In Praise Of Unflattering Clothes

Because Flattery Won’t Get You Everywhere, My Friend

In Praise Of Unflattering Clothes

by Lauren Bravo |
Published on

One of my very favourite things in my wardrobe just now is a Mexican embroidered smock top. It’s cobalt blue cotton with rainbow-bright flowers and birds stitched down it, flappy little sleeves and the kind of shape that bypasses my boobs and sticks straight out from the chest like a circus tent. It is a literal big top – trapeze line, with a clown inside it. I love it. It is so unflattering.

A few years ago that sentence would have read, 'I love it, but it is so unflattering.' The ‘but’ would have been a dealbreaker, and the top would have been in a pile on the floor.

I’d have vetoed it with a list of physical shortcomings – the sleeves are awkward, the fabric too stiff, the shape too balloony, the overall vibe too ‘pregnant hippie at a pottery class’ – and instead left the shop with another nipped-waist-full-skirt sundress situation, standard issue for women with tits and hips: May-September edition. The full Kirstie Allsopp. But not this year. Because this year, I’ve realised something.

I’ve realised that sometimes, there is nothing more liberating than rocking an outfit that does nothing for your figure but everything for your mood. Clothes that your Nan would never call 'becoming'. Clothes that aren’t corrective; that don’t come to conceal some imaginary faults with your body that Trinny and Susannah dreamed up years ago to sell toilet books, but make a whole new statement instead.

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Fugly flatforms, awkward-length hems, strange fabrics, a dangerous flirtation with camel toe – so-called ‘tricky’ trends might traditionally be the preserve of the young, but to me, they’re the sartorial hallmarks of adulthood. They show you’ve reached a point of maturity where you no longer give a shit about your short neck, thick calves or waist-to-hip ratio. Utility jumpsuits pack confidence in their many practical pockets. Culottes and pool slides are our equivalent of a power suit and bitch heels.

And wearing them is a small, daily rebellion against the part of the fashion industry that’s founded on and funded by female insecurity; which likes to dish out clothes to woman as though they were medical prescriptions. Big arms? Long sleeves! Flat chest? Ruffles! Pale skin? A spoonful of sugary pastels helps the ghostliness go down. Substantial arse? You are pleat-intolerant. Take an A-line skirt, once daily.

It’s advice that loads of us have imbibed for far too long, from far too young. I knew how to balance out my top-heavy figure before I knew how to do long division – and no A*s for guessing which skill I still remember now. Mastering the art of bodily illusion was one of the ways I earned my stripes as a trainee woman (vertical, not horizontal – obv). And isn’t that a depressing thought?

This is not to discount the power of ‘flattering’, of course. There’s nowt wrong with loving jeans that hug your hips just right, or a dress that makes you walk like Jessica Rabbit. Feeling like clothes are on your body’s side rather than the opposing team can be a huge psychological boost.

No, it’s having ‘flattering’ as the compulsory default that’s the problem. ‘Sure, you can be cool or imaginative or fabulous – so long as you’re alluring first,’ says society, our demanding bastard of a client. ‘Attractive is a non-negotiable. That’s the minimum viable product, the others are just nice-to-haves’.

But no more! I knew I’d crossed some kind of threshold when I watched Pretty in Pink the other day, and began to appreciate Andie’s weird-ass customised prom dress.

For years I’d wailed at the screen every time she took her scissors to that dream of a strapless polka dot frock – 'DON’T DO IT ANDIE! DON’T WRECK THE DRESS YOU KOOKY MORON!' – and turned it into a kind of high-necked, cocoon-shaped, lace-trimmed 80s hospital gown. But now, I get it. Andie has vision beyond what will make her look most bodacious. Her style is more than just her figure. I want to be more Andie.

(Of course, the true rebel Andie would have loved Duckie rather than the boy who looked like a preppy potato in Richard Madeley’s wig – but hey, we’re all still learning.)

So these days, every time I leave the house in my smock top, it feels like a small victory on behalf of my younger self. The one who believed that her body dressed her, not the other way round.

And for those of us wanting to look ‘flattering’ in the face and laugh until we snort, there’s basically never been a better time. Here are some of the most gorgeously awkward, defiantly difficult pieces to buy this season. Let’s make imagination the sincerest form of flattery.

Extreme frill denim dress, £65, ASOS White

ASOS White may as well be called ASOS Whaaat as far as conceptual clothes to confuse people’s aunts are concerned, but their volume and playful proportions are on-point. Ain’t nobody going to care about your waist-to-hip ratio when you look like one of those reversible cupcake dolls from the 90s in this denim confection. Such joy.

Pink acid Mom jeans, £42, Topshop

What’s less flattering than your skinny jeans? Mom jeans. What’s less flattering than Mom jeans? White jeans. What’s less flattering than Mom jeans and white jeans put together? Pink mom jeans! You’re welcome. Together, you and these jeans will have the time of your life.

Bird print trousers, £39.99, Zara

Sometimes your body is art in itself, and sometimes it just gets to be the sturdy wall on which you hang the art. These fantastical pantaloons will be like the Picasso to the generic Ikea repro canvas of all your other clothes.

Ditzy frill dress, £165, & Other Stories

If Liberace had a baby with Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie, this might be the result. Frills! Sequins! Beads! Print! Ruffles! Another print! And if you look very carefully, probably, a tiny kitchen sink! Flattering schmattering.

Scuba frill tunic, £69, Cos

Praise be to Cos, haven for all ladies with better things to worry about than whether they’re a top-heavy triangle. And when people ask “why’ve you bought a top that looks like pasta?”, you can just shrug and say “’Cos.”

Riandra jumpsuit, £35, Monki

Flattering on basically nobody, dropped waists are your Grade 2 exam in not caring. Make it a loud print, cropped, wide-leg dropped-waist jumpsuit and congrats – you just graduated Unflattering University.

Striped mensy trousers, £85, Topshop Boutique

We’re not going to say these mannish slacks are actually named ‘mensy’ after your monthly visit from Aunt Irma – but just think how comfy they’d be on a cramping belly. Chic and cheerful.

Fringe sandals, £69, Finery

The easiest rule with footwear is to think “What Would Kate Middleton Wear?” and then buy the opposite. These patent Finery slides are about as un-duchessy and one can get – though to be fair, they do have a fringe.

Utility cropped jacket, £55, Whistles

When you’ve conquered the oversized 90s denim jacket, indigo utility is your next mission. Should you choose to accept it, this Whistles number is on sale and ticks every ‘boxy’ box.

Aries patchwork denim fun dress, £195, Other Shop

Look, it’s literally called a fun dress. What more can you ask of clothes?

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Follow Lauren on Twitter @laurenbravo

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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