It is, of course, never going to happen. The gods could curse me with an immortal tapeworm and my bones would still be Viking-esque, more suited to leading horn-wearing he-men into battle than ethereally floating into tea. Despite my love for all things delicate and feminine—lace, tiny cups, dogs named Claudette—pursuit of a different Grace is fruitless. In my mind, I may be Betty, but anyone with eyes can tell I’m a Joan. So, what do you do, when the outside is never going to match the inside?
Not give a damn.
This is a recent epiphany, kittens. For most of my life, I tried to pretend I wasn’t soultwee. The word “flattering” was my best wardrobe pal. People praised my sense of style, my knowledge of what worked with my generous hourglass shape. Which was all well and good, but have you ever noticed how subtly offensive “flattering” can sound? It intimates that you aren’t attractive, so much as benefited by the outfit you’ve donned. Flattering means that you’re wise to hide certain parts of you, lest someone suspect you don’t possess a perfectly flat stomach or appropriately pointy hip bones. Flattering is something we say all the time to women, as if the best thing she can do is camouflage her squishy parts—or flat parts or whatever it is that doesn’t measure up to our ideal—under yards of fabric or a strategically long cardigan.
Flattering has held me back. Y’all, I want to wear sheath dresses. Who gives a crap if Stacy and Clinton decree that they don’t work for my body type? Sure, I love a fit-and-flare dress like it’s clothing cake, but sometimes I want sartorial pie instead. In writing there is a delightful saying: “Learn the rules, so that you can break them.” That is how I have come to feel about wardrobe choices, as well. For a decade of my life, it’s been all waist-cinching, layering, bust-highlighting rules for hourglass Viking princesses. I know what looks good on me, so isn’t it time I got more comfortable with what supposedly doesn’t?
This summer, I pulled the trigger on my first sheath dress. One of my favorite independent pattern companies, Colette, came out with a lovely little column dress that I gleefully ordered. I tweaked the lines of the pattern a bit—scooping out a bit at the waist for a suggestion of curves—but at the end of the day, it’s a sheath dress. It is exactly the wrong thing for my body type and I adore it. The dress is absurdly comfortable, easy to throw on if I’m in a hurry, and dresses up beautifully. Initially, though, it made me uneasy. I’d pair it with a belt, cardigan, and heels, in an effort to remind the world that I understood my body type. Wear a sheath dress, Grace, but remember who you are! Slowly, however, the accessories disappeared.
I don’t get as many compliments on this dress as my full-skirted, cinched pieces, but who cares? When I wear it, my inner 1960’s ingenue perks up, giving the camera her best Audrey Hepburn smirk. If no one else sees that, I don’t mind. Some days even the Swedish milkmaid wants to feel sweet and delicate. Why shouldn’t she? We are entirely too bound by all those supposed rules, when at the end of the day, our clothes should please only ourselves. I’m all for looking pulled together and stylish, but my style is my own, not one handed to me by society.
I propose we stop obsessing over the styles that work for us. Wear the skirt you love, but is made for the tiny-waisted. Buy that tiki dress you covet, despite the model’s larger chest bunnies. Don a swimsuit without a skirt, because cellulite should not hold you back.
Wear the things that scare you, darling. Society can go suck an egg, if it doesn’t think them flattering.