Right now, we’re in that sweet window of time where the days are warm/cool. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, because I get to wear one of my favorite outfit recipes: shorts + sweaters.
Let’s talk about these shorts. I’ve had ’em forever — since before I even started blogging. They are wildly comfortable, and I wear them almost every day in the summer.
But here’s the thing: they are unflattering in the butt. The pockets are placed too wide and they are all kinds of baggy back there.
So far, it hasn’t bothered me enough to ditch them. Because, comfort. Plus, if it’s really bugging me one day, I can just pair ’em with a longer top that covers my butt, like I did here.
But it’s got me thinking about the relationship between the word “flattering” and my clothes.
Over the years, I’ve read different articles from different views — some believe we feel happier and more confident if our clothes are flattering. Others believe we should abandon the word altogether and wear whatever brings us joy, even if it doesn’t enhance our appearance.
Personally, I think there’s room for both views. I’m a mix of both, myself. I’ve got both flattering and unflattering favorites in my closet. I bet you do too.
Plus, when it comes down to it, I bet we all have different definitions of the word itself. It’s all invented anyway. :)
But I’d love to hear your perspective. So tell me, what are your thoughts on the whole flattering vs. unflattering thing? Do you think there are universal definitions or do you simply define it for yourself? What do you do with items that overlap: they bring you joy, but you also find them to be unflattering? Share away in the comments. :)
• • •
Liked today’s outfit? You can shop it and support Unfancy at the same time by using these affiliate links:
01 | Sweater by Leith (Fit note: I’m wearing an XS) | similar | similar
02 | Jean Shorts (old by American Eagle) | similar (made in USA) | similar (under $50)
03 | Hi-top sneakers (old) | similar
04 | Delicate circle necklace (old) | similar
Tania /// HILLITA says
I agree with you in that I have mixed views – but I’ll take it a step further and add “it depends on the environment”. Obviously we (your readers) all care what we look like since we are following you, a fashion blog – so it would be a lie if someone didn’t worry about whether or not they look good in something. At the same time, we all have days when we have so many errands to run or tasks to complete that looking good is the furthest thing from our minds.
For example, I wouldn’t care if my shorts give me flat butt during the relaxing weekend I set out for myself, but I definitely care if my slacks give me the same look in my corporate life.
Good point, Tania. Environment is an important factor!
Melody smith says
I agree! Comfort is very important in our “down time”. And I believe there’s a big difference between something that’s so incredibly unflattering, it should be tossed & something that’s just not totally 100% flattering but oh well. I love to watch the TV show What Not to Wear & laugh so hard when people say things like “I’m just going to IHOP” & the hosts respond “People at IHOP have eyes too!” LOL! So I try to satisfy my need for comfort while taking into consideration everyone else’s eyes! :)
Tanya E says
I think comfortable is the right word, do I feel comfortable wearing something? Does it feel like me? Then that’s OK. If I don’t feel comfortable, and want to change out of something at the first opportunity, then that’s not good. The shorts look pretty good and flattering actually, but you would need to put leggings/thick tights under here (UK) and a coat! Full rainy storm force winds today…
Andreea U. says
I think comfort it should be the everyday word to care of and this will drive you to a conclusion on every outfit you wear. If I am not feeling like myself in a certain item and i dont feel myself even after adding a little something, i will ditch it eventually.
For example, I have a very comfortable cashmere sweater but because of the washing machine (someone did not read the instructions) now it has a few small holes in it on the front side… I dont want to throw it away and it does not work to be sewed…it is part of my spring wardrobe so I am starting to think what can I do to save it because I love it so much…maybe a vest, or a few more holes to make it appear like they belong there will work :)) but the thing is I dont want to ditch it because it makes me feel myself in it, even with those holes in.
Look into needle felting to mend your sweater!
sarah mozelle says
or get a layering tee in same color so holes aren’t so viewable? funky patches?
andreea u. says
Thank you for the ideas!
Try darning :-) http://www.zerowastehome.com/2013/02/how-to-darning/ It sounds intimidating but actually super easy.
Denise k. says
For the most part, I lean toward the flattering. But I won’t buy anything that’s not also comfortable as well. Btw, congrats on your article in the Chip and Joanna Gaines magazine! It was fantastic!!
Thank you Denise! Can you even believe that craziness? Still pinching myself. :)
Typically I feel more confident when my clothes are flattering to my figure, but as I have become more comfortable with my body I have cared less about this. I personally prefer things to be clean and simple and if it doesn’t feel right I won’t wear it. I am short, I have longer legs but a short torso, so I tend to dress to flatter my shape and proportions. Being a shorter person there are certain things I would have never worn before, like cropped pants or low shaft boots, but if they are comfortable and I feel good in them, I don’t care if its the most flattering thing! I am just all about feeling good in my body and confident in my clothes :)
I think if we focus just on flattering we can really limit ourselves as far as what we wear (i.e. I have to wear loose fitting shirts, I only look good in skinny jeans) and that can get boring and uninspiring really fast.
That said, I don’t feel comfortable in something that is entirely unflattering (even if I’m at home chilling). Feeling ugly just isn’t comfortable to me.
So I guess, don’t get stuck in rules/somebody else’s definition of what’s flattering to your body type, do what’s comfy (even if for you that means it has to look pretty)!
I own my denim shorts also since decades :) Love your shorts and how you have styled them!
xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena
For me I think it’s a combination. I think there are certain things that are universally unflattering – such as horizontal stripes on larger people (sorry not trying to be offensive), certain cuts of jeans on different people…I think you have to be aware of your body type. And back pockets are a difficult thing because our butts are behind us! Years ago I had no awareness of how my jeans could make my butt look until someone pointed it out to me that one of my pants “made my butt look weird”.
-Kirsten // http://www.porkandcookies.com
But if a larger person (I’m happy with fat but if you want to Pussy foot around it feel free) loves stripes and feels great in them (I do!) then why do they owe it to you or anyone else to dress in something more flattering?
I am probably to old/ too fat/ too something for a ton of the clothes I love but I didn’t care what anyone else thinks. If I love it I will wear it. I take a quick glance in the mirror to make sure my skirt isn’t tucked into my knickers but other than that I care about how my clothes make me feel not how they make me look!
