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January 5, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Satisfying my inner fashion maven: Is it possible to experiment with style & fashion without getting caught up with its superficiality?

I've never been the sort to care about how I look. I rarely use beauty products for more than a few months at a time (I may try, and then totally forget or just not bother), and I don't really have a set style when it comes to clothes. Mostly it's "stuff that fits me". There are certain cuts/colours/things that I like, but there isn't a style that screams "divabat" - unlike some of my friends, where I could look at an outfit and say "Oh, that's so X". I also don't understand the point of makeup - while I find dressing up as a character/someone totally not me quite fun, I don't see why I need makeup to look more like myself.

Lately, though, I've been toying around with the idea of getting into style and fashion and actually think about the things I wear and how I look. I have been over-emphasizing my brain and spirit and personality, to the point that I don't give a damn about my body or how I look, as though it was meaningless. That might be not totally healthy. However, I also have the following influences pushing at me:

(a) my close group of friends in university (we're a group of 4 that hang out every week) all being fashion and beauty-conscious
(b) my parents always telling me to "look after your skin!!" and "you need to lose weight!!" and "why can't you be more conscious about fashion??"
(c) Noticing that I'm not being taken as seriously for things or that I'm not immediately noticed in a crowd compared to most others because I'm not conventionally "attractive"

The fact that those seem to be my main reasons are discouraging me from delving further into style/fashion/beauty. However, I still have images of me being a style maven, rocking out a certain specific outfit and haircut (for some reason my inner fashion diva thinks she's a Mod), getting oohs and aahs for always being so stylish and put-together.

I can appreciate outfits that look nice, and it may be fun to play around with clothes. However, I don't want to end up splurging on useless makeup or fashion magazines with no substance, or worry about my weight to the point of eating disorders (I already have to cope with depression as it is), or supporting industries that demean women and discriminate against certain races and characteristics.

Is it possible to play around with style but not get caught up in the superficial? Is there a way to investigate fashion without worrying about what's "in season"? (Seriously, who decides those things? What does it matter if purple is in or not?) Is is possible to be like the folks that end up in the indie magazines or on The Sartorialist and still have an active brain and social conscience? Can one shave or wear makeup without falling into the trap of "you're being sucked in my the patriarchy!!!"?

If so, how do I start? Assume I know nothing about style and fashion.

(sorry if this is getting rambly. I am trying to explain this the best way I can.)
posted by divabat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (49 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Fashion is entirely what you make of it. You seem worried about creating this whole other person for yourself instead just use fashion to accentuate what seems interesting about you.

I've gone through most of the stages that you are mentioning and have settled on the point that like it or not people judge you on what you immediately present to them. If you don't want to be sucked into the patriarchy then its very possible for your clothes to present that (although I feel a bit odd for saying it that way).

Finally, I get the impression that you are just looking at clothes in Abercrombie and Fitch or some similiar store. There are millions of places to shop. If you want to experiment for cheap I would recommend a secondhand store. I wouldn't take your friends either, they sound like they might go overboard.
posted by aetg at 7:28 AM on January 5, 2008

I suggest watching Project Runway. You probably won't like a lot of the clothes they make or learn much of anything practical about style, but you'll gain an appreciation for the hard work and artistry behind fashion. It won't seem quite so superficial! But I feel you on your dilemma--sometimes I can't believe that I've morphed into such a conventional looking person in my 30s, instead of wearing jeans and hiking boots all day like I did in my 20s...
posted by footnote at 7:37 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love you Divabat! You sound fab, and you even remind me a bit of me (who'd have thought?).

Fashion comes and goes, style is what makes you. I am the LAST person to be giving fashion advice, I just wear whatever the I hell please. Two years ago, I bought a business, and have since had this robotic idea of how i should preset myself. Which is all well and good when I'm trying to look presentable for clients. Oustside of work tho in the last few months, I've been developing a hugely different style to what I used to look like. I used to be an earthy & purple & black gal, and now I'm doing PINK in a huge way (first time since i was 12), greens, blues, etc. Im wearing stuff that makes me look more vibrant, and it's fun. What I'm tryign to say is that you need to develop a style that you like and feel comfy with. Forget FASHION and think STYLE.
Since I've been wearning the bright colours, I get a compliment EVERYTIME.
posted by goshling at 7:47 AM on January 5, 2008

Is it possible to play around with style but not get caught up in the superficial?

Yes. I think the key is to make sure that, as you explore your own fashion tastes, you don't judge others for theirs.

As for where to start? Oh boy. I'm thinking perhaps you should splurge on a great haircut, then educate yourself on a good skin care and makeup regimen. I don't have a specific recommendation, but pick up a few books on personal fashion and beauty. Go to a department store makeup counter or a Sephora, if you have one by you, and get a makeover. See what you look like with well applied concealer, eyeliner, blush, mascara, etc. and figure out what you can incorporate into your daily routine, and what you may want to save for big nights out.

As for wardrobe, start out by paying attention to people around you - friends, family, strangers on the street. Look for girls with similar body types as you who look great in what they're wearing - then mimic. Don't be afraid to ask someone where they got those awesome pants/boots/jacket. Avoid thinking things like "Oh I could never pull that off." If you love something, you will rock it. Don't worry too much about trends either. Chances are if you can find it in a respectable store, it's in style anyway. It's completely ridiculous, in my opinion, for colors to go in and out of style. Wear colors that make you happy. Pick up a fashion magazine or two, sure, and decide which of the trends you do like and which you couldn't care less for. There's no rule that says just because x is in style you have to run out and get it.

If you really want to transform your personal style, you will have to take risks. You might feel really odd buying something you've never owned anything like before, but I say go with your gut. If something is calling out to you, trust that feeling and before you know it you'll wonder how you ever got by without that pair of skinny jeans/flat leather boots/hobo bag/scoop neck tunic/bangle bracelets/what have you.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by infinityjinx at 8:08 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Approach fashion like any other hobby such as dogs, golf, kids, sailing whatever...

There are smart and interesting people vs stupid superficial people doing everything and fashion is no difference. Like any other activity it's no fun when you do it with boring people and it's great when you do it with fun people.

As for style you should not try to think about it. If you end up spending hours every week trying to find the perfect paper bag to fit over your head what you are then doing is style and fashion even though you probably wont look very pretty in the end.

