Style Lab IV: Silhouettes

Once in a while, you may have looked at what I’m wearing and wondered: why on earth is she wearing that? The answer is invariably because I can. I don’t consider myself a great beauty, but I’m tall with long legs, slim hips and a strong shoulder line. This body shape is a blessing and a curse when it comes to fashion, so please forgive me for squirming slightly when someone congratulates me for pulling off that avant-garde look that’s so difficult to nail. Yes, I know I look good in a paper bag. The fact is, I sometimes think a paper bag is the only thing I look reliably good in.

Body type: Tall, lean IT with long limbs and big bust. This sounds good on paper but in fact it’s no easier to dress than any other body type. Tops and jackets can be hard to fit and and I have to be very careful with waist definition. Tailoring is a perennial favourite but can feel too formal in the wrong setting. Menswear styling is very nearly flop-proof but strays all too easily into drag king territory. Big, bold forms have always been a feature and are fast becoming my default casual style.

I love playing up the shoulders and prefer to play down the décolletage. At this point in my life, the main body part on show is the brain, although this hasn’t always been the case. Nowadays I’d rather project confidence, intelligence and humour than sex appeal, not so much attractive as strong, charismatic and not to be messed with.

Unsurprisingly, Angie’s advice has almost always been the best. I’ve also found unlikely inspiration in Kibbe’s theory. The classification of Dramatic/Natural made a certain kind of sense once I wrapped my head around it and I ignored all spurious interpretations in favour of my own assessment. It’s since provided some useful styling benchmarks.

Points of conflict

Footwear is an issue, because I always feel the best way to balance my tapering silhouette is with a bold, focus-pulling shoe, the chunkier the better. My skinny ankles often disagree.

Necklines are a source of confusion. Face and hair favour a high neck, conventional wisdom on body shape calls for an open collar or a deep v-neck. I prefer to emphasise my face and compensate with layers, structure and tailoring. One more reason for defaulting to oversized.

Core silhouettes 

(pictures are examples from current style, possibly not the best ones)

Tailored/semi-fitted Strong shoulder, semi-fitted waist. Tailored jackets and blazers, fitted button-down shirts and blouses, close fitting knitwear. I love me some tailoring and I cannot lie, but I need strong vertical lines and volume on the bottom to balance the full bust and sharp shoulder. Can read too literal if I’m not careful. Typically worn with slouchy, wide or tapered pants to keep it from being overly formal.

A-line Tailored or loose fit with a longer line, strong shoulder, fitted or surrendered waist, flared hem. Tailored dresses are a default solution for professional environments, while a loose fitting version sometimes turns up my urban/casual style. A successful variant is the high waisted empire line, although I haven’t worn that in a while. Good for dresses, skirts and toppers.

T-line Lean or oversized column over skinny or tapered pants, leggings, mini, pencil and tube skirts. I love this shape for its drama, and for being the only way I can wear skinnies. A great casual winter look for oversized knits finished with chunky statement footwear.

Relaxed Easy, softly structured fit with low-slung or surrendered waist. Bomber jackets, tucked tees, fluid fit knitwear. I find this very easy to buy but not so easy to wear. Detail and proportion need to be spot on to avoid feeling lumpen. Brilliant when it works, falls flat on its face when it doesn’t.

Oversized Loose fit throughout with plenty of volume. Sweaters, sweatshirts, dresses, coats. I own this look but I’m first to admit it’s tricky and I shoot for avant-garde or urban baggy rather than lagenlook. Drape and structure are essential. Detail, texture and character are key, although minimal looks are possible with the right pieces.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating, I’m rarely dressing with flattery in mind. I take on board the comments that I’m better served by tailoring and structure than the looser fitting forms I’m more often seen in these days. I’m still wearing tailoring, particularly when teaching, but for some reason, and I can’t for the life of me say why, I’m far more comfortable retreating into an exaggerated silhouette right now. There could be all sorts of explanations, such as the comfort factor, the weather or the licence to take up a lot of space, or perhaps I’m just milking this hard-to-wear trend while it lasts.

Nevertheless, in the background is a lingering feeling that dressing like this is lazy and transgressive, even though I’m giving it as much consideration as I would any other look. Maybe it’s all those pesky subliminal messages about body image we’re constantly bombarded with. I can’t deny the appeal of turning them all upside down.


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