Other Fashion Rules to Break

Reader (and friend!) Sheena spotted this Old Navy advert featuring bloggers busting the myth that “certain jeans are for certain body types.” (Let us take a moment to celebrate that Old Navy didn’t select a bunch of skinny white women as their featured style bloggers.)

It reminded her of one of my “Can I Wear This?” posts where young women felt restricted and shamed by these very rules.  That post also features a picture of Sheena!  Isn’t she gorgeous?

Inspired by their take on things, Sheena asked me to do another post on fashion rules you should break – particularly ones that say that certain kinds of people “can’t” wear certain kinds of clothes.

I should start out by stating the obvious – you can wear whatever you damn well please.

Marinating on it a little more, though, you probably read this blog because you are at least mildly interested in style/fashion/looking fab in clothes you love.  So while “wear what you want” is a great mantra, it’s probably not the most helpful declaration in the world re: parsing out how to wear the kinds of things you want to wear.

The Old Navy ad tackled this conundrum pretty well. For example, of COURSE grown women can wear overalls.  But if the last time you personally wore them was in 10th (or 2nd) grade, you might appreciate the advice they give to go slim & flared with your adult version.  I also think they look great with a boyfriend/mom jeans cut, or a skinny silhouette:

Kut-from-Kloth-distressed-boyfriend-jean-overalls-98 mom jeans 2 mom jeans skinnies


Similar logic applies to rules about who can/can’t wear certain colors.  If you love red, wear it! But if you’re concerned about wearing hues which enhance your skin tone, you’re going to want to find a red that works with you instead of drowning you out.  Case in point: cherry red is not for me, as pictures of my prom dress will attest. But I can rock a muted tomato like nobody’s business.


One fashion rule being broken all over the place?  Women of a “certain age” can’t wear anything too young, shapely, colorful, modern, sexy, etc.  I would counter that while many people don’t want to wear everything they used to at a younger age – our taste, lifestyle, and often our willingness to sacrifice comfort evolve as we age – decreeing that anything is outside the bounds of propriety is ageist and sexist.

Inspiration: check out some of the fashion mavens defying the “shoulds”:

Advanced Style (70s+; avant garde, sheer, bathing suits!):
G63A0040copy-copy-copy2-copy-copyweblow G63A4068-570x856 G63A7584copy-copy-copywebhigh

J’Adore Couture (40-something, I think; cutoffs, sheer lace, minis, unbuttoned shirts!):
 photo jadore-couture-refinedco-whyred-blazer.jpg Capture 3  photo jadore-couture-denim-miniskirt.jpg

You Look Fab (over 40; jumpsuits, bright eyewear, trends, bold colors, raw hems, moto jackets, skinny jeans):
Jumpsuit-SAM-White-Full Matchy-Florals-Shoulder-Jacket Sea-Foam-Jacket-Scarf-Full

So What to Twenty! (“mid-life”; metallic bomber jackets, off-the-shoulder dresses, overalls, lowcut necks):
baroque-021 destination-chicos_boho-lux-012  unique-040

Mama in Heels (40-something; one-shoulders, exposed shoulders, trends, ripped jeans):
Amorium-1 blue-paisley-1600x1042 elizabeth-clarke-2-2

(40-something; crop tops, horizontal stripes, bold patterns, sleeveless)
xoq stripes 4 Capture 2 Capture

Not Dressed as Lamb (mid-40s; her tagline is “opposing the term ‘age appropriate'”; overalls with no shirt, raw hems, bikinis, tulle, crop tops):
27977432352_d00b57a7b8_k 22466716086_58df78a22e_b 26738289162_9ae873675c_k

Evolve Your Image
 (50-something, not currently posting; sleeveless, skinnies, jean jackets/vests, lower necklines, shorts!):
img_8974 img_8744 img_8768

Une Femme d’un Certain Age (50+, maybe 60 now?; military parka, beanie, skinnies, flares, leopard, gold footwear!):
beanie-1-600x894  cropped-jeans-5-600x446 gucci-gold-loafers-1-1600x1445

Also, check back tomorrow for another fabulous blogger in her 40s who thrifts! (It’s much harder to find older women who thrift – please comment below if you know of more.)


Other long-held dictums (dicta?) include not wearing all-over pattern or horizontal stripes if you shop in the plus-sized section. Seriously? Is it just me or does this smack of shaming women’s bodies even further than they already are by implying they need to hide in a corner, sartorially speaking? When was the last time you heard a man being told to skip the rugby shirt ’cause it made him look wider?  Sometimes I think our society is just afraid of Too. Much. Womanness.

Armchair sociological analysis aside, I don’t even have a styling suggestion for this one because I think it’s just dumb. If you feel overwhelmed by a pattern, that’s about the aesthetics of the pattern, not your body size/shape; use accessories/solids to break it up ’til you’re happy with the visual.