So just do your own thing. The process of getting a sense of your own style is mostly one of trial and error so buy second hand because then your mistakes will be less expensive. Bring in your (good) friends because even though they might not share your style they will support you in your quest for the purple thingy you might bee looking after at some point. Shopping is more fun when you are more than one doing it.
posted by uandt at 8:09 AM on January 5, 2008

I don't own this book but I've always wanted to buy it: Makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin's Making Faces. I've read some real rave reviews of it all over the Internet. He seems to have been a great guy, convinced that every woman is beautiful in her own way. I really liked his philosophy, and he is simply incredible with makeup.
posted by peacheater at 8:14 AM on January 5, 2008

anyone who says you need to be superficial to be stylish is full of shit. ignore them and do exactly what you want to.

fashion and style are simply visual composition applied to the human form. nothing more. you make of those things what you want with basic compositional principles in play. most fashion people know this, and will applaud your work as you compose yourself. those worth their salt don't care what someone looks like as long as it's interesting on a formal level.

many of the people most responsible for what becomes fashion are not traditionally beautiful. leigh bowery was a genius, and a tall, overweight man. isabella blow, also brilliant, had sleepy eyes and would hardly have been considered traditionally beautiful. but both were interesting and thoughtful in what they did. that is what's important. not traditional beauty.

someone, and i can't rememeber who, said something very close to "taste is for people without style," and that's true. taste just a series of compositional rules that are widely accepted. style is much more personal. now shoo, go get dressed and make it interesting.
posted by patricking at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Redefine the goal - you want to take care of yourself. Taking care of your skin, body and appearance is appreciating divabat.

A good place to start by cleaning up your nutrition, workout and sleep habits. Those are long-term projects that really do make you feel better and look fabulous. This isn't a must-lose-weight goal. This is taking care of yourself. It's hard to beat the momentum of a healthy diet, regular exercise and enough sleep. (Boring, I know. I sound like an old person. Next I'll be recommending roughage.)

Then ask your girlfriends to help you play around with make-up and clothes. If they're fashion/beauty women, then they have a million cast-off products that they'll let you try. They can also help you assess clothes. You aren't looking for fashion things. You're looking for the styles that you enjoy wearing and that make you feel good.

Last, have fun with it. If it seems like a horrible chore to get dressed and primped, then it's too much. The goal is enhancing what makes you special, not creating a mask so you look like everyone else.
posted by 26.2 at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2008

I think there's a happy medium.

I like doing things that make me feel good. I like interesting bath and body products, but focus on those I enjoy using, not the latest and greatest new ad. This comes out to mean I use handmade soaps, skin care products that feel enjoyable to use (and that also work well for my skin) without a lot of fussing. I've had a lot of fun exploring smaller cottage industry products rather than the stuff you find in a drugstore. The bonus is that my skin's a lot happier, and I've got some stuff on hand for "Really dry air, my skin is rough" types of situation that I know work.

On clothing - I admit I look a lot like a stereotypical librarian who dresses for comfort. But a couple of my friends have been taking me consignment store shopping and encouraging me to try on styles and colors that I wouldn't try myself.

The trick with this is that they had to be willing to work with my requirements (Most of my wardrobe has to be stuff I can wear to work, it has to be things I'm going to feel comfortable in, etc.) They've been fantastic about this, and I've got cool new (remarkably inexpensive) clothing. Taking *someone* with me has been really good: they've helped me develop a better idea of what looks really good on me (that idea of personal style you mention) than I would have on my own. Just needs to be the right someone.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2008

It is absolutely possible to play in the style pool without going into the deep end and making yourself crazy. I'll tell you what I'm working on teaching my five-year-old daughter: Fashion, clothes, make-up, it's just a way to tell other people what you think about yourself, to help them decide what to think about you. It doesn't mean you ARE that person, though. And it's not fair to judge other people based on what they look like because it's like a game, and not everybody knows the rules.

So when you're experimenting with different modes of dress, in a way, you're experimenting with different identities. People will react to you differently, sure. But the identity you choose doesn't have to be the one where you get highlights done every three weeks and you're dropping six hundred bucks on a pair of shoes; that's just one of many possibilities. (And, interestingly, it afects how you think about yourself, too. I think your subconscious takes the cue from what you're wearing and the reactions you're getting, and can change your behavior to more closely match the person you're trying to be.)

So anyway; If you're wearing a lot of black leather and studs, you're trying to tell people you're aggressive and tough. If you're wearing a tailored black suit, pumps, and a chin-length bob, you're telling them you're serious and professional. If you're wearing legwarmers, a patchwork denim skirt, and a hand-crafted tam, you're telling people you're creative and bohemian.

Figure out who you are, and then figure out how you'd dress to tell other people that's who you are. I also highly recommend watching "What Not to Wear." It's a great introduction to working out what will and won't work for you, given your age, body type, and personality.

And have fun with it. :)
posted by Andrhia at 8:26 AM on January 5, 2008 [10 favorites]

Is it possible to play around with style but not get caught up in the superficial? Is there a way to investigate fashion without worrying about what's "in season"? (Seriously, who decides those things? What does it matter if purple is in or not?) Is is possible to be like the folks that end up in the indie magazines or on The Sartorialist and still have an active brain and social conscience? Can one shave or wear makeup without falling into the trap of "you're being sucked in my the patriarchy!!!"?

Of course. As others have said, style is all about who you are. You can play around with style by simply "fiddling with the knobs," as it were, turning some aspects about your appearance up and some down. Like hats? Try a different hat. Then try a similar hat but a different color. Etc.

The ultimate goal of style is "to look more like yourself." The outside should reflect the inside, not the other way around.

Check out Vice Magazine's Do's and Don'ts for an irreverent look at Fashion and Style. You'll see that sometimes the only thing separating a Do from a Don't is confidence. Have fun!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:26 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Of course what you're aiming for is possible. I flip through fashion magazines occasionally thinking, "this is nice", but I wouldn't wear something I didn't like or that was a piece I wouldn't ever wear again or with one outfit only. It's their job to be trendy. But I prefer to just stick with colors, fabrics, and styles I like. Though sometimes I have to actually stop myself from buying yet another red garment.

That's not necessarily superficial. None of it is if it's just personal style. It's another form of expression.

Always wear a piece, never let it wear you. If it's awkward or you feel uncomfortable, don't bother. It'll wind up at the back of your closet forever. Just pick what you like, what strikes you. And never go head to toe in trendy clothes unless you work for a fashion magazine.

Just try not to get too caught up. They are trying to sell you something. I personally love playing with makeup, but I also learned how to do a more natural look as well. It's not a costume to improve your look slightly to look fresher or less tired. A little tinted moisturizer and some colored lip balm could be the extent of it. Nobody needs every single product they advertise.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2008

Can one shave or wear makeup without falling into the trap of "you're being sucked in my the patriarchy!!!"?
This question is 100% guaranteed to make you miserable. If you believe in the patriarchy, we all live our lives in it, every day, no matter what we do. You've already been sucked into the patriarchy. It's naive to think that you can somehow avoid the patriarchy by not wearing makeup. When you decide not to give in to the patriarchy by wearing makeup, you're still dealing with the dilemma in ways that are structured by patriarchy. So I'd relax and do what you want to do. If you start playing around with fashion and makeup and it makes you feel bad, you can stop.

