I’m sure I’m not the only one who has admired a trendy or timeless style not yet represented in her closet and tried it on, only to be disappointed. Either the sleeves are too long, the legs are too tight, or the waistline isn’t flattering. Each time, I think there is something about my body that has failed. “This style just isn’t right for me,” I figure.
It’s true that some styles will naturally flatter our shapes more than others, and we need not embrace every trend. However, as my body has changed over the years, I’ve learned that I can get some styles to fit well by getting the clothes to do the work, not the other way around. Really, it’s a lesson my mom taught me years ago in fitting rooms and one that I saw reinforced in shows like TLC’s What Not to Wear. I’ve needed to relearn it as my wardrobe has gradually changed from that of a teenager to that of a young woman to that of a woman whose body has gone through the cycles of having children a number of times.
Personal shopper and stylist Mona Sharaf believes in the importance of getting clothes to fit properly. She says, “The more fitted and tailored your clothing is . . . the more put together you will look. Your outfit will look as though you put thought into it and wasn’t something you just grabbed off the rack.”
When I hear “tailored,” my mind conjures images of suit pants and the dresses I’ve had adjusted for proms or weddings. But there are elements worked into a number of styles—including casual wear and athleisure—whose proportions may simply need to be adjusted to fit unique, beautiful you.
For my mom this concept was plain, because she learned to sew clothes as a teenager. She had practice in fitting darts to the right spot on a bust and crafting fabric waistlines to mimic natural ones. This isn’t a guarantee when you buy clothes off the rack. Understanding where these elements are supposed to land on your body—in other words, the work they are intended to do to suit your figure, and not the other way around—is the key to getting a variety of silhouettes to work for you, no matter your body shape.
Beatrice Purdy, founder and CEO of Measure & Made, says, “Fit inspires confidence, fit empowers, fit emboldens us to be our best selves and take on what the world throws at us.” And yet, she shares that “The average woman has 103 things in her closet and 78% of it doesn’t fit.”
Achieving proper fit means having an appreciation for what seams, hemlines, gathers, and shaping are meant to do, and taking the steps to find clothing or adjust what’s in your closet to get that work done.
Well-fitting pants can be among the most difficult (and frustrating) items to shop for, but having at least one tried-and-true style will make getting dressed much easier. “A mid-rise is universally flattering and designed to sit at your belly button,” Purdy says. “The pant fabric should slightly hug your bottom and thigh area. Depending on the silhouette, the pant can continue to hug through your lower legs or start to flare out.”
A blouse should lie across the bust without pulling or gaping at the buttons. When this happens, one option is to go up a size to have enough fabric to properly cover the chest. Another remedy is assessing dart placement. Darts—often used in dresses as well as blouses—are the folds sewn into a garment to shape it to your body. Purdy says darts “are usually found at the bust area or lower back to provide shape and avoid excess fabric in the waist area. They can also be found at the side seams, which can prevent buttons from pulling across your chest area.”
Next time you’re in the fitting room, take a second look at how well an item’s dart placement is working for your unique body. Are they helping to achieve a more fitted look, or might they be in the wrong places? If the latter, consider leaving that piece on the rack or enlisting the help of a tailor (or a sewing machine, if you’re up for it!).
As comfortable as looser dropped shoulder tops (where the armhole of a sleeve falls just below the shoulder) can be, it can be tricky to not look frumpy in them. While they are meant to be worn oversized, it’s important that the midsection isn’t too voluminous.
Purdy suggests that busty women in particular may have trouble fitting this style properly off the rack, since they may have to size up for a proper chest measurement. Sharaf reminds us, “Fit is everything in fashion, so when all else fails, make sure you have a good tailor!”
I’m all for it when comfort and style meet. But in this arena there can be a fine line between on-trend and swimming in your sweatshirt. Sharaf recommends paying special attention to the length of athleisure pieces: “The more bunching in the arms and legs, the sloppier you will look.” She suggests petite women (those under five-foot-four) “look for cropped pieces, since athletic gear rarely comes in petite sizes.”
Regardless of height, all women should strive for pieces that fit without pulling. She explains, “If fabric is pulling across your chest or pants pockets are opening up, it’s probably too tight.” Don’t be afraid to size up to get the right fit.
The purpose of an empire (pronounced ahm-PEER) waist is to “sit just underneath the bust area and accentuate one of the narrower parts of a woman’s body,” says Purdy. This seam should not cross the bust, but rather, lie below it.
When fitted properly, Purdy says, this silhouette can be “universally flattering.”
Wrap tops and dresses
It’s hard to go wrong with these styles. In Purdy’s view, “They combine the complimentary trifecta of an A-line shape, V-neck opening, and tie waist, which gives definition.” She encourages women to experiment with fabrics and lengths to suit their personal style.
In addition to proper fit, Sharaf says, “the more you coordinate color, fabrics, and textures, the more put together you will look.” This is as important during a Zoom call as it is during an in-person get together or a morning of running errands. There is nothing vain about dressing with intention and care, because when we do, we show that we care for and respect ourselves.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of style, let your clothing do its part to bring out your best.