#KnitPetiteProject: A valuable word on taste and what’s “flattering”

Our last post where we hear from real knitters about petite fit sacrifices.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

Please lend a hand to the #KnitPetiteProject and answer this brief survey! We’ll be sharing the results next week!

Above all, I want the #KnitPetiteProject to be a body-positive tool we can all use to empower ourselves, helping us achieve the ends WE want to achieve.

I thought it was important to touch on taste, and what we may consider “flattering” for this very reason (and, in anticipation of next months’ series of posts where we look in depth at our bodies and determine what our fit issues are.)

This is also a valuable point to raise because taste is individual and fashion changes; its expressed value will change the desired fit of a garment, which certainly pertains to how we judge good fit!

If something is your style and you love it, I believe you should wear it, regardless of whether it supposedly “flatters” your body or doesn’t. Plus, if we are being honest, to flatter almost always means “makes you look thinner”, and that definitely shouldn’t be your prime objective when it comes to getting dressed.1 Anuschka Rees

Taste and What’s Flattering

Many of the top hits you get if you google “petite fit”, “sizing for petite” and the like are lists of “rules” intended to make you look taller (and as usual, enforce/create a look of thinness).

I avoid talk like that because it’s destructive: it takes as its position a presumption that 1) you focus on your flaws 2) they are indeed flaws, and 3) you want to conform to the author’s ideal of beauty. The underlying notion here is body shame. I’ve wasted enough energy in my life being embarrassed by my body. I suspect many of us feel the same.

So when I embarked on research for the KnitPetiteProject, I wanted to avoid garbage like that. I NEVER want to make assumptions about how someone wants to look. I want to have conversations and share information about how we can achieve what we want to achieve, regardless of what the “rules” say we should want to achieve.

An example: (and I use myself here so as to prevent embarrassing anyone else!) I’m quite sure that my taste in clothing, from the shapes, colours, patterns, and styles, is objectionable to many people, for many reasons. Tastes differ, and so do values and morals. If I were to entirely follow presumptions of how I should try to look, I certainly wouldn’t dress the way I do.

I was emotionally abused2 for significant years of my life by cruel peers who instilled in me a disgust for my body. To this day, it’s an internal fight to wear what I want to because my “fat might be hanging out” or some such garbage. Those peers hated fat. They hated it so much that they expended incredible amounts of energy making me feel like a disgusting excuse of a person.

So that narrative is there, in my head, whenever I choose to wear my beloved crop tops. That narrative is there, but I feel like I’m smashing smashing smashing it each time I wear those tops that are so cute! Those tops that I made! With beautiful bright colours, and lovely yarn, and all that brings me joy!

All that is to say, if I allowed that narrative to win, I wouldn’t dress as I do. My tactics each morning would be about hiding and disguising, not celebrating and enjoying. That narrative is the dominant narrative of our culture here in the modern Western world.3 I’m not a “perfect” shape. I have stretch marks and cellulite and rolls, I’m 34, I “shouldn’t” be wearing short shorts and crop tops and all other manner of items and colours and shapes that I do. To all that I say, I’m a grown woman, and I make my own choices about what brings me joy and ultimately, what makes me feel comfortable and confident.

But what if I DO want to look taller/thinner/curvier?

There certainly are people who’ve noted their concerns surrounding “flattering proportions” in the KnitPetiteProject surveys, and designs that may “overwhelm” a petite body. This is a valuable conversation to have! I think, though, that any time we talk about ideas like this it should be without presumptions of “correction”, and instead should be that we are simply very clear about the look we want to achieve, and the tactics we can use to achieve it.

A good resource is Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter book and class. When I first enrolled for Knit to Flatter, I did so with a bit of trepidation. I was afraid it might be yet another “if you’re pear shaped, you have to dress like THIS!!” Fortunately, it is not like that! Herzog does indeed talk in depth about aesthetics and proportion in relation to body shapes, giving advice like colourful yoked sweaters “balancing” out a body that is wider at the bottom. But from the outset she makes herself very clear by stating that we should all dress in whatever way makes us feel good.

The line of distinction that I want to make clear is this: yes, there are tactics you can utilize to add or remove emphasis, but I will NOT EVER assume you would want to employ a particular tactic because you are a particular shape.

Interested in a more in-depth discussion of this topic? See the Question of the Week below!

Changing Fashion and Flattering Fit

“…perception of good fit varies from person to person as well as within the same individual over time and depending on environmental context.”4

Changing fashion plays a role in our perceptions of good fit. To get the look of an oversized 80s sweater, you’ll be judging its fit based on different rules of measurement than, say, a fitted 50s-style sweater.

The excellent chapter “Sizing and clothing aesthetics”5 is filled with excellent, thought-proving statements that add more complexity:

“Through taste, individuals are able to demonstrate their interpretation of the cultural moment.” (pg 311)

“The subjectivity of taste is complex; understanding the fit of garments as a consequence of taste is more so.”

“In regard to garment size (especially in extreme body types), good and bad fit, like cut, are somewhat elusive. Significantly, it is my assertion that absolute expressions of fit do not exist. If fit can only be accessed as an approximation, then, when fashion changes from tight fitting to loose fitting, the concept of fit is further displaced.” (pg 313)

In light of our focus on petite women, largeness and littleness and its relation to the body, clothing, and fashion, are valuable to reflect on:

“…littleness is implied in femininity and bigness is implied in masculinity. These polarities exist at the basis of fit. In the body’s attempts to characterize itself towards one of another pole, males and females idealize themselves in a segmented section of their continuum… Gender is of course an ambiguous concept.” (pg 318)

All these quotes are shared here with the intention for us all to ponder, for ourselves, what we judge as good fit. What we determine is our own taste and preferences. And this entire post is here to encourage you to feel strong, comfortable, and certain of the choices you want to make about how you look, because next month we’re going to start digging into shape, fit, and the tactics to make clothes fit our petite bodies the way we want them to!

Fun Fact

More a Fun Quote than a Fun Fact…
That chapter in the Sizing book I’ve been referring to in this post is filled with interesting quotes. Here’s another:

“The Elizabethan corset and other forms of structured suppression and figure-molding garments have been influencing the shape and therefore the fit of garments on a women’s body up to and until the 1960s when fashion’s leadership became less dictatorial and more democratic.” (pg 313)

Question

I have a background in art and art history. I am very studied at looking a visual information and human expression through art & fashion, that includes how we take in visual information, ways to draw or repel attention, to enhance or reduce.

I would be happy to have a discussion of this sort here, for the purposes of the KnitPetiteProject. I would stipulate that, of course, this would NOT be prescriptive but instead should illuminate how to draw or repel attention. I would not presume certain shapes desire certain shared ends.

Ultimately: would you like to have a body-positive discussion about aesthetics and clothing? Share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

Resources

1 Anuschka Rees. “The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe“. Ten Speed Press, 2016.

2 This is very much a side note, but I think we should call “mean girls” and the “bullying” they do what it really is: emotional abuse.

3 The modern Western world is a culture I feel comfortable speaking about, but if you live elsewhere, the statement here may certainly be the case for you as well.

4 D.H. Branson and J. Nam, “Materials and Sizing”, Sizing in clothing: developing effective sizing systems for ready-to-wear clothing. S. P. Ashdown, Textile Institute (Manchester, England) Woodhead Publishing in association with The Textile Institute, Apr 20, 2007. pg 266.

5 Van Dyk Lewis, “Sizing and clothing aesthetics”, Sizing in clothing: developing effective sizing systems for ready-to-wear clothing. S. P. Ashdown, Textile Institute (Manchester, England) Woodhead Publishing in association with The Textile Institute, Apr 20, 2007. pgs 309 – 327.

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#KnitPetiteProject: A valuable word on taste and what’s “flattering”

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