Clothes and makeup can be really fun. You can enjoy them if you approach them in a spirit of fun and experimentation. You must go into this project with a firm conviction that there is nothing wrong with your face or body. Got it? There is nothing wrong with you. Some clothes will not look good on your body. Some makeup will not look good on your face. That's true for everyone, and it does not reflect on you. When you try something on and it looks like crap, that just means that it's not the right thing on you. Make a note of that, try to figure out what doesn't look right about it, and move on. Over time, you'll get a better sense of what looks good on you, and you'll find yourself trying on fewer things that look really bad on you.

In the end, you may not love fashion. You may decide that you'll do what you need to do to look good enough. For a lot of women, that ends up meaning that they find two or three looks that work on them, and then they buy a lot of variations on those looks. (I do fitted v-neck tops and either wide-legged trousers or a-line skirts that hit right above the knee. I have fancy versions of this, and I have grungy, weekend versions of this, but almost everything I own falls into one of those categories.) A lot of women wear the same makeup every day, or every day that they wear makeup, and maybe put on extra eyeliner if they're going out at night. Once you've figured this out, you can do it with minimal effort. So if you decide that you're not going to be a fashion diva, that's one way to go.

Finally, fashion magazines are not going to turn you into a dingbat or a reactionary, as long as you look at them with a critical eye. Glancing at the occasional fashion magazine is a good way to get a sense of what you like and what you don't. Just don't be afraid to dismiss things as ugly or impractical.
posted by craichead at 8:29 AM on January 5, 2008 [9 favorites]

Attractive people earn more (among six baziilion other significant advantages). Nothing superficial about it, that's the way the real world works. It's a shame to let your brains go to waste, just like it's a shame to let your body go to waste. Being everything you can be means being the best thinking AND best looking (and best many-other-things) person you can be. Aiming for anything less is a waste.

It sounds to me that you seek style rather than fashion. To explain what I mean by that, I see fashion as what's "in" for the season, and thus it's handed down from above, and continually changing. Style is what works for you, and as such should always work for you, until YOU change, regardless of the fad of the day.
To start thinking about style, I find it helps to start removing fashion from the equation - what things date poorly? When you see old pictures, old tv ads, old magazines, notice how some ensembles scream their time period, while others are hard to guess. Think about why.

Another approach is to make your own style guide, a sentence describing the principles of your style - the things that appeal to you. For example "I like downplayed and minimal colour, counterbalanced and kept from being dull by plenty of layers and accessories". Yes, that is making a box to put yourself in, so don't feel it's a rule you must follow, the intended benefit comes from how it forces you to articulate the essence of what makes something appealing to you. (And after that, it's useful pretty much only if you can't decide on something and want to find a reason to pick one over the other)

Also - it might help to watch some runway fashion shows, until you "get" what the show is about. It doesn't take long before you stop just seeing weird clothes that will never ever be worn in the real world, and start seeing the techniques the designer is playing with. The techniques can (and generally will) be applied to real-world clothes, and while there probably isn't any style fodder for you there, seeing what kind of elements that designers are playing with and tinkering with can help get you thinking about what elements of design you like. IMO the more articulated your grasp of what you like, and the less gut-feel "I don't really know why I like things, I just know when I see something if I like it", the better.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

wait, i missed the exact question and got caught up in my rant. how to start is actually pretty easy: evaluate the form you're in and decide on the best way to enhance the form to get what you want.

tim gunn does this really nicely in the beginnings of tim gunn's what to wear, if you watch an episode of that you can see him messing with a digital program that builds a 3D representation of the woman he's working with. i personally think his ideas of beauty are too focused on public acceptance and traditional ideas of beauty, but whatever, that's what makes him his money.

you should also begin to pay attention to which lines do what on your body and whether you like it. (for example, i like the notion of wearing a cropped pant with a mid-calf boot, but my legs look chopped in half in that configuration, so i don't do it. things like that.)
posted by patricking at 8:35 AM on January 5, 2008

If this is bugging you to the point that you want to experiment, you probably have more style than you think.

I'm not a fashionista or style maven, but this is what I do to make sure I look okay when I am out and about:

1) Get a great haircut. Bonus points if it grows out well - you don't have to get it cut as often, which saves money. I don't wear makeup so my hairdresser is my largest beauty expense. He's expensive, but he does a fabulous job. I can usually manage to go every 8 weeks, and I have medium/short hair (between ears and shoulders). A modern haircut will make the simplest outfit look more up-to-date.

2) Figure out what colours look nice on you. The most flattering shirt is going to look like crap if it's the wrong colour for your skin and hair. If you wear a lot of dark colours, don't be afraid of mixing in the occasional bright. It perks you up, especially during the winter months.

3) Figure out what styles flatter you. If you don't know, try on everything. If you don't trust your judgment, take someone you trust (to the point that you'd let them in the fitting room with you) for a second opinion. If you aren't comfortable with that, consider a personal shopper at a department store.

4) Buy stuff that fits. This seems obvious, but I used to buy a lot of stuff that was almost perfect for me because it was cute, on trend or in a colour I loved. However, I would spend the entire time I wore them items tugging or otherwise adjusting to make myself feel comfortable. I would finally give up on them after a few wears and that was a lot of wasted money.

Now I try on a lot more than I buy. I refuse to settle on something that almost works, unless I know I can get it altered (which I don't do much of except for shortening pants).

5) If there is something that you like, don't be afraid to make it a trademark. It could be always wearing a beautiful necklace, a funky purse, or whatever.

Good luck.
posted by melissa at 8:42 AM on January 5, 2008

Have a read of some blogs. Try Kingdom of Style for starters. It's fun, doesn't follow fashion slavishly but follows the world of dressing up in an individual and fun way. More similar sites in their sidebar.
posted by brautigan at 8:49 AM on January 5, 2008

fashion schmashion. do what looks good on you!

get a good, basic haircut and subtle highlights, find a good soap and acne cream (i like neutrogena's fragrance-free liquid soap and their green no-stress face lotion), and get your eyebrows shaped and waxed.

get into the habit of wearing three beauty products: a powder that contains sunscreen; lipstick in a natural, neutral color; and gray or brown eye makeup (either liner or mascara, whichever is easier for you). i swear by maybelline, revlon, and covergirl's long-lasting lines so i can put them on and not have to retouch until i'm hope for the day and then getting ready to go out again.

get a professional bra fitting and buy a couple in your real size. it makes such a tremendous difference in your shape.

get some trendy, big sunglasses. they give instant flair.

buy some well-made, well-fitting basics (jeans, trousers, tees, tanks, whatever you normally wear). don't obsess about the size, just get what looks best on you. you will look sleeker and more put together in a 14 that fits than you will in a 10 that pinches or a 18 that's baggy.

invest in a classy coat that flatters your body. even if everyone else is wearing puffy jackets, if you look better in a long wool trenchcoat, go for it.

for trendy things, i always buy cheap. go to target, topshop, h&m, whatever's around you. get some cute tops and shoes and maybe a fun purse or jewelry. if you wear whatever you wear without feeling self-conscious, you won't come across as a flake. once you get used to it, you'll become more comfortable. i was very much like you once, but i'm learning to enjoy trends and fashion more.

seconding the "project runway" suggestion. it's sort of weird, but after a while you get what they're saying.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:51 AM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you are something like a size 12 or over, you might consider the Fatshionista group on LiveJournal. I think the best thing I've found is just seeing a lot of people who make themselves look and feel good with what they have. There are also sales posts every Friday with cheap stuff you can buy from other people just to play around with.

