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I was updating an old article on Wardrobe Oxygen that has been quite popular this season (this one if you're curious) and I had to stop and write this because of what I saw when seeking images of plus size models wearing different kinds of tops to show how what you wear can change how your body looks. I was looking for examples of my suggestions, but what stopped me in my tracks was how dramatically different models on the 11 Honoré site looked depending on what they were wearing. It made me realize how it's time… past time to break some style rules.
I think we can all agree that most models on websites aren't realistic examples of what we look like, especially if you are plus sized. There are so many stories of non-plus models being padded to fit into plus clothing, plus clothing being pinned to fit smaller models, and realizing that a plus model may actually be a 14W but she is also 6'2″ tall.
On top of that, models are notoriously photoshopped on websites; we've seen many a model missing an arm, having a weirdly long or narrow leg, being made smaller, larger, or even a different skintone to fit the desires of the brand.
But on the 11 Honoré site, a retailer that carries high-end fashion in sizes 12-26, the models don't appear to be photoshopped. Instead of contorting their bodies to create the image of an hourglass, they are usually standing relaxed, facing the camera, not doing a lot of posing. The lighting is softer than on a lot of other sites, showing shadows and drape. The effect isn't messy, but luxe. It shows the quality of the clothing, the luster, and texture of the fabrics.
11 Honoré sells apparel from a range of designers and has an in-house collection as well. The clothes are not for one specific personal style aesthetic, and unlike a lot of other plus size retailers, not all silhouettes are created to hide, whittle, elongate, or distract.
Having the same models over and over in a range of different silhouettes, cuts, and styling methods, it shows not only how clothing can alter one's perception of the body but moreso alter one's perception of the person's confidence, sense of style, and even age.
It's Time to Break some Style Rules
The silhouette and styling on 11 Honoré show a lot of the style rules we have been taught to follow if our bodies do not look like a mannequin (AKA slim, tall, leggy, with a subtle hourglass shape) actually do not work. And how even if the choice of silhouette or styling may make a body look more “ideal,” it may not be the most stylish, modern, or chic option.
While larger than typical runway models, these are still women who have firm bodies and conventionally attractive faces and curves. The point of this exercise is not to compare yourself to them, but to see the same body wearing high-quality, well-fitting clothing in a range of colors, silhouettes, and fabrics.
My hope is that activity helps you realize that those dated style rules may not be doing you any favors. And that having more fun with fashion may not whittle your waist or elongate your legs, but it may make you look more fun, modern, youthful, and be a heck of a lot more comfortable.
First, we have Anastasia Furrow, who is 5'4″ and wears a size 14. I don't know her age, but based on her Instagram I am guessing in her mid to late 20's? I chose her because she is shorter than a lot of models at a height I think many of us can relate to.
The first style rule I'd like you to consider is the one that if you are larger or have a tummy or rear, you should leave your tops untucked. This is one I have discussed many times (for example this article on styling a stomach).
Here we have Anastasia in the same skirt, same hair and makeup, very similar shoes, and the only difference is the top. One tucked in, one left out. Both looks are elegant, but by tucking in her top on the right, the effect feels more modern, and shows she does have some shape under her clothes.
Another popular style rule is that to look slimmer, one should wear black and darker colors. Here is Anastasia wearing a column of one color, three looks in light shades, three looks in black. The cuts and silhouettes aren't exact and I am not asking you to choose which makes her look smaller; that's not the point. It's to see how one can look in a light color instead of dark.
It may better show the curve of her stomach or rear, it may have her stand out a bit more in a crowd, but it feels fresh and modern and not as scary as the in our head alternative to black clothing.
Along with the idea of not tucking in to hide a belly, hips, or a rear we've been told by fashion magazines and so-called style experts that larger bodies should wear looser silhouettes to camouflage curves.
On the top, Anastasia wears three looks that are quite popular for women, especially those who have larger bodies. And below, Anastasia wears three looks appropriate for similar situations, that are more fitted. Neither row is bad or unstylish, this is just to show how breaking some rules may not be so bad.
I mentioned it above, but here is an example of the style rule of wearing a column of color or print to not break up the body line. Dated style rules told us that by breaking up the body line we would make ourselves appear shorter, draw attention to our midsection, look heavier. And while breaking up the body line may achieve those things, I think these examples above show it's not such a drastic change that you can't have a little fun with your wardrobe and break this rule from time to time.
Next up, is Justine LeGault who is 5'9 1/2″ and a size 14; she is 36 years old. I chose Justine because she does appear to be one of the older models used by 11 Honoré, and has a different shape from Anastasia, one that I feel is relatable to many.
I think one of the hardest style rules for many of us to break is showing the belly, and when I saw Justine in that rust-colored off the shoulder dress with her belly showing right after seeing her in that sheer overlay dress I HAD to make this collage. Because I think this is really relatable to so many of us, and so many of us are shopping dresses right now for vacations, weddings, and other special occasions.
Both dresses are beautiful, both appropriate for the same occasion, but they achieve dramatically different effects in regard to style, modernity, and allure.
