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.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Sara L. replied 5 years ago

    I love reading wardrobe analysis posts - maybe because I'm personally so bad at self analysis.  I think you've really nailed your style and the reasons for it.  I don't see it as lazy at all.  Just because it's easy for you to dress this way doesn't mean it's wrong - not everything in life needs to be difficult.

  • replied 5 years ago

    Oh goody, another style lab!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I'll be back later today to fully absorb this info. 

  • Suz replied 5 years ago

    Brilliant analysis. I'm very interested in learning a bit more about your self-identification as dramatic-natural and how your interpretation differs from other stuff you have seen. Intuitively (based on my own incomplete reading) it makes sense to me for you -- definitely the drama, but I see the "natural" in bone structure/ shape of face, etc.  Even though on the surface your self-presentation is more "urban" than "natural" as we might commonly think about that word. Interesting. 

    Onto the outfits, which are fab on you! You've really nailed your style. 

    Silhouettes 1,2, 3 seem like a slam-dunk for your physical type and look amazing. I think #4 is equally terrific on you but I hear you on how it feels -- when something feels "off" it's not the kind of no-fuss outfit we want, no matter how great it looks. As for the exaggerated look, why not enjoy it while you can? Yours is one of the few body types that wears it well, it allows for a lot of creative expression, and it's a great change! 

  • cindysmith replied 5 years ago

    I love your style. Also, I like the distinction you make between urban baggy and lagenlook. It's puts words to the subtle differences that mean the difference between me liking something and NOT liking it.

  • El Cee replied 5 years ago

    Echoing Sara L -- I do not see your way of dressing as at all lazy. All your outfits look "studied" -- as if a lot of careful thought went into them. And you certainly have plenty of variation in your silhouettes (as clearly demonstrated above). I see no "lazy rut" here. You look amazing in all these ensembles.

    As far as transgressive? I actually see that as a positive... pushing the envelope... not letting societal norms define YOU. As far as fashion and style is concerned, I am totally on "Team Transgression" and applaud your sartorial choices. Your look conveys intelligence, confidence and strength... and that can be, in its own way, incredibly sexy.

    Although I am more full figured than you, I share your height, long legs and strong shoulder line. (I am a busty hourglass but have very strong IT tendencies.) I had to chuckle when I read this: "Menswear styling is very nearly flop-proof but strays all too easily into drag king territory." I am more and more convinced that "Drag King" is actually my best look. Not kidding here. Yesterday I wore a menswear inspired slightly oversized utility blouse with bold vertical stripes (long and untucked) over slim moto jeans with chunky moto boots. Left the house feeling not so great about the ensemble -- too masculine or androgynous, perhaps??? Yet I got tons of compliments... several from complete strangers. My husband, who almost never gushes over my outfits, kept telling me how much he liked me in that blouse... and that I reminded him of David Byrne. Yep... I have linebacker shoulders (no padding needed) -- perfect for 1980's style. The blouse accentuated my strong shoulder line and he found this to be very attractive. Perhaps I should not be dressing to "deemphasize" my strong shoulder line and should go full linebacker. It is clearly a look that works for me.

    So I say -- celebrate your gorgeous strong, sexy shoulders! Go full tilt and continue to play them up. It works for you. You look stunning.

  • replied 5 years ago

    I too am interested in how you arrived at your Kibbe type.

    I like full-on dramatic looks on you, and there is not enough drama in the all-white lOok, imo. :-)

    I also think there is more drama in pointy shoes, so I prefer those on you.

    I'm not familiar with the Kibbe type of dramatic/natural (I assume that it's the same as "flamboyant natural"?).

    I TOTALLY AGREE that you need to discard a lot of people's interpretations that you see online.

    As well, people tend to put together hippie looks for 'natural' when that is not the intention of the natural archetype at all.

    I really like man tailoring on you. I wouldn't worry about looking like a drag king, lol! If you were actually concerned, a shawl collar might take out some of the androgyny.

    I'm also a fan of oversized looks as they remind me of Japanese style, which i love. I like oversized looks on everybody (but just not all the time, you know?). I'm starting to think that maybe the key to non-sloppy oversized looks is to be tidy and neat--clean crisp colours, heavy drape (not flimsy), etc.

  • cheryl replied 5 years ago

    I love your style! Great breakdown and analysis. Pics #2 and #4 are my favs!:)

  • Ledonna N. replied 5 years ago

    I feel as if I'm in an elevated fashion class when I read your post. My mind is like let me go back and reread that.

    Very intresting the concept of style and the reality of our own bodies.

