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Here's What Old Women's Magazines Considered To Be "Flattering" Clothes At The Time They Were Published

Just because a magazine insists that something makes you look "thin" now doesn't mean that's always gonna be the case.

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Hi, I'm Kristin. For most of my life, I've found that many magazines and other pieces of media have been eager to tell me the best ways for me to dress to look as thin — or as "flattering" — as possible.

Real Simple / Glamour / WhoWhatWear / InStyle / Via realsimple.com / glamour.com / whowhatwear.com / instyle.com

It was stupid easy to find these headlines. I literally did one Google search for "dressing flattering" and they leapt up at me like bedbugs from a suspiciously cheap Craigslist mattress.

But one thing I've always found strange is that these helpful "tips" for dressing to look thinner always seem to change depending on what's in style at the time:

Charlotte Gomez for BuzzFeed

Remember when we were told that if you have an "apple-shaped" body (where you carry most of your weight around your middle), you should wear flared or boot-cut jeans to "balance out" your lower half? What does that even mean?

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Which made me very curious: Are our opinions about which clothes make us look the most "slim" dependent on what time period we're living in?

Because technically, if a certain clothing item is really supposed to make you look "thin," shouldn't it ALWAYS make you look thin?

...to see just how much the tips for dressing to look "slim" have changed:

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First, I tried some figure-flattering rules for my body type from a Woman's Day magazine from the early '80s, and huh boy:

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

OK, so these rules seem like I am being very politely asked to throw myself in the trash. I look like the widow of a bag of chips. I found this little number buried in what was basically the haunted attic of a thrift store and I almost felt bad for whoever owned it before me. Honestly, 2017 me doesn't really see how this is supposed to make me look smaller, because while you can't see my body, it's not like people can't figure out what's going on via context clues.

Also, this magazine article was incredible: There was also a one tummy-hiding tip that said that when you are wearing two sweaters (??), the "top sweater should be lighter" (????) "to achieve the longest, skinniest look." Like...just don't wear two sweaters? Or wear whatever two sweaters you want, that sounds cozy as hell?

(Also also: Yes, I wish I could include the scans from the magazine articles I used for this piece, but there are rules about publishing pages from other magazines.)

Next up, I dove into some rules for my body type from a couple of magazines from the mid- and late '80s, and I could see some things evolving.

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

I get wearing all one color if you're trying to be a bank robber in an Archie comic book, but in real life, it's not like this color scheme makes you any less visible. Still, this look was less "I threw a bag over my head and kidnapped myself" and more witness-protection chic — and if I could make the top smaller, I'd probably wear it. But as is, this outfit is a good way to let people know that you live in Seattle, but that also you are Batman.

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Once we got to the 1990s, the tips for making my body type look "slimmer" started to focus on "balancing" my body with fun, distracting clothing items!

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

I saw a few articles suggesting that people with bigger middles should wear an accent color up top to break up the black, so it seemed the tips were moving away from politely asking you to put yourself in the fashion trash, and more toward suggesting that you "balance" a bigger stomach with some big shoulder pads, as though you body is out-of-control budget.

I looked like a real estate agent is a dystopian YA novel, but I think it works — although I think a part of that is because a lot of these fashion suggestions (cinched waists, V-necks, slim pants) are really similar to the suggestions we see in 2017, so this is how I am used to seeing my body when I dress it "correctly."

I saw a lot of conflicting figure-flattering tips for my body type from the 1990s, so I thought it'd be interesting to try to follow a different set of rules:

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

I get the scarf as a distraction piece. It's like when you wave a that fluffy ball on a fishing line in front of your cat to keep it from attacking your other cat, except in this scenario, it's to keep people from personally attacking you for your bulbous middle section. I look like the ex-wife in divorce court who wants to make sure she walks away with the entire estate, and I'm here for it, but I don't see anyone suggesting I dress like this today.

After that, I tried some body-slimming tips for my body type from the 2000s, and basically became Hilary Duff.

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

So in this era, you're supposed to balance out big hips with...broad feet? This is a fashion rule I personally followed to the letter for most of the Bush administration, and yet now it completely escapes me as to why I thought this did anything. Like, no one looks at the boat-footed costumed characters at Disneyland and thinks, Wow, what a svelte waistline — I bet that cartoon mouse does a ton of Pilates.

Also, I am amused that empire waists are basically being used here as a way to say "fuck it" and declare your underboob to be your waistline.

Finally, I tried following some figure-flattering rules for my body type from the present decade and was most comfortable...because this is what everyone is comfortable with right now:

Shila Farahani/Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

This is the outfit in which I felt like I was dressing my body the best, because curves are back in, and thusly I did not look like a person who has been confined to the fashion hague for having a body that some people might not want to look at.

I do suspect that I found this outfit to be the most flattering BECAUSE it's most current, and I wonder if would feel the same way if I were to look back on this 10 years from now. Maybe it's because the subtext of "dressing slim" is that you also need to dress in a way that is cool.

So, what did I learn here today?

It seems like most helpful suggestions for dressing for my body type were mostly just focused on emphasizing the "good" body parts I have that were popular at the time (boobs/curves/dainty ankles) -- and to show them off with whatever the 25-year-olds who are posing as hot teens are currently wearing on television.

While this is not a comprehensive list of every tip from every magazine ever, or even every tip in each article, in every era I found an article swearing by a fashion tip that would seem like a terrible idea in another era. And even though there were lots of rationalizations provided to explain why a dressing slim tip visually "worked" -- people's opinions still changed, and they'll keep changing!

So if you're worried that what you're wearing might not be flattering, I wouldn't. It's gonna change in five years, and when the aliens from Zorbog 5 arrive, I'm sure we won't even be wearing clothes at all!

(Finding very specific articles from a lot of old women's magazines is no small feat, so an incredibly special thanks goes out to Lydia Fletcher for helping me fill some of the gaps in my research!)

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