Max daniels says
Horizontal stripes looking unflattering on fat folks is one of those social constructs like “boys don’t cry” or “you can’t wear white after Labor Day” or “skinny is better.” We think it’s true because we were taught it was true, but just like “flattering” it’s completely subjective and based on social norms. (See: the way beauty norms have changed over the last millennium.)
I grew up believing the fashion rule that busy prints on larger women was a big no-no, and then Adele looked incredible in that red and black floral dress to the 2013 Grammys and suddenly it was obvious that it didn’t matter. Sometimes you just have to spend some time on Pinterest or style blogs retraining your eye/mind – and then there’s so much more out there to appreciate!
(PS I think it’s also worth noting how many rules about what’s flattering apply to women’s bodies instead of men’s, and how often those rules restrict women whose bodies don’t fit the current beauty norm. There’s a lot more going on there than seemingly objective aesthetics.)
THIS THIS THIS. You nailed it, LeahLW.
Sarah Peters says
I wholeheartedly agree with what you said about retraining your eye/mind – this is ongoing work for me that takes Pinterest and style blogs and sometimes magazines and trying on new silhouettes. This practice takes me out of my comfort zone (which is really my “illusion of safety and pre-judgement zone”). Thanks for the reminder!
When I think of unflattering clothes, it is usually my baggy workout pants, my solid black Nike shoes that look like restaurant shoes, and a baggy T-shirt. These are my doggie park clothes. They are comfortable and I don’t care if they get dirty. The only downside is, if I see a cute guy at the dog park, I kick myself wondering why I didn’t wear my Girlfriend Collective leggings (thank’s for bringing those to my attention! They are awesome!) and a cute top…which are more flattering.
So, do I sacrifice getting my flattering clothes dirty and/or torn (from doggies jumping on me) but yet feel more confidant or be comfy and shy?
It is a struggle! LOL
Tough call, Gina! Haha, I’m sure we’ve all been there — especially when that cute boy shows up! ;) Glad you are enjoying the leggings too!
I definitely do agree that I feel more confident in things that are flattering. However, I don’t think I’m as aware of the fit/flatter unless there is a picture involved. I tend to stop liking the fit of something if I find it photographs terribly and does a disfavor to me – or is a distraction. I recently discovered a sweater I have that is big and comfy and cute makes me look like I put on a men’s XL sweater from the 90s. And I don’t care because I love it! I just have to know moving forward it may not photograph well, it may not look well to others, but I still feel cute/cozy when I’m in it!
Hey Simone, I totally get that. There are definitely items that are not photogenic! It’ll feel great in person and then when I try to snap pictures? Ugh! What happened? Well, as long as we feel good in real life, that’s the important thing. :)
I guess my question would be, who defines what is “flattering”? To me, in our society, this often equates to what makes you appear thinner. Why is the cultural ideal clothing that diminishes our size?
Hey Amy, that’s a great point. I guess I hadn’t thought of it in terms of size — but more the way that it fits my body. (Like the saggy bum) That being said, I think your perspective is very valid and gives me more to think about! Thank you for sharing. :)
I think the word “flattering” is kind of like the phrase “dressing for your body” — it sort of implies that something is wrong with our bodies/body shape that we need to hide/cover up. I think it when we are talking about “flattering” we are really describing fit, the design, the color, etc… and it would be better to use those terms.
Maybe rather than hiding or covering up parts of our bodies, dressing in flattering clothing means highlighting the best part of our bodies and showcasing our personalities while making us feel good on the inside. That good feeling is reflected in our positive self image and by the smile on our face-that’s always flattering!
Interesting topic! IMHO, “flattering” will mean different things to different people. I’m in my mid-50s, not a size 2 ;). So, “flattering” to me means (a) a color that doesn’t make me look washed out or yellowed; (b) a fit that is between baggy and tight; (c) a style that is appropriate for my lifestyle and age. (By “age” I mean clothing that doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to be an age that I am not — younger or older.) So, when I wear clothing that fits these criteria, I feel good about myself.
I don’t think you could have a universal definition of “flattering” because we are all beautiful in unique ways.
Virgina, so wonderfully said. Thank you for sharing in such a kind way! :)
I lurk, but unlurked to whole-heartedly agree with this!!! Flattering to me means “me … but better”. Comfortable, well made things ethically made where possible that make me look good – not good for my age – and reflect my personality.
My simple wardrobe contains patterns and is built around blue. Works for me :).
Great post and some brilliant comments. Have a lovely day and thank you :)
I think flattering is partially a matter of cultural and generational perception. I generally prefer clothing that makes me happy. Only some of it is probably flattering. Some combinations of my clothes are flattering (good silhouette and neutral colors) but make me feel sad (too little color) so I avoid those combos.
That is so interesting! I am really into only wearing flattering pieces – more so than I would like. And while I definitely think the universal definitions are helpful to a point, but I have many of my own preferences and tricks as well.
When I fall in love with a piece or trend that doesn’t flatter me, I either find a way to make it work in a more flattering way or ditch it. Harsh, right? I wish I was a little more confident in my figure; it would make getting dressed more fun. Do you feel like you are less confident when you wear those unflattering pieces?
Laura @ http://www.thriveorsurvive.us
Well, I avoid anything above the knee and generally prefer relaxed or wide legged pants because I am conscious of my skinny legs and tights, short dresses are un-flattering. This eliminates half the clothes in the market. sigh!
And yet I find people with rather chunky legs wearing everything because chunky is more acceptable than too skinny and good for them – what is one to do on a hot day? get comfy and unflattering be damned.
clarice d says
I’ve undergone a shift in my relationship with the notion of flattering my body with what I wear over the past few years. It’s now less of an objective thing for me and more internal, although still not as firmly the latter as I’d like. I’m working on it :) I think the problem comes when we start to hold ideas like “flattering is in the eye of the beholder” as our guiding principles when it comes to what we wear. For me that has translated too much as “I need to look as slim as possible for my body to be recognised as beautiful”. Dangerous. As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to appreciate my body for how it looks and feels to me. If I think about flattering its appearance, I think about enhancing the features that I love, for my own pleasure. And not just the pleasure we take in compliments from other people, nice as they fleetingly are. Body flattery as a celebration of self. Much more joyful…and safer.
