Fabulous vs Frumpy: The Art of Packaging Yourself

Nov 25, 2013 1 Min Read

A popular research report by Professor Albert Merahbian found that how we look and behave account for 55% of our likeability factor.

We may have the heart of Mother Teresa or the brain of Einstein, but before anyone gives us points for our inner beauty or intellectual capacity, people judge us based on our appearance. First impressions count.

We come in different shapes and sizes. Although we’d like to highlight our best features – broad shoulders, nice legs, we need to be perceived first, as an attractive wholesome package, not as a separate body part. This will encourage people to look a little deeper and get to know you as a person.

As clothing covers at least 70% of our body for nearly 100% of our waking hours, do dress well. It will help to build your self-esteem, improve self-image and lift confidence.

So, for those who aren’t ready to plunge into a sea of fashion magazines to be more style savvy – read November and December’s issues of Image Matters, as we bring you dressing techniques that will flatter you, no matter what shape and size you are!


You can be tall or short, large or small; if whatever you wear makes you look disproportionate, you will still look big. So watch your balance!

Proportion is the way various parts of your body relate to the other parts – how long your legs are compared with your torso, how wide your shoulders are in relation to your hips. That explains why some clothes can look gorgeous on your friend, but look out of place on your body.

The universal balancing guideline in the fashion world would be:

a) Long over Short (and vice versa)

b) Wide over Narrow (and vice versa)

c) Tight over Loose (and vice versa)

a) Long over Short / Short over Long

This simply means pairing a long jacket over a short skirt or a pair of slim pants. Or pick a cropped bolero jacket and wear it with a long skirt.

For casual wear, pick a camisole or tube top to wear with your jeans; or a long sleeve blouse over a pair of shorts to give a classy, sexy feel to the overall outfit.

Using this combination visually cuts our body into one-third, rather than half, which is more pleasing to the eyes.

Avoid short over short, long over long

b) Wide over Narrow

A loose tunic worn over leggings, or a tube top over loose pants will give you the extra edge!

c) Tight over Loose

It is easier to carry off a body-hugging top with a pair of palazzos than going for a loose boyfriend shirt. Two loose items matched together will make you look clumsy.

Now, is there an exception? Can we bend the rule? In fashion, anything is possible. But bear in mind that whatever you see on the runway is on skinny models.

They can make a gunny sack look good. But for a normal person like you and me, with many flaws to camouflage, it is better to think twice before breaking them.


It is believed that if you add some colour to your outfit, it will uplift your spirit and warm the hearts of those that are looking at you! The trick is to just add a dash to your base dominant colour. Think of the 80-20 rule – where the dominant colour is 80%, leaving 20% for your other colours. The placement of that colourful 20% is of great significance.

There are essentially two major places it can go:
1) Outside your main garment
2) Inside the silhouette of your clothes.

a) Add Colour with A Scarf

Monochrome is good, but we don’t have to stick to black all the time. With a black mandarin-collared suit, a colourful scarf wrapped around your neck would be an instant eye catcher! Instead of just plain black jacket, insert a bright scarf underneath the collar to give a pop of colour.

If you’re wearing a headscarf and a traditional baju kurung, pick the prints and patterns of the outfit to serve as a base colour of your headscarf. For example, a striking pinkbaju kurung with beige prints. Instead of wearing a lighter shade of pink as your headscarf, stick with beige to give you the 80% to 20% slimming effect.

b) Add Colour with Accessories

A long vertical necklace over a plain dress will definitely make you look slimmer and taller. The longer your necklace, the slimmer you will appear as our eyes tend to follow the lines of the piece.

c) Let your colours peek from the neck

The classic way of wearing a collared blouse underneath a jacket is an all time favourite style. Make it yours by choosing collars with interesting details such as ruffles, lace, stitching, etc. A brighter or contrasting colour near your face will always draw attention up.

d) Flow Colours from the Inside

Keep your inner silhouette monochromatic and introduce an outer colourful layer. An example will be to wear dark jacket over a white blouse and white pants. Your eyes will still look at the inner vertical silhouette, projecting you as tall and slim.

A word of warning – Don’t place your 20% of bright colours at any place you wish to hide. A red hipster belt against a black outfit will scream for attention. A white turtleneck on a short neck will narrow the distance between your head and your shoulders!


Fit and proportion are some of the most important elements to keep in mind to look like a bombshell, but choosing the right fabrics can drastically alter your shape and make you look slimmer. So how do you know which fabrics are best for your shape? It really comes down to understanding quality fabrics and how they drape.

a) Your Foe – Stiff Fabric

Stiff is a good texture for tents, not clothes. Garments made from stiff fabrics tend to disregard your shape and make you look square and boxy, thus making you appear a few kg larger.

b) Your Friend – Soft Material

Garments that skim and contour your body give you a nice slim look. The most flattering and chic clothes skim your body and move with you, making you look graceful and elegant. Anything that is too tight will always make you look fatter no matter how skinny you are.

c) Your friend/foe – Shiny Fabrics

A friend or foe? It depends on how you wear them! The reflective surface of shiny fabrics bounces off light, making you look bigger. It also highlights every crease in the fabric and makes any bumps visible. If you are bottom heavy, a satin skirt will not be flattering. So, the trick is to use shine as a focal point on places you wish to emphasise. Try a satin scarf or a satin lapel.

d) Your Friend – Matt Material

Matt materials, like cottons and wool reflect no light, thus making the shapes appear smaller.

e) Your Foe – Textured Fabrics

Texture is the appearance and the feel of a surface. Coarse and bulky fabrics have an enlarging effect on the body.

The extra bumps and surfaces created by textured fabrics confuse the eye and make it perceive the body as lumpy and bumpy. So, tweeds, knits, corduroys will add inches to your whole frame if you are not careful.

f) Your Friend – Smooth Fabrics

The idea is to find pieces that are better tailored to your shape, and keep everything balanced.

Stay tuned next month for more useful tips on how to make a great first impression.

Wendy Lee is president of MABIC (Malaysian Association of Brand and Image Consultants) and a director at Brand Image International Institute. She is a firm believer that with style, there must be substance!

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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