Monday, January 23, 2012

Dresses that work on this petite pear

Since high school, I have self-identified as a pear. (Petite, well, I've been on that end of the bell curve since elementary school.) My measurements are 33-25-35, but numbers don't tell the whole story.

OK, bear with some obsessive detailing for a while. There is a fantastic, though old post on figure types, quoting a highly knowledgeable commenter at the always delightful Dress a Day blog. According to this post, I'm TECHNICALLY not a pear, because my shoulders are the same width as my hips. But visually, I think I "read" as a pear, because my hips are very rounded and low (or it could be that my waist is high, or both, not sure). Also, though I'm not exactly small-busted (embarrassing anecdote from early twenties: on a second date, this charming gentleman gazed into my eyes and said, "You have a nice rack for an Asian girl." I had low self-esteem at the time, so I just mumbled and turned red, instead of walking out haughtily or spilling wine on his shirt), the volume there is more, well, 'forward' than 'sideways', if that makes any sense. Plus my thighs are where I carry most of my weight. (I could diet and slim those down, true. But the hipbones would remain. And I'd have to consume less french fries, and wine, and chocolate, and other life-enhancing things. Whoever said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels has CLEARLY never tried the fried-in-chili-oil fries at Little Pepper in Flushing, or the chocolate at Bouchon.) 

La BellaDonna does acknowledge that infinite variety exists around those four pillars of figure types:
"One of the confusing aspects is it is possible for four women to stand next to each other. Each has hips which are, say, 38 inches. Woman A has her weight distributed evenly; she isn't very hippy, she doesn't have a big booty. Woman B is quite narrow through the hips, but she has a nice round rear. Sometimes she has an amazingly round rear. Woman C has no backside at all; if it were any flatter, she couldn't sit down. But she has hips like Sophia Loren's, and they curve in a graceful parabola. Woman D is different still. Her backside's fairly small. However, she carries a lot of weight in her abdomen, which affects her upper hip measurement, and a lot of weight at the tops of her thighs.... But they all measure 38 inches at the hip...That doesn't begin to cover all the possibilities, either. It doesn't really address whether our ladies have high hips, average hips, or low hips (and this is something also determined by bone structure)."
The possibilities, they are endless. I guess I'm closest to Woman C, except I do have a backside, and you shouldn't take the graceful parabola part too literally.

It's one of the reasons I loved this quote from Already Pretty's post On Variety:
"If everyone had the exact same figure, it might diminish some of the body snarking. It might eradicate much of the world’s jealousy. It might help with the rampant plague of negative body image that has so many women suffering and anxious in the present day. But my guess is that if everyone had the exact same figure, we’d be busting our butts to force our figures to stand out, look different, be distinctive. We’d be falling all over ourselves to create the diversity that exists naturally today."
It reminded me of that interesting scenario from Fashion Advice Counterfactual on what dressing for your shape could really mean: "If you were pear-shaped, for example, the advice would be all about highlighting that awesome booty and tiny waist and shoulders. Work that pear-shape!"

That being said, when I get dressed, I try to look as hourglass-y as possible. So most of the dresses that I feel best in will play around that shape, defining the waist and skimming over the hips. Though I'm petite, I don't necessarily dress to look taller. (Because petite flattery tips and pear flattery tips often contradict each other, I usually pick Team Pear. I'll throw on some heels, sometimes, though, and call it a day.)

So, dresses that play nice with me:

Dresses with fitted bodices and flared skirts:
Most of my dresses are variations of this tried-and-true shape, usually with a belt or sash to waist-minimize as much as possible. The most flattering dresses on me hit above the knee, and have moderately flared skirts. For example, the A-line skirt on the red dress is more petite-friendly than the fuller one on the black (which, by the way, has a bizarrely Christmas-tree-shaped cutout on the back that possibly explains why it is on sale).

But I love circle skirts. So what if they do make me look shorter...they are joy sartorialized.

Ooh, these two dresses together remind me of The Red and the Black! Sorry, I guess that's a little blasphemous. Was at the Strand on Saturday and saw a gorgeous old leather-bound edition of it.

