Do you dress for your shape or wear what you like?

Tall ladies of the internet! Check out this vintage fashion advice my friend posted on Facebook:
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Ignore for a minute the fact that both clothing recommendations look basically identical. Do you think about your height and shape when you’re deciding what to wear?

You can find this advice everywhere, but I’ve never paid much attention, although I loved Trinny and Susannah back in the day (I always wanted to go into their magical 360 degree mirror cabinet. Admit it, how perfect would that be for fitting home-sewn clothes?)

This vintage fashion advice seems to be saying that tall girls can’t pull off girly clothing, which is basically ridiculous. And yet – I am sort of uncomfortable in super-girly outfits. I feel like I’m wearing a costume. For example, although I love this dress I made, I’ve only worn it about 3 times.

Things get even more complicated when you think about side-to-side shape, rather than just up-and-down. You enter the area of fruit based advice. You know, comparing ladies to apples and pears and carrots and what-not.

body shape

After doing some googling, I discovered that Caryn Franklin (yes, her off the Clothes Show!) has some pretty comprehensive style guides on her website. She even has a guide specifically for tall, pear-shaped ladies, which I promptly downloaded.

It says that pear-shaped ladies should avoid skinny jeans and instead wear black A-line skirts to disguise their shameful hip area, which is what these style advice people always say.

When it comes to tall women though, the guide gives exactly the OPPOSITE advice to the anonymous vintage style book author. She says that too often we wear dark, manly clothes to try and blend in, when we should aim for more ‘feminine, sensual styles’

Choose clothes that have softer features. Fitted blouses with shaping and feminine touches like pussy bows, for instance, still perform the same function as a plain shirt. For knitwear choose textured knits, like cable, where you can enjoy the soft rounded knitted stitching. This will add a level of femininity and sensuality and you can take it further. A soft wrap around style with a knitted collar will be far more interesting than a plain pullover. Designs that have a certain amount of volume in them will always feminise your silhouette, simply put, this means look for garments that have more material in them.

So what are you saying, Caryn? Should I be wrapping myself up in acres of frilled lace and cable knitwear? I thought I was supposed to avoid ‘little girl’ fashions!

Too girly?
Too girly?

Some of the recommendations make sense though. I tried on some maxi skirts the other day, and they actually looked awesome – and they are recommended wear for  tall people.

What do you reckon? Do you try and ‘dress for your shape’?


40 thoughts on “Do you dress for your shape or wear what you like?

  1. Miriana January 29, 2013 / 8:30 PM

    I’m over six foot and Caryn Franklin’s statement that I probably avoid heels wound me up no end. I’m taller than most anyway, so might as well make a feature of it. I would, however, avoid anything girly – small ditzy prints, Peter Pan collars etc… It feels wrong, especially as I’m not particularly skinny. I love being tall mind, but the annoyance of dressing a tall body in RTW is one of the reasons I’m learning to sew.

    • yesilikethat January 31, 2013 / 10:13 AM

      It was a big factor in me learning to sew as well. I am on the fence about Peter Pan collars, I think they can look good if they’re not combined with super-frilly dresses. I do try and avoid ditsy prints, they make me feel like a giant dressed in a child’s clothing! 🙂

  2. thesecretlifeofseams January 28, 2013 / 1:52 PM

    I find some of that expert advice is a bit loaded, like how to ‘feminise your silhouette’, as if tall = un-feminine! There’s nothing mannish about you or tall ladies in general! I’m comfortable with what suits me but I’ve started wearing a few things which aren’t my ideal to keep things fresh.
    If I was taller like you I’d be tempted by grecian styles. Lots of draping as recommended. Or I bet you’d look cool in a flapper style!

  3. Clare January 27, 2013 / 7:19 PM

    Advice for tall skinnies always used to be to break up the vertical lines – see the belt on the dress and the details on the jacket – but following a course of medical treatment, I suddenly became somewhat wider and now I do my best to emphasise and stretch the verticals!
    I actually feel that I look short and dumpy even though my height is the same! I too like to cover my knees but there’s a fine line between elegant and frumpy.
    And don’t get me started on frilly, “feminine” stuff! It just looks SOOOO wrong!