The first things you should consider involve foundations of all sorts. Make sure your current clothes have good lines and are in good condition. Make sure you have good underwear and lingerie. Get a good haircut that will allow you to feel good at all stages of the cut (like, you can keep it for as long as you need to go between GOOD haircuts you can afford). Do things that nobody can see but that make you feel good. I have personally gotten to be a big fan of pedicures, both because they get rid of my grody winter feet and they make my toes look all purdy and special in a way that doesn't require much upkeep.

As for makeup, etc., and all of the other little fripperies... well, I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl and I am struggling with the same kind of thing. There are so many things out there that you can spend lots of time on or you can spend little time on but it requires knowing a little more about yourself. I look forward to special evenings because I feel a little like Cinderella, even if I do only have one nice outfit that fits me right now. Those are great opportunities to try out different fashions. As you become comfortable with dressing up more for special occasions, branch out a little and see what you can find and enjoy at work, or every day.

When you've got a better idea of what you like and what looks good on you, don't be afraid of buying a piece that you think people will consider weird if you personally think it's fabulous. One carefully considered and awesome thing (whether it's a sometime piece or something that becomes your signature) is so easy to wear that the rest of your look will take no time to put together because you're highlighting the one thing. Examples: an awesome coat, a hat (I wish people would bring hat-wearing back), some crazy shoes.

Don't be afraid of trying new things. My rule is that if everybody else wears it exactly the same, I don't want it.
posted by Madamina at 8:53 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

So much has changed in the last 20 years in regards to fashion being taken seriously as a form of art, communication, personal expression and intellectual discourse. It it entirely possible to be a smart, cultured, sensible woman and to have an incredible personal style. I also know lots of very stylish, intellectual women who aren't girly girls, but who take really good care of themselves and wear cool clothes. Go to places where intellectual, stylish women gather (art shows, lectures, etc) and take notes on what they are wearing.

Don't follow trends literally, put your own twist on stuff you see in magazines. If you are interested in a mod fashion aesthetic, spend some time looking at fashion history books, and come up with some ideas to incorporate that look into your wardrobe. Experiment with mixing vintage pieces with newer pieces. Nice quality, well cared for shoes will do a lot for your look. An interesting or good quality handbag is also a nice touch, whether it's a good, new leather bag or an unusual vintage bag. With clothes, go for quality over novelty. Scope out consignment shops and thrift stores for well made clothes. Find stuff that fits your body type and if you need to, have garments altered to fit you better. This is really important with pants and blouses. Also, take good care of your clothes, never go out in anything rumpled or wrinkled. Go to a department store and get measured and fit for a couple of nice bras. A well fitting bra makes a huge difference in how your clothes fit.

Start taking better care of your skin. If you need to, set up an appointment with a dermatologist and get some professional advice on a skin care and perhaps a prescription for some products that will clear up any skin problems you are having. Get into a skin care routine. Go get a professional facial once in awhile. Take care of your nails. You don't even have to paint them. Go get a manicure every few weeks and ask them to buff your nails instead of shellacking them with a bright color that will chip off quickly.

If you aren't a big fan of wearing makeup, I recommend at least getting a professional eyebrow wax and shaping. On a woman, nicely shaped eyebrows make a huge difference. It's not very expensive to have your eyebrows done and you don't have to have them waxed into oblivion. As with a professional haircut, you'll have to remember to go back in every so often for maintenance. Then, if you want to amp up your look for a night out, a bit of lipstick might be all you need or want.

Also, at the risk of sounding cliche, so much of style comes from within. By being happy, well adjusted, smart, intellectually curious, healthy and assertive, you already have more going for you than an unhappy, self-absorbed, bored, size 0 woman in a Marc Jacobs dress and a Prada bag.

Now, go forth and conquer!
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:55 AM on January 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

I watch a lot of makeover shows (What Not to Wear fans, holler), and one thing I find funny is that everyone is so worried about "not being themselves". They're wearing fishnets and midriffs to work at the elementary school, or mens' sweatpants and cut-up t-shirts to board meetings, but they're scared if they wear nice things, it wouldn't "be them". Let's get one thing straight- what you wear isn't who you are. What you wear now isn't who you are, and what you wear tomorrow isn't who you are. You will always be the you you are inside. The clothes we wear are a display of who we want others to perceive us. If you love yourself, why wouldn't you try to look your best? Why wouldn't you want to put some effort into showing other people, hey, this woman has got her act together! Especially since it doesn't take a lot of effort- it's just as easy to put on a skirt as it is to put on a pair of sweatpants. It might be harder to buy the skirt, but you can build your wardrobe one item at a time. Starting now, when you get dressed in the morning, ask yourself, how does this make me feel? Do I like putting this sweater on? Or does it: not fit right, bunch weird, cut off the circulation in my arms, make me feel frumpy? Listen to that voice. If something doesn't make you feel great, toss it. Be the doorman to your wardrobe- only let the cream of the crop stuff in. Soon, you'll have a whole closet full of things you love to wear!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:06 AM on January 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

You can definitely do this, and you can fun with it. I think that's the key: to keep it in the realm of fun, rather than duty and playing to the patriarchy and all the things that can drag you down.

Hair: Definitely get a great haircut, one that doesn't require more styling than you are willing to take on. Talk with your hairdresser about what you're looking for and what you're willing to do. For example, I like short hair, I'll use product, but I won't blowdry. And I've found someone who gives me a kick-ass haircut that looks great with a little product and finger styling.

Experiment. First, look through everything you've got, and find what you actively like. What about them appeals to you - color? shape? Then go to thrift stores and consignments stores. Bring along a friend, but probably not more than one. Try on things that you'd never have thought of trying on before. Clothes should fit well, be a flattering color, and make you feel great. If it's just functional, don't buy it: you're looking for something more special than that. Try out different combinations of things, different looks, accessories, etc.

Taking care of your skin will make a huge difference. So can shaping your eyebrows. As far as makeup, I really can't help you - the most I do is put on lipstick once in a (very great) while.

Seconding the suggestions to take care of yourself. Drink water, work out. It's not about your shape or how far you can run; it's about being healthy. If you feel well health-wise, you'll project a stronger image.

