Understanding Embellishments: How Decoding Details Can Influence A Positive Body Image

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If you ask most women what they are learning to love about their bodies, they probably won’t have trouble answering. Conversely, if you ask those same women to list things they already love about their bodies, they’ll likely have a harder time coming up with honest answers.

The truth about body image

How we view our bodies is a sensitive topic. While it should not be confused with self-esteem—how we feel about ourselves as a total package—body image is certainly a component of it. 

Many women fall prey to comparing themselves to an unrealistic socially-endorsed ideal from an early age. It’s hard not to. The media plays a big role in idolizing false appearances. More than ever, we are bombarded by distorted images and unhealthy messages.

Body image by the numbers

Research shows the comparison game starts as early as age 5. According to one report, 91% of American women are unhappy with their reflections and resort to dieting to achieve “the ideal body” while only 5% of this same population naturally resembles the idolized appearance. 

The way we feel about our bodies has the power to affect many areas of our lives, for better or worse. People with a negative view of their bodies spend a lot of time in their thoughts. They are more susceptible to depression and social anxiety among other things.

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Research shows that overall, women’s opinions of their bodies often remain stable as they age, though women are less likely to fall into habitual body monitoring, unhealthy eating patterns, and consistent self-objectification as the years go by. Maybe we just get tired of it as we get older. That said, our bodies are constantly changing—motherhood and menopause, anyone?—and the process of honouring our reflections is an ongoing one.

What does a positive body image look like?

Grace, love, and acceptance. According to this study, people who possess a positive body image appreciate the unique beauty and functionality of their bodies. They effectively filter information (e.g., appearance commentary and media ideals) in a body-protective manner and define beauty broadly. They are also able to highlight their body's assets while minimizing perceived imperfections. This leads to freedom from toxic thoughts and the other unhealthy ramifications of living life with a negative body image. 

Can I boost my body image?

Of course! It’s important and ongoing work. By monitoring media consumption, practicing gratitude for our bodies and being mindful of our thoughts, we can work to improve our body image from the inside out. That is the first and most important work.

And here’s more good news. You can learn to dress yourself in a way that reinforces a healthy body image too. When it comes to fashion, embellishments and other visual details literally manipulate the eye and influence how we view ourselves. 

Understanding perception

Our eyes instinctively follow lines and notice details. This reality can work for or against you. If you wish to direct your eyes to the things you love about your body, balance your overall appearance, and downplay things that are challenging for you to embrace at the moment, it’s important to understand this principle. 

So for today’s blog, I’m specifically addressing how embellishments influence the eye. Ready? There’s a lot to learn!

Glossary of embellishments

Epaulets

A shoulder ornament similar to that which is used on military uniforms

They provide balance for women with narrow shoulders and for those whose upper body dimensions are smaller than the lower section. They add visual “umph” and strength to the shoulder line and are most effective on women looking to create balance on their upper bodies.

Lapels

The part of a coat or jacket hat is folded back to form a downward extension of the collar

Wide lapels on a winter coat accentuate your upper body while balancing your lower body. This is great for creating an illusion of wider shoulders and upper body strength.

Use caution with wide lapels if you want to play down an ample bosom or broad shoulders. A sleek coat with narrow lapels (or none whatsoever) looks amazing on a woman with a fuller upper body. It’s all about creating balance.

Appliqués

Decoration or ornaments cut from one piece of fabric and applied to another

Appliqués can be a beautiful application when used on a wedding dress or evening gown. They are very eye-catching. For this very reason, appliqués are best when placed in a way that draws attention to what you love about your body. They’re particularly lovely if they direct the eye toward your face. Conversely, you’ll want to avoid them on places you wish to play down.

For example, wearing jeans with appliqué work or glimmery stitching on the back pockets will immediately draw the eye. Unless you want all eyes on your derrière, it’s best to let appliqués shine somewhere else.

Sequins

Small glimmering coin-like ornaments

Sequins say “WOW!” Use them wherever you want to bring focus and attention. These embellishments are always lovely around the neckline of a dressy sweater, a camisole, a blouse or an elegant dress. They are also wonderful at the end of a sleeve.

