Dress the Little Unladylike Lady (Style-filter: Short, sharp, and curvy)
September 2, 2020 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Short woman asks: Please help me define my style, give it a conceptual name, and find visual inspiration and specific pieces to consider. Everything's terrible, trying things on in stores is a no-go...so please give me your suggestions on clothing and styling so I can collect images and have a mental framework before I turn my closet over for the fall/winter.

Background: Ever since DSime posted about the process of identifying one's own style, I've been trying to understand what I want my clothing to say about me. (cnidaria's terrific question about sea witch-styling is amazing in its clarity of vision, and I am shamelessly borrowing from its framework.) I've lost some weight and put on muscle, and it's a good point at which to re-think how I dress myself. If only I understood how.

Overall vibe: A favorite fall outfit is a crisp white shirt with a fitted chocolate brown zippered vest (hides the dreaded button-front boobgap), bootcut jeans, and cowboy boots, which my daughter refers to as "Han Solo casual day." But I love it because every piece flatters and functions; it's comfortable, too, and I could hop out of a vehicle and help with a project, if need be. (I do recognize that this look won't go to work, but I love the sensibility. I want the courage to wear my thrifted motorcycle jacket like it's useful gear, and not a costume--just as I wish to for dresses and skirts.) I would like someone looking at me to think "Now there goes a woman who knows how to dress her curves, but who might also be hiding a sharp-edged object somewhere in her attire. [True, I do love my multitool.] She's cute, but also has a hardness [pragmatism/steel core/readiness] to her." Badass dumpling? Sharp curves? I think I need help putting words to what I'm looking for. What is this style?

Physical considerations: I am short. Not particularly petite (in the sense of fine-boned), but with athletic legs, a discernible though short waist, large bust, good arms. My feet are not narrow, but I do like a heel I can walk in all day. Work is casual-dressy.

Silhouette: Fit and flare in dresses and shirt/skirt combos, skater dresses, I guess? (fiercecupcake suggested a possibility, here) I also love, love, love my bootcut jeans because in fall and winter I wear cowboy boots as often as I can. I am a small hourglass. Nothing boxy, nothing flowy or boho, nothing with decoration (no breast pockets, no button-fronts, no sequins/appliques/rhinestones, no large patterns or prints). Clean, simple lines; my frame is easily overwhelmed. I do best with V-neck/scoop in tops; above-the-knee in skirts and dresses. If I could figure out how to incorporate vests, that would be good. My favorite skirt right now was made by Puma--it's a b&w striped swingy, flared tennis skort with a POCKET. Most pants just don't fit me.

Colors: Chocolate brown, paprika, cream, mustard, rusty orange; warm fall colors.

Accessories: I do not understand belts! I wish I did.They...hold pants up? But I can't figure out how they work with a dress on a short woman. I would like badass hair accessories--metal/leather/wood, for preference. I wear very little jewelry, but have been loving hammered metal or otherwise simple cuffs (my hands are big, and my wrists are not delicate). Something less refined than steampunk, more on the industrial side--my perfect hair accessory would look like something repurposed from a machinist's shop. Boots, boots, boots, cowboy, horsey, high-cut, or else Dansko Maryjanes/clogs; summer is leather sandals, but favoring showing less toe. Shoes are tools, and I have to be able to live/walk in them. I keep hearing that wrap dresses are my friend, but they've never worked for me; ELI5 camisoles, please?

Size: Usually S; medium top if it's slim-cut. Pants (if I must) are currently a 4/4P.

Materials: My current shape requires a little stretch. I'd love the perfect cotton shirt, but no buttons down the front. Leather shoes/boots for preference. More cotton/wool/leather/metal than silk. Cleaning blood and feathers from my clothing is not unheard of, so dry clean only stuff is mostly out.

Styling: HELP, please. I can get myself dressed, but that's about it. How would you toughen up a fit and flare or skater dress? How can edge and curve coexist happily?

I feel ridiculous even asking this question, and thank you in advance for ideas, advice, images, and inspiration.
posted by MonkeyToes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
To toughen up a fit and flair dress, especially headed into fall, I would look to leather jewelry (bracelets, leather instead of chain necklaces). I’d look for some lace up boots that you like with a dress. Combat boots at one end of the spectrum and Oxford lace up boots at the other end.
posted by natasha_k at 9:21 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]

You could come up with a style moniker and style goals for yourself. Your style descriptor can guide your dressing and buying decisions. Your question here could be your style goals (example: look for those leather and metal accessories on Etsy).