Carry yourself with confidence: that'll get you farther than anything else. If you love your hair, your face, and your outfit, it will show.
posted by bassjump at 9:12 AM on January 5, 2008

Cheapish ways to change things (ie, without buying an entirely new wardrobe) that I, a guy in my mid-20s, have employed to great effect (ie, compliments received, no guilt felt):

1. A rocking haircut.

I go into a place that looks competent, and lay out what I'd like it to look like, not in technical terms (ie, "two inches off the top") but in more abstract ways ("I'm a busy teacher, so no mohawks, but I'm the youngest person on the staff, so something fun and low-maintenance would be great.").

2. Hats/scarves/accessories.

You can get these really cheaply, especially in after-holiday sales, and there are really only so many styles, so a thrift-store run is a good way to explore. The trilby hat, which has been all over the place recently, has been around for over 100 years and has been spotted on everyone from Justin Timberlake to Al Capone. The thrift-store element also means that you aren't monetarily supporting UberConglomo Incorporated's hat-producing sweatshop somewhere.

3. Go for interesting cuts/weaves/patterns in ordinary garments (tweed/herringbone trousers, for example, instead of plain khaki-ish ones).

Walk along a rack of clothes with your eyes closed and feel your way along - what feels interesting, different? Again, thrift shops are your friend here, as you've got clothes sorted in (usually) very wide categories (say, size and type of garment only: "small trousers") from different time periods.

Finally, you mention The Sartorialist - but do note that while lots of what is featured is top-brand stuff, so much of what's on there is classic and timeless, combined with one or two newish/more distinctive things juxtaposed in cool ways. So go for that juxtaposition: a look that makes others want to see what, exactly, you've done with your hat and your scarf.
posted by mdonley at 9:14 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Absolutely seconding everything thinkingwoman said. A little bit of time, thought, and experimentation can kick your style level up before you even realize it. And there's absolutely nothing superficial about wanting to look kick-ass.

For clothing, fit is really important, and I learned a lot about fit from What Not to Wear (is that show on anymore?). For example, although this might be really obvious, if you're heavier on bottom (I am), finding jeans/pants that fall in a straight line from the most sticking-out part of your butt to your heels makes your bum look better and keeps you looking polished and put-together. That has revolutionized the way I buy pants for work.

The Lucky Shopping Manual also has some good guidance on fit. I actually do use it because, like What Not to Wear, it points out some subtle aspects of style that make me go, "Oh, that's what makes [person I think is fashionable] look so well-dressed!"

For all things non-clothing, I'm a big fan of Paula Begoun. Her Web site has lots of good tips about makeup and skin and hair care, and there's plenty of interesting science behind it all, too.
posted by korres at 9:19 AM on January 5, 2008

Style is a self-regulating thing. You'll get into it as much as you're into it. You won't find yourself maxing out credit cards at Sephora to get your lipstick fix, trust me. You'll still think clearly, get things done, make sound economic decisions, and stay close with your family and friends. But you WILL feel better about yourself, receive compliments, and acquire a few nice things that make you giddy. And if you start to feel superficial or overspent, you simply back away from the counter and go do something else!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:22 AM on January 5, 2008

"But you will ALSO..."
posted by iamkimiam at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2008

You do realize that you're already caught up in fashion and how you look, right? You know that you don't dress well and it's not just because your friends and your parents are telling you. Reducing your wardrobe to "what fits" means that you don't like the clothes you wear, you probably aren't buying things that fit correctly and you are 100% conscious of this every time you open your closet or walk out the door.

You already are considered with fashion and how you look. You already care about how you look. Don't act like fashion and style are something out of reach or something that is different from you - realize that you already care. And also realize that it already has a big impact on your life.

Dressing well is liberating because once you learn how to dress well the weight that you are currently feeling when you go outside is gone. Like TPS said, in makeover shows (such as What Not to Wear), everyone is considered that they will be turned into something they're not. But, at the end, once they have a nice wardrobe, a new haircut and a new makeup routine (and, above all, feel like they have more knowledge about how to dress), they always feel "more themselves". The woman who only wore sweats and oversized sweaters, when she's rocking a pinstripe chocolate pants with a cashmere sweater always feels more beautiful, complete, relaxed and is more comfortable in her environment and her life than her old sweats could ever offer. And the same thing goes for men too - amazingly, everyone wants to look good and everyone knows when they don't. Stop painting fashion and style as an external force working against you - if you do, you're only going to become defensive and allow this monkey continue to sit on your back. Understand that what you're feeling comes from within and once you begin to work on it, how you look is going to stop being a weight on your life and you are going to be able to spend your time, energy and effort enjoying the things you like and becoming a better you.
posted by Stynxno at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2008

And, interestingly, it affects how you think about yourself, too. I think your subconscious takes the cue from what you're wearing and the reactions you're getting, and can change your behavior to more closely match the person you're trying to be.

I'm glad someone said something along those lines because I really wanted to quote the movie Kamikaze Girls, where the Gothic Lolita-style character says something like, "I see these clothes, and I want to become worthy of them."

To me, that's one of the good points of fashion/style, that it can remind you of your goals and make you remember, "Yes! I want to be the kind of person who wears that!"

To explore fashion without the eating disorder edge, I would browse fashion-only magazines like Vogue or W and avoid magazines that merge fashion with lifestyle like Marie Claire, Cosmo and Elle (those will have greater focus on having the perfect body). I think shopping magazines like Lucky and In Style are too much about trends and spending money. Vogue has a lot of ads, but you can kind of browse it the same way you'd browse Art Forum, looking at the forms and colors and photography and thinking about how it relates to your own vision.

I second everyone above who emphasized haircut and shaped eyebrows. I think that these elements contribute to style more than makeup does, and attention to them alone is sufficient for many stylish people.

For purchasing clothes, it sort of depends on the personal preferences you develop. I'm into skirts and boots, which happen to be easy to fit, so I buy a lot of stuff online. I end up with pieces that no one else recognizes, and I like that.
posted by xo at 9:27 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

As others have said, fashion is one this and style is another. Fashion is seasonal, style lasts a lifetime.

I suggest going for outfit staples, core clothing items that will survive trends and look good on you. If you aren't sure where to start try an upper level department store where you will get good service. I suggest Saks or Nordstrom. Now is the right time of year to go, there will be monstrous sales and you will be more likely to get the attention you need. You should go in with one goal: to find out what fits you best. You'll be able to take this information and shop elsewhere to buy what looks good on you.

You should determine the following:
1. What collars look good on you: try square necks, scoop necks, mandarin collars, v-necks, bateau collars, off-the-shoulder, etc. You'll get a good idea of what works with you neck, bust and shoulders and once you figure out what you need you'll instantly be able to weed out dresses and tops that won't work for you.