    • Miriana January 29, 2013 / 8:32 PM

      I totally agree about the frilly stuff

  4. Thea January 26, 2013 / 5:59 PM

    Ooh, this is such an interesting topic, – I love the vintage advice in its condescendingness (‘too tall and thin’), and how everybody’s a bit different with what they pick 🙂 I’m also what you could call a tall pear, but I tend to go more by trial and error/comfort zones than what anybody says. The only thing I’ve ever picked up on is to emphasise my waist. Beyond that, it’s so individual – some people might recommend high necklines or halternecks, but if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you (I hate both on me). I’ve just started going for very clean, quite fitted lines, but finding clothes is really hard if a dropped waist or empire line is an vogue… Sewing to the rescue!
    I’m going to try making a maxi skirt now that you recommend it for us tall gals 🙂 Thea

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:15 PM

      Have to agree about emphasising the waist, think that’s always important. I definitely want to make a maxi skirt this year, although not sure how to style it! But that’s a whole other can of worms….

  5. Gilraen January 26, 2013 / 8:43 AM

    I have a few rules that I follow on most days. I keep in mind that I have a shape and that things will not look good. Skinny jeans and I are no friends as are high necklines.
    I also keep in mind that if wearing long weathshirts they become like mini dresses making my legs look terribly short. I also do not try to hide my hips as i do not think they are shameful.
    Other than that I make sue that the colour pallette is mine. I feel comfortable in certain colours and literally off colour in others and I do think that shape/colour combinations can help pulling off stuff that would otherwise be iffy

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:16 PM

      That’s very interesting about shape and colour combo. I am pretty useless at this stuff. Would love to hear how you choose these.

  6. six and a quarter January 25, 2013 / 11:37 PM

    My take on the vintage images is that the right side shows garments with a bit more volume (pleated skirt vs straight on the left) so that you don’t look like a twig. I’m not sure that my style would change if I was any shorter – my main concern is that my clothes fit! Once I found longer ‘tall’ tops, I thought they were a lot more flattering because they didn’t chop me off awkwardly at the waist – they actually showed off my curves. Whenever I feel iffy about skinny jeans, I just remember when my short roommate (I probably have 8-10 inches on her) was wearing them and all I could think was “gosh, your legs look so stubby”. No matter my waist size, I can rock skinny jeans (better than the short girls) simply because of my height. It’s all an optical illusion.

    Funny also that you don’t like empire waists – I’ve already decided that (someday) when I get married, I want to wear a sleek empire waist dress (preferably with heels if I find myself a tall man) because it would make me look a million feet tall (and slim), and It’s a style that I can pull off that no one else can. Might as well take advantage of your height, if you have it!

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:17 PM

      I’m not sure where my anti-empire waist prejudice comes from – I like the 60s ones, but not so much the very high Grecian ones. Maybe it’s just from trying on lots in shops that just cut across my chest, as I have such a long torso…

      Nice point about tall girls wearing skinny jeans! Will have to remember that 🙂

    • Miriana January 29, 2013 / 8:33 PM

      How right you are – long legs look great.

  7. soisewedthis January 25, 2013 / 10:12 PM

    Very interesting! Those vintage books giving advice make me chuckle. “The too tall and too thin girl should strive to subtract an inch…” I wonder how they defined “too tall” or “too thin”. I often forget that i’m that much taller than my friends – I’m a little over 5’8″. Am I too tall? haha. I did decide that I’m too tall for 4″ heels. I’m sticking to lower ones. And I don’t like skinny jeans on me, but i think they look cute on others. I like my jeans best when they’re cut like trousers. I’m also particular about finding pants that go all the way down to my shoes. And I share your dislike of empire waists. I have a long torso and always had to get 2 piece bathing suits. Now that I’ve started sewing, I pretty much lengthen the bodice of every pattern by 2 inches.

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:21 PM

      I’m 5ft 9, so not hugely tall, but I can’t walk in heels so I never wear them. I think tall girls look great in heels though.

      I make the 2 inch pattern alteration too! Every time!

  8. gingermakes January 25, 2013 / 8:11 PM

    I’m conscious about what styles look best on me, but I don’t really dress for my shape day to day. I’m pretty rectangular and boyish, so I know that I like to wear dresses that give me the illusion of curves and a waist, but my everyday wardrobe is really androgynous (skinny trousers, boyfriend buttondowns, etc.). I feel uncomfortable in things that are clingy, revealing, or really feminine, so I don’t know how good I look most of the time, but at least I dress in a way that feels comfortable to me (for example, a looser, but not baggy tee instead of a tight baby tee).

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:22 PM

      I prefer more of an androgynous everyday wardrobe too – although I would like to make more casual skirts that aren’t too girly.

  9. craftylittlebugger January 25, 2013 / 8:08 PM

    Interesting topic, and brilliant illustrations. I love that ‘the greatest heritage of all’ is bestowed upon us taller ladies!

    Personally I hate wearing girly frou-frou outfits. It rules out ruffles, frills and cutesy peter pan collars (sadly). I feel like Bette Davis in Baby Jane. I also avoid high heels (more for comfort than style), but overall I wear what I want, and what I like. I don’t care too much about looking taller, or more like a pear/potato/pie. I used to be a lot thinner so took it for granted that I could wear most things and look alright. Now I’m older and my hips are getting wider, I’m aware of not being able to fit into certain clothes, but it hasn’t stopped me style-wise. This is where sewing becomes an awesome skill. I prefer pencil skirts to a-line, but generally seem to end up knee length. Need to change it up a bit. I could go on…

    For the record my knees are a bit weird looking too, but I’m getting over it. No-one really looks down there.

    • yesilikethat January 27, 2013 / 7:23 PM

      There’s a great TV interview out there somewhere with Coco Chanel in the 60s where she rails at the fashion for mini-skirts because no woman has attractive knees. It is that whole Baby Jane look that I dread! Mutton dressed as lamb… (what a sexist phrase that is)

  10. The Amazing Taracat January 25, 2013 / 8:06 PM

    Great post! I think you have to ignore the ‘rules’ and find what suits by trial and error. As a shortie (5ft 2) I should apparently never wear maxi dresses or skirts. However whenever I ignore that advice and wear them anyway I always get compliments. I think it is as much about how you wear it and whether you look comfortable. And there is nothing wrong with your knees 🙂

  11. CGCouture January 25, 2013 / 6:06 PM

    My “current” shape is probably what T&S call the “vase”. So I’m a vase with a belly. Or something like that. I previously tried sticking to the (pathetically little) information that they have for people with bellies (i.e. apple-shaped), but some of it is so down right mean IMO (maternity jeans?!) and just makes me look and feel dumpy. In more recent months I’ve decided to ignore most of the advice and just try a bit of everything and see what I feel suits me best. Obviously it’s not foolproof, but I think it’s worth a try. 🙂

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 6:08 PM

      Maternity jeans?? That’s so harsh! That’s what bothers me about this sort of advice, it’s always like ‘hide away your shameful areas!’. Although if you’re looking for inspiration, you should check out the Liberty London Girl blog – she works in the fashion industry and quite often blogs about what she wears, and she is an apple shape… no maternity jeans in sight!

  12. lizzylikescake January 25, 2013 / 5:21 PM

    Very interesting post and comments!

    I totally ignore my body shape when it comes to clothes….But then I am quite short so maybe it’s easier to get away with things?

    I find that I put something on, think to myself that it’s a bit unflattering on my unnecessary big bum and thighs and then wear it anyway which probably isn’t the best approach….

    P.S Kathryn- there’s nothing wrong with your knees or how you look in skinny jeans!
    I do share the knee paranoia though. I think my arthritis has made my knees look a bit odd these days but I don’t want to have to give up on short skirts in the summer so I am ignoring it and hoping no-one will notice.

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 5:57 PM

      Thanks Lizzy! But I don’t think many people have nice knees, they are a strange body part. Mine are a bit weird as I’m slightly bow-legged which makes skinny jeans a bit strangely fitting at the bottom.

  13. prttynpnk January 25, 2013 / 3:55 PM

    Sadly, I like the girly, but I am of a bigger size and too many frills make me look like a well dressed canopy bed for a pretty princess!

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 4:07 PM

      ha ha! If I wear anything too frilly or girly I feel like a drag queen dressed up as Shirley Temple.

    • Miriana January 29, 2013 / 8:41 PM

      Or Grayson Perry

  14. Saskia January 25, 2013 / 3:17 PM

    I think the vintage advice and Caryn’s actually agree – the images on the left are straight-up-and-down, boxy garments with embellishments around the collar and shoulders, all things that draw the eye upwards. The ones on the left add curves and details that break the vertical line a bit. Perhaps the little girl thing refers more to empire lines and flounces around the knee?

    I don’t think I pay enough attention to my shape when making clothes or buying them, really. I am still upset that the man who made my wedding dress vetoed my dream of a 1920s gown because it wouldn’t suit my apple-shaped short self. He was completely right and the empire-line 1930s-type dress I ended up with was lovely, but still. In my head I am tall and lean!

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 4:07 PM

      Interesting point – you have a better eye than me, the ones on the right do all emphasise the waistline a bit more. Plus, I love that huge hat suggested for taller ladies!

      In my head I think I am about 5 ft 6, I always get a shock when I see myself in the mirror compared to all my friends (who are nearly all very short, for some reason). I’ve been working on my posture though, it’s ironic that tallness makes you want to slouch, when that just makes you more conspicuous. I feel better when I’m standing up straight.

  15. EmSewCrazy January 25, 2013 / 3:14 PM

    Oooh! What a great post! Being a tall girl I had to jump in. I would probably be classified as a large slender person. I find us tall girls get the greatest flexibility in our wardrobes. We can wear separates and super long things. That being said, I find the things I like best and feel best to wear, have something accenting my natural waistline. Advice is good but in the end you need to wear what you feel comfortable in. Plus I think if you have Good Fit I think you will look good in many different styles.

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 4:04 PM

      It’s true that if you’re not comfortable you’ll never look right because you’re always shifting around and pulling at things. The no. 1 thing that annoys me about RTW is the waistlines – I have such a long torso that they always fit somewhere around my rib cage and it just looks (and feels) weird.

    • gingermakes January 25, 2013 / 8:12 PM

      That’s such a great point– fit is so important for you to feel and look good!

  16. shivani January 25, 2013 / 3:11 PM

    great topic! this is something that I think about quite a lot (I’ve downloaded that guide too – thanks for the link!). I’m tall and pear, and I tend to not wear ruffly, frilly clothes – but this is more because it’s never been my style (even as a v small child I would howl if made to wear girly-girl dresses and bonnets).

    I don’t always agree with the rules on dressing for your shape. I do have skinny-ish jeans (cigarette leg, rather than properly skinny), and I don’t think I look a shameful fright. But I am concious about too much volume around the hip area with skirts: so I tend to wear pleats instead of gathers, for example.

    I’ve never tried maxi dresses/skirts – seems like rather a lot of fabric to deal with, but I might just give it a go.

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 4:02 PM

      I think we are basically the same shape so I am always interested to see what you sew. I live in skinny jeans, but they do make me look pretty heavy around the hip. Mostly I don’t care, and I refuse to start wearing flares, but sometimes it does bother me. I reckon you can get away with gathers at the hip if the skirt is short and it fits right at the waist with a defined waist-line, but need to experiment further…

  17. Sew Little Time January 25, 2013 / 2:24 PM

    i’m also tall and i tend to avoid too girly things, like ruffled skirts (you know with the ruffle around the bottom – can’t think if that is the right word for it!) but i don’t think pussybows/ peter pan collars fall into that category. i don’t normally go for lace or frills at all, but i do love maxi skirts and dresses. the only problem is finding them long enough! i’m about to try making some trousers to get a good fit! most of the things i look for in clothing are actually for other reasons than height – like kerry i have wide shoulders so never wear halters, and i have a largeish frame so i don’t like empire lines – i need something pulled in at the waist.

    rachel at cardigan empire has some interesting thoughts on dressing different figures if you fancy having a look!

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 4:01 PM

      Thanks for the heads up about Cardigan Empire, just checked it out and it looks v interesting!

      I reckone peter pan collars and pussybow blouses can go either way, it’s all about the styling/material. I also dislike empire lines, when you’re tall looks like such a loooong way from the empire line to the floor! I think I need waist-emphasising things.

  18. Mary January 25, 2013 / 2:14 PM

    Great topic. I struggle with the whole thing (as usual). I’m not a girly-girl either, even though I spend a lot of my time in skirts and dresses. I think what’s important is that you like what you see in the mirror. Sometimes we all need a little help with that. I tend to struggle with the whole idea that I need to change how I dress according to someone else’s rules, but the truth is, sometimes they are right. I guess it all comes down to information. The more information you have, the better, but where what makes you feel great.

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 3:59 PM

      What’s weird is that sometimes I see one thing in the mirror and a totally different view in photos. Totally good point about information – it’s always good to get more, and then you can pick and choose what you want.

  19. Kerry January 25, 2013 / 2:12 PM

    I have a few rules that I stick to as I am tall but shaped like an inverted triangle so anything emphasising shoulders (like halternecks) looks bad on me for example and fuller skirts suit my figure to balance my shoulders.

    I am also fussy about getting the right length of skirt to be flattering (not too short and either a couple of inches above or just on the knee) but that’s why sewing is great as I have control over that. I did wear a maxi dress on holiday and loved it but it feels a bit theatrical for my everyday style. Should probably experiment with that – but then if you are tall it can be a challenge to get a maxi long enough!

    • yesilikethat January 25, 2013 / 3:58 PM

      I also obsess over skirt lengths, I can never decide what suits me though. My knees are too awful to expose with tights but wearing longer skirts all the time gets a bit dull.

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