Friday Fluff: Vintage Fashion Advice for the Stout.

By | January 14, 2011

If only she'd stood up straight.

“Following the Fashion”, a December 1794 caricature by James Gillray, which satirizes incipient neo-Classical trends in women’s clothing styles, particularly the trend towards what were known at the time as “short-bodied gowns” (i.e. short-bodiced or high-waisted dresses). This caricature satirizes the figure-type which is most flattered by high-waisted dresses, contrasting it with a body-type which was not flattered by the style…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

…Simplicity should be the style keynote for all stout people…

The woman who is stout should remember that solid colors always draw less attention to stoutness than checked, flowered and horizontally striped materials. She should wear over-blouses with her suit skirts instead of tucked-in waists, and they should be the same color as the suit itself. Her dresses should be made without waistlines, and the belts should always be narrow and tacked slightly lower than where the waist-line really should be.

For the woman who has large hips we recommend fullness of the material and a skirt that is worn an inch or two longer than the prevailing mode. The woman with broad shoulders should also wear clothes with plenty of fulness, for it is a mistaken idea that snug-fitting clothes hide stoutness. As a matter of fact, a tight dress instead of making a stout woman appear smaller, actually accentuates the size of the shoulders or hips.

Source: The New Way Course in Fashionable Clothes-Making (1926)

The stout woman should avoid the appearance of being too large for her clothes. The youthful styles should be left for the youthful figures. There are many becoming styles for the stout woman without making the figure conspicuous. The fronts, neck lines, lack of fullness in the skirt, good corseting, ease in fitting, all have a tendency to slenderize her figure. These should be desired rather than a pretty dress pattern that is attractive on the figure in the picture. Keep in mind, “Will I look attractive in that dress?”

Source: Home Sewing Course, by Helen Hall (1936)

It is interesting to know that most irregular size, stout women would not have abnormal flesh distribution if good posture had been maintained!

Source: Modern Pattern Design, by Harriet Pepin (1942)

…[W]e must choose our hats very much as our frocks are chosen. The short, stout figure should be made to appear taller; the tall, angular figure should be made to appear shorter and broader. It is as important that the hat suit the lines of the figure as it is for it to suit the lines of the face.

Source: The New-Way Course in Millinery and Hat Design (1928)

If the too-stout woman… wears the wrong kind of dress she looks even stouter than she really is. The same holds true with the short person, and the thin person. But all of us, whether we are tall or short, stout or slender, have some certain point of beauty—and it is our duty to see that the clothes we wear emphasize this “good point.”

Source: The New Way Course in Fashionable Clothes-Making (1926)

For as long as fashion has existed, women (and to a lesser extent, men) have been actively reshaping their bodies — first using corsetry, later via dieting — in the service of popular styles, while simultanously using various styles to visually reshape their bodies. We practice this superstitious fashion alchemy with the idea that we can fool others, or ourselves, into believing that the fantasy body we have inside our heads is our body in reality. Fact is, no matter what you put on it, a fat body looks fat. A thin body looks thin. And that’s not a bad thing.

Do you like stripes, or ruffles, or short skirts, or layers, or bodycon dresses? Wear them. Fuck all that well-meaning fashion advice: it’s arbitrary, often contradictory, always exhausting, and it doesn’t work. Whatever size you may be: wear what makes you feel good. You look fabulous when you feel fabulous. Be yourself and wear what you like. The only benefit to looking like everyone else is the ability to be ignored — and who wants that?

And stand the fuck up straight! You don’t want to suffer from “abnormal flesh distribution”, do you?


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