Monday, September 10, 2012

Dressing For Body Shape, Sweaters Part II: Things That Work


So a couple of weeks ago, I posted Part I of this series on dressing for body shape and talked about things that don't work for my particular body shape.  First off, I wanted to thank you all for your positive response.  This is definitely a work in progress for me, and I really appreciate hearing your feedback!

You can also check out Ellen of A Pile of Sheep's super interesting response post here.  She had the excellent point that a garment can still work despite having certain unflattering elements, as long as the good points outweigh the bad.  I definitely agree, and there's even a few examples of that in this post!

Also, there's a sentiment that I've often seen expressed on body-image-oriented style blogs that I think is super important: if something doesn't make you look perfectly stereotypically attractive, but you love that garment and it makes you feel beautiful, or cool, or powerful, screw the rules.  The only person who dictates your sartorial choices is you.  I sometimes have a hard time applying this one to myself, but the more I think about the act of wearing, the more essential it seems.  In the end, comfort, safety, and self-care trump arbitrary rules of figure-flattery - even self-generated ones.  Period.

So for Part II, I went to my closet and found sweaters that I really, really like and that I find myself wearing a lot, and I broke down the elements that could explain why.

Part II: Does Work, and Why!

1.  Waist Emphasis

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Although this sweater has raglan shoulders, I actually love it and find it really flattering.  I think the reason it works is twofold: first, fabric choice - a lightweight cotton knit that reduces the potential for bulk in the upper arm - and second, the fact that eye is drawn to the torso rather than the shoulders through the use of cables in the body.  The cables both physically and visually draw the sweater in at the waist, and the 3/4 length of the sleeves similarly draws the eye to the waist area and away from the shoulders and hips.

You can really see my shape in this sweater from the side, which I appreciate - I have relatively small underbust and natural waist measurements, but they are often upstaged by my lower, full stomach.

The neckline is round, but wide and deep enough to show some collarbone.  I think that a v-neck would not be as effective with this particular design - it needs a bit of roundness to complement the verticalness of the cabled motif.

I have actually thought about trying to design my own take on this cable motif, as I think it could be very flattering on a variety of body types: gently curved cables would soften a rectangle figure and emphasize an hourglass or triangle's curvy shape and small waist.

2.  Neckline and Hip Detail

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This sweater surprised me with its wearability.  I bought it for about $5 when I lived in Ohio, thinking it could be a good layer if not a very attractive sweater, and I ended up wearing the crap out of it last winter - and enjoying how it looked to boot!

The style is definitely one of more ease than the last sweater.  This one serves a pretty different purpose, though - where the last sweater is more of a stand-alone top, this sweater is generally layered over other things.  I wear it over dresses or with jeans and a t-shirt in the winter to stave off the cold, so it needs to have a bit more ease to compensate.  And it is 100% wool, so it is fantastically warm despite being relatively lightweight.

One of my favorite things about it is the keyhole at the neckline.  It makes it more fun to look at than a standard crewneck, and the bow and little flash of skin has the same effect as the ruffled button placket on my pink mohair blouse - it balances the roundness of the crew neck and draws the eye to my face without overfly emphasizing the roundness of my chin.

Also, it's a set-in sleeve - although my shoulders look narrow (because they are!), they don't look disproportionate.  The eye is drawn to the shoulder point at the seam rather than to the upper arm.

It also has a little band of embroidery and beading around the hipline, and I have actually found this to be a nice detail - it's so light it could probably do without it, but it does keep the eye from getting lost in the large amount of material in the body.  It also balances the full bustline by drawing attention to the hip.

Although you can't see my waist, there's a bit of implied waist created by a gentle amount of waist shaping at the side of the sweater.  This doesn't have a very high impact on the side view of the sweater, which is not as flattering as it could be - I wonder if dart-like waist shaping, below the bust instead of simply in the side seams, would help this problem?

In any case, this is a lightweight and warm little sweater, and I love it.

3. Line and Drape

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This is an unusual cardigan, but it's been a staple in my wardrobe.  It's basically a long rectangle with two wide sleeves in it.  Although it looks grey, it's actually a black and white striped garter stitch, and it's really easy to throw over simple outfits or layer with other interesting draped garments to play with volume and proportion.

The sleeves look to be somewhere between 3/4 and bracelet length, and as with the sleeve on sweater #1, it draws attention to my waist.  And although this isn't quite a kimono sleeve, I do think it hangs very much like one - and there is something very graceful about the way they skim the body and then fall away.

Although the shoulders sometimes seem a bit too big and can sometimes lay funny on my frame - especially when I'm wearing particular garments - there's enough going on in the neck and bottom of the sweater to draw attention away from them.

I think the most effective thing about this sweater are its lines.  The neckline draws attention to the face first and then down the body, and the black cuffs and hemline ground the whole thing.  And I think the long, straight lines of the sweater are a good balance to my shorter, curvy ones.

4.  Fit and Decorative Detail

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I love this cardigan - it singlehandedly kicked off an obsession with beaded sweaters!  It's a rather cropped sweater, so it works best with high-waisted separates or dresses.  But actually, my favorite part of this sweater is the waist-length hemline - it's just enough sweater to be an accent without weighing down the rest of the look.

So, this one has a crewneck, which is usually elicits a big flaming "no" from me - but then the whole neckline is upstaged by the sprinkling of beads across the shoulders and chest.  This design detail was very popular in the '50s, and I love how it livens up what would otherwise be a pretty plain sweater.

The sleeves are a little weird, but I actually really like them - I had actually misremembered them as dolman sleeves, but the low armhole definitely could give that impression.  I like that the ease from the extra fabric near the armhole allows for a little more movement, and I think that overall it makes the silhouette of the sweater more interesting and less fussy - it softens what would otherwise be a very prim shape.

Although the shoulder of this sweater is slightly dropped, the seamline is high enough to be flattering - the shoulder is narrow, but it's not overpowered by an over-emphasized upper arm.

Overall, the detail around the neckline and the nicely defined waist balance the full bust and generally give a soft, romantic impression.  Yay for this sweater!

5.  Strong Shoulder 

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This was a vintage store find in Oberlin, and I fell in love with it the moment I put it on.

This is one of the very few sweaters in which every single element works perfectly together, in my opinion.  The strong shoulder and boatneck neckline balance my full chest and bring attention to my neck in a really lovely way; the body fits well but not too tightly; the lace yoke provides a subtle change in texture that keeps the upper body interesting.

The sweater is pretty fitted overall - there are several inches of negative ease in the hip, 0-1" of positive ease in the waist, and 4" of negative ease in the bust.  I always feel really comfortable wearing it - it shows my figure, but not too much, and has a vintage feel that always makes me feel just a little dressed up and special when I wear it.

Take-Home Message:

So here's a summary of stuff I've learned from these two posts.

Non-flattering elements:

Raglans, saddle shoulders, yoked sweaters, and some drop shoulders.  Heavy fabrics.  Lack of waist definition.  Crew necks.

Flattering elements:

Vertical elements near round necklines.  Waist shaping or emphasis.  Lightweight fabrics.  Neckline and/or hip details.  Long, straight lines.  Plenty of ease in arm.  Vintage detailing and style lines.  Detail at or near shoulder point.

As mentioned before, these are not hard-and-fast rules; they're more like guidelines that can help steer me in the direction of sweaters that will fit and flatter my body in a way that I enjoy.  I will always allow for the idea of a spectacular rule-breaker!

Stay tuned for Part III, in which I'll talk a little bit more about making less-flattering sweater styles work!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow... what a great analysis! This encourages me to look at my favorite garments more closely and figure out the "why". Thanks!
~~Julie