2. Your most flattering skirt length: try above the knee, below the knee, calf length and ankle length. Long skirts swallow some women up, while other women look graceful and comfortable. Knee length works for most people. Also, don't forget to try skirt fit: a-line, pencil, flounce hems, circle skirts, pleated, flamenco-stlye, etc..

3. The most becoming pant fit: Try all kinds of waist fits and leg flares. Bring a friend who will be merciless about how your ass looks.

4. What dress or shirt fit works for you: princess-cut, darted, stretch-knit, etc.

5. The bare minimum makeup regimen: Run away from anyone who insists on slathering you with foundation. Start with concealer and lipstick, the two items that have the biggest payoff for effort and add to those only if you are in need, for example, mascara for colorless eyelashes. Save the complicated regimen for special occasions.

Make sure that you have the following clothes staples on hand:

- A flattering coat: It will be your most viewed piece of clothing during the cold months and it will set the tone for your appearance when you go outside. Trenches and pea coats are safe bets.

- Several well-fitted collared and darted shirts: These are a must if you work in a place where there is a dress code.

- A pair of flattering black pants

- A little black dress

- A few comfy, summery skirts for running errands in the summer months (best with pockets). Shorts should be avoided by grown women unless they are for sports or cleaning up the yard. Just say 'no' to white denim shorts, especially.

- Jeans that optimize your ass while not being uncomfortable.

- A comfy sweater or cardigan for layering

- Boots! The best kinds can be worn all day and make your legs look great. Plus, they can stretch skirt wearing to colder temperatures if you get sick of pants.

Finally, fiber content matters if you want long lasting, comfortable clothes. Steer clear of polyester in the summer; it doesn't breathe. Acrylic fibers should not be found in any high quality sweater. Steer clear of those that do.

If you just stick with the basics and buy what looks good you'll be able to avoid buying a new wardrobe every year and stop worrying about the latest fashion trends.
posted by Alison at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

Just millionth-ing the eyebrows and hair thing. I actually get my eyebrows dyed as well because otherwise they just blend into my face (natural blondish who dyes her hair red). Another thing I've started doing since moving to Eastern Europe is getting my eyelashes dyed. Sounded super crazy when I got here, but it's pretty great. A touch of lipstick (or lip gloss during the day) and I'm out the door.

One other thing is find a great pair of shoes or boots, and start there. A good pair of shoes can make your whole outfit. Also, I've found a few simple necklaces and rings really kick things up a bit.

And just to jump on the other bandwagon here - Project Runway. Thank the gods they started putting it up on the Bravo site, since we don't exactly get Bravo out this way. Good luck - your name already has "diva" in it, so you're well on your way.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 9:42 AM on January 5, 2008

Why do you think that clothes can't emphasize brain and spirit? There are designers that fit your personality. I might recommend Eileen Fischer.

Learn a little about quality. Why is a GAP T-shirt so much cheaper than an Eileen Fischer T-shirt? Branding and quality. When you place pattern pieces out on fabric to be cut, the curvier the pieces are, the more fabric it takes (and hence more expensive). Therefore, if you want clothes that really fit and aren't boxy, you're going to have to pay for them. The branding part is important, too. Some companies shell out lots of $$$ to have the lines and color palettes of their clothes associated with things like "free spirit" and "intelligent." Don't be afraid to use their hard-earned messages to your advantage.

Start with ONE quality designer. Save up and buy, say, five pieces that work well together from one quality designer that aligns with your personality. I think you would prefer to not buy new, so try some pieces on in the store and then buy some slightly used on Ebay once you know your size.
posted by Eringatang at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2008

I really like all the advice in this thread! I do not wear make-up (and still can't bring myself to shave my legs thanks to 70's feminism) and I hate to shop. A few books I found really helpful were from Trinny and Susannah (from "what not wear" mentioned upthread). Their website has very good advice for specific body parts called "the rules" but the books have even more information and most libraries would have them. Also n'thing a good haircut (good colour too) and a good bra. Be your inner mod!
posted by saucysault at 10:07 AM on January 5, 2008

As a note, if you are not of the majority race/ethnicity/call-it-what-you-want of the place you are living, finding a someone good for hair cutting, and a source for makeup in the right colors, can get a bit trickier. You don't just need a good hair stylist, you need a good hairstylist who knows your kind of hair. (It's sort of a variation on the old "flesh-toned" bandaid issue.)

Can one shave or wear makeup without falling into the trap of "you're being sucked in [by] the patriarchy!!!"?

I liked craichead's answer on this. I would add that it's not "shaving = style" and "not shaving = unstylish," and the same for makeup. There are people who base their amazing sense of style around not being the kind of person who wears makeup, and they look awesome. It's about the whole package, and how you carry yourself, not about "are you following every single trend and doing what everyone tells you to do?"

And it is about your environment, too -- fashion/style is a negotiation between you and the world around you, not just a monologue. If you want to go into a traditional corporate environment, you will need to dress and groom yourself in a certain way. Dressing that same way while being a sous-chef wouldn't help you fit in in the kitchen. So one way to approach this is to say, "how do I want the world to see me? What image do I want to project?" and work backwards to then present that image. When you meet someone who is amazing and awesome and you want to be that person in ten years, how are they dressed? What kind of makeup/hair/shaving choices are they making? Do those choices help or hurt?

Lastly, hair and fashion should be fun. If it isn't being fun, rethink and try to take the stress out of it. Hair, shaving, makeup, clothes, etc, are fun because they are temporary, not permanent, and because they are interactive -- you try it out, you see how the world responds, you make adjustments, and rinse wash repeat.
posted by Forktine at 10:43 AM on January 5, 2008

Shorts should be avoided by grown women unless they are for sports or cleaning up the yard.

posted by cmgonzalez at 10:52 AM on January 5, 2008

Also, a few sites you may want to experiment with, just to get a couple of ideas:

My Virtual Model

Some are a little US-centric, but you can still glean something from them. I think MVM and MyShape support metric measurements.

and that brings me to an important point: Learn your measurements if you haven't already. It's very handy since sizes can vary so much.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:57 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with Alison's comments about the basics, and cannot emphasize enough that you need to establish your "basics" layer with care. Only get the stuff that really works - both in terms of fit and artistry. It's all down to the details that set apart your basics from the stuff that everyone gets at Old Navy.

On top of your basics layer, though, you want a signature - say, you do plaids well, or you have a cool minimalist look. Categorize your signature pieces and reduce it down to three basics styles that work well together.

On top of your signature layer, you have your funky over the top accessories. Some will come, so will stay. Always get a little bag or piece of jewelry or a scarf or something for yourself somewhere when you travel somewhere.
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:42 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think there's also something to be said for identifying advice that, while perhaps generally sound, isn't going to work for you personally.

For example, the unrelenting cries of "color color color" are just noise to me. I don't like wearing bright colors, they do not make me happy when I look in the mirror. Similarly, "basic" makeup is not all mandatory. If you find that you quite like a bit of concealer under your eyes but don't like futzing with eyeshadow, this is okay. You're not doing it wrong.