  • tulle replied 5 years ago

    So interesting, and beautifully expressed.  You make me want to attempt an analysis of my own---almost.  One phrase that jumped out at me is "license to take up more space."  I think this is something that most of us need to come to terms with in middle age, and it can be a real challenge.  I was so wispy for most of my life, standing on windy street corners made me nervous.  Then one day I woke up . . . sturdy.  My bony armed, narrow shouldered, long necked, tiny waisted body disappeared, replaced by a broader, squarer version.  On clear-minded days I think, "I've been here for 66 years--why shouldn't I claim a bit more territory?"  but nostalgia for the ethereal, graceful girl is always just below the surface.  Your self confidence, the way you dress for your own satisfaction, make all your wardrobe choices indisputable, I think. Though we are almost exact opposites in body type, I am braced and inspired by your level-headed, brainy style.

  • Style Fan replied 5 years ago

    Great analysis. I haven't actually read Kibbe.  I have just looked at different interpretations of his work.  From what I know of Kibbe I can see the dramatic Kibbe in your style.  I love how the man tailoring looks on you.  You certainly add your own creative twist to it.
    By the way I am a big fan of the 'Drag King' look.

  • replied 5 years ago

    You do such a great analysis.  In a deceptively short post, you provide an amazing amount of information to absorb.  I personally want to comment on every single sentence/paragraph.  I am going to keep it brief and say you have found your "fashion voice."  

  • bj1111 replied 5 years ago

    Super analysis integrating body type, style preference, and illustrative examples.

    I am drawn to #4 in particular as a more "femme" package. Then I love #5 because of the richness of shape, detail, silhouette, again, the package. In #1, I don't think you pushed it far enough. I love the tailoring-as-restraint in both senses, and would have like more severity. I too love drag kings especially where a large bust is visual contrast. I see similarity with a Le smoking a la Bianca.

    (More rambling, feel free to skip)

    I'm not as insightful as you and always look at the thing as a whole and make a snap decision --that is attractive/pretty/want to try that. Only then do I look a bit deeper into why the outfit works. Should do more of that in my own closet. BUT I may have a bias against what I perceive as studiedness of an outfit that can translate into over-intellectualization. If I have to work too hard, I'll move on. Above comments about outfit preferences should be put into context here.

  • Angie replied 5 years ago


    I shouted because I'm hoping to convince you - slowly but surely. 

    *and smiling*

    The important thing here is to listen to your feelings, Liz. If the exaggerated silhouette is where your style wants to be right now, and that's what makes you feel fab - milk it. You know you wear it well, AND it makes you happy. It's that simple. 

  • Emily K replied 5 years ago

    Yea, more style lab!  The careful way you think through your wardrobe/fashion choices is always instructive for me.  I love collecting and collating data, looking for patterns, making systems etc., but, for some reason, I've never subjected my wardrobe to such close scrutiny.  By your example (and that of other forum members as well) I'm starting to look more carefully and to take notes about what I see/feel/use in my closet.  Thanks for blazing the trail!

  • Beth Ann replied 5 years ago

     "I’m far more comfortable retreating into an exaggerated silhouette right now. "

    It's working for you, that's for sure!  The most important thing to me, when I run across a dramatic avant-garde dresser, is whether the woman seems like she enjoys and embodies her outfit.  And my eye sees the silhouette as a choice, not a lack of flattery.

    Doing what feels good to you is a terrific thing when your style sense is this good.  And being lazy and transgressive has it upside!

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Thank you all so much for thinking along with me. I feel like we’re all learning something here. This is an incredibly useful exercise, but it does make the brain hurt after a while.

    Kibbe got me thinking about my appearance as a whole rather than the sum of its parts. When I first did the quiz, I came out as part Soft Dramatic, part Flamboyant Natural, and the overall concept made perfect sense to me. Strong frame, large bones, heavy features, angular and fleshy at the same time, substantial as you might say. Kibbe calls it “blunt yang”.

    And Smittie, that’s exactly the problem with the online interpretations! Rather than play to the inherent strength of the form, most of the styling suggestions I see revolve around a specific brand of eccentric boho-arty femininity, because hey, that’s an acceptable mainstream style we all understand. The theory itself doesn’t get explored, so it becomes difficult to apply it to your personal preferences. Regarding the oversized look, I think maybe the word for it is precision. It doesn’t have to be neat and tidy, but it has to have a certain crispness to the form.

    Suz: I seem to recall you ran into a similar problem with the Flamboyant Gamine type, which always gets put in a box marked “zany pixie chick”. Nevertheless, I often see the underlying principles at work in your style, in your use of bright colours, bold prints and colour blocking, all of which make you look amazing.

