Vogue’s April issue, their annual shape issue, features a piece about dressing to emphasize your height – with a short girl talking about her love of flats and oversize clothing, and a tall girl rhapsodizing about how powerful giant heels make her feel. My first reaction was to scoff. This is revolutionary? I’ve been doing just this for years! (I’m short, and I love oversize sweaters, ballet flats and a certain pair of flat motorcycle boots that I would wear every day if I could.) What a way to state the obvious.
Then I thought about it a little more. On the surface, this seems obvious. Wear what you like, screw common convention about ‘figure flattery’. But, then again, maybe not. Most ladymags stress ways to flatter your figure – but not by making the most of what you have. By telling you the best ways to minimize those hips, create a waist, seem taller or smaller or curvier or straighter. Clothes shopping is tough enough without worrying about how to create a body you don’t actually have.
So the obvious isn’t quite so obvious. And occasionally a bit counter intuitive. See, not only am I short, but I’m hipless. Shaped like a 12-year-old boy is perhaps more apt. So when I try on dresses and skirts with shape, I end up with folds of fabric sticking out awkwardly rather than being gorgeously filled in. And that’s frustrating – there’s a lot of things I can’t wear because of my lack of hips. And I sometimes would love to look a different way. But rather than lament my shape, I’ve learned to live with it. And lately, I’ve been gravitating to fuller, higher-waisted skirts. I still get some shape and get to play with volume, but I’m not imagining body parts that I simply don’t have.
Besides, body ideals have swung from one extreme to the next. In the 1500s, being plump was desirable because it meant you were wealthy enough to eat well. The Victorian Age saw waists whittled by corsets and bottoms emphasized by bustles. In the 1920s, the flapper look called for a small bust and narrow hips. In the ’50s, it was Marilyn Monroe. The ’60s revolved around the gamine – Twiggy, Audrey. The ’90s brought Kate Moss and waif-chic. And now, well, the ideal seems to range from model tall and skinny to athletic to curvy. (Though that whole “real women have curves” thing annoys me – since I’m not curvy, where does that leave me? I do not want to add gender anxiety to my daily routine.) So who’s to say what’s ideal?
Though Vogue champions the same handful of models and a lifestyle comprising designer clothes, perfectly-behaved children and access to personal trainers and facialists, this message of embracing the shape and height you were given is definitely enlightened. And definitely something we can all get behind.