Sequin dresses can be magnificent for special evening applications for sure. They need to have an impeccable fit. Avoid anything too clingy and opt instead for garments that skim the body and fall beautifully. Be forewarned. The more an element attracts the eye, the greater it’s visual weight.

Pearls

Luminous spheres often hand sewn on lace or applied in rows to create interesting border detailing.

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Similar to sequins, pearls dazzle the eye, especially on contrasting fabric. They are far more subtle when adorning fabric of the same colour but are nonetheless equally beautiful.

Pearls are most effective when used sparingly in places where you absolutely want the eye to go.

Top Stitching

Machine stitches, often applied in a contrasting color, to highlight and reinforce a garment’s seams

If it is done with precision, this is a gorgeous detail, one that every woman can use to her advantage. It needs to be done beautifully however, so be fussy because you don’t want to draw attention to your garments with top stitching that is poorly done.

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Top stitching subtly accentuates the gorgeous lines of a garment and strengthens the beauty of the design. Pay attention to where the stitching is applied though to make sure the highlighted elements of the garments are located where you want to draw the eye. For example, the blouse pictured above will attractively balance a petite chest but on a woman with a large bust, this illusion will have the opposite effect.

Pockets

Convenient places to place one’s hands and hold various items, typically applied to the top of a garment or sewn in the seams

Pockets applied on the bodice of a blouse can be an effective way to visually add prominence if a woman is small on the upper part of her body and seeks to create balance. They add visual “weight” so should be used sparingly anywhere where that is not the goal.

Pockets in trousers and jeans can be a tricky thing. They create bulk simply because of the fabric required to make them. If you wish to streamline your lower body, one way to accomplish this is by avoiding pockets altogether.

Another way is by sewing side pockets closed or taking it one step further and after sewing the opening, removing the inner fabric portion altogether.

Side slash pockets (also known as off-seam pockets) are notorious for flanging open, interrupting an otherwise straight line, and distracting the eye. If you are at all full through the hip and thigh area (like yours truly), you’ll likely be better off saving your money and leaving these pants on the rack. We all love to shove our hands in pockets but in this case, pockets are not a great feature.

When it comes to the placement of patch pockets on jeans, they ideally should be placed a fair distance apart and lower on your bottom for the most flattering effect. You want them to start approximately mid-way down your derriere and end around the tops of your thighs.

Contrasting Piping or Banding

A narrow strip of cloth cut on the bias, used for trimming garments.

This can be so attractive on blazers and dresses. When the piping or banding emphasizes a vertical feature on a dress or jacket, it is fantastic! It is also effective at the end of a sleeve or around a neckline.

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A feature of this kind (especially when in a contrasting color) adds visual weight, therefore adding balance to a smaller upper body for example. Piping or banding on a skirt to add more fullness and strength to a lower-body that is slim and straight is another way of achieving visual balance.

Cuffs

A band or fold at the lower end of a sleeve or the hem of the trouser leg; a detachable band of fabric worn about the wrist, either under or over the sleeve.

Where cuffs can get tricky is when they are bulky. Balance hinges on where they “land” on our body. The key to getting it right is to pay attention to where you eyes go and then discern whether or not you love the visual effect. 

For example, cuffs on the bottom of dress pants always add visual interest and weight. Petite frames are particularly “weighed down” with extra fabric around the ankles. As a general rule, dress slacks will always look sleeker without a cuff.

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In a similar way, if you have wide, bulky cuffs on the sleeves of a jacket or outer coat and those “weighty cuffs” end right smack dab at a point that isn’t a feature you wish to highlight, consider having the cuffs removed or cut down to a more appropriate size.  

Ruffles

A pleated strip or frill of fabric, typically adorning a neckline, sleeve, or skirt

Ruffles add grace, movement, and drape to garments. They add visual interest and can be a girl’s best friend when they are made in a soft draping fabric like silk, chiffon or crepe.

For someone with a smaller bosom (like myself), ruffles are a discreet and feminine way to bring fullness. If a woman is more abundantly endowed, but slimmer and straighter on her lower body, she can harness the beauty of ruffles in a draping ruffled hemline, bringing balance and proportion to her overall silhouette. 

Pleats

A fold of cloth doubled on itself and pressed or sewn in place

Pleating details never seem to go out of popularity in some way, shape or form. Tucking on the bodice of a tuxedo shirt is as classic as the day is long. Pleats appear often at the hem of a flirty skirt, as an embellishment on a cuff, or at the neck of a beautiful blouse. Use these details to bring balance and enhancement to the part of your shape where they are most effective.

Long and flowing pleated skirts, have been really popular this season. You’ve seen them paired with everything from a crisp white shirt and sneakers, to dainty camisoles and strappy sandals. The longer length and defined waistband appears to flatter many shapes and creates a romantic and feminine silhouette.

What’s important is how you style this skirt. The pleats are especially flattering to a straighter shape in the sense that it adds movement and the illusion of curves. Worn with a simple camisole or tank top, it’s a cool and comfortable summer selection.

If you’re fuller on your bottom half, wearing a bit of an oversized classic shirt creates balance. Roll up the sleeves and tuck in the blouse (slightly blousing it), or tie it in a knot at the waist. Alternately, wear a clean and simple T-shirt and throw on a denim jacket to bring balance to your lower body.

Oversized Buttons

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A knob or disk sewn to a garment, serving as a fastening when passed through a narrow opening or buttonhole, or used merely for ornamentation

Oversized buttons are exactly what you think; they are bigger than you would expect. They are impossible to miss, especially when they are a contrasting color.

When they are used down the center of the body, they are really effective at creating that all-important vertical line.

The time to be careful with big buttons is when they are used on a double-breasted jacket or some other garment where they have been placed a distance apart.  The wider the distance is between the buttons, the wider your frame will appear.

Again, this can be used to advantage if your upper body needs some “strength.” It’s all about understanding how to bring balance to your upper and lower body and paying attention to what your eye prefers.

Oversized Prints

Any fabric stamped with a large design by means of dyes used on engraved rollers, wood blocks or screens.

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An important thing to note about prints has to do with the distance between the shapes on your garment. An all-over pattern is much easier for all body shapes to wear successfully. It’s when there is space between the print motifs that it gets tricky.

The more space that exists between each flower, for instance, the wider the visual illusion. The picture captures it really effectively. So if you wish to visually erase some pounds, opt instead for an overall design in a moderate size.

Petite frames need to be especially careful with large prints. Anything too big can overwhelm your body.

In terms of balance, smaller frames do well in smaller prints and tighter overall patterns; larger frames can carry larger prints and overall patterns effectively. 


As you process this information, I predict you’ll look at clothing with a new awareness. With practice, you will be able to identify garments with features that will highlight your wonderful assets and bring balance to your overall silhouette. You won’t waste precious time trying on things you know won’t be your best. You’ll be an educated consumer who only invests in things that bring you joy.

You can dress yourself to love your body. This is one reason I am particularly fired up about helping women learn timeless design principles. It’s time to get on with our lives, ladies.

You can learn to shop effectively and look and feel your absolute best every single day. People who live with a negative body image often become frustrated in fitting rooms and likely avoid shopping. It’s hard to break the cycle and discover clothing they feel good in. Education is everything.

Building a thoughtful wardrobe is a form of self-care. By learning how to identify your best silhouettes, fabrics, and colours, you can positively influence how you view yourself and make getting dressed fun again. It can literally change your life.


Your homework? Designate some time to look through your wardrobe. Do it when you are rested, well fed, and relaxed. You’ll likely enjoy the process more.

Look at your clothes. Based on what you’ve learned about embellishments and details, are there some items in your current wardrobe that just aren’t your best? Maybe they’ve never felt right, and now you know why. 

What are you waiting for? Move them on out! Make room for something that makes you feel amazing and brings a smile to your face. Save your money and in a few months you’ll be armed with tons of information to help you shop with confidence and build a wardrobe that brings you joy. Promise.

What are your favourite embellishments?


Thanks for joining me as I dive deeper into my 11 Strategic Style Solutions guide. Don’t know what I’m talking about? I created a resource for you as a thank you for joining my mailing list. If you’re interested in receiving all things Marilee directly to your inbox, head over here to follow along and claim your free copy. There will be some fun announcements in the near future too. I hope you’ll tag along. I have so much I want to teach you.