A compendium of YLFabness

We’ve just had a long and very fruitful discussion about the pressing and divisive problem of the oversized silhouette. During this debate, we agreed on the importance of personal authenticity, lamented poor design in bigger garments, speculated on the possibility of “silent clothing”, exposed some cultural prejudices surrounding a looser fit and examined our conflicted feelings about putting ourselves on display. All in all, a far reaching philosophical exploration which went above and beyond the original remit.

I went back to it yesterday with the intention of picking up a few bon mots for posterity, but there's far too much hive mind fabness to stop there. This might be the most interesting online conversation I've ever had the pleasure of joining, let alone the honour of starting.

The thread itself is well worth reading all the way through and my compilation is just  the tip of the iceberg. For anyone who hasn’t already seen it, or has too much of a life to wade through 80+ comments, here are some highlights.

YLF, thank you once again for your extraordinary wisdom. Best of the web.


Approprio: Maybe I don’t look as conventionally beautiful in these outfits, but I can see very clearly who I am.

Angie (on the second rule of YLF): We celebrate ALL forms of fashion and style on YLF, and it is my wish that everyone is open to styles that work for different people at different points in their lives. They may not like a certain look - sometimes people just can't help what they don't like - but I DO want us to be as open minded as possible, and keep poison eye to an absolute minimum. That's one of the most important things to learn on YLF, and people like you help me teach that.

(first rule being “HAVE FUN WITH FASHION!!!”)

lisap: “The moment anyone feels that justification of choice and expression is necessary, is when the rest of (us) lose insight into a world much bigger than our own. “

Skylurker: “I have a problem with conceptual fashion and fashion as art : I don't want my body to be used to hang art and concept on, like you'd hang pictures on a wall. I don't want such an intimate relationship with a designer….. YSL, my fashion Master, wrote that good clothes, like good health, are silent. I've always been fascinated by the idea of silent clothes, that won't communicate anything to the world about you, nothing about your social context, your ideas, your personality.

Suz: “I can't even begin to understand what silent clothes would be, except perhaps in a country where everyone wore essentially the same thing, like early communist China.”

Skylurker: “IMO, he means the opposite: a bespoke garment is so individual, not because it's an original design, but because it's made to your measures, that it becomes your own, perfectly adapted to your fit and needs, functional garment.”

YSL: "On a coutume de parler du silence de la santé, du merveilleux silence de la santé. De même devrait-on parler du merveilleux silence du vêtement, de ce moment de grâce où le corps et ce qu'il porte ne sont plus qu'un, où cette union, toute spirituelle, se résume en un mot, l'élégance. Car, d'une certaine manière, celui que ses vêtements entravent, celui qui ne vit pas en accord avec eux, celui-là est un être malade."

lisap: “the ideal garment doesn't define the wearer ; rather she defines it”

Angie:  “so called silent clothes speak volumes too - although they might not be the messages that we want to send.”

Vix: “I often have a little ongoing internal discussion around privilege, the Male Gaze, conventional standards of dress, and what I kind of lump under the "Go-Goddess" stuff (celebrate your unique beauty, highlight your femininity, etc). [It really helps when all one's current inner voices have opposing viewpoints....]

Caro in Oz: “many people thought Tilda Swinton looked "better" in Trainwreck than she does irl. I have trouble getting my head round this - she'd lost her individuality - the very thing that makes her Tilda”

Una: “Here in Vegas I am an oversized sack dress in a sea of short bodycon dresses. I am glad those women feel happy and confident in their tight dresses, and I feel perfectly at home in my own loose shifts.”

Aliona: “ Experiments in oversizing last year saw me getting caught up in my baggy trousers and falling down a flight of concrete stairs and catching the sleeve of an oversize jacket on a steaming hot mug of coffee.”

Irina: “Truth to be told, it is just not my personality and my environment. I realized that it's not the physical limitations but my mind set prevents me from wearing it.”

Diana: “More than most other styles I think this one depends SO much upon perfect fit, tailoring, and attention to detail. You can't just go into a store and expect to walk out looking like the mannequin. It's maybe a little counterintuitive because the styles are not designed to hug the body, hence you might expect that they would more easily fit. But they DO still depend on the "bones" underneath, so to speak. They have to hang off the body just so and you have to rely on not only perfect tailoring but also a really strong understanding of fabric composition, drape, etc.