Hi Clarice, That’s a great way to look at it — enhance the features YOU love, regardless what the made up rules say. Thank you for sharing! :)
tamsie ray says
This look is good on young girls. I’m not a fan of this on Women of a Certain Age. In the comfort of your own home – go for it. On a beach- yes.
I think the key thing with whether something is flattering or not is awareness. If you know that others could perceive something to be unflattering, but you love it, you go girl! I think some people who are not into style just wear things without realizing other things could look better and don’t feel good in their clothes. If that is the case, someone should help them out.
I find momjeans unflattering because they were worn by my mom when I was younger – hence the name – and that was for me for a long time a reason why I didn’t like certain looks or items. So nowadays I still find them unflattering on myself.
If something is flattering or not is often a point of view or a question of trends. And my experience is that I get confused when people tell me that something is flattering on me when I don’t agree with that. In the past that was when I purchased something that I never wore again.
Nowadays I love to go shopping by myself and avoid shop assistants :D
I think life is too short not to wear something you feel great in, that being said sometimes comfort is the very thing you need most. When I’ve had a hard week, I find comforting objects – clothes, tea, old movies, Pumpernickel my cat – can’t be beat.
Love the sneakers!
I’d say, the more active the activity (gardening, riding a horse), the less I care. I still select gear that is cute but it is not a primary concern. I select it for function.
I do think there is such a thing as beloved-cute -fugly …those items you love but that youknow the world views as ugly…and you know they are kinda ugly…but you wear em anyway. Now, when more than 50% of your wardrobe is like this, some friend may stage a fashion-police intervention, but I say-let em. Rock your look.
Hahaha yes! Holly, I love it :)
Sarah Peters says
The key question for me is: flattering by whose definition? I’ve identified what is considered flattering by society (this varies tremendously based on setting/where you live), what is considered flattering by my social circle (nearest and dearest), and my own definition of flattering. Many times these three definitions don’t overlap, but the last one is the most important.
Sure, I dress my body shape in a way that is considered flattering in my PNW society, and I do delight in compliments from my social circle, but I won’t leave the house in an outfit that I don’t feel is flattering to me and authentic to my self, first and foremost. And I do wear silhouettes and colors that my nearest and dearest might find less flattering, but I’m the arbiter of my own style and I set the standard. What’s most important is how I function and feel, physically and emotionally, in my clothes.My body, my closet, my rules.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I’m excited to read how others respond.
Great perspective, Sarah! I love your attitude and I agree that the rules about what defines flattering are all over the place, based on opinion and location. So you just do you girl. :)
Whether my clothes are “flattering” or not totally depends on what I’m dressing for. If I’m giving a presentation, meeting a client or networking, I feel better if I know my clothes are flattering; that they are making a statement about my professionalism and attention to detail. Many people make snap judgments at first sight and I want to make a good first impression. In the alternative, when I’m hanging out with friends and/or family, I don’t worry about how I’m dressed. I’m already known and accepted in those groups, so I can dress for myself and my own comfort.
Caroline, you are such a beautiful woman and can wear anything. But you asked about flattering. The sweater, not the baggy bum, is the issue for me.
I understand why you love the sweater. The shape, the softness, the style. The color, however, doesn’t flatter your flawless porcelain skin because it’s almost the same color as your skin. What about going monochrome, not with your skin, but with your shorts? Like the same sweater in faded chambray blue? Or navy, or maroon (like your plaid shirt), or your toast sweater?
My skin is the same color as yours. I gave a talk recently about wardrobe creation and someone in the audience asked “You look so good in beautiful color, why do you always wear neutrals and black?” It hit hard. And, it hit home. So, I’ve started wearing color. I’m still working through the accessories thing as well as how to pull off looks that aren’t monochromatic, but I get many more compliments than before!
Perhaps your next challenge might be a color challenge. There really is something to the old “Color-Me-Beautiful,” winter, summer, spring, fall thing.
Thanks for all of your great tips!
Anna W says
I’m a color palette geek, and dressing to accentuate my natural colors has made the single biggest impact on my wardrobe these last few years. I recommend the color/season analysis for everyone!
I’ve heard so much lately about personal color palettes and dressing for your season — I’m definitely intrigued! :)
Miss Field says
I know. Like I’ve said before, everyone is wearing chambray, tan and black these days. And grey. Colors are so beautiful. I don’t mean neon plastic-looking colors, but rather rich and luxurious colors like you would see in nature. Pastels are also pretty cool when it comes to things like yellow and pink.
I didn’t believe in it for a while, but when I wore a new blazer in a new color I liked to work and EVERYONE asked if I was sick [the color completely washed me out], I did 2 things: First, I decided that I was going to take a sick day and second, I realized that color really does impact our looks, no matter our opinion of it.
Jan Marie says
Agree!!! Caroline, you’re so gorgeous, and with your high contrast complexion-to-hair, you can wear a lot of awesome bold colors no prob (like in your early days of tomato red!). But that top makes you look a little… ill. And that’s never flattering!
A few shades darker would look great. Have you ever tried home-dyeing? I tried it for the first time last year, and again this past year, first with Dylon and then with RIT dyes. Totally awesome results. I’d love to see you dye this sweater that great cognac hue you love so much. :)
+1000 points for whomever just mentioned seasonal color analysis. It can make your skin glow, hair shine, eyes pop—just by using colors that complement, instead of fight, your natural coloring. Definitely look into it. I’d love to know your opinions once you read up!
Dana W says
Even though I try not to care about whether an item is flattering or not, it does come into play when I’m looking at my closet, especially if I’m deciding on whether to retire an item. Though that doesn’t mean I think there’s a universally flattering definition – I think depending on where you are there are different societal expectations on what “good fit” looks like, which influences how we feel about clothing. It’s probably more mentally taxing to work to get past those, and consider a piece of clothing somewhat objectively.
In the end I think I try to get both. To understand what *I* consider flattering, and try to create that definition outside of cultural influences, and if I can’t then at least take the time to decide whether I care or not.