I am sometimes accused of having style (though secretly I am lazy and cheap). I find it daunting to consider shelling out for designer clothing, so I religiously patronize upscale consignment shops. Then I cheat with inexpensive clothes in cuts that I know that I like. The thing with buying inexpensive clothes is that you have to be more vigilant about noting their condition, as they go from "nice" to "fine" status quickly and stay at that level for awhile, then move to "recategorize from workclothes to playclothes" and then to "unflattering crap" at an alarmingly quick rate.
posted by desuetude at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2008

Shorts should be avoided by grown women unless they are for sports or cleaning up the yard.


Yes. Shorts are for sports, picnics, and the beach.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is a silly debate. It depends on the kind of shorts, what you wear with them, and how they look on your body. I don't think I can pull off shorts, but I know women who can. And if you can, you should go for it.
posted by craichead at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2008

seconding the above. shorts are not a good idea unless you have GREAT legs. cute skirts, however, are wonderful for hot weather. find some bike shorts to wear under them if you feel exposed. the new ones made out of whatever amazing wicking material they have nowadays will keep you cool and dry.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2008

I went through a process of self-improvement a few years ago, that I now jokingly refer to as my five-step self-improvement plan. In short:

1. I started to wear colours. As in, other than black, navy, & khaki. I also mixed them in ways I fancied. Turquoise with chocolate brown, turquoise with red, red with pink, grass green with khaki, etc. Right away I felt a hundred times better.

2. I started wearing makeup again. Going to high school in the 80s I wore a full face of makeup every day, including foundation, but in recent years had gone the exact opposite way. So I started wearing just basics: concealer under my eyes because I'm pale, eyeliner, mascara (now I use a clear mascara I mixed with dark brown for a moderate look). More recently I added a bit of cream blush and (gasp) eyeshadow, and I actually find it fun! It's nothing like when makeup was about trying to (literally) mask imperfections. I don't own foundation or powder or anything like that. I just play with it for fun.

3. Accessories. I actually felt wearing dangly earrings was too dressy for me. I had to get over that. I made some bracelets and found some pendants for necklaces. Nothing too crazy or wild. Just stuff I liked. And actually wore it.

4. Started wearing clothes that fit me. This meant not knee-jerk buying XL shirts anymore. I have a smaller frame, with a big rack and a tubby belly. Now, I even own one Small and some Medium shirts. Trust me, it's weird for me. But who was I kidding? Just because you can't detect the shape of my belly doesn't mean you can't tell it's there. Now you might be able to see my shape better, but strangely, it's far more flattering than wearing a tent.

5. Shoes. I never thought I'd be a shoe girl -- I hate the cliché -- but damn, there are zillions of shoes out there and way too many I like to ever buy them all. I thought I'd have to get into high heels like the What Not To Wear people force on everyone, but no! There are cute flat, rounded-toe shoes too! Way too many in fact!

There were other sub-steps too. I started wearing facial moisturizer with sunscreen, for example. I experimented with hair products until I found stuff that de-poufed and shined up my wavy hair. I became willing to blow-dry my hair.

Something I'm kind of into is personal fashion logs and street-style blogs. Not to say that I love 100% of what I see, but they provide LOTS of ideas and I've learned a lot from them.

But keep your personality. I'm a stripey-kneesock person, and you will pry them out of my cold, dead hands. The socks stay. I will never get into high heels. The flats stay.
posted by loiseau at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I like fashion and dress reasonably well I think (I get compliments on how I look fairly often). I also work in the conservation/ ecology field and have a STRONG aversion to pointless consumption and wasting perfectly good shit. The way I make it work for me is that I only buy things I need, I only buy one or a limited number of each thing (no-one needs 15 pairs of jeans or 10 hoodies) and I buy things I can wear several ways to minimize the amount of stuff I need. I buy used or off ebay at least 50% of the time and I wear my stuff to death.

I've found that this compulsive need not to buy things makes me a better and more interesting dresser becasue I have to be creative in how I put things together. I have less clothes than my boyfriend but he always looks the same, whereas I can look completely different every day (which never ceases to amaze him). I get ideas from Lucky Mag, The Sartoralist etc. A lot of dressing well is in the expensive items like shoes, coats and sweaters so shop consignment, Marshalls and ebay. It's amazing what you can get for very little money and it allows you to experiment more. I personally avoid places like Forever 21 and the cheap lines at H&M because their stuff falls apart as soon as you wash it. American Apparel is a great place for basics.

What it boils down to is that you have to wear clothes of some kind so you may as well wear things that make you happy and make people notice you in a positive way. When I don't feel like being noticed I dress in jeans and a fleece and that's fine too. I do think that people who consistently dress as blandly as possible lack confidence, or imagination or zest for life or something. Maybe I'm wrong but that's my impression.
posted by fshgrl at 3:56 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, and another thing. The OP isn't really a grown woman. She's a university student, which means that she's in the one stage in life when you can really wear whatever the hell you want. In the future, she will have all the time in the world to worry about age-appropriateness and what should and should not be worn by grown-ups. But this is a good time to leave those concerns aside and just figure out what she likes and what makes her look and feel good.
posted by craichead at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2008

i have to say that i was much like you a few years ago in my university days, not liking to fuss about my appearance. i used to think wearing nice clothes was a consumerist thing, then would get angry when people wouldn't take me seriously on first appearances. but a particularly picky friend commented the other day, "you've changed a lot since high school," which i take as a compliment coming from the likes of her.

if you're interested in the quirkier side of things, i personally like the way japanese women put their clothes together - some of their combinations are unexpected but still work.

tokyo bopper shoe store in tokyo, showing the daily outfits of staff, plus their customers
drop snap kids on the street
fashion snap another street blog

i've adapted these into my own way of dressing. i buy most of my clothes from op shops or online (yahoo japan auctions, through a deputy buyer like crescent shop).

i also have a disposition towards clothes designed under the limi feu monniker. i can't stand the frilly frou frou kind of stuff and the bad 80s revival in stores right now, and her clothes are sharp and womanly. exactly the kind of clothes i want to grow into (a la the kamikaze girls comment above).

but if you're after a mod look, it's perfect candidate for a change of haircut and makeup. are you into the music too?
posted by sardonicsmile at 10:20 PM on January 5, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks for all the inspired discussion, everyone. Definitely a lot to think about.

sardonicsmile: haha, not really. I don't really fit a "subculture" in any way. I think one day I spotted a photo of Edie Sedgwick and thought "hey, that looks rather cool!". I've had the pixie hair and quite like it, but I'm never going to be that skinny, blonde, or white, so who knows if it'll suit me.

I suppose it isn't totally fair to dismiss my wardrobe as "stuff that fits". While a lot of the things in there are gifts, the stuff that's mine were chosen because I like the look of it. I do tend to fixate on certain colours - purple, red, black. Though I can see how it can be too easy to just wear those colours and nothing else.