Deborah (undisputed owner of this aesthetic): “The attitude of designers (referring to Caro's "fat lady" clothing) can appear to be one of let's hide/cover women, whereas beautifully designed and constructed non conventional looks IMHO can enhance and flatter.”

Suz: “how I feel is always and forever shaped by my environment and enculturation -- which in my case included some fairly aggressive lessons in "how to be a girl in consumer society." I can't escape those messages completely, not at my age. And not in my income bracket. (The two are not irrelevant. If I were younger -- like my daughter -- I could probably find a place for myself a little easier as an outlier. And if I could afford bespoke perhaps I could afford to speak louder than my clothes which would, nevertheless, inevitably speak volumes). But as things are, at least I can interrogate myself, continually question what is really right for me -- and meanwhile keep an open mind and an unpoisoned eye about others and how they choose to present themselves.”

Rabbit: “Like any other art form I think fashion is highly context driven, and meaning comes out of process, but also the intended audience being communicated with. I think we all have different intended audiences (a traditional potter and a conceptual sculptor might both make things out of clay, but the markets for their work are very different.)”

Style Fan: ”I am interested in fashion and gender roles. Why do women have to look a certain way? Why is there an ideal look? I think about this a lot. It is a part of my work. I worked with adolescents who had eating disorders for many years.”

Kiwigal/Sally: “ I love to see people comfortable, confident and authentic in their clothes, and their identity, and their appearance, whatever their age or shape or location.”

Sally: “I will admit that i swayed by what is conventionally attractive when dressing myself because it's been beaten into me. I remember at 16 cutting my hair really short and my father saying "that looks awful. You don't look feminine" and my sister wearing a jumpsuit and another family member commenting that "it really did nothing for her figure. " I'm fighting my own upbringing and society..probably why I've gone back running to at least get a strong body instead of worrying about how it looks in clothes all the time. “

Shevia: “the ultimate power grab is to dress where our clothes integrate seamlessly (;)) with our identity and thus become invisible as things in themselves empowering the designer/blogger/retailer/business interest that would like to control them and instead become part of we the wearer. “ (best moment in the thread!)

Rachylou: “ I have had a thought about being an 'older woman' and invisibility. I feel that as I've gotten older I'm less visible for my cuteness and more visible for my command. And in some ways, this is simply less of a thrill...but I really don't want to be bothered by the attentions of others to my cuteness.”

Bettycrocker: “You should never apologize for your style. It's what makes you you. Each of us has to figure out what works best for us based on our lifestyles, careers, body type and personality. In the end, you need to feel great in what you wear. It really is an emotional thing.”

Rabbit: “I was pondering heels, because I've been wearing more high heeled boots. On the one hand there is an element of artificiality/traditional feminine sexual ideals/slightly hindered movement (harder to sprint across a parking lot and avoid a rain shower), on the other, I'm suddenly taller and since I'm fairly tall to begin with find myself seeing over the heads of other women in a crowd and looking straight into (or down into) the eyes of men when I talk to them, and there is a strange power in having that viewpoint.”

Smittie: “I wish I lived in a more fashion-forward city where I wouldn't stand out so much for wearing something a little different.”

Gaylene: “Why the resistance--the " well, it's great for you, but I couldn't" reaction. Is it that radical or subversive to downplay and, gasp, even hide, our female attributes from the gaze of others? Might it make it hard for someone to figure out how to interact with me if my age, shape, and gender wasn't easily discernible? Would strangers have to learn more before they could figure how to stereotype me?”

Beth Ann: “Sometimes, when someone responds unfavorably to something I've worn, I remind myself that they may be just learning how to engage honestly in an active thread, and may not always get the balance right -- and I also know that someone will tell me they don't like something only when they think they've come to "know" me a bit.”

Janet: “ I want liberation and equality but not through total androgyny -- that would not feel like me, even though I do like a certain amount of it in my style. I don't want to feel like I have to wear something so completely covered to assert my personal -- and decidedly female -- power. …. The looks with very voluminous and layered skirts frankly put me in mind of days gone by when women were *required* to hide their legs -- only the ankles were visible, and the styles looked more cumbersome than easy to me. “

La Pedestrienne: “It strikes me that in extremely conservative cultures heavily layered, voluminous clothing is seen as a way of controlling bodies and sexuality. There are still parts of the world where revealing skin or form is a revolutionary act. Yet, to our western eyes, it's oversized looks that have become a type of resistance and/or rebellion against norms. It's all situational, isn't it?”