Dresses with high waists and widely gathered skirts.
The Nanette Lepore Stella dress is one of the most flattering dresses I own. This deceptively simple dress does so many things right--the graceful lines, the defined and high waist (Nanette Lepore should get more credit for petite-friendliness), the buttons drawing the eye to the narrowest point and making my waist look tiny, the wide and gently draping pleats. It also has pockets! It also hits me just a couple of inches above the knee.

Skirts with pleats, which are narrower and more precise, generally look horrid on me. So this sexy black number and sweet little grey/silver one would not be my friends. You'd think that all those vertical lines would be slimming, but pleats like that have a kind of built-in volume, so I would end up looking like a gourd. My hips would also pull some of those pretty pleats out of shape.

Gathers or even wider pleats give one some room to put hips without adding extra volume. Gathers and pleats in soft, flowy materials are also very flattering..see this lovely one below! The V-neck, the gentle asymmetry, and that vertical ruffle detail are very elongating as well.

Sheath dresses, if belted, and the skirt is straight, not tapered:

This dress has a simple, classic silhouette...that would turn me into the Hindenberg. But if I added a wide belt or sash, this one could probably work on me. A little sweater or shrug wouldn't hurt, either.

Dresses with interesting bodices/necklines (V-necks, bateau/boatnecks, sweetheart necklines, other eye-catching details):

Having more visual interest on top than bottom is pretty much Pear Flattery's the underlying theme of every rule, especially "lighter colors on top/dark colors on the bottom". Twofer dresses like this one are probably the ultimate pinnacle of that rule. I do, however, also see that wearing all one color does make me look a bit taller. So something like this simple but beautiful purple frock are the perfect compromise.

This ASOS petite skater dress looks like it would be so flattering and easy to wear. Alas, if only it did not have a butt-bow. Was it meant to be a bridesmaid dress for the weddings of people with a cruel sense of humor?

Dresses with vertical lines/detailing:

This is the incomparable Nanette Lepore's Eliza dress. (The black one is on sale here at $226 down from $378.) Now, I used to stay away from dresses like this, with vertical lines right down the middle, because I thought that would only draw attention to any pear tendencies that one might have. But for some reason, dresses like this look good on me. (I've been stalking Nanette Lepore's Break Away dress--in red, please--for this reason.) Possibly the decorative lines keep the eye on them and away from the hips? Or the visual streamlining factor adds a much-needed inch or two to my frame? Yes, that must be it. The vertical line draws the eye up and elongates my short figure and makes it look narrower. Maybe? OK, I don't know why it works, but it works.

For those who find the lines on this one too fussy and visually distracting, something subtler, like this, would do as well:
I just seemed to have gotten purple on the brain. Sorry about that. Must be channeling the Unicorn Club from Sweet Valley, or something.

Dresses that SUBTLY play with color:

OK, this Lela Rose boucle dress is ridiculously, outrageously, hideously expensive, even on sale, but I just had to put the picture up. It's stunning. The more I look at it, the more I love it and the way it drapes, and the way the light and dark play on the fabric in the most curve-loving way possible. It's DEMANDING a woman to slip it on and start breaking every heart in a ten mile radius.

However, clothing is like writing. Every now and then, someone will come along and break every rule ever ventured, and take your breath away in the process. (That's borrowed from Margaret Atwood's famous words: "Once you start making lists or devising rules for stories, or for any other kind of writing, some writer will be sure to happen along and casually break every abstract rule you or anyone else have ever thought up, and take your breath away in the process.") For example, pears are warned to stay away from dropped-waist dresses like the plague, but Nanette Lepore has somehow concocted a Magic Rain dress that, magically enough, makes me look like the hourglassiest of hourglasses.

Confession: I have it in orange and a jewel blue (got that one at a sample sale, so it might be a sample-only shade) and I'm so obsessed that, if I ever come across it, I may just get it in pink as well.

So, now I try on everything that appeals to me, even if I don't think it will flatter. Yes, sometimes I tear it off again in horror after I get a good look in the mirror. But every now and then, I find a Magic Rain dress, and even if I didn't...well, now that I'm over the worst of my body issues and don't take it personally when something doesn't look good, it's fun to try on different things. I'm able to say, it's the clothes, not me.

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