If you shop retail or second-hand, I would narrow down some brands and that suit your aesthetic and stick with them because they will likely create the same sort of look year after year. For instance, I know what to expect from Club Monaco. I know the cuts, the silhouettes, fabrics, and their style essence. They are flattering, contemporary, (albeit a bit pricey) basics with a little something special. Find the brands that you are drawn to instead of hunting through a mishmash of brands. If you go on Nordstrom.com, filter the brands that fit your style and eliminate the rest to avoid overwhelming yourself.

give it a conceptual name

After the style moniker, if you are desiring a concept or a framework have you heard of Kibbe?

David Kibbe is a fashion stylist who wrote a book in the 1980s called Metamorphosis. I've known about him for years because I've always been interested in fashion. Lately he has had a resurgence and and there is lots of content about his system on the internet.

In the Kibbe system there are a number of body types that are based on the "lines" and the "yin and yang" of your body. Yin and yang refers to the softness and sharpness of your body. It's a method to create style harmony and flattery.

When you know your "type" you can eliminate what doesn't work, choose what does work, and have an easier time shopping. For instance, I am a "Flamboyant Natural" which pretty much means I am tall with broadness (shoulders, torso). I mostly suit longer lines, oversized, relaxed, soft (no sharp or severe tailoring) natural fabrics, chunkier shoes, larger bolder jewelry (he even goes into what hair and makeup suits the types). As a Flamboyant Natural I wouldn't wear geometric patterns (too sharp). I wouldn't wear an overly tailored jacket or a body con dress because that would disrupt my "line" and make me appear "squeezed". I would choose something with a bit of ease, something softer and draped. Boho suits me but wouldn't suit you as you mentioned because of your small size. Every type has rules and the rules go into a lot of detail if that's your sort of thing. Rules are made to be broken but it's also fun to know what suits your body.

There are "sharper" types (the "Dramatics") and balanced types (the Classics) and the petite delicate types (Gamines) and the softer types (Romantics). There is a ton of stuff on social media -- YouTube, Reddit, and lots of blogs and websites. David Kibbe also has a Facebook group.

When it comes to YouTube I like Style Thoughts by Rita. She has been styled by David Kibbe and is super knowledgeable. There are other good creators as well.

Note: When Kibbe says "soft" or "round" or "sharp" when discussing bodies it has nothing to do with weight or bust size. Kibbe does not take bust into effect. He takes the vertical line into effect. How to flatter the vertical line is his aim and the goal is to create cohesiveness and harmony from head to toe. In this system you remain your type no matter what your weight. Also, the type descriptors are created to choose lines and shapes of clothing and not an aesthetic, so if you a "Romantic" type it doesn't mean you are to wear pink and ruffles.

You could be any Kibbe type other than a "Dramatic" or a "Flamboyant Natural" (since they are the two types who are tall). You could be a soft natural, the gamine types, or the romantic types. Here is a quiz.

Since you gravitate towards natural elements you might be a Soft Natural. You could be one of the Romantic types since you are a short hourglass. I thought I was an hourglass for my entire life because I do have curves and a fuller bust, however I am narrower in the hips and I don't have as much waist definition. Knowing this has opened up a lot of clothing options I would have never considered in the past. The best way to determine is to look at the type examples to see what matches you best.

Good luck and have fun with your look!
posted by loveandhappiness at 9:22 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]

You sound kinda like me in stature and style! You might benefit from ye olde FFA's Dark Americana Inspiration album, original post here and Imgur album here.

Since my last perusal it seems they've compiled all posted inspo albums here, as well! View some thumbnails and click some albums.

I'm a carpenter who never wears dresses, so I can't help much with those.. but I try to mix my more tough/masculine adventure/lumberjane pieces with outdoor fabric compatible librarian/witchy/pottery shop feminine vibes. Here is my pinterest board I've been curating probably eight years now. If you have not already made yourself one, I suggest it! It helps me streamline my thrifting when I find something cool but Probably Not Gonna Fit My Style.

You might enjoy Duluth Trading Company, tops at Dovetail Workwear, and Prana's travel selections. I buy almost every piece of Eileen Fisher in my size that I find in thrift stores.

Don't rule out silk right away, it breathes really well and it's one of my favorite dressy to hiking fabrics. You might not want a fancy delicately sleeved work blouse, but I have like five Wilfred silk camisoles that I wear under everything from my patagonia R1 layer to a gothyghosty cashmere hoodie. Leather, copper, and other more raw material accessories can toughen up a look. Lighter, flowier fabrics can soften a tough piece like a motorcycle jacket. Linen is a fabric that can really go soft or tough depending on the cut and what you style it with.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 10:02 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]

Some elements of your description make me think of Kate Lanphear , an all-round style queen and general font of inspiration.
posted by Grunyon at 3:38 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

Tshirts are often too narrow and too long. For many brands, and I have no list, washing a cotton tee in hot water right away will cause it to get wider and shorter. I line-dry most clothes, and widen tshirts manually when they're new, sometimes the sleeves, too. I put my arms in the body of the wet tee, and gently stretch.
posted by theora55 at 7:19 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

I'm short and curvy too. I'm female, but not feminine. Some people call my dressing style 'straight butch'. We might have a thing or two in common.