    In spite of all the bogus notions I saw floating around, examining my own style in this context was an eye-opener because gave me a clearer view on how I was using detail and proportion in my outfits: why certain things work when they shouldn’t and other things don’t when they should. I think this may be a topic for a future Style Lab post.

    El Cee: I so want to see how you look! I totally understand why anyone would prefer not to post pictures of themselves, it certainly gives me pause from time to time, but I’d love to see that outfit. I agree, linebacker shoulders are essential to rocking the menswear look. I never quite understand why we’re supposed to play them down - how else could you wear David Byrne’s oversized suit? I may have to come back to the “drag king” problem though. I’m still not quite sure how that happens, but I know it when I see it.

    tulle: that idea of taking up space was something I came up with a few years ago, when I realised that I couldn’t dress like my twenty- or even thirty-something self anymore but I was still determined to remain visible and relevant as an older woman. I guess I’m a little nostalgic for the body-con dresses and belly tops but on the whole I’m happier than ever with my style because now I’m dressing first and foremost for myself.

    Phew. Thanks again everyone for your kindness, encouragement and empathy. Sorry for not shouting out - you're all amazing. 

  • L'Abeille replied 5 years ago

    Ok so much to love and to think on in this post. I will probably come back to say more, or maybe to start another thread, where we tall ITs can discuss what we've learned about ourselves from Kibbe, and how we find our own path to feeling as feminine as we want to while buying actual menswear...

    But for now, I just want to add a word of love for linebacker shoulders. Hard to fit, for sure, except for those eras when shoulder pads are "in" and we can just remove them to get a perfect shoulder fit and sleeve length. But oh, they make our clothing hang so well on us, and I think we take that for granted.

    My epiphany came some years ago with a rare chance to "see" myself from the outside: Lands End (I think) had come out with those online fit models customized to your own measurements. A friend and I measured each other and plugged in the numbers. And mine, although she wore my clothing size, didn't look like me, or even look good in the items that I know suit me. She was much bustier, for one thing. And then we discovered a measuring error, and put in the proper wide shoulders. What a difference! Everything hangs /looks better on a wide shoulder line.

    So I share this story when I can with my linebacker sisters because we are so conditioned to see them as a detraction from our "femininity" when they are NOT.

    \end rant

  • kerlyn replied 5 years ago

    I loved reading your thoughts on this.  I'm not nearly as eloquent as other Fabbers when it comes to articulating why I like something.  But I do know WHEN I like something.  And I'm always drawn to your photos.   I have a very different body type and style than you, and yet, I keep coming back to look at your photos.  Thank you for sharing your ideas.  I always get so much out of these posts!

  • shevia replied 5 years ago

    Hmm. Very interesting! You start with your body type, which as we have met I can say is pretty different than mine - I am short and small boned, soft and much less present as a body type. And yet I could easily imagine wearing a version of all of your outfits. Kibbe wise, I believe I have mentioned that I have come to think I am a shrunken dramatic more than anything else. Maybe I will make that a personal challenge to get me out of my moribundity - the only thing that I really don't know how I will do is the last one because I don't have the equivalent of the fabulous white top. But perhaps something will turn up.

    Anyway, enough about me, your analysis is brilliant. 
    "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." Hear, hear!

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    L'Abielle: amen to that! It's taken me a very long time to come to terms with my instinctive love of menswear, which, let's face it, is all about these shoulders. Even though I've been wearing it since adolescence, would you believe. That would be all my life, and yet I still feel when I put it on and it looks this good, it's somehow wrong and I'm not meeting the required gender performance standards because my shirt buttons up the wrong way. Huh.

    The fact is though, and I only realised this just now, is that "drag king" is more likely to strike me in androgynous womenswear. I can dress head to toe from the men's department and still feel more like a woman than I do in a blazer and pants cut for the female anatomy. I'm not kidding, every time I try on one of those cute moto jackets with a diagonal zipper I look like I've just parked a Harley Davidson.

    And thanks for reminding me to take a look at online fit technology. I just looked at one which immediately sized me out of its range. Yeah, right. Fools.

    shevia: now you mention it, in Kibbe's terms we probably overlap where the FG/FN types converge on SD. In that respect, I can easily imagine us sharing some of the same internal style guidelines. 

  • Bijou replied 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed your post because it sort of set off a light bulb moment for me. I really loved your comment:
    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.
    I think each and every one of us is probably in a similar situation with our body shapes and probably the best thing to do is to embrace it and play around the edges of the silhouettes that work for us. I am a slim pear shape and find that I look my best in shift dresses, skirt suits and fit and flare dresses. I have a small bust and waist and so shirts tucked into a pencil skirt looks corporate rather than bombshell on me. However, I get your frustration too, it is nice to be able to mix things up.

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