Inspiration: Adele defies the pattern rule beautifully all the time, as do many style/thrift bloggers: e.g. Dina’s Days – here’s a great example; Heartprint Style (author on the right in the pic) – good examples here and here; Alison Gary at Wardrobe Oxygen is in love with stripes. Take that, Patriarchy.

adele-valentino common threads thrift 2  shobha rockville pike blogger event heartprintandstyle over-40-curvy-fashion-blogger-wardrobe-oxygen--640x934


Here’s another sexist one (I’m on a roll!): tall women shouldn’t wear heels lest they tower over the menfolk. As a tall-ish woman whose first boyfriend was short enough to get called “Leprechaun” at school, I say, Bosh. If you’re like me and don’t like heels anyway, great. But if you do, wear them and revel in your Amazonian glory.  This one may be easier said than done for a lot of women who are fighting not just social pressure, but also their own internalized discomfort about looming over the men in their lives, particularly if one of those males is a significant other.

A quick thought experiment for undoing this conditioning: reverse the genders of the people involved and ask yourself whether, as a man, you would ever think twice about wearing something that made you taller than a woman in your life. Or whether you would give it a second thought if the person in question were a woman too. No? Then work those heels!

Inspiration: here’s a slideshow of Hollywood couples where a lady is taller than a man. Or:

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: (AFP-OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and First Lady Michelle Obama wave during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 34th Annual Awards Gala at the Washington Convention Center on September 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about the $447 billion package of tax cuts as well as public spending and new jobs plan. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images) dd231f69e0f6eb49de56ef90173d3cdd

The First Lady is two inches shorter than the President but never hesitates to don high heels/do her hair up high such that she ends up looking taller than him (source). Or Queen Rania of Jordan, who regularly rocks elegant heels despite being way taller than King Abdullah even in stockingfeet (source).  And these women are both doing it in front of The. Entire. World.


Last but not least, I know there are a lot of well-meaning “dress for your body type” posts and blogs out there.  I think they can be really helpful for learning about different garment proportions and silhouettes and how they look on different bodies. But style – true personal style – is so much about learning “rules” and then breaking them in ways that work for you.

So if you want to wear ANY fashion out there – cropped pants on a petite frame, pencil skirts on big juicy hips, high-necked blouses over larger bosoms – you should.  Learn how to tweak things you’ve seen on other body types so that they reflect the look you want for YOUR body.  The only body on which I’m an expert is my own, so my only advice to you in this area is to spend a lot of time looking at bloggers/friends/coworkers whose style you love and who have a similar body type to yours to observe how they do it – and then get things tailored!

Because the only “flattering” you need to do to your body is to wear clothes that fit beautifully and make you feel great.


What about you all?  What are some fashion “rules” that need breaking?



4 thoughts on “Other Fashion Rules to Break

  1. I still find it odd that over 40 is considered “of a certain age” (I am 42).

    Do you read The Directrice? She is in her mid-40s I think. She doesn’t thrift, but she wears interesting stuff (I think of it as accessible avant-garde,) and has a really delightful voice.

    1. Yeeeup. Men don’t have to change the way they dress at age 40, so why should women? Why should that be some magic age faultline for either gender?

      Thanks for the tip on The Directrice! I’ll head that way this weekend when I catch up on my blog reading.

  2. Awww, thank you so much for the compliment, Leah! I really appreciate it! I have so much to say so I’m just gonna list it cuz I’m hungry.

    1. I find the name “boyfriend jean” sexist and offensive and I’ll tell you why. I get that it’s supposed to be cute because it’s like you’re wearing your boyfriend’s jeans but these jeans are always advertised as having a “relaxed fit” or “more comfortable.” To me that implies that women, or things made for women, are not relaxed or comfortable (and frankly, a lot of things made for women are NOT AT ALL comfortable). Thoughts? Maybe you could write a post about this???
    2. Thank you so much for featuring so many women of color and thick (AKA plus-size, in the Black community, we say thick) women in this piece!! It made me feel seen.
    3. Thanks for exposing me to all these new blogs, especially the “older woman” ones! I’m definitely going to check these out!
    4. For a long time I didn’t wear shorts because I thought they didn’t look good on my big legs. 2 weeks ago I bought a pair of jean cut-offs at Old Navy to wear out with a sparkly shirt and my life was forever changed. I feel SO incredibly sexy in them that I’ve worn them all weekend long since I got ’em! Plus, I’m getting a lot of come-hither looks from the boys whenever I wear them! (Not that this is important but you know…Lol! I think they can sense my booming confidence. Lol!)

    Ok, I’m finally done. See y’all later!

    1. 1. I never thought of that before, but yes! It also implies that your boyfriend (since you wouldn’t have a girlfriend BC of course you’re straight) is bigger than you, which I’m sure feels weird to women where the opposite is the case. Anyone else have thoughts??
      2&3 you are so very welcome – that’s the biggest compliment I could get!! Our friendship has challenged me to not take the easy/normative road on who I represent in blog posts. Plus it was a lot of fun finding and reading bloggers of color/of size/of non-traditional style-blog age. I got a lot of new follows out of it as well; there are so many great voices out there!
      4. YES!! I love hearing stories like this. Fashion rules are so much in our heads and it can be absolutely transformative to say “who cares” and just WEAR it! Brava, lady.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *