Style is Costume

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players – Jacques, As You Like It

I was a late-bloomer in style, but even as a child I loved playing “dress-up.” If I was to work in fashion I would work in the film costume industry. A character has a core essence that makes them unique and the designer must capture that essence in a few outfits seen on screen that we are supposed to be believe, for the sake of the film, that character chose those clothes.  This of course is a suspension of disbelief, but a more fundamental suspension than computer generated effects, as a mis-dressed character is a ruder jolt than a pixelated barbarian horde.

My style is influenced primarily by film and TV show characters. As dressing for my figure has been my greatest challenge I usually start with a character with a figure similar to mine. I single out winning outfits from movies and seek out similar pieces, maybe not to recreate the entire outfit, but with knowledge that it would look great on me.

You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake! – Iris Simpkins, The Holiday

That quote is a little out of context, but still relevant. In the same way real people are characters too; we each have a core essence that makes us unique that we feel our clothes reflect, and we really do choose our outfits everyday. Unless we all make our own clothes, no one is unique in style. Every day I choose a different costume, a different character to play, and as we mature those characters become fewer and more deeply developed. We are each characters in our own lives.

You should seek your own style. I rarely read fashion blogs because they’re just that… fashion. The herd mentality. I know all of two fashion blogs. Style blogs are more my taste, especially vintage. In one way I allow characters to influence my style, but I chose those characters because they reflect something of myself. It’s cyclical. I very rarely use celebrities as style muses. It is here that the discussion can turn to the deterioration of style but that is for another day.

Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody. – Billy Joel, “James”

Often fashion websites warn against “looking costumey.” This is of course after they have removed one cool vintage piece from the style context that made it cool. Cast that illogic aside: we all play costume. If you want to wear an outfit straight out of 1974 or 1958 with every piece either reproduction or vintage, then go for it. Why should the pinheaded sheep who wrote three sentences in a slideshow or a magazine care? Why do you care if he/she cares? Heaven forbid wearing vintage 80s jeans with a big slouchy 80s-repro sweater crosses the line between homage and costume. If you like wearing it, then wear it.


Taking your measurements lends itself naturally to wearing clothes that fit properly. The three most important measurements are your bust, waist, and hips, which is why you might have seen bb/ww/hh on various websites. There are a few other important measurements, but let’s start with these…

  • Wearing a well-fitting bra, measure around the fullest part of your bust. This is your bust measurement.
  • Take your waist measurement by bending to one side. The “pinch” in your waist is your natural waist. Standing straight and measure around this point.
  • For your hips, find the widest point in your hips and measure.

The measuring tape should be taught but not tight. Now you have your measurements (and go determine your body shape, as well).

Other important measurements

  • Your torso: standing straight, measure in a straight line from the base of your neck to the top of your hipbones.
  • Your rise: wearing well-fitting jeans (easiest), measure from the crotch seam to your belly-button.
  • Your shoulders: measure around the broadest part of your shoulders.

These three can also be used for finding your correct proportions. Unless you are a life-sized cardboard cut-out, these are “three-dimensional” measurements. During online shopping, sizing measurements are often listed as “flat measurements.” Just double the seventeen inch waist to get your thirty-four inch measurement.

Now what do you do with your measurements? Take a measuring tape with you while shopping, of course, and save yourself bundles of time and hassle. With a narrow waist, I found my jeans always gapped in the waist,  but I stumbled upon a great pair of jeans in a thrift store that fit perfectly. So, I laid them flat, measured the waist and the jean rise. Now, I always bring a measuring tape with me to measure jeans and even skirts. Measuring also helps to ensure I don’t try on something too small and rip it.

Hemlines, Waistlines, Necklines, and Stripes: The Importance of Lines

Ah, lines. Not the fine feathery friends soon to be (or in some cases, already) ensconced around our eyes. There is the familiar fashion rule that horizontal lines are slimming and vertical lines are widening. Why is that? Why do hemlines look most flattering when cut just above the knee? Why does the waistline matter to proportions?

Two ideas of note about lines

  • Lines divide our frames and where these divides occur are very important
  • Dense lines appear to narrow or thin, sparse lines widen or thicken

Horizontal and vertical stripes are prime suspects in optical illusions. Wide and narrow lines are runners up. Perhaps next to dots and large, obnoxious patterns, nothing else can add or subtract inches to your hips. Why do some horizontal stripes flatter, but  you never see vertical stripes of any width on trend?

I don’t know for sure, but the problem may lie in our body plan. Some creatures like starfish have a five-fold symmetry, others a radial symmetry like jellyfish, but humans (along with all other mammals, birds, fish, etc) have a bilateral symmetry (two identical halves) down our vertical axis (a line from head to toe). Perhaps vertical lines emphasize this symmetry and draw our eyes to the widest parts of our bodies. Horizontal lines may serve to counteract our natural vertical division.

How do we use lines to our advantage?

First, skirt hemlines: the new standard casual dress length is thirty-six inches which is well above the knees (my disdain for this obscenely short length is the topic of another post). This is unfortunately growing in popularity with both customers, for the sex factor, and designers, for the cost factor. Yes, you show some leg but the problem is that if you are an average-leg-length woman this hemline cuts you off  where your thighs are widening. The majority of my skirts hit just at the knee where the leg is slimmer.

Second, read about waistlines and it is easy to see where the location of a belt or shirt hemlines makes or breaks our outfit and aesthetic line. The belt breaks up your look and divides your bust from your hips.

Third, the interactions between jewellery and necklines. This is also involves the length of your neck and the size of your chest, but your neckline is another line domain. If you’re busty, “skin necklines” such as v-necks, scoops, princess, and similar necklines “break up” your chest. If you’re not as busty, high-necks are most flattering.

But we knew this. Only certain necklaces can be paired with certain necklines. I will elaborate later, but  necklaces should not mimic the neckline too closely, and often work best when countering the neckline. So low, skin necklines look best with short necklaces, wide necklines and high necklines look best with long necklaces. This all deals with countering the dominant line of the neckline.

For example: chokers are alluring with an open neck, but look stuffy with a crew neck. On the other hand a long necklace that drapes over a v-neck seems unneccessary because it mimics the neckline.

In summary

Lines can be cleverly used beyond avant-garde French designs to actually define our shapes without a lot of leg work. These simple two-dimensional objects should usually be used to counter each other instead of mimicking.

Balance and proportion

Appearing balanced is probably the most important concept regarding style, with colour theory a close second. Each woman has a unique body and face shape that can be successfully styled with the right pieces. By combining your proper colours with a flattering outfit, you have a solid foundation set towards looking amazing.

What is balance? It means to create a pleasing aesthetic to the eye. This ranges from wearing a higher waist on a long torso, to wearing square earrings on a round face (like your’s truly). Balancing is achieved through various ways, perhaps through colour, cinching your waist, hemlines, a coat, etc. This does not mean that certain “unflattering” items are completely off-limits, but those items are significantly harder to style in a way that flatters you.

The golden ratio

Golden Ratio, 1:1.6

This is the heart and foundation of a balanced look. This won’t come up often, but it is worth learning about because it is important to both mathematics and art. The golden ratio or rectangle relies on the rule of thirds. If you flip this rectangle, the pink region would be, for example, your forehead – it should occupy one third of the rectangle. For body shapes, the ideal arrangement is that the torso and above occupies roughly one third and the hips and legs the rest of the two thirds. Roughly.

This is considered a universally pleasing aesthetic that has influenced art for centuries. It actually serves to illustrate our natural desire for proportion better than anything else.

Why bother with balance? Can’t I wear whatever I want?

The answer is, yes, you can wear whatever you want. No one’s stopping you but one day you’ll get a glimpse of yourself in a glass window and you realize the error of your ways.

Our goal is to counter extremes to create a harmonious look. When buying clothes, always ask yourself the simple question: does this outfit emphasize my dominant area? It could be your legs, your bust, your shoulders, whatever.  You will know it when you see it. These aren’t problem areas or areas you should hide or be ashamed of, but instead look at as the “perfect area” that needs no extra attention – if you have fantastic legs, they will be noticed no matter what, if you dress well (hiding them behind yoga pants does you no favours). But you are not your legs only, and every part of your body is amazing – some areas just need more help than others.