Its funny because obviously I think people want to look good, flattering, in their clothes. However, I’m not crazy about that word. The meaning, sure. I want to look good AND feel good in whatever I am wearing. If something makes my butt look weird or my chest (etc) I won’t be comfortable or FEEL fierce, so I won’t wear it. And thus will return it or not buy it. Your blog has really encouraged me to stop buying just to buy, or because I think something is cute but doesn’t work for my style. I try EVERYTHING on now. But if it doesn’t look good, or doesn’t feel good it goes. Heh.
dear caroline, thank you for your amazing blog at this point.
I think unflattering clothes make our lifes difficult. Much more than it has to be. Sometimes an unflattering piece can destroy your whole day :) isn’t easier to be ‘safe’ with your clothes?
Britt Wilson says
The word “flattering” feels like it takes into account an outsider’s view of the outfit or piece.
“Comfortable” is our own personal perception of the piece.
Both are important, but your own awareness of what makes you feel “most you” and powerful and beautiful and able to do good around you– that has to overrule what others think, otherwise you are fighting a losing battle.
Thank you for sharing, Britt. That’s a great way to put it! :)
LEah | StyleWise blog says
I do agree that wearing clothes that make us feel and look good is important, but I think the definition of flattering can be quite broad. Maybe the butt is “unflattering,” but the high waist makes us feel good. Maybe the fit is loose, but the color is striking against our skin. I’m more interested in the way outfits come together than having the perfect, womanly figure.
kim domingue says
I’ll be surprised if you don’t get loads of comments on this topic. Personally, I think that “flattering” is in the eye of the beholder. Case in point, daughter found a dress for me to wear to her wedding. She found it to be very flattering. I found it to be very unflattering. Her best friend thought it was very flattering. My best friend, her daughter, my husband, a cousin and my son all found it to be very unflattering…..and very much not “me”. I found another dress. It’s flattering (according to everyone) and it’s “me” so I feel comfortable wearing it.
A lot of things may be visually flattering but, while they may look good and fit well, if you are not physically comfortable wearing it or mentally comfortable with the style or look, you’re not going to feel good wearing it so why bother? You can watch a woman in a really pretty, flattering dress but if she’s constantly tugging, twitching it about, pulling, fiddling with it and adjusting it…..her discomfort renders it unflattering.
As for wearing something that I know is less than flattering? Yep, I’m guilty of that. But it kind of depends on where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing and (to some degree) who I’m going to be around. If I’m going to be hiking, running around outdoors, doing anything physical then I really don’t care if the butt of my shorts are baggy….and if you don’t like it then don’t look at my butt, lol! If I’m going to be in town all day shopping for clothes (an arduous, unpleasant task for me), I’m going to wear that unflattering button up the front dress that’s easy to get in and out of and some slip on sneakers. But I wouldn’t wear that dress to go out to lunch with friends!
The most flattering things we can wear are the things that are comfortable and make us feel good about how we look…….it translates to a relaxed, at ease body language which is more flattering than any outfit could be no matter how fancy or expensive!
Indeed, Kim. Thanks for sharing your experience. :)
I have a couple pieces (a pair of jeans and a pair or shorts) that aren’t the most flattering on my body but they’re super comfy and sometimes I just need comfy and functional.
Yes. Right there with you, Loribeth. :)
It seems to me that flattering can mean different things to different people. For instance, some people want to emphasize their curves, so clothing that does that is “flattering” to them. For others, that might not be the case. It definitely depends on what the current culture deems as attractive – for instance, look at how much we’ve gone back and forth with jeans…tapered, skinny, flare, low rise, mom jeans. I definitely take into account how things look on me, and I am obviously influenced by current trends to some extent on that. I HATE being uncomfortable….but being self-conscious also makes me feel uncomfortable, so if I think something is really unflattering, I probably won’t wear it outside the house.
Anna W says
I definitely care, and try to live in the balance of both flattering and comfort. And let’s be honest, while other people’s opinions may be given, the only person I need to tell me I look or feel good is me. As an introvert, confidence doesn’t always come naturally for me. But when my closet is full of things that make me look good and feel good always, that’s huge!
I know I’ve mentioned color palettes in your comments before, but discovering my color palette has been the one big style and confidence revelation I have had in recent years. When I’m in colors that overpower my features or drain my natural colors, I look tired and feel as though I’m trying too hard or I’m hiding from the world. When I’m dressing in clothes that fit well and accentuate my natural coloring, I feel awesome, and that is always worth it!
I’m totally with you on color. Unless I know I need to make an impression, I don’t worry that much about flattering silhouettes, but color is always a consideration. I live with a chronic illness that leaves me looking and feeling pretty gross at times, and wearing colors that do me favors makes me feel more confident. I don’t want to be perceived as sick and choosing flattering colors prevents that from happening. I’m much more prickly about the word flattering when it comes to cut. Several people have raised the question of who gets to decide what is flattering. The concept does give all the power to the beholder. Total confidence robber (for me at least). I’ve always felt more comfortable in baggy or wide leg pants and I don’t care if they make me look short. I am short, and I have no interest in adding the illusion of inches to my height. I feel confident when I’m true to my own preferences.
Sarah Peters says
I love your comment Lynda. Reading your perspective on color and proportion subtly shifted my thoughts: I rely a lot on black and navy – more color than that usually makes me feel self-conscious and conspicuous, I’ve never thought that a color could “do me favors” as you mentioned and now I’m super intrigued. Maybe I should get my colors done, or just take some risks. Also, I’m short too. I;m inspired by your approach to dressing that makes no apologies or illusions around that. No skirt or heels is going to turn me into Nicole Kidman, and I’m sure I wouldn’t want that anyway.
Gosh I remember having my colours done years ago and it was really helpful. I didn’t realise it was still a thing as I suspect mine have changed since. (Older and greyer so no longer an Autumn).
I think there are things that are technically flattering on different body shapes, however. I think confidence is the most flattering. So if you feel confident in a clothing item that isn’t
“technically flattering”, it will still be flattering on you.
True true, Sondra! :)
I think clothes should enhance our figures and hide things we are not comfortable with. While comfort is important and I never wear uncomfortable clothes, I will not go out to run errands in what I sit around the house in. I take pride in my appearance and I want my clothes to enhance my appearance. That being said, I wear make up too, but I don’t wear it everyday. So if I’m out running errands, I won’t put make up on, but I will put on clothes that flatter or enhance my appearance. Perhaps, “enhance” is the better word?
Perhaps it is, Alicia!
This topic is kind of a stretch. Of course everyone wants to wear clothing that are flattering. But I agree with others who say it’s a definition that’s different for everyone. I think it’s more of a discussion between function vs. comfort vs. flattering – which is more important to you? How do you get all three in an outfit.
I care more about flattering now that I’ve had a baby and my body has become more saggy and pooch-y. Before that I could get away with a lot more baggy stuff and still looked good, but now it just looks sloppy. I need my clothes to fit right to feel comfortable.
If I feel good when I wear an item that’s reason enough for me to wear it, even if it isn’t objectively flattering. I might not wear it on days when I’m meeting my mom, though… But generally speaking, I do think I feel much better in flattering clothes, and one of my big “a-ha” moments was realizing that I ought to be wearing clothes that fit and flatter my body as it looks now, not as if once may have looked or as I imagine it looks…
Stacia | pretty Poppy Peony says
I definitely think that both can bring us joy – sometimes we feel best when we know an outfit compliments us and sometimes we feel best when we’re comfy and loving an item we’re wearing because it objectively makes us happy. :)
Thank you Caroline for starting this discussion. I love reading the comments as much as reading your posts. So fun!
For me flattering is about not feeling subconscious. If I do, then I keep fussing with my clothes, because I feel they highlight certain parts of my body too much or too little and don’t “fit” the way I want. So I need to wear something that I feel flatters me (e.g. job interviews) to feel more confident.
However, I often wear things that are not considered flattering. Whenever I wear shorts and flat sandals for example my mom and a few of my girlfriends alway tell me to wear heels instead, since it would elongate my legs. They may be right, but I love the shorts and flats combination and I will keep wearing it :)
Maria, I’m glad you’re enjoying the comments as much as I am. This community is so great! :)
I’ve found that if I’m wearing something unflattering in public, I’m super self conscious about it, and therefore not particularly comfortable. I wish I had more confidence to wear something more comfy that’s not particularly flattering, but…I’m not. Oh well!
Hey Jenny, I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling at some point (I know I can!)
Amelia Wasserman says
What bothers me is that “flattering” almost always means “skinnier.” I have a size 12 hourglass figure and have been told my entire adult life that I can’t wear certain things because it will make me look “frumpy.” Frumpy=fat in this example.
For the first time ever I decided to get a sweater that makes me look bigger than I am. I did it because it felt absolutely amazing on my body. I looked great in it even though I looked bigger. I liked feeling like a rebel.
Get it girl. :)
What about things that are TOO flattering? Using C as an example, I worry that if the shorts, sweater, and shoes all “flattered” her she may end up in an overly cute/tight/revealing outfit. I like the balance, shorty shorts which draw attention to the leg, and the loose top and back of the shorts simply leaving something to the imagination. There’s a lot to be said for the balance of revealing and concealing.
Flattering to me is a personal statement. It doesn’t matter so much if OTHERS think so, just as long as I feel confident in what I’m wearing.
In fact, there are many times the word “flattering” refers to revealing, extra hugging, or “sexy” clothing pieces and that would make me feel extremely uncomfortable personally because I do not want that attention or want to worry about a wardrobe malfunction!
Nicole LaRock says
This resonated with me so much, and oddly enough, it was around a denim pair of shorts. I had a pair that were “unflattering”, they were baggy and on the longer side. I loved them! Thought they were so comfortable. I ended up ditching them because my husband kept commenting on how unflattering they were, so I let them go. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I regret getting rid of them, they are simply a pair of denim shorts, but I definitely took a lesson from them. If I love them and feel amazing in them, I don’t care how “unflattering” they might appear to others, because I feel like a million bucks, and that comes through.
I think everyone needs a mix. Wear an “unflattering” piece, then make sure the other piece looks good! Balancing things out is key. I too have shorts like these. I keep them around because they are comfortable, and i think they look good in the front. I just don’t wear anything frumpy or baggy on top – but that’s just me :)
That’s a good tip, Katie! Easy outfit upgrade. :)
Samantha Lee says
Honestly, I just feel better when clothes are more flattering. Obviously, that words means different things to different people because we all have varied body shapes. For me, it means accepting that what may be flattering on a 5’10” Victoria’s Secret model might not be flattering on my 5’3″ frame, and that is totally OKAY. Now I have more of an understanding on what works for MY body and am able to shop accordingly – and am so much happier! Of course, there are some things I’d place in the “frumpy” category, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wear them around at home or walking the dog. Not everything has to be picture perfect. ;)
Thanks for sharing that perspective, Samantha! I love hearing women accept all their different body types. It’s a beautiful thing! :)
You bet. I have a pretty unflattering pair of pants on at work right now, but they are so comfy.
I don’t feel like everything in my closet needs to be “flattering” but I tend to avoid clothing that I feel like I can only wear a certain way, because that becomes a hassle and contributes to the “closet is full but nothing to wear” issue for me. That said, sometimes I’ll wear a color or cut that isn’t the most flattering just because I love it.
Caroline, those shorts are totally flattering!
I don’t believe in dressing for anyone other than myself. Even when I’m dressing for date night with my husband. I won’t put on a bodycon dress just because he might like it. I’m uncomfortable in things that are tight and revealing and, no matter how flattering the outfit is, that discomfort will shine through.
My personal opinion is that dressing for comfort and confidence will always lead to the most beautiful outfits!
Good for you! :)
Amazing look!!!! :))
I am loving this outfit and totally think it’s flattering. If the shorts were fitted, or any tighter, it wouldn’t give that same relaxed vibe. So bring on the saggy booty! ;)
I personally think that clothes don’t need to be fitted to be flattering. It’s my tomboy heart speaking, but sometimes a nice, loose tee with a little front tuck (that makes my boobs look flatter) makes me feel much more confident than outfits that hug my curves.
I once even had on an outfit that I thought was fantastic and modern, but someone else told me it was baggy and ill-fitting. So… flattery kind of IS in the eye of the beholder.
What a great question – What IS flattering?
I agree with Jaana above that “flattery is in the eye of the beholder”. these days, I find super volumous, “baggy” silouhettes very flattering in that they are interesting and just looks bold & confident. And confidence is always flattering/sexy :)
I love how your posts pose these questions on style… it really gets me thinking
If I’m wearing something that, for whatever reason, makes me feel unstoppable, I wear it — even if it’s unflattering. Sometimes ugly is cool.
Ain’t that the truth! :)
I thought about it, and I think the key to flattering is your relationship with your body. I mean, if you love something about your body and you put a piece of clothing that showcases that part, you’re more likely to love the piece, right? If you really aren’t a fan of your belly or your butt and a piece of clothing exaggerates it, you’re unlikely to love the piece. If the piece falls somewhere in the middle, you might love it for other reasons. Also, an unfamiliar shape might seem unflattering at first.
In my own life, I try not to buy anything unless it is PERFECT:
1) It must not be from a country with a reputation for poor working conditions, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Belarus, and the countries listed on this 2016 blacklist: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2015-06-10-1433949718-9351757-Ten_Worst_Countries.JPG — ideally it should be second-hand or made in presumably good conditions (e.g., USA, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Italy, France, UK, traceable/transparent, or fair trade),
2) I must love it through and through (this is the joy factor — it would be fair to say UNflattering, wrong coloured, and uncomfortable items get the boot here),
3) It should be made with the environment in mind (absolutely no polyester fleece, avoid wool unless traceable/recycled/second-hand, mindful of dyes and production),
4) It must be something I would actually wear (I sometimes mess up here) and I must be able to imagine a couple of outfits I would wear regularly,
5) It should be good quality and made to last whenever possible,
6) It should fill a need, and
7) Lastly, it should be within budget.
I try to check all the boxes, but I can sometimes make an excuse for items that don’t fill a need if they’re otherwise perfect. ;) Thank you all for bearing with me while I make a monster comment again. :/
The older I get (I’m 31, with 4 kids), the more I’m looking for clothes that are flattering, and the factors that play into that have changed. When I was younger, I had to be careful to look for clothes that *weren’t* too flattering, things that weren’t too short, or low cut, or tight.
Now I still look for those things, but I am looking because if I wearing clothes that were too short, or low cut, or tight, they would be decidedly Unflattering! Thank you babies :)
Totally agree with those that have talked about colour palettes. That’s one of my biggest game changers in terms of my wardrobe. I now know that I can’t wear white, beige or pink, even if the style and fit is spot on, no exceptions.
Jessica a says
I wear sports bras the majority of the time. I have large ladies and the bras squish my boobs in unflattering ways, but I don’t care because they are comfortable. I just bought a cardigan that’s too big for me because I wanted it that bad and the oversize actually makes me feel more cozy, so who cares if it makes me look fat, right? I will buy jeans a size up and sacrifice perfect butt for comfort around the waist because I. Can. Not. Stand that tightness around my middle. I HAVE to be able to move with ease. That being said I wear leggings more and more often these days.
Soooooo…yeah. Flattering? What’s that? XD
Bettye L. Rainwater says
Yeah, I care about “flattering,” but…*I* get to be the judge of what IS flattering! If *I* feel comfortable and *I* think I look good in something, that is what matters to me. I don’t care if someone else says something is or isn’t flattering.
I always enjoy your easy style.
The word flattering can be a double edged sword depending on who is using it and to whom it is directed. Theres a great recent conversation on the blog Crafting A Rainbow where the word is discussed in detail, for and about women of all shapes and sizes. I recommend you have a read. A flattering garment is completely subjective!
Aria Di Bari says
I don’t really care too much about flattering clothes or not, especially when clothes are supposed to be casual and comfortable. Being happy with your outfit is what matters the most!
Alicia Damron says
Yes, wearing something that is flattering to me is important but I’ll add that that is a very subjective thing. I want it to feel flattering to me. I’m 39 and I learned a few years ago not to ask other people for opinions on my clothes. I learned that if I feel like I have to ask someone else their opinion then I’m not happy with it for some reason so I just move on to something else. I’m not as interested about other people’s opinions on how something looks as I am in how I feel in something, so even if they tell me it looks good, if I’m not feeling it it just doesn’t work for me. Finding what we’re most comfortable in (and I don’t necessarily mean physical comfort although that is part of it) is the most important part of learning how to dress ourselves, in my humble opinion. I love your tips on that, by the way! But to bring it back to the word “flattering”, I feel most comfortable in something that I feel flatters me and my style. Hope some of that made sense :)
Miss Field says
Total sense. I’ve been coming to that realization myself. I love asking my sisters how I look, but unless I already know what I think it doesn’t work because 1. We go to an event together and I didn’t quite do enough preparing 2. We first arrive and I start to feel uncomfortable, not put-together 3. I ask my sister if I look fine to releive myself and she always says yes, but deep down I know that I probably look fine but not at my own personal standard, so 4. It actually makes things worse because at that point I actually decide what I think which is I should have prepared the night before!
Sarah Peters says
This post reminded me of a quote I love that sums up how I feel about “flattering” in general, written by Erin McKeane on her blog A Dress A Day. She says:
“You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.
But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don’t have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be “unflattering” or “unfashionable” — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does.”
Why is a piece of clothing comfortable? Because I feel at ease in it. Why? Because it’s soft, nonrestrictive, flows, moves with me, not bulky, not ‘futzy’. I can go years with a piece like this whether it’s flattering or not because when I wear it I can do ‘anything’. There are moments when a piece like this that may be ‘unflattering’ comes into play and it’s usually in an emergency situation where I’m needed to be at my most confident, powerful and presentable. My “comfortable” clothes make me feel all these things because I can achieve anything in them given the opportunity. So in those emergencies I know that a ‘comfort’ piece needs to be in play, and suddenly I’ll find a way to fit it in my outfit in a flattering way [belted, under a jacket, with a pair of pants or skirt never thought of before]…and then I”ve just turned into superwoman! Hooray!
Miss Field says
Flattering for me is when something makes me look skinnier. I like it for two main reasons, I look better, and it’s tightly fitted (usually) which means I know that it will stay in place and it’s easier to move around. I personally can’t stand wearing things that are unflattering in practically any setting because I’m a very self-conscious person and I know it, and sometimes I feel like I need that extra confidence boost that comes with looking your best just to get through the day smoothly.
I love this question and conversation so much I’m going to join in a day late!
I think that flattering clothes are the ones that are representative of us – wholly and completely: our bodies in all their glory, our personalities, and anything else that makes us US.
My perception of and reliance upon “flattering” has had everything to do with my relationship with my body. I had pretty stinky issues with body loathing and hatred up until 2 years ago, so to me flattering meant covering up my body “sins” and doing my best to look like I had an “ideal” body. In high school I wore super long tops to cover the fact that my thighs touched. In college I favored long flowy tops to cover a muffin top and super low cut necklines to showcase the fact that though they are small, yes, I do in fact have boobs. Over the years, as I have learned to relax and embrace my body, I have come to see it as the cutest dang little body that it is. “Flattering” doesn’t translate to “clothes that hide parts of my body” anymore. It now means “clothes that help my body look the way it naturally does.” I still wear some boxier shirts because I don’t like the way my underclothes give me rolls that I don’t have without any clothing on, so I haven’t gotten away from the hiding thing completely. But that’s okay! It’s a process. :) And maybe there isn’t anything wrong with that. Is it wrong to have a favorite body part that you want to showcase? I think that’s totally fine as long as you aren’t loving it at the expense of the rest of your body. And I think the same goes for choosing not to showcase another body part – I think that’s okay too as long as it’s not because you hate it. As long as it’s because you choose to, not because you’re a slave to what people say is wrong about your body. As long as we’re enhancing in the spirit of honoring our bodies.
I feel like my clothes are most flattering – aka make me feel like my best self when I look in the mirror – when they are representative of all of me. And I’ve definitely worn pants that my husband feels don’t show off my butt to its full advantage but I never thought they were fully unflattering because they matched my personality so perfectly and were comfortable and otherwise looked good on me and the colors and pattern made me so ridiculously happy… and to me, that’s a prime example of what flattering means to me. My clothes were representative of ME.
Thanks for asking these wonderful questions!!! It’s always a good time when I get to re-examine ideas that hold so much value in my life. :)
Yes yes YES. :)
When I was narrowing down the “lounge” portion of my wardrobe, I pulled the comfiest pieces I owned and then paired it down to what I felt was the more flattering (leggings vs. baggy sweats, a super soft tunic vs a sweatshirt, etc.) I am totally one of those people that has been caught one too many times by the neighbors in her ratty old bathrobe while taking out the trash, and if I choose instead to be bumming around the house in a pair of fleece-lined leggings and a soft tunic, I save myself the embarrassment without skimping on comfort. All of that to say, I think you can have it both ways :) However, I also think that flattery is in the eye of the beholder, and at the end of the day, if you’re happy with how you look/feel, then what does it matter anyway?
When I first started really evaluating my wardrobe and giving the capsule wardrobe a try, I started noticing how my clothing fit me. I realized that just because a piece feels good on my skin doesn’t mean that it fits me properly. I started paying attention to how I looked in an outfit not just standing in front of the mirror, but from all angles, sitting down, etc. To me, a piece of clothing is flattering when it helps you display the best parts of you, and I do my best to find clothing that helps me do that. Now, I have a much slimmer wardrobe and I wear several favorite pieces very frequently, but the compliments I get about looking good in anything I wear make me feel great! I have weight I’d like to lose and I’m not always confident about my body, so I’m far from a supermodel. I’ve just learned what kind of clothes help me look and feel my best, and rather than buying a ton of clothes in a myriad of shapes and styles, I have a few key pieces that I know I look and feel good in, and it shows!
I was totally getting into this post and then about 3/4s into the comments I started to get a little sad. Seeing that most of the comments were made by women, it just bums me out that we as women have to worry about stuff like this. Body issues, weight issues, what some dude at the park thinks of our legs. I mean, it’s true, we worry about this stuff all the time. It’s just sad because I don’t think most men let the term “flattering” take up as much space in their brains.
I feel like I can echo what others have said that as I’ve gotten a little older, I care less about whether my clothes are flattering in other’s eyes. One thing that I find a little funny is that I was overjoyed about a decade ago when high rise jeans came into fashion and I got my hands on a pair. But guess what? I’ve never worn a shirt tucked in so the high rise cut shows. I think it’s a cute, trendy look on some, but makes me feel frumpy. However, as someone who was a teen in the 90’s era of low rise jeans, it was a revelation to have pants on that didn’t fall down all the time off my butt. I thought in the end it was more flattering to not be pulling my pants up constantly, and since jeans are usually stretchy now, they are rarely pinching or uncomfortable. I’m not concerned with other’s rules about whether I’m thin enough to wear skinny high rise jeans, or what would be the most flattering. My body is my body. I want to feel cute, and be comfortable, and then get on with my day :)
Max daniels says
Caroline, here’s what I’m curious about: Why are there four shots of your “unflattering” shorts from a flattering angle, and none from the offending angle?
Your blog, your edit – but for a discussion of flattering v unflattering, I for one would find an offering of the imperfect more interesting.
I do love the way you’ve styled them! :)
I think flattering is a relative word. You have to consider it in the context of the look you are going for. You want a comfortable, lived-in look, and you have definitely captured that spirit with this outfit, so I’d definitely think it is flattering!
I don’t mind being ‘unflattering’ when I’m at home but when I go out and socialise, I would prefer to feel confident by knowing that whatever I’m wearing is enhancing my appearance. I personally think that finding a style that complements one’s silhouette is very important :)
As far as feelings go, I definitely think I enjoy wearing something that feels “flattering” to me. But there have been times I loved something that I was told wasn’t “flattering” and yet it still made me feel awesome, and vice versa! Something that is supposedly “flattering” but I feel completely uncomfortable and lack confidence in! So it seems there is more going on than just “flattering” when a piece makes us feel a certain way, thought flattering seems to play a big role.
I’m getting older everyday, and I’m terribly self-centered when it comes to my clothing choices, so it’s funny: I forgot about how differently I viewed the word “flattering” in my teens or 20s or early 30s versus today.
I used to see “flattering” as being governed by some societal standard, and like many people have said, as a way to look taller and skinnier. But I am short, short, short, have an hourglass figure and a lot of muscle, and there’s no way to make me look tall and waifish. My mom tried her darndest during my teen years, but it just. ain’t. happening. I hated the things she put me in to minimize the me-ness of my body. And I looooooove horizontal stripes and crazy patterns!
We had this fight over a bathing suit once. She got me a “slimming” suit with black side panels to disguise my body’s shape. I countered with this garish, tropical print thing she swore would “make me look fat.” Then I tried them both on for her, and she admitted that going with and showing off my hourglass shape was actually far more *flattering* than just trying to make me look thin.
Enter years of an eating disorder and body hatred. But I’ve worked through much of that.
When I read the word “flattering” in Caroline’s post, I jumped ahead to how I read it now, forgetting the years of fights over and about my body: now, it’s something that shows off my unique, middle-aged, tough little body in as great a way as it deserves to be shown off. Not something that hides its shape, but celebrates it, with comfort, and fits the actions I want my body to take on a normal day. I want something that works with, and not against, my shape and activities…in my eyes, alone.
There’s been this idea for so many years that only some bodies deserve to be shown off in nice clothing, and that’s bull poopy. :) So I do care if something is flattering (in other words: does IT flatter ME?), because I now feel like I deserve that, especially since I’m the one throwing down cash for it! My body is awesome and mostly-able, and I want clothes that celebrate that instead of turning it into something else. And now, if I try something on, and it’s super comfy but hides who I am or what I look like…I don’t buy it: I deserve to have clothing that is super comfy AND looks great.
As for the saggy butt jeans, I actually think that looks pretty cute in some outfits, so that does not necessarily deter me. :) I also think Crocs can be “flattering” in some looks, loooove my mom jeans (although it was a struggle to find them for a short, curvy body, since the 11″ rise is never going to work for short-torsoed me), and refuse to wear “real bras” (yes, I have found pretty, fun bralettes that support my C-D boobs, without forcing them into “standard, idealized boob-shape”).
Love this community and the great discussions!!
I got an oversized boyfriend sweater this year to try out the style. Even in the smallest size it is a little too oversized to be flattering in some areas. It is also insanely comfortable and soft and warm (cashmere). I thought I would just wear it at home or around friends/family who don’t care about how unflattering it is…. I was so wrong. I wear it all the time to work and love it. Do I get compliments on it? No, but I live it anyway. I feel better about wearing it by pairing it with other items that are flattering. Like my most flattering slim dress pants. It has a v-neck so it shows off my collarbone and neck, which are features I like to highlight. It’s not the most flattering color, but that’s okay. I have since gotten the same sweater in a dark blue and these are pretty much the only 2 sweaters I ever wear (I don’t think I would have liked them in crew neck).
I was hoping you could make a few helpful suggestions to me. I am 5 feet 4 with a size medium in clothing (size 8 usually) I have thicker legs and broad shoulders and my waist is a little undefined.
What style of pants or jeans would flatter me if I am not tall, and not thin per se but don’t have big hips?
Thanks so much!
Laura Blanton says
HUGE fan of the sweater & shorts combo! I’m lucky enough if the weather cooperates long enough for me to pull this off once a year, haha! As much as spring and fall are my favorites, I fear they truly only last a full two weeks (each) here in southwest Ohio. :(
I’m a mix of both as well when it comes to flattering vs. unflattering clothes. I feel like I naturally seek and enjoy clothes that embrace my body and don’t work against its natural lines/shape (aka flattering) but I also own a few things that don’t fall into this category that I just love for some other reason entirely. :)
I’d have to go with flattery, with a side of comfort. I’ve definitely stopped buying clothes that aren’t comfortable no matter how cute I think they are, because I find my love for them lasts longer that way. However, the less flattery I think something is, the less likely I am to wear it because it makes me feel uncomfortable. A side step from that, there are items of clothing I’ve come to terms with in terms of being not the most flattering and I still love them and wear them. So I’m definitely a mix. Haha.
At the age of 41, I feel it is all relative. As I look back on some of my FAVORITE clothes I remember from the 90’s, they were not really flattering. I thought they were at the time, but they really were not. That has not stopped me from purchasing a pair of Gap jean shorts that were in their “archive 90’s collection”. They really are the same shorts I had in 1995. Clothes should make you happy.
I think some things are universally flattering (i.e. cinching in the waist), but I also think that most of what is considered “flattering vs. unflattering” really comes down to the trends and taste of the season. As a plus size gal, I’ve been told wearing patterns is “unflattering”. They’re not in the least! It all comes down to what’s current at the time.
I tend to go with what makes me happy at that time. If being comfy makes me happy, and it’s not necessarily flattering it doesn’t matter to me. If it’s a dress that is flattering and it makes me happy, awesome. If I’m really cold and wearing goodness knows how many layers and have borrowed my boyfriends jumper, and I look like a kid wearing their parents’ clothes but I’m nice and warm, I’m happy.
Lauren Fiechter says
It’s been some time since this post, but I have a love/hate relationship with the word flattering. Growing up, my mom constantly questioned her outfits. She would ask us if they were “flattering or fattering.” As a young woman, I never blinked an eye at the phrase, however, as a young adult, I now question its ramifications on the self-worth of the women in my family. After constantly measuring my appearance by these standards internally, it has been tough to break free and realize that some things I love to wear, simply may not be “flattering” to my body type. Does this stop me from wearing them anymore? Nope! It’s tough, but I think a shift in view for what I look for in clothing helped me make the transition. Instead of “flattering” I look for what makes me feel confident. Searching for comfortable and expressive clothes helps me redefine “flattering” in my perspective. For those items that may not conventionally flatter me, I wear them around those I trust and care about most, to build my comfort in my own skin and to foster my self-confidence. :)