Gaylene: “I think it's rather fascinating how we, in North America, are so inclined towards seeing layered, voluminous clothing as a way of controlling female bodies and sexuality. I've been wired to think revealing my body is a statement of my free will and feminine power--a sign that I can't be coerced or controlled by those who would want to restrict my choices and ambitions. And, yet, when I think of the constant dieting, exercising, maintenance, and self-loathing we North American women put ourselves through in order to "look good in our clothes", I wonder If I'm not fooling myself. Is all this effort actually for ME--or for those who have convinced me I need to attract approving gazes from strangers who find it appealing to see a female shape on display?”

Rabbit: “I think that the opposite end of the spectrum - body baring or body con gets as much potential push back if not more than oversized/body obscuring -- and that touches on underlying issues from Puritanical/new England historical attitudes towards modesty in dress, social and economic class assumptions, more recent patterns of immigration, as well as the Pandora's box of feelings about open expressions of sexuality or baring skin (in the US), plus location specific norms -- Vegas baby :).

Rachylou: “I remember someone telling me it was actually illegal to wear a mask, cover your face, with the exception of Halloween. And when I walk down residential streets, sometimes I'm amazed how you can look in everyone's windows. Other places, every house is walled off. I wonder not a little if there are parallels with clothing: Western society drives toward openness and transparency. And sometimes maybe the drive is random and indiscriminate.”

Shevia: “ I absolutely agree that there is a Western or at least American association with obesity and muumuu dressing and that plays into our first reaction to oversized silhouettes. And also agree that the emphasis on body con, or body show, somehow relates with keeping women obsessed with the size and shape of their bodies.”


Praise and blame for the oversized (for Gaylene)

This is very long, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for a while. I stepped out of the forum for a few weeks, partly because I’ve been wearing a lot of baggy clothing lately. To put it mildly, this is not the most popular choice around here and I completely understand why. I’m not judging anyone else for their choices and I hope you'll do me the same courtesy. Life’s too short to have the whole of YLF look at me sideways.

If you have the patience, please read on.

I have a definite preference for the oversized. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. It hangs well on my big boned, zaftig frame. It gives me the freedom to eschew figure flattery and focus on colour, texture and proportion. It sidesteps all the problems I have with fit on my broad shoulders, short waist and large bosom. It makes me feel good and it’s comfortable.

I’m quite sure I look more impressive in mannish tailoring and more conventionally attractive in a fitted dress. But right now, a looser fit feels very authentic in relation to my lifestyle. Why should I dress up and perform when all I’m doing is working alone, running errands and meeting friends? Why not enjoy the freedom and mobility of an unconstricted silhouette? These shapes are having a moment and I’m taking advantage of that.

There’s been a lot of talk lately on the forum, confusion even, about how we should respond to this, in particular a very thought-provoking thread started by Gaylene a little while back. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on this, but to my eternal shame I only made the most pitiful contribution myself. To be honest, I’ve been disinclined until now to wade in when it’s clear that a lot of people here seem to have the poison eye for a style that’s so close to my heart and anyway, I’m the first to admit there’s a problem. It may feel to me like a gift from the gods to see this filter down at last, but in reality the building blocks are very hard to assemble. In my opinion, high volume stands or falls on design, materials and fabrication, but I’ll come to that.


"Conceptual Fashion uses the body as a site for communication. Postmodern philosophers like Foucault maintain that the body is inscribed with cultural and gender meanings and becomes a text that tells the story of the social context that the body is constructed in. This process not only shapes the body but in many cases disciplines it as well, for example, what bodies are considered to be objects of beauty. Some conceptual designers have understood this and use fashion and clothes to disrupt dominant discourses and narratives about the female body."

Gaylene posted this quote from the Accidental Icon and all I said was Yes. Gaylene, my humble apologies. I wished afterwards I’d given you a more nuanced answer, so here’s one now.

I’m a professional creative living in the centre of an international city. (sounds glamorous, but in fact it’s a life as full of misery, challenges, ennui and joy as any other.) No doubt if things had turned out another way I’d be dressing differently, but this is who I am now and I like looking the part. Fashion is important to me and I strive to engage with it on the level of ideas and contexts as well as using it to look appealing, or correct, or whatever. On some levels (not all) it’s definitely an art form, and like any art it doesn’t always have to be beautiful, it can be used conceptually as well. And quite frankly, there are times when I can do without the demands of performative femininity and I’m more than happy to stand in opposition to it rather than simply ignore it.

So yes, I see this partly as a subversive statement about womanhood, ageing and social expectations. But ultimately, I agreed with a lot of what was said in that thread. Aesthetically this is very challenging, at odds with just about everything we’ve come to expect from womenswear. It’s been a huge disappointment to see this executed so poorly by retailers. Something’s been lost in the translation from high fashion to high street.

We all seem to agree, however, that they do layers very well in Japan and I think that’s a clue as to why this isn’t working. Japanese fashion to my eye is more concerned with forms and fabrics and far less about the body underneath. The lagenlook has relevance here in Europe for more or less the same reasons. But in both locations the designers and brands who have been working with it for a long time prioritise quality in material and fabrication.

COS don’t seem to be able to pull this off. I look in there from time to time, I can see what they’re aiming for and I want them to succeed at it but there’s something about their cuts and materials which just doesn’t work out. Uniqlo have done better at it (just look at this lady) perhaps because they’re Japanese and it’s part of their DNA. They just sold me a very nice boxy sweatshirt and I’m liking their wide legged gaucho pants at the moment. But even so, a quick straw poll of my wardrobe indicates that for me, it’s either high end pieces with exemplary cuts or my own creations where I’ve used top notch fabrics. It doesn’t work well in inexpensive materials.

I find since my trip to Japan last year I’m moving more and more in this direction. I’ve been looking back at pictures from the last couple of years and I can see that even though many of them hit the conventional flattery spot, they look to me as if I’m trying too hard. By contrast, the looks I’ve been wearing lately, the loose fitting tops, the baggy pants, the chunky shoes, all seem to express something that’s fundamentally me. It puts me in mind of Gaylene’s observation on seeing the model’s faces more clearly in these clothes. Maybe I don’t look as conventionally beautiful in these outfits, but I can see very clearly who I am.


Go to the full post to see all of the pictures →


Incorporating style into my passion

We've been talking lately about how our passions come through in our style, and it got me thinking.

I'm pretty passionate about bicycles. If you ask me, the bike is up there with libraries, antibiotics and sanitation as just about the best thing the human race has come up with. It keeps you fit, it's non-polluting and it's fun. Of all the things I love about living in the Netherlands, and there are many, bike culture is right there at the top of my list. My Dutch friends sometimes take for granted the freedom we have to ride around on two wheels, but I will never loose my sense of wonder and gratitude for the traffic infrastructure that privileges this modest form of transport. There's no better way to get around in my opinion.

Like everyone else around here, my trusty steed is a heavy weight single speed omafiets or granny bike and I use it every day to get around town. I don't need to dress specifically for this (although I draw the line at pencil skirts and wide legged pants) so bike style isn't much of a thing in my every day life. I am, however, the proud owner of a very stylish bike friendly waterproof (props again to my good friend Mel for designing the thing).

This spring, I'm kitting myself out to start sports cycling again. I took the plunge on the bike this month and I've been putting together a little capsule to match. And being me, I have to do it in style. 

Back in my mountain biking days, bike gear was all about garish lycra, so I was relieved to discover that things have changed since then. There's still a lot of shiny spandex about, but there's also a growing trend for a more low key old school classic style. Think plain striped merino jerseys, peaked caps and crochet gloves.

Leading the field are British brand Rapha, who are making some truly fabulous gear. The design is superb and the quality exquisite. They carry a price tag to match, but I was so impressed with their bib shorts (bike ladies will know what I'm talking about when I say it's all about the chamois) that I splurged on a discounted bundle to get the matching jersey. Luckily, I made some savings on the rest of the kit, completing the look with a plain black windproof from Primal and pair of very cute crochet mitts. 

There's some seriously good cycling fashion out there these days and I'm sorely tempted to slip a few pieces into my day to day wardrobe. Particularly the classic cycling jerseys at Jura, which look far too good to break a sweat in.

Control yourself girl. Resist, resist.

UPDATE! and what a glorious morning that was! 

Just christened the whole kit and caboodle on a 60k turn around the polders. Too warm for leggings, so on a whim I reached for a pair of striped thigh highs, which to my astonishment worked really well (warm, wicking, breathable) and added a whole load of roller derby attitude. I am going to have to buy more of these before American Apparel go out of business.

And of course, the most vital equipment of all. Protect your brains, kids. Wear a helmet!


Go to the full post to see all of the pictures →