We Use the Word Flattering a Lot—But What Does It Mean?

Fashion’s favorite F word is everywhere. Most publications use it regularly—Who What Wear included—and often it’s as a bit of a measurement for how we shop and what we wear. But while the concept of flattering isn’t problematic, we find its definition far too limited.

In the simplest terms, something that’s flattering looks amazing on whoever is wearing it—we’ll argue that it feels amazing too. Yet if you look to its use in the fashion industry (among stylists, editors, etc.), far too often what’s deemed “flattering” is more closely equated to what makes a woman look slimmer, smaller, or have a figure that resembles an hourglass shape. Flattering’s doing a pretty good job at encouraging women to seek a so-called “ideal” shape, but seeking personal style and contentment, not so much. So we went looking for a new meaning.

To do so, we enlisted the help of women we admire, and even more importantly, women who regularly challenge the status quo. This includes Good American Co-Founder Emma Grede, who’s changed the retail industry with her size 00 to 24 denim line she created with partner Khloé Kardashian; Chidera Eggerue, a body-positivity advocate who launched the #SaggyBoobsMatter; and other industry leaders. They gave us their personal interpretations of “flattering” that go beyond fixing, slimming, or hiding and inspire us to define it on our own terms.

What now?

Defining or even redefining ‘flattering’ isn’t a be-all and end-all to the conversation but rather a starting point for you—and us!—to rethink how we talk about fashion that, in an ideal world, values individuality and expression over everything else. Have a different take on what the term means? Find us in the Who What Wear Insiders group—we’ll be talking about this and we’d love to hear your take.