Might you perchance enjoy the gender ambiguity, the simplicity and the pockets (so many pockets!) of a cargo kilt, as I do? I really love my kilts. Super comfy and practical too. Looks great with a short jacket, hoodie or vest.

Of course, the original cargo kilt is the Utilikilt, but you can find lots of affordable copy cats through Etsy or Ebay. The best search terms are 'cargo kilt' and 'utility kilt'.

Be careful to order from a country that ships to yours without potentially high customs fees! There are lots of sellers so this should be doable.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:49 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]

This is a background idea, but I love a book called The Triumph of Individual Style, which categorizes women's looks based on shape, line, contrast, etc., but then for each category talks about how to dress to look more, or less, like any of the other categories. Also, it's illustrated half with fine art from all over the world and half with 1980s line drawings that I think you could translate into modern shopping. Really kind, generous, beauty-finding take on dressing, IME.

Unfortunately it's never been reprinted and it's getting expensive. (Are there campaigns to reprint books, or are we assuming the publishers notice used book prices??)
posted by clew at 10:07 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]

I should preface this by saying I don’t know much about fashion so this may be way off base, but your Han Solo casual day outfit (best description ever, by the way) plus your boots immediately made me think equestrian. Horse people tend to carry some sharp things and often tend to be pragmatic and steel cored.

I’m thinking about things like hoof pick belts, snaffle bracelets, and leather and wood hair slides.

These are obviously accessories and not main clothing pieces, but I think you’re already on the right track there with long sleeved shirts, fitted vests, boot cut jeans, and boots. Other ideas would be fitted blazers/jackets in an equestrian style, fitted/stretchy pants especially in browns and greys (maybe some dress pant yoga pants from Betabrand?), and quilted jackets and vests.
posted by bananacabana at 1:55 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]

MonkeyToes, I like your style! You sound like a Woman of Action. Some avenues to explore:

1) Hair accessories: Geometric metal, metal, raw metal, minimalist, and of course wood/wooden/leather, for search terms; etsy links, because if you like someone's handmade hair clip, or certain parts across a few of their clips, custom orders are offered. Multitool Tacticlip.

2) Your crisp, white shirts are such classics, and there are many fixes for the gaping-over-bust issue. "Hidden button at the stress point" is one after-market recommendation; these shirts-with-stretch have that button already. Making the hidden button's corresponding buttonhole horizontal rather than vertical is another stay-put technique. Other options are shirts cut fuller in the bust, shirts without button closures (side zipper example), custom-made, boys' shirts (check sizing charts; boys/youth lines may be a vest source, too), and buying shirts that fit your chest (and shoulders) well, then having the waist and/or sleeves altered.

3) As a fellow short-waisted busty person, and as esp. as your body's changed a bit, I'm obligated to remind you to make sure you're wearing the right size bra as well as the right style for your breast shape. Minimizer bras are both more comfortable and less industrial-looking than they used to be, if that idea holds any appeal. The right bra helps with support, posture, and bust & waist definition.

4) Wrap dresses! They're fashion's mirages. It is a flattering silhouette, but true wrap dresses are usually too fussy in execution. The slinky material shifts around, even when there are interior ties and anchors; the fabric rubs against itself, undergarments, and skin to generate static. Our best-laid plans for a demure camisole underlayer go awry when the dress's fabric insists on tugging on that, too, resulting in Confrontational Cleavage (TM). Faux-wrap dresses (in a midweight knit, for some heft with stretch) solve most of these problems. The fixed bodice can have permanent draping/pleating or ruching so it never looks like it's buckling over the bust, the v-neck can be made shallower with a couple of stitches and still slip over the head, the stationary skirt can have pockets, and all in all it's easier to wear. (See also: wrap tops and tunics versus faux-wrap tops and tunics.)

