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Image / Fashion

What Not To Wear: Why it’s time we got rid of the old fashion rules


by Edaein OConnell
08th Jan 2020

For years we have been lectured about what and what not to wear, but it’s about time we forgot about the fashion rules once and for all


I remember the day my mother brought home the book The Trinny and Susannah Survival Guide: A Woman’s Secret Weapon for Getting through the Year.

It was 2007 and I was 12 years old. A pre-teen on the verge of being filled with hormones and bad fashion choices meant I devoured the book page for page.

It said curvier girls shouldn’t wear skinny jeans, only bootleg. So, I bought stretch bootleg jeans. They said to belt everything — t-shirts, shirts, dresses, bras – whatever you could get your hands on. So, I belted everything.

It was ingrained in me from a young age that my fashion choices should be dictated by my body shape and which pieces of clothing would flatter it most. My mother was taught the same, as was hers. During the noughties, fashion styling shows were a regular feature of weekly programming. From our own Off the Rails on RTÉ to the styling maestro Gok Wan on the other side of the water, each programme had a crucial theme in common — dressing for your shape.

The traditional rules

The programmes and books had noble intentions. These rules were a toolkit to help women take back control of their confidence and feel good about their appearance. But the rules snowballed, and caused more problems than solutions for women and how they view their bodies in fashion.

‘You shouldn’t wear dresses if you are over a size 14. If you do, make sure the dress is free-flowing to hide any lumps and bumps.’

‘You shouldn’t show your legs after a certain age. Stick to longer lengths for a more age-appropriate style.’

‘You shouldn’t wear low tops if you have a bigger chest – it can look too ‘booby’.’

Female psyche

Never have I heard a man shy away from an item of clothing because he deemed it was something he ‘couldn’t’ wear. It is, without doubt, almost exclusively a part of the female psyche. Instead of asking a woman whether she felt good in the clothes, we were told that it looked good and this validation was enough.

Personal taste is subjective. You may hate what I wear on any given day and vice versa. However, because personal taste is, of course, personal, the old fashion rules of yore shouldn’t come into play in 2020. Wear what pleases you.

If you fancy wearing short shorts, do it. If you want to wear the low-cut top, do it. The idea that we have to be a certain size, shape or age to wear clothes is defunct. No one has yet to tell the Pope that his gowns are unflattering and neither have they explained to Donald Trump that his suits are ill-fitting.

So, why the differentiation for women? Clothes are important to us. Our most important days are spoken of in the context of the outfit we wore. It’s natural to place a focus on appearance but not so much that it dims the reflection of you.

Fashion is a form of expression. Trends are all well and good but it is up to the individual to decide whether it looks good or not. While sometimes a little help is needed, the ultimate decision of taste should be based on how good we feel.

A recent conversation with my mother began with debate and ended with a mutual understanding. Its focal point was mini skirts. She held the opinion that a mini skirt doesn’t suit everyone. I believed it didn’t matter, it’s an individual choice. A heated discussion followed where she admitted that maybe it was time to leave the concept of sartorial ‘suitability’ she had grown up with behind — but she still wouldn’t be seen in a mini skirt.

Old habits

Old habits die hard and at some point, we will all find ourselves looking at an item in a shop saying ‘I could never wear that’. When you are a child, you are told about bad and good. Everything that is unacceptable is drilled into a pocket of your brain and the same has happened with fashion.

The ‘what not to wear’ overshadowed the ‘what to wear’ but the time has come to throw out the rule book.

Wear the dress. Wear the sleeveless top. Wear the jeans.

Wear a tutu skirt over your trousers if the feeling takes you, but do it for you.

When it comes to fashion, there are no real rules and this is the only guide you ever need to follow.


Read more: It’s time to embrace the chunky ankle boot – here are 6 of the best to buy now

Read more: 15 questions to ask yourself before buying a new item of clothing

Read more Runway ready: 8 documentaries all fashion-lovers will adore

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