The second is the same white pants/jeans but one with a tucked-in top and one untucked. Again, this example really hit me hard as someone who often wears tops like that, unbuttoning the last button to make it seem nonchalant, not like I'm strategically hiding my belly but it's not really hidden at all. And the final look is athleisure, and a good example of covering doesn't necessarily whittle that waist.
Whether it's because of age or size, women are often told to cover their arms because they are not appealing. As someone who lives in a humid part of the country that gets over 100 degrees for much of the summer, I have said eff that noise, but this style rule is creeping up on me as I creep up in age and are not as slim or firm as I used to be.
And yes, Justine has slim, toned arms but I think this example shows how little one's arms are truly the focus. How we often over-analyze what we deem our faults while others hardly notice them.
Oh that column of color, it really is a great way, especially on camera, to make the body seem to disappear, especially when under a jacket or long cardigan. We've been told so long that having your top and bottom half be the same or close to the same color is key to look stylish and slimmer.
But sometimes that can be oh so limiting, and by looking at these photos of Justine you see that there is much more than just a column of color that affects how your body looks, and sometimes breaking up color can be the most stylish and fun thing to wear.
This collection of looks from 11 Honoré worn by Justine are a great example of the dated style rule of not tucking in tops if you are in a larger body. On the top, very classic looks for women in spring and summer – floaty interesting tops over slim white pants or jeans. The second row are looks a little more unexpected and surprisingly more, dare I say, flattering?!?!
Flattering usually means slimmer, taller, leaner, more of an hourglass, more fitting of society's ideal of a woman's body. But here I find the bottom row more flattering because the looks just feel more fun, more festive, more modern, more enjoyable to wear. It almost makes it look like the top row is a “before” when she didn't have confidence or didn't have a stylist or didn't have that nudge to let her truly feel comfortable in her clothes.
And finally, Leslie Sidora who is 5'7″ and also a size 14; she is 31 years old. I chose Leslie because the majority of her curves are below her waist. I think many women can relate to finding one size fits the top half and a completely different size for the bottom half.
If you think leaving your tops untucked help minimize your bottom half, let the collage above of Leslie Sidora be your wakeup call. Wear tops untucked because you like how they look, or because it's comfortable, but don't think it's minimizing anything. And as you see from the two all-black looks on the far right, tucking in and playing with proportions can actually make you and your ensemble look more youthful and modern.
Again, an example of the dated style rule that one in a bigger body should wear black and dark colors to help recede into the background and look slimmer. While all six looks Leslie is wearing are fabulous, I don't think she looks as though she is 10 pounds lighter on the top row than on the bottom.
Another example of that famous column of color. Yes, it's chic, but just like the darker colors, it doesn't make such a dramatic difference in her figure that she looks as though she lost weight, or is shaped differently. I am not saying this style rule is wrong, but it is dated to sacrifice wearing what may be fun or interesting because you're worried you may appear larger.
As someone with short, solid legs and even more solid of ankles, I know the power of a nude-to-you heeled delicate sandal or pointed-toe pump. But I also know the power of wearing a pair of shoes that don't have me in pain at the end of the day and let me run to catch the train.
While a shoe that is delicate, elongating, and creating a long line of color can look so chic, don't sacrifice your comfort or safety for style. Luckily, fashion has come a long way where you can rock sneakers, comfort sandals, combat boots, and more and look utterly cool.
The style rules featured above make the most sense if you are taking a photo or being on video. But when you are in real life, breathing and moving and laughing… your body is going to the look the same size whether you're in two layers of Spanx and a black stretch crepe wrap dress with nude-to-you heels or in a pair of black satin joggers with a hot pink sequined t-shirt and white sneakers.
My husband jokes that I always have a “yeah, but” to anything he says. I can always find a counter-argument, and I know right now many of you have a few “yeah, buts” you want to say. Well these women are proportional, they're younger, they're smaller, they're firmer, they're this, they're that. And to all of those, I say you're right. And it's an example of how we still need more representation of the range of bodies we all live in.
But this exercise isn't to compare yourself to these models (they are models, for goodness sake). It is to see a body that isn't rail-thin wearing a range of cuts and styles and silhouettes and to see how some of the style rules that have been ingrained in us are a bunch of horseshit and incredibly dated and dating.
Since 9/11, fashion has been changing quickly. We realized that our leg-lengthening heels and pencil skirts were literally risking our safety. And the generations behind us saw all our self-hatred and anguish over our bodies, the diets that were sacrificing our health for a number on a scale, how our need to fit society's ideal was holding us down and decided to go about life differently.
Fashion may still cater to the young and slim, but you don't have to follow suit if you don't want to. Not anymore. Essentially any cut, wash, and style of denim is in style. Comfortable shoes have become chic. And bodies are allowed to be bodies, curves and bumps and all. Focusing on the dated style rules only leaves you clinging to the past… and that past wasn't all that kind.
Wear what makes you feel good. If style rules make you feel good, then rock them, you are fabulous. But if you feel that your wardrobe is a bit like a gilded cage, it's time to break through and give yourself some fashion freedom, You may be surprised by how good you feel and look!