks. It is just a big sign saying ‘I hate my body” really. Unless it is cinched in but a wide belt over a circle skirt! (just kidding!)

      • Oddly and perversely, I really like the sound of that, but not on either of us! hehehe Joie??!!

        • Well, I could do the strapless and black, and actually a strapless wrap effect isn’t bad ;-). Black isn’t Joie’s best colour – that Kiwi complexion. She rocks her vivid colours.

          • Joie de Vivre says

            Thanks Dreamstress! The lady who did my colour analysis a couple of years decided I had a cool palette which puts black within (which thrilled me to bits!) but vivid colours will always be what makes my heart sing 🙂

            My next dress project is a black background with very vivid coloured print so I get the best of both with that one! Can’t wait.

        • Joie de Vivre says

          I just read through 22 posts and over 400 comments in my blog reader and when I found the comment from The Dreamstress I earmarked it to reply to. Was highly entertained a few minutes later to see Mrs C single me out, hehehe! I don’t do strapless as a rule as I’m a bit risk averse – the girls only go on display when I say so and not a minute before – but I’d totally do a black top with a wide belt and a circle skirt! And for this I’d be willing to try strapless wrapped – although for the life of me I can’t figure out how that would work?

  29. I agree with you on all counts.
    Strapless dresses look great on women with willowy figures and toned upper bodies. That leaves a lot of us out of the picture.
    Black as a universal color? Not so much. Another really annoying thing? Almost all mother-of-the-bride/groom in plus sizes these days are a)sleeveless and b)black or champagne. Even the winter fashions!
    I love the look of circle skirts on some of my friends. I’ve never tried one myself as I don’t like the way I look in 2 piece ensembles. [Except for jeans and tshirts, which are pretty much my uniform]

    • What about dresses with circle skirts? To me those are pretty much the same as a circle skirt in who they look good in or don’t.

    • Elise says

      Nope. I’m tall, do yoga LOTS. But my teeny boobies (really, what word should I use?) look terrible in strapless. I look like someone globbed some clay on my front and put some fabric over it. I think that strapless looks terrible on everyone. I feel like an awkward feather duster!

  30. I have mixed feelings on most of these points, though I agree that they are NOT universally flattering. I have black clothes that look good on me and some that look awful. Circle skirts can emphasize the drama of my small waist (28″) and relatively huge hips (38″) but can also over-emphasize the hip portion and make me look fat, particularly if the waistline of the dress/skirt is low. Wide belts work high on my rib cage to soften the waist-to-hip line, but can make me look horribly disproportionate if misplaced because I have a short torso (this is also the issue with waistline placement on circle skirts). I don’t, however, have mixed feelings about strapless because it almost always looks terrible on me, especially when paired with “babydoll” cuts. Designers these days seem to think that gathering tops and dresses at the center front with an empire waist is universally flattering but the only thing it seems to do universally is make every woman look pregnant! Far from diminishing my stomach, it emphasizes it.

    I also have issues with the basic button-down blouse. I simply look bad in button-downs. Maybe if I made one myself I could fit it to my curves (as described above, with 32C’s) but every one I’ve ever owned or even tried on has been terribly unflattering. They always completely obliterate my waist and sometimes my chest as well. But it will be some time before I try to make one for myself considering that I just spent two days pulling my hair out making one for a toddler using a pattern with amazingly unhelpful directions. Maybe I will have to start small and alter some shirts I already own.

  31. Emily says

    I dunno, I’m dealthly pale and look great in black! but I agree with you on a lot of the other rules.

    • Ah, I don’t think it’s necessarily people who are always deathly pale who look bad in black, but people who would normally warm and tan up a little in summer, but who go a bit purple-y or pale but sallow in winter who generally don’t suit black.

  32. I must confess that I love all of the things you mentioned except for strapless dresses. In fact, this is almost too coincidental to be believable, but my favorite dress my first year of teaching was a black, wrap style, circle skirted dress with a wide belt…

    I loved my non-strapless wedding dress, but boy was it ever hard to find! Seriously, how is constantly tugging your dress up attractive in any way?

  33. Black Tulip says

    A post on historical beauty ideals sounds good to me. I do a number of events with Roman re-enactors, and I’ve been on cloud nine since reading Catherine’s blog earlier in the week and discovering that my small boobs/wide hips combo was THE look for the period. Joy!

    As for strapless wedding dresses – this had passed me by until I was asked to alter a wedding dress for a friend’s daughter. She had wanted something with sleeves, but drew a complete blank. She managed to find a sleeveless dress with a long train, and we sacrificed a bit of the train to make cap sleeves. Since then I’ve paid more attention, and I’ve been stunned by the way that strapless dresses rule the wedding dress world. Love the “No-one will know you’re the bride” comment.

  34. Nope, I totally agree with you on all these!! I look pretty dead in black and wide belts look ridiculous on me as I’m only 5’3″ and short-waisted, so you can imagine that just makes me look like I don’t have a torso, only boobs!

  35. You are so right about this! Strapless dresses and wide belts have confused me for decades. You look freakin amazing in that photo.

  36. Strapless wedding gowns have ruled the world far too long. I should know. There’s a wedding parlor next to our students’s flat, and it seems like the display has not changed in ten years. Boring!

    Re: circle skirts – I think it also depends on what kind of circle skirt it is. There are different ways you can cut and sew a circle skirt, with different grainlines, and it changes a lot. My sister’s kathak dancing skirt is made up of 42 gores, which makes it a circle skirt with the grain running vertically all around. The effect is quite different from circle skirts without so much seaming. It actually looks much more like the skirt of a Renaissance gown than the 50s look you would normally associate with “circle skirt”, even though both would form a circle when spread out flat.

    • Too true. Changing the skirt cut can change it a great deal and can help a lot, and I daresay one with 42 gores is VERY attractive, but not one you’d be able to buy, make in a hurry, or wear every day.

  37. I’m so, so late to this, but I was really struck by how much I identified with these as well. In particular, circle skirts, wrap tops, and strapless. And my figure is SO different from yours, too, which further proves the point that these are not universal truths! I’m a pear with a defined waist, which makes it seem that a circle skirt would be ideal. But my hips are WIDE and true cut-from-one-piece circle skirts make my hips look truly twice as wide and flat across the back. Wrap tops blur the difference between my bust and waist, minimizing what I have in one place and adding to the other. And strapless does the same, besides eliminating any neckline, shoulder, or sleeve to balance out the hips. Crazy!

  38. Mary says

    I’m extremely late to this, but seriously, I hate when people say black is good for everyone. I look AWFUL in black. It gives me a sallow complexion and my eyes lose all their brightness. Don’t even get me started on strapless dresses.

  39. Helen says

    I agree – especially with strapless dresses! I have broad shoulders, a very small chest and a somewhat bony upper body, strapless tops and dresses always look like they are on the verge of falling off and make me look like a rectangle! I have sewn straps onto otherwise lovely strapless garments just to balance me out a bit and I can’t wear overbust corsets without something covering my shoulders (though most of them gape so much over my chest that I opt for underbust anyway). The one-size-fits-all advice I hear coming out the mouths of some fashionistas is ridiculous.

  40. Lucy says

    Circle skirts, wide belts (when worn on the waist) and wrap tops are MADE for my skinny hourglass figure, but black?? Yuck! I think about 1 in 4 people look absolutely STUNNING in black, but it’s certainly not for everyone!

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