The main issue for me is that in Malaysia, nothing fits. I'm XL and all the clothes are made for people who are small, slim, and flat (not me). However, in the US/UK/Australia, I'm a perfect M (size 12-14), so I get a lot of gifted clothes from relatives in those countries. My Brit sister has a similar style to mine colourwise, so her choices are usually pretty good, but I don't want to end up looking like her twin (besides, she's tiny and I'm not).

I am South Asian by heritage, and there's very little in the way of guides that consider South Asian looks. Every makeup product in Malaysia includes "whitening properties" (I don't want to be white!!) and many things in Australia make you darker (I don't need a tan). I'm also lost with the yellow tone/blue tone/etc stuff. How do I find out what I am? What are the good fashion/beauty resources for South Asian people that isn't just "wear a lengha"?

Also, how do I find out what size I am? All the discussion about apple-shaped/pear-shaped/hourglass and long-legs/short-torso/etc confuses me, because I don't know what they mean. I'm guessing I'm an hourglass, because my wait is smaller than my hips or bust, but I can't wear anything that fits my waist because I have a belly that gets squished. Is there a place where I can enter specific measurements and get an idea of my actual shape?

This is me in full body, and me close up. Not the greatest photos ever, but hopefully this would give you an idea of my shape. Critique away!
posted by divabat at 11:15 PM on January 6, 2008

This is me in full body, and me close up. Not the greatest photos ever, but hopefully this would give you an idea of my shape.

I think you should see how you look when wearing a shirt that fits, and fits well. Your t-shirt is stretched out over your breasts, but hangs like a sack below. Whether snug or loose, I think a shirt that was cut to fit your actual shape would be a far more flattering look. A sack-like t-shirt doesn't actually hide that you have breasts and hips -- perhaps paradoxically, a shirt that fit could be far more modest, depending on cut and fabric. Basically, you want to try on some shirts that when seen from the side have a profile more like:


instead of the common t-shirt:


You'll want to try both shirts made from materials similar to t-shirt fabric and from fabric more like in a men's dress shirt, and with snugger and looser fits, to see what works for you.

But this is I think what people are saying a lot here -- try things on, and pick things that are actually cut to fit the way your body is actually shaped.
posted by Forktine at 7:42 AM on January 7, 2008

Seriously, you're cute and you've got curves. You've got skinny calves , too, don't hide them!

My specific recommendations:

- Your proportionally tiny waist is an asset. You would look good in a tulip-style skirt fitted at the waist with a little flare at the knee. It will roll right over your tummy and hips, keeping your feminine shape without making you shapeless. The flare will call attention to legs, flirty without being uncomfortable or showy. Also good: circle skirts or anything with just a little volume. They'll bring out your waist while hiding your tummy. Avoid: highly restrictive, fitted skirts. Pencil skirts might not work with your assets.

- Wear pants that are a more relaxed with a straight leg or a little flair at the bottom. They'll be more comfortable and they'll deemphasize your hips in proportion to your legs. It might be the camera angle, but in the picture you are Hips and legs, it would be good to bring them into proportion.

- Darts are your friend. Darts refer to those seams in shirts and dresses that nip the waist in white leaving room for the chest and stomach/hips. They create an instant feminine silhouette while leaving room for your lady assets. Most women's non-knit collared shirts have these; they are easily dressed up or down and come in tons of colors.

- Maybe a little something for your hair? A barrette would give your hair a little bit of a finished look and they only take a few seconds to put on in the morning.

Finally, I've never been to Malaysia, but I never go to SE Asia without getting something tailored. It's especially handy if you have something specific in your mind, but can't find it in the right shape or color. I would suggest having a custom light coat made and a few pairs of pants. You'll have your pick of colors and something made just to fit you.
posted by Alison at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2008

I have some understanding of where you're coming from. I am an hourglass - a very very curvy hourglass. I'm also a redhead, and as far as fashion and makeup are concerned, I don't exist. I've tried every foundation/concealer on the market, and everything is too dark for my skin tone. Can't wear eye makeup for various reasons, so I can wear eyebrow pencil and lippy, that's it. As a result ... I don't use makeup, pretty much ever.

I'm also a geek.

I get a lot of compliments on my appearance, in a lot of different contexts; I chose clothing (and hairstyles) that match my mood. Some days, that's 'cute goth chick'. Some days, it's 'relaxed geek'. Other days, it's 'executive businesswoman'. Today, it's 'elegant and relaxed', which means a brown flowing skirt, black v-neck sleeveless top, and cute flat black shoes, and hair twisted into a bun with a silver clip.

But the key here is that all my clothes are comfortable; and, that most of my clothes go with most of my other clothes. Incidentally, I buy perhaps 5 articles of clothing a year.

A few years ago, I just wore whatever. No real style, per se. I started developing style, firstly, by throwing out everything I hadn't worn in a year. Then, I sat down and identified my favourite items of clothing. Next step was about me: who was I, in certain contexts? I was never a giggly, girly sort of girl. I was sometimes geeky (so geeky tshirts with jeans); sometimes gothy (so a short black skirt, boots, fishnets, and something lowcut and dark); sometimes business-y (a suit or three, and some well-fitted blowses); and so on and so forth.

Don't be afraid to be who you are. I get looks for wearing a corset with jeans, for wearing my hair braided or in vairous plait configurations, and get stopped on the street and asked to explain my tshirt, but hey. It's all just who I am.
posted by ysabet at 12:14 AM on January 12, 2008

man, how did I miss this thread! So late to the game. I love fashion, and divabat you're always great, so I must have been asleep that day!

First, everyone who started with the haircut is exactly right, followed closely by wearing clothes that fit. I also agree that you want to be careful equating "style" and "fashion." I'm not particularly fashionable but I'm really really stylish; I am one of the rare people that it's easy to buy clothes for-- I apparently have such a particular sense of style, that friends will see something and say--woah that's a Xan (um, nax) garment. Even, as you can see, my name. (Yes, that's my real name.)

Anyway, back to practical advice, if you're still reading this thread. Find out where your best-haircut friend gets his or her hair done and by whom (the stylist will make a difference). Get 3 or 4 trims in your current style so the stylist can get to know you a little (this is a long-term process, this part might take 4 months). At the fifth session, let 'er go crazy and give you something cool. Don't be afraid to cut long hair off. It is a transforming experience, and any, hair grows back.

If you have a friend with a stylish teenage daughter who knows you pretty well (or if you have a stylish teenage daughter or sister), go shopping with them. My daughter is an amazing tool for what works and what doesn't-- she steers me really well, sometimes to things I wouldn't choose on my own, but which end up working. I was terrified to shop without her for months after she left!

Have fun!
posted by nax at 9:52 AM on January 20, 2008

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