5) Belts -- another thread in this web of lies. If a waistband gaps in the back, or slips down uniformly (which can cause the material in the crotch to sag), the pants need to be tailored; trying to shore up the excess fabric with a belt can look bunched and sloppy. (Again, this is specific to "small hourglasses" with short torsos; some people can really rock an intentional 'paper bag' gathered waist on trousers). Use narrow sashes and ties at your natural waist to highlight that curve; look for soft, fluid materials. This white, darted tunic shirt's fabric 'obi belt' is too wide in the front; see the back image? Can you imagine if the entire belt was that narrow, or narrower? What if the shirt remained that crisp poplin, but the belt was a thin, soft fabric or suede (here's fabric "ultrasuede") sash? Or offered some definition with a thin leather belt (but not in those colors, yours)? Here's a button tunic with a contrasting belt -- again, imagine that belt folded in thirds or quarters. But the mustard-colored sash looks great against the white.) Thick leather belts threaded through belt loops wind up sitting a couple of inches or more below the natural waist, and can still break up a short torso visually. Wrapping the waist is not going to work with every tunic top, some will be just too billowy around your middle; taking in the sides of a solid-color cotton shirt is usually a non-Herculean tailoring task. Always defer to the the biggest/broadest/widest body part you're trying to clothe and make sure the material covers that area the right way (no straining, pulling, gaping, buckling). Then assess the rest of the garment: for instance, long sleeves can be shortened, but sometimes there will be no inexpensive way to 'fix' the shoulders on slim shirts that fit your bust correctly; hemming is simple, but one promising pair of trousers that flatter your legs and hips will have a complicated waistband and high back pockets that resist alteration.

6) Leather accessories lend an edge, I agree. Leather knee boots, with fit-and-flare dresses and dark-colored tights? You've got a decent-sized wrist; what do you think of a watch with a big dial on a leather cuff watch band, tooled or plain? Two-tone? (Like the hair clips above, paracord bracelets can hold multi-tool secrets.)

7) You like cowboy boots and boot-cut pants and jeans -- does that mean you're wearing the pant legs over the boot shafts? Some cowboy boots have gorgeous detailing; if you're not showing that off, consider folding the pant hems and tucking the pant leg into a sock? Dress tonally, in fitted lines, and let your boot collection take center stage?

You're not big on patterned fabrics, maybe look to tone-on-tone texture, lux fabrics, and metal accents for variety. All the possible 'style type' phrases that occurred to me while reading your post turned up few images corresponding to what I had in mind: Urban Cowgirl (ruffles? hotpants?!?), Urban Rustic (furniture), Urbane Rustic (lots of wine drinking), Lady MacGyver (emergency clothing fix-its), Warm Tactical (Iditarod), Badass Bombshell (NSF... anything), Utilitarian chic (so. many. jumpsuits). Off-duty mercenary, or would that require going far in the other direction? (See: Geena Davis's shapeless suburban attire, before she gets her memory back in "The Long Kiss Goodnight.") I do think your personal style falls under the capacious "Capable Dame" umbrella (the "Severe Baroness" archetype from DSime's incredibly helpful post shelters there, too). Your preferred autumn palette removes any 'military surplus' associations for cool, durable, highly functional clothes, and I also say have a look at Duluth Trading for simple shapes in toasty colors.

Wow, this window's been open for hours, now. I think, given your tastes and your body type, it boils down to trust yourself and trust your tailor. You'll find inspirational elements in many known style types, but your own might not have a stand-alone phrase, and your clothes are not an easy fit straight off the rack (which is no kind of knock on you -- this happens to most people). You already know what you like, and what flatters you.

[I like boots, vests, and clean lines, and "Han Solo casual day" is such a compliment, I can't even tell you.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:18 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]

I own every color bandana that REI sells, maybe 12 or 15 colors, three or four dollars each. I wear them to catch sweat on my brow and in my hair but I just like them anyways, shove one into my pocket when headed out the door to work outdoors.. My hair is *short* just now and I don't see myself growing it out again but when my hair was long the bandana really helped keep it from flyaway on a windy day. So, that's me. But I've seen women wear them woven somehow and tied in their hair, seen them around womens neck, even around an arm. Obv today you can use one as Covid19 mask also. Bandanas work well with leather and worn denim and boots. I wear a lot of leather and denim and boots myself, and bandanas are a good fit.

I want the courage to wear my thrifted motorcycle jacket like it's useful gear, and not a costume--

A guy I know moved out of the country, I somehow eded up with his black, cheap, trashy motorcycle jacket, -- it couldn't fit better if it was made for my tall, skinny, gorky, galoot body. It's got to be at least forty years old, it's from Montgomery Wards, it's tough as an old boot, it's sortof ratty looking; it's perfect. I've never owned a motorcycle because every time -- no kidding, every time -- because every time I've ever got on one I love it, totally, I feel really free, it's just ever so nice, and I look down at the speedometer and I'm moving at least 85 mph. I know myself well enough to know that I would do that every time I got on one. So I've never allowed myself to own one, or even to ride one, once I saw how I drove on them. Anyways, now I've got this great coat and I think I'm a fucking poser for wearing it. Well, fuck that. It's a great jacket that fits me both physically but also in how it looks. I do wish I could trust myself on a motorcycle but I just don't. But the coat rocks, old denim jeans, black boots, black leather gloves.

I know this doesn't go into specifics or a style name or whatever, just something that I do and you might also.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:11 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]

« Older Found a wart on my mobile eyelid. Help, please.   |   What meeting software do I need? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments