6 “Body Type” Rules That Fashion Completely Got Wrong
Throw these in the trash along with "no white after Labor Day."
There are a lot of things fashion gets right, but there are also plenty it gets wrong — and we're not just talking about clothes here. As beauty standards remain shamefully narrow, the fashion industry with a few boundary-pushing exceptions, seems to always be there declaring the 'right' or 'wrong' way to dress depending on our appearance.
The truth is, fashion is an art and an outlet of self-expression in which experimentation with different styles and pieces should be encouraged, no matter a person's shape, size, or age. Yet somewhere down the line, specific "body type" rules were put in place, comparing us to things like apples, pears, and pencils. Even though body-positivity entered the zeitgeist years ago already, you probably don't even realize these foolish rules linger in the back of your mind and dictate what you put on in the morning.
The question is, when did they get there?
If your parents ever let you dress yourself as a kid, you probably picked out an outfit that made you feel good: mixing and matching like mad. You didn't "dress for your body type." You didn't even know what a body type was.
Then, you grew up. Maybe you started paying attention to your favorite celebrities' signature styles (and similar bodies). Trying to emulate that, or the version of it that was presented as "for you" based on your size and shape, stripped away that effortless creativity — which is ironic, considering fashion is supposed to be a creative space, notes Raquel Smith, celebrity stylist and founder of KidRaq eyewear. And if you ever were in doubt, there were these rules, passed down since forever, for what you should or shouldn't wear according to your build (down to certain prints, cuts, and even accessories). Anyone who was ever compared to an apple and told to belt absolutely everything knows what we're talking about.
"A lot of these [body type] rules of fashion were made decades ago, by women trying to fit within a mold themselves, with the idea of 'well this is how it's always been done,'" Erica Hanks, a styling veteran and co-owner of SHOWROOM tells InStyle. "These rules are now outdated. Women of all shapes and sizes should wear what they please, when they please, without judgement." The key, she says, is to acknowledge the psychological impact these unrealistic body type standards can have and work to, instead, see confidence in who you are without approval.
Ahead, celebrity stylists and fashion designers help us put some of these pernicious — and ridiculous — 'dress for your body type' rules to bed for good.
Outdated Rule: Clashing Prints Don't Work on Curvier Bodies
The real deal: Celebrity stylist Courtney Mays says curvy and plus-size people can wear "whatever the fuck they want," and we concur.
"For so long, I wore black because it is said — by who, I don't know — to be more 'slimming' or 'forgiving' … and often because that was what was available in my size," she tells InStyle. Now, Mays says she makes a beeline for menswear-inspired suits in bright colors and printed sets because that's the style she's most drawn to. "My size should not prevent me from dressing like my favorite street style inspired Pinterest board."
This is also why it's important for brands to expand their sizing rather than downsize for cost-cutting purposes (which yes, definitely happened during the pandemic). Anyone of any shape and size should be able to wear what they love and follow all the trends — not just pick and choose from a small selection of stuff. And it should go without saying at this point, but 'slimming' and 'flattering' are no longer synonyms. Small bodies are small. Big bodies are big. Neither needs to be 'forgiven'.
Outdated Rule: Short People Shouldn't Wear Cropped Pants
Petite women such as Sarah Jessica Parker, a known cropped-pants lover, would likely object to this one, and so does Hanks. The backstory on this rule is that a short person would never want to look, well, short, and a cropped pant would create a squatter image. And that is wrong on multiple levels. First, Hanks says, "A cropped pant can actually be elongating with a few tricks of the trade: Selecting a high waisted cropped pant and adding a heel can add length to your look." And second? You are allowed to look short (breaking news, we know).
Even better, this style can also be super comfortable and easy to move around in, especially if they're on the looser side, and tend to be a great breezy option for spring and summer.
Outdated Rule: Tall People Shouldn’t Wear Heels
Mays tells InStyle she's been 6 feet tall ever since the 8th grade and has "always ignored this rule." As she should, since heels do so much more than give you a lift. They can add a little pizzazz and elevate your look, while also giving you a boost of confidence and pep in your step.
Heels are also sexy, they're fun, and they shouldn't collect dust in the back of your closet just because you're of a taller stature. Life's too short. Wear the heels.
Outdated Rule: You Should Always Wear a Bra if You Have a Bigger Bust
In the same way that removing your body hair or using period products is a personal choice, so is wearing a bra. There are few things that are LESS of anybody else's business than your underwear. So you can throw out the societal expectation to bundle up your breasts just because someone else might not be comfortable with a bit of bounciness. That said, plenty of people on both ends of the size spectrum like the feeling of support a bra can provide.
"Considering I'm a 40G, if I don't wear a bra for too long, my back starts to hurt," says Mays. "Plus, I do believe the proper undergarments can help elevate your look. But please believe, as SOON as I get home, the bra comes off IMMEDIATELY!"
Outdated Rule: "Apple-Shaped" People Should Belt Everything
Not only is this body type rule not true, it's also encouraging people to aspire to fit into a specific mold — aka the hourglass figure — which you either are genetically predisposed to have or not. That's not body positive, nor, as Mays points out, is it always comfortable."Why are we still trying to create illusions to fit a standard if our body isn't shaped that way? That just sounds uncomfortable," she says. "Wear what you like, not something to create an illusion of who you really are."
Outdated Rule: Women Over a Certain Age Shouldn't Go Sleeveless
This rule isn't just outdated, it's ageist and way body-negative. The fact of the matter is, we look fabulous at every age, Hanks reminds us, so this rule needs to be chucked out the window, and fast."Sleeveless on anyone can be a powerful look," she tells InStyle. "And, if you feel good in what you're wearing, that is all that matters at the end of the day."
Bottom Line: “F That!”
Any rule that suggests people of a certain size or shape shouldn't wear something bright, something loud, something that helps them take up space, is blatantly anti-body positive and should be shut down.
"Women have been told way too frequently that their bodies are less than or need to be altered to be considered beautiful and desired," Mays says. "I would like to yell a resounding 'F that!'"
If there's any golden rule you should be following when it comes to fashion, it's this: Wear what makes you feel amazing and the most confident in your skin.
"Wear that leather jacket instead of a blazer to an important meeting, wear a sweatshirt on a zoom call, put on that maxi dress if you're short," fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff tells InStyle. "Do whatever makes you feel like the best version of yourself and never question your own personal style if it makes you feel your best. Be fearless in everything you do — even the way you dress